*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 4th of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Listen. The church has had its share of scandals. We have talked about a number of them on this show. And while it may be tempting to follow modern scandals unfold in gossip and rumor- it does us better to wait until everything comes to light- make a note of what happened, why it matters, and go from there… So… today, I will take you back to perhaps the very first evangelical scandal! It took place amongst the very first Evangelicals back in the 16th century. On this, the 4th of March in 1540, Philip the Protestant Landgrave of Hesse married Margarethe von Der Saale. She was not a noble as he was- and that alone could have caused controversy. It was controversial, though, because he was already married.
The story of the “bigamous marriage of Philip of Hesse” would hound those reformers whom it is said allowed him to do it. One of those was reportedly Martin Luther- Luther’s Catholic opponents would have a field day with this (after all, they argued that Reformation doctrine would lead to lawlessness).
Let’s break down this story and see what we might make of it.
Philip Of Hesse was born in 1504. His father, the Landgrave (that’s a kind of prince), had died when he was young. He was deemed an adult and made the landgrave himself when he was only 12.
In 1521 he met Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms and was one of the princes initially attracted to his cause. In 1524 he officially threw his lot behind the Reformation- essentially converting his lands and people to Protestantism by fiat.
Just the year prior, he was married for the first time. This was to Christina of Saxony- the daughter of George of Saxony (one of the fiercest opponents of the Reformation). According to Philip AND Christina- it was a loveless marriage, and they said they had no “inclinations” towards one another (regardless of their testimony, it seems that they had some inclinations… at least ten as that’s the number of children she had with him).
In 1526 and the inauguration of the “Prince’s Reformation” came the first Diet of Speyer (really fast- when the lower classes got out of hand during the early days of the Reformation, Luther, and others turned their attention to Prince’s to help them roll out the reform). Around this time, we know Philip asked Luther if he could get a divorce from Christina and marry someone else.
Luther’s response has been a source of controversy. If he ok’d a divorce and remarriage, the Catholics could have said, “See, we told you this was all about Luther wanting to get away with sin.” The documentary evidence we have is complicated as we have many secondary sources that seem compromised by confessional allegiance.
We know a few things:
Philip pointed to the Patriarchs of the Old Testament as an example. Luther claimed that was not a legitimate claim for a Christian. Luther suggested that if Christina was leprous, he might dissolve the marriage. And lastly, Luther told Philip that it was not excluded and might be permitted in case of necessity.
Philip stayed in the marriage. But in 1531, the English Reformer Robert Barnes came to Germany where, among other things, he asked Luther and Melanchthon about the divorce of Henry VIII. Luther used the Patriarchs as an example of someone taking another wife. Philip of Hesse heard this and had some questions.
Luther restated that Christian theology and natural law pointed to a marriage between only 2. Philip stated that he had been living in sin, and a new union would put him back on the straight and narrow.
Luther’s ultimate response was that Philip should follow his conscience but avoid flaunting his new marriage. He married Margarethe von der Saale, another Protestant prince’s daughter (John of Saxony). Catholic controversialists spread the news, thus damaging Luther’s reputation. While Luther seems initially furious at George, he is later quoted as saying that he was “not ashamed of such a council.” Philip and Margarethe would have nine children over the next 27 years after their controversial marriage on the 4th of March in 1540.
The Last Word for today comes from 1 Corinthians.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
“He catches the wise in their craftiness,”
20 and again,
“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who knows that an anagram of Bigamous Prince is “pious embracing.” He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who is obviously stuck with nicknames when he resorts to anagrams. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.