Archive Reformed Irenicism Simon Kennedy The Natural Family

Luther on deliberate childlessness

In his Lectures on Genesis, Martin Luther makes some observations about people who chose not to have children. He is at his subtle, sensitive best, of course. These are Luther’s words, not mine! Here he is commenting on Genesis 2:18:

Today you find many people who do not want to children. Moreover, this callousness and inhuman attitude, which is worse than barbarous, is met with chiefly among the nobility and princes, who often refrain from marriage for this one single reason, that they might have no offspring. It is even more disgraceful that you find princes who allow themselves to be forced not to marry, for fear that the members of their house would increase beyond a definite limit. Surely such men deserve that their memory be blotted out from the land of the living. Who is there who would not detest these swinish monsters? But these facts, too, serve to emphasize original sin. Otherwise we would marvel at procreation as the greatest work of God, and as a most outstanding gift we would honor it with the praises it deserves.

What is edifying in this pugnacious paragraph is the observation that if we were not sinful, we would all think that the multiplication of people through childbearing and child-rearing a wonderful gift from God! And indeed, in times past Christians generally have. Today, I would suggest the attitude is much more mixed. Suffice to say that if Luther’s words were written in our own day against people in our own societies, he may have faced trials for heresy of a very different nature.


By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.