The Augsburg Confession
The Confession of Faith that was submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V at the Local Meeting of Augsburg in the year 1530 by certain princes and cities
I will speak of your testimonies before kings, and will not be put to shame. Psalm 119:46.
To the Emperor Charles V.
Most Invincible Emperor, Caesar Augustus, most merciful Lord,
Your Imperial Majesty summoned a Local Meeting of the Empire here in Augsburg to consider action against the Turk, that most atrocious, hereditary, and ancient enemy of the Christian name and religion, namely, how we can effectively withstand his rage and attacks by strong, standing military forces. You also summoned us to consider disagreements about our holy religion and Christian Faith. This way, in this matter of religion, you might hear the opinions and judgments of the different sides while everyone is present; and we might consider and weigh the arguments in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness. This way, after the removal and correction of everything that each side has misrepresented in writing or misunderstood, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian agreement. This way, in the future we may all embrace and maintain one pure and true religion, and just as we all are under one Christ and do battle under Him, so we may also be able to live in unity and agreement in the one Christian Church.
To this meeting you summoned us, the undersigned Elector and Princes, and others together with us, and likewise the other Electors, Princes, and Estates, and for that reason, in obedient compliance with the Imperial mandate, we came promptly to Augsburg. Indeed, we do not want to boast, but we were among the first to arrive.
Accordingly, at the very beginning of the Meeting here at Augsburg, Your Imperial Majesty proposed to the Electors, Princes, and other Estates of the Empire, among other things, that the different Estates of the Empire, in accordance with the Imperial edict, should write down and submit their opinions and judgments in German and Latin. Then on the ensuing Wednesday we replied to Your Imperial Majesty, after due consideration, that we would submit the Articles of our Confession for our side on the following Wednesday. In obedience, therefore, to Your Imperial Majesty’s wishes concerning religion, we present the Confession of our preachers and ourselves, to show what kinds of things they are teaching in our lands, dukedoms, dominions, and cities—and in our churches—from the Holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God.
If the other Electors, Princes, and Estates of the Empire follow the same Imperial edict, present writings the same way, that is, in Latin and German, and give their opinions about these religious matters, we are ready, together with the Princes and friends already mentioned, here in front of Your Imperial Majesty, our most merciful Lord, to discuss everything in a friendly way. We are willing to meet in an honourable way, so that both sides may discuss the disagreement between us peacefully, without offensive strife. Thus the dissension, by God’s help, may come to an end, and we may return to keeping one true consistent religion. After all, we are all under one Christ, and do battle under Him, so we should all confess one Christ, in keeping with Your Imperial Majesty’s edict, and do everything according to God’s truth. For all of this, we pray to God with most fervent prayers.
There are, however, the other Electors, Princes, and Estates, who are on the other side. And your Imperial Majesty has wisely stated that we should deal with these religious matters by mutual presentation of writings and calm dialogue. Now if there is no progress, and we do not attain any positive outcome through this discussion, at least we will leave you with a clear testimony that we for our part are not putting any obstacle in the way of creating Christian concord, so far as it is possible with God and a good conscience. If you give this matter an impartial hearing, Your Imperial Majesty, as well as the other Electors and Estates of the Empire, and all who sincerely and zealously love religion, will graciously observe and understand this from our Confession.
Your Imperial Majesty, not just once but often, including at the Meeting of Spires in A.D. 1526, also graciously informed the Electors, Princes, and Estates of the Empire, and, by giving and commanding Your Imperial instructions, caused it to be written and published that Your Majesty, in dealing with this matter of religion, for certain reasons which were reported in Your Majesty’s name, was unwilling to make a final decision and determination. Rather, Your Majesty wanted diligently to use Your Majesty’s office with the Roman Pontiff for the convening of a General Council. They published the same message again at greater length a year ago at the last Meeting at Spires. There Your Imperial Majesty, through His Highness Ferdinand, King of Bohemia and Hungary, our friend and merciful Lord, as well as through the Orator and Imperial Commissioners, announced, among other things, that Your Imperial Majesty had noted and considered the resolution of Your Majesty’s Representative in the Empire, and of the President and Imperial Counselors, and of the Legates from other Estates convened at Ratisbon, concerning the calling of a Council; and that your Imperial Majesty also judged it to be expedient to convene a Council; and that Your Imperial Majesty did not doubt the Roman Pontiff could be induced to hold a General Council, because the matters to be settled between Your Imperial Majesty and the Roman Pontiff were nearing agreement and Christian reconciliation. Your Imperial Majesty yourself, therefore, signified that you would try to obtain the Chief Pontiff’s consent, together with your Imperial Majesty, for convening this General Council, which would be publicized as soon as possible by letters of invitation.
The outcome, therefore, might be that the disagreements about religion between us and the other side do not get amicably and charitably settled. In that case, here in Your Imperial Majesty’s presence we offer in all obedience, in addition to what we have already done, that we will all appear and defend our cause in a general, free Christian Council. For convening such a Council there has always been agreement and consensus among the Electors, Princes, and other Estates of the Empire, in all the Imperial Meetings held during Your Majesty’s reign. To the assembly of this General Council, and at the same time to Your Imperial Majesty, we have, even previously, by all the due formalities and legal procedure, addressed ourselves and made appeal regarding this important and serious matter. We still make this appeal, both to Your Imperial Majesty and to a Council. And we have no intention, nor could we intend, to relinquish that appeal by this document or any other, unless the disagreement between us and the other side becomes amicably and charitably settled, put away, and brought to Christian concord, according to the tenor of the latest Imperial citation. To this we here solemnly and publicly testify.
Chief Articles of Faith
Article I: On God
Our Churches unanimously teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and must be believed without any doubting. This means that there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of everything visible and invisible . And yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And we use the term “person” as the Church Fathers used it, not to signify a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.
We condemn all heresies that have sprung up against this article, such as the Manichaeans, who believed in two principles, one Good and the other Evil. We also condemn the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and all like them. We also condemn the Samosatenes, old and new, who argue that there is only one Person; with subtlety and impiety they teach that the Word and the Holy Spirit are not distinct Persons, but that “Word” signifies a spoken word, and “Spirit” signifies motion.
Article II: On Original Sin
We also teach that ever since the fall of Adam, all men who are conceived in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence. And we teach that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, and even now condemns and brings eternal death upon those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
We condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, by arguing that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.
Article III: On the Son of God
We also teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, assumed human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures: the divine nature and the human nature, which are inseparably joined into one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried, so that He might reconcile the Father to us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
He also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day; afterward He ascended into heaven that He might sit on the right hand of the Father, and forever reign and have dominion over all creatures, and sanctify those who believe in Him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts, to rule, comfort, and bring them back to life, and to defend them against the devil and the power of sin.
The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, etc., according to the Apostles’ Creed.
Article IV: On Justification
We also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favour, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. God imputes this faith as righteousness in His sight. Romans 3 and 4.
Article V: On the Ministry
In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel. This is the news that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.
We condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Spirit comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.
Article VI: On New Obedience
We also teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will. But we teach that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as the voice of Christ also testifies: “When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants.” Luke 17:10.
The Church Fathers also teach the same. For Ambrose says that God has ordained it, that he who believes in Christ is saved and receives the forgiveness of sins freely, without works, by faith alone.
Article VII: Of the Church
We also teach that the one holy Church will continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
And we teach that for the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. And it is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, which are instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: “One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all,” etc. Ephesians 4:5-6.
Article VIII: What the Church Is
Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and wicked people are mixed among them, it is lawful to use Sacraments even when wicked men administer them, according to the saying of Christ: “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” etc. Matthew 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effective because of the institution and commandment of Christ, even when wicked men administer them.
We condemn the Donatists, and others like them, who denied it was lawful to use the ministry of wicked men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of wicked men was unprofitable and without effect.
Article IX: On Baptism
We teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation, and that through Baptism the grace of God is offered. We also teach that children must be baptized who, when they are brought to God through Baptism, are received into God’s grace.
We condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
Article X: On the Lord’s Supper
About the Lord’s Supper, we teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and that they are distributed to those who eat the Lord’s Supper; and we reject those that teach otherwise.
Article XI: On Confession
On Confession, we teach that Private Absolution should be continued in the churches, although in the confession, it is not necessary to enumerate all sins. For according to the Psalm, it is impossible. “Who can understand his errors?” Psalm 19:12.
Article XII: On Penance
About Penance we teach that there is remission of sins for those who have fallen after Baptism whenever they are converted, and in such situations the Church should give absolution to those who return to repentance.
Now, Penance consists properly of these two parts: The first is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the second is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution. This faith believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven; and it comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.
We condemn the Anabaptists, who say that those who have been justified cannot lose the Holy Spirit. We also condemn those who argue that some men may attain to such perfection in this life that they cannot sin.
We also condemn the Novatians, who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.
They also are rejected who do not teach that the remission of sins comes through faith, but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.
Article XIII: On the Use of the Sacraments
On the use of the Sacraments we teach that the Sacraments were instituted, not only to be marks of profession among men, but more to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us. God instituted them to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. For this reason we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith is added, to believe the promises which are offered and set forth through the Sacraments.
We therefore condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify by the outward act, and who do not teach that, in the use of the Sacraments, faith is required, to believe that sins are forgiven.
Article XIV: On Ecclesiastical Order
On Ecclesiastical Order we teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments, unless he is regularly called.
Article XV: On Ecclesiastical Customs
On Customs in the Church, we teach that we should observe those we can without sin, and which are profitable for tranquillity and good order in the Church, such as particular holy days, festivals, and the like.
Nevertheless, about such things, we admonish all men not to burden consciences, as though such observances were necessary for salvation.
We admonish also that all human traditions that have been instituted to propitiate God, merit grace, and make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. For that reason, vows and traditions concerning meats and days, etc., which are instituted to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel.
Article XVI: On Civil Affairs
On civil affairs we teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that Christians are allowed to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.
We condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these civil offices to Christians.
We condemn also those who do not place evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices. For the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart. Meanwhile, the Gospel does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they must be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity must be practiced in such ordinances. Christians, therefore, are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws, except when they are commanded to sin; for in that case they ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29.
Article XVII: On Christ’s Return to Judgment
We also teach that at the consummation of the world Christ will appear for judgment, and raise up all who have died. He will give eternal life and everlasting joys to the godly and elect, but He will condemn ungodly men and the demons to be tormented without end.
We condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and demons.
We also condemn others, who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly will take possession of the kingdom of the world, and at that time the ungodly will everywhere be suppressed.
Article XVIII: On Free Will
On free will, we teach that the will of man has some freedom to choose to do civil righteousness, and to do things subject to his reason. But the will of man has no power, without the Holy Spirit, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness. This is because “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God.” 1 Cor. 2:14. Rather, spiritual righteousness is produced in the heart, when the Holy Spirit is received through the Word.
Augustine says these things in as many words, in his Hypognosticon, Book III: “We grant that all men have a free will. It is free, in so far as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete anything in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good or evil. I call ‘good’ whatever works spring from the good in nature, such as, being willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn various useful arts, or whatsoever good pertains to this life. For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God. Indeed, of Him and through Him they are and have their being. I call ‘evil’ such works as willing to worship an idol, commiting murder, etc.”
We condemn the Pelagians and others, who teach that without the Holy Spirit, by the power of nature alone, we are able to love God above all things; also to do the commandments of God as touching “the substance of the act.” For although nature is somehow able do the outward work (for it is able to keep the hands from theft and murder), yet it cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.
Article XIX: On the Cause of Sin
On the Cause of Sin we teach that God creates and preserves nature. The cause of sin, however, is the will of the wicked, that is, of the devil and ungodly men. That will, without God’s assistance, turns itself away from God, as Christ says: “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own.” John 8:44
Article XX: On Good Works
Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding good works. Their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and on similar topics, bear witness that they have taught well concerning all estates and duties in life, what estates of life and what works in every calling are pleasing to God. Before now, preachers hardly taught about these things, and encouraged people to do only childish and pointless works, such as particular holy-days, fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honour of saints, rosaries, monasticism, and things like these. Since our opponents have been admonished about these things, they are now unlearning them, and are not preaching these unprofitable works as they did before. In addition, they are starting to mention faith, about which there was previously an astonishing silence. Our opponents now teach that we are justified not by works alone, but they combine the two, and say that we are justified by faith and works. This doctrine is more tolerable than the former one, and gives more comfort than their old doctrine.
Therefore, because the doctrine on faith, even though it should be the primary doctrine in the Church, went unknown for so long—and they all have to admit that there was the deepest silence in their sermons concerning the righteousness of faith, while only the doctrine of works was treated in the churches—our teachers have taught the churches about faith as follows:
First our works cannot reconcile God or merit the forgiveness of sins, grace, and justification. Rather, we obtain this only by faith, when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake. He alone has been set forth the Mediator and Propitiation, 1 Timothy 2:5, in order that the Father may be reconciled through Him. If anyone, therefore, believes that he merits grace by his works, he is despising the merit and grace of Christ, because he is seeking a way to God without Christ, by human strength, even though Christ said about Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” John 14:6.
This doctrine concerning faith is everywhere treated by Paul. Ephesians 2:8: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your selves; it is the gift of God, not of works,” etc.
And so that no one cleverly says that we have come up with a new interpretation of Paul, this entire matter is supported by the testimonies of the Fathers. Augustine, in many volumes, defends grace and the righteousness of faith, over against the merits of works. And Ambrose, in his De Vocatione Gentium, and elsewhere, teaches similarly. For in his De Vocatione Gentium he says as follows:
“Redemption by the blood of Christ would become of little value, neither would the preeminence of man’s works be superseded by the mercy of God, if justification, which is wrought through grace, were due to the merits going before, so as to be, not the free gift of a donor, but the reward due to the laborer.”
Although ignorant people despise this doctrine, nevertheless, God-fearing and anxious consciences know by experience that it brings the greatest consolation. This is because consciences cannot be at peace through any works, but only by faith, when they understand the certainty that for Christ’s sake they have a reconciled God. As Paul teaches: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Romans 5:1. This entire doctrine revolves around that conflict of the terrified conscience, and it cannot be understood apart from that conflict. Therefore inexperienced and secular-minded men are wrong about this, when they imagine that Christian righteousness is the same as civil and philosophical righteousness.
Previously consciences were plagued with the doctrine of works, and they did not hear the consolation of the Gospel. Some people’s consciences drove them into the desert, into monasteries, where they hoped they might merit grace by a monastic lifestyle. Other people came up with other kinds of works, to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins. For this reason there was a huge need to discuss and renew this doctrine of faith in Christ, so that anxious consciences would not go without consolation but rather know that they can get grace, the forgiveness of sins, and justification, all by faith in Christ.
We also caution that ‘faith’ does not mean the mere knowledge of events, such as the faith that wicked people and the devil have. Rather it signifies the faith that believes not just the history, but also the result of the history—namely, this article: the forgiveness of sins, which is to say that we have grace, righteousness, and the forgiveness of sins through Christ.
Whoever knows he has a Father, who is gracious to him through Christ, truly knows God. He knows that God cares for him, and he calls upon God. In short, he is not without God, as the heathen are. For the demons and the ungodly cannot believe this article: the forgiveness of sins. For this reason, they hate God as their enemy, they do not call upon Him, and they expect nothing good from Him. Augustine also warns his readers about the word ‘faith’, and teaches that the term ‘faith’ in Scripture does not stand for the kind of knowledge the ungodly also possess, but for the confidence that consoles and encourages the terrified mind.
Furthermore, we teach that it is necessary to do good works, not so that we trust in them to merit grace, but because it is God’s will. It is only by faith that anyone gets the forgiveness of sins, and that is free. And because the Holy Spirit is received through faith, hearts are renewed and endowed with new affections, with the result that they are able to bring forth good works. For Ambrose says: “Faith is the mother of a good will and right doing.”
For without the Holy Spirit, a man’s powers are full of ungodly desires, and he is too weak to do works that are good in God’s sight. Besides, he is in the power of the devil, who impels men to a variety of sins, ungodly opinions, and open crimes. We can see this in the philosophers, who tried to live an honest life, but were unable to succeed, and defiled themselves with many open crimes. Such is the feebleness of man when he is without faith and without the Holy Spirit, and governs himself only by human strength.
From this, anyone can see that our doctrine should not be accused of prohibiting good works; but should be commended instead, because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. For without faith, there is no way that human nature can do the works of the First or Second Commandments. Without faith, human nature does not call upon God, or expect anything from God, or bear its cross, but it seeks and trusts in man’s help. When there is no faith and trust in God, therefore, all kinds of lusts and human ideas dominate the heart. For this reason Christ said: “Without me you can do nothing”, John 15:5. And the Church sings:
Lacking Thy divine favor,
There is nothing found in man,
Naught in him is harmless.
Article XXI: On the Worship of the Saints
On the Worship of Saints we teach that we may remember saints, in order to follow their faith and good works, according to our calling. The Emperor, for example, may follow the example of David in waging war, to drive away the Turk from his country. For they are both kings. Scripture, however, does not teach us to call upon the saints or ask the saints for help. Instead, it sets before us the one Christ who is the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. We should pray to him. He promises that He will hear our prayer, and He approves this worship above all, namely, that we call upon Him at all times of distress. 1 John 2:1. “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,” etc.
This is just about all of our doctrine, in which, as anyone can see, there is nothing that varies from Scripture, or from the Catholic Church, or from the Church of Rome according to its own writers. This being the case, they who insist on calling our teachers heretics are wrongly judgmental. There remains, however, disagreement on certain abuses, which have crept into the Church without proper authorization. And even in these instances, if there were some difference, the bishops should show an appropriate amount of leniency in bearing with us, for the sake of the Confession which we have now reviewed. After all, even the Canons are not so severe as to demand the same rites everywhere, and the rites of all churches have never been the same. That said, we carefully observe the ancient rites, for the most part. The accusation, therefore, that our churches have abolished all the ceremonies, and all the things instituted in ancient times, is false and malicious. But it has been our common complaint that some abuses were connected with the ordinary rites. We have to a certain extent corrected these abuses, seeing that we could not approve them with a good conscience.
ARTICLES IN WHICH ARE REVIEWED THE ABUSES WE HAVE CORRECTED.
Our churches do not disagree with the Catholic Church on any article of the faith, but we only omit some abuses which are new, which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons. This being the case, therefore, we pray that Your Imperial Majesty would graciously hear both what we have changed, and the reasons why we did not compel the people to observe those abuses against their conscience. Your Imperial Majesty should not believe those who, in order to excite the hatred of men against our side, are spreading strange slanders among the people. This way they have disturbed the minds of good men, and caused this huge controversy, and now they are trying, by the same methods, to increase the discord. For Your Imperial Majesty will undoubtedly find that the form of our doctrine and practice is not so intolerable as these ungodly and malicious men claim. Besides, you cannot get the truth from common rumours or the revilings of enemies. But anyone can easily judge that the best way to maintain the dignity of ceremonies, and to encourage reverence and pious devotion among the people, is to have ceremonies observed rightly in the churches.
Article XXII: On Both Kinds in the Sacrament
Both elements in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are given to the laity, because this practice is commanded by the Lord in Matthew 26:27: “Drink of it, all of you.” There Christ clearly commanded, concerning the cup, that all should drink. And in case anyone craftily says that this refers only to priests, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27 recites an example, from which it appears that the whole congregation was partaking of both kinds. And this was the practice in the Church for a long time, nor does anyone know when or by whose authority it was changed, although Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa mentions the time when it was approved. Cyprian in some places testifies that the blood was given to the people. The same is testified by Jerome, who says: “The priests administer the Eucharist, and distribute the blood of Christ to the people.” Indeed, Pope Gelasius commands that the Sacrament is not to be divided (dist. II., De Consecratione, cap. Comperimus). Only quite recent custom has it otherwise. Obviously, however, we should not allow any custom that is introduced against the commandments of God, as the Canons witness (Dist. III., cap. Veritate, and the following chapters). But this custom comes down to us, not only against the Scripture, but also against the old Canons and the example of the Church. Therefore, if anyone prefers to use both kinds of the Sacrament, they should not be compelled to do otherwise, with offense to their consciences. Because dividing the Sacrament does not agree with the ordinance of Christ, we are also now accustomed to omitting the procession that we did previously.
Article XXIII: On the Marriage of Priests
There have been frequent complaints about priests who are not chaste. For that reason also, they say, Pope Pius conceded that, although there were reasons why marriage was taken away from priests, there were far weightier ones why it should be given back (so Bartolomeo Platina writes). Since, therefore, our priests wanted to avoid these open scandals, they married wives, and taught that it was lawful for them to contract matrimony. First, because Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 7:2, 9: “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife.” Also: “It is better to marry than to burn.” Second, Christ says, in Matthew 19:11: “All men cannot receive this saying,” where He teaches that not all men are fit to lead a single life. After all, God created man for procreation, according to Genesis 1:28. Nor does man have the power, without a singular gift and work of God, to alter this creation. For it is clear, and many have admitted it, that no good, honest, chaste life, and no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resulted (from the attempt); but many men have felt a dreadful, horrible unrest and torment of conscience until the end of their lives. Therefore, those who are not fit to lead a single life ought to contract matrimony. For no man’s law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God. For these reasons the priests teach that it is lawful for them to marry wives.
It is also evident that, in the ancient Church, priests were married. For Paul says, in 1 Timothy 3:2, that a bishop should be chosen who is the husband of one wife. And in Germany, four hundred years ago for the first time, the priests were violently compelled to lead a single life. Indeed, they resisted it so vehemently that the Archbishop of Mainz, when he was about to publish the Pope’s decree concerning this matter, was almost killed in the tumult raised by the angry priests. And the matter was dealt with so harshly that not only were marriages forbidden for the future, but also existing marriages were torn asunder, contrary to all laws of God and man, contrary even to the Canons themselves that were made not only by the Popes, but by most celebrated Synods. Moreover, many God-fearing and intelligent people in high station are known frequently to have expressed misgivings that such enforced celibacy and depriving men of marriage (which God Himself has instituted and left free to men) has never produced any good results, but has brought on many great and evil vices and many transgressions.
Seeing also that man’s nature gradually grows weaker, as the world ages, it is well to guard against any more vices stealing into Germany.
Furthermore, God ordained marriage to be a help against human infirmity. The Canons themselves say that the old rigor ought now and then, in the latter times, to be relaxed because of the weakness of men. We wish this would be done also in this matter. We may also expect that the churches shall at some time lack pastors if marriage is forbidden any longer.
Now the commandment of God is in force, now the custom of the Church is well known, now impure celibacy is causing many scandals, adulteries, and other crimes deserving the punishments of just magistrates. And yet, amazingly, more cruelty is exercised against the marriage of priests than against anything else. God has commanded us to honour marriage. By the laws of all well-ordered commonwealths, even among the heathen, marriage is most highly honoured. But now men, and priests at that, are cruelly put to death, contrary to the intent of the Canons, for no cause other than marriage. Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:3, calls it a doctrine of demons that forbids marriage. This may now readily be understood, when they enforce the law against marriage with such penalties.
No law of man, however, can annul the commandment of God, and likewise neither can any vow. Accordingly, Cyprian also advises that women who do not keep the chastity they have promised should marry. His words are as follows (Letter 4.2): “But if they are unwilling or unable to persevere, it is better for them to marry than to fall into the fire because of their lusts; they should certainly give no offense to their brothers and sisters.”
Even the Canons show some leniency toward those who have taken vows before the proper age, as before now has generally been the case.
Article XXIV: On the Mass
Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. In reality, we retain the Mass, and we celebrate it with the highest reverence. We also preserve nearly all the usual ceremonies, except that some German hymns have been mixed in among the Latin, and we added these to teach the people. For ceremonies are necessary for one reason alone: to teach the ignorant. And not only did Paul command that in church we should use a language that people understand, 1 Corinthians 14:2-9, but things have also been established this way by human law. The people are accustomed to partake of the Sacrament together, if any are fit for it, and this also increases the reverence and devotion of public worship. For no one is admitted unless they are examined first. The people are also advised about the dignity and use of the Sacrament, what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences, so that they learn to believe God, and to expect and ask of Him all that is good. Similarly they are also instructed regarding other false teachings on the Sacrament. This worship is pleasing to God. Such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion toward God. It does not, therefore, appear that the Mass is more devoutly celebrated among our adversaries than among us.
Clearly, however, and for a long time, all good men have been complaining most vehemently and publicly that Masses are being basely debased and abused, to make money. How far this abuse has spread in all the churches, what kind of men say Masses only for fees or stipends, and how many are celebrating them contrary to the Canons, is well known. But Paul severely threatens those who deal unworthily with the Eucharist when he says, in 1 Corinthians 11:27: “Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” When, therefore, we admonished our priests about this sin, private masses stopped taking place among us, because hardly any private masses were being celebrated that were not for money.
The bishops knew about these abuses too, and if they had corrected them in time, there would now be less disagreement. Previously, while they secretly knew what was going on, they let many corruptions creep into the Church. Now, when it is too late, they begin to complain of the troubles of the Church, while this disturbance has been occasioned simply by those abuses which were so manifest that they could be borne no longer. There have been great dissensions concerning the Mass, concerning the Sacrament. Perhaps the world is being punished for such long-continued profanations of the Mass as have been tolerated in the churches for so many centuries by the very men who were both able and in duty bound to correct them. For in the Ten Commandments it is written, in Exodus 20:7: “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” But it seems that since the world began, for filthy money, nothing that God ordained was ever abused more than the Mass.
In addition, the opinion became popular, which infinitely increased private masses, namely, that Christ, by His passion, had made satisfaction for original sin, and instituted the Mass for us to make an offering for daily sins, venial and mortal. From this has arisen the common opinion that the Mass takes away the sins of the living and the dead by the outward act. Then people began to doubt whether one mass said for many was worth as much as the special masses for individuals, and this brought forth that infinite multitude of masses. With this work men wished to obtain from God all that they needed, and in the mean time faith in Christ and the true worship were forgotten.
Our teachers have warned us about these opinions, that they depart from the Holy Scriptures and diminish the glory of Christ’s passion. For Christ’s passion was an oblation and satisfaction, not for original guilt only, but also for all other sins, as it says in Hebrews 10:10: “We are sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all.” Also, Hebrews 10:14: “By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” It is an unheard-of innovation in the Church to teach that Christ by His death made satisfaction only for original sin and not likewise for all other sin. Accordingly we hope that everyone will understand that we have good reason for reproving this error.
Scripture also teaches that we are justified before God through faith in Christ, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Now if the Mass takes away the sins of the living and the dead by the outward act, justification comes of the work of Masses, and not of faith, which Scripture does not allow.
But Christ commands us, in Luke 22:19: “This do in remembrance of Me.” Therefore the Mass was instituted so that the faith of those who use the Sacrament should remember what benefits it receives through Christ, and cheer and comfort the anxious conscience. For to remember Christ is to remember His benefits, and to realize that he truly offers them to us. And it is not enough only to remember the history; for the Jews and the ungodly can also remember that. Wherefore the Mass is to be used to this end, that there the Sacrament of Communion may be administered to those who need consolation; as Ambrose says: “Because I always sin, I am always bound to take the medicine.” Therefore this Sacrament requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain.
Now, since the Mass is such a giving of the Sacrament, we hold one communion every holy-day, and, if any people desire the Sacrament, also on other days, when it is given to those who ask for it. And this custom is not new in the Church; for the Fathers before Gregory make no mention of any private Mass, but they do say a lot about the common Mass, the Communion. Chrysostom says that the priest stands daily at the altar, inviting some to the Communion and keeping back others. And it appears from the ancient Canons that one person celebrated the Mass, from whom all the other presbyters and deacons received the body of he Lord; for the words of the Nicene Canon say as follows: “Let the deacons, according to their order, receive the Holy Communion after the presbyters, from the bishop or from a presbyter.” And Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:33, commands concerning the Communion that we should wait for one another, so that there may be a common participation.
Therefore, seeing that the Mass, as we practice it, has the example of the Church, taken from the Scripture and the Fathers, we are confident that no one can disapprove of it, especially since we retain the public ceremonies, for the most part just as they were previously. Only the number of masses differs, which, because of very great and manifest abuses doubtless might be profitably reduced. For in olden times, even in churches most frequented, the Mass was not celebrated every day, as we read in the Tripartite History (Book 9, chap. 38): “Again in Alexandria, every Wednesday and Friday the Scriptures are read, and the doctors expound them, and all things are done, except the solemn rite of Communion.”
Article XXV: On Confession
Confession in the churches is not abolished among us. In fact, it is our usual practice to give the body of the Lord only to those who have been previously examined and absolved. And we teach the people very carefully about faith in the absolution, about which formerly there was a profound silence. We teach our people that they should highly prize the absolution, as it is the voice of God, and pronounced by God’s command. The power of the Keys is set forth in its beauty, and the people are reminded what great consolation it brings to anxious consciences. We remind them that also that God requires faith, to believe that such absolution is a voice sounding from heaven; and that such faith in Christ truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins. Earlier people paid far too much attention to satisfactions; no one mentioned faith and the merit of Christ and the righteousness of faith. For this reason, on this point, our churches are by no means to be blamed. Indeed, even our adversaries have to concede that our teachers have taught and explained repentance very diligently.
But on Confession we teach that an enumeration of sins is not necessary, and that consciences do not need to be burdened with anxiety to number all their sins, because it is impossible to recount all sins, as the Psalm 19:13 testifies: “Who can understand his errors?” Also Jeremiah 17:9 : “The heart is deceitful; who can know it?” But if no sins are forgiven, except for those that are recounted, consciences would never find peace, since there are very many sins that they do not know about or cannot remember. The ancient writers also testify that an enumeration is not necessary. For in the Decrees, Chrysostom is quoted, who says thus: “I say not to you that you should disclose yourself in public, nor that you accuse yourself before others, but I would have you obey the prophet who says: “Disclose thy way before God.” Therefore confess your sins before God, the true Judge, with prayer. Tell your errors, not with the tongue, but with the memory of your conscience,” etc. And the Gloss (Of Repentance, distiction 5, chapter: Consideret) admits that Confession is of human right only, not commanded by Scripture, but ordained by the Church. Nevertheless, on account of the great benefit of absolution, and because it is otherwise useful to the conscience, Confession is retained among us.
Article XXVI: On the Distinction of Meats
Both the people and those teaching in the churches have generally understood that making Distinctions of Meats, and similar man-made traditions, are works profitable to merit grace, and able to make satisfactions for sins. And it is apparent that the world thought this way from the fact that new ceremonies, new orders, new holy-days, and new occasions for fasting were instituted daily, and the teachers in the churches did exact these works as a service necessary to merit grace, and did greatly terrify men’s consciences, if anyone should omit any of these things. This persuasion concerning traditions has caused a lot of damage to the Church.
First, these traditions obscure the doctrine of grace and of the righteousness of faith, which is the chief part of the Gospel. The doctrine of grace should stand out most prominently in the Church, to make the merit of Christ well known; and to exalt faith, which believes that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, far above works. For this reason Paul also lays the greatest emphasis on this article, putting aside the Law and human traditions, in order to show that Christian righteousness is something other than such works, namely, the faith which believes that sins are freely forgiven for Christ’s sake. But this doctrine of Paul has been almost wholly smothered by traditions, which have produced an opinion that we must merit grace and righteousness, by making distinctions in meats and like services. In teaching repentance, no one mentioned faith; they only presented works of satisfaction, and the entire penance seemed to consist of them.
Second, these traditions have obscured the commandments of God, because traditions were placed far above the commandments of God. People thought Christianity consisted entirely in the observance of certain holy-days, rites, fasts, and vestures. These observances had won for themselves the exalted title of being the spiritual life and the perfect life. Meanwhile they paid no honour to the commandments of God, according to each one’s calling, namely, that the father should raise his offspring, the mother bear children, the prince govern the commonwealth. They thought these works were worldly and imperfect, and far below those glittering observances. And this error greatly tormented devout consciences, which grieved that they were held in an imperfect state of life, such as in marriage, in the office of magistrate; or in other civil ministrations. On the other hand, they admired the monks and people them, and falsely imagined that the observances of such men were more acceptable to God.
Third, traditions brought great danger to consciences, because it was impossible to keep all traditions, and yet men judged these observances to be necessary acts of worship. Gerson writes that many fell into despair, and that some even took their own lives, because they felt that they were not able to satisfy the traditions, and they had all the while not heard any consolation of the righteousness of faith and grace. We see that the Summists and theologians gather the traditions, and seek mitigations whereby to ease consciences, and yet they do not sufficiently unfetter, but sometimes entangle, consciences even more. And the schools and sermons have been so occupied with collecting these traditions that they have had no time to touch Scripture, and to seek the more profitable doctrine of faith, of the cross, of hope, of the dignity of civil affairs, of consolation to sorely tried consciences. Hence Gerson and some other theologians have grievously complained that these efforts concerning traditions prevented them from giving attention to a better kind of doctrine. Augustine also forbids that men’s consciences should be burdened with such observances, and prudently advises Januarius that he must know that they are to be observed as things indifferent; for such are his words.
For these reasons our teachers have taken up this matter, not rashly or from hatred of the bishops, as some falsely suspect. There was great need to warn the churches of these errors, which arose from misunderstanding the traditions. For the Gospel compels us to insist in the churches upon the doctrine of grace, and of the righteousness of faith. People cannot understand these, however, if they think they merit grace by observances of their own choice.
In this way, therefore, we have taught that we cannot merit grace or be justified by the observing man-made traditions , and so we must not think that such observances are necessary acts of worship. We now add the testimonies of Scripture. Christ, in Matthew 15:3 and 9, defends the Apostles who had not observed the usual tradition (which, however, seems to have been about a matter that was not unlawful, but indifferent, relating to the water-purifications of the Law, and he says, “In vain do they worship Me with the commandments of men.” Therefore he does not require any pointless kind of worship. Shortly after that He adds: “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man.” So also Paul, in Romans 14:17: “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking.” Colossians 2:16, 20-21: “So let no one judge you in food, or in drink, or regarding a festival, or a Sabbath.” Also: “If you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations: Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle?” And Peter says, in Acts 15:10: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Here Peter forbids us from burdening consciences with many rites, either of Moses or of others. And in 1 Timothy 4:1, 3 Paul calls the prohibition of meats a doctrine of devils. Why? Because it is against the Gospel to institute or to do such works, so that by them we may merit grace, or as though Christianity could not exist without such service of God.
Here our opponents object that our teachers are opposed to the discipline and mortification of the flesh, as Jovinian. But we learn the contrary from the writings of our teachers. For they have always taught concerning the cross that Christians benefit from bearing afflictions. This is the true, earnest, and unfeigned mortification, namely, to be exercised with various afflictions, and to be crucified with Christ.
Moreover, we teach that every Christian should train and subdue himself with bodily restraints, or bodily exercises and labors, so that neither satiety nor slothfulness tempt him to sin, but not so that we may merit grace or make satisfaction for sins by such exercises. And such external discipline should be encouraged at all times, not only on a few set days. Christ commands this, in Luke 21:34: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing”. Also Matthew 17:21: “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Paul also says, in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection.” Here he clearly shows that he was keeping under his body, not to merit forgiveness of sins by that discipline, but to have his body in subjection and fitted for spiritual things, and to discharge his duty according to his calling. Therefore, we do not condemn fasting per se, but the traditions that prescribe certain days and meats with peril of conscience, as though such works were a necessary form of worship.
Nevertheless, very many traditions are kept on our part, which conduce to good order in the Church, as the Order of Lessons in the Mass, and the chief holy-days. But at the same time we warn people that such observances do not justify before God, and that in such things it should not be made sin if they be omitted without offense. Such liberty in man-made rites was well known to the Fathers. For in the East they kept Easter at a different time than they did at Rome, and when the Romans accused the Eastern Church of schism because of this diversity, others admonished them that such usages need not be alike everywhere. And Irenaeus says: “A dissonance of fasting does not destroy the harmony of faith”. Pope Gregory also intimates in Dist. XII, that such diversity does no harm to the unity of the Church. And in the Tripartite History, Book 9, there is a collection of many examples of dissimilar rites, and the following words are written: “It was not the mind of the Apostles to enact rules concerning holy-days, but to preach godliness and a holy life – to teach faith and love.”
Article XXVII: On Monastic Vows
It will be easier to understand what we teach about Monastic Vows, if we remember in what state the monasteries have been, and how many things were daily done in those same monasteries, contrary to the Canons. In Augustine’s time they were free associations. Afterwards, when discipline was corrupted, vows were everywhere added for the purpose of restoring discipline, as in a carefully planned prison.
Gradually, many other observances were added besides the vows. And many received these fetters before the lawful age, contrary to the Canons.
Many people also went into this kind of life through ignorance, because they misjudged their own strength, even though they were old enough. This way they were trapped, and compelled to remain, even though some could have been freed by the kind provision of the Canons. And this was more the case in convents of women than of monks, even though more consideration should have been shown the weaker sex. This hardship has displeased many good men before now, who saw that young men and girls were being thrown into convents for a living. They saw what unfortunate results were produced, what scandals took place, and what snares were cast upon consciences. They grieved that the authority of the Canons in such a very perilous matter was completely ignored and despised. And in addition to these evils, there arose such an opinion about vows, that at one time must have been displeasing even to the monks themselves, at least those who were a little more compassionate. They were teaching that vows were equal to Baptism; they were teaching that by this kind of life they merited the forgiveness of sins and justification before God. More than that, they added that the monastic life merited not only righteousness before God but even more, because it kept not only the commandments, but also the evangelical counsels.
This way they persuaded people that the monastic profession was far better than Baptism, and that the monastic life had more merit to it than the life of magistrates, the life of pastors, and similar people, who serve their calling in accordance with God’s commands, without any man-made services. None of these things can be denied; for they appear in their own books. Besides, a person who has been ensnared like this and has entered a monastery learns little about Christ.
What, then, happened later in the monasteries? They once used to be schools of sacred letters, and of other disciplines that were useful to the Church. They used to produce pastors and bishops. Now it is a different story. There is no need to rehearse what everyone knows. Previously they gathered together to learn; now they pretend that kind of life was instituted to merit grace and righteousness. More than that, they preach that it is a state of perfection, and they place it far above all other divinely ordained ways of life. We have stated these things without hatefully exaggerating anything, so that the doctrine of our teachers on this point may be understood better.
First, concerning those who get married, we teach that all men who are not fit for the celibate life are allowed to marry, because vows cannot annul the ordinance and commandment of God. But the commandment of God is, according to 1 Corinthians 7:2: “To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife.” Nor is it the commandment only, but also the creation and ordinance of God, which forces those to marry who are not excepted by a singular work of God, according to the text Gen. 2:18: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Therefore it is not a sin to obey this commandment and ordinance of God.
What objection can anyone raise to this? Let them extol the obligation of a vow as much as they like, but they will not be able to annul the commandment of God with any vow! The Canons teach that the right of the superior is excepted in every vow; and that vows are not binding against the decision of the Pope; much less, therefore, are these vows binding, which are against the commandments of God.
Now, if the obligation of vows could not be changed for any cause whatever, the Roman Pontiffs would never have given dispensation; for man has no right to annul an obligation that is entirely divine. But the Roman Pontiffs have prudently judged that leniency is to be observed in this obligation, and therefore we read that many times they have dispensed from vows. The case of the King of Aragon who was called back from the monastery is well known, and there are also examples in our own times. So if it is possible to grant dispensations for the sake of securing temporal interests, it is much more proper to grant them on account of the distress of souls.
In the second place, why do our opponents exaggerate the obligation or effect of a vow when, at the same time, they have nothing to say about the nature of the vow itself, that it ought to be on something possible, that it ought to be voluntary, and undertaken willingly and deliberately? But everyone knows to what extent man is capable of perpetual chastity. And how few there are who have taken the vow willingly and deliberately! Girls and boys, before they are able to judge, are persuaded, sometimes even compelled to take vows. Therefore it is not fair to insist so rigorously on the obligation, since everyone agrees that it is against the nature of a vow that anyone should make it without consent and proper deliberation.
Most of the canonical laws rescind vows that were made before the age of fifteen, because before that age they do not seem to have enough judgment to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives. Another canon, which grants more allowance to the weakness of men, adds a few more years; for it forbids making a vow before the age of eighteen. But which of these two Canons shall we follow? The vast majority have an excuse to leave the monasteries, because most of them took their vows before they reached these ages.
Lastly, even in cases where the breaking of vows could be rebuked, yet it does not seem to follow straightaway that the marriages of such persons must be dissolved. For Augustine denies that they ought to be dissolved, whose authority bears some weight, even if other men afterwards thought differently (Augustine, 27 question 1. chapter, Nuptiarum).
But although God’s commandment concerning marriage seems to deliver most people from their vows, yet our teachers introduce also another argument concerning vows, to show that they are void. For every service of God, ordained and chosen of men without the commandment of God to merit justification and grace, is wicked, as Christ says in Matthew 15:9: “In vain do they worship me with the commandments of men.” And Paul teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought from our own observances and acts of worship, devised by men, but that it comes by faith to those who believe that they are received by God into grace for Christ’s sake.
The monks evidently taught, however, that man-made observances make satisfaction for sins, and merit grace and justification. Surely this only detracts from the glory of Christ, and obscures and denies the righteousness of faith? It follows, therefore, that these vows that were so common were impious forms of worship, and for that reason they are void. For a wicked vow that is taken against the commandment of God, is not valid; for no vow should be a bond of iniquity, as the canon says.
Paul says, in Galatians 5:4: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, you who are justified by the law; you have fallen from grace.” Therefore, also for those who want to be justified by their vows, Christ is made of no effect, and they fall from grace. For those who attribute justification to vows are attributing to their own works something that properly belongs to the glory of Christ.
Indeed, no one can deny that the monks have taught that, by their vows and observances, they were justified, and merited forgiveness of sins. Beyond that, they invented even more ridiculous claims, and said they could share their works with others. If we wanted to argue ad nauseam, and expand on these things, we could gather together many more things that would make even the monks themselves ashamed! Over and above this, they persuaded people that rites devised by men were a state of Christian perfection. Is this not attributing justification to works? This is not a small scandal in the Church; they give the people a service devised by men, without the commandment of God, and they teach that such service justifies men. For the righteousness of faith should be taught in Church more than anything else. But this is obscured, when those wonderful angelic forms of worship, the show of poverty, humility, and celibacy, are cast before the eyes of men.
Furthermore, the precepts of God and the true service of God are obscured when men hear that only monks are in a state of perfection. For Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart, and yet to conceive great faith, trusting that for Christ’s sake we have a God who has been reconciled; then to ask of God, and assuredly to expect him to help in everything we need to do, according to our calling; and meanwhile, to be diligent in outward good works, and to serve our calling. The true perfection and the true service of God consists in these things. It does not consist in celibacy, or in begging, or in vile clothing. But the people conceive many pernicious opinions from the false commendations of monastic life. They hear celibacy praised above measure; therefore they lead their married life with offense to their consciences. They hear that only beggars are perfect; therefore they keep their possessions and do business with offense to their consciences. They hear that it is an evangelical counsel not to seek revenge; therefore some in private life are not afraid to take revenge, for they hear that it is but a counsel, and not a commandment. Others think that a Christian cannot properly hold a civil office or be a magistrate.
There are on record examples of men who abandoned marriage and the administration of the Commonwealth, and hid themselves in monasteries. They called this ‘fleeing from the world’, and ‘seeking a kind of life which would be more pleasing to God’. But they did not see that we should serve God in those commandments which he himself has given and not in commandments devised by men. The good and perfect kind of life is that which has the commandment of God. It is necessary to warn men about these things.
Even before these times, Gerson rebukes this error of the monks concerning perfection, and he testifies that in his own day it was a new saying that the monastic life is a state of perfection.
Vows are connected with so many wicked opinions: that they justify, that they constitute Christian perfection, that they keep the counsels and commandments, that they have works of supererogation. All these things, since they are false and empty claims, make vows null and void.
Article XXVIII: On Ecclesial Power
There have been big disagreements about the power of bishops. In these, some have inappropriately mixed the power of the Church and the power of the sword. And from this confusion very great wars and tumults have resulted. Meanwhile Pontiffs, relying on the power of the Keys, not only instituted new rites and burdened consciences with reservation of cases and ruthless excommunications, but also tried to transfer the kingdoms of this world, and to take the Empire from the Emperor. Well educated and godly men have rebuked these wrongs in the Church for a long time. Therefore our teachers, for the comfort of men’s consciences, were compelled to show the difference between the power of the Church and the power of the sword. And we taught that we should honour and revere each of them, according to God’s command, as if they are God’s highest blessings on earth.
This, however, is our opinion: that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is the power or command of God, to preach the Gospel; to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. For with this command Christ sends his Apostles, in John 20:21-23: “As My Father sent me, even so send I you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And in Mark 16:15: “Go preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Men exercise this power only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, either to many or to individuals, according to their calling. For with these they bestow not bodily, but eternal things, such as eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. No one can get these things except through the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, in Romans 1:16: “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes.” Therefore, since the power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with civil government; not any more than the art of singing interferes with civil government. For the civil government and the Gospel deal with different things. The civil rulers defend not minds, but bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and they restrain men with the sword and bodily punishments, in order to preserve civil justice and peace.
Therefore we must not mix up the powers of the Church and the state. The power of the Church has its own mandate, to teach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Let it not break into the office of another; let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world; let it not abrogate the laws of magistrates; let it not abolish lawful obedience; let it not interfere with judgments concerning civil ordinances or contracts; and let it not prescribe laws to magistrates concerning the form of the Commonwealth. As Christ says, in John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world”; and in Luke 12:14: “Who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Paul also says, in Philippians 3:20: “Our citizenship is in heaven”; and in 2 Corinthians 10:4: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the casting down of imaginations.”
In this way our teachers make a distinction between the duties of each power, and command us to honour and recognize each as a gift and blessing from God.
If any bishops have the power of the sword, those bishops have it, not by the mandate of the Gospel, but by human right, having received it from kings and emperors for the civil administration of their temporal goods. This, however, is a function that is separate from the ministry of the Gospel.
When, therefore, we consider the question about the jurisdiction of bishops, we must distinguish civil authority from ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Again, according to the Gospel, or ‘by divine right’, as they say, no jurisdiction belongs to the bishops as bishops, that is, as men to whom the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments has been entrusted, except to forgive sins, and likewise to judge doctrine, to reject teaching that is contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the communion of the Church wicked men, whose wickedness is known, and all this not by human force, but by the Word. Here the churches must necessarily and by divine right obey them, according to Luke 10:16: “He that hears you hears me.” But when they teach or institute anything against the Gospel, then the congregations have a command from God that forbids their obedience, in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets.” And in Galatians 1:8: “Even if an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.” And in 2 Corinthians 13:8, 10: “We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” And: “The power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.” So, also, the Canonical Laws command (II. Question. VII. Chapter, Sacerdotes, and Chapter, Oves). And Augustine writes (Contra Petiliani Epistolam): “Neither must we submit to Catholic bishops if they happen to be wrong, or hold anything contrary to the canonical scriptures of God.”
If they have any other power or jurisdiction, in hearing and judging certain cases, as of matrimony or of tithes, and so on, they have it by human right. In such cases, when the ordinary people fail, the princes are bound, even against their will, to dispense justice to their subjects for the maintenance of peace.
Moreover, it is disputed whether bishops or pastors have the right to introduce ceremonies in the Church, and to establish laws about food, holy-days and ranks or orders of ministers, and so on. Those who claim that the bishops have this right refer to the testimony of John 16:12-13: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” They also refer to the example of the Apostles in Acts 15:20, who commanded to abstain from blood and from strangled meat. They refer to the Sabbath-day, which was changed to the Lord’s Day, contrary to the Decalog, so it seems. Neither is there any example they cite more than the changing of the Sabbath-day. Great, they say, is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!
But on this question our people teach that bishops have no power to decree anything against the Gospel, as we showed above. The Canonical Laws teach the same thing (Distinction 9). Moreover, it is against Scripture to establish or require us to observe traditions, to make satisfaction for sins, or to merit grace and righteousness. For we detract from the glory of Christ’s merit when we try to merit justification by such observances. Clearly, however, traditions in the Church have almost infinitely multiplied because of this opinion, while at the same time, the teaching about faith and the righteousness of faith has been suppressed. This is why they made more feast days and festivals, set fasting days, instituted new ceremonies and services in honour of the saints, because the authors of such things thought that by these works they were meriting grace. This way, in the past, the Canons concerned with penance multiplied; and we can still see traces of this in the satisfactions.
Similarly, the authors of traditions oppose the command of God, when they invent sins for foods, days, and such things, and burden the Church with slavery to the law, as if God commanded the apostles and bishops to set up something like the Levitical service, for Christians to merit justification. For some of them write like this. And the Pontiffs in some measure seem to have been misled by the example of the law of Moses. This is where those burdens come from: that it is a mortal sin, even without offense to others, to do manual labor on holy-days; that it is a mortal sin not to keep the canonical hours; that certain foods defile the conscience; that fastings are works that appease God; that sin in a reserved case cannot be forgiven except by the authority of the one who reserved it, even though the Canons themselves do not speak about reserving the guilt, but about reserving the ecclesial penalty.
From where do the bishops get the right to lay these traditions upon the Church for the ensnaring of consciences, when Peter, in Acts 15:10, forbids putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples; and Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 13:10, that the power given him was to edification not to destruction? Why, therefore, do they increase sins by these traditions?
But there are clear testimonies which prohibit making such traditions, as though they merited grace or were necessary to salvation. Paul says, in Colossians 2:16, 20-23: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths. … Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things have an appearance of wisdom”. Also in Titus 1:14 he openly forbids traditions: “Do not give heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth.”
And Christ, in Matthew 15:14,13, says about those who require traditions: “Leave them alone; they are blind leaders of the blind”; and he rejects such forms of worship: “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be uprooted.”
If bishops have the right to burden churches with infinite traditions, and to ensnare consciences, why does Scripture so often prohibit making, and listening to, traditions? Why does it call them “doctrines of demons”, in 1 Timothy 4:1? Did the Holy Spirit in vain give us advance warning about these things?
Therefore, since ordinances are opposed to the Gospel, when they are instituted as if they are necessary, or with the idea that they merit grace, it follows that bishops are not permitted to institute or require such services. For it is necessary to preserve the doctrine of Christian liberty in the churches, namely, that the bondage of the Law is not necessary for justification, as it is written in Galatians 5:1: “Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” It is necessary to preserve the chief article of the Gospel, namely, that we obtain grace freely by faith in Christ, and not for certain observances or acts of worship that were devised by men.
What, then, should we think about the Lord’s day, and similar rites in the house of God? To this question we reply that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances, so that things are done in the Church in an orderly way, not for us to merit grace or make satisfaction for sins by them, or to bind consciences to consider them necessary services, and think that it is a sin to break them without offense to others. So Paul ordains, in 1 Corinthians 11:5, that women should cover their heads in the congregation, and in 1 Corinthians 14:30, that interpreters be heard in order in the church, and so on.
It is proper that the churches should keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquillity, so that one person does not offend another, so that all things are done in the churches in order, and without confusion, 1 Corinthians 14:40. Compare Philippians 2:14. But this should be done in such a way that consciences are not burdened to think that these things are necessary for salvation, or to judge that they are sining when they break them without offense to others. Thus no one says that a woman is sinning if she goes out in public with her head uncovered, if she is not offending anyone.
The observance of the Lord’s Day, Easter, Pentecost, and all holy-days and rites fall into this category. For they are very much mistaken, who think that the authority of the Church made it necessary to observe the Lord’s Day in place of the Sabbath-day. Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath-day; for it teaches that, since the Gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies of Moses can be omitted. And yet, because it was necessary to appoint a certain day, that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church designated the Lord’s Day for this purpose. And this day seems to have been chosen all the more for this additional reason, so that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and know that keeping the Sabbath or any other day is not necessary.
There are some terrible arguments being made concerning the changing of the law, the ceremonies of the new law, and the changing of the Sabbath-day, all of which have sprung from the false belief that there needs to be some kind of Levitical service in the Church , and that Christ had given commission to the Apostles and bishops to devise new ceremonies to be necessary for salvation. These errors crept into the Church when the righteousness of faith was not being taught clearly enough. Some people argue that keeping the Lord’s Day is not an institution by divine right, but as if by divine right. They prescribe concerning holy-days, how far it is lawful to work. What are such arguments, other than snares of consciences? For although they may try to justify the traditions, yet the justice will never be evident, as long as the opinion remains that they are necessary; but this opinion will necessarily remain, where the righteousness of faith and Christian liberty are not known.
The Apostles commanded in Acts 15:20: “abstain from blood”. Who observes that now? And yet they are not sinning, who do not observe it, because not even the Apostles themselves wanted to burden consciences with such bondage; but they forbade it for a time, to avoid causing offense. For the consistent purpose of the Gospel must be considered part of this decree.
Scarcely any Canons are kept very precisely, and many of them fall into disuse every day, even among those who most carefully protect the traditions. And it is not even possible to console people’s consciences until this justice is observed, that we know the canons are kept without the opinion that they are necessary, and no harm is done to consciences, even though traditions go out of use.
The bishops, however, might easily retain the lawful obedience of the people, if they would not insist that they observe those traditions that cannot be kept with a good conscience. Now they command celibacy; they admit only those who swear they will not teach the pure doctrine of the Gospel. The churches are not asking the bishops to restore concord at the expense of their honor; which, nevertheless, it would be proper for good pastors to do. They ask only that they would release unjust burdens which are new and have been received contrary to the custom of the Catholic Church. It may be that in the beginning, for some of these ordinances, there were plausible reasons, which are not suitable for these later times. It is also evident that some were adopted wrongfully. Therefore it falls to the clemency of the Pontiff to mitigate them now, because such a modification does not shake the unity of the Church. For many human traditions have been changed in process of time, as the Canons themselves show. But if it is impossible to obtain a mitigation of such observances as cannot be kept without sin, we are bound to follow the apostolic rule, Acts 5:29, which commands us to obey God rather than men.
Peter, in 1 Peter 5:3, forbids bishops to be lords, and to rule over the churches. It is not our intent now to wrest the government from the bishops, but we ask this one thing, namely, that they allow the Gospel to be taught purely, and that they relax those few observances which cannot be kept without sin. But if they make no concession, it is for them to see how they shall give an account to God for furnishing, by their obstinacy, a cause for schism.
These are the chief articles which seem to be in controversy. For although we could have spoken of more abuses, yet, to avoid undue length, we have set forth the chief points, from which the rest may readily be judged. There have been great complaints concerning indulgences, pilgrimages, and the abuse of excommunications. The parishes have been vexed in many ways by the dealers in indulgences. There were endless contentions between the pastors and the monks concerning the parochial right, confessions, burials, sermons on extraordinary occasions, and countless other things. We have passed over issues like these, so that the chief points in this matter, having been briefly set forth, might be the more readily understood. Nor has anything been here said or adduced to the reproach of any one. Only those things have been recounted that we thought it necessary to speak about, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Catholic Church. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.
We desire to present the above articles in accordance with the edict of Your Imperial Majesty, in order to exhibit our Confession and let men see a summary of the doctrine of our teachers. If there is anything that any one thinks is still missing in this Confession, we are ready, God willing, to present fuller information according to the Scriptures.
Your Imperial Majesty’s faithful subjects:
John, Duke of Saxony, Elector
George, Margrave of Brandenburg.
Ernest, Duke of Lueneberg.
Philip, Landgrave of Hesse.
John Frederick, Duke of Saxony.
Francis, Duke of Lueneburg.
Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt.
Senate and Magistracy of Nuremburg.
Senate of Reutlingen.