Augsburg Confession – Article 26 – The Distinction of Foods

Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 25, click here.)

Previously people have taught, preached, and written that observing the distinction of foods and similar traditions instituted by men helps people merit grace and make satisfaction for their sin.1 On this basis people have come up with new fasts, new ceremonies, new orders and the like every day and have urged them fiercely and powerfully, as if these things were necessary forms of worship through which people would merit grace if they kept them, and would commit grave sin if they did not. This has led to a lot of pernicious error in the church.

First, it has the effect of obscuring the grace of Christ and the doctrine of faith, which holds the gospel before us with great earnestness and powerfully urges people to esteem and cherish the merit of Christ and to know that faith in Christ should be set far and away beyond all works. That is why Saint Paul has fiercely attacked the Law of Moses and human traditions, so that we might learn that we do not become pious before God by our works, but only through faith in Christ, and that we obtain grace for Christ’s sake. This doctrine has almost been completely extinguished through the teaching that people can merit grace by observing appointed fasts, distinguishing between foods, dressing a certain way, etc.

Second, such traditions have also obscured God’s commands, for these traditions are set far above God’s commands. This is all that people think the Christian life consists of: If people observe these festivals, pray these prayers, observe these fasts, dress this way—that’s called a spiritual, Christian life. At the same time, other good works that are actually necessary are considered to be a worldly, unspiritual existence, namely those that each person is responsible for according to his vocation, such as the head of the household working to support his wife and children and to bring them up in the fear of God, the mother bearing children and attending to them, a prince or ruling body governing land and people, etc. These works that are commanded by God had to be a worldly and imperfect existence, while the traditions had to have the sparkling reputation, so that they alone were called holy, perfect works. Accordingly there was neither limit nor end of making such traditions.

Second page of Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Third, such traditions have turned into a heavy burdening of consciences. For it was impossible to keep all the traditions, and nevertheless the people were of the opinion that they were a necessary form of worship. And Gerson writes that many have fallen into despair over this; some have even killed themselves on account of the fact that they heard no comfort from the grace of Christ.2 For one can see how consciences are bewildered from the scholastics and theologians who have attempted to compile all the traditions, and those who have sought some balance to help those consciences have had to spend so much time on it that in the meantime all beneficial Christian doctrine about necessary matters, such as faith, comfort in difficult trials and the like, was smothered. Many pious, learned people in the past have also complained loudly about this, that such traditions cause a lot of strife in the church, and that pious people are hindered with them and cannot come to the proper knowledge of Christ. Gerson and several others have complained fiercely about this. Yes, it even displeased Augustine that consciences were burdened with so many traditions. That is why he gives instruction along with them, so that people do not regard them as necessary things.4

Our men have therefore not taught about these matters out of insolence or contempt for spiritual authority, but dire need has required them to give instruction about the above-cited errors, which have developed from a misunderstanding of traditions. For the gospel compels us that we should and must promote the doctrine of faith in the church, but this doctrine cannot be understood if people are under the false impression that they can merit grace through self-chosen works.

And so we teach in this regard that a person cannot merit grace or appease God or make satisfaction for sin by keeping said human traditions. And therefore they should not be made into necessary forms of worship. The reason for this is drawn from Scripture. In Matthew 15 Christ excuses the apostles when they had not kept the customary traditions, and he says in addition, “They honor me in vain with human rules.” Now if he calls this an act of worship done in vain, it must not be necessary. And shortly thereafter: “What goes into the mouth does not defile a person.” Likewise Paul says in Romans 14: “The kingdom of heaven does not consist in food or drink.” Colossians 2: “No one should judge you in food, drink, Sabbath, etc.” Peter says in Acts 15: “Why do you test God by imposing on the disciples’ necks the yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? No, we believe that we are saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the same way that they are.” There Peter forbids us from burdening consciences with more external ceremonies, whether they be of Moses or others. And in 1 Timothy 4 prohibitions like prohibiting food, marriage, etc. are called devil’s doctrine. For this is diametrically opposed to the gospel, when such works are instituted or performed in order to merit the forgiveness of sins, or the impression is given that no one can be a Christian without performing them.

Third page of Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

But as for the accusation that our teachers forbid mortification and discipline, like Jovinian did,5 much to the contrary can be found in their writings. For they have always taught about the holy cross that Christians are duty-bound to suffer, and this is real and serious, not invented, mortification. In addition, we also teach that everyone is duty-bound to keep himself in check with physical discipline, such as with fasting and other works, so that he does not give himself occasion to sin, not so that he can merit grace with such works.6 Such physical discipline should not just be urged on certain appointed days, but constantly. Christ speaks of this in Luke 21: “Guard yourselves, that your hearts do not become weighed down by dissipation.” Likewise: “The demons are not expelled except through fasting and prayer.”7 And Paul says that he mortified his body and brought it into obedience.8 He thereby indicates that mortification should serve not to merit grace but to keep the body prepared, so that it does not keep anyone from doing what has been entrusted to him according to his calling. And so we do not reject fasting itself, but the fact that it has been turned into a necessary act of worship on appointed days and with certain foods, with the result that it confuses consciences.

We on our part also retain many ceremonies and traditions, such as the order of the Mass and other songs, festivals, etc., which help to preserve good order in the church. But in addition, the people are instructed that such outward worship does not make one pious before God, and that it should be observed without burdening the conscience, so that if someone gives it up without giving offense, no sin is committed in doing so. The ancient Fathers also preserved this freedom in outward ceremonies. For in the East Easter was observed at a different time than in Rome.9 And when some wanted to treat this difference as a rupture in the church, they were admonished by others that it is not necessary to maintain unity in such customs. And Irenaeus has this to say: “Differences in fasting do not rupture the unity of the faith.”10 So too it is written in Distinction 12 that such differences in human ordinances are not contrary to the unity of Christendom.11 And the Tripartite History, in Book 9, compiles many dissimilar church customs and sets down a useful Christian saying, “The apostles’ intention was not to institute festivals, but to teach faith and love.”12


1 Thomas Aquinas had written in his famous Summa Theologiae (composed from 1265-1274), Part 2, Section 2, Question 147, Article 1 (e.g. in the bottom of the left column in the 1512 Haguenau edition published by Heinrich Gran):

The practice of fasting is adopted chiefly for three reasons: First, of course, in order to keep the longings of the flesh in check. … Secondly, it is adopted in order that the mind may be more readily elevated to the contemplation of the sublime. … Thirdly, in order to make satisfaction for sins.

2 Melanchthon is citing Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), a French scholar, educator, reformer, and poet. Gerson wished to banish scholastic subtleties from the studies of the University of Paris, and at the same time to put some evangelical warmth into them, giving them a more spiritual and practical focus. Scholars are unsure which of Gerson’s works Melanchthon is citing here.

3 Liber de vita spirituali animae (The Spiritual Life of the Soul), in Joannis Gersonii Doctoris Theologi & Cancellarii Parisiensis Opera Omnia, ed. Louis Ellies du Pin, vol. 3 (Antwerp, 1706), Reading 2 (cols. 16-17); Reading 4, Corollary 11 (cols. 44-45).

4 Augustine treated the subject of traditions especially brilliantly in two letters he wrote in reply to a certain Januarius (Letters 54 and 55). Here is an excerpt from the former:

I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a “light yoke” and an “easy burden,” as He declares in the Gospel: in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God’s ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established. There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live. … I answer, therefore, that if the authority of Scripture has decided which of these methods is right, there is no room for doubting that we should do according to that which is written; and our discussion must be occupied with a question, not of duty, but of interpretation as to the meaning of the divine institution. In like manner, if the universal Church follows any one of these methods, there is no room for doubt as to our duty; for it would be the height of arrogant madness to discuss whether or not we should comply with it. But the question which you propose is not decided either by Scripture or by universal practice. It must therefore be referred to the third class—as pertaining, namely, to things which are different in different places and countries.

5 The ascetic Jovinian (d. c. 405) was much maligned, and his views exaggerated, by Jerome’s later invective in his two books Against Jovinian, written in 393. Jovinian did not so much oppose mortification and discipline, as he did the idea that such measures were meritorious or possessed a character of moral elevation. Melanchthon’s characterization of him here is based on Jerome’s.

6 Modern-day examples would include self-imposed or mutually arranged accountability measures with regard to internet usage, consumption of food or drink, recreational pastimes, etc.

7 Mark 9:29

8 1 Corinthians 9:27

9 In Asia Minor Easter was observed on the Jewish day of Passover (14 Nisan), but in Rome and the rest of the Christian world it was observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox (see Eusebius, Church HistoryBook 5, Chapter 23).

10 Quoted in Eusebius, Church HistoryBook 5, Chapter 24, par. 13.

11 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 12, Chapter 10 here (type 98 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go). The excerpt cited there was penned by Gregory the Great to Augustine of Canterbury (Bishop of the Angli from 597-604) and reads as follows:

Thy Fraternity [dignified way of addressing Augustine] knows the use of the Roman Church, in which thou hast been nurtured. But I approve of thy selecting carefully anything thou hast found that may be more pleasing to Almighty God, whether in the Roman Church or that of Gaul, or in any Church whatever, and introducing in the Church of the Angli, which is as yet new in the faith, by a special institution, what thou hast been able to collect from many Churches. For we ought not to love things for places, but places for things. Wherefore choose from each several Church such things as are pious, religious, and right, and, collecting them as it were into a bundle, plant them in the minds of the Angli for their use.

The entire letter is available in its entirety in English here. (To distinguish this Augustine from the more renowned Augustine of Hippo, some choose to pronounce the former AW-gus-teen and the latter u-GUS-tin.)

12 Rf. Note 13 under Article 24. Melanchthon’s reference (from Book 9, Chapter 38) can be viewed on folio 78b here. It is based on Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22.


Augsburg Confession – Article 20 – Faith and Good Works

Articles 19 & 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 19, click here.)

The accusation that our teachers forbid good works is levied against them falsely. For their writings on the Ten Commandments and other writings prove that they have explained and promoted actual Christian stations and works profitably and well. Prior to this little was taught about these and instead the focus of all sermons, for the most part, was on childish and unnecessary works, such as the Rosary,1 worship of the saints, monasticism, pilgrimages,2 appointed fasts, holy days, brotherhoods,3 etc. Even our opposition no longer praises such unnecessary works as much as they once did, and they have even learned to talk about faith now. Formerly they did not preach about faith at all; now, however, they teach that we become righteous before God not just by works, but they add faith in Christ, saying that faith and works make us righteous before God. Speaking this way might bring a little more comfort than only teaching people to trust in works.

Now since the doctrine of faith, which is the centerpiece of Christianity, has been neglected for such a long time, as everyone must admit, and instead only works-doctrine was preached in all places, this is the instruction on faith that our teachers give:

First, our works cannot reconcile us with God or earn grace for us. This happens only through faith, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, the only mediator who can appease the Father. Now whoever mistakenly imagines that he can accomplish this by works and can merit grace despises Christ and is seeking a peculiar way to God contrary to the gospel.4

Second page of Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

This doctrine of faith is clearly and plainly treated by Paul in many places, especially in Ephesians 2: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and none of this is from yourselves, but it is God’s gift, not by works, so that no one may boast, etc.”

And we can prove from Augustine that we are not introducing some new understanding here, for he thoroughly treats this matter and teaches the same thing, that we obtain grace and become righteous before God through faith in Christ, and not through works, as his entire book On the Spirit and the Letter demonstrates.5

Now although this doctrine is much despised among untried people, the fact is that it is very comforting and healing for weak and terrified consciences. For the conscience cannot find rest and peace through works, but only through faith, when it can conclude for certain that it has a gracious God for Christ’s sake, just as Paul says in Romans 5: “If we have been justified through faith, we have rest and peace before God.”

This comfort used to be neglected in sermons. Poor consciences were instead directed to their own works, and many kinds of works were undertaken. Bad consciences have chased some people into the cloisters, where they were hoping to earn grace through the monastic lifestyle. Others have invented other works by which they might merit grace and make satisfaction for sin. Many of these people have learned from experience that there is no peace to be found in these ways. Therefore it has been necessary to preach and diligently promote this doctrine of faith in Christ, so that people may know that God’s grace is apprehended through faith alone, apart from merit.

The people are also instructed that here we are not talking about such faith as the demons and the godless have, who also believe the historical accounts of Christ’s suffering and rising from the dead.6 We are rather talking about true faith, which believes that we receive grace and forgiveness of sins through Christ.

Third page of Article 20 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Now the one who knows that he has a gracious God through Christ truly knows God, calls upon him, and is not without God like the heathens. For demons and godless people do not believe this article of the forgiveness of sins. Accordingly they are hostile to God, are unable to call on him, and expect nothing good from him. And thus, as has now been indicated, Scripture speaks of faith, but by “faith” it does not mean the kind of knowledge that the devil and godless people have. For this is what the Letter to the Hebrews teaches about faith in Chapter 11, that faith is not just knowing the historical accounts, but having confidence in God that we will receive what he has promised. And Augustine also reminds us that we should understand the word faith in Scripture as meaning confidence in God, that he is gracious to us, and not just knowing historical accounts the way even the demons know them.7

We furthermore teach that good works should and must be done, not so that we may trust that we have merited grace through them, but for the sake of God and to the praise of God. It is always faith alone that apprehends grace and the forgiveness of sins. And since the Holy Spirit is given through faith, the heart is thereby already equipped to do good works.8 For prior to receiving faith, the heart is too weak, since it is without the Holy Spirit; in addition, it is in the control of the devil, who drives the poor human nature to many sins. We see this in the philosophers; they strove to live honorable and blameless lives, but nevertheless did not succeed, having instead fallen into many glaring, open sins. That’s how it goes with a person when he is apart from the true faith, without the Holy Spirit, and governs himself only through his own human power.

Therefore this teaching about faith should not be denounced for forbidding good works. It should rather be praised for teaching how to do good works and offering help so that people can actually attain to good works. For apart from faith and outside of Christ human nature and ability is much too weak to do good works, to call on God, to have patience in suffering, to love one’s neighbor, to diligently carry out one’s entrusted responsibilities, to be obedient, to avoid evil desires, etc. Such high and proper works cannot be done without Christ’s help, as he himself declares in John 15, “Without me you can do nothing.”

(To continue to Article 21, click here.)


1 The Rosary is a collection of prayers, arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys with each set preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Glory Be to the Father. During recitation of each set, known as a decade, thought is given to one of the so-called Mysteries of the Rosary, which recall events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The Glorious mysteries are said on Sunday and Wednesday, the Joyful on Monday and Saturday, the Sorrowful on Tuesday and Friday, and the Luminous Mysteries are said on Thursday. Normally, five decades are recited in a session.

2 One of the most common pilgrimages mentioned repeatedly by Luther is the Way of St. James, which ended at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The cathedral supposedly houses the earthly remains of James the apostle, the son of Zebedee and brother of John; his beheading by King Herod Agrippa is recorded in Acts 12. Such pilgrimages earned various indulgences.

3 Brotherhoods were associations of laypeople who organized for religious exercises and to participate in, support, and sponsor church-related work.

4 Paul says the same in Galatians 5:4.

5 Luther often spoke highly of Augustine’s On the Spirit and the Letter, a work Augustine penned in 412 AD against the Pelagians which is also readily available in English. For example, he writes in Chapter 22: “Accordingly, by the law of works, God says to us, Do what I command thee; but by the law of faith we say to God, Give me what Thou commandest. … Now, having duly considered and weighed all these circumstances and testimonies, we conclude that a man is not justified by the precepts of a holy life, but by faith in Jesus Christ,—in a word, not by the law of works, but by the law of faith; not by the letter, but by the spirit; not by the merits of deeds, but by free grace.”

Here the Latin version adds: “And Ambrose teaches similarly in On the Calling of the Gentiles and elsewhere. For this is what he says in On the Calling of the Gentiles: ‘Redemption through the blood of Christ would become worthless and human works would not surrender first place to the mercy of God, if justification, which takes place through grace, were due to merits that preceded it. Justification would not then be the gift of a bountiful giver, but a payment owed to workers.’”

This quote has more dubious origins. It has sometimes been attributed to Ambrose (c. 340-397), though it is now generally recognized not to be his (there is another, shorter work by the same name, On the Calling of the Gentiles, that is attributed to him). Sometimes it has been attributed to the well-educated layman and disciple of Augustine, Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390-c. 455), though some still doubt this attribution too. Regardless, the work is of early origin and the excerpt Melanchthon quotes fits well in this article. (The original Latin quote can be found in col. 669 [Book 1, Chapter 17] here.)

6 James 2:19

7 Augustine does distinguish the faith of a Christian from the faith of a devil, for example, in his Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John (Homily X, 2), but he does not make the same point there as Melanchthon makes here. Augustine rather distinguishes the two by saying that Christian faith produces the fruit of love (which is of course also true). Some scholars also think that Melanchthon might have in mind the work De cognitione verae vitae, which was commonly attributed to Augustine, though now generally ascribed to Honorius Augustodunensis (12th century). Chapter 37 (in col. 1025 here) of that work answers the question: “Is there a difference between believing God and believing in God?” and thus also distinguishes between Christian faith and the faith of demons and pagans. But there too the author does not stress confidence in God as Melanchthon does here. Perhaps Melanchthon mis-cited Augustine here, or perhaps he has some other work(s) in mind with which we are simply not familiar.

8 In addition to the proof passage Melanchthon himself cites later, see Psalm 51:10-13; 119:32; Matthew 12:33.

Augsburg Confession – Article 18 – Free Will

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 17, click here.)

Regarding free will, this is what we teach: Humans have a free will to a certain extent. They have the ability to live an outwardly honorable life and can make choices among those things that pertain to reason.1 But without the grace, help, and working of the Holy Spirit they are not capable of becoming pleasing to God, of fearing or believing God from the heart, or of expelling the innate, evil inclinations from their hearts. This rather takes place through the Holy Spirit, who is given through God’s word. For Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2, “The natural man understands nothing from the Spirit of God.”2

And so that it may be recognized that we are not teaching anything new and strange, we include here the clear words of Augustine on free will, from the third book of his Hypognosticon:3

We concede that there is a free will in all people, for all of them have natural, innate understanding and reason. We are not saying that they are capable of dealing with God in some respect, such as loving and fearing God from the heart; only in the outward works of this life do they have freedom to choose good or evil. By “good” I mean what their nature is capable of, such as working in the field or not, eating or drinking, going to see a friend or not, putting on or taking off a piece of clothing, taking a wife, pursuing a trade, and doing something useful and good of that sort. Of course without God none of these exists or continues; everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, man can also undertake something evil by his own choice, such as bowing down to an idol, committing a murder, etc.

(To continue to Article 19, click here.)


1 Some examples of such choices are provided in the quote at the end of the article. Cf. also Wade Johnston, An Uncompromising Gospel (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2016), pp. 13-14: “[In his Heidelberg Disputation] Luther…addressed the problem of free will—the existence, or lack of existence, of free will in matters of salvation. Here Americans bristle, but we must remember that Luther isn’t talking about whether or not we can choose Big Macs or Whoppers, vanilla or chocolate custard, but whether or not we can decide to be saved, whether we can choose to do what is necessary for us to be righteous.”

2 For more proof passages, see Genesis 6:5 (before the Flood); 8:21 (after the Flood); John 3:5,6; 8:31-36; 15:16; Romans 8:6-8.

3 Like the quote from Ambrose in Article 6 (see Note 2 there), this quote from Augustine is not actually from Augustine. It is usually attributed to Pseudo-Augustine, a title that can apply to a number of as-yet unidentified authors. However, the work is ancient; it was already being falsely attributed to Augustine in the 800s AD, and it was obviously preserved because it was thought to be of value. The work is usually called Hypognosticon or Hypomnesticon contra Pelagianos et Coelestianos, which means An Instructive Letter Against the Pelagians and Coelestians. The original Latin quote can be found in col. 1623 (Book 3, Chapter 4, par. 5) here.

Here is a supporting quote actually taken from Augustine: “A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth… God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 3, par. 5; original Latin quote in col. 203 here).

Augsburg Confession – Article 2 – Original Sin

Articles 1 & 2 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 1, click here.)

We further teach that after Adam’s fall, all humans born in the natural way1 are conceived and born in sin, that is, that all of them, starting from the time they are in their mother’s womb, are full of evil desire and inclination and by nature are unable to have any true fear of God or any true faith in God. We also teach that this inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin2 and condemns all those who are not reborn through baptism and the Holy Spirit to God’s eternal wrath.

In addition, we condemn the Pelagians3 and others who do not regard inherited sin as sin, so that they make human nature pious through its own natural powers, which is an insult to the suffering and merit of Christ.

(To continue to Article 3, click here.)


1 This qualification is meant to exempt Jesus (Luke 1:26-38; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15).

2 Cp. the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997): “Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence.’ Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God…” (par. 405).

3 The Pelagians were followers of Pelagius (c. 360-c. 418 AD), a British or Irish monk who wrote commentaries on 13 Epistles of Paul; a book on faith; treatises on Christian life, virginity, and the divine Law; and letters. Pelagius and his followers held that a person’s nature is not corrupt since the fall but is still in its original state of moral indifference and depends on the individual will to develop the moral germ of his nature and be saved. According to Pelagius, grace and salvation from Christ were not necessary. One of the most outspoken opponents of Pelagianism was Augustine.

Quote of the Week – Entirely God’s Gift

Augustine of Hippo wrote the following circa 428 AD in Chapter 3 of his anti-Pelagian treatise The Predestination of the Saints. It is also cited somewhat periphrastically and in abridged form in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II:27.

It was chiefly by this testimony [namely, 1 Corinthians 4:7] that I myself was also convicted when I held to a similar error, thinking that the faith by which we believe in God was not the gift of God, but that it was in us from ourselves, and that through that faith [from ourselves] we obtained God’s gifts that enable us to live temperately and uprightly and piously in this world. For I did not think that faith was preceded by God’s grace, in order that the profitable things we might ask for might then be given to us through that faith. I did know that we were unable to believe if the proclamation of the truth did not come first, but agreeing with the gospel when it is preached to us—I thought that was our own doing and was ours from ourselves. This error I had is on sufficient display in several small works of mine written before I became a bishop.

Patrologia Latina 44:964

Finishing the Race

A Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:6-8

By Johann Gerhard, Th. D.

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Adnotationes ad Posteriorem D. Pauli ad Timotheum Epistolam, in Quibus Textus Declaratur, Quaestiones Dubiae Solvuntur, Observationes Eruuntur, & Loca in Speciem Pugnantia quam Brevissime Conciliantur (Commentary on St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, in Which the Text Is Explained, Difficult Questions Are Answered, Observations Are Drawn Out, and Seemingly Contradictory Passages Are Reconciled as Concisely as Possible) by Johann Gerhard, Th.D. (Jena: Steinmann, 1643), pp. 78-86; available from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. I also consulted the 1666 Jena edition, pp. 205-213.

This translation was prepared in connection with an exegetical presentation assigned to me for a circuit meeting in Merrill, Wisconsin, on December 7, 2015.

The footnotes are mine, and are for the most part an attempt to cite Gerhard’s sources more exactly. “PG” and “PL” stand for J. P. Migne’s collections of the writings of the church fathers, “Patrologia Graeca” and “Patrologia Latina” respectively.

May the Holy Spirit use the apostle’s Paul’s words to inspire us to contend honorably and well in the good contest in which God has graciously placed us, so that we finish our race as Paul did, satisfied with our earthly lot and confident of the crown of righteousness that awaits us.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

6. Ἐγὼ γὰρ ἤδη σπένδομαι, καὶ ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἐμῆς ἀναλύσεως ἐφέστηκε.

ego enim iam delibor et tempus meae resolutionis instat

  • Ἐγὼ γὰρ ἤδη σπένδομαι

Paraphrase: I am being offered and poured out in the manner of a sacrifice.

This kind of metaphor is taken from the sacrifices of the Old Testament, to which drink offerings used to be added.

At the same time he is alluding to the punishment that he is going to undergo and its fruit, the verification of the truth of the gospel. For he says that he is being poured out [libari], that is, that he is about to be poured out [libatum iri], that is, that his blood is about to be shed in order to ratify the truth of the doctrine of the gospel, just as agreements were ratified with drink offerings [libaminibus], that is, with the pouring out of wine which the contracting parties had first sampled [libaverant], that is, tasted with the edge of their lips.

Certainly our death is a sacrifice that we offer to God, but that sacrifice ought to be a willing one. Therefore when the hour of death comes, let us follow after our Lord, not with reluctance and groaning, but with a ready spirit.

A passage parallel to this one is found in Philippians 2:17: ἀλλ᾽ εἰ καὶ σπένδομαι ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν, χαίρω [But even if I am being poured out on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice].

The little word ἤδη [already] means that it will not be long before he is carried off to punishment and he ratifies the truth of the gospel with the pouring out of his blood.

  • Καὶ ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἐμῆς ἀναλύσεως ἐφέστηκε

“The time of my release [resolutionis],” namely from bodily fetters. Cyprian seems to have read ὁ καιρὸς ἐμῆς ἀναλήψεως [the time of my ascension].1 Some teach that Paul called it “release” [resolutionem] because through death the body is released (or dissolved) [resolvatur] into ashes, but the better reason was just given, namely that through death the fetter is loosened [solvatur] with which the soul was drawn together with the body.2

A parallel passage is Philippians 1:23: ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι [having a desire for release and being with Christ].

Most interpreters conclude from this passage that out of all the Pauline epistles, this was the last one the apostle wrote, since the death he would suffer was already imminent. Rf. Eusebius’ Church History, Book 2, Chapter 22.3 Estius opposes this judgment in his section on the “Theme of the Epistle.”4 He is of the opinion that “this epistle is either the first or second of those that were produced in Rome, and was written many years before Paul’s death, namely in Nero’s third or fourth year, since Paul’s martyrdom occured during Nero’s thirteenth year.”5 He proves his opinion with the following arguments:

  1. Since Paul had just arrived in Rome, he wanted to inform his disciple Timothy right away how he was doing, since Timothy was his dearest friend, and in particular about the success of his first defense before Nero, which he does at the end of the epistle.
  2. He writes several things in this epistle which clearly show that he has just arrived in the city of Rome, e.g. “When you come, bring along the cloak that I left in Troas” (4:13) and, “Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” (4:20).
  3. In this very epistle he indicates that he is still being reserved for fulfilling the office of preaching among the gentiles: “The Lord stood by me and gave me much strength, in order that through me the proclamation might be fulfilled and all the gentiles might hear it” (4:17).
  4. The epistle Paul wrote to Philemon, in which he asks that a guest room be prepared for him [vs. 22], implying that he would soon be released from prison, is much later than this one.6

In his exposition of verse 13 in this chapter, he strengthens his opinion with another argument: If [Paul] was thinking that the day of his death was already impending as he wrote this epistle, then what would be the point of his asking for the traveling clothes, or the box, or the scrolls that he had left in Troas some ten years ago, when they would not be of any further use to him?7

At the present passage he responds to the mainstream interpretation by saying that the apostle does not think “that he is already about to be carried off to martyrdom,” but that he is simply indicating that, “even though he is uncertain as to the time of his death or suffering, he is gradually being prepared for sacrifice through imprisonments and tribunals.”8 But this exposition does not capture the emphasis of the apostle’s words, and the strength of the arguments produced by Baronius and Estius is weak.

7. Τὸν ἀγῶνα τὸν καλὸν ἡγώνισμαι, τὸν δρόμον τετέλεκα, τὴν πίστιν τετήρηκα.

bonum certamen certavi cursum consummavi fidem servavi

This is a flowery and sort of triumphant συμπλοκή [combination] linked together by asyndeton, in which he describes the course of his life using three distinct metaphors.

The first one is borrowed from a strong athlete: Τὸν ἀγῶνα τὸν καλὸν ἡγώνισμαι, certamen bonum certavi, “I have contended in the good” – that is, the noble, distinguished, and excellent – “contest.” Some want this to be understood as a running contest here, since it is immediately followed by cursum consummavi, “I have finished the race.” But it is more correct to say that the metaphor is taken particularly from a wrestling contest, which metaphor is also used in 1 Corinthians 9:25.

The second metaphor is borrowed from a strenuous runner: τὸν δρόμον τετέλεκα. He compares himself to those who run in a racecourse, which metaphor is used in the same way as the first, and he links it together with the first one taken from an athlete. See 1 Corinthians 9:24,26. Some want this metaphor to be taken from a journey, but the first explanation fits the context better.

The third metaphor is borrowed from an honorable soldier: τὴν πίστιν τετήρηκα. By the faith he not only understands the confident apprehending of Christ’s merit, but also the faith of duty or the faithfulness with respect to duty that he owed and promised to God. For he compares himself to a soldier who has pledged loyalty [fidem] to the emperor or to the general and keeps it faithfully. “This is what is sought in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Therefore Paul’s life has constituted the following:

  1. A good contest, since he has thus far been stationed in battle against sins, the world, the flesh, the devil, heretics, false apostles, and also enemies of Christ, both Jews and gentiles, and by the power of Christ, who has strengthened him, he has emerged the victor.
  2. A vigorous race, for on the racetrack of the public ministry and of private life, on which he has been running his heart out thus far, he has neither grown faint along the way nor lost faith, but has finished his race the victor.
  3. A continuous excercise of faith, since he has remained faithful to Christ his general all the way to his life’s final breath, and has kept the loyalty [fidem] pledged to Christ.

“[H]e says that he has [contended in the contest,] has finished [the] race[, has kept the faith], even though…the last act of his suffering and death still remained, because…he was already approaching the end of the contest and had firm confidence in the Lord regarding the part of the racecourse he still had to cover.”9 Cf. Augustine, A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, Book 2, Chapter 16.10

8. Λοιπὸν, ἀπόκειταί μοι ὁ τῆς δικαιοσύνης στέφανος, ὃν ἀποδώσει μοι ὁ Κύριος ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, ὁ δίκαιος κριτής, οὐ μόνον δὲ ἐμοὶ, ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς ἠγαπηκόσι τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν αὐτοῦ.

in reliquo reposita est mihi iustitiae corona quam reddet mihi Dominus in illa die iustus iudex non solum autem mihi set et his qui diligunt adventum eius

  • Λοιπὸν, ἀπόκειταί μοι ὁ τῆς δικαιοσύνης στέφανος

Ambrose renders the Greek λοιπόν as quod reliquum est, “as for what remains.”11

He continues in the metaphor and calls the reward of the contest, race, and military service that have been completed commendably a crown, since it was customary for a crown to be given to those running in a racecourse and to soldiers.

But the happiness and glory of eternal life is called the crown of righteousness, not Paul’s righteousness, but God’s. And indeed the righteousness of God is understood not as that which judges according to the merits of works, but as that according to which God is steadfast in promises, and which does not pay a debt that has been earned, but a debt that has been freely promised.

Therefore it is the crown of righteousness because:

  1. Christ has won it for us by his perfect obedience and righteousness.
  2. God has promised it to those who serve him faithfully and pursue holiness and righteousness (1 Corinthians 9:25; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4).In the case of the former, the crown is earned by righteousness; in the case of the latter it is only a consequence of righteousness. It can also be called the crown of righteousness because:
  3. At that time Paul and all the elect will be fully and perfectly brought to that life where there is righteousness without sin. In this sense it is called “the crown of life” (James 1:12), “a beautiful crown” (Ezekiel 16:12), and “the crown of glory” (Isaiah 6:3;12 1 Peter 5:4), etc.

Estius asks how it can be called the crown of righteousness, since it is the crown of compassion (Psalm 103:4). He responds:

Those are no less compatible than the fact that eternal life is sometimes called a reward [merces] in the Scriptures, and at other times a favor [gratia] – a reward because it is given in return for the merits of good works, and a favor because these same merits are God’s gifts. So too eternal life is the crown of righteousness because it is owed to the one who contends according to the law, and it is the crown of compassion because a person would not be able to contend according to the law if God did not grant it, nor would a person attain to the crown if the same Lord did not mercifully pardon the failings and mistakes committed while contending.13

And later:

If Christ as the just judge is going to pay [redditurus] Paul and all the elect with the crown of righteousness in return for having kept the faith and having finished the race, there is therefore a kind [ratio] of merit in these works with respect to such a crown. Nor indeed do the Catholics frame these merits of works in opposition to the grace of Christ… For [they teach] that God’s kindness towards us is required just as much as our merits, which are his gifts. And it is in return for these merits, which he himself has generously bestowed, that eternal rewards are going to be given.14

We respond:

  1. It is not eternal life itself, the essential reward [praemium], that is called a reward [merces], but the accidental or secondary rewards [praemia] that are so called. In Matthew 5:12 and Luke 6:12, Jesus says, “Your reward [merces] will be abundant in heaven,” making a noticeable distinction between heaven itself or eternal life and the reward in heaven. Thus in 1 Timothy 4:8 piety is said to have “promises of the present life and of the life to come,” i.e. promises of the rewards [praemiorum] in the present and future life.
  2. If Scripture does call eternal life a reward [mercedem] sometimes, and a favor [gratiam] at other times, then it is not a reward of merit, but a reward of grace [gratiae], and consequently it is not given in return for the merits of good works, but out of grace. “If it is by grace, then it is not by works” (Romans 11:6).
  3. When the good works of the pious are called merits by the ancients – and indeed such as derive their origin from God’s gift and grace – then they are using the term merit in a broader sense and καταχρηστικῶς [improperly], as was clearly established at the proper locus.15
  4. We concede that eternal life is called the crown of righteousness because it is given to one who contends according to the law, but it still does not follow from this that the contest is deserving of eternal life, or that eternal life is a reward owed by merit in return for that contest. For it is one thing to ask to whom the crown of eternal life should be given; in that case it is correct to say that it is given to those who contend according to the law. But it is another thing to ask for what reason it should be given. The former describes the subject, the latter the meritorious cause.
  5. A debt owed with respect to justice, carefully considered and properly so called, is opposed to a reward of grace, but a debt owed with respect to a gracious promise, carefully considered and καταχρηστικῶς [improperly] so called, does not exclude grace nor is opposed to it. The reward of good works is said by the fathers (but nowhere in Scripture) to be owed by reason of the promise, but since that promise is purely gracious (Isaiah 40:23; Romans 11:35),16 it is therefore improper to call it owed. Augustine on Psalm 109: “God is faithful, the one who has made himself our debtor, not by accepting anything from us, but by promising so many things to us. … Whatever he has promised, he has promised to the unworthy, so that it would not be like a reward [merces] promised in exchange for works, but would be a favor [gratia] given gratis, as its name indicates.”17
  6. If “a person would not be able to contend according to the law if God did not grant it,” then there is no way that the contest can be a meritorious cause of the crown of glory or of eternal life. The reason is that, if the ability to contend according to the law is given by God, then a person is rendered God’s debtor for that, rather than that God should owe a person anything for that. If good works are God’s gifts, then, properly speaking, we are unable to merit anything with them.
  7. If “a person would not attain to the crown if God did not mercifully pardon the failings and mistakes committed while contending,” then there is no way that the contest can be a meritorious cause of the eternal crown. The reason for that is because that contest is not complete, perfect, blameless in all respects. And works that are going to be meritorious need to be perfect and pure, completely free of any defect.

As for the rest, the apostle says that that crown of righteousness has been “set aside for [him],” no doubt by God, by whom Paul was most confidently expecting to have it bestowed [reddendam] upon him. “I am certain that he is able to guard my deposit” (2 Timothy 1:12). That is why he immediately adds:

  • ὃν ἀποδώσει μοι ὁ Κύριος ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, ὁ δίκαιος κριτής

Estius emphasizes that Paul does not say, “will give [dabit],” but “will give back [reddet],” “just like some debt, or a loan or deposit, which needs to be paid back by law,” and he cites Theophylact and Oecumenius.18

We respond:

  1. The little word ἀποδώσει has the free promise in mind; for what God has promised out of grace, he faithfully keeps. It is therefore not a debt of justice, but of promise.
  2. Basil, on p. 68 of his seventeen homilies on the Psalms, on Psalm 7 in the second homily, teaches that it is Scripture’s custom to say ἀνταπόδοσιν for δόσει and ἀνταποδοῦναι for δοῦναι, just as compound forms are used for simple ones in other cases.19
  3. In Colossians 3:14 the rewards [praemia] for good works are called ἀνταπόδοσις τῆς κληρονομίας, retributio hereditatis, the “repayment of the inheritance.” Just as a son is born an heir, and does not at some point need to earn the inheritance with works, so the pious have been born of God as cherished sons of God in Christ, and if they are sons, then they also have to be heirs. Yet just as a large inheritance is nevertheless at the same time a reward [praemium] for filial obedience, so also the rewards [praemia] of life in heaven compensate the pious for their works and afflictions most generously and far beyond what they deserve.

By ὁ Κύριος [the Lord] he understands Christ, whom he calls ὁ δίκαιος κριτής [the righteous judge], the one to whom the Father has given all judgment (John 5:22). The apostle notably says about this righteous judge that he is going to give the crown both to him (Paul) and to all who love his (the judge’s) appearing, from which it is clearly proved that the authority κριτικήν [to judge] is given to Christ as man.20

But Estius follows this up by saying that Christ is not going to present the elect with heavenly blessedness in any other way than by simply awarding the apostle Paul and the rest of the elect the crown that is owed to them through a judicial decision, since “to bless a creature effectively and properly belongs to uncreated authority alone.”21

We respond: But indeed that uncreated and infinite authority to bless a creature has been given to Christ the man through and on account of the personal union of the two natures in time. He will therefore not only pronounce a judicial decision with his external and audible voice, but he will also demonstrate his omniscience by exposing even the most hidden things of all people (1 Corinthians 4:5), and he will demonstrate his omnipotence with that which precedes the judgment – the resuscitation of the dead, the summoning and assembling of all people at the tribunal of judgment, and the effectual execution of the judicial sentencing. Power and glory that are truly divine are required in order to do all or any of these things, which is why Scripture says throughout that Christ is coming to judge in truly divine glory, power, and authority.

By ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ [that day] he understands the day of judgment, which is elsewhere called “the day of the Lord.”

Ἐναντιοφανές [Apparent Contradiction]: As far as his soul is concerned, Paul received that crown of righteousness immediately after his death. Why then does he say that Christ is not going to give it to him until the day of judgment?

We respond: He is talking about the fullest and most perfect blessedness, which will be bestowed not upon the soul, but upon the human consisting of soul and body.

From this passage it is concluded that the apostle was sure of his salvation. But Estius follows this up by saying that “Paul is not simply affirming here what is going to happen. Rather, he is either speaking optimistically [sermonem esse bonae fiduciae], as if to say, ‘I am certainly expecting and hoping to receive this crown from the Lord,’ or more likely, there is an implied condition, ‘The Lord will do this for me if I perserve all the way to my death.’”22 For Estius says that what Paul wrote in the letter to the Philippians “after this one to Timothy”23 stands against any certainty of salvation, “when he speaks as one who is still by no means completely certain: ‘if somehow I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead’ (3:11).”24

We respond:

  1. The words of the text by themselves testify clearly enough that the apostle was most certain that the crown of glory would be bestowed upon him by Christ the judge. For he says that that crown of glory was set aside for him by the Lord and would be bestowed upon him on that day of judgment, and he does not employ verbs in the optative mood, but in the indicative.
  2. Many of the Pontificals concede that the apostle was certain of his salvation, but they add that that certainty came from some special revelation. See Duraeus in the eighth chapter of his book against Whitaker, folio 259,25 and Pistorius in his guide, p. 201.26
  3. The words of Romans 8:38, “I am certain that neither death nor life…,” are not merely optimistic, but are also words of unshakeable certainty and of the firmest conviction, with which these words in the present text are in perfect agreement.
  4. Certainly the condition of perseverance is also implied, but the apostle was certain of that very perseverance because of God’s kindness, faithfulness, and power, as was demonstrated at the proper locus.
  5. The particle εἴ πως in Philippians 3:11 does not express doubt, but alludes to the hardship and afflictions that weigh upon the pious in this life.

He is called the δίκαιος κριτής [righteous judge] because he will judge ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ [in righteousness] (Acts 17:31) and will execute that δικαίαν τοῦ θεοῦ κρίσιν [righteous judgment of God] which Paul describes this way in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7: “It is just in God’s sight to repay tribulation to those who are troubling you, and to you who are undergoing tribulation to repay rest, along with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…”

  • οὐ μόνον δὲ ἐμοὶ, ἀλλὰ καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς ἠγαπηκόσι τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν αὐτοῦ

Those “who love [Christ’s] coming” are those who are waiting for him as their Savior with longing and vigilance, who daily prepare themselves for Christ’s coming, and who demonstrate that they love him and are eagerly waiting for his coming by earnestly devoting themselves to piety.

Estius suspects that the “familiar distributive” πᾶσι in the Greek text was a later addition, because:

  1. Hentenius does not translate it in Oecumenius.27
  2. Ambrose and the other Latin ancients do not read it.28
  3. The Syriac translator also does not find it in his Greek text.
  4. It is easier to add this little word than to remove it, since the sense seems to require it.29

We respond:

  1. The main reason prompting Estius’ position that this particle was a later addition is that it is not included in the Vulgate version, which the Council of Trent pronounced the authentic one.30
  2. But what will be done with those same Tridentine fathers, who explicitly add that particle when citing this verse in the Sixth Session, Chapter 16?31
  3. Estius himself confesses that “the sense seems to require it.” It is therefore easier for it to have been omitted in the Latin version than added in the Greek, especially since other examples of this kind of omission can also be found in the Vulgate version.
  4. The Greek text of Oecumenius explicitly includes that particle, and Hentenius’ version cannot detract from it at all. In fact Oecumenius draws out this useful observation from that particle: “Here he also incites Timothy himself, for he says, ‘He will also bestow it upon you. For if he will give the crown to all [omnibus] who love his coming, then how much more to you!’”32
  5. Ambrose and the Latin ancients have followed the Vulgate version. The Syriac translator also ignored the Greek text and followed the Vulgate now and then, as several examples are able to confirm.


1 Gerhard may be referring to De Laude Martyrii (On the Glory of Martyrdom) 18 (PL 4, col. 828). This work is attributed to Cyprian with reservation.

2 Cf. Guilielmus Estius, In Omnes Beati Pauli et Aliorum Apostolorum Epistolas Commentaria (Paris, 1623), p. 852.2-853.1: “[Paul] calls death his ‘release’ [resolutionem] either because through death the body is released (or dissolved) [resolvatur] into ashes or, more likely, because through it the fetter is loosened [solvatur] with which the soul was drawn together with the body.” Cosmas Magalianus, Operis Hierarchici, sive, De Ecclesiastico Principatu, Liber II. in quo Beati Pauli Apostoli secunda ad Timotheum Ephesi Episcopum, & Primatem, Epistola, Commentariis illustratur (Lyon, France: Sumptibus Horatii Cardon, 1609), p. 180: “For death is the loosening [solutio] of the soul from the body, a departure, as it were, from the penitentiary in which it was being detained.”

3 PG 20, col. 193-196. Rf. also Magalianus, op. cit., p. 8, where he not only cites Eusebius as such an interpreter, but also Chrysostom in his homilies on this epistle (rf. e.g. PG 62, col. 601) and Jerome in his Lives of Illustrious Men (rf. PL 23, col. 615-618).

4 Estius’ opposition is really based on the arguments of Cardinal Caesar Baronius, in tome 1 of his Annales Ecclesiastici. (Cardinal Baronius undertook his Annales in answer to the Lutheran church history compiled mainly by Matthias Flacius, the so-called Magdeburg Centuries.) Magalianus (op. cit., p. 9) also cites Alfonso Salmerón the Jesuit, in Salmerón’s first discussion (Prima Disputatio) on 2 Timothy (Disputationum in Epistolas Divi Pauli Tomus Tertius), in addition to Baronius, as going against the judgment of mainstream interpreters.

5 Estius, op. cit., p. 825.

6 Ibid., p. 825-826. Estius does not actually include this argument in the “Theme of the Epistle,” as implied here, but in his comments on vs. 6 (p. 852.2), where he says that he will prove his assertion in his comments on Philemon 22.

7 Ibid., p. 856.1.

8 Ibid., p. 852.2.

9 Ibid., p. 853.1. In the original, it appears that Gerhard is citing Augustine (rf. next footnote), but he is actually citing Estius, who supports his interpretation by citing Augustine.

10 PL 44, col. 165-166. In English editions, the citation in question appears in Chapter 24. The “Cf.” does not appear in Gerhard’s original (rf. preceding footnote).

11 On the Duties of the Clergy, Book 1, Chapter 15 (PL 16, col. 40). The Latin phrase, like the English, is somewhat ambiguous, referring either to remaining subject matter or to what remains in the future. In Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (vol. 10, p. 11) the phrase is rendered henceforth.

12 This reference does not seem to fit.

13 Estius, op. cit., p. 853.2.

14 Ibid., p. 854.1.

15 Latin: suo loco. This phrase occurs again later; both times it seems to be a reference to Gerhard’s well-known dogmatic treatise and magnum opus, Loci Theologici (Theological Topics).

16 Perhaps Gerhard meant to cite 40:13 (which corresponds to Romans 11:34). The actual Old Testament parallel to Romans 11:35 is Job 41:11.

17 PL 37, col. 1445,1446. This corresponds to Psalm 110 in English Bibles.

18 Estius, op. cit., p. 853.2. Cf. Oecumenius in PG 119, col. 233,234; Theophylact in PG 125, col. 131,132.

19 “‘Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is injustice in my hands, if I have paid back [ἀνταπέδωκα] evil to those who pay me back [τοῖς ἀνταποδιδοῦσί μοι], may I then fall down empty at the hands of my enemies. May the enemy then hunt down my life and overtake it’ [Psalm 7:4-6a LXX]. It is customary for Scripture to apply the term ἀνταπόδοσις [repayment] not only to the usual circumstances, as repayment of something good or bad that already exists, but also to actions taking place first, as in the passage, ‘Pay back [Ἀνταπόδος] to your slave’ [Ps 118:17 LXX]. For instead of saying, ‘Give [Δὸς],’ ‘Pay back [Ἀνταπόδος]’ was said. Δόσις [giving], then, is the beginning of doing good; ἀπόδοσις [giving back] is the reciprocal measuring out of something equal for the good that one has experienced; ἀνταπόδοσις [paying back] is a sort of second beginning and going around [περίοδος] of the good and bad things being paid to certain people. But I think that, whenever the discourse is seeking repayment [τὴν ἀνταπόδοσιν], making, as it were, a sort of formal demand instead of a request, it yields something like the following sense: ‘Show me the same obligation of care that progenitors automatically owe their offspring by nature’” (PG 29, col. 233; translation mine).

20 “appearing” in this sentence is adventum, “coming,” in Latin, but Gerhard has the original Greek ἐπιφάνειαν, “appearing,” in mind. The authority to judge is clearly given to Christ as man, since Christ can only visibly appear to other humans as man, and not as God (rf. Col 1:15; 1Ti 1:17; Heb 11:27; Jn 4:24).

21 Estius, op. cit., p. 853.2.

22 Ibid., p. 854.1.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., p. 853.2.

25 Ioannes Duraeus, Confutatio Responsionis Gulielmi Whitakeri (Paris: Apud Thomam Brumennium, 1582).

26 Ioannes Pistorius, Wegweiser für all verführte Christen (Ingolstadt: Andreas Angermayer, 1600). Gerhard cites this book as “hodeget.”, which is an abbreviated Latin transliteration of ὁδηγητήρ, a Greek word corresponding to Wegweiser in German. Pistorius’ father, Johannes Sr., was at first a Roman Catholic and then a Lutheran. Johannes Jr. went the opposite direction.

27 Rf. Iohannes Hentenius, ed., Ennarationes vetustissimorum Theologorum (Antwerp: In aedibus Iohannis Steelsii, 1545), folio 169, Caput Nonum.

28 Rf. Ambrose, op. cit. (endnote 11).

29 Estius, op. cit., p. 854.1.

30 Rf. H. J. Schroeder, trans., Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (St. Louis and London: B. Herder Book Co., 1941), p. 18 (English), 297 (Latin), Fourth Session, “Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books.”

31 Ibid., p. 41 (English), 319 (Latin).

32 Hentenius, op. cit. (endnote 27), folio 170. At the head of each section of Oecumenius’ commentary, Hentenius includes his own Latin version of the verses being treated.

The External Elements in the Lord’s Supper

By Johann Gerhard

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Johann Gerhard’s Loci Theologici cum pro Adstruenda Veritate tum pro Destruenda Quorumvis Contradicentium Falsitate per Theses Nervose Solide et Copiose Explicati (Theological Topics, Vigorously and Thoroughly Unfolded through Theses Intended both to Establish the Truth and to Destroy the Falsehood of Every Possible Opponent), vol. 5 (Berlin: Gustav Schlawitz, 1867), p. 12-14. For more on the author, see his biography.

I prepared this translation in preparation for, and as an appendix to, a conference paper on the liquid element in the Lord’s Supper.

The endnotes are, for the most part, my attempt to verify or correct Gerhard’s citations. (I feel that this is one of the glaring weaknesses in Concordia Publishing House’s Theological Commonplaces series, which simply leaves Gerhard’s abbreviated citations in parentheses the way they are. That is not to say that the series does not have its many merits or that I am not overwhelmingly glad that Gerhard’s Loci are finally being offered to the English-speaking world at large.) There are a handful of endnotes that belong to the original editor (possibly Gerhard himself). These are noted as such, though they are often accompanied by more complete citations, which belong to the translator.

Perhaps one of Gerhard’s most useful accomplishments is that he connects the reader to the historic Catholic Church (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church) from which the Lutheran Church was born and with which she still identifies herself. Our doctrine is obtained from Scripture alone (and one word of Scripture can overturn centuries of writings by Christian Fathers), but it certainly can only help a person to check whether the convictions of Spirit-filled Christians throughout the centuries line up with his own.

The Lord conveys rich and eternal blessings through his Holy Supper, but, as with baptism, he attached those blessings to specific elements when he instituted it. May the Spirit grant wisdom to the reader to discern what is scriptural and what is not when it comes to the earthly elements we offer in the Supper. And may he graciously preserve the Supper in our midst after Christ’s own intent.

The External Symbols or Earthly Matter in the Lord’s Supper (Locus 21, Chapter 5)

Just as in all the other sacraments, so too in this most holy mystery Christ willed to impart heavenly things to us through earthly things or external symbols. Those external symbols are bread and wine. This is clear from…

  1. the description of the Evangelists, who unanimously testify that Christ took bread, broke it and gave it to the disciples (Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19). In describing what took place afterward they make mention of the cup, τοῦ ποτηρίου (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:20). They testify that there was wine in the cup when they relate Christ’s words to the disciples either after the distribution of the Holy Supper or, as some conclude from Luke, spoken just before the institution of the Supper: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine [ἐκ τούτου τοῦ γεννήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου] from now until the day I drink it anew in the kingdom of my Father.”
  2. the repetition of the apostle Paul, who had been instructed in the third heaven (2Co 12:2). As he recounts Christ’s institution in exactly the same words, he testifies that Christ used bread and wine (1Co 11:23-25).
  3. a comparison of other passages of Scripture which talk about the Holy Supper, yet do not mention any external element other than bread and wine (1Co 10:16,17; 11:26-28; etc.).

The following inquiries are made on this topic:

  1. Why was it Christ’s will to use these external elements and not others?ANSWER: Christian simplicity responds properly and best: This is what God was pleased to do. Who has known the mind of the Lord? His ways cannot be traced and his works are exceedingly wonderful (Ps 139:17; Isa 40:13; Ro 11:33,34). Nevertheless, it is not absurdly said that Christ used bread and wine…
    1. on account of the Old Testament types already enumerated.
    2. on account of the very close communion of Christ, whose sign and testimony was instituted in the Holy Supper. Nothing is more united to Christ nor is anything closer to him than his flesh and blood. These are in fact personally united to him. On the other hand, nothing is closer to us nor is anything more united to us than food and drink. We in fact take these inside our bodies and they are fused to the substance of our bodies. Now among food, bread stands out – it “fortifies the heart of man” – and among drink, wine stands out – it “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps 104:15). So when Christ wanted to institute and seal a very close communion of himself in this mystery, it pleased him to do so in this way, by giving us his body and blood by means of the blessed bread and wine. This is Tauler’s reasoning in his sermon on the Supper. On this point, one should carefully consider the emphasis in the following passages: “The one who eats of this bread shall live forever” (Jn 6:51). “I am the vine, you are the branches. The one who remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5). “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Eph 3:17).
    3. because of how well these external elements correspond to the heavenly things distributed by means of those elements in the Holy Supper. For even though the bread and wine in the Holy Supper are used not for signifying, but for imparting the body and blood of Christ, as the apostle testifies (1Co 10:16), yet the striking analogies should not be despised, as long as one does not think that the entire sacramental duty of those symbols consists of signifying.Just as bread is made from kernels of wheat, so Christ’s body is that kernel of grain that bore much fruit when it died (Jn 12:24). Just as bread is baked and prepared for food in an oven in the heat of fire, so Christ was roasted, as it were, on the altar of the cross in the heat of love (Ex 12:9). Just as bread nourishes and fortifies the heart of man, so Christ’s body feeds us for eternal life (Jn 6:50,51). Cyprian in his sermon on the Supper: “Just as bread is common food for the body that we eat every day, so this essential bread is life for the soul and health for the mind.”1 Just as bread does not cause any sickness or disgust by daily use, so the body of Christ is the most delightful food for hungry hearts and causes no sickness whatsoever.Just as wine is the most noble drink, produced from the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth (Gen 27:28),2 so Christ is the true vine (Jn 15:1) from whose side flowed forth the blood which we drink from the eucharistic cup. Just as wine quenches thirst and gladdens the heart of man (Ps 104:15), so Christ’s blood quenches eternal thirst and refreshes souls (Jn 6:53-55). Peter the Venerable in his first book of epistles, folio 29: “Eternal life is placed in the present world spiritually and invisibly, but it shall be enjoyed physically and visibly in the world to come. Now in order that eternal life might be signified in the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s flesh is given to humans under the form of bread for eating, and Christ’s blood is given to them under the form of wine for drinking. In this way, just as humans chiefly use bread and wine to sustain their mortal life, so too they are fed Christ’s body and blood for life immortal (which is Christ himself) – here spiritually, but afterwards both spiritually and physically into eternity.”3
    4. because of the reminder that these external symbols give to those attending the mystical banquet. Just as one loaf of bread is made from many kernels and one cup prepared from many grapes, so in the Holy Supper we take food and drink into one body, that we may pursue love and harmony as members of one body. We who are many are one loaf, one body, because we partake of one loaf (1Co 10:17). “We have all taken drink into one Spirit” (1Co 12:13). Just as bread and wine do little good for those who are already full, so the heavenly food and drink accomplish little for those who approach without spiritual hunger and thirst. To him who thirsts I will give the water of life without cost (Rev 21:6). “Whoever is thirsty, let him come” (Rev 22:17).
    5. to exclude any idea that they are mere representations, figures, or signs. For if it was not Christ’s intent to offer his body and blood, but just to represent them, not to institute his very body and blood, but to institute merely a figure and sign of them, then he certainly would not have abrogated the Passover lamb or used bread and wine in this New Testament sacrament in its place. After all, slaughtering the Passover lamb and pouring out its blood, eating its flesh and sprinkling its blood on the doorposts and above the lintel of the house, would in many ways be a clearer and more obvious analogy to Christ’s passion and its spiritual fruition than bread and wine.
  2. May we change these external elements or earthly things, or substitute anything else similar in their place?ANSWER: No.
    1. The description and repetition of the institution mention only bread and wine; they do not mention any other element whatsoever. Therefore it is not sound practice for Christ’s faithful to stray from this path of the divine institution. “If you continue in my teaching, you will truly be my disciples” (Jn 8:31).
    2. Since Christ used no external symbols other than bread and wine in his original institution, by no means should we rashly depart from this example of Christ.
    3. In the sacrament of baptism, it is not permitted to use any other liquid in place of water. Therefore, by a certain analogy, the external symbols in this sacrament also should not be exchanged.
    4. In all the passages of Scripture that talk about the Holy Supper, mention is made of bread and wine, not of any other element.
    5. The promise of Christ concerning the eating of his body and the drinking of his blood in the sacrament is confined to the use of eucharistic bread and wine. Therefore whoever uses other external symbols in the administration of the Holy Supper does not proceed from faith, whose perpetual correlative is the word of promise.
    6. Bread and wine are the material or earthly matter of this sacrament. They therefore belong to the sacrament’s essentials. And when it comes to the essentials of a sacrament, no human may make any arbitrary change.

We must therefore detest the following:

  1. The Gnostics, concerning whom Epiphanius recounts things horrible to tell in Adversus Hæreses, no. 26. They used human semen and menstrual blood in their sacred rites, saying of the former: τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ (This is the body of Christ), and of the latter: τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ αἷμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ (This is the blood of Christ).4
  2. The Cataphrygians, of whom Augustine writes in De Hæresibus ad Quodvultdeum, no. 26: “[Their] founders were Montanus (the supposed Paraclete) and his two prophetesses, Prisca and Maximilla. … [The Cataphrygians] are said to have deadly sacraments. For they are said to prepare their quasi-eucharist from the blood of year-old infants, which they obtain from the infant’s entire body by means of small puncture wounds. After mixing it with flour they make bread with it. If the child dies, they regard him as a martyr. If he lives, they regard him as a great priest.”5 6
  3. The Ebionites in Epiphanius, Adversus Hæreses, no. 30,7 the Tatianists in the same, no. 40,8 and the Aquarians in Augustine, De Hæresibus, no. 64,9 are all in error. On the pretext of sobriety, they only offered water in the chalice. Cyprian contends against them in Book 2, Epistle 3, to Caecilius.10 11
  4. The Pepuzians, who joined cheese with bread in their administration of the Eucharist, which is how they acquired the name Ἀρτοτυρίται (Artotyrites or Cheesebreadists).12 Augustine, De Hæresibus, no. 28: “There are the Artotyrites, who are thus named after their offerings. For they offer bread and cheese, saying that offerings were originally brought by humans from the fruits of the earth and of their flocks. Epiphanius lumps them with the Pepuzians.”13 See Philastrius, Basel edition, p. 58.14 15
  5. It is reported from Canon 28 of the Sixth Council in Decretum Gratiani, Division 2, Chapter 6, “that in some churches priests join[ed] grapes to the sacrifice of the offering16…and so distribute[d] both the sacrifice and the grapes to the people at the same time.”17 In the same division, Chapter 7, it is related that some priests were “consecrat[ing] milk instead of wine; others [were] offering an intincted Eucharist to the people instead of a communion where the elements complement each other; others [were] offering a squeezed vine18 in the sacrament of the Lord’s cup; while others [were] keeping a linen cloth dipped in must (or unfermented grape juice) available throughout the year, and when it [was] time for the sacrifice they wash[ed] part of it with water and offer[ed] it this way.”19
  6. In Chapter 4 of his first epistle, Alexander I, Bishop of Rome, specified that the wine had to be mixed with water. From Division 2, Chapter 1: “For, as we learned from the Fathers and as reason itself teaches, neither wine alone nor water alone ought to be offered in the Lord’s cup, but both mixed together, since we read that both flowed out from his side in his passion.”20 The papists maintain the necessity of this mixture right up to the present, which we will address more fully a little later.
  7. Volaterranus writes in his Commentaria Urbana, Tome 1, Book 7, that Pope Innocent VIII permitted the Norwegians to use another liquid in the Supper in place of wine, since wine is not produced in those parts, nor can it be preserved for a long time there.21 22
  8. Theodore Beza writes in his second letter to Tilius: “So if bread or wine isn’t used, or if there’s no supply of them at a given time, the Lord’s Supper really can’t be celebrated? By all means it can be duly celebrated, if what takes the place of bread and wine is used in their place either from common use or by reason of circumstance. For when Christ chose bread and wine for these mysteries, his intent was that, by setting out signs for these things (signs by which our body is nourished), he might, as it were, represent before our eyes the true spiritual nourishment. And so he who substitutes things for bread and wine that have a similar analogy to nourishment (even if not an equal analogy), and does so with no desire simply to innovate, does not stray from Christ’s purpose at all.”23 24 Antonius Sadeel, in Opera Theologica, folio 429, thinks it very difficult to overturn this counsel set forth by Beza.25 26


1 This was not penned by Cyprian († 258), as was generally held in Gerhard’s time, but by Ernaldus Bonaevallis (c. 1156), a Benedictine monk in the Marmoutier Abbey outside Tours, France, and friend of Bernard of Clairvaux. “De coena Domini, et prima institutione consummantis omnia sacramenta” (“The Lord’s Supper, and the Original Institution of the Sacrament that Completed Them All”) was the sixth chapter of his Liber de cardinalibus operibus Christi usque ad ascensum eius ad Patrem (Book on the Cardinal Works of Christ up to His Ascension to the Father). Gerhard’s citation can be found in Patrologia Latina (hereafter PL), vol. 189 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1854), col. 1644.

2 The wine referenced in this passage is תִּירוֹשׁ, must (grape juice before or during fermentation) or new wine (wine still in the early stages of fermentation).

3 Gerhard cites the correct author, Peter the Venerable († 1156), but this quote is found not in his collection of epistles, but in his Tractatus contra Petrobrusianos (Tractate Against the Petrobrusians). The Petrobrusians were the followers of the heretic Peter of Bruys († c. 1125), who, among other errors, “denied all sort of real presence in the Eucharist. Whether or not he retained the office of the communion as a memorial rite is not known” (Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, ad “Petrobrusians”). Gerhard’s citation can be found in PL, op. cit., col. 818.

4 Patrologia Graeca (hereafter PG), vol. 41 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1863), col. 337-340.

5 PL, vol. 42 (Paris: L. Migne, 1865), col. 30.

6 See also Eusebius, Church History, 5, 14 & 16 ( and [accessed 18 Feb 2013]), and Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos, Ecclesiastica Historia, 4, 22 (PG, vol. 145 [Paris: Garnier Brothers, 1904], col. 1033-1036). – endnote original

7 PG, vol. 41, op. cit., col. 431,432.

8 Ibid., col. 839,840.

9 PL, op. cit., col. 42.

10 Epistle 62 in the Paris edition, 63 in the Oxford and Leipzig editions. PL, vol. 4 (Paris: Garnier Brothers, 1891), col. 383-401. The English translation from the Schaff edition of the Fathers can be found at (accessed 18 Feb 2013), where it is dated 253 AD.

11 The Severians similarly condemned wine in the celebration of the Supper “because they assert, with deceitfulness beyond belief, that the grapevine sprouted from Satan and the earth,” as Augustine reports (De Hæresibus, no. 24; see endnote 5). – endnote original

12 From ἄρτος (bread) + τύρος (cheese)

13 PL, vol. 42, op. cit., col. 31.

14 This probably corresponds to no. 74 in PL, vol. 12 (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1845), col. 1186,1187.

15 Scaliger, Exercise 158, sect. 1: “On the island of Vendemao [probably Mindanao] they not only use sagu [sago] for bread, but they also make oil from the same tree. Sagu is the tree from which the bread gets its name. They take a piece of wood and remove the thorn-like things from it. Then they beat it, reducing it to fine flour. With this they prepare bread for sailors to use as provisions” (Julius Caesar Scaliger, Exotericarum Exercitationum Liber XV de Subtilitate, ad Hieronymum Cardanum [Fifteenth Book of Exoteric Exercises on Subtlety, to Gerolamo Cardano] [Frankfurt: Heirs of Andreas Wechel, 1582], p. 525). Cardano, in De rerum varietate, Book 1, Chapter 4, folio 18, says that on the islands “bread is prepared from dried fish” (Gerolamo Cardano, De Rerum Varietate Libri XVII [Seventeen Books on a Variety of Subjects] [Avignon: Matthew Vincent, 1558], p. 26). He also testifies from experience that some people make bread from beans and millet. But would such bread really be suitable material for the Eucharist? – endnote original

16 Oblatio in the Fathers is often a synonym for the Lord’s Supper. Cf. Adolf Hoenecke, who includes θυσία and προσφορά in the names given to the Lord’s Supper by the Greek Fathers. He says that it acquired this name “either with reference to the offering of Christ on the cross, or on account of the offering of thanks that is given” (Ev.-Luth. Dogmatik, vol. 4 [Milwaukee: NPH, 1909], p. 100).

17 Pope Gregory XIII, ed., Decretum Gratiani Emendatum et Notationibus Illustratum (Rome: In Aedibus Populi Romani, 1582), col. 2507,2508.

18 Gratian’s note on “squeezed” reads: “That is, a pressed cluster of grapes, for this wine would be made from a squeezed vine according to any man’s fancy; or it could mean that the wine was squeezed [from the grapes] after consecration…” (s. previous endnote, col. 2508). However, Gratian’s text is corrupt; cf. Herm. Theod. Bruns, ed., Canones Apostolorum et Conciliorum Saeculorum IV. V. VI. VII., part 2 (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1839), p. 97,98.

19 Pope Gregory XIII, ed., op. cit. Gratian, following his predecessor Burchard of Worms († 1025 AD) erroneously cites the source for Chapter 7 as “Pope Julius, Bishop throughout Egypt” († 352 AD). The original source is actually Canon 1 of the Third Council of Braga in Portugal (675 AD). However, the part about the linen cloth dipped in must was inserted by Burchard. Rf. Unfermented Wine: A Report Published by Request of His Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917), p. 23-27.

20 Ibid., col. 2503,2504.

21 Raphael Volaterranus, Commentariorum Urbanorum Libri Octo et Triginta, Accuratius quam Antehac Excusi (Claudius Marnius and Heirs of Johann Aubrius, 1603), col. 248.

22 Yet it is well known that the Norwegians and inhabitants of the islands have a perpetual abundance of wine in their cities, which is annually imported there in large quantities. – endnote original

23 Théodore Bèze, Correspondance, tome 12, ed. Alain Dufour, Béatrice Nicollier-de Weck, et al. (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1986), p. 198. Penned in 1571.

24 But Beza is simply following the advice of Calvin, for Beza writes in his twenty-fifth letter: “Dr. Calvin, man of blessed memory, was asked by brothers who were at that time in America, where wine isn’t used, if it were permitted to use in the Lord’s Supper either plain water, which is in common use there, or some other kind of drink not unusual there. He replied that Christ’s intention in instituting this sacrament was to represent for us, under the symbols of common food and drink, the κοινωνίαν [joint partaking] of spiritual nourishment, that is, of himself. Accordingly, if the use of wine had not been common in Judea in his day, he would doubtless have used some other common drink, as is clear from his goal and intention. Therefore those who, in place of wine, make use of some other kind of drink customary in those regions, and are driven to do so not by contempt or rashness, but by necessity itself, seem to be doing nothing inconsistent with Christ’s intention and will. This reply of Master [Domini] Calvin, since it was grounded on supreme reasoning and in harmony with Christ’s intention, our assembly approved so much that we will judge men to be acting superstitiously if they depend on the symbol of wine so much that they would rather omit the second part of the Supper than make use of some other ἀνάλογον [analogous] symbol in such a compelling necessity” (Bèze, Correspondance, tome 9, ed. Claire Chimelli, Alain Dufour, et al. [Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1978] p. 60; penned in 1568). – endnote original

25 Antonius Sadeel, Opera Theologica, 4th ed. (Isaias le Preux, 1614), folio 429.

26 Johann Heinrich Alsted in Theologia Polemica, Part 5, Division 7, Question 8: “But if a church is to be gathered to God in a place where wine cannot be obtained in any way, another comparatively noble [nobilior], customary drink should be substituted in keeping with the Savior’s purpose, and the assembly should be instructed, lest it take offense” (Theologia Polemica, Exhibens Praecipuas Huius Aevi in Religionis Negotio Controversias [Hanau: Conrad Eifridus, 1620], p. 603). – endnote original