Augsburg Confession – Article 28 – Episcopal Authority

Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 27, click here.)

About episcopal authority much has been written in the past, and in that wide-ranging array of writings one can find a number of authors who have improperly intermixed the authority of the bishops with the secular sword. This improper confusion has led to very great wars, insurrection, and rebellion, occasioned by the fact that the bishops, under the pretext of their authority given to them by Christ, have not only instituted new forms of worship and burdened consciences with the reservation of certain cases1 and with fierce bans, but have also presumed to set up and depose emperors and kings as they pleased. Learned and God-fearing people within Christendom have rebuked this outrage long ago. Accordingly, for the comfort of consciences, our men have been compelled to point out the distinction between the spiritual and secular authority, sword, and government, and they have taught that, because of God’s command, people should honor and respect the government and authority of both, with all devotion, as two supreme gifts of God on earth.

Now this is what our men teach: The power of the keys2 or the authority of the bishops is, according to the gospel, an authority and commission from God to preach the gospel, to forgive and to retain sin, and to administer and handle the sacraments. For Christ sent the apostles out with this commission in John 20: “Just as my Father has sent me, so too I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit; whosever sins you will remit, they shall be remitted for them, and whosever you will retain, they shall be retained for them.”3

Second page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

One uses and exercises this power of the keys or of the bishops only by teaching and preaching God’s word and by administering the sacraments to many or individual persons, according to one’s call. For through these activities, eternal things and goods are imparted, not physical ones, namely eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. There is no other way a person can obtain these goods except through the office of preaching and through the administration of the holy sacraments. For St. Paul says, “The gospel is a power of God to save all who believe in it.”4 Now since the authority of the church or bishops imparts eternal goods and is used and exercised only through the ministry of the Word, it does not anywhere hinder polity and the secular government at all. For secular government is occupied with much different matters than the gospel is. Secular power does not protect the soul; it protects body and property against external forces using the sword and physical penalties.5

Therefore the two governments, the spiritual and the secular, should not be intermixed and jumbled. For the spiritual authority has its commission to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments, and it should not meddle in some other task. It should not set up and depose kings, should not dissolve or undermine secular law and obedience to the authorities, should not make and compose laws for secular authority concerning secular affairs, just as Christ himself also said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and, “Who has appointed me to be a judge between you?”6 And St. Paul writes to the Philippians in Chapter 3: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” And in his Second Letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 10: “The weapons of our knighthood are not those of the flesh, but powerful for God to destroy the plots and every height that rises up against the knowledge of God.”

Third page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

In this fashion our men distinguish the duties of both governments and authorities and tell people to honor both as the highest gifts of God on earth.

But where the bishops have civil government and the sword, they do not have these as bishops by divine right, but it has been given by Roman emperors and kings by human, imperial right, for civil administration of their goods, and it has nothing to do with the ministry of the gospel.

Therefore the episcopal office, according to divine right, is preaching the gospel, forgiving sins, judging doctrine and rejecting doctrines that are contrary to the gospel, and excommunicating from Christian fellowship the godless people whose godless conduct is obvious, not with human authority, but only through God’s word. When this is the case, the parishioners and churches are duty-bound to obey the bishops, according to this saying of Christ in Luke 10: “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.” But where they teach, institute, or establish something contrary to the gospel, in that case we have God’s command not to obey them in Matthew 7: “Watch out for false prophets.” And St. Paul tells the Galatians in Chapter 1: “Even if we or an angel from heaven were to preach to you another gospel than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” And in the Second Letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 13: “We have no power against the truth, but for the truth.” Likewise: “According to the power that the Lord has given me to make better and not to ruin.” This is also what the religious law in Part 2, [Subject 2,] Question 7 commands in the chapter Sacerdotes [i.e. 8] and in the chapter Oves [i.e. 13].7 And St. Augustine writes in his epistle against Petilianus that people should not even follow the bishops who have been chosen in a regular and orderly way when they are in error or when they teach or establish something contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures.8

Fourth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

But the fact that the bishops have authority and jurisdiction in a number of affairs besides this, like marriage cases and tithing9—they have this by the power of human right. But where the ordinaries are negligent in that capacity, the princes are duty-bound in such cases to pass judgment for their subjects for the sake of peace, regardless of whether they want to or not, in order to prevent discord and great unrest in their countries.

Moreover, it is also disputed whether bishops have power to establish ceremonies in the churches, as well as regulations about food, festivals, and about different orders of ministers. For those who give this authority to the bishops cite this saying of Christ in John 16: “I have much more to say to you, but you cannot bear it now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” They also adduce the example of Acts in Chapter 15, where they forbade blood and strangled meat. They likewise cite that the Sabbath has been changed to Sunday contrary to the Ten Commandments, as they see it, and no example is hyped and cited so much as the changing of the Sabbath, and they thereby wish to preserve the great authority of the church, since it has dispensed with the Ten Commandments and altered something in them.

But this is what our men teach in this question: The bishops do not have power to institute and establish something contrary to the gospel, just as the citations above say and the religious laws teach throughout the Ninth Distinction.10 Now this is clearly contrary to God’s command and word, to make laws or commands with the intention of making satisfaction for sins and obtaining grace by keeping them. For the glory and merit of Christ is sullied when we attempt to earn grace with such regulations. It is also as clear as day that countless human statutes have gained ground in Christendom because of this intention, and in the meantime the doctrine of faith and the righteousness of faith have been completely suppressed. Each new day new festivals, new fasts have been commanded, new ceremonies and new ways to venerate the saints have been instituted in order to earn grace and every good things from God with such works.

Fifth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Likewise, those who establish human regulations also go against God’s command with them, since they put sin in foods, in observing days and similar things, and thus they burden Christendom with the bondage of the law, as though there had to be a form of worship among Christians for earning God’s grace that were just like the Levitical worship, and that God supposedly entrusted the apostles and bishops with establishing this form of worship, which is what some men write about it. It is also reasonable to believe that a number of bishops have been deceived by the example of the law of Moses. That is why such countless regulations have appeared, for example, that it is a mortal sin when someone does manual labor on a festival day, even if he is not giving offense to others; that it is a mortal sin when someone omits the canonical hours; that some foods defile the conscience; that fasting is a work through which someone can appease God; that the sin in a reserved case is not forgiven, unless the person first seeks out the one who has reserved the case, regardless of the fact that the religious laws do not speak of the reservation of guilt, but of the reservation of church penalties.

Where then do the bishops get the right and power to impose such statutes on Christendom for tying consciences up in knots? For in Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter forbids laying the yoke on the disciples’ necks. And St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been given the power to make better and not to ruin.11 Why then do they increase sins with such statutes?

We have clear passages of divine Scripture which forbid establishing such statutes in order to earn God’s grace with them, or as if they were necessary for salvation. Thus St. Paul says to the Colossians in Chapter 2: “So now let no one give you scruples over food or over drink or over appointed days, namely the festivals or new moons or Sabbaths, which are the shadow of the One who was to come, but the body itself is in Christ.” Likewise: “If then you have now died with Christ to the worldly regulations, when then do you let yourselves be taken captive by regulations, as if you were living? They say, ‘You should not touch this,’ ‘You should not eat or drink that,’ ‘You should not handle this,’ even though all of those things get used up, and these are human commands and teachings and have only a show of wisdom.” Likewise St. Paul in Titus 1 openly forbids people to pay attention to Jewish fables and human laws that reject the truth.

Sixth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Christ himself, in Matthew 15, says the same thing about those who drive people to human commands: “Let them go; they are blind guides of blind people.” And he rejects such worship and says, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted out.”

Now if the bishops have power to burden the churches with countless statutes and to tie consciences up in knots, why then does divine Scripture so often forbid the making and following of human statutes? Why does it call them devil’s doctrines?12 Did the Holy Spirit warn against all of this for no reason?

Therefore since such ordinances that have been established as necessary for appeasing God and meriting grace are contrary to the gospel, it is by no means proper for the bishops to compel such forms of worship. For in Christendom the doctrine of Christian liberty must be retained, namely that the servitude of the law is not necessary for justification, as St. Paul writes to the Galatians in Chapter 5: “So now remain in the liberty with which Christ has liberated us, and do not let yourselves be tied to the yoke of servitude once again.”13 For the chief article of the gospel must ever be preserved, that we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ, apart from our merit, and do not earn it through worship instituted by humans.

What then should be our position on Sunday and other similar church ordinances and ceremonies? Our men give this answer: The bishops or parsons may make ordinances for the purpose of good order in the church, not for obtaining God’s grace, nor for making satisfaction for sin or binding consciences by making people think that they are necessary forms of worship and that they commit sin when they break them, even when no offense is given. Thus St. Paul prescribed for the Corinthians that their women should cover their heads in the assembly; likewise that the preachers in the assembly should not all speak at the same time, but in an orderly way, one after the other.14

It is fitting for a Christian assembly to keep such ordinances for the sake of love and peace, and to be obedient to the bishops and parsons in those cases and to keep those ordinances insofar as no one scandalizes anyone else, so that there may not be any confusion or disorderly conduct in the church. But they should be kept in such a way that consciences are not burdened because people consider such things to be necessary for salvation and they think that they are committing sin if they break them, even when no offense is given to others, just as no one today says that a woman is committing sin who goes out in public with a bare head, when no offense is given to the people.

Seventh page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

The ordinances of Sunday, the Easter celebration, Pentecost and similar celebrations and customs fall into this category. For those who think that the ordinance of Sunday as the Sabbath was established as something necessary are very much in error. For Holy Scripture has done away with the Sabbath and teaches that all the ceremonies of the old law can be discontinued now that the gospel has been revealed. And nevertheless, since it has been necessary to ordain a certain day so that the people know when they should come together, the Christian church has ordained Sunday for that purpose, and they were all the more pleased and eager to make this change in order that the people might have an example of Christian freedom. That way they would know that neither the keeping of the Sabbath nor of any other day was necessary.15

There are many improper disputations about the changing of the law, about the ceremonies of the New Testament, about the changing of the Sabbath, which have all arisen from the false and erroneous idea that people in Christendom must have a form of worship that conforms to the Levitical or Jewish worship, and that Christ has commissioned the apostles and bishops to come up with new ceremonies that are necessary for salvation. These errors have woven themselves into Christianity, since the righteousness of faith has not been clearly and purely taught and preached. Some men dispute about Sunday like this: People have to keep it, even if not by divine right, nevertheless essentially as if it were by divine right. They put forms and measures into place dictating how much work one may do on a festival. What else can such disputations be but snares for the conscience? For although they attempt to moderate and provide some balance for human ordinances, no proper balance or moderation can be found as long as the idea persists and remains that these statutes are necessary. And this idea has to remain when people know nothing of the righteousness of faith or of Christian freedom.

The apostles commanded that people should abstain from blood and strangled meat. But who keeps that now? Yet those who do not keep it are not committing any sin, for the apostles themselves also did not wish to burden consciences with such servitude, but forbade it for a time to prevent scandal. For in this regulation one must pay attention to the centerpiece of Christian doctrine, so that it is not nullified by this decree.

Eighth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Nearly none of the old canons are kept as they read.16 Many of their regulations continue to fall by the wayside every day, even among those who are the most diligent in observing such statutes. In this matter consciences cannot be counseled or helped unless this moderation is observed: We need to know how to keep such statutes in such a way that people do not regard them as necessary, and that even if such statutes fall out of use, it does no harm to consciences.

But the bishops would easily retain the obedience due them, if they did not insist on the observance of regulations that simply may not be observed without sin. But now they are doing just one thing and forbidding both forms of the Holy Sacrament; they likewise forbid marriage to the clergy; they admit no one until he has first taken an oath that he will not preach this doctrine of ours, even though it is without a doubt in harmony with the gospel. Our churches do not desire that the bishops restore peace and unity to the detriment of their honor and dignity, though it is the bishops’ duty to do even this in cases of necessity. This is all they are asking, that the bishops give up a few unreasonable burdens, which did not even used to exist in the church anyway and were adopted contrary to the practice of ordinary Christian churches. Perhaps there was some good reason for them at first, but they do not make sense in our times.17 It is also undeniable that some regulations have been adopted out of bad judgment. Therefore the bishops should be gracious enough to soften those regulations, since such a change will not do any harm to preserving the unity of Christian churches. For many regulations of human origin have fallen out of use all by themselves over time and are not necessary to keep, as even the papal laws testify. But if this can never be and they cannot be persuaded that human regulations that cannot be kept without sin should be moderated and done away with, then we must follow the apostle’s rule, which commands us to be more obedient to God than to humans.18

St. Peter forbids the bishops from exercising sovereign authority, as if they had the power to force the churches to do whatever they want.19 Now we are not occupied with planning how to take the bishops’ authority away from them, but we are asking and desiring that they would not force consciences to sin. But if they will not do this and despise this request, then they should remember that they will have to give an account to God for it,20 because by such stubbornness on their part they are giving occasion for division and schism, when they should in fact be duly helping to prevent it.

*****

Ninth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

These are the chief articles that are considered to be disputable. For although we could have cited many more abuses and further injustice, to avoid prolixity and length21 we have only made mention of the chief ones, from which the others can easily be inferred. For in the past there have been many complaints over indulgences, over pilgrimages, over abuse of the ban. The parsons also had endless quarrels with the monks due to the hearing of confession, burials, sermons on special occasions, and countless other matters besides. We have passed over all of this as best we could and for the sake of forbearance, so that we might note the chief points in these matters that much better. It also should not be thought that anything was said or cited along the way in order to insult or express hatred for anyone. We have only related the points that we have considered necessary to cite and to mention, so that it could be seen from them that much better that nothing has been adopted by us, neither in doctrine nor in ceremonies, that goes against either the Holy Scriptures or ordinary Christian churches. For it has always been obvious and as clear as day that, with all diligence and with God’s help (not to speak boastfully), we have been on guard lest any new and godless doctrine weave its way into, spread, and prevail in our churches.

In keeping with the imperial summons, we have wished to deliver the above-cited articles as a token of our confession and of the doctrine of our men. And if anyone should discover that something is lacking in it, we stand ready to provide further information on the basis of Divine and Holy Scripture.

Your Imperial Majesty’s most submissive and obedient servants,
Johannes, Duke of Saxony, Elector
Georg, Margrave of Brandenburg
Ernst, Duke of Lüneburg
Philipp, Landgrave of Hesse
Hans [Johannes] Friedrich, Duke of Saxony
Franz, Duke of Lüneburg
Wolf[gang], Prince of Anhalt
Burgomaster and Council of Nuremberg
Burgomaster and Council of Reutlingen

(This concludes the Augsburg Confession.)

Notes

1 “The reservation of certain cases” is also simply called “reserved cases” for short. Reserved cases are those where a bishop, archbishop, or the pope reserves the right to absolve certain sins for himself. For instance, if an archbishop reserved absolution for himself in the case of a divorce committed by a king, that king’s priest or even the bishop of the diocese in which the king lived could not absolve him; only that archbishop could. Thus the king would have to first reconcile with the archbishop on the archbishop’s terms before receiving absolution. This practice not only further promoted work-righteousness, but also was little more than a show of power on the part of the church official involved.

2 Rf. Matthew 16:19; 18:15-18. Note that the second reference proves that in the first reference Jesus is not giving the power of the keys only to Peter, but to all who share Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. See also Article 11 and note 2 beneath it, and Article 14 and the notes beneath it.

3 The Latin version adds: “And in Mark 16: ‘Go, preach the gospel to every creature,’ etc.”

4 Rf. Romans 1:16. The Latin version adds: “And Psalm 118 [119] says, ‘Your utterance gives me life.’”

5 The Latin version adds: “The gospel protects souls against impious opinions, against the devil and eternal death.”

6 Rf. John 18:36; Luke 12:14

7 You can read Melanchthon’s references here (type 521 and 522, respectively, in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

8 Once again, Melanchthon slightly mis-cites his source here. The quote does not come from Augustine’s responses to the letters of Petilianus, a Donatist. (Rf. note 3 under Article 8 for more on the Donatists.) However, the quote does come from Augustine’s book On the Unity of the Church (Chapter 11, par. 28; original Latin on cols. 410-411 here), which he wrote against the Donatists as a whole. This paragraph would be a good one to include, at least in part, in an installation or ordination service. It very clearly delineates pastoral authority, and what is owed to pastors depending on how they exercise their authority.

9 The reference here is not to Christian giving, which is supposed to be voluntary (2 Corinthians 9:7). Melanchthon is talking about the mandatory tithing of the gross proceeds of all land parcels and farms.

10 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 9, Chapters 8ff here (type 87 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

11 Rf. 2 Corinthians 10:8

12 Rf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

13 Read Romans 7:1-6 for another aspect of Christian liberty.

14 These examples are found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-6,16 (note that vs. 16 often gets mistranslated); 14:26-40.

15 Note the irony that Melanchthon clearly draws out here. Sunday was voluntarily established as the main day for worship precisely to demonstrate our Christian freedom and that we no longer had to worship on Saturday (Colossians 2:16,17). Since then, however, Sunday has turned into “the New Testament Sabbath” or “the Christian Sabbath” in the eyes of many (rf. the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21) and consciences have been unnecessarily burdened over the Sunday observance. (This unnecessary burdening of conscience was a main theme of the popular 1981 British film Chariots of Fire, which dramatized the refusal of Eric Liddell, a Scottish participant in the 1924 Olympic Games, to compete on Sunday.)

16 A couple examples from the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD) alone:

  • Canon 13: Lest too great a diversity of religious orders lead to grave confusion in the Church of God, we strictly forbid anyone in the future to found a new order, but whoever should wish to enter an order, let him choose one already approved.
  • Canon 16: [Clergymen] shall not attend the performances of mimics and buffoons, or theatrical representations. They shall not visit taverns except in case of necessity, namely, when on a journey. They are forbidden to play games of chance or be present at them. They must have a becoming crown and tonsure and apply themselves diligently to the study of the divine offices and other useful subjects. Their garments must be worn clasped at the top and neither too short nor too long. They are not to use red or green garments or curiously sewed together gloves, or beak-shaped shoes or gilded bridles, saddles, pectoral ornaments (for horses), spurs, or anything else indicative of superfluity.

17 We do well to follow Melanchthon’s lead in humility and not immediately assume that an ancient practice that has since fallen by the wayside was foolish or ridiculous. Unless it is clearly and directly contrary to the Scriptures, we do well to remember that we were not there when it was instituted.

18 Rf. Acts 5:29

19 Rf. 1 Peter 5:1-3

20 Rf. 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 13:17

21 This is a common joke which occurs often in the writings of German theologians. It also manifests itself in this form: “In sum…” followed by several more paragraphs, or even pages, of material. (Note, however, that it is definitely not a joke to them; they truly do not seem to understand the difference between prolixity and brevity.)

Augsburg Confession – Article 16 – Polity and Secular Government

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 15, click here.)

Regarding polity and secular government, we teach that every authority in the world and all duly organized governments and duly established laws are a good arrangement, created and instituted by God, and that Christians may without sin occupy positions of authority and serve as princes or judges, render verdicts and pass sentences according imperial and other prevailing laws, punish evildoers with the sword, wage just wars,1 serve as soldiers, buy and sell, take required oaths, possess property, get married, etc.

Here the Anabaptists are condemned, who teach that none of the things cited above is Christian.2

Also condemned are those who teach that it is Christian perfection to physically forsake house and home, wife and child, and to renounce the activities already touched upon,3 even though true perfection consists only of true fear of God and true faith in God. For the gospel does not teach an external, temporal existence and righteousness, but an internal, eternal existence and righteousness of the heart, and it does not overthrow secular government, polity, and marriage, but rather wants people to uphold all of these as true arrangements of God and to demonstrate Christian love and actual good works in these stations, each according to his calling.4 Therefore Christians are obligated to be submissive to the authorities and obedient to their commands and laws in everything that may be done without sin. For if the authority’s command may not be carried out without sinning, then we should be more obedient to God than to men (Acts 5).5

(To continue to Article 17, click here.)

Notes

1 The concept of a “just war” has been grappled with by Christians of every age. A list of the characteristics of a just war will generally follow these guidelines:

  • Waged by a legal authority
  • Waged for a just cause (e.g. in response to an unprovoked attack vs. mere aversion to another country and its policies)
  • Waged as a last resort
  • Waged with a reasonable probability of success
  • Waged with proportionate means
  • Waged with due regard for the innocent

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5 & 12.

3 Melanchthon is primarily referring to the monastic movement.

4 This article touches on the Christian doctrine of vocation, which Luther brought back to the fore – the fact that, when we are converted, Christ sanctifies whatever current callings we have and fills them with eternal purpose and turns them into opportunities for us to glorify him and to love and serve our neighbor. (An inherently sinful occupation, such as prostitution, would of course not qualify as a divine calling.) To summarize the practical value of this doctrine, sometimes an apocryphal Luther quote is cited: God doesn’t want a Christian shoemaker to stitch crosses on the shoes he makes so much as he wants him to make good, quality shoes.

4 For proof passages for this article, see e.g. Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14; John 19:11; Romans 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 7:17,24; 10:31; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Luther Visualized 19 – In Decline

Luther’s Decline in Old Age

Left: Luther’s most infamous work, On the Jews and Their Lies (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1543). Right: Luther’s probably second-most infamous work, Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545). For more on the accompanying woodcut by Lucas Cranach, see #8 below.

Luther historians like Martin Brecht would have us “guard against too hastily explaining Luther’s actions in the last years of his life as the grumpiness of an old man.” But those who think this is too easy or simple an explanation have not fought the fight Luther had to fight or experienced his frustrations and disappointments. (Rf. Daniel Deutschlander’s brilliant treatment of the Christian’s struggles in the so-called golden years in The Theology of the Cross, pp. 187-193. Luther’s struggles were compounded many times over.) In a letter to Jakob Probst, bishop of Bremen, dated March 26, 1542, he wrote, “I am exhausted by age and work, ‘old, cold, and sorry to behold’ (as they say).” He closed by saying, “I have had enough of this life, or more accurately, of this extremely bitter death.”

Nevertheless, increasing cantankerousness in advancing age is an explanation, not an excuse. Two of his mounting frustrations in particular got the better of him in these years.

That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (Wittenberg: Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring, 1523).

Luther and the Jews
In 1523 Luther had written That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. In addition to defending himself against false rumors in it, he also attempted to win the Jews of his day as converts to the Christian gospel. He suspected that the reason more Jews hadn’t converted to Christianity up to that point was because the only Christianity they had been able to convert to was that of the pope and his followers. “[T]hey have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs and not humans; they have afforded them nothing more than to insult them and take their property. … I hope that, if we deal with the Jews in a friendly way and give them careful instruction from Holy Scripture, many of them will become true Christians and return to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and patriarchs.”

Luther then went on to demonstrate patiently and thoroughly that the Christian faith was indeed the faith of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. He thought it enough to convince the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah; the teaching of Jesus’ divinity could wait for the time being. “For they have been led astray so badly and for such a long time that we must proceed cautiously with them… If we want to help them, then we must not practice the pope’s law with them but the law of Christian love, receiving them cordially and permitting them to trade and work with us. That way they will acquire the occasion and opportunity to be with us and around us and to hear and witness our Christian teaching and living.” He even joked that the papists might now begin to denounce him as a Jew as a result of the book.

Judensau, sandstone relief on the exterior of the parish church chancel in Wittenberg, c. 1304 (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2013).

Indeed, this book is remarkable when placed in the context of Luther’s thoroughly anti-Semitic culture. To this day you can visit the parish church in Wittenberg and see an anti-Semitic sandstone relief on the southeast corner of the building, called the Judensau or Jewish Sow, which preceded Luther’s arrival in Wittenberg by more than 200 years. It depicts Jewish boys suckling from a sow – an unclean animal in the Jewish religion (rf. Leviticus 11:1-8) – and a Jewish rabbi looking into the sow’s rear end to read the Talmud. This characterizes the world in which Luther grew up, lived, and worked.

But Luther’s hopes for the conversion of many Jews – hopes he also expressed in a letter he wrote to his friend Bernhard, a baptized Jew, in May or June 1523 – were not realized, and he grew increasingly frustrated with them on the whole. In part, his disappointments were fueled by reports and rumors about the Jews originating with Jewish converts to Christianity. After receiving and reading an unidentified treatise containing a dialogue between a Jew and a Christian in an attempt to convert Christians to Judaism, Luther penned On the Jews and Their Lies (pictured at the head) at the end of 1542. The first two sections were relatively tame, but the third section is now infamous. In view of the frightful rumors surrounding their activity and their supposedly negative effect on the economy, Luther advised the following (directly quoted from the book):

  1. to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn…
  2. that their houses also be razed and destroyed. … Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies.
  3. that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings…be taken from them.
  4. that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.
  5. that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.
  6. that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. … Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest.
  7. putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow… But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., if they had to serve and work for us…then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc. [further proof of the anti-Semitic world in which Luther lived], compute with them how much their usury has extorted from us, divide this amicably, but then eject them forever from the country.

Martin Sasse, Regional Bishop of Thuringia, ed., Martin Luther on the Jews: Away with Them!, a 1938 pamphlet defending the events of the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).

Not surprisingly, this work was later utilized by Hitler and the Nazis to try and attract Christians to their cause.

On the one hand, it is folly merely to equate Luther’s religious post-judice (frustration resulting from the Jews’ rejection of the gospel) with Hitler and the Nazi leaders’ racial prejudice (fundamental disdain for the Jewish ethnicity). On the other hand, especially if we are Lutheran, we must acknowledge two things:

  1. The deep contradiction in Luther’s own theology, not only when compared to what he condemned and advocated in his earlier and better 1523 work, but also when compared to his previous assertions about the distinction between Church and State and the roles of each. For example, in his Admonition to Peace (1525) he had written that “no ruler ought to prevent anyone from teaching or believing what he pleases, whether it is the gospel or lies. It is enough if he prevents the teaching of sedition and rebellion.” But in On the Jews and Their Lies Luther tries to defend and advance Christ’s kingdom using the power of worldly government, even though Christ himself said his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
  2. Even supposing that it were biblical to enlist the power of the State in defending and advancing Christ’s kingdom, Luther’s advice in this work would still be unchristian and abominable. How could such treatment ever win hearts, which is what Christianity is always after?

Luther and the Pope
This series has already covered Luther’s biblical conviction of the papacy as the Antichrist. In February and March 1545 Luther gave full, unrestrained vent to his pent-up frustrations with the pope, who had already convoked the Council of Trent (rf. woodcut #3 below). The result was Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil (pictured at the head), printed at the end of March.

While he was working on this book, he also designed a series of ten depictions of the papacy—not in the sense of drawing them himself, but in the sense of describing what he wanted artist Lucas Cranach to produce for him. He also composed a short poem, consisting of two distichs, to accompany each one. Cranach then created the woodcuts according to Luther’s designs and had them published with a Latin title at the top and Luther’s poem at the bottom of each. Today this collection of woodcuts is called Abbildung des Papsttums, or Portrayal of the Papacy. They consist of the following, with Luther’s corresponding poem as the caption of each:

1. Birth and Origin of the Pope – A she-devil gives birth to the pope and cardinals. In the background on the right Megaera, one of the Furies in Greek mythology (the Furies executed the curses pronounced on criminals), serves as the baby pope’s wet-nurse. Alecto, another of the Furies, serves as his nursemaid, rocking him and feeding him honey. Tisiphone, the last of the Furies, teaches the toddler pope to walk. Luther himself criticized Cranach for depicting the pope’s birth so crudely, saying that he should have been more considerate of the female sex.

Hier wird geborn der Widerchrist
Megera sein Seugamme ist:
Alecto sein Kindermegdlin
Tisiphone die gengelt jn.

2. The Monster of Rome, Found Dead in the Tiber River in 1496 – This was actually a reprint of a 1523 woodcut by Cranach. The births of freaks or “monsters” in Luther’s day were viewed as evil omens or signs (informative post on this here). So when Melanchthon found out about an alleged monster that had been found dead in the Tiber River in 1496 with head of a donkey, the body of a woman, the skin of a fish, different kinds of feet, and so on (see all the details in the woodcut), and shared it with Luther, Luther of course took it as a sign that God was telling people what the bishop of Rome had become. This depiction was commonly called der Papstesel, the pope-ass, which also unfortunately became the common way not a few German evangelicals referred to the pope.

Was Gott selbs von dem Bapstum helt
Zeigt dis schrecklich bild hie gestelt:
Dafür jederman grawen solt
Wenn ers zu hertzen nemen wolt.

3. The Pope Gives a Council in Germany – The council initially announced in 1536 (the announcement that prompted the Smalcald Articles of 1537) was finally convened by the pope in Trento—a city at the time in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation—in December 1545, the now infamous Council of Trent. However by that time Luther and his followers had given up all hope of a council correcting Roman doctrine and practice and restoring the relationship between the Roman Church and the Lutherans. Here the pope giving a council is depicted as him riding a sow with a handful of his own waste in his hand, which the sow sniffs at greedily and to which the pope gives his paternal blessing. Basically Luther is saying that the pope views Germany as a sow which he can ride as he wishes and to which he can feed his waste—namely whatever decisions the council would render—and the pope expects Germany to be happy with all of it.

Saw du must dich lassen reiten.
Und wol sporen zu beiden seiten.
Du wilt han ein Concilium
Ja dafür hab dir mein merdrum:

4. The Pope as Doctor of Theology and Master of the Faith – Luther’s own biting poem beneath this woodcut says it all: “The pope alone can interpret the Scriptures and sweep out error—just as much as the ass alone can play the pipes and understand the notes correctly.”

Der Bapst kan allein auslegen
Die schrifft: und jrthum ausfegen
Wie der Esel allein pfeiffen
Kan: und die noten recht greiffen.

5. The Pope Thanks the Emperors for the Immense Benefits He Has Received – Pope Clement IV is depicted as beheading Conradin of Hohenstaufen (1252-1268), King of Sicily and Naples. Clement doubtless did not perform the execution himself, but was responsible for it. Luther used this as a metaphor for the pope’s ingratitude for all the benefits that had been given to the papacy by the emperors over the years.

Gros gut die Kaiser han gethan
Dem Bapst: und ubel gelegt an.
Dafür jm der Bapst gedanckt hat
Wie dis bild dir die warheit sagt.

6. Here the Pope, Obedient to St. Peter, Pays Honor to the King – This woodcut, not pictured here, also was not included in some editions of the collection. It shows the pope placing his foot on the neck of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and so the title is clearly sarcastic. The apostle Peter says to submit to kings and honor them (1 Peter 2:13,17), but the pope, who is the supposed successor of St. Peter, does the opposite. Luther’s accompanying poem reads: “Here the pope openly shows by his deeds that he is the enemy of God and men. What God creates and wants to have honored, the most holy man tramples with his feet.”

7. The Just Rewards of the Most Satanic Pope and His Cardinals – In his poem, Luther said that if the pope and cardinals were to receive what they deserved in the form of earthly punishment (and not just the eternal punishment they can anticipate), this is what it would look like. The pope (on the far right) and three cardinals hang from a gallows. Because of their blasphemies against God and his word, their tongues are nailed to the gallows next to their heads (the hangman is in the process of nailing the pope’s tongue to the crosspiece). Demons receive their souls and carry them away.

Wenn zeitlich gestrafft solt werden:
Bapst und Cardinel auff erden,
Jr lesterzung verdienet het:
Wie jr recht hie gemalet steht.

8. The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope (2 Thessalonians 2) – This is by far the most famous of the woodcuts, since it was also used for the title page of Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil. The pope, with long donkey ears, sits enthroned in the jaws of hell and is waited on by various demons.

Jn aller Teufel namen sitzt
Alhie der Bapst: offenbart jtzt:
Das er sey der recht Widerchrist
So in der schrift verkündigt ist:

9. Here the Kissing of the Pope’s Feet Is Taunted – The pope is holding his ban or excommunication, which is emanating rays. In order to avoid having the ban fall upon them, these two peasants have been summoned to kiss the pope’s feet in repentance. Instead they curse his ban (“Maledetta” is Italian for “damned or accursed thing”), turn around to leave, moon him (in his poem, Luther calls this showing the pope the “Bel vedere,” Italian for “beautiful sight”), and pass gas at him as they go.

Nicht Bapst: nicht schreck uns mit deim bann
Und sey nicht so zorniger man.
Wir thun sonst ein gegen wehre
Und zeigen dirs Bel vedere.

10. The Pope Is Worshipped As an Earthly God – On a podium (altar?) decorated with the papal keys (which, however, are mere skeleton keys, showing that they have no power, because the pope does not use them according to Christ’s institution) sits an inverted papal tiara or crown. A peasant is defecating into it, while another one gets ready to do so. Luther’s poem for this woodcut reads: “The pope has done to Christ’s kingdom as they are treating his crown here. ‘Pay her back double,’ says the Spirit [in Revelation 18:6]. ‘Go ahead and fill it up’ [a play on his own translation of Rev 18:7]—it is God who says so.” To paraphrase: After all the “crap” the pope, as fallen Babylon, has given you true Christians, put twice as much crap in his crown for him to wear.

Bapst hat dem reich Christi gethon
Wie man hie handelt seine Cron. (Apo. 18)
Machts jr zweifeltig. spricht der geist
Schenkt getrost ein: Got ists ders heist

It will come as no surprise that, as went the woodcuts, so went the book. Luther speaks the truth, but he does so in such incredibly crude and indefensible ways that he must fall under the apostle Paul’s judgment of being “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Here is a characteristic excerpt:

This, this, this is how one should lie and blaspheme if he wants to be a real pope. Dear God, what a completely and exceedingly brazen and blasphemous lying yapper the pope is. He speaks just as though there were no one on earth who knew that the four chief councils, and many others besides, were held without the Roman Church. Instead he thinks this way: “Since I am an uncivilized ass and do not read books, then there must not be anyone in the world who reads them. But when I sound out my assy braying – Hee-aw! Hee-aw! [German: Chika, Chika] – or if I just let out an ass fart, then they had better regard it all as an article of faith. If not, then Saints Peter and Paul, yes, God himself will be angry with them.” For God is not God anymore; there is only the Ass-God in Rome, where the great, uncivilized asses (the pope and the cardinals) ride on asses that are better than they.

It should go without saying that no Lutheran wears that badge because he worships Luther or thinks he was inspired by the Holy Spirit or without sin. Lutherans wear that badge because of Luther’s Christo-centric theology with its emphasis on grace, faith in Christ, and the authority of Holy Scripture.

Sources
Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, fünfter Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1828), pp. 450-452 (no. 2056)

Woodcuts and distichs from Abbildung des Papsttums in Ein Buch allerlei Rüstung von der Hand darein zu schreiben geistlich und weltlich, pp. 42-59

Helmar Junghans, Wittenberg als Lutherstadt, 2nd ed. (Union Verlag Berlin, 1982), picture #10

Helmut T. Lehmann and Eric W. Gritsch, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 41:257ff

Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962), 45:195ff

Helmut T. Lehmann and Robert C. Schultz, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 46:22

Helmut T. Lehmann and Franklin Sherman, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Martin H. Bertram (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 47:121ff, esp. pp. 137,268ff

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 112-113

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 229-235, 333-351, 357-367

Martin Luther, Das Jhesus Christus eyn geborner Jude sey (Wittenberg: Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring, 1523)

Martin Luther, Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545)

St. Louis Edition of Luther’s Works 20:1822-1825

Luther Visualized 11 – German Peasants’ Revolt

German Peasants’ Revolt (1524-1525)

Title page of Martin Luther’s addendum to Admonition to Peace, titled Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes. This is a reprint of just the addendum by Johann Weyßenburger (Landshut, 1525), available from the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

In early May 1525 Martin Luther returned to Wittenberg from a trip to Thuringia, during which he had seen firsthand the rebelliousness and violence of the protesting peasants. He promptly wrote and published an addendum to his earlier work, Admonition to Peace, entitling it Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes. He urged swift and decisive action against the “poisonous” rebels. This woodcut, from the cover page of a Landshut reprinting of the addendum, depicts a peasant with a sword and his plundered goods. The fluttering paper says, “Esteem God.” This woodcut is doubtless meant to be an indictment against the rebellious peasants, in harmony with the work itself. They ought to esteem God, not the things of this world. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). The verse beneath the woodcut is Psalm 7:16: “His intrigue will meet up with himself, and his ill-will will be vented on him.”

The German Peasants’ Revolt and the Sacramentarian Controversy (yet to be covered in this series) hindered the momentum of the Reformation more than anything else. With his Admonition to Peace, Luther strained his relationship with the nobility, and with his addendum Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes, he isolated himself from many of the peasants. On the whole Luther, as usual, was simply walking the narrow biblical path: On the one hand, “rulers are not appointed to exploit their subjects for their own profit and advantage, but to be concerned about the welfare of their subjects.” On the other hand, God clearly forbids rebellion against the government (Romans 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-17) and arbitrarily taking the law into one’s own hands (Matthew 26:52). If Christians are being persecuted by their government, they can either use the legal channels available to address the wrongs (while patiently enduring in the meantime), or they can flee somewhere else (Matthew 10:23). But “rebellion is intolerable.” Luther would later accurately describe their attempt to advance the kingdom of God through opposition to the governing authorities as “fishing for the net” (i.e. going about things completely backwards).

However, even though Luther claimed to be writing Admonition to Peace “in a friendly and Christian spirit,” he presented his correct biblical position in harsh language in both that work and especially in the addendum. Luther also went too far in the addendum and actually contradicted himself when he advised “everyone who can” to “smite, slay, and stab” the rebellious peasants, “secretly or openly,” since he had correctly said in Admonition to Peace that “no one, by his own violence, shall arrogate authority to himself.” Even though a dispassionate reading of the rest of the addendum strongly suggests that he is giving this advice to the ruling authorities alone, that is not the impression given at the beginning.

Sources
Luther’s Works 46:3-55

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 172ff

Martin Luther, Luther at the Manger (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017), p. 51

Title page of Johann Fundling’s book Demonstration of Luther’s Two False Tongues—How He Has Misled the Peasants with the One and Condemned Them with the Other. This is a reprint by Johann Weyßenburger (Landshut, 1526).

In the wake of Luther’s Admonition to Peace and Against the Murderous and Plundering Peasant Hordes, Johann Fundling, a Franciscan monk from Mainz, penned a scathing critique of these two works, sometimes also called Fifty-Five Astonishing Things. The woodcut on the cover page portrays Luther on the left attempting to seduce the peasant on the right with his teachings. Above the woodcut Ecclesiasticus 28:13 is cited: “The whisperer and the double-tongued is cursed, for many who have had peace he has troubled and perplexed.”

Initially styling himself anonymously as “Admiratus [Latin for astonished] the Wonderer,” Fundling attempted to point out all of Luther’s contradictions in these two works, both within the works themselves and when compared to his previous works. Fundling called Luther’s teachings “mouse crap” and questioned, for instance, how Luther could call Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer “prophets of murder” when he had previously spoken highly of them. Perhaps the climax comes when Fundling begins addressing Luther’s addendum. First he quotes Luther:

But before I could even inspect the situation, [the peasants] forgot their promise and violently took matters into their own hands and are robbing and raging like mad dogs. … [They] are violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs.

Then Fundling, speaking as “the Wonderer” astonished at Luther’s words, responds:

Listen here, you traitorous and unfaithful Metius Fufetius,* isn’t that exactly what you instructed and told not only the peasants but the whole world to do? Long ago, in your propositions on vows (or reproaches of them) that you addressed to the heretical men at Wittenberg that you have made out to be bishops, you said: “This is the sense of the monastic vow: I vow to you, God, that I will lead an irreligious and sacrilegious or God-ignoring life all my days” [#34 of Luther’s Theses on Vows of 1521]. Therefore, you say, the monastic vows should not only be shattered and dissolved, but also severely punished, and all the cloisters of the earth likewise, since they are idol temples and Satanic whorehouses of the devil.

To this day, Luther’s biblical distinction between the two kingdoms, Church and State, and the means for carrying out God’s work in each continue to be misunderstood.

Endnote
* A general of the army of Alba Longa known for his treachery; he violated a treaty with Rome by withdrawing his troops from a battle between Rome and Fidenae and then waiting to see which side would win.

Strieter Autobiography: Career Decision

[Continued from Part 11. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Seminary (continued)

The idea now occurred to me of becoming a minister [Diener] of the Church myself, even if only as a teacher. I carried the idea around with me and couldn’t get rid of it. I sought refuge in prayer. Over at the edge of the woods stood a white ash, behind which I knelt down and prayed that God would please remove the idea from my heart, because I was unfit. Daily, often several times, I went to find my prayer altar, but the idea only grew more and more intense.

Finally I opened up about it to my brother-in-law Auch. He advised me against it at first, because, in fact, I did not have the gifts necessary for becoming a missionary, and being a missionary’s assistant was too unstable. He furthermore cited the fact that I did not have the educational background for such studies, and that I also did not have the means. In all these points he was absolutely correct. Instead he now made me this proposal: “Stay with us. We have no children. You’ll be like our very own.” He offered me a horse as a gift, a young and beautiful animal, and – get this – he told me he had 700 dollars available, if I’m not mistaken, and that he wanted to lend it to me without interest as long as I wanted. I should use the money to acquire some land. The land on which they were living and the surrounding land was school property and would soon be for sale, 50 cents an acre. In five years there would be a small town here, he said, and I could then resell the acres for 100 dollars apiece. He had purchased 40 acres at the mouth of the river in order to cut off the speculators. The Indians were prophesying an abundant whitefish harvest in the fall. He said I should buy myself a “bag net,” hire a man, buy barrels and salt, stretch the net across the creek in the evening and pull it out full in the morning. Out in the distance, a mile or so away, were two small little islands; a ship could moor along one of them. I could take my fish there with our boat and get three and a half to four dollars a barrel. And actually the promised catch of fish did turn out to be so abundant that a Frenchman and his assistant caught 1200 barrels full off of Fish Point, which is what they called a promontory not too far from the mouth of the river. What he said about the small town also came true.

“Thousands!” I thought. “This way you can become a fairly rich man without a lot of work. Do it!” But I didn’t accept right away.

Auch said, “Think it over!”

I now often ran back to my white ash, but the more I prayed, mostly to be rid of the idea of studying, the more fervent the idea became.

“So,” my brother-in-law asked one day, “what do you want to do?”

I said, “I want to stay true to my idea.”

“Good,” he said. “The next conference is at my place. I will present it to Crämer then.”

Auch traveled to Saginaw with his boat and brought Crämer, Gräbner, Clöter, Sievers, Baierlein, Kühn and a man named Sommer, who was still supposed to be at the seminary, and Mr. Bergrat Koch, Siever’s father-in-law, who had just recently brought his daughter from Germany to be dear Pastor Siever’s wife. The conference was held in the schoolroom. After the conference the gentlemen, especially Crämer, had another serious debate, with Mr. Koch. Mr. Koch thought that the secular arm was needed for the spread of the Church, and we were lacking that here. Crämer and the others didn’t want to have anything to do with a secular arm. Crämer took me aside and said, “You, sir, are going with me to Frankenmuth, and I will see if you’ve got what it takes. If you are fit, then you will go to the seminary in Fort Wayne, and if not, you will go back to Sebewaing.”

I packed my bundle. Meyer’s wife was also there. When it was time to go, they both cried and I did too. Brother-in-law Auch brought the group to Saginaw by boat. Then I headed to Frankenmuth on foot.

[Read the next part here.]