Augsburg Confession – Article 27 – Monastic Vows

Article 27 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 26, click here.)

In talking about monastic vows, it is necessary, first of all, to consider how they have been handled right up to the present, what the conduct has been in the monasteries, and how so much is daily observed in them that runs contrary not just to God’s word, but also to papal laws. For in the days of St. Augustine monastic lifestyles were voluntary; later, when true discipline and doctrine were in shambles, monastic vows were invented and employed like some imaginary prison in an attempt to restore discipline.

Moreover, in addition to monastic vows, many other components were also introduced, and many people were loaded down with such bonds and burdens even before they had reached an appropriate age.

So too many individuals came to this monastic life in ignorance. Although they may not have been too young, they did not sufficiently gauge or understand their limitations. All of these individuals, now ensnared and entangled this way, have been forced and compelled to remain in such bonds, irrespective of the fact that even papal law sets many of them free. And this has been more oppressive in convents than in monasteries, even though the females should have been spared as the weaker sex.1 This kind of strictness and severity has also bothered many pious people in the past, for they could see quite well that both boys and girls were shoved into the cloisters so that someone else could look after their physical needs.2 They could also see quite well how badly such plans turned out, what scandal, what burdening of consciences it brought about, and many people have complained that in such critical cases no one paid any attention to the canons at all. In addition, such notions about monastic vows now prevail that even many monks possessing even a little understanding have obviously been disturbed by them.

Second page of Article 27 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

For they gave the impression that monastic vows were equal to baptism and that people earned forgiveness of sins and justification before God with the monastic life. Yes, they claimed even more than that, saying that people do not simply earn righteousness and piety with the monastic life, but also that they kept the commands and counsels contained in the gospel thereby, and thus monastic vows were praised more highly than baptism. They likewise claimed that a person merits more with the monastic life than with all other positions that God has ordained, such as that of parson or preacher, a position in government, the position of prince or lord, and the like, all of whom serve in their calling according to God’s law, word, and command, without invented spirituality.3 Nor can any part of this can be denied, for it can be found in their own books.

Moreover, whoever is taken prisoner in this way and comes into the cloister learns little about Christ. Perhaps in the cloisters there used to be schools of Holy Scripture and of other arts that could be of service to Christian churches, so that parsons and bishops were obtained from the cloisters. But now they have a much different form. For people used to come together in the monastic lifestyle with the intention of learning Scripture. Now they give the impression that the monastic lifestyle is the kind of existence through which one may earn God’s grace and piety in God’s sight, yes, that it is an estate of perfection, and they place it far ahead of the other estates instituted by God. Therefore all of this is being cited without any calumny,4 in order that it may be all the better perceived and understood what and how our men teach and preach.

First, regarding those who pursue marriage, this is what those in our camp teach: All who are not suited for the single life have every right to marry, for vows do not have the power to overturn God’s arrangement and command.5 Now this is how God’s command reads in 1 Corinthians 7: “To prevent fornication every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband.” That is not just what God’s command says, but God’s creation and arrangement also insists on, requires, and urges marriage for everyone who is not endowed with the gift of virginity by a special act of God,6 according to this saying of God himself in Genesis 2: “It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a helper to be around him.”

Third page of Article 27 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Now what can anyone produce to oppose this? A person can extol the vow and the obligation as highly as he wants, he can exaggerate its importance as much as possible, he still will not succeed in eliciting the proof that God’s command is thereby overturned. The Doctors of the Church say that vows that run contrary even to papal law are void;7 how much less should they bind and have validity and force when they run contrary to God’s command!

If the obligation of vows had no other reasons to be abrogated, the popes would not have given special dispensations or permissions to annul them. For no one has the right to dissolve the duty that proceeds from divine law. Therefore the popes have certainly deemed that moderation ought to be exercised in this obligation and have frequently given dispensations, such as with a king of Aragon and many others.8 Now if dispensations have been given for the preservation of temporal things, it makes much more sense that dispensations be made for the sake of spiritual needs.

Consequently, why is the opposite pushed so fiercely, that people must keep their vows without any prior consideration as to whether the vow was proper in the first place? For the vow should be achievable and be taken willingly and without compulsion. But the power and capacity within a human to keep perpetual chastity is well known, and there are few of either sex who have taken the monastic vow willingly, of their own accord, and with due consideration beforehand. They are persuaded to take the monastic vow before they have reached a mature understanding; sometimes they are also forced and pushed into it. Therefore it is simply not right for people to debate so carelessly and harshly about the obligation of vows, considering the fact that they all know that it is contrary to the nature and propriety of a vow when it is not taken willingly and after good counsel and consideration.

Several canons and papal laws dissolve vows that have been taken before the age of fifteen years.9 For they judge that a person does not have enough understanding prior to that age to be able to decide how to arrange the course of his entire life. Another canon concedes even more years to human weakness, for it forbids the monastic vow to be taken before the age of eighteen years.10 On such grounds the majority have cause and excuse to leave the cloisters, for the greater part of them have entered cloisters before these ages, while they were still children.

Fourth page of Article 27 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Finally, even if the violation of the monastic vow could be censured, it still could not follow from that their marriages should be dissolved. For Saint Augustine says in Subject 27, Question 1, Chapter Nuptiarum [i.e. 41], that such a marriage should not be dissolved.11 Now Saint Augustine has never been lightly regarded in the Christian church, even if some men after him have been of a different opinion.

Now although God’s command regarding marriage sets many of them free and absolves them from the monastic vow, our men can advance even more reasons why monastic vows are null and void. For every form of worship that is instituted and chosen by humans without God’s law and command, in order to obtain righteousness and God’s grace, is opposed to God and contrary to the holy gospel and God’s command, just as Christ himself says in Matthew 15: “They serve me in vain with human rules.” St. Paul also consistently teaches the same thing, that we should not seek righteousness on the basis of our own rules and forms of worship that are invented by humans, but that righteousness and piety in God’s sight comes from faith and confidence, when we believe that God receives us into grace for the sake of Christ his only Son.

Now it is as obvious as it can be that the monks have taught and preached that their invented spirituality makes satisfaction for sin and obtains God’s grace and righteousness. Now what else can that be but diminishing the glory and praise of the grace of Christ and denying the righteousness of faith? Therefore it follows that such vows, as they are ordinarily taken, have been improper, counterfeit forms of worship. Accordingly they are also void. For a godless vow, and one made contrary to God’s command, is null and void, just as the canons teach that an oath should not tie someone up to sin.12

Fifth page of Article 27 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Saint Paul says to the Galatians in Chapter 5, “You who wish to be justified by the law are cut off from Christ and have fallen from grace.” Therefore those who wish to be justified by a vow are also cut off from Christ and lacking the grace of God. For they are robbing Christ of his honor as the only one who justifies, and they are giving that honor to their vows and monastic lifestyle.

It also cannot be denied that the monks have taught and preached that they become righteous and earn forgiveness of sins through their vow and monastic existence and mode of living. Yes, they have invented and claimed something that is definitely even more warped and absurd, that they were imparting their good works to others.13 Now if someone wanted to be cruel and rub it in their faces, how many works could he compile for which the monks even now would be ashamed and wish they had not done! What is more, they have also convinced the people that their invented religious orders are states of Christian perfection. If this is not boasting that one is justified by works, what is? Now it is no small offense in the Christian church when a form of worship that humans have invented without God’s command is paraded before the people and they are taught that this form of worship makes people pious and righteous in God’s sight. For the righteousness of faith, which should be receiving the most attention in the Christian church, gets obscured when the people are engrossed with this curious angelic spirituality and false show of poverty, humility, and chastity.

Moreover, the commands of God and true and proper worship are also obscured thereby, when the people hear that the monks are the only ones who can be in a state of perfection. For Christian perfection consists of the sincere and earnest fear of God, and at the same time a sincere confidence, faith, and trust that we have a gracious, merciful God for Christ’s sake, that we may and should ask and desire of God what we need and certainly expect help from him in all troubles, according to each person’s calling and station, and that in the meantime we should also do outwardly good works and carry out our calling with diligence. That is what true perfection and true worship consists of, not in begging or in a black or gray cowl, etc. But the common people get many pernicious ideas from the false praise of the monastic life, when they hear people praising the single life without any restraint. For it follows that one cannot get married without a burdened conscience. When the common man hears that only mendicants can be perfect, how is he supposed to know that he may have property and do business without sin? When the people hear that it is only a “counsel” not to take revenge,14 it follows that some will mistakenly imagine it is not sin to exercise vengeance outside of its exercise by officials. Others will think that vengeance is improper for Christians in any context, even in the government.

A person can also read plenty of examples where some have abandoned wife and children and their administrative office and hidden themselves away in a cloister. They did it, they said, to flee from the world and to seek the kind of life that would please God more than other kinds of lives. They were not even able to recognize that one should serve God in the commands that he has given and not in the commands that are of human invention. The good and perfect state of life has always been the one that has God’s command to support it, but the state of life that does not have God’s command to support it is a dangerous one. Regarding these matters it has been necessary to give the people proper instruction.

In the past, Gerson also rebuked the monks’ erroneous ideas about perfection. He indicates that it was a new saying in his time that the monastic life was a state of perfection.15

So many godless and erroneous ideas are ingrained in monastic vows—that they justify and make a person pious in God’s sight, that they constitute Christian perfection, that by taking them a person keeps both the counsels and commands of the gospel, that they possess extra works, beyond what God actually requires of a person. Since then all of this is false, empty, and made up, that leaves monastic vows null and void too.16

(To continue to Article 28, click here.)

Notes

1 Rf. 1 Peter 3:7

2 This is in fact what likely happened to Martin Luther’s eventual wife, Katharina von Bora. Rf. Rudolf K. Markwald and Marilynn Morris Markwald, Katharina von Bora: A Reformation Life (St. Louis: CPH, 2002), pp. 22-26.

3 See Article 16 and note 4 beneath it.

4 The Latin version reads: “without any hateful exaggeration”.

5 Read Judges 11:30-35 for an example of someone who did not seem to understand the relationship between vows and God’s commands, and 1 Samuel 25:4-35 for an example of someone who did.

6 See 1 Corinthians 7:7 for scriptural support of Melanchthon’s assertion that a special act and gift of God is required in order to maintain virginity.

7 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 2, Subject 20, Question 4, Chapter 2 here (type 878 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

8 The “king of Aragon” (today part of Spain) was Ramiro II (1086-1157). He had been a Benedictine monk, but after the death of his childless brother, Alfonso I, he was released from his vows and succeeded his brother as king. Melanchthon probably knew of this story from Jean Charlier de Gerson’s De consiliis evangelicis et statu perfectionis; rf. Joannis Gersonii Doctoris Theologi & Cancellarii Parisiensis Opera Omnia, ed. Louis Ellies du Pin, vol. 2 (Antwerp, 1706), col. 678c.

9 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 2, Subject 20, Question 1, Chapter 10 here (type 873 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

10 See ibid., Chapter 5 here (type 872 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

11 You can read Melanchthon’s reference here (type 1054 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go; the reference continues onto the next page). The original quote by Augustine in On the Good of Widowhood can be read in English here (from “Therefore the good of marriage” toward the end of Section 11 through “…by how much the less necessity he had to vow” in Section 14), and in the original Latin here, cols. 437-439. The larger point here is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Another practical application of the same principle is when a woman gets a divorce and marries another man, then later has qualms of conscience about whether her divorce had scriptural grounds. Whatever the case might be, she should of course not add sin to sin by divorcing her second husband and seeking to reunite with her first husband. She should rather repent to God of whatever sin may have been, or was, committed in her divorce and seek to live as honorably as possible in her second marriage.

12 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 2, Subject 22, Question 4, Chapter 22 here (type 905 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go). The quote there is taken from an apocryphal letter of Augustine to Bishop Severus of Milevi in Numidia. The writer makes this observation in lines 8-9 of the quote: “It is apparent that oaths were not instituted to be fetters of iniquity.”

13 The technical term for extra good works in Roman Catholic theology is “works of supererogation.” The idea is that those who are truly saints, and thus go straight to heaven when they die, had more merits than were necessary for themselves. The value of these extra works goes into a spiritual treasure box, the treasury of the Church, along with the merits of Christ. The pope can then dispense from this treasury at his discretion, e.g. through indulgences. Rf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., pars. 1474-1479, where, however, the term “works of supererogation” is not used.

14 Melanchthon is referring to Jesus’ preaching on revenge in Matthew 5:38-41. The Romanists called Jesus’ commands in this sermon “evangelical counsels”: “In general, the teachings of the New Law proposed by Jesus to his disciples which lead to the perfection of Christian life. In the New Law, the precepts are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity [Christian love]; the evangelical counsels are to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if not contrary to it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., Glossary). Even according to this modern definition, it clear that willfully and persistently acting contrary to these “counsels” is not necessarily regarded as detrimental to or incompatible with membership in the Holy Christian Church. (Note the word “proposed” and the phrases “whatever might hinder” and “even if not contrary to [charity].”) Rather than interpreting Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a more explicit explanation of God’s law already given in the Old Testament, they regard it as a “New Law,” meant only for those who really wish to strive after Christian perfection.

15 Gerson was already mentioned in note 2 under Article 26. He did indeed write prolifically against the concept of the state of perfection; his entire work De consiliis evangelicis et statu perfectionis (On the Evangelical Counsels and the State of Perfection) addresses it. Rf. the link in note 8 above, cols. 669ff.

16 One can tell that Melanchthon is very passionate about this subject; this is the longest article of the Augsburg Confession thus far, and only the next article is longer. His conclusion at the end is reflected in the fact that there are very few Lutheran monasteries today, and those that exist are such in name only. For example, the one-time Augustinian monastery in Erfurt where Martin Luther once lived is technically Lutheran today, but is preserved merely as a historical museum. Some monasteries did become Lutheran following the Reformation, but since members only took vows and lived in them on a voluntary basis, their membership dwindled over time until the institutions collapsed. In some cases, the buildings only continued to be maintained because the monasteries were converted into hospitals or other charitable institutions.

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

(To continue to Article 27, click here.)

Notes

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 21 – Worship of the Saints

Article 21 (misprinted as 22) of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 20, click here.)

Regarding the worship of saints, this is what our men teach: We should remember the saints so that we strengthen our faith when we see how grace was given to them and how they were helped through faith. In addition, we may glean examples of good works from them, each one according to his calling, just as the Imperial Majesty1 may follow David’s example in a blessed and godly way in waging war against the Turks, since both men occupy the position of kingship, which fosters the defense and protection of their subjects. No proof can be found in Scripture, however, that we should call on the saints or look to them for help.2 For there is only a single conciliator and mediator placed between God and humans, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2), who is the only Savior, the only High Priest, mercy seat,3 and intercessor before God (Romans 8). And he alone has promised to hear and answer our prayers. That is also the best worship that can be rendered to God according to Scripture, that we seek out and call on this Jesus Christ from the heart in all needs and concerns: “If anyone sins, we have someone who is righteous who intercedes with God, namely Jesus, etc.” (1 John 2).4

This is basically the essence of the doctrine that is preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction and comfort of consciences, and for the betterment of believers. So too, we would never have any desire to put our own souls and consciences into the worst and gravest danger before God by misusing the divine name or Word, nor to leave or bequeath to our children and descendants any other doctrine than what conforms to the pure divine Word and Christian truth. Since then this doctrine is clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and, in addition, is not contrary or opposed to that of ordinary Christian churches, yes, even of Roman churches, so far as can be determined from the writings of the Fathers, we accordingly hold that our opponents cannot disagree with us in the above-cited articles. Therefore those who take it upon themselves to remove, reject, and avoid our teachers as heretics without any firm basis in divine command or scripture are acting most unkind, harsh, and contrary to all Christian unity and love. For the dissension and strife is mostly over certain traditions and abuses. Now then, since nothing can be found lacking or unfounded in the chief articles, and this confession of ours is godly and Christian, the bishops should in all fairness demonstrate more leniency, even if there might be something lacking in tradition among us, although we hope to furnish firm grounds and reasons why certain traditions and abuses have been changed among us.5

(To continue to Article 22, click here.)

Notes

1 Namely, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the most prominent member in the audience when the Augsburg Confession was first delivered

2 Informed Roman Catholics will often defend their prayers to the departed saints by saying that they address the saints the same way that we address fellow believers when we ask them to pray for us. The response to this is threefold:

  1. We simply do not have any promise from God that the departed saints hear us or take an interest in our lives. In fact, in the passages of Scripture that might speak to such a relationship, the opposite impression is given (e.g. Isaiah 63:15,16, where two of the chief saints of the Old Testament are described as not knowing or acknowledging the living people of God, as opposed to God himself, who does know and care; and Luke 16:22-31, where the formerly rich man in hell is described as worrying about his relatives still living on earth, while Abraham and Lazarus in heaven are not so described).
  2. The way Roman Catholics address the saints is simply not the same way we address fellow believers when we ask them to pray for us. When we ask fellow believers to pray for us, we are not looking to them for help, but asking them to join us in seeking help from God alone in Jesus’ name. (That Roman Catholics are actually looking to those saints for help is indicated, among other things, by the fact that many of the departed saints are labeled as “the patron saint of [music, travelers, lost causes, a certain country, etc.].”) The Roman Catholics who pray to the saints often use their prayers to the saints as a substitute for calling on God, because they view the saints as more approachable than God (as Martin Luther viewed Mary when he was a monk). God invites, urges, and commands us to call on him in many places in Scripture, while there is not a single exhortation or command in Scripture to call on the departed saints.
  3. As Melanchthon brings out in the very next sentence, the Bible explicitly says there is only one mediator between God and humans – Jesus Christ.

3 “Mercy seat” (German: Gnadenstuhl) is one of the translations of the Hebrew word כפרת, also translated “propitiatory” or “atonement cover.” First mentioned in Exodus 25:17, it was an article of gold that sat atop the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:21) and covered over the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Thus the mercy seat stood between the Law of God and the presence of God himself, represented by the pillar of cloud that was situated as if enthroned on the mercy seat, above the Ark. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), blood would be sprinkled on the front of and before the mercy seat by the high priest, thus atoning for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). This was the imagery: As God looked down from the pillar of cloud upon his law which his people had continually and daily violated, instead of seeing his broken law, he would see the blood of a substitute on the mercy seat, more precious to him than the gold of the mercy seat itself, and thus his wrath would be appeased. Jesus is the ultimate mercy seat, since his blood actually atoned for all our sin once and for all (Hebrews 9:23-26; see also 1 Peter 1:18,19).

4 For proof passages in addition to those cited by Melanchthon, see e.g. Deuteronomy 32:7-9 (remembering the saints of old in a way that calls to mind God’s promises and their fulfillment); Psalm 50:14,15; Philippians 3:17 (following the godly example of the saints); Hebrews 13:7 (same); Revelation 19:10 (where an angel forbids John to worship him, calling himself “a fellow servant with [John]” and telling him to worship God alone).

5 An English translation of Cornelius Becker’s lyric paraphrase of the first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession, penned in 1631, is available here. It can be sung to the following hymn tunes:

  • “To Shepherds as They Watched by Night” (Puer nobis nascitur)
  • “Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain” (Herr Jesu Christ, meins)
  • “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” (Erhalt uns, Herr)
  • “Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide” (Ach bleib bei uns)
  • “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now” (Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend)

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.