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 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 24 – The Mass

Article 24 (misprinted as 23) of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 23, click here.)

Our churches are charged with supposedly having abolished the Mass,1 but unjustly so. For it is obvious – and we may say this without boasting – that we observe the Mass with greater devotion and seriousness than our opponents do. The people are also frequently instructed with the utmost diligence about why the Holy Sacrament was instituted and how it should be used, namely so that terrified consciences may be comforted with it. In this way the people are drawn to Communion and the Mass. Along with that, instruction against other incorrect teachings about the Sacrament is also given. Nor has any noticeable change been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in several places German songs are sung in addition to Latin singing, for the teaching and training of the people. After all, this is the chief purpose that all ceremonies should serve, that the people learn from them what it is necessary for them to know about Christ.2

But since in times past the Mass has been abused in a number of different ways (a fact as clear as day), so that it was turned into a retail fair where people were buying and selling them and the majority of masses in all the churches were said for the sake of money,such abuse has been rebuked by learned and pious people more than once, even before our time.3 Now when our preachers preached about this and the priests were reminded of that terrible threat, which really should stir up every Christian, that whoever uses the Sacrament in an unworthy manner is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ,4 such masses for sale and private masses, which had hitherto been said out of compulsion for the sake of money and prebends,5 consequently fell out of use in our churches.6

In addition, we also rebuke the appalling error that has been taught, that our Lord Christ has only made satisfaction for inherited sin through his death and that the Mass was instituted as a sacrifice for the other sins, thus turning the Mass into a sacrifice offered for both the living and the dead that is used to take away sin and appease God. This has furthermore led to people disputing whether a Mass said for many people merits as much as if a special one were said for each individual. This has resulted in the countless multitude of masses, with people using this work to try to obtain everything they need from God, while at the same time faith in Christ and true worship have been forgotten.

Second page of Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Therefore instruction has been given about this, as necessity has unquestionably required, so that people may know the proper use of the Sacrament. We have taught them, first of all, that Scripture shows in many places that there is no other sacrifice for inherited sin and other sin besides the one and only death of Christ. For this is what stands written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ has sacrificed himself once and has thereby made satisfaction for all sin.7 It is quite an unheard-of innovation in church doctrine that Christ’s death was meant to make satisfaction only for inherited sin and not also for other sin besides. It is therefore to be hoped that one and all will understand that such an error is not rebuked unjustly.

Secondly, St. Paul teaches that we obtain grace before God through faith and not through works.8 This abuse of the Mass is obviously contrary to this, if people are imagining that they can obtain grace through this work. For it is well known that the Mass has been used for that purpose, to pay for sin and to obtain grace and every blessing from God, not just the priest for himself, but also for the whole world and for others, both living and dead.

Thirdly, the Holy Sacrament was instituted not to set up a sacrifice for sin – for the sacrifice has been made already – but so that our faith might be awakened through it and that consciences might be comforted when they perceive through the Sacrament that grace and forgiveness of sin is promised to them by Christ.9 This sacrament therefore requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain.10

Now since the Mass is not a sacrifice for others, living or dead, to take away their sin, but is meant to be a communion where the priest and others receive the Sacrament for themselves, this is the way in which we observe it: We hold Mass on holy days and other days when communicants are present, and all those who desire it are communed. In this way we retain the Mass in its proper use, the way it used to be held in the church, as one can prove from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and from the writings of many Fathers besides. For Chrysostom tells how the priest daily stands and summons some to Communion, while forbidding others to come forward.11 The ancient canons also indicate that one man officiated and communed the other priests and deacons. For this is how the words read in the Nicaean canon: The deacons should receive the Sacrament from the bishop or priest in an orderly way after the priests do.12

If then, in doing this, we have not undertaken any innovation that has not existed in the church of old, and if in the public ceremonies of the masses no noticeable change has been made except that the other unnecessary masses have fallen out of use, which were observed in addition to the parish Mass through an abuse somewhere along the line, it is therefore unjust that this way of holding Mass should be condemned as heretical and unchristian. For in the past, even in the large churches where there were many people, and even on the days where the people came together, Mass was not held every day. For Book 9 of the Tripartite History indicates that on Wednesday and Friday in Alexandria, Scripture was read and expounded and all other services were held without the Mass.13

(To continue to Article 25, click here.)

Notes

1 The term “the Mass” was and is sometimes used to refer to an entire service with Communion, but it is especially used to refer specifically to the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, as it is in this article. The term comes from the Latin word missa, which was allegedly one of the concluding words of the ancient rite of the Sacrament: “Ite, missa est. [Go, the assembly is dismissed.]”

Melanchthon is referring to Dr. Johann Eck’s 404 Articles, a publication that lumped Luther together with Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Carlstadt, Pirkheimer, Hubmaier, and Denck, and charged them with every conceivable heresy. This publication had a significant influence on the final form of the Augsburg Confession. Depending on the edition and the numbering, the articles in which Eck dealt with alleged errors about the Mass began with either 269 or 270. You can read the original Latin here, a German translation here, and an English translation here.

2 1 Corinthians 14:26. The content of this paragraph in Latin is ordered differently and expanded upon:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. For the Mass is retained among us and celebrated with the utmost reverence. And almost all of the usual ceremonies are preserved, except that here and there German songs are added to the Latin ones, which is done in order to teach the people. For that is what ceremonies are especially useful for—teaching the ignorant. Plus, Paul instructed that a language understood by the people should be used in church [1 Corinthians 14]. The people are accustomed to receiving the Sacrament together, as many as are fit for it; this also increases the reverence and piety of the public ceremonies. For none are admitted unless they have first been examined and heard. People are also reminded of the value and use of the Sacrament, how much comfort it affords to troubled consciences, in order that they may learn to trust in God and to expect and ask for everything good from God. This worship pleases God; using the Sacrament this way strengthens devotion to God. And so one cannot find masses among our adversaries that are conducted with greater piety than they are among us.

3 Such “learned and pious people” included Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), and Gabriel Biel (c. 1420-1495), among others; cf. Acts 8:20.

4 1 Corinthians 11:27

5 A prebend was the portion of the revenues of a cathedral formerly granted to a priest connected to a cathedral (serving under a bishop) as his stipend; cf. 1 Peter 5:2.

6 In the Latin version, a paragraph is added here:

Nor were the bishops ignorant of these abuses; if they had corrected them in time, there would be less dissension now. In the past, many vices were allowed to creep into the church through their negligence. Now, when it is too late, they are beginning to complain about the troubles in the church, even though this tumult had no source other than those very abuses, which were so obvious that they could not be tolerated any longer. Great dissensions have arisen over the Mass, over the Sacrament, perhaps as punishment for the way the world has been profaning masses for so long—a sacrilege that has been tolerated in the church for so many centuries by the very men who both could have and ought to have corrected it. For it is written in the Decalogue that the one who misuses the name of God will not go unpunished [Exodus 20:7]. And from the beginning of the world there does not seem to be any divine thing that has ever been exploited for gain the way the Mass has.

7 Hebrews 2:14-17; 7:27; 9:12,26,28; 10:12,14; see also 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2.

8 Romans 3:21-24; 4:4-8; Galatians 2:15,16; Ephesians 2:8,9

9 Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

10 The Latin version has a somewhat different train of thought here:

But Christ commands us to do this in memory of him. That is why the Mass was instituted, in order that faith in those who receive the Sacrament may recall the benefits it receives through Christ and may cheer up and console the troubled conscience. For to remember Christ means to remember his benefits and to sense that they are truly presented to us. Nor is it enough to recall the history, since the Jews and the impious are able to recall this too. This is therefore the purpose for which the Mass should be celebrated, that there the Sacrament might be distributed to those who are in need of consolation, just as Ambrose says, “Because I am always sinning, I should always be taking the medicine.”

Melanchthon is concisely paraphrasing paragraph 25 from De sacramentis, Book 5, Chapter 4 (original Latin in col. 452 here), the final two sentences of which read thus: “Whoever has a wound requires medicine. The wound is that we are subject to sin; the medicine is the heavenly and venerable Sacrament.” Ambrose’s authorship of this treatise continues to be debated.

11 Melanchthon is combining portions from two of Chrysostom’s homilies. In Homily 3 on Ephesians (delivered prior to 392 AD), Chrysostom says, “In vain is the daily sacrifice [θυσία], in vain do we stand at the altar; there is no one to partake” (original Greek in col. 29 here). In Homily 17 on Hebrews (many scholars think he delivered these in Constantinople, thus between 398 and 404), he says, “This is also why the priest calls out when it is time, summoning the holy, and through this call inspecting everyone for blemishes, in order to prevent anyone unprepared from approaching. … [W]ith a loud voice, with an awful cry, just like some herald raising his hand into the air, standing aloft, having been made visible to everyone, and after that awful silence shouting out his important message, the priest invites some, but wards off others, not doing this with his hand, but with his tongue more distinctly than with his hand” (original Greek in cols. 132,133 here). In both sermons – worthy of reading in their entirety – Chrysostom rebukes some of his members for sporadic Communion attendance, adding in the Ephesians sermon that many only come to Communion on Epiphany and during Lent. This is eerily similar to the present-day phenomenon of so-called Christmas and Easter Christians. He also rebukes his members who merely come out of “custom and form than [out of] consideration and understanding.”

12 Canon 18 of the First Council of Nicaea. The Latin version adds: “And Paul commands about Communion that some should wait for the others, so that there may be common participation.”

13 The Tripartite History of Cassiodorus (c. 485-c. 585) was his compilation of the church histories of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Melanchthon’s reference can be viewed on folio 79b here. However, the original chapter on which it is based (Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22) says that the Wednesday and Friday in question were only those of Holy Week. However, earlier in the same chapter Socrates also says that “almost all churches throughout the world” celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Saturday, but the churches in Alexandria and Rome had ceased to do so. (Presumably they still did so the following day.)

It is indisputable that the Lutheran Church in the United States and elsewhere today celebrates the Lord’s Supper less often than the Christians in earlier times did. This is due to primarily two factors. The first is the influence of Pietism. Pietism was a movement that both affected and infected Lutheranism beginning in the late 1600s, in response to what it perceived as a lifeless Christianity. To try to correct the error, Pietism created errors of its own. Instead of turning people outside of themselves to the means of grace, it turned people inside themselves to search and fix their own minds, hearts, and motives. Examining oneself before Communion ballooned from an important biblical requirement to an exacting and exhausting ritual. Regular communing was seen as a lifeless habit. It was better, the Pietists thought, to commune only a few times a year with the proper heart (which often ended up being a self-righteous heart) than it was to receive it every Sunday in a habitual way (a false dichotomy). Thus, the practice of every-Sunday Communion was in many cases virtually extinguished in favor of communing a handful of times a year. Pietism continued to have an influence on Lutheranism in America. However, especially in the last century or so, as Lutheran leaders and teachers in the United States have studied and taught the need for Communion, the blessings of Communion, and the Communion practice of the ancient Christians and Lutherans, this has had a trickle-down effect, so that the regularity of Communion has gone from a handful of times a year, to once a month, to twice a month (still a common practice in many American Lutheran churches), to the receiving of Communion on all Sundays and church festivals in some churches, as described by Melanchthon in this article.

The second factor is a more nuanced purpose of worship. In the past, worship was very rarely considered as a venue for evangelism, if at all. Evangelism almost always took place outside of worship. However, Lutherans have in many cases done their best to make their regular services another viable option for acquainting people with the gospel, without ignoring the fact that worship is primarily intended for believers (Matthew 18:19,20; Ephesians 5:19,20; Colossians 3:15,16; Hebrews 10:19-25). Where congregations make worship one of the avenues for evangelism, it makes sense that Communion would not be offered in every main service, in order to have some services that pose less stumbling blocks for visitors, since the Scriptures commend the practice of close Communion, i.e. Communion only for those united in the same faith (1 Corinthians 11:17-32; 1:10; 10:16-22; Romans 16:17).

Confessional Lutherans continue to wrestle with this tension—wanting to derive and receive all the benefits from corporate worship that Jesus wants them to have, while at the same time wanting also to attract others to those benefits, in a gentle and loving way.

Augsburg Confession – Article 20 – Faith and Good Works

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

(To read Article 19, click here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To continue to Article 21, click here.)

Notes

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

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

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

4 Paul says the same in Galatians 5:4.

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

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

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

6 James 2:19

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

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

Augsburg Confession – Article 15 – Church Rites

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

(To read Article 14, click here.)

Regarding church rites established by humans, we teach people to observe those that may be observed without sin and that contribute to peace and good order in the church, as is the case with certain celebrations, festivals, and the like. Yet at the same time we instruct people that their consciences should not be burdened with such things as if they were necessary for salvation. Moreover we teach that all regulations and traditions established by humans for the purpose of appeasing God and meriting grace are opposed to the gospel and the doctrine of faith in Christ. Therefore monastic vows and other traditions concerning the distinction of foods, special days, etc., through which people mistakenly imagine that they can merit grace and make satisfaction for sin, are useless and contrary to the gospel.

(To continue to Article 16, click here.)

Note

For proof passages, see e.g. Acts 15:7–11; Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40; Ephesians 2:8,9; Colossians 2:16.

Augsburg Confession – Article 5 – The Ministry of the Word

Articles 3, 4 & 5 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 4, click here.)

In order that we may obtain such faith, God has instituted the ministry of the word [das Predigtamt], that is, has given the gospel and sacraments.1 Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith where and when he pleases in those who hear the gospel, the good news that teaches that we have a gracious God through Christ’s merit, not through our own merit, when we believe this.2

And we condemn the Anabaptists and others who teach that we receive the Holy Spirit apart from the physical word of the gospel, through our own preparation, meditation, and work.3

(To continue to Article 6, click here.)

Notes

1 Melanchthon’s first edition (editio princeps) reads: hat Gott das predigampt eingesetzt / Evangelium und Sacramenta geben. The 1580 Book of Concord (pictured) reads: hat Gott das Predigampt eingesetzt / Evangelium und Sacrament gegeben. While both basically end up in the same place doctrinally speaking, there is a slight difference in meaning between the two. In the first, the second clause expresses the means by which God instituted the ministry of the Word – “[by] giving the gospel and sacraments.” Or to paraphrase: “God gave the gospel and sacraments, and in so doing he instituted the ministry of the Word.” In the second, the second clause is epexegetical to the first—“that is, has given the gospel and sacraments.” While Luther and Melanchthon definitely upheld the institution and importance of the clergy (see e.g. Article 14), it is equally as clear that they did not understand “the ministry of the Word [das Predigtamt]” as something synonymous with or rooted in the clergy.

Since the concept of the ministry is such a warmly discussed and debated topic in Lutheran circles today, a translation of the Latin version is also included here: “In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and dispensing the sacraments has been instituted.”

2 Much emphasis is placed on what is termed objective or universal justification today within the Lutheran Church, which is indeed a scriptural teaching (Isaiah 53:11,12; cp. the use of “many” in this sense in such passages as Matthew 20:28 [which is explained in 1 John 2:2]; 22:14; 26:28; see also John 12:32). (Note, however, that confessional Lutherans reject what is termed universal salvation or simply universalism [Matthew 7:13,14].) However, this article shows that it would have been unthinkable to the Lutheran confessors to talk about the gospel and salvation without talking about faith. Melanchthon here defines the gospel as “the good news that teaches that we have a gracious God through Christ’s merit…when we believe this.” To put it another way, borrowing from a paper delivered by a Lutheran seminary professor: “Paul and Silas’s response to the jailer at Philippi’s question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ (Acts 16:31), does not need any hyper-orthodox correcting from us a la, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. Nothing. It has all been done for you by Christ. Away with this synergistic notion that you need to “do” something!’”

3 By the time this article was penned, Melanchthon (and to a greater extent, Luther himself) would have had a number of people in mind with this condemnation, including, but not limited to, Caspar Schwenckfeld, Thomas Müntzer, Nicholas Storch, Melchior Hoffman, Hans Denck, Ludwig Hetzer, Balthasar Hubmaier, and Ulrich Zwingli (on Zwingli, see here). Luther generally labeled people who believed that God operated outside of his Word and the sacraments, or communicated additional truth to themselves or others outside of his Word, Schwärmer or Rottengeister—fanatics or rabble-rousers. Anabaptist (German: Wiedertaufer) means “one who baptizes again,” a label that referred explicitly to the rejection of infant baptism and the resultant practice of being re-baptized as an adult. For more on the Anabaptists, see note 3 under Article 9.

Augsburg Confession – Article 4 – Justification

Articles 3, 4 & 5 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 3, click here.)

We further teach that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our own merit, work, and satisfaction,1 but that we receive forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sins are forgiven us and righteousness and eternal life are given to us as gifts. For this faith is what God wishes to regard and impute as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says to the Romans in chapters 3 and 4.

(To continue to Article 5, click here.)

Note

1 Satisfaction comes from a compound Latin noun—facio, “to do,” and satis, “enough.” Here it means that we are not able to atone, pay, or make up for our own sins; only Christ can and did.

Finishing the Race

A Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:6–8

By Johann Gerhard, Th. D.

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Adnotationes ad Posteriorem D. Pauli ad Timotheum Epistolam, in Quibus Textus Declaratur, Quaestiones Dubiae Solvuntur, Observationes Eruuntur, & Loca in Speciem Pugnantia quam Brevissime Conciliantur (Commentary on St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, in Which the Text Is Explained, Difficult Questions Are Answered, Observations Are Drawn Out, and Seemingly Contradictory Passages Are Reconciled as Concisely as Possible) by Johann Gerhard, Th.D. (Jena: Steinmann, 1643), 78–86; available from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. I also consulted the 1666 Jena edition, pp. 205–13.

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

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

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

2 Timothy 4:6–8

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

ego enim iam delibor et tempus meae resolutionis instat

  • Ἐγὼ γὰρ ἤδη σπένδομαι

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Καὶ ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἐμῆς ἀναλύσεως ἐφέστηκε

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bonum certamen certavi cursum consummavi fidem servavi

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

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

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

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

Therefore Paul’s life has constituted the following:

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

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

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

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

  • Λοιπὸν, ἀπόκειταί μοι ὁ τῆς δικαιοσύνης στέφανος

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

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

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

Therefore it is the crown of righteousness because:

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

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

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

And later:

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

We respond:

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

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

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

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

We respond:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We respond:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We respond:

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

Endnotes

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

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

3 PG 20, cols. 193–96. Rf. also Magalianus, op. cit., p. 8, where he not only cites Eusebius as such an interpreter, but also Chrysostom in his homilies on this epistle (rf. e.g. PG 62, col. 601) and Jerome in his Lives of Illustrious Men (rf. PL 23, col. 615–18).

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

5 Estius, op. cit., p. 825.

6 Ibid., pp. 825–26. Estius does not actually include this argument in the “Theme of the Epistle,” as implied here, but in his comments on vs. 6 (p. 852.2), where he says that he will prove his assertion in his comments on Philemon 22.

7 Ibid., p. 856.1.

8 Ibid., p. 852.2.

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

10 PL 44, cols. 165–66. In English editions, the citation in question appears in Chapter 24. The “Cf.” does not appear in Gerhard’s original (rf. preceding footnote).

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

12 This reference does not seem to fit.

13 Estius, op. cit., p. 853.2.

14 Ibid., p. 854.1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Estius, op. cit., p. 853.2.

22 Ibid., p. 854.1.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., p. 853.2.

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

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

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

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

29 Estius, op. cit., p. 854.1.

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

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

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

Luke 18 and Fasting

By Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck

Translator’s Preface

“I thank you that I am not like other people. I fast twice a week…”

So begins the infamous prayer of the Pharisee (Luke 18:11b-12a) in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The entire parable (Luke 18:9-14) is the regularly appointed Gospel for Ash Wednesday. In preparation for preaching on that text I translated the following excerpt from Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck’s Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (Commentary on the New Testament on the Basis of the Talmud and Midrash), vol. 2, Das Evangelium nach Markus, Lukas und Johannes und die Apostelgeschichte (The Gospel According to Mark, Luke, and John, and the Acts of the Apostles) (Munich: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1961), p. 240-244.

For more about the authors, see the “Translator’s Preface” in The Passover Meal.

The Talmudic citations refer to the corresponding tractate in one of the following works:

  • Jacob Neusner, ed., The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, CD, trans. J. Neusner, Tzvee Zahavy, Edward Goldman, and B. Barry Levy (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, 2009).
  • Rabbi Isidore Epstein, ed., Soncino Talmud, 30 volumes (Brooklyn, NY: Soncino Press, Ltd, 1990).

Soncino and Neusner sometimes translate corresponding tractate titles differently (e.g. Berakoth in Soncino vs. Berakhot in Neusner). The translator followed each edition’s spelling when using that edition’s translation.

It is my prayer that this excerpt helps the reader to see how deeply the Jewish world in Jesus’ day was infected with the poison of work-righteousness, and that God would guard the Christian church from such work-righteousness today. May he lead us to find all our righteousness in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Commentary on the Gospel for Ash Wednesday

Luke 18:11b. “I thank you that I am not like other people.”

R. Nehuniah b. Haqqanneh (c. 70 AD) also used the prayer of thanksgiving to God to compare himself to other people in order to make himself look better. JT Berakhot 4:2: “And when [R. Nehuniah b. Haqqanneh] exits [the study hall] what does he say? ‘I give thanks to thee, Lord my God, God of my fathers, that you cast my lot with those who sit in the study hall and the synagogues, and you did not cast my lot with those who sit in the theaters and circuses. For I toil and they toil. I arise early and they arise early. I toil so that I shall inherit [a share of] paradise [in the world to come] and they toil [and shall end up] in a pit of destruction. As it says, “For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the pit” [Ps. 16:10].’”1 — The parallel in Berakoth 28b reads: “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast set my portion with those who sit in the Beth ha-Midrash [i.e. the study hall] and Thou hast not set my portion with those who sit in [street] corners, for I rise early and they rise early, but I rise early for words of Torah and they rise early for frivolous talk; I labour and they labour, but I labour and receive a reward and they labour and do not receive a reward; I run and they run, but I run to the life of the future world and they run to the pit of destruction.”2 ● In a similar way, the (ideal, i.e. rabbinically oriented) congregation of Israel gives an account of herself before God by comparing herself with the inhabitants of large towns and the prevailing world power. ‘Erubin 21b: “Raba [† 352] made the following exposition: What [are the allusions] in the Scriptural text: Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages, let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see whether the vine hath budded, whether the vine-blossom be opened and the pomegranates be in flower; there will I give thee my love? [SS 7:12f.] ‘Come, my beloved, let us go forth in to the field’; the congregation of Israel spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He: Lord of the universe, do not judge me as [thou wouldst] those who reside in large towns who indulge in robbery, in adultery, and in vain and false oaths; ‘let us go forth into the field,’ come, and I will show Thee scholars who study the Torah in poverty; ‘let us lodge in the villages [בכפרים]’ read not, ‘in the villages’ [בַּכְּפָרִם] but ‘among the disbelievers’ [בַּכּוֹפְרִים], come and I will show Thee those upon whom Thou hast bestowed much bounty [i.e. the Roman Empire, which had become Christian by Raba’s time] and they disbelieve in Thee [כפרו בך]; ‘let us get up early in the vineyards’ is an allusion to the synagogues and schoolhouses; ‘let us see whether the vine hath budded’ is an allusion to the students of Scripture; ‘whether the vine-blossom be opened’ alludes to the students of the Mishnah; ‘and the pomegranates be in flower’ alludes to the students of the Gemara; ‘there will I give thee my love,’ I will show Thee my glory and my greatness, the praise of my sons and my daughters.”3 — One can see, then, that the prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus put into the Pharisee’s mouth in Luke 18:11f. was not some original or completely biased invention, but was formed entirely by listening to actual prayers.

Luke 18:12a. “I fast twice a week.”

1. δίς τοῦ σαββάτου = פַּעֲמַיִם בְּשַׁבָּת. — Baba Bathra 88a Mishnah: “A shopkeeper must clean his measures twice a week [פעמים בשבת, so that the measures would not be diminished by the drying up of the residual goods inside], wipe his weights once a week [פעם אחת בשבת] and cleanse the scales after every weighing. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel [c. 140] said: These laws apply only to moist [commodities], but in [the case of] dry [ones] there is no need [for the cleaning].4

2. νηστεύειν = צוּם,iהִתְעַנֶּה, often also יָשַׁב בְּתַעֲנִית, Aramaic יְתֵיב בְּתַעֲנִיתָא “to sit in a fast,” “to observe a fast.” — There were two kinds of fasts: a general fast, which was mandatory for everyone, and a private fast of the individual, which was voluntary.

A public fast for everyone took place on the Day of Atonement, on the 9th of Ab (the day the temple was destroyed), and at times of national crises (drought, crop failure, epidemics, war). In the case of the first two, the fast lasted for one day and was held on the day of the week on which the Day of Atonement or the 9th of Ab fell. Yet when the calendar was arranged every year, care was taken, if necessary, to make sure that both days did not fall on a Sabbath. For fasting observances on the occasion of national crises, we are provided detailed instructions about these in the case of persistent lack of rainfall. In this case a full fasting observance spanned 13 days. Monday and Thursday were always the fasting days, so the entire fast extended over a period of seven weeks. See the excursus “Fasting Observances” (Fastenfeier).

On the choice of the second and fifth days of the week as fasting days, see Tanchuma B וירא §i16 (47b): “With which passages of Scripture have the [earlier] generations supported the regulation that a person should fast on the second and fifth days of the week [Monday and Thursday]? When the Israelites committed that act [i.e. worshipped the golden calf], Moses went up [Mt. Sinai] on the fifth day of the week, and on the second day of the week [after 40 days had passed] he came back down. Therefore the sages have commanded that a person should fast on the second and fifth day of the week, on the days when Moses went up and came down. And at the end of the 40 days they fasted and wept before Moses, and God was filled with compassion for them and made that day a day of atonement for their sins.” — This tradition is limited entirely to this passage alone. For the actual reason the second and fifth days of the week were chosen as fasting days, see endnote 10.

The voluntary private fast of the individual is attested in the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 12:16; Psalm 35:13; 69:11; 109:24; Daniel 9:3; 10:5, et al. In the final two centuries BC it had gradually been adopted as a common custom, at least within certain circles of the Jewish people; see Sirach 31:26 (Fritzsche ed.); Tobit 12:8; Judith 8:6; Psalms of Solomon 3:8; Testament of Joseph 3, 4, 9, 10; Testament of Benjamin 1; cf. also passages in the New Testament outside of Luke 18:12, such as Matthew 6:16ff; 9:14; and Luke 2:37. In the years AD the private fast of the individual was regarded in the synagogue as an obvious expression of piety. People fasted for shorter or longer periods of time (e.g. R. Zadok, c. 50 AD, fasted for 40 years – Gittin 56a)5 to make up for a wrong or atone for a transgression; to guarantee that a wish would be fulfilled or a prayer answered; to avert some physical or spiritual harm; or even just for fasting’s sake, because the merit of fasting was considered to be of inestimably high value in God’s eyes. Rf. the excursus on fasting for proofs for all these. The individual could of course undertake his fast on whatever day he wanted; only the Sabbaths and festival days were to be excepted. However, it became the custom to observe the private fast, if at all possible, on the days of the week used for the public fast, namely Monday and Thursday. This became so very commonplace that the Didache (8:1,2) commanded: “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites [i.e. the Jews], for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day [Wednesday] and the Preparation (Friday).”6 For more particulars, rf. the excursus on fasting.

The private fast of the individual described up to this point is altogether characterized as incidental and occasional. It has its basis exclusively in the person of the one fasting himself, in his problems, concerns, and needs. But the fasting done two times a week by the Pharisee in Luke 18 is clearly not thus characterized. With him, we are dealing with a regular fasting that cannot be explained on the basis of the personal circumstances of the one fasting. The motive for his fasting lies elsewhere. But where?

We possess a writing in the Aramaic language from the first century AD, called Megillat Ta‘anit, “Scroll of Fasting.” It enumerates in 12 chapters the national days of joy of the Jewish people, on which there was not to be any fasting or public mourning. Sometime later a commentary written in Hebrew was joined with this writing to make up the whole book. At the end of the twelfth chapter, this commentary mentions people who regularly fast twice a week, and in fact on the second and fifth day of the week. For them the requirement of pausing the fast if one of the national days of joy fell on a Monday or Thursday is rescinded. But they were only to be entitled to continue their fast on these days if their fasting vow was taken before the publication of the days of joy named in the Scroll of Fasting (cf. also Ta‘anith 12a Baraithra)7. We may confidently place these people in the camp of the Pharisee in Luke 18; they and he without a doubt fall into the same category. Unfortunately we do not also learn in this passage in the Scroll of Fasting the motives that caused these people to undertake fasting twice a week.

Later on a thirteenth chapter was added to the Scroll of Fasting as a closing chapter. Here we finally get the information we wanted: “Our teachers have also stipulated that one should fast on the second and fifth days of the week on account of three things: the destruction of the temple, the Torah that has been burned, and the profaning of the divine name.”8 Thus it was national tragedy which occasioned regular fasting twice a week in certain circles after the destruction of the second temple. By their fasting they want to atone for the sins which brought about the disaster, in order thus to avert any further disaster that could still break out against the people as a result of those sins.

It would have been exactly the same case with the regular fasting twice a week in certain circles before the destruction of the temple. The men who decided to undertake it felt an inner calling to step into the breach between God and Israel, which the sin of the masses at large was ever tearing apart anew. By the atoning power of their fasting they hoped to turn away God’s wrath and guard the people from blows of national tragedy. Thus it is said about R. Zadok (c. 50) in Gittin 56a: “R. Zadok observed fasts for forty years in order that Jerusalem might not be destroyed.”9 Here we might furthermore call again to mind the arrangement of the so-called “men of standing,” who had to represent the entire Jewish people when the daily morning burnt offering (the morning tamid) was made in the temple, or who had to assemble at their local synagogue for joint Scripture reading and prayer. During their week of service they fasted from the second to the fifth days of the week, thus for four days, “but they did not fast on Friday out of respect for the Sabbath, nor on the first day of the week [Sunday], so that they would not go straight from resting and living in ease [on the Sabbath] to pain and fasting, and die as a consequence.”10 It is then communicated more precisely that they fasted on the second day of the week (Monday) for those traveling by sea (for their safe travels), on the third day for those traveling by desert, on the fourth day for angina, that it would not befall their children, and on the fifth for the pregnant and nursing (see at Luke 1:5, p. 63ff, esp. notes fh). From this we recognize not only how the synagogues systematically trained a wide circle of the people for fasting, but also, above all, how they intentionally attempted to make the general well-being the precise motive and object of fasting. Then it cannot surprise us when the most zealous of those faithful to the law did not want to let themselves be outdone in fasting by the men of standing, and so took upon themselves to regularly fast twice a week on their own, whether for one year or for more, in the name of the common good. The Pharisee in Luke 18 also belongs to this group of people zealous for the law. So he stands before God as one who carries the well and woe of the people of God on his heart as he fasts and prays. He thereby thinks he can make himself be regarded by God.

Note: It is incorrect when every so often it is inferred from the Pharisee’s fasting twice a week that most Jews were only accustomed to fasting once a week. The ancient Jewish literature knows nothing of such a general practice. The other opinion, that all the Pharisees were obligated to fast twice a week, is just as incorrect. Such an obligation never appears. Regular fasting like this was always observed only by individuals who vowed to do so completely on their own.

Endnotes

1 Neusner, 155.

2 Soncino, 172.

3 Ibid., 150, 151. Wettstein is incorrect at Luke 18:13, when he takes the words of Aboth 2:13: “[W]hen thou prayest, make not thy prayer a set task” (Soncino, 22, 23), to mean: “When you pray, do not enumerate your good works in your prayers.” – Strack-Billerbeck

4 Soncino, 361.

5 Ibid., 257.

6 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-roberts.html

7 Soncino, 53.

8 Cp. Ta‘anith 26a,b Mishnah: “On the seventeenth of Tammuz [perhaps July]…Apostomos burned the scroll of the Law and placed an idol in the temple [perhaps “the profaning of the divine name” in the Scroll of Fasting?]. On the ninth of Ab [perhaps August]…the temple was destroyed the first and second time…” (Soncino, 138, 139). Schlatter in Die Tage Trajans und Hadrians (The Days of Trajan and Hadrian), p. 24 and 29, wants to read “Apostatis” instead of “Apostomos,” and he understands “Apostatis” to be R. Elisha b. Abuyah, c. 120. Schlatter seems to refer the setting up of the idol to the founding of the temple of Zeus in Jerusalem by Hadrian. – Strack-Billerbeck

9 Soncino, 257.

10 These words incidentally reveal to us the actual reason why the second and fifth days of the week were appointed for days of fasting. For fasting, people wanted two days in the week which, for one, had no contact with the Sabbath, and which furthermore were as far separated from each other as possible, so that fasting recurring for a longer period of time would not make demands on the person’s physical abilities that would prove too strenuous. There were only two such days in the week – Monday and Thursday. Thus the choice of the second and fifth days of the week for fasting days has nothing to do with Moses’ ascent to Mt. Sinai, as the earlier citation from Tanchuma B suggests. – Strack-Billerbeck