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 26 – The Distinction of Foods

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

(To read Article 25, click here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To continue to Article 27, click here.)

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Mark 9:29

8 1 Corinthians 9:27

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

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

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

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

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

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

Augsburg Confession – Article 21 – Worship of the Saints

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

(To read Article 20, click here.)

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

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

(To continue to Article 22, click here.)

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Schulteis: Educational Setting in Torgau

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 10-13. This is the fourth in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

This section picks up after Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, has either obtained his Bachelor’s degree from, or dropped out of, the University of Wittenberg and has been called to teach at the Latin grammar school in Torgau around 1534, at about age 19.

Gurlitt takes much of what follows from Section 2, Part 4 of Karl Pallas’ Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise (The Registries of the Church Visitations in Former Electoral Saxony) (Halle: Druck und Verlag von Otto Hendel, 1911), which is Volume 41 of the series Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete (Historical Sources from the Province of Saxony and Neighboring Regions), published by the Historical Commission for the Province of Saxony and the Duchy of Anhalt. I added a couple sentences from this source that Gurlitt did not include because, based on Endnote 10, the extra sentences perhaps lend further insight into Schulteis’ life in Torgau.

Michael Schulteis: Educational Setting in Torgau

In contrast to Wittenberg, which is regarded as the “mother of the Reformation,” Torgau is rightly called the “wet nurse of the Reformation.” More than anything else, the remarkable effectiveness of the Torgau grammar school1 seems to justify this reputation. After Wittenberg, it was the best and most sought-after school in electoral Saxony, and the Reformers took particular satisfaction in it. Luther became thoroughly acquainted with it on his first church visitation to Torgau in April, 1529, and afterwards praised it again and again as an ideal model school. He was also on friendly terms with many of its teachers. In August, 1531, Melanchthon reorganized it at the request of the Torgau council.2 Information about the setup of the school in which Michael Schulteis began his career can already be found in the visitation minutes of 1529. They essentially agree with the well-known model plan for a three-level Latin school which was appended as the final chapter to the Instructions for the Visitors of the Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (Wittenberg, 1528).3

Since we have no useable presentation of Torgau’s city history pertaining to the Reformation era, permit me to compile some excerpts from the “Special articles submitted to the council in Torgau” (March 22, 1534)4 that are significant for understanding Schulteis’ teaching years in Torgau. They are arranged according to the following areas:

1) Church: “The affairs of this place pertaining to the doctrine and life of the pastor [Gabriel Zwilling (Didymus)], the chaplain, and the other church and school officers – God be praised – have been found to be in order and absent of all dissension and discord.” The good relationship between the first Protestant clergymen and teachers in Torgau is also confirmed by a note in the diary of Summer, Torgau’s city physician and a contemporary of Luther: “There was utmost harmony among them; no disagreement was ever heard among them. They were each tolerant of each other and compliant with each other.”5

“The council has also consented that henceforth the pastor shall be the one to choose which chaplains, schoolmasters, schoolmaster’s assistants, sacristans, and students who have studied in Wittenberg for several years should be obtained for service in this city. He shall do so according to necessity, not choosing the ones to whom he is partial, but those who are the most qualified, always keeping in mind that the schoolmaster’s assistants should be people who will render due obedience to the schoolmaster. The pastor and council shall also have the authority to dismiss the deacons and other church and school officers if there is just cause, and to make other fitting Christian arrangements in religious matters… Since it has also been determined that another deacon is urgently needed on account of the large number of people [and the influx of nonresidents occasioned by the temporary residence of the court]6 and for many other pressing reasons, the Visitors have also prescribed another deacon at the request issued by the council and the congregation. He shall render the same obedience to the pastor that is required of the other two deacons, and shall serve by proclaiming God’s word clearly, purely, and without error, unmixed with the word of man or idle talk; by administering both sacraments in a Christian manner, in conformity with God’s word and the prescription of the visitation; by conducting services; and by visiting and comforting the sick on the basis of God’s word. In return his annual recompense shall be: 40 florins, 1 bucket of grain,* 5 cords of wood, and 1 bushel of salt – all from the general fund.” (Michael Schulteis took over this newly created position on November 19, 1539.)

“Also henceforth, on the evening of every high festival and on the actual festival day, a vesper service shall be held in which a Christian sermon about that particular festival shall be delivered in the presence of all the students, until such time in the future as the vesper service and sermon can also be prepared every Saturday at the convenience of the people. When the third deacon is taken on, an attempt may be made to see whether a short vesper service and sermon might be held every Saturday, and especially the Small Catechism for the youth and others. As for the evening sermon on workdays during the week, it is reasonable to discontinue it once again, considering that the morning sermon is sufficient, and so that the ministers of God’s word are not loaded down with too much. Also, the sermons, both on festivals and Sundays and on workdays and normal days, should not be drawn out for too long.”

2) School: “Henceforth there shall be four paid school officers, until further notice and amendment, namely the schoolmaster [Benedikt Flemming (served 1528-1539)]7 and three bachelors. In addition, there shall be a cantor [Johann Walther, beginning in 1534]8 and custodian for our dear women. Until the general fund has greater resources, the following bachelors and other church and school officers shall in the meantime be given the annual raise hereafter specified: Bachelor Markus [Crodel; became schoolmaster in the place of B. Flemming in 1539] – 10 florins; Bachelor Georg [Wachsrink] – 10 florins; Bachelor Michael [Schulteis]9 – 10 florins. Also in the meantime, until the general fund is healthier, 10 florins shall be bestowed and given to the organist every year as his honorarium, and 1 florin to the bellows operator every quarter… In return the aforementioned church and school officers shall also, in exchange for such improvement, attend to all the aspects of their ministry [Diensts] all the more diligently, considering that they have such an important ministry. … Since also the schoolmaster and his assistants have lived at the school up until now (some of them along with their wives), the Visitors have made provision, in order to prevent any sort of impropriety, that henceforth none of the school officers shall ever again live at the school along with his wife and children. However, one of these bachelors, if he has no wife, may have living space at the school, together with the nonresident students.10 And the bachelor who lives at the school shall take good care of the fire, the windows, and the boys who live with him at the school, so that the school does not fall into ruin. The bachelor who lives at the school shall also collect the wood money and purchase wood. … Also, when necessity demands that the students be punished, the schoolmaster and his assistants shall henceforth not carry out such punishment with knocking, shoving, and undue and excessive blows, but in good moderation… In return an honorable council shall also see to it that the students render all due obedience to the schoolmaster and the bachelors…for the youth, especially in these recent, dangerous times, are very quick to seize an opportunity to disobey. … Also, since the school in Torgau – God be praised – is invested with many and learned assistants, the school officers shall accordingly apply themselves diligently to the youth, so that the poor boys who are unable to be in universities, on account of their parents’ lack of means and the lack of other people’s patronage, may learn grammar and Latin thoroughly and well in the school at low cost… The schoolmaster and his assistants shall also see to it with all diligence that the instruction takes place in simplicity, as detailed in the Visitors’ printed instructions.”

“The youth and their abilities should be exercised by reciting the comedies. This suits us well, and we know of no better place where such a performance might be put on than our city hall in the summer, and at the drinking hall in the winter, which drinking hall we have hitherto lent them for this purpose as often as they have required it and have kept the doors closed to the rabble. We are also at liberty to give the boys 1 florin for refreshment for every comedy they put on, provided that the boys also derive benefit from such performances, and that a comedy shall be performed more than just on the last day before Lent.”11

3) Library: “The council in Torgau shall also take care that the library and books in the Franciscan monastery do not get torn up, but are maintained faithfully, well, and in such a way that those who want to study and read may go there to do so. They shall also take care that this library is augmented from year to year with the best and most useful books, to be furnished by the general fund.”

4) Choir [Kantorei]:12 “Since God the Almighty has favored this city of Torgau, more than many others, with a glorious ensemble of musicians and singers, the Visitors deem that, for the people who serve in this way, it is only reasonable that a publicly funded dinner be henceforth given to compensate them [what later became the convivum musicum generale or public musical banquet], as has been done in the past. They likewise make provision that, besides this, a council should also afford such persons an advantage over others in their respective trades, as much as ever possible and feasible, in order to make them all the more willing to exercise their abilities in this Christian and honorable way, and in order to encourage others all the better in that direction, until such time as a regular yearly honorarium can be made in return for their services.”

These content-packed primary source testimonies speak for themselves, and they offer deeper insights into the educational circumstances of Torgau at that time than the paltry collection of anecdotes that Grulich cites in an attempt to characterize this period.13 All that remains for us is to become more closely acquainted with the personalities with whom the young Schulteis came into contact, both by virtue of his office and in his day-to-day life.

Endnotes

1 Cf. Friedrich Joseph Grulich, Denkwürdigkeiten der altsächsischen kurfürstlichen Residenz Torgau aus der Zeit und zur Geschichte der Reformation, 2nd ed. by J. Chr. A. Bürger (Torgau: Verlag der Wienbrack’schen Buchhandlung, 1855), p. 167ff. The information imparted here requires careful verification, since the primary sources in the Grammar School Library [Gymnasialbibliothek], on which the work is based and from which also Otto Taubert confidently draws (Die Pflege der Musik in Torgau vom Ausgange des 15. Jahrhunderts bis auf unsere Tage [Torgau: Verlag von Friedr. Jacob, 1868]), are simply far too muddied.

2 Friedrich Lebrecht Koch, De scholae Torgaviensis constitutione ac forma (Wittenberg, 1815), p. 48f.

3 Karl Hartfelder, Ph. Melanchthon als Praeceptor Germaniae (Berlin, 1889), p. 419ff. Also cf. Fr. Paulsen, Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts, 2nd ed. (1896), part 2, and the ample examples of specialized literature recorded in both places.

4 Karl Pallas, ed., Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise, in Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete, vol. 41, sect. 2, part 4 (Halle: Druck und Verlag von Otto Hendel, 1911), p. 19-24.

5 J. Grulich, op. cit., p. 56, note †.

6 K, Pallas, op. cit., p. 15.

* German: 1 mld. Korns. I have taken “mld.” to be an abbreviation for “Mulde.”

7 Grulich, op. cit., p. 172.

8 O. Taubert, op. cit., p. 4. Note that 1534 was only when Walther began his work as cantor in the school. See further down under “4) Choir,” where the work he had already accomplished is alluded to with the phrase “glorious ensemble of musicians and singers.” – trans.

9 Cf. the thorough study by C. Knabe, Die Torgauer Visitations-Ordnung von 1529 (Torgauer Schulprogramm, 1881), p. 9f, where indeed no distinction is made between the identity of “Schulteis” and “Michael from Bunzlau,” and his arrival in Torgau is erroneously given as 1536. Notwithstanding this small mistake, the work contains valuable reports on Torgau personalities, compiled on the basis of account ledgers and council minutes. “Donat Michael” as an identification for Schulteis can hardly be debated, since only the first names are mentioned for the other two bachelors. What probably happened was that the young Schulteis, by participating in an especially memorable way in the edition of the Donat that the Torgau faculty published for their school in 1533 (cf. Karl Hartfelder, Melanchthoniana Paedagogica [Leipzig: Druck und Verlag von B. G. Teubner, 1892], p. 49f), acquired a nickname that he could not shake – “Donat Michael.” This name does not seem to correspond to a separate individual.

10 After this, Schulteis, as the last-named (and thus probably the youngest and unmarried) bachelor, may have lived “at the school.”

11 Letter from the council to the school personnel from 1534, quoted by K. Pallas, op. cit., p. 16.

12 Cf. O. Taubert, op. cit., p. 3f.

13 Grulich, op. cit., p. 53ff.