Some years ago many of the papists occupied themselves with the councils and the fathers and at last brought all the councils together in one book. This work gave me no small pleasure, because I had not previously seen the councils side by side. And there are now among them, I believe, some good, pious people who would like to see the Church reformed according to the standard of these councils and fathers. They are moved to this by the fact that the present state of the Church, under the papacy, disagrees shamefully with the ways of the councils and fathers. In this case, however, their good intentions are quite in vain; for, beyond doubt, it is their idea that the pope and his people would, or would have to, include themselves in such a reformation. But that is a vain idea, for there stands the pope, with his abiding lords, and defies them, as he defies us, saying that they would rather let the Church perish than yield a single point; i.e., they would rather let councils and fathers perish than yield to them in anything. For if the councils and fathers were to be followed, God help us! what would become of the pope and the present bishops? In truth, they would have to become the perishable Church, instead of being abiding lords.
I will say nothing about the ancient days, which we may call the thousand or fourteen hundred years after the birth of Christ. It is not more than a hundred years since the pope began the holy practice of giving one priest two livings, such as canonries or parishes. The theologians at Paris and their comrades wrote many terrible things about this and complained of it. I am not yet sixty years old, and yet I know that within my memory the custom has grown up that a bishop should have more than one endowment.
Meanwhile, however, the pope has devoured everything, made a robbery of the annates and everything else, and portions out the bishoprics by threes, the abbeys and endowed positions by tens. How can he spew all this up again and let his chancelry be torn apart, for the sake of the fathers and councils? Yes, you say, this is an abuse; well, then, take your ancient councils and fathers and reform it all, for things were not like this a hundred years ago or sixty years ago, before you were born.
Now of what use is your reformation according to the fathers and councils? You hear that the pope and the bishops will not endure it; and if they could not endure the condition of the Church fifty years ago, when you and I were children, how would they or could they endure it, if we wanted to reform it by restoring the condition of the Church of six hundred, or a thousand, or fourteen hundred years ago. This proposal is simply impossible, because the pope is in possession, and wants to be unreformed. Therefore we must let both councils and fathers and everything that we can say or think, be useless in these matters; for the pope is above councils, above fathers, above kings, above God, above angels. Let us see you bring him down and make the fathers and councils his masters! If you do that, I will agree with you and stand by you; but so long as it does not happen, what is the use of talking or writing so much about councils or fathers? There is no one who takes the matter up. If the pope, with his imperishable lords, cardinals and bishops, is unwilling to go along into the reformation and be put, with us, under the councils and fathers, then a council is of no use and then no reformation is to be hoped from him; for he dashes it all to the ground and tells us to shut up.
But suppose they ask that we allow ourselves to be reformed, with them, according to the councils and fathers, and so help the Church, even though the pope and his people would neither do it nor suffer it! What then? To this I give a double answer. Either they are bitter, malicious, and bad, and do not mean it well; or else they are good-hearted and mean it well, so far as in them lies.
To the former it should be said that they ought first to take themselves by the nose and pull the beam out of their own eye. Let them, with the pope and cardinals or without the pope and cardinals, grow fond of the councils and fathers and hold to them. When that happens, then we, following their holy example, will straightway be there, and will become better than they are themselves. For, God be praised and thanked! we are not such abandoned people that we would let the Church perish rather than yield, even in great matters, so long as they are not against God. On the contrary, so far as our knowledge and ability go, we are ready to perish utterly, rather than that misfortune or injury should befall the Church.
But if they themselves pay no heed to the fathers and councils, and yet would force us under them, that is too raw; and we must say, Medice cura te ipsum, and, with Christ, “They lay on people’s necks intolerable burdens, which they themselves will not touch with one finger.” That does no good, and we have no small reason for refusal, especially since they ascribe such great sanctity to the fathers and the councils. We do not keep them; and neither do they, except in words and on paper, when they show it to us; for we confess, and must confess, that we are right poor, weak Christians, and that in many things.
For one thing, we have so much to do, day and night, with reading, thinking, writing, teaching, exhorting, encouraging both ourselves and others, that, indeed, no time is left us even to think whether there ever were councils or fathers, to say nothing of concerning ourselves with such high matters as tonsures, chasubles, long robes, etc., and their high sanctity. If they have risen so high and become so altogether angelic and so rich in faith, that the devil has to let them alone, and can start no errors among them and terrify no weak consciences; we weak Christians have not attained to that state, and we fear that we never shall attain to it on earth.
Therefore they really ought to be gracious and merciful, and not condemn us because we cannot yet equal them in holiness. For if we were to leave the work that we have in matters of faith and, weak as we are, to emulate their strong holiness in dress and foods, we might give up our weak holiness and not attain their high, strong holiness, and so sit down between two chairs.
But if they will not be gracious and merciful to us, we must let them be angels and dance in Paradise among the flowers, as men who have long since abolished faith and, in their heavenly holiness, have no temptation from devil, flesh, or world. But we must toil and sweat in slime and mud; poor fibelists and beginners in faith that we are, we cannot be such high doctors and magisters in faith. If we had as much faith as they think that they have, we could bear tonsures, chasubles, councils and fathers more easily than they do; but since they do not bear them at all, they bear them easily (for to bear nothing is to have no heavy burden), and boast, the while, that we are not willing to bear them.
Likewise we poor Christians have enough to do to keep God’s commandments, so much, indeed, that we cannot give attention to the other high works, which they boast of as spiritual, conciliar, and patristic.
For we drive and practice both ourselves and our followers, with the greatest diligence, to love God above all things, and our neighbor as ourselves, to be humble and patient, merciful and gentle, chaste and sober, not covetous or envious, and to keep the rest of God’s commandments.
We should be glad if there were among our people no pride, avarice, usury, envy, over-drinking, over-eating, adultery, or wantonness; but we succeed so poorly and miserably that we can bring only a few of them to these good works; the great mass remains what it is and grows worse everyday. Now figure it out yourself, when we are so weak in the doing of these necessary works, commanded by God, how can we leave them and give ourselves to the high, strong, unnecessary works of which they tell us? If we had performed the divine, little, despicable, or as they contemptuously call them, “civil” works, then, God willing! we would begin to do their spiritual, churchly works about meat-eating, dress, holy days, etc.
But they have an easy task, because they fulfill all God’s commandments, love God above all things and have no covetousness or usury, no adulterers or fornicators, no drinkers or drunkards among them, but they do all these little, good, divine works so easily that time actually hangs heavy on their hands. Therefore it is only right that, over and above these “civil” works of ours, they should undertake to do stronger or higher works, in obedience to the Church or the fathers, since they are far too strong to practice these little good works with us; they have taken a long leap beyond them and have got far ahead of us. Nevertheless, in their high and strong mercy, and according to the doctrine of St. Paul, they ought to have sympathy with us weak, poor Christians, and not condemn us or make fun of us because we are learning so childishly to toddle along the benches, nay, to creep in the mire, and cannot skip and dance, on such light feet and legs, over and outside of God’s commandments, as they do, the strong heroes and giants, who can attack the works that are higher and greater than loving God above all things and one’s neighbor as oneself; though St. Paul calls this “the fulfilling of the law” in Romans 13:10, and so does Christ, in Matthew 5:19.
If they will not have sympathy with us, however, we ask at least a little time until we have completed God’s commandments and the little children’s works; then we will gladly fall to upon their high, spiritual, knightly, manly works. For what is the use of trying to compel a child to run and work like a strong man? Nothing will come of it; the child cannot.
So we poor, weak Christians, who, in God’s commandments and His little good works, toddle along the benches and sometimes scarcely creep on all fours, nay, even pull ourselves along on the ground, so that Christ must dandle us, as a mother or a maid dandles a child, — we simply cannot keep pace with their strong, manly running and doing; and God forbid that we should! Therefore we shall keep the “churchly and conciliar holiness” (as they call it) until we have nothing more to do in God’s commandments and good works, and not permit this reformation which we cannot accomplish.
Let that be sufficient answer to the first kind of people, those who demand this reformation of us with evil intent.
The second kind are those who hope, though vainly, that such a fine reformation as they imagine might still be accomplished by means of the fathers and councils, even though the pope were unwilling or wanted to hinder it. These I answer kindly that I regard it an impossible undertaking and do not know at all how it can be attacked. For I, too, have read the fathers, even before I set myself so stiffly against the pope; and I read them more diligently than they who now quote them so defiantly and proudly against me; for I know that none of them has attempted, as I have, to lecture in the schools upon a book of Holy Scripture and use the writings of the fathers in doing so. Let them take up one book of Holy Scripture and seek their glosses in the fathers, and they will have the same experience that I had, when I took up Hebrews with St. Chrysostom’s glosses, Titus and Galatians with the help of St. Jerome’s, Genesis with the help of St. Ambrose’s and Augustine’s, the Psalter with all the writers that were to be had, and so on. I have read more than they think and driven through all the books, and they are too presumptuous when they imagine that I have not read the fathers, and would hold up to me as something precious the very thing that, twenty years ago, I had to think lightly of so that I might read the Scriptures.
St. Bernard claims that he learned his wisdom from the trees, the oaks and pines, which were his doctores, i.e., he got his ideas under the trees, out of the Scriptures. He says, too, that he regards the holy fathers highly, but does not heed everything that they have spoken. He states his reason in this parable, — he would rather drink from the spring than from the rill. So all men who can drink out of the spring forget the rill, except as they use the rill to bring them to the spring; thus the Scriptures must remain master and judge. Or, if we follow the rills too much, they lead us too far from the spring, and lose both taste and virtue, until at last they flow into the salt sea, and are lost. That is what has happened under the papacy.
Enough of that! We would show cause why this undertaking is impossible.
In the first place, it is plain that the councils are not only unequal, but even contradictory, and the same is true of the fathers. If we were to try to harmonize them, there would be greater disagreement and disputing than there now is, and we should never get out of it anymore. For since they are unlike and often contradictory, our first undertaking would be to see how we could cull out the best and let the rest go. Then the trouble would start!
One would say, “If we are going to keep them, we must keep all or nothing.” Another would say, “You are culling out what you like, and leaving what you do not like.” Who will be the umpire?
Look at the Decretum, in which Gratian had this very purpose, so that the book was even called Concordantia discordantium: i.e., he wanted to compare the unlike utterances of the fathers and councils, harmonize the contradictory ones and cull out the best. He succeeded like a crab walks; often let the best go and kept the worst, and neither compared nor harmonized them. The jurists themselves say it stinks of ambition and avarice, and a canonist is nothing but a jackass. How much more would that be the case with us if we actually got to the point of trying to make the utterances and opinions of all the fathers and councils agree together! It would be pains and labor lost and bad would be made worse, and I shall not involve myself in such a dispute; for I know that there would be no end to it and we would have, at last, only an uncertain case, at the cost of vain and lost labor and time. They are too green, the young paper-smearers, and far too inexperienced. They think that what they read and imagine must be so and all the world must worship it, though they cannot say the A B C of Scripture and are inexpert even in the fathers and councils. They shout and sputter, and do not know what they are saying and writing.
I shall say no more of Gratian. St. Augustine writes to Januarius and complains that even in his time, that is, three hundred years after Christ (for in this year 1539 he has been dead for eleven hundred and two years), the Church was already greatly burdened with statements of bishops, on one side and another, so that the condition of the Jews was more tolerable and endurable; and he sets down these clear, plain words, Innumerabilibus servilibus oneribus premunt ecclesiam, “They oppress the Church with innumerable burdens,” while the Jews are burdened only by God, not by men. He also says, in the same place, that it was Christ’s will to impose upon the Church only a few, easy ceremonies, viz., baptism and the sacrament of the altar, and speaks of no more than these two, as everyone can read. The books are to be had and no one can accuse me of inventing this.
But he makes a mighty rent in this, and says, in the same place, Hoc genus habet liberas observationes, i.e., “No one is bound to keep all of these, but may omit them without sin.” If St. Augustine is not here a heretic, then I shall never become a heretic. He throws the opinions of so many bishops and so many churches all on a heap in the fire and recommends only baptism and the Sacrament, believing that Christ did not will to impose any further burden on the Church, if, indeed, that can be called a burden which is all comfort and grace; as He says, “My burden is light and my load is pleasant,” i.e., “My burden is peace and my load is pleasure.”
Nevertheless, the fine, wise man does this honor to the great, so-called universal, or chief, councils. He makes a distinction between them and the others, and the statements of the bishops, and says that they are to be highly thought of, saying, in the same place, that the ordinances of these great chief councils ought rightly be kept, and that much depends on them and that they have, to use his own words, saluberrimam auctoritatem, i.e., it is highly profitable to have respect for them. But he never saw one of these great councils, nor was he ever in one of them, otherwise he would, perhaps, have written differently, or more, about them. For in all the books there are not more than four of these chief councils that are famous or well-known, and so the Roman bishops compare them to the four Gospels, as they cry in their decretals.
The first was the Nicene Council, held at Nicaea, in Asia, in the fifteenth year of Constantine the Great, almost thirty-five years before Augustine’s birth. The second was at Constantinople in the third year of the Emperors Gratian and Theodosius the Great, who ruled jointly. At that time Augustine was still a heathen, and not a Christian, a man about twenty-six years old, so that he could not take an interest in all the matters.
The third, at Ephesus, he did not live to see; still less the fourth, at Chalcedon. All this comes from the histories and the reckoning of the years; it is certain.
I must say this because of the saying of St. Augustine, that the great chief councils are to be regarded, because much depends on them, in order that his opinion may be rightly understood. He was speaking of only two councils, Nicaea and Constantinople, which he had not seen, but afterwards learned about from writings; and at their time no bishop was over any other. The bishops, neither the bishop of Rome nor any other, could never have brought these councils into existence, if the emperors had not called them together. And so I judge, in my folly, that the great, or universal, councils are so called because the bishops were called together out of all lands by the monarch, the great, chief, or universal, ruler.
For no matter how wild it makes all the papists, history testifies that, if the Emperor Constantine had not called the first Council at Nicaea, Pope Sylvester would have had to leave it uncalled. And what would the poor bishop of Rome have done, for the bishops in Asia and Greece were not subject to him? If he could have done it, without the power of the Emperor Constantine, he would have put it, not in Asia, far across the sea, where no one cared anything about his authority (as he well knew by experience), but in Italy, at Rome, or somewhere nearby, and he would have compelled the emperor to come thither. I have the same to say of the other three councils, named above. If the emperors Gratian, Theodosius, Theodosius II, and Marcian had not assembled those three great councils, they would never have been held for the sake of the bishop of Rome or the other bishops; for the bishops in other lands cared as much about the Roman bishop, as the bishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, now care about the authority of one another; indeed they cared much less.
Yet one sees in the histories that the Roman bishops, even before that time, were always seeking after lordship over the other bishops, but could not get it because of the monarch. They wrote many letters, now to Africa, now to Asia, and so on, even before the Nicene Council, saying that nothing was to be ordered publicly without the Roman See. But no one paid any attention to it at the time, and the bishops in Asia, Africa, and Egypt acted as though they did not hear it. They gave the people fine words, and they were humble, but they yielded nothing. You will discover this if you read the histories and compare them carefully; but you must pay no attention to their cries and those of their hypocrites, but look the texts and histories in the face or see them as a mirror.
Now when the word “Council” (partly because of the above-mentioned letter of Augustine) was in high honor among Christians throughout the world, and the fine monarchs, or emperors, were gone, the Roman bishops were always considering how they might get possession of the name “Council,” so that all Christendom would have to believe what they said, and how, under this fine name, they might secretly become monarchs. This is the truth and it smites their conscience, if they could have a conscience.
And that is what actually happened. They accomplished it, so that they have now become Constantine, Gratian, Theodosius, Marcian, and much more than these monarchs and their four great councils. For the pope’s councils now are called, Sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas; not in all the world, to be sure, nor throughout the Church, but in that part of the Roman Empire that Charles the Great had. At last, possessed by all the devils, they shamefully overthrew some of the emperors, trod them under foot, and betrayed them in many ways; and they would still do the same thing, if they could. Enough, for the present, about what St. Augustine says of the councils!
We would also show what he believes about the fathers. He says, in the letter to St. Jerome, which Gratian also quotes, in dist. 9., “I have learned to hold the Scriptures alone inerrant; all others, I so read that, however holy or learned they may be, I do not hold what they teach to be true, unless they prove, from Scripture or reason, that it must be so.”
Furthermore, in the same section of the Decretum is St. Augustine’s saying, from the preface to his book De trinitate, “Do not follow my writings as Holy Scripture. When you find in Holy Scripture anything that you did not believe before, believe it without doubt; but in my writings, you should hold nothing for certain, concerning which you were before uncertain, unless I have proved that it is certain.” Many more sayings of this kind are in other passages of his writings. He says, for example, “As I read the books of others, so will I have mine read.” The other sayings I shall pass by for the present.
The papists know very well that there are many of these passages here and there in Augustine and some bits of them have been put in the Decretum.
Nevertheless, they act against their own consciences, and pass over these sayings, or suppress them, and set the fathers, the councils, nay, even the bishops of Rome, who have commonly been very unlearned men, above everything. St. Augustine must have detected many faults in the fathers who were before him, because he wants to be impartial and have all of them, including himself, subject to Holy Scripture. Otherwise, why should he have needed to guard himself against them by saying, “However holy or learned they may be”? He might have said, “Yes, everything that they write I consider equal to Holy Scripture, because they are so holy and learned,” but he says “No.” So he also says in another letter to St. Jerome, who was angry because St. Augustine was not satisfied with one point in his commentary on Galatians, “Dear brother (for he was a fine, kindly man), I hope that you would not have your books considered equal to the books of the apostles and prophets.”
I would be ashamed to death, if such a good, fine man were to write such letters to me and ask me not to think my books equal to the books of the apostles and prophets, as St. Augustine writes to St. Jerome. But what we are now concerned with is the fact that St. Augustine observed that the fathers were sometimes human and had not overcome Romans 7:18; therefore he will not rely on them, — neither on his predecessors, holy and learned fathers though they were, nor on himself, and still less upon his successors, who would be smaller men — but he will have the Scriptures as master and judge. So it has been said above by Bernard that the oaks and pines were his masters, and he would rather drink from the spring than from the rill. He could not have said this, if he had held the books of the fathers equal to Holy Scripture and had found no fault in them; but he would have said, “It is all the same whether I drink from the Scriptures or the fathers.” He does not do that, but lets the rill flow on, and drinks from the spring.
What are we to do, then? If we are to bring the Church back to the doctrine and opinion of the fathers, there stands St. Augustine, and confuses us and lets us find no end to our differences of opinion, because he will not have reliance put upon the fathers, bishops, or councils, no matter how holy and learned they may be, nor on himself, but refers us to the Scriptures; otherwise, he says, everything is uncertain, and lost, and vain. But to exclude St. Augustine is in conflict with our purpose, which is to have a Church that will accord with the doctrine of the fathers; for if St. Augustine is thrown out of their number, the others are not worth much, and it is intolerable nonsense not to consider St. Augustine one of the best fathers, since throughout all Christendom he is esteemed the highest of them, and both Church and school have hitherto preserved his writings best of all, as is plain. And yet you compel us to this endless trouble and labor of holding to the councils and fathers, against the Scriptures, and judging ourselves by them! Before that happens we shall all be dead; the Last Day will come long before that.
However, we shall put aside St. Augustine, Bernard, and those who write such things, and take up the councils and fathers themselves and see whether we should be able to direct our life by them. But in order not to make too long a story of it, we shall take up particularly the first two great councils, which St. Augustine praises; namely, those of Nicaea and Constantinople, although he did not see them. Nay, in order to make our case altogether certain, and in order that we may make no mistakes and have no fears, we shall take up the first council, that of the apostles, held at Jerusalem, of which St. Luke writes in Acts 15:28. There it is written that the apostles claimed that the Holy Spirit ordered these things through them. Visum est Spiritui Sancto et nobis, etc., “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication, from which if ye abstain, ye do well.”
There we hear that the Holy Ghost (as the preachers of councils boast) commands that we are to eat nothing that has been sacrificed to idols, no blood, nothing that has been strangled. Now if we would have a Church according to this council (as would be only right, since it is the highest and the first, and was held by the apostles themselves), we should have to teach and insist that no prince, lord, burgher, or peasant should henceforth eat geese, roe-deer, stag, or pork cooked in blood, and must also avoid carp and fish-jelly; for there is blood in them or, as the cooks say, “color.” And especially must the burghers and peasants eat no red sausage, or bloodsausage, for that is not just thin blood, but blood that has been thickened and cooked, a very coarse blood. Likewise we must not eat rabbits or birds for, according to the laws of the chase, they are all strangled, even though they are not cooked in blood, but only fried.
If, then, we are to abstain from blood, according to this council, we must let the Jews be our masters, in church and kitchen, for they have a special, big book on the subject of blood-eating, so big that one cannot vault over it with a pole, and they look for blood so closely that they will not eat meat with any Gentile or Christian even though the meat is not strangled, but slaughtered as purely as possible (like the meat of oxen and calves) and the blood washed out with water; they would rather die than do it. God help us! how we Christians would be tormented over this council, in the two matters of eating blood and the meat of strangled animals alone! Let anyone who will start to bring the Church into obedience to this council; I shall follow him very gladly. Otherwise, I want to be excused from listening to this cry of “Councils! Councils! You do not keep the councils and fathers!” Or I will cry back, “You yourselves do not keep councils or fathers, because you treat this highest council and the highest fathers, the apostles themselves, with contempt! Why do you think that I ought or must keep councils and fathers, when you yourselves will not touch them with a finger?” I would say, as I said to the Sabbatarians, that they ought first to keep their Mosaic law, and then we, too, would keep it; but when they themselves do not and cannot keep it, it is laughable when they ask us to keep it.
You say it is not possible to introduce the rules of this council because opposite practices have become too widespread. That is no answer, for we have undertaken to govern ourselves according to the councils, and here it says, “The Holy Ghost has decreed.” Against the Holy Ghost the plea that things have gone too far or taken too deep a hold, has no force, and that kind of excuses leaves no conscience sure of what to do. If we would be conciliar, we must keep this council above all others; if not, then we may keep none of the other councils and thus be free from all councils. For in this council there were not simple bishops, as in the others, but the apostles themselves, who were the Holy Ghost’s certain and highest fathers.
Besides, it is not so impossible to avoid blood and things strangled! What would it be like, if we had to eat corn, herbs, beets, apples, and other fruits of the earth and the trees, as our ancestors did before the Flood, when it was not permitted to eat meat? We should not die of hunger, even if we were to eat neither meat nor fish. How many people, even today, have to live, eating fish or meat very seldom. Thus the plea of impossibility does not help to strengthen our conscience against the Holy Ghost, because without injury to body or soul, we could go back to living, not only without eating blood and things strangled, as Moses teaches, but also without fish and meat, as before the Flood. I am surprised that, with all the many spirits of disorder of these days, the devil has not brought up these beautiful ideas, which have such fine precedents of Scripture on their side.
If we were to say that all this was not only impossible, but had fallen of itself and come into disuse or gone out of use (as I am accustomed to call the canons which are no more in use canones mortuos, “dead canons”), this again would not stand the test. I know, to be sure, that the pope and his followers seek this way out, and pretend that the Church has the power to alter this council of the apostles. This is a lie! They cannot produce a single utterance of the Church which contains a commandment to do this or make any changes. Besides, it is not proper for the Church to alter an ordinance of the Holy Ghost, and it never does so.
They do not see, however, blind leaders that they are, that with that kind of talk they are only preparing a rod for their own hide. If we allow that men have power to alter the ordinance and commandment of the Holy Ghost, we shall straightway tread the pope under foot, with all his breves and bulls, and say, — “If the first decrees of the apostles are not binding, though we are sure that the Holy Ghost established them, as they themselves say, Visum est, how much less shall the power and the decrees of the popes be binding, about which we are by no means so certain that the Holy Ghost was with them as He was with the apostles? We must let the apostles amount to something, too, and even though they were not above the popes, (as the heretic, Dr. Luther, holds), nevertheless, we must give them a seat alongside the popes. And as a proof of this, the popes have often been open and abandoned knaves, and again and again one of them has thrown away the decrees of another. The Holy Ghost cannot contradict Himself thus and the apostles were not such popes or knaves.
Therefore there must be something else to say about this; these bad jokes will not work; unless one were to say that the Church was built upon a reed, which the wind blows hither and yon, according to the whim of the pope or of men. For the Church must not sway on a reed, but rest upon the rock and be firmly founded, as Matthew 7:26 and Matthew 16:18 say.”
But we were beginning to say that it has fallen of itself, without alteration by the Church, and therefore one need no longer keep it. Nay, dear friend, Male, says the jurist. If one is not to keep a law, or it is to become no law because it is not kept or has fallen, then let us be easy in our minds and keep no more laws. A whore can say that she is doing right because the sixth commandment has fallen and is not in use among adulterers and adulteresses. Nay, we children of Adam, together with the devils, will hold a council against God, and pass this resolution: “Listen, God, all your commandments have fallen and are no longer in use among us men and devils; therefore we ought no longer to keep them, but act against them; you ought to approve of that and not condemn us, since there is no sin, when the law has fallen.” So robbers and murderers might also beatify themselves, and say: “We are no longer bound to be obedient to you princes and lords, but are right in fighting you and robbing you, for among us your law has fallen, etc.”
Advise us, now, What we are to do. It does not help us that the apostolic council has fallen (which is the truth!) or been altered by the Church (which is a lie!). What harm would be done, if we were to scratch out the word, Holy Ghost, and let it be the apostles alone who made this decree, without the Holy Ghost? Perhaps that would help the case! If that is laughable, then think up something better! If one does not scratch out “Holy Ghost” from the council, then one of two things must happen, — either both we and the papists should keep this council; or we should be free from it and it need not be kept, and so we poor heretics would be rid of the cry, “Councils, Councils, Councils!” For if this council is not to be kept, then none of the rest is to be kept, as I have said. Otherwise, they should hear once more the cry, Medice, cura te ipsum, “Hans take yourself by the nose.” Let them who raise this cry first keep it, and we will follow in their footsteps. If not, then their crying and sputtering of this word, “Councils, Councils” is not in earnest, but they are only using it to trample people in the face, to terrify weak consciences treacherously and wickedly, and to destroy simple souls.
I say all this about this council, because it is the first and the highest, so that we may think the matter over before we allow that the Church should live, or be ruled, according to the councils. If this council causes us so much confusion, what will it be like when we take up the others? It is true, I admit, that the word “Council” is easy to say, and a sermon about keeping the councils is easy to preach; but what attitude to take in order to put the councils in force again, — what about that, my dear friend? The pope and his followers are clever; they get off lightly by saying that he is above all councils and may keep what he will and allow others to keep them as far as he will. Yes, if the problem can be solved that way, then let us stop using the word “Council” and stop preaching that the councils shall be kept, and cry, instead, “Pope, pope! The pope’s doctrine should be kept!” Thus we all get off easy and are fine Christians, like them! For what good will the council do us, if we cannot and will not keep it, but only boast the name or the letters that compose it?
Or (since we are talking about it, and must jest a little in this carnival-time), it seems better still to me, if it is only a matter of the letters C-o-u-nc- i-l, without deeds or results, that we should make the penmen popes, cardinals, bishops, and preachers, They could write those letters finely, — big, little, black, red, green, yellow, and any way that was wanted. Then the Church would be ruled by the councils and there would be no need to keep what has been ordered by the councils, but the Church would have enough when it had the letters, C-o-u-n-c-i-l, C-o-u-n-c-i-l. But if the penmen do not please us, let us take painters and wood-carvers and printers, to paint and carve and print us beautiful councils, and then the Church is splendidly ruled. Let us make the painters, carvers and printers pope, cardinals and bishops! What would be the use, then, of asking any further how the decrees of the councils are to be kept? Letters and pictures are enough.
But think a little further! Suppose that all men were blind, and could not see these councils when they were written, painted, carved, printed! How, then, could the Church be ruled by the councils? My advice is to take the choristers at Halberstadt and Magdeburg, when they sing the Quicunque and let them shout, instead, “Council, Council” until the church and the whole dome shake. We could hear them away across the Elbe, even if we were all blind. Then the Church would be well ruled and these choristers would quickly be made popes, cardinals and bishops, because it is so easy for them to rule the Church, which has become an impossible task for the holy Fathers in Rome.
I shall say more about this council after awhile; this is getting too long, for I must not forget the Council of Nicaea,, which is the best, and the first, universal council after that of the apostles.
This council decrees, among other things, that Christians who have fallen are to be received back into penance for a period of seven years; if they die in the meantime, they are to be free, and are not to be denied the Sacrament. This decree the council-criers themselves do not keep, but act against it and consign dying Christians to purgatory with the remainder of their penance. If the pope were to keep this rule, the devil! what a poor beggar he would become, and all the monasteries along with him, if this mine, ore-pit, and trade — viz., purgatory, masses, pilgrimages, foundations, brotherhoods, indulgences, bulls, etc. — were to come to nothing. The devil protect the pope, with all cardinals, bishops, monks and nuns, so that the Church may not be ruled according to this council! What would become of them? But this decree concerns me, for I have urged it against the pope before now, and can readily imagine how they might turn it about and interpret it against me, and so I shall let it go now. I must deal just now with things that affect both parties, to the praise and honor of the council-criers!
The same council decrees that those who give up warfare for the sake of religion, and afterwards go to war again, are to spend five years among the catechumens, and two years after that are to be admitted to the Sacrament. I take the word “religion” to mean, here, the common Christian faith; of that more later. In order not to get off the track and be hindered in my course by such side-questions, I shall not here discuss whether the council was forbidding war or had the power and right to forbid it or condemn it, if the soldier did not otherwise deny the faith of which the former rule speaks. On the contrary, our question is whether this article — viz., that no soldier can be saved or be a Christian, — has hitherto been kept or whether it is to be kept henceforth as a matter of law. For the pope himself, with all his followers, must testify that this article has fallen and cannot possibly be set up again, far less even than the apostles’ decree against blood sausage, black jelly and the like, spoken of above. The council speaks, not of murderers, robbers, enemies, but de militia, i.e., of regular war, when a prince, king, or emperor is in the field with his banner, in which case, God Himself has commanded, in Romans 13:1, that people are to be in subjection and be obedient, even though the rulers were heathen, as St. Maurice and many others did, so long as they do not compel us to fight against God.
Now let us rule the Church according to this council! First let us ungird the sword from the emperor and then command that the whole world is to keep peace and no one is to begin war, or endure it; for war is forbidden by the Council of Nicaea on pain of seven years’ penance. What more do we want? The Church is ruled now; we need no soldiers; the devil is dead; and all the years since the time of this council have been golden years; nay, they have been eternal life itself, in perfect peace, if the council’s statute is right and is to be kept.
But we should have to have good and able painters to paint this Church for us so that we could see it; or, if we were blind we should have to have much greater shouters than the choristers of Halberstadt, so that we could hear it. Perhaps the penmen could write the letters C-o-u-n-c-i-l better than we poor Christians, because they have more colors and make better letters; but the work is not there, and we cannot be saved by letters, pictures and shouts. We must speak differently about this matter, and leave the letters, the pictures and the shouts to the papists. It will be for us to live according to the councils and not merely boast of the letters C-o-u-n-c-i-l; for we are to be Christians.
You say that the council is to be understood to speak of those Christians who run after war of their own accord, for the sake of money, and it is right thus to condemn them. In God’s name! I am willing to be an ignorant fool and ass for holding the councils so high! Interpret it that way, if you can, and I shall be satisfied! But tell me this! Were you there in the Council of Nicaea, when this article was adopted, that you can say so certainly that this is its meaning? If not, where have you read this? The article says drily, de militia, “Of war”; it says nothing of unjust wars. It would not have been necessary for the council to condemn such wars, for they had already been highly condemned by reason among all the heathen, who were not Christians and had no councils.
If a king or prince has to fight and defend himself in a just war, he has to take what soldiers he can get. But if these volunteers are condemned, what will become of emperors, kings and princes, now that there are no soldiers to be had except volunteers? Tell me, are the lords to fight singlehanded, or weave straw-men to oppose their enemies. Ask the council’s advice, whether this is to be done! Yes, good sir, it is easy to say that a council has given such a commandment, when one looks at the letters, as a cow at a door, not thinking of what goes along with it, or how one can keep it and live by it! And why have the popes and bishops themselves not kept it, who have been the cause of so much war and bloodshed throughout the world, and yet, are always crying, “Councils, Councils!
Fathers, Fathers!” only that they themselves act against them and pick out of them the things that they want us to do? “Ei, Luther, this way you bring the Council of Nicaea under suspicion of sedition! For if we were thus to teach that the emperor and his soldiers were condemned, even though they had a just cause, we should rightly be thought seditious on the basis of our own writings.” I say, however, that I am now a good conciliarist, and must be; after awhile I shall say more of this, and explain myself. Now I say, as I said before, that the council cannot have been speaking of anything else than regular warfare, as it was then conducted in the Roman Empire, under this same emperor, Constantine, as under his heathen predecessors. The foot-soldiers were then known as milites. They were settled citizens, who had permanent pay, so that when the father died, or became too old, the son had to become a soldier, in his father’s stead, and was forced to do so. The Turks still retain this custom. I have heard it said that the king of France does practically the same thing in Switzerland, and gives pay even to children. If this is true, it is not an invention.
The horsemen, too, were permanent, hereditary soldiers, and had their pay.
They were called equites. These horsemen were like our nobles, who have to maintain horses and armor, for which they enjoy their fiefs. Thus the Roman Empire always had a certain number of both infantry and cavalry, receiving permanent pay. Therefore, I say that if the council is to be understood rightly, it must be understood to speak of nothing else than regular warfare, because it had to speak of the Roman soldiery, in which, according to St. Paul’s teaching, many Christians had to serve obediently, — men like St. Maurice and his comrades and Jovinian, Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius before they became emperors. But if it was right, before baptism, to serve heathen emperors in war, why should it be wrong to render the same service to Christian emperors, after baptism? Unless, perhaps, religio, in this place, means not the Christian faith, but monasticism. Then I should be caught, and according to this council, I should have to crawl back again into my cowl, whether I wanted to or not, and I should not know how to find St. Peter in heaven, because he was a fisherman before he was an apostle, and plied his fisherman’s trade again after he became an apostle, though he had left it for Christ’s sake.
Now suppose, that religio here means monkery, despite the fact that at that time there were no orders, and no such monasteries, or monks as today, although monasticism entered soon and rapidly thereafter. St. Anthony and his followers lived about that time, and all the monks call him father and founder. But at this time “monk” meant what we now call “anchorite” or “hermit,” and the Greek word monachos means solitarius, a “solitary,” one who lives alone, apart from men, in a woods or a wilderness, or otherwise quite alone. I know of no such monks now, and there have been none of them for more than a thousand years, unless, perhaps you would call the poor prisoners in towers and dungeons monks; and, sad to say! they are real monks, for they sit alone, away from men. The monks of the papacy are more with people and less alone than any other folk are, for what class or rank in the world is more among people and less apart from them than these monks, unless it be claimed that the monasteries, in city and country, are not among men.
But let us let grammar go and talk of facts. Suppose that religio here does mean monasticism, as it existed at that time! Why, then, does this council condemn militia, i.e., obedience to temporal rulers, and say that monks, in this obedience, cannot be saved? We could endure it, if monasticism were praised, but when regular militia is condemned, as though St. Anthony could not serve the emperor in war with a good conscience, that is too much. Where would the emperor get his soldiers, if they all wanted to become monks and allege that they dared not serve in war? Tell me, good sir, what is the difference between this doctrine and sedition, especially if we were to teach it? And yet we know that this self-chosen monkery is not commanded by God, and obedience is commanded. If the monks would flee away from men, they ought to flee honorably and honestly and not leave a stench behind them; i.e., they ought not, by their flight, to put a stench upon other classes and their pursuits, as though these other things were utterly damnable and their self-chosen monkery must be pure balsam.
For when one flees and becomes a monk, it sounds as though he were saying, “Pfui! How the people stink! How damnable is their state! I will be saved, and let them go to the devil!” If Christ had fled thus and become such a holy monk, who would have died for us or rendered satisfaction for us poor sinners? Would it have been the monks, with their strict lives of flight?
True, St. John the Baptist was in the wilderness, though not entirely away from people; but afterwards, when he had reached man’s estate, he came back among people and preached. Christ — like Moses on Mount Sinai, — was forty days quite apart from men in the wilderness and neither ate nor drank; but He, too, came back among the people. Well, then, let us hold them for hermits and monks if we like; and yet neither of them condemns paid soldiers as a class, but John says to them, “Be satisfied with your wages and do no one violence or wrong.” Christ went to the centurion at Capernaum, in order to help his servant, who served, beyond a doubt, for pay, and Christ does not call his class lost, but praises his faith above all Israel; and St. Peter allowed Cornelius, at Caesarea, to remain centurion after his baptism, together with his servants, who were there in the pay of the Romans. How much less, then, ought St. Anthony and his monks to have cast a stench upon this ordinance of God, with his new and peculiar holiness; since he was a simple layman, wholly unlearned, and was not a preacher and held no office in the Church. To be sure, I believe that he was great before God, as were many others of his pupils; but the thing he undertook is full of offense and dangerous, though he was preserved in it, as the elect are preserved amid sins and other offenses. Nevertheless, it is not the example of his life that is to be praised, but the example and teaching of Christ and John.
Now whether religio means Christian faith or monkery, it follows from this council that militia, — which was at that time obedience to temporal order, — is to be regarded as either disobedience to God or as a stinking obedience, compared with human, self-chosen monkery. But the legend of St. Martin indicates that religio meant Christian faith; for when he desired to become a Christian, he gave up his hereditary militia, in which his father had been and in which, when he became too old, he had caused his son Martin to be enrolled in his place, as the law and custom of the Roman Empire prescribed. And this act of his was given an evil interpretation, as though he feared the enemy and therefore fled away and became a Christian. This can be read in his legend. Thus it appears that at that time the notion had already grown up among the people, — not without the preaching of some bishops, — that militia was to be regarded a perilous and damned estate and that one who would serve God must flee from it. For St. Martin lived not long after the Council of Nicaea; he was a soldier under Julian. If we are to keep this council, or re-establish it, we must flee with St. Anthony into the wilderness, make monks out of emperors and kings, and say that they cannot be Christians or be saved; or else preach that they live in perilous and stinking obedience and do not serve God. On the other hand, if we do not keep this council, we must not keep any. One is as good as another, for one Holy Ghost rules them all, and we do not want to have councils in paint or in letters, but real councils that can be followed. But I suspect that there is a swindle here and that the holy fathers never adopted this article, because they would certainly have shown consideration to the emperor Constantine, who had released them from the tyrants, not with St. Anthony’s monkery, but with war and sword. It looks as though the other worthless bishops had patched this into the record, or patched it on at a later time. Moreover the same council decrees that the Roman bishop, according to ancient custom, is to have the suburbicarian churches commended to him, as the bishop of Alexandria the churches in Egypt. I will not and cannot declare what suburbicariae means, since it is not my word; but it sounds as though it meant the churches located, prior to that time, in Italy, around the Roman churches, just as the churches in Egypt were around the churches at Alexandria. Interpret it as you will, however, I understand well that this council does not give the bishop of Rome any lordship over the surrounding churches, but commends them to him, in order that he may care for them; and it does this, not as though it had to be, jure divino, but because of ancient custom. Custom is not scriptura sacra, however, or God’s Word. Moreover, it takes the churches of Egypt away from the bishop of Rome, — also according to ancient custom, — and commends them to the bishop of Alexandria. Likewise, it is quite thinkable that the churches in Syria were commended to the Bishop of Antioch or of Jerusalem, and not to the Bishop of Rome, since they were situated farther from Rome than Alexandria or Egypt.
Now if this council is to be valid for our churches and its decrees go into effect, we must first condemn the bishop of Rome as a tyrant and burn all his bulls and decretals with fire. For there is not one bull or decretal in which he does not boast, with great bellowing and threatening, that he is the supreme head and lord of all the churches on earth, to whom everything on earth must be subject in order to be saved. And this is nothing else than to say flatly, — “The Council of Nicaea is false, accursed, and damned, because it takes from me this lordship over all things, and makes the Bishop of Alexandria my equal.” But the Turk and the Sultan long ago interpreted this article of the council and put it out of force, by the destruction of Alexandria, so that neither the pope nor we need bother about it. Thus we learn that the articles of the council are not all equally permanent, and to be kept forever, like articles of faith.
Moreover, this council decrees that those who make themselves eunuchs, because of the great and unbearable burning of the flesh, are not to be admitted to clergy or the offices of the Church. Again, it decrees that the bishops are to have no women around them or living with them, except a mother, sister, aunts (i.e., sisters of mother or father), or the like near relatives. Here I do not understand the Holy Ghost at all, as He speaks in this council. Those who make themselves eunuchs, because of the unbearable burning of the flesh, are not fit for church offices; and they, too, are not fit who take or have wives, as a protection against this burning, according to St. Paul’s advice, in 1 Corinthians 7:2. What is intended by this? Is a bishop, or preacher, then, to stick in this intolerable burning and not be able to rescue himself from this perilous state, either by making himself a eunuch or by marrying? And why command one who has a wife that he shall not have other women with him? That is unseemly even for laymen who are married. So, too, the matter of mother, sisters, aunts, would take care of itself, if the bishop had a wife; there would be no need of prohibitions. Or has the Holy Ghost nothing else to do in the councils, than bind and burden His servants with impossible, perilous, unnecessary laws?
The histories say that St. Paphnutius, that important man, opposed the bishops in this council, when they undertook to forbid marriage, even to those who had previously taken wives, and wanted to forbid them to discharge the marriage-duty, even with their own wives. He advised against it, and said that if a man discharged the marriage-duty with his own wife, that, too, was chastity. It is written that he won; but these two decrees sound as though the bishops had gone ahead and forbidden wives absolutely; for there were also many unfit and false bishops along with the good majority in the council, such as the Arians and their sectaries, as the histories clearly show. Perhaps they had something to do with it! But of that more hereafter!
We shall now leave the councils, a little while, and take a look at the fathers. To be sure, Augustine leads us somewhat astray, because, as said above, he will have none of the fathers believed, but will have them all in the captivity and under the compulsion of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, we shall have a look at them.
St. Cyprian is one of the earliest fathers. He lived long before the Council of Nicaea, in the time of the martyrs, and was himself a celebrated martyr. He taught, and was very stiff about it, that those baptized by heretics must be rebaptized. He stuck to this opinion until his martyrdom, although vigorously admonished by other bishops, and St. Cornelius, bishop of Rome, who was martyred at the same time, would not hold with him. Later St. Augustine had great difficulty in excusing him, and had finally to resort to the idea that this error of his was washed away by the blood which he shed because of his love of Christ. So saying, St. Augustine condemns St. Cyprian’s doctrine of rebaptism, which was afterwards repeatedly condemned, and rightly so. But we might well be happy over Cyprian, because in him Christ comforts us poor sinners mightily, by showing that even His great saints must still be human; and, indeed, St. Cyprian, that great man and beloved martyr, stumbled even more in other matters, just as plain, of which there is now no time to speak.
But where do we stand with the fathers who bequeathed this doctrine to St. Cyprian? You may read in the Ecclesiastical History, Book 7, pages one and two, what the great bishop Dionysius of Alexandria writes to bishop Sixtus of Rome, saying that in former times, before the bishops in Africa did it, it was done by great and important bishops and was decreed by the Council of Iconium, and that so important a fact should be considered before the practice was condemned. Besides, this article stands plainly in the proceedings of the Nicene Council, that the heretics, Paulianists or Photinians, are to be rebaptized; and this article gives St. Augustine much difficulty in his book On Heresies. He had worried long and much with the Anabaptists, the Donatists, but for the sake of this decree of the Nicene Council, he twists out of the difficulty with words like these: “It is to be believed that the Photinians did not keep the form of baptism, as other heretics did.” Yes, it is to be believed by anyone who can believe it, when there is no proof! The Photinians either had or made another Gospel than the whole Church had, and it is rather to be believed that they used the common form; for heretics have always been glad to boast the Scriptures on their side. Thus Anabaptism will maintain that it is right, against St. Augustine and all of us, because the Nicene Council and other councils and fathers before it agree with Cyprian.
Moreover, the Canones apostolorum, the Apostolic Canons, have now been printed and circulated by many, in order that the Church may again be well ruled. Among them is this canon: “The Sacrament and the baptism of the heretics are to be regarded as nothing, but they are to be rebaptized.” It is easy to reckon that if the apostles ordained this, it afterwards came down through the earlier fathers and councils (as Dionysius says) to St. Cyprian, and thence to the Council of Nicaea; for Cyprian was before the Council of Nicaea. If the apostles decreed this, then St. Cyprian is right and St. Augustine and the whole Church are overcome, and we with him, for we hold to his view; for who will teach contrary to the apostles? But if the apostles did not decree it, then these book-writers and magisters ought all to be drowned and hanged together, because they spread, print, and write such books under the apostles’ names; they deserve, too, that no one should believe any of their books or utterances, since they are always producing these books which they themselves do not believe, and loading them upon us, with the letters C-o-u-n-c-i-l-, F-a-t-he- r-s. A chorister of Halberstadt could write these letters better than they, if it were only a matter of the letters, with which they endeavor to make fools of us.
Now if St. Cyprian and the Council of Nicaea and others had this rule of the apostles before them, how shall we harmonize the fathers? The apostles and Cyprian want rebaptism; St. Augustine and the whole Church afterwards want to have it considered wrong. Meanwhile, who is preaching to Christians, until this difference is healed and harmonized? O yes! it is good to juggle with councils and fathers, if one only fools with the letters or postpones a council all the time, as has happened these last twenty years, and does not consider, meanwhile, what becomes of the souls, who should be fed with sure teaching, as Christ says in John 21:1, Pasce oves meas. I excuse St. Cyprian, insofar, at least, as he was not such an anabaptist as ours now are; for he held that there were no sacraments at all among the heretics and that they must, therefore, be baptized like other heathen, and the error of his heart was in thinking that he was not bestowing a second baptism, but baptizing an unbaptized heathen; for he neither knows nor holds to a rebaptism, but only one single baptism. Our anabaptists, however, confess that among us and under the papacy there is a true baptism, but since it is given or received by the unworthy, it is no baptism.
This St. Cyprian would not have suffered, much less done.
I have wanted to say this, for myself, about the holy martyr, St. Cyprian, of whom I have a high opinion as regards his character and faith; for doctrine is subject to the saying of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Omnia probate, etc. But we are not now concerned with what I say, but with making the fathers agree with one another, so that one may be sure what and how to preach to poor Christians; for here the apostles and Cyprian are not at one with St. Augustine and the Church, on the subject of baptism. If we are to follow St. Augustine, we must condemn the apostles and their rules, and the Nicene Council, with the preceding councils and fathers, and with St. Cyprian; on the other hand, if St. Cyprian and the apostles are right, then St. Augustine and the Church are wrong. Who is to preach and baptize meanwhile, until we are at one in this matter? The papists boast the canons of the apostles and councils, together with the fathers, against us, and some of them are incorporated in Gratian’s Canon Law, as a token.
But suppose that the dam were to break, and some of these canons and councils were found heretical, as this one about rebaptism is, who could then prevent the flood from rolling over us and crying, in its roar, “You lie in everything that you write, say, print, spit, and shout; no one can believe a word of it, even though you bring forward councils, fathers, and apostles in proof of it.”
Meanwhile, we cull out of the fathers and councils what we like; they what they like; and we cannot come to agreement, because the fathers are not in agreement any more than the councils are. Dear sir, who is to preach in the meantime to the poor souls who know nothing of this culling and quarreling? Is it feeding Christ’s sheep, when we do not know whether we are giving them grass or poison, hay or dung? We are to be doubtful and uncertain until it is settled, and a council decides it! Ah, what poor provision Christ made for His Church, if that is the way things were to go!
No, it must go otherwise than we pretend to prove from councils and fathers; or else there must have been no Church since the time of the apostles; and this is not possible, for there stand the words, “I believe one holy, Christian Church” and “I am with you, even unto the end of the world.” The Man must be called Ego veritas; fathers and councils, compared with Him, must be called Omnis homo mendax, if they contradict each other.
I say these things, not for the sake of our own people, whom I will show, after awhile, what councils, fathers, and Church are, if they do not know it already, which may God forbid! But I am speaking for the sake of the shouters, who think nothing else than that we have not read the fathers and councils. To be sure, I have not read all the councils, and shall not read them all and lose all that time and effort, since I have read the four chief councils thoroughly, better than any of them have done. Also I make bold to say that, after the four chief councils, I will hold all the others of small value, even though I would hold some of them to be good. The fathers, I hope, are better known to me than to these shouters, who pinch out of them what they want and let the rest go, because it annoys them. Therefore we must go at the business another way.
Why do we quarrel? If we would harmonize the sayings of the fathers, let us take up the Magister sententiarum. In this work he was diligent beyond measure and went far ahead of us; for he, too, had this same difficulty with the lack of agreement in the fathers and wanted to remedy it, and, in my opinion, he did it better than we would. In no council, nor in all the councils, and in none of the fathers will you find as much as in the book of Sentences. The fathers and councils deal with some points of Christian doctrine, but none of them deals with them all, as this man does; at least he deals with most of them. But concerning the real articles, faith and justification, what he says is too thin and weak, though he gives high enough praise to the grace of God. As was said above, we can allow that Gratian has worked for us at the harmonizing of the councils, in which he went to great pains; but his teaching is not as pure as that of the Magister sententiarum, for he gives too much to the Roman bishop and applies everything to him; otherwise he would, perhaps, have done better with the harmonizing of the councils than we now could do.
If anyone would see still farther that the dear holy fathers were men, let him read the little book on the four chapters to the Corinthians by Dr.
Pommer, our pastor. From it he must learn that St. Augustine was right, when he said Noli meis etc., as we said above, viz., that he will not believe any of the fathers unless he has the Scriptures on his side. Dear Lord God! If the Christian faith were to depend on men, and be founded in human words, what were the need for the Holy Scriptures, or why has God given them? Let us throw them under the bench and lay the councils and the fathers on the desk instead! Or, if the fathers were not men, how shall we men be saved? If they were men, they must also have thought, spoken, and acted sometimes as we think, speak and act, and then said, like us, the prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses”; especially since they have not the promise of the Spirit, like the apostles, and must be pupils of the apostles.
If the Holy Ghost had been so silly as to expect or trust that the councils and fathers would do everything well and make no mistakes, He would have had no need to warn His Church, before their time, that it should prove and examine all things and that men would build straw, hay, wood on the foundation. By this He foretells, not privately and feebly, but publicly and mightily, that in the holy Church there would be some builders of wood, straw, hay, i.e., teachers, who, although they would stay on the foundation, would suffer loss by fire, but would have to be saved. This cannot be understood to mean the heretics, for they lay another foundation, but these stay on the foundation, i.e., in the faith of Christ, are saved, and are called God’s saints, and yet they have hay, straw, wood, which must be burned by the fire of Holy Scripture, though without injury to their salvation. So St. Augustine says of himself, Errare potero; hereticus non ero, “I can err, but I shall not be a heretic,” for the reason that heretics not only err, but will not let themselves be corrected, defend their error as though it were right, and strive against known truth and their own consciences. Of them St. Paul says, in Titus 3:10-11, “A heretic shalt thou avoid, after one or two admonitions, and know that such a one is perverted and sins” autokatakritos, i.e., he remains condemned in obstinate and conscious error. But St. Augustine will confess his error willingly and allow himself to be told of it; therefore he cannot be a heretic, even though he were guilty of error. All the other saints do likewise and are willing to put their hay, straw, and wood into the fire, so that they may stay on the foundation of salvation, as we have done, and still do.
Accordingly, since it cannot be otherwise with the fathers, — I speak of the holy and good ones, — and when they build without the Scriptures, i.e., without gold, silver, precious stones, they have to build wood, straw and hay; therefore we must follow the judgment of St. Paul, and know how to distinguish between gold and wood, silver and straw, precious stones and hay. We must not let ourselves be forced by these unprofitable shouters to think wood and gold one and the same thing, silver and straw one thing, emeralds and hay one thing. We ought to ask them (if it could be done) that they first make themselves so clever as to take wood for gold, straw for silver, hay for pearls. Until then they ought to spare us, and not ascribe to us such folly or childishness.
All of us ought also to observe this wonderful thing about the Holy Ghost, — He willed to give the world all the books of Holy Scripture, both of the Old and New Testaments, out of the people of Abraham and through his seed, and He would not have one of them written by us Gentiles, anymore than He would choose the prophets and apostles from among the Gentiles.
So St. Paul says, in Romans 3:2, “The Jews have the great advantage that the speech of God was entrusted to them”; and <19E719> Psalm 147:19 says, “He made known His speech to Jacob and His laws to Israel”; He hath not done so to any Gentiles; and Christ Himself says, in John 4:22, “We know that salvation has come from the Jews”; and Romans 9:14 says, “Yours are the promise, the fathers, the law and Christ.”
Therefore we Gentiles must not consider the writings of our fathers equal to Holy Scripture, but a little lower; for they are the children and heirs, we the guests and strangers, who have come to the children’s table by grace, without any promise. Nay, we ought to thank God with humility and, like the Gentile woman, desire nothing more than to be the dogs who gather up the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. As it is we go ahead and want to lift our fathers and ourselves up to the level of the apostles, not thinking that God might rather break us also to pieces, since He did not spare the natural branches, Abraham’s seed, or heirs, because of their unbelief. Yet the accursed abomination at Rome wants to have power even over the apostles and prophets, and alter the Scriptures to suit himself! Therefore Augustine is right, when he writes to St. Jerome, as was said above, “I do not believe, dear brother, that you would have your writings considered equal to the books of the apostles and prophets; God forbid that you should desire such a thing!”
Then, too, there is no council or father in which you can find, or from which you can learn, the whole of Christian doctrine. So the Nicene Council deals only with the doctrine that Christ is true God; the Council of Constantinople, that the Holy Ghost is God; the Council of Ephesus, that Christ is not two Persons, but one; the Council of Chalcedon, that Christ has not one nature, but two, deity and humanity. These are the four great, chief councils, and they have nothing more for us than these points, as we shall hear; but this is not the whole doctrine of Christian faith. St. Cyprian discusses how one is to suffer and die, firm in faith, rebaptizes heretics, and rebukes bad morals and the women. St. Hilary defends the Council of Nicaea and its statement that Christ is true God and discusses the Psalms a little. St. Jerome praises virginity and the hermits. St. Chrysostom teaches prayer, fasting, almsgiving, patience, etc. St. Ambrose contains much, but St. Augustine most of all, and therefore the Magister sententiarum takes most material from him.
In short, you may put them all together, both fathers and councils, and you cannot cull the whole doctrine of Christian faith out of them, though you keep on culling forever. If the Holy Scriptures had not made and preserved the Church, it would not have remained long because of the councils and fathers. As evidence let me ask, “Whence do the fathers and councils get what they teach and discuss? Think you that they were first discovered in their time or that the Holy Ghost was always giving them something new?
How did the Church exist before these councils and fathers? Or were there no Christians before the rise of the councils and fathers? We must, therefore, speak differently of the councils and fathers, and look, not at the letters, but the meaning.
Let this suffice for the first part of this book! Let us catch our breath!