First, Concerning the Councils. The word concilium gives us stupid folk immeasurable difficulties, even more than the words “fathers” and “Church.” I would not be a judge and master here, but only express my ideas; if anyone else can do better, I wish him grace and luck. Amen.
I take up the saying of St. Hilary’s De trinitate, Ex causis dicendis summenda est intelligentia dictorum, i.e., “He who will understand what is said must see why or for what reasons it is said.” Sic ex causis agendi cognoscuntur acta. The natural reason teaches the same thing, but I will give a homely illustration of it. If one peasant accuses another and says, “Sir judge, this man calls me a knave and a rascal,” these words and letters, by themselves, convey the idea that the accuser is suffering great wrong and that these things are false, and mere lies. But if the defendant comes and gives the reason for these words, and says, “Sir judge, he is a knave and a rascal, for he was beaten out of the town of N. with rods, because of his rascality and it was only with difficulty, by the request of good men, that he was kept from hanging, and he is trying to cheat me here in my own house”; then the judge will get a new understanding of the words, as daily experience in government shows. Before one learns the reason for what is said, it is only words and letters, or choristers’ shouts, or nuns’ songs.
So Christ says to Peter, “What thou bindest on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what thou loosest shall be loosed.” The pope takes these letters and goes with them into the land of the lotus-eaters, and interprets them thus: “What I do in heaven and earth is right; I have the keys to bind and loose everything.” Yes, even if we had eaten beets! But if one looks at the reasons, one finds that Christ is speaking of the binding and loosing of sin. The keys are keys to the kingdom of heaven, into which no one enters except through forgiveness of sin, and from which no one is excluded except those who are bound because of an impenitent life. Thus the words do not concern St. Peter’s power, but the need of miserable sinners, or of proud sinners; but of these keys the pope makes two masterkeys to all kings’ crowns and treasuries, to all the world’s purse, body, honor, and goods. Like a fool he looks at the letters, and pays no heed to the reasons.
Thus there are many sayings in the Scriptures which, taken literally are contradictory, but if the causes are shown, everything is right. I believe, too, that the medical men and the jurists find a very great deal of this in their books also, like what I said above about the judge. What, indeed, is the whole life of man, except mere antilogiae, or “contradictions,” until one hears the causes. My antilogists, therefore, are great, fine, pious sows and asses. They collect my antilogies and let the causes alone; nay, they darken the causes diligently, as though I could not also put forward antilogies, out of their books, which are not to be reconciled by any reasons. But enough of this! They are not worth so many words.
We take up now the Council of Nicaea. It came into existence for this reason. The noble Emperor Constantine had become a Christian and had given the Christians peace from their tyrants and persecutors. His faith was so great and earnest and his intentions were so heartily good, that he overthrew his own brother-in-law, Licinius, — to whom he had given his sister, Constantia, and whom he had made co-emperor, — and deposed him because, after many admonitions, he would not desist from his shameful persecution of Christians.
Now when this fine emperor had made this peace for the Christians and done everything for their good, furthered the churches every way he could, and was so secure that he had the intention to go to war, outside the Empire, with the Persians: into this fair and peaceful paradise and peaceful time, came the old serpent and raised up Arius, a priest of Alexandria, against his bishop. He wanted to bring up a new doctrine against the old faith and be a big man; he attacked his bishop’s doctrine, saying that Christ was not God; many priests and great, learned bishops lapsed to him and the trouble grew in many lands, until, at last, Arius ventured to declare that he was a martyr, saying that he was suffering for the truth’s sake at the hands of his bishop, Alexander, who was not satisfied with this teaching and was writing scandalous letters against him to all countries.
When this came to the good emperor’s attention, he acted like a wise prince, and wanted to quench the flames before the fire became any greater. He wrote a letter to both Bishop Alexander and Priest Arius, and admonished them so kindly and earnestly that nothing better could have been written. He told them that, with great difficulty, he had made peace in the Empire for the Christians, and they ought not now to start contention among themselves. It would be a great stumbling-block to the heathen, and they would, perhaps, fall away from the faith again (as indeed happened, and he complains of it), and he would be prevented from moving against the Persians. In short, it is a humble Christian letter from so great an emperor to these two men. In my opinion, it is almost too humble; for knowing my own rough pen, I know that I could never have brought so humble a composition out of my ink-bottle, especially if I had been an emperor, and such an emperor.
This letter did not help, however. Arius had, by this time, gained a large following and wanted to go through headlong against his bishop. The good emperor did not desist either. He sent a personal ambassador, a great bishop, famous throughout the world, Hosius of Cordova in Spain, to Egypt, to the two in Alexandria, in order to settle the case. That did not help, either, and the fire spread as when a forest burns. Then the good emperor did the last thing possible. He had the best and most famous bishops gathered from all lands; commanded that they were to be brought to Nicaea by the imperial asses, horses and mules; and hoped through them, to settle the case peaceably. Truly, there assembled there many fine bishops and fathers; especially famous were Jacobus of Nisibis and Paphnutius of Ptolemais who had suffered great affliction under Licinius and done miracles; but there were also some Arian bishops among them, like mouse-dirt in the pepper.
The emperor was happy and hoped that the case would end well, and he entertained them honorably and well. Then some of them went ahead and brought the emperor schedules of accusation, telling what one bishop had against another; and they asked the emperor’s decision. But he rejected them; he had nothing to do with the quarrels of the bishops, but only wanted a true judgment of this article about Christ and had not summoned the council because of their contentions. When they would not desist, he bade that all the schedules be brought to him, and read none of them, but threw them all into the fire. And yet he sent them away with kind words, saying that he could not be judge of those whom God had set as judges over him, and admonishing them to take hold of the chief matter. That is my idea of a wise, gentle, patient prince; another would have been angry at such bishops, and knocked the cask to pieces. At the same time, he showed what was in his mind, when he burned their petitions, without regard to their episcopal dignity, and so reminded them of their childish conduct, since they had been called together on a far more important matter.
When the council began, he sat down among the bishops on a chair lower than theirs. The bishop of Rome, Sylvester, was not present, but, as some say, he had sent two priests. After the bishop of Antioch, Eustathius, who presided at the council, had thanked the emperor and praised him for his kindnesses, the doctrine of Arius was publicly read, for it seems that he was not present, being neither a bishop nor a bishop’s representative. It was to the effect that Christ was not God, but was created and made by God, as the histories further record. Then the holy fathers and bishops rose from their chairs in indignation and tore the schedule to pieces, and said it was not true. Thus Arius was publicly condemned by the council with great indignation. So deeply were the fathers hurt and so intolerable was it for them to hear the blasphemy of this Arius! All the bishops signed this condemnation, even the Arian bishops, though they did it with a false heart, as afterwards appeared, except two bishops from Egypt, who did not sign.
Then the emperor dissolved the council that very day, and he and the council wrote letters throughout the world about this action; and the Emperor Constantine was heartily glad that the case was settled and disposed of, and treated them most kindly, especially those who had suffered persecution.
From this it is easy to see why the council came together and what it had to do; namely, preserve the ancient article of faith, that Christ is true God, against the new wisdom of Arius, who wanted, on the basis of reason, to alter and condemn it; and he was himself condemned. The council did not discover this article or set it up as something that was new and had not existed in the Church before, but only defended it against the heresy of Arius. This appears in the fact that the fathers were impatient and tore up the schedule, thus confessing that since the days of the apostles, they had learned and taught another doctrine in their churches. Otherwise what would have become of the Christians who, before the council, for more than three hundred years, since the days of the apostles, had believed and had prayed to the dear Lord Jesus and called upon Him as true God, and had died for it and been miserably persecuted?
I must point this out in passing. For the pope’s sycophants have fallen into such gross folly as to think that the councils have the power and right to set up new articles of faith and to change old ones. That is not true, and we Christians ought to tear up their schedules also. No councils have done it or can do it; for articles of faith must not grow on earth, by means of the councils, as from some new, private inspiration, but they must be given and revealed from heaven by the Holy Ghost; otherwise they are not articles o£ faith, as we shall hear later. So this Council of Nicaea, as I have said, did not invent this article that Christ is God or set it up as a new thing, but it was done by the Holy Ghost, who came from heaven upon the apostles publicly, on the day of Pentecost, and through the Scriptures revealed Christ as true God, as He had promised to the apostles. From the apostles it remained, and came down to this council, and so on down to us; and it will remain till the end of the world, as He says, “Lo, I am with you unto the end of the world.”
If we had nothing with which to defend this article except this council, we should be in a bad way, and I myself should not believe the council, but say, “They are men.” But St. John the Evangelist and St. Paul, Peter and the other apostles hold firm and give us a good foundation and defense, for to them it was revealed by the Holy Ghost, publicly given from heaven, and from them the Church had it, before this council, and the council, too, had it from them. Both before the council, when Arius first began, and in the council and after the council, they defended themselves hard with the Scriptures, especially with St. John’s Gospel, and disputed sharply, as the books of Athanasius and Hilary bear witness. So, too, the Historia Tripartita says, in Book 5, chapter 29, “At Nicaea the faith was grounded on the Scriptures of the apostles.” Otherwise, if the Holy Scriptures of the prophets and apostles had not done it, the mere words of the council would do nothing and its decisions accomplish nothing.
This article, then, concerning the deity of Christ, is the main thing about this council, nay, it is the whole council. It was the reason for the calling of the council, and on the day that it was adopted, as I said, the council was dissolved.
On another day, however, when the Emperor Constantine is not reported to have been present, they came together again and discussed other matters, which concerned the external, temporal government of the Church. Among them, beyond doubt, were the things contained in the schedules that Constantine had previously thrown into the fire, when he would not be a judge; therefore they had to come together and settle these things for themselves, without the emperor. The greater part of them is merely priests’ quarreling: — there are not to be two bishops in one city; no bishop of a small church is to be ambitious for a greater one; clerics, or servants of a church, are not to leave their own church and slip hither and thither among other churches; no one is to ordain the people of any bishop without his knowledge and consent; no bishop is to accept a man who has been expelled by another bishop; the bishop of Jerusalem is to retain his ancient privilege of dignity above others; and more of that kind of talk.
Who can hold these things for articles of faith? What of them can one preach to the people in the Church? What difference do these things make to Church or people? Unless, of course, they are to be treated as a history from which one can learn that at that time, too, there were everywhere in the Church self-willed, wicked, disorderly bishops, priests, clergy, and people, who were more concerned about honors and power and wealth than about God and His kingdom, and that people needed to be on their guard against them.
It is easy to reckon that Constantine did not assemble the council because of these things, or he would have done it even before the Arian misery began. Why should he worry about how these things were done? They were all things that the bishops had to control for themselves, each in his own church, as they had done before and as the articles themselves declare.
It would have been a sin and a shame to assemble so great a council for such little matters; for our human reason, which God has given us, is sufficient for the ordering of these external things, and there is no need for the Holy Ghost, who is to reveal Christ, to turn aside into these matters, which are subject to the reason; unless, of course, one wants to call everything that Christian people do, even eating and drinking, the work of the Holy Ghost. Otherwise the Holy Ghost, because of His teaching, must have other things to do than these external works, subject to the reason.
Moreover all of those who were at this council were not good men; they were not all Paphnutii, Jacobs, and Eustathii. Seventeen Arian bishops were counted among them, though they had to bow and dissemble before the others. The History of Theodoret says there were twenty articles, Rufinus makes them twenty-three. Now whether the Arians or others afterwards added to the number or subtracted from them or set up other articles (for the one which St. Paphnutius is said to have prevented, concerning the wives of priests, is not included) I cannot say. I do know, however, that all these articles have been long dead and buried in the books and gone to decay; also that they can never rise again, as Constantine meant and prophesied by his action when he threw them into the fire and burned them. For they are not kept and cannot be kept. It was building hay, straw, wood (as St. Paul says) on the foundation; therefore, in time, the fire consumed them, as other temporal, transient things pass away. But if they had been articles of faith or commandments of God, they would have remained, like the article concerning the deity of Christ.
And yet, among these wooden articles, there is one in which a spark of fire has remained until now. It is the article about the Easter date. To be sure, we do not keep this article quite correctly, as the mathematicians or astronomers prove to us, since the equinox in our time is quite different than in that time, and our Easter is often kept too late in the year. In ancient days, right after the apostles, the dispute over the Easter date began, and the bishops made heretics of one another and excommunicated one another over such little, unnecessary matters, until it was a sin and a shame. Some wanted to keep it, like the Jews, on a certain day according to the law of Moses; the rest, in order not to be considered Jewish, wanted to keep the Sunday after. The bishop of Rome, Victor, about a hundred and eighty years before this council, who also became a martyr, excommunicated all the bishops and churches in Asia, because they did not keep Easter as he did; so early did the Roman bishops grasp at majesty and power! But Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, in France, who had known Polycarp, a disciple of St. John the Evangelist, rebuked him and quieted the case, so that Victor had to be content. Therefore Constantine had to take up this matter and help settle it in the council; and he decreed that the same Easter date should be kept throughout the world; see the Tripartita, book 9, chapter 38.
Now there is need for a reformation; the calendar should be corrected and Easter put farther back, where it belongs. But no one can do this except their high majesties, the emperors and kings. They would have to agree to send out a command to all the world at the same time, saying when Easter should henceforth be kept. Otherwise, if one land were to begin without another, and worldly trade, such as yearly markets, fairs, and other business, were to be governed by the present date, the people of that land would get to the markets of another land at the wrong time and there would be a wild confusion and disturbance in affairs of every kind. But it would be a fine thing, and easy to do, if their high majesties would do it, since it has all been finely worked out by the astronomers, and all that is needed is a decree or command. Meanwhile we keep the glimmering ember of the Nicene Council, that Easter remains on a Sunday, though the time see-saw as it may. These are called festa mobilia; I call them see-saw festivals, for Easter, with its dependent festivals, changes every year, coming now early, now late in the year, and does not stay fixed, like other festivals, upon a certain day.
This see-sawing of the festivals comes about because the ancient fathers (as I said), right at the beginning, wanted to keep Easter at the time that Moses established, viz., in the full moon of March nearest the equinox; and yet they did not want to judaize entirely, or keep Easter, with the Jews, on the day of the full moon; therefore, as Christians, they let the law of Moses go and took the Sunday after the full moon of March. So it happened last year, 1538, that the Jews kept their Easter on the Saturday after Invocavit, as our churches call it; that was five weeks before we kept Easter. Now the Jews laugh at that and make fun of us Christians, saying that we do not keep Easter right, and do not even know how to keep it right. Thus they strengthen themselves in their unbelief. That irritates our people, so that they would gladly see the calendar corrected by the high majesties, since without their co-operation it is not possible, still less advisable.
In my opinion, however, the thing has happened with Easter that Christ speaks of in Matthew 9:16, “If one patches an old coat with new cloth, the rent becomes worse; and if one puts new wine into old, bad casks, the old hoops are sprung and the new wine leaks out.”
They want to keep one piece of the old law of Moses; namely, that the March full moon is to be observed: that is the old coat. Then, as Christians, freed by Christ from the law of Moses, they do not want to be subject to the day of the full moon, but would have the following Sunday instead: that is the new patch on the old coat. Therefore the endless contention and the endless see-sawing have made so much trouble in the Church, and must do so till the end of the world, and there can be neither measure nor end to the books about it. Christ has had special reasons for permitting this and letting it go on, for He always proves His strength in weakness, and teaches us to recognize how weak we are.
How much better it would have been, if they had let Moses’ Easter law die altogether and had kept none of the old coat at all! For Christ, toward whom this law was directed, has clean abolished it by His Passion and Resurrection; He slew it and buried it forever, rent the veil of the Temple in twain, and then broke and destroyed Jerusalem, with priesthood, princedom, law, and everything. Instead, they should have noted the days of the Passion, the Burial, and the Resurrection, reckoned by the sun, and set a fixed date in the calendar, as they did with Christmas, New Year, the Day of the Holy Kings, Candlemas, the Annunciation, the Feast of St. John, and other days, which are called fixed festivals, not see-saw festivals. Then it would have been known for certain, every year, when Easter must come, and the festivals that depend on it, without this great bother and disputation.
Nay, you say, Sunday must be held in honor because of Christ’s Resurrection, and it is called dies dominica, on that account, and Easter must be put on it, because Christ rose on the day after the Sabbath, which we now call Saturday. That is, indeed, an argument that moved them; but dies dominica does not mean Sunday, but “Lord’s Day,” and why could not any day on which Easter had come be called dies dominica, “the Lord’s Day”? Is not Christmas also dies dominica, “Lord’s Day,” i.e., the day on which the Lord’s special act, His birth, was done; and yet it does not come, every year, on Sunday? It is called Christ’s Day, i.e., the Lord’s Day, even if it comes on Friday, for the reason that it has a fixed letter in the calendar, reckoned by the sun. In the same way, Easter, too, could have a fixed letter in the calendar, whether it came on Friday or Wednesday, as is the case with Christmas. That way we should be well rid of the law of Moses, with its March full moon. No one asks today whether the moon is full or not on Christmas, but we stick to the days reckoned by the sun without reckoning by the moon.
It might be argued that, since the equinox holds its place, but the year, in the calendar, is too late and does not keep pace with it, the equinox would be farther and farther from a fixed Easter day, as it would also be farther and farther from the Day of St. Philip and St. James, and from other festivals. What do we Christians care if our Easter came on the Day of St. Philip and St. James, which will not happen, I hope, before the end of the world? Moreover, we hold all days as Easter days, with our preaching and our faith in Christ, and it is enough that Easter be kept once in a year on a special day, as a plain and public and perceptible reminder, not only because one can then discuss the history of the Resurrection more diligently before the people, but also in order that people may arrange their business affairs according to the season of year, just as we have the seasons of St. Michael, St. Martin, St. Catherine, St. John, Sts. Peter and Paul, etc.
But the possibility of making this arrangement has long been denied us, even from the beginning, because the fathers did not do it. The old coat has stayed, along with its big rent, and it may continue to stay this way till the Last Day. Things are going toward their end, and if the old coat has stood the patching and tearing for around fourteen hundred years, it can stand the patching and tearing for another hundred; for I hope that everything will soon have an end. Easter has now been see-sawing for about fourteen hundred years, and it may keep on see-sawing for the short time that is left, since no one will do anything about it, and those who would like to do something cannot.
I am indulging in this long and needless talk, only so that I may have expressed my opinion, in case any of the sects were, in time, to be bold enough to move the Easter festival to another date than that which we now observe. And I believe that if the Anabaptists had been learned enough in astronomy to understand this matter, they would have rushed in headlong and, after the fashion of sects, have wanted to bring something new into the world, and keep Easter differently from the rest of the world. But since they are unlearned in the sciences, the devil has not been able to use them as that kind of instrument or tool.
Therefore my advice is to let it alone and let it be kept as it now is, and patch and tear the old coat, and let Easter see-saw back and forth until the Last Day, or until the monarchs agree to change it together, in view of these facts. It breaks no one’s legs and St. Peter’s boat will not be hurt by it, since it is neither heresy nor sin, but only a solecism, or error, in astronomy, which serves the temporal government rather than the Church, though the ancient fathers, in ignorance, thought otherwise and made heretics of one another and excommunicated one another over it. If the Jews laugh at us, thinking that we do this in ignorance, we laugh back still more, because they keep their Easter so stiffly and so vainly, not knowing that Christ fulfilled it all fifteen hundred years ago, abolished it and destroyed it. What we do is done willfully and knowingly, and not in ignorance. We know better than they how Easter should be kept according to the law of Moses, but we will not and ought not keep it so, for we have the Lord of Moses and of all things, and He says, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” How much more is He Lord of Easter and Pentecost, which, in the law of Moses, are less than the Sabbath, for the Sabbath is on the tables of Moses, while Easter and Pentecost are elsewhere than on the tables. Moreover, we have St. Paul, who flatly forbids anyone to be bound to the holidays, feasts and anniversaries of Moses.
Therefore it is, and ought to be, in our power and freedom to keep Easter when we will; and even though we made a Sunday of a Friday or vice versa, nevertheless it would be right, so long as it were done in agreement by the rulers and the Christians, as I have said. Moses is dead and buried through Christ, and days or times ought not be lords over Christians, but Christians are free lords over days and times, to fix them as they will, or as seems right to them. Christ made all things free when He abolished Moses; only we let things remain as they are, since there is no peril, error, sin, or heresy in it, and we would not change anything needlessly or at our own individual whim, because of others who also hold to Easter as well as we.
We know that we can be saved without Easter and Pentecost, Sunday and Friday, and that we cannot be damned because of Easter, Pentecost, Sunday, or Friday, as St. Paul teaches us.
But to come back to the council, I say that we make too much of this chip of the Nicene Council, and the pope afterwards made it not only gold, silver, precious stones, but even a foundation, i.e., an article of faith, without which we cannot be saved, and they all call it a commandment and an act of obedience to the Church; thus they are far worse than the Jews.
The Jews have on their side the text of Moses, commanded at that time by God; but these people have on their side only their own opinions. They go ahead and want to make a new coat out of Moses’ old rags. They allege that they are keeping Moses, and yet their case is nothing but a story, or dream, about Moses, who has been dead so long, and was buried, as the Scriptures say, by God Himself — i.e., by Christ, so that no one has found his grave; they would conjure up Moses before our eyes, as though he were alive, and do not see that (as St. Paul says in Galatians 5:3) if they keep one part of Moses, they must keep the whole of Moses. Therefore, if they consider it necessary to keep Easter in the month of March, as a part of his law, they must also keep the whole law of the paschal lamb and become mere Jews and keep, with the Jews, a bodily paschal lamb; if not, they must let it all go, the full moon, too, with all the rest of Moses, or at least, they must not consider it necessary to salvation, like an article of faith. And this is what I believe that the fathers, especially the best of them, did in this council.
This council, then, dealt chiefly with the article that Christ is true God. It was for this that it was summoned and because of this it is called a council.
Beside this, they dealt with certain accidental, physical, external, temporal matters, which it is right to consider worldly, not comparable with the articles of faith, and not to be kept as a permanent law, for they have passed and fallen out of use. The council had to arrange these bodily matters also, for at their time they were appropriate and necessary; but they no longer concern us, in our time, at all, and it is neither possible nor profitable for us to keep them. As an evidence, — it is false and wrong that heretics are to be rebaptized, and yet this article was established by the fathers themselves and not patched in by the Arians or the other worthless bishops.
Thus the Council of Jerusalem, also, beside the main points, had to dispose of some non-essential, external articles, which were necessary at that time, about blood, things strangled, and idolatry; but not with the intention that this should remain in the Church as a permanent law, like an article of faith, for it has fallen. Why should we not take a look at this council, too, and see how it is to be understood by the causes that forced it into existence?
This was the cause of it. The Gentiles, who were converted by Barnabas and Paul, had, by the Gospel, received the Holy Ghost, as well as the Jews, and yet they were not under the law, like the Jews. Then the Jews insisted strongly that the Gentiles must be circumcised and bidden to keep the law of Moses, or they could not be saved. These were hard, sharp, heavy words, — they could not be saved without the law of Moses and circumcision. The Pharisees who had become believers in Christ insisted on this more than the others, according to Acts 15:5. Then the apostles and elders came together about this matter, and when they had disputed much and sharply, St. Peter rose and preached the powerful and beautiful sermon of Acts 15:7-11, — “Dear brethren, ye know how that God chose that through my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe; and God, the knower of hearts, bare them witness and gave them the Holy Ghost, even as unto us, and made no difference between us and them, and purified their hearts by faith. Why, then, do ye now tempt God by laying a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, in like manner as they.”
This sermon sounds almost as though St. Peter were angry and displeased at the hard words of the Pharisees, who said that they could not be saved if they were not circumcised and did not keep the law of Moses, as I said above. He gives them back hard and sharp words and says, “Ye know well that they heard the Word by me and such people as Cornelius and his household became believers, and, as proof, you grumbled against me and accused me, because I had gone to the Gentiles and converted and baptized them ( Acts 10:1 and Acts 11:1). What, have you forgotten that when you would lay upon the Gentiles a yoke that neither our fathers nor we could carry? What is it but tempting God, if we lay on others an unnecessary burden, which we ourselves cannot bear anymore than they?
Especially since you know that God has given them the Spirit without this burden and made them equal to us, after we, too, have received the same Spirit, not because of the burden of good works, but out of grace, as was the case with our fathers also. For since we have been unable to bear the burden, we have deserved wrath far more than grace, because it was our duty to bear it and we had obligated ourselves to do so.”
This is the substance and main affair of this council, viz., the fact that the Pharisees wanted to set up, against the word of grace, the works, or merits, of the law, as necessary to salvation. That way, the word of grace would have gone to nothing, together with Christ and the Holy Ghost.
Therefore St. Peter fights it and argues against it so hard, and will have men saved entirely by the grace of Jesus Christ alone, without any works.
Not satisfied with that, he was so bold as to say that all their fathers, patriarchs, prophets, and the entire holy Church in Israel had been saved only by the grace of Jesus Christ and nothing else and been condemned only because they had tempted God by wanting to be saved by other means. I think we can call this real preaching, and knocking the bottom out of the cask! Ought not this heretic be burned to death? He forbids all good works and holds that grace and faith are alone sufficient for salvation, and always has been, in the case of all the saints and all the ancestors of all the world. We must needs be called heretics and devils now, because we teach nothing else than this sermon of St. Peter’s and the decree of this council, as all the world now knows better than did the Pharisees whom St. Peter here rebuked.
But St. Peter is far above us, and a strange man indeed, to preach only the grace of God unto salvation, which everybody hears gladly. He also says, that neither they themselves nor their fathers have been able to bear this burden. That is as much as to say, in good German, “We apostles, and whoever we are, together with our ancestors, — patriarchs, prophets, and the whole people of God, — have not kept God’s commandments, are sinners, and are damned.” He is not speaking of blood-sausage or black jelly, but of the law of Moses, and he says, “No one has kept it, or can keep it”; as Christ says, in John 7:19, “None of you keepeth the law.”
That, in my opinion, is preaching the law unto damnation, and making himself a condemned sinner! How does it come, then, that the alleged heir of St. Peter’s chair calls himself “Most Holy,” and elevates to saintship those whom he chooses because of their works, not because of the grace of Christ? And where do the monks stand, who bear a burden heavier than that of the law, so that they can sell their surplus holiness? We have no such queer folk as Peter, for we dare not hold the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and the holy Church as sinners, but must call even the pope “Most Holy” and “Saint of Saints,” i.e., Christ.
But St. Peter deserves a very gracious and honorable absolution and is not to be considered queer at all; for in this great article, he preaches, first, the law, that we all are sinners; second, that only the grace of Christ saves us, even the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and the entire holy Church from the beginning, all of whom he makes sinners and condemned men. In the third place, long before the Council of Nicaea, he teaches that Christ is true God. For he says that all the saints must be lost, if they are not saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To bestow grace and salvation, as Lord, He must be true God, who can take away sin by grace, and death and hell by salvation. This no creature will do, unless it were the “Most Holy” at Rome, though without injury to St. Peter’s sermon. In the fourth place, he who holds otherwise, and teaches that sinners can be saved or obtain grace by the law or their own works, is a tempter of God.
It may be said that this “burden” should be interpreted to mean the law of Moses and circumcision, not the Ten Commandments and good works. Let anyone interpret it so, if he please; I am satisfied. If you can keep the Ten Commandments more easily than the Mosaic ceremonies, go on and be holier than Sts. Peter and Paul; I am so weak in the Ten Commandments that I think it would be far easier for me to keep all the Mosaic ceremonies, if the Ten Commandments did not weigh me down. But this is not the time to argue that point; it has been fully discussed, otherwise and elsewhere. Even human reason must judge and admit, however, that the Ten Commandments, or the works of the Ten Commandments, are not and cannot be called the grace of Jesus Christ, but are something altogether different, and must have another name. Now St. Peter says here that we must be saved through the grace of Jesus Christ; but grace cannot be received or held with the works of our hands, but with faith, in our hearts.
That is certainly true.
It is marvelous to see how St. Peter, who, as an apostle, had the right and power, together with other apostles, to set up this article as something new, — for which reason they are called the foundation of the Church, — nevertheless goes back and cites the holy Church of God of former times, the Church of all the patriarchs and prophets, and as much as says, “This is not a new doctrine, for so all our ancestors and all the saints taught and believed. Why, then, do we undertake to teach another and better doctrine, thereby tempting God and leading our brethren’s consciences astray, and burdening them?”
That, I say, is the substance or chief thing in this council, for which it was called, or came together. When that was decided the council closed and everything was settled. But the papal ass does not see or heed this chief matter and gapes at the other four things that James adds, — blood, things strangled, idolatry, and fornication. By so doing, they hope to strengthen their tyranny, and they allege that since the Church has changed these articles, they have power to change the articles of faith and the councils; that is to say, “We are the Church, we can decree and do what we please.”
Listen, papal ass! You are a plain ass; nay, you are a filthy sow. The article of this council has not fallen and has not been changed, but has remained always, from the beginning, as St. Peter says, and will remain until the end of the world; for there have always been holy men, who have been saved only by the grace of Christ and not by the law. Even under the devil of the papacy, there have remained the text and the faith of the Gospel, baptism, the Sacrament, the keys, and the name of Jesus Christ, though the pope, with his accursed lies, has stormed against them and has shamefully misled the world. So, too, it was said of the Nicene Council, that its decree existed before it and remained after it. The decrees of the true councils must remain forever, and they have always remained, especially the chief articles, because of which they came into existence and got the name of councils.
What shall we say, however, about this council of the apostles, when St. James makes exceptions of the four points, — blood, things strangled, idolatry, and fornication? Is not the council contradicting itself, and is not the Holy Ghost in disagreement with Himself? The two speeches are plainly and palpably contradictory, — not laying the burden of the law of Moses, and yet laying it. Play the sophist, if you will, and say that what was spoken of in the council was not the whole law of Moses, but portions of it some of which might be laid and others not laid upon the Gentiles. But that will not do; for St. Paul decides in Galatians 5:3, that if a man keeps one part of the law, he is bound to keep the law entirely, and it is equivalent to acknowledging that one is bound to keep the whole law; otherwise one would pay no heed to it at all. Here, too, there would be new cloth on an old coat, and the rent would be worse. It is also evident that these points are in the law of Moses and nowhere in the Gentiles’ law.
For where would have been the necessity to lay them upon the Gentiles, if they had already been accustomed to them in their native law? How, then, do we reconcile these two, — no law and the whole law?
Well, if we cannot make them agree, we must let St. James go with his article, and keep St. Peter with his chief article for the sake of which this council was held. Without St. Peter’s article, no one can be saved; but Cornelius and the Gentiles whom St. Peter had baptized, at his house along with him, were holy and saved before St. James came along with his article, as St. Peter says in this council. I touched the question above, whether one may, with a good conscience, allow that these points have fallen, since the Holy Ghost rules the council and makes all these decrees; but it is a much more sharply disputed question, whether the council is against itself and disagrees with itself. While desiring to relieve us of an impossible burden, it lays upon us a still more impossible one, when it says that we are, at one and the same time, to do nothing and do everything. To be sure, now that it has fallen, we do well to stick to the one part, to St. Peter’s articles, i.e., to the genuine Christian faith.
Only the commandment against fornication, which is the fourth point in St. James’ article, has not fallen, though, to be sure, the courtesans and condemned lords were on the way to let it fall twenty years ago, when they began to consider fornication not a mortal, but a venial sin, advocating the principle that nature must take its course; and that is the way that the holy people at Rome still regard it. And the reason why these leaders of the blind took this view was that St. James puts fornication with the other three points that have fallen, from which they conclude that if the prohibition of blood, things strangled and idolatry no longer hold, then neither does the prohibition of fornication hold any longer, since it occurs among these others, and except for that, is a natural human act. Let them go; they are worthy of nothing better!
I shall state my opinion; let someone else improve on it! I have now said often that the councils are to be looked at and estimated from the point of view of the chief subject which gave occasion for the council. That is the council in essence, the real body of the council, according to which all else is to be judged, and to which all else is to be fitted, as a garment fits the body that wears it, or has it on; if a man takes it off and throws it away, it is no longer a garment. There cannot be a council or any other assembly, — even a chapter or a diet, — but what, after the chief business is settled, there are not one or two little, accidental matters to be patched up, or arranged. In the Nicene Council, when it had been settled that Christ is true God, there came in the external matters of the Easter date and the quarrels of the priests; and here, too, St. James’ article comes in after the chief article of St. Peter.
It was, then, the final opinion and decision of all the apostles, and the council, that men must be saved, without the law or the burden of the law, only by the faith of Jesus Christ. When St. Peter, St. Paul and their party had gained this decision, they were happy and well satisfied, for it was according to this decision that they had worked, and had striven against the Pharisees and Jews who had become Christians and still wanted to retain the law. When St. James, then, added his article, they could put up with it, since this was not laid on the Gentiles as a law or burden of law, as the letter of the council announces: Nihil oneris, “We will therefore lay upon you no burden, except that ye abstain from blood,” etc. Indeed, they might well have endured it, if St. James had added even more things, such as the rule about leprosy and the like; and the Ten Commandments remain, even without these things. These things, however, are to be no law or burden, say they, but things that are necessary for other reasons. But if a burden is no more a burden, it is good to bear; and if law is no longer law, it is good to keep, like the Ten Commandments. How much more is that true of ceremonies, especially if they are abolished or if very few are retained! Of this more elsewhere! If the pope were to relieve us of his burden, so that it need no longer be law, we should readily obey him, especially if he were to retain a little of it and abolish the most of it. Therefore St. James and his article must endure an interpretation that makes St. Peter’s article, concerning grace, without the law, to remain pure and firm and to rule alone, without the law.
We shall also look at the reason for this side-issue of St. James’, in order that we may understand this council entirely. With the Jews the law of Moses was, so to speak, inborn; it was suckled into them, made a part of them, ingrained in them from youth up, so that it became almost their very nature, as St. Paul says, in Galatians 2:15, “We are Jews by nature,” i.e., born Mosaic (for he is speaking of the law and not only of birth).
Therefore they could not stand the life of the Gentiles, or endure it when they were compared with the Gentiles among whom they were scattered in the lands, when they saw that the Gentiles ate blood, things strangled, and meat offered to idols, and yet boasted that they were God’s people, or Christians. This moved St. James to guard against this offense, so that the Gentiles might not abuse their freedom too wantonly, to spite the Jews, but act soberly, so that the Jews, so deeply saturated with the law might not be offended and therefore spit upon the Gospel. For, dear God, we must have patience with sick and erring men. Even we drunken Germans are sometimes wise and say, “A load of hay must make way for a drunken man.” No one can win his spurs against sick people, or a master’s degree over ignoramuses.
And yet St. James acts quite soberly. He entirely disregards the whole law of Moses about sacrifice and all the other points that had to be observed in Jerusalem and Palestine, and takes up only the four points on which the Jews outside Jerusalem, among the Gentiles, took offense. For the Jews, dispersed among the Gentiles, had to see the way the Gentiles acted, had to live with them and, sometimes, eat with them. It was very annoying, and it was wrong, to set before a Jew blood-sausage, have cooked in blood, blood-jellies, and meat sacrificed to idols, especially if I knew that he could not endure it and must take it as an insult. It would be the same as though I were to say, “Listen, Jew! Even though I could bring you to Christ, if I did not eat blood-sausage, or set it before you, I will not do it, but will scare you away from Christ and chase you to hell with blood-sausage.” Would that be kind? I shall not ask if it would be Christian! Must not everyone often keep silence and not contradict another, when he sees and knows that things that he would speak and do would be to the other’s injury, especially if it were against God? Now the Gentiles of these days were violent toward the Jews and very proud, because they were their lords; the Jews, in turn, were intolerant, because they thought that they alone were God’s people.
Many histories give powerful testimony to this.
The good advice of St. James was, therefore, the very finest means to peace, and to the salvation of many. It was that the Gentiles, since they had now attained Christ’s grace without the law and without merit, should show themselves helpful, in a few matters, to the Jews, as to sick and erring folk, in order that they also might come to the same grace. It did not harm the Gentiles in the eyes of God to avoid the public, open use of blood, things strangled, and meat sacrificed to idols (though in conscience they were already free, through grace, on all these points) and for the benefit and salvation of the Jews, to desist from giving wanton offense. In the absence of Jews, they could eat and drink what they pleased, without risk to conscience. The Jews, too, would likewise be free in conscience, but could not change the old external custom, for Consuetudo est altera natura, especially when it has grown out of God’s law. Thus fairness and reason also teach that one should not flout and hinder others, but serve them and be helpful to them, according to the commandment, “Love thy neighbor,” etc.
These two articles, — that of St. Peter and that of St. James, — are, therefore, contradictory and not contradictory. St. Peter’s article is about faith, St. James’ about love. St. Peter’s article suffers no law, eats blood, things strangled, meat sacrificed to idols, yes, and the devil, too, and gives no heed to it. It deals with God, not with man, and does nothing but believe on the gracious God. St. James’ article, however, lives and eats with men; it directs everything to the one purpose of bringing men to St. Peter’s article, and guards diligently against hindering anyone. Now the office of love is so discharged on earth that the object of love, that which is loved and helped, is changeable and transient. Love cannot have the same object forever, but one object passes away, and another comes in its place.
Thus love must continue to love until the end of the world. When the Jews had been scattered, or became obdurate, and the Gentiles no longer had to practice love toward them, this whole article fell. It was not altered by the power of the Church, as the papists lyingly declare, but since the cause of it was no longer there, Christians freely ate blood and black jelly, from which they had for a time abstained on account of the Jews, and for their good, even though they had not been bound, in the eyes of God, to do so, because of their faith. If St. James had wanted to lay these points upon them as law, he would have had to lay the whole law upon them, as St. Paul says in Galatians 5:3, “He that keeps one law must keep all.”
That would be flatly against St. Peter’s article, which St. James approves.
He puts fornication in among these things, however, though it remains condemned forever in the Ten Commandments; and this is the reason.
Among the Gentiles, fornication was considered a small sin; nay, no sin at all. You read this in the books of the heathen, and twenty years ago, as I indicated above, the courtesans and worthless priests began publicly to say and believe the same thing. Among the Gentiles, therefore, it was no greater sin to commit fornication than to eat blood-sausage, hares cooked in blood, blood-jellies, or meat sacrificed to idols. Read in the histories how unwilling the Romans were to take wives, so that the Emperor Augustus had to compel them to marry; for they thought that fornication was right and that their rights were violated when the attempt was made to compel them to marry. Therefore St. James would teach the Gentiles that, even without the compulsion of their rulers, they ought, of their own accord, to give up fornication and live in the married state, chastely and purely. This the Jews did, and they took grave offense at the freedom of fornication, and could not believe that the Gentiles could come to God’s grace and become God’s people, because of this difference in foods and in living.
The apostles, therefore, did not lay the law upon the Gentiles, and yet they allowed it to the Jews for a time, preaching grace boldly meanwhile. Thus we see that St. Paul when among the Jews, lived as a Jew; when among the Gentiles, as a Gentile; so that he might win all. He circumcised his disciple, Timothy, who was already a believer, not because it must be so, but, as St. Luke says, for the sake of the Jews of the place, that he might not offend them. Afterwards, he had himself purified in the Temple, with the Jews, and sacrificed according to the law of Moses; all which he did, as St. Augustine says in that fine and now famous word, Oportuit synagogam cum honore sepelire, i.e., in order to bury Moses, or his church and law, with honor.
How this council and the articles of both St. Peter and St. James were afterwards kept, you will discover abundantly in St. Paul’s Epistles, in which he complains everywhere about the false apostles, who insist on the law as a necessity to the detriment of grace, and seduce whole houses and countries, and lead them back to the law; and that under the name of Christ.
After the Nicene Council the case was still worse. The rascal Arius humbled himself and accepted the council in the presence of the Emperor Constantine, even with an oath, and therefore the emperor allowed him to come back. Then he began to fan the flames in earnest and the bishops of his party, especially after Constantine’s death, through his son, the Emperor Constantius, whom they had won over, played the game so horribly that throughout the world Constantius drove out all the true bishops, except two, — Gregory and Basil. Some say, here, that Constantine, the father, became an Arian before he died and in his will commended to his son, Constantius, an Arian priest who had been faithfully commended to him by his sister, Constantia, on her death-bed, and that it was through him that the Arians afterwards became so powerful.
Such histories warn us to pray for great lords, because the devil seeks them most of all, since he can do the greatest harm through them; also that we ourselves are to be careful, and not readily to give credence to sectarian spirits, even if they humble themselves as completely as this rascal Arius did. It is said, Aliquando compugnuntur et mali, but they keep behind the hill till they get air and room, and then they fall to, like Arius, and do the things that they had in mind before. I do not wonder greatly that the fathers laid such severe and lengthy penance on renegade Christians. They would have had experience with them, and would have known how false their humility was, and how hard it was for them to humble themselves to penitence sincerely and from their hearts, as Sirach also says, Ab inimico reconciliato, etc.
Briefly, if one does not know the meaning of osculum Judae, “a Judaskiss,” let him read the story of Arius under Constantine, and he will have to say that Arius went far beyond Judas. He deceived the good Emperor Constantine with these fair words, — “We believe in one God, one Word, by Whom all things were made,” etc. Tell me, what Christian could hold these words heretical, or think that Arius still held Christ to be a creature?
But that became clear when he came to trial. In the same way Auxentius, bishop of Milan, the immediate predecessor of St. Ambrose, fooled the people with such words that, on first impression I almost became angry at St. Hilary, when I read the words, Blasphemia Auxentii on the title page of Auxentius’ Confessions. I would have staked my body and soul on Auxentius’ word that he held Christ to be true God. I hope, too, that amid these blind and deceptive words, many good, simple folk remained by their former faith and were preserved in it, because they were unable to understand these words otherwise than as an expression of the faith that had existed from the beginning. Indeed, no one could understand them otherwise unless he knew the private interpretation that the Arians gave them.
Because it is so necessary for Christians to know this illustration, and because the ordinary reader of history does not examine it so closely and does not think how profitable it is as a warning against all other spirits of division, whom the devil, their god, makes so slippery that they can never be seized or grasped; — for these reasons I shall briefly state this case, under a few heads. First , Arius taught that Christ was not God, but a creature. Then the good bishops extorted from him the confession that Christ was God like St. Peter and Paul and like the angels who are called in the Scriptures “gods” and “Sons of God” ( 1 Corinthians 8:5, John 10:34, Psalm 82:6, Job 38:7). Secondly , When the fathers discovered this they forced him farther, until he and his followers granted that Christ was real and true God. They submitted to these words for the sake of appearances, since this had been the teaching theretofore in all the churches. Among themselves, however, (and this is especially true of Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius’ chief patron) they interpreted these words as follows: — Omne factum dei est verum, “Everything created, or made, by God is true and real; what is false God has not made, therefore we are willing to confess that Christ is real, true God, though among ourselves we hold Him to be a made God, like Moses and all the saints.” Here they admitted everything that we now sing on Sunday in the churches, since the Nicene Council, Deum de deo, Lumen de lumine, Deum verum de deo vero. Thirdly , When this false trick came out, and it became known that, in spite of these words, they still held Christ to be a creature, the dispute became sharper until they had to confess that Christ had existed before the whole world. Who, then, could believe otherwise than that Arius and his bishops were true Christians and had been unjustly condemned by the Nicene Council? This is what they were at soon after the Nicene Council, which had made short work of them and stated the faith as it was; for they wanted to undo the Nicene Council, and attacked one point after another. Fourthly , This blind evasion was noticed, viz., that Christ was to be and be called a creature, though with the explanation that He was before all the world, i.e., He was created or made before all the world, or before all other creatures. Then they were compelled to confess that all the world and all things were made by Him, as John 1:3 says; yet among their own people they interpreted this to mean that Christ was first made, and then all things were made by Him. Fifthly , It was then easy for them to confess, genitum, non factum, viz., that Christ was born of God, not created; born as all Christians, born of God, are sons of God ( John 1:12); not created among other creatures, but before all creatures. Sixthly , Then it came to the heart of the matter, viz., that Christ is homoousios with the Father, i.e., that Christ is of one and the same deity with the Father, and has one and the same power. Then they could no longer find any trick or hole or scheme or hoax. Homoousios means “of one essence, or nature,” or “of the same and not of a second essence,” as the fathers had decreed in the council, and as is sung in Latin, consubstantialis; some afterwards said coexistentialis, coessentialis. They had accepted this at Nicaea, in the council, and they still accepted it when they had to speak in the presence of the emperor or of the fathers; but among themselves they attacked it bitterly. They declared that this word was not in the Scriptures; they held many councils, even in Constantine’s time, seeking to weaken the Council of Nicaea; they started much trouble.
At last they made the hearts of our party so timid that even St. Jerome was perplexed, and wrote a letter of complaint to Damasus, Bishop of Rome, and began to ask that the word Homoousios be scratched out. “For,” he says, “there is some kind of poison in the letters, which makes them so objectionable to the Arians.” There is a Dialog still extant, in which Athanasius and Arius dispute before an official named Probus about this word Homoousios. When Arius insisted vigorously that this word was not in the Scriptures, Athanasius caught him in his own trap, and said, “Neither are these other words in the Scriptures, innascibilis, ingenitus Deus, meaning “God is unborn”; for these the Arians had used to prove that Christ could not be God, because He was born and God was unborn; and Probus decided against Arius. For while it is true that in matters concerning God nothing should be taught except the Scriptures (as St. Hilary says in his De trinitate ), that means only that nothing should be taught that is different from the Scriptures. It cannot be held that one cannot use more words or other words than those that are in the Scriptures, especially in controversy. When the heretics would falsify the case with false evasions and pervert the words of Scripture, it was necessary to comprise in a short word of summary the meaning, which the Scriptures put in many sayings, and ask whether they held Christ homoousios; for this was the meaning of the Scriptures in all the words which they perverted, in their own circles, with false interpretations, but had freely confessed before the emperor and in the council. It is just as though the Pelagians were to try to entrap us with the words “original sin” or “Adam’s-plague,” because these words do not occur in the Scriptures, and yet the Scriptures do powerfully teach what these words mean, saying that we are conceived in sin ( Psalm 51:7), are all by nature children of wrath ( Ephesians 2:3), and must all be sinners because of one man’s sin ( Romans 5:12).
Now tell me, if Arius were to come before you today and confess the whole creed of the Nicene Council, as we sing it today in our churches, could you hold him a heretic? I myself would say that he was right. And suppose that underneath it all he was a rascal and believed something different and afterwards interpreted the words differently and taught differently; would I not have been finely deceived? Therefore I do not believe that Constantine became an Arian, but that he stuck by the Nicene Council. What happened to him was that he was deceived, and believed that Arius held just what the Nicene Council did. He demanded an oath from him to that effect, as was said above, and then commanded that they should receive him again in Alexandria. When Athanasius would not do this, because he knew the false Arius better than Constantine did, he had to be driven out; for it may well be that Constantine got the idea that Arius, this good Christian, had been condemned at Nicaea out of envy or jealousy, especially since the Arians, Eusebius of Nicomedia above all, espoused his cause with the emperor, filled his ears with stories, and glorified Arius. For great kings and lords, even though they are good men, do not always have angels and St. John the Baptist ( Mark 6:18) about them at court, but often Satan ( 1 Kings 22:22) and Judas and Doeg ( 1 Samuel 22:9), as the book of Kings show. It is a good sign that Constantine, before his death, recalled Athanasius, though the Arians strove hard to prevent it (3 Tripart 11). Thus he shows that it was not his desire to reject the Nicene Council and its doctrine, but that he would gladly have brought everything into unity.
That is just what some of our false papal scribblers are doing now. They pretend that they would teach faith and good works in order to bedeck themselves and besmirch us, as though they had always so taught and we had wrongly accused them of teaching otherwise. Their intention is, when they have decorated themselves with sheeps’ clothing, as though they were just like us, to bring their wolf back again into the sheep-pen. It is not their serious purpose to teach faith and good works; but since, like the Arians, they cannot keep their poison and wolfishness and set them up again by any other means than this sheeps’ clothing of faith and good works, they deck themselves up in it and conceal the wolfskin, until they get back in the sheep-pen. They must be treated as they treat our people, and we must bid them revoke their abominations and prove their revocation with deeds, by abolishing all the abuses that ruled, contrary to faith and good works, in their churches, among their people. Thus they can be known by their fruits.
If they do not do this, then their mere words and gestures are sheep skins, and cannot be believed. So Arius, too, should have recanted, acknowledged his error, and actually contradicted himself, in doctrine and life, as St. Augustine contradicted his Manichaeism, and as many men today are contradicting their former papistry and monkery; among whom, by God’s grace, I can count myself. But they will have it that they have not erred, and will not do God the honor of confessing it; just as the Arians wanted to defend their lies and would not have it thought that the council had condemned them.
The lesson of these histories we should well observe, especially those of us who must be preachers and have command to feed Christ’s flock, so that we may see well to it, or be good bishops, as St. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:2 (for episcopus, or bishop, means one who looks well to things, who is alert, who watches diligently), so that we may not be taken unawares by the devil. Here we see how he can twist and disguise himself in such masterly style that he becomes far fairer than an angel of light ( Corinthians 11:14), and false bishops are holier than the true bishops, and the wolf is more righteous than any sheep. We have not to deal now with the plain, black, papal spirits outside the Scriptures; they are accommodating themselves to the Scriptures and to our doctrine, want to be like us and yet tear us to pieces. The Holy Ghost alone must help, and we must pray with diligence, or we have lost entirely.
From all this it is evident why the council was held, — not on account of outward ceremonies, but on account of the high article of the deity of Christ. It was around this that the controversy arose; it was this that was chiefly discussed in the council and afterwards assailed by the unspeakable ragings of the devil, in which the other articles were not remembered. The wretched business lasted nearly three hundred years among the Christians, so that Augustine holds that Arius’ punishment in hell becomes greater everyday, as long as this error lasts, for Mohammed came out of this sect.
It is evident, too, that what I undertook to show is true, viz., that this council neither devised nor established anything new, but defended the old faith against the new error of Arius. From this fact one cannot conclude that the councils have power to devise and set up new articles concerning faith and good works, still less that the pope at Rome has this power, as they falsely claim.
Let this be enough, for the time, about the first chief council of Nicaea.
The second chief council, that of Constantinople, was assembled about fifty years after the Nicene Council, under the Emperors Gratian and Theodosius. This was the cause of it. Arius had denied the deity of Christ and the Holy Ghost. Meanwhile a new sect arose, the Macedonians, for one error always brings another, one disaster another, without end and cessation.
These Macedonians praised the decision of the Nicene Council that Christ was God and vigorously condemned Arius. They taught, however, that the Holy Ghost was not true God, but a creature of God, through whom God moves, enlightens, comforts, and strengths the hearts of men, and does all that the Scriptures say the Holy Ghost does. This sect took strong hold among many great, learned, and able bishops. It came about this way.
Macedonius was bishop of Constantinople, the great capital of the whole Eastern part of the Empire, where the imperial court was. This bishop began the sect, and the fact that the foremost bishop, the bishop of the imperial residence, Constantinople, taught thus, produced a great effect. Almost everyone in the lands around Constantinople, which depended on Constantinople, fell to him and attached themselves to him, and Macedonius was not idle; he urged his cause hard, and would have liked to draw the whole world into his following, as the devil does in all sects.
The good bishops were all too weak to resist this sect of bishops. Formerly a simple priest of Alexandria, Arius, had started such a confusion; but here it was not a priest, nor even an ordinary bishop, but the bishop of the foremost city, the bishop of the imperial palace at Constantinople, that started the confusion, and the bishops had to appeal again to the emperor to assemble another great council to resist this error. This the good Emperor Theodosius did and put it in the city of Constantinople itself, in the district of the church where Macedonius had been bishop; just as the other time Constantine had put the Nicene Council at Nicaea, where the bishop was Theognis, who helped Eusebius of Nicomedia to support Arius and afterward to bring him back again.
The next year Damasus, bishop of Rome, also held a council and would have liked to have the matter dealt with at Rome, so that the Roman See might get the power to call councils and judge all cases. It was to be known as a universal council; for as the highest bishop in the world, he called the fathers who had held the council at Constantinople in the previous year; but they would not come. However, they did write him a fine Christian letter, telling him what they had done in the Council of Constantinople. They notified him, among other things, that they had condemned the heresy of Macedonius and that they had appointed new bishops of Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem. O, but they ought not to have done that without the knowledge and consent of the bishop of Rome, who wanted to have the sole power to call councils (which he was not able to do), to judge all heresy (which he could not), and to change bishops (which was not his business)!
They gave him other good slaps, besides. They told him that in the new church at Constantinople (for the city of Constantinople had been built recently) they had appointed Nectarius bishop, at Antioch Flavian, at Jerusalem Cyril. These three points were most vexatious to the bishop of Rome; nay, it was intolerable that he should have to hear or see them.
First, they call Constantinople a new church and appoint a bishop there, though without the knowledge and consent of the bishop of Rome, no new church or new bishop ought to be created. The second is still worse, for they call the church at Antioch the first and oldest of the churches, in which (as they prove by St. Luke, in Acts 11:26) the believers in Christ were first called Christians; moreover St. Peter and St. Paul and many of the greatest apostles preached there for more than seven years. That was the same as to say in my German: “Listen, Lord bishop of Rome! You are not the first or highest bishop; but if there is to be only one church, it ought more fittingly be the Church of Antioch, which has on its side the Scriptures of St. Luke and actual facts, while Rome has on its side neither Scriptures nor facts!”
They were fine and able people, however, and they wanted to check the proud spirit of Rome soberly and gently, in Christian love and humility, and, as Sirach says, “to spit on the sparks,” and exhort the bishop of Rome to remember that the Gospel had not come from Rome to Antioch, but from Antioch to Rome; therefore, if it came to a question of precedence, Antioch, the oldest church, ought rightly to have precedence over Rome, the new church. This ambition, as the words show, had vexed these fine, holy fathers sorely, and that was proper. If there had been a Doctor Luther in the council, so mild a letter would not have been written to the bishop of Rome, if he could have had anything to do with it. In a word, there were people in this council with whom none of the bishops of Rome of all time could compare. The third point is worst of all, when they call the church at Jerusalem the mother of all churches. The reason is that Christ, the Lord, was Himself bishop there, and as a sign of it, sacrificed Himself on the cross for the sins of all the world. There the Holy Ghost was given from heaven, on the Day of Pentecost. There all the apostles together ruled the Church; not Peter only, of whom the bishop of Rome boasts. No single one of these things happened at Rome. Hereby they soberly admonish the bishop of Rome to remember that he is very far from being the bishop of Jerusalem, the mother-church, but that his church at Rome is a daughter-church, which did not have Christ and the apostles and did not bring Jerusalem to the faith; on the contrary, he and his church were brought to the faith by it. St. Paul humbles the Corinthians the very same way, telling them that the Gospel did not come from them, but came to them from others.
At last, however, they go beyond all bounds and appoint a patriarch in the new church at Constantinople, and do it without the previous knowledge and consent of the bishop of Rome, as though, in matters of this kind, his knowledge made no difference at all. Here, as the pope’s flatterers themselves say, is the beginning of the everlasting controversy and contention between the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Constantinople over the primacy, or supreme authority. For when the bishop of Constantinople, though he was in a new city, was made a patriarch and given an equal position with the bishop of Rome, the latter feared that the bishop of Constantinople would claim the primacy; as actually happened afterwards. The bishops of Constantinople argued that the emperor had his residence, or court, at Constantinople and not at Rome, and Constantinople was called New Rome; therefore he must be the supreme bishop because he was bishop of the imperial city and court. On the other hand, the bishop of Rome argued that Rome was true Rome, and the emperor was called Roman emperor, not Constantinopolitan emperor, and Rome was earlier than Constantinople. They clawed at each other with such childish, womanish, foolish scurrilities that it is a sin and a shame to hear and read them.
The dispute lasted until the time when Phocas was emperor, the man who had the good Emperor Maurice, his lord and predecessor, whose captain he had been, and whom the histories call a saint, beheaded with his wife and children. This pious Cain confirmed to the pious Pope Boniface of Rome the supremacy over all bishops, and there could have been no better man to confirm this supremacy than this shameful murderer of emperors. Thus Rome had as good a beginning for its papacy as it had had for its empire, when, in earlier days, Romulus slew his brother, Remus, so that he might rule alone and call the city after himself. Nevertheless, the bishops of Constantinople cared nothing for that, and the contention went on and on, though meanwhile the Roman bishops, over and above the confirmation of Phocas, began to deck themselves with fig-leaves and cried, with great bellowings, that the church of Rome was supreme, not by man’s ordering, but by Christ’s own institution, according to Matthew 16:18, Tu es Petrus, etc. But the people at Constantinople saw that those at Rome were unlearned and quoted Christ’s words falsely and inappropriately, and they did not accept the argument. Thus the two churches, Rome and Constantinople, wrangled over the worthless primacy with lame, vain scurrilities, until at last the devil devoured them both: that of Constantinople by the Turks and Mohammed, that of Rome by the pope and his blasphemous decrees.
I tell all this in order that it may be seen what misery was caused by this fine Council of Constantinople, because the bishop of that city was made patriarch. To be sure, the misery would not have been avoided even though no patriarch of Constantinople had been appointed, for the ambitious devil’s head at Rome had already begun to make these demands of the bishops everywhere (as was said above), and if the bishop of Constantinople had not fallen foul of him, he would have rubbed against those of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch; for he would not put up with the decree of the Council of Nicaea, in which he had been put on equality with the bishop of Alexandria and beneath the bishop of Jerusalem. He will be head of the Church without the councils and fathers, jure divino as he roars, blasphemes, and lies in his decrees.
This, then, was the second great council, at Constantinople. It did three things. First, it confirmed the doctrine that the Holy Ghost is true God and condemned Macedonius, who held and taught that the Holy Ghost is a creature. Second, it deposed the heretical bishops and appointed real bishops, especially at Antioch and Jerusalem. Third, it made Bishop Nectarius of Constantinople a patriarch, which made the bishops of Rome wild, mad, and crazy, although the good fathers may have done it with the best intentions.
The first thing is the main thing, and is the sole reason why this council was held. From this the intention of the council can be understood. It was to do no more, and did no more, than preserve the article concerning the deity of the Holy Ghost. When it had done that, it had finished the work for which it was summoned.
The second thing, the deposition of bishops, is not an article of faith, but an external tangible work. Even reason ought and can do it, and for this it is not necessary, as it is when dealing with articles of faith, to have the Holy Ghost in any special way, or to assemble a council. Therefore it must have been done at another session, after the session of the council. They did not establish anew the churches or bishoprics at Antioch and Jerusalem, but they let them stay as they had been from the beginning; all they did was to put other persons into them. The offices must always have been in the Church from the beginning and must continue until the end; but other persons must be put into them constantly; — Matthias after Judas ( Acts 1:26), and living bishops after those who have died. This is not properly the work of a council but may be done, — indeed it must be done, — both before and after the councils, as the necessities of the churches demand.
Councils cannot be held everyday, but there is daily need for persons who can be put in the offices of the Church as often as they fall vacant.
The third thing was new. They made a patriarch with the best of human intentions. How it turned out, we have told above; what a shameful wrangling and contention the two bishops started over it, so that it is plain that the Holy Ghost did not order it so; for it is not an article of faith, but an external, tangible work of the reason, or of flesh and blood. What difference does it make to the Holy Ghost, which bishop has precedence and which comes after? He has other things to do than this worldly child’splay.
This is not only a lesson, to teach us that the councils have no power to establish new good works, still less articles of faith; but it is also a warning that councils ought not to appoint or establish anything new, for they should know that they are not assembled for that purpose, but to defend the old faith against new teachers; though, to be sure, they may put new persons in old offices (but then persons cannot be called articles of faith or good works, since they are uncertain, mortal men), and this has to be done outside the councils, in the churches, more than in the councils; nay, it must be done every day.
Even the fathers of the council themselves confess that they established nothing new, when they write, as has been said to Damasus, bishop of Rome, and say, among other things, “We know that this is the old, true faith, which is according to baptism, and teaches us to believe on the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Indeed, they say nothing at all about the third point, the patriarch of Constantinople, perhaps because they thought that this was not the point on account of which they had come to the council and it was no heresy, if a Christian were not to hold, as an article of faith, that the bishop was a patriarch; just as today there are many people who are neither heretics nor lost because they do not hold the pope to be the head of the Church, notwithstanding his councils, decretals, bulls and bellowings. Perhaps, on the other hand, they did not do this by unanimous consent, but it was done by the Emperor Theodosius; for the other histories declare that Theodosius instigated it and pushed it; and he had no power to set up articles of faith.
Since, then, they themselves say and confess that it is the old, true faith, in which we were baptized and instructed, why shall we grant to the councils the high authority to set up new articles of faith and burn as heretics all those who do not believe them? That is not understanding the councils rightly and knowing what a council is and what its office and action are; it is rather looking at the letters and giving them all power, even over God.
Of that more hereafter! We shall now take a brief glance at the other two chief councils besides.
The third great council was held under Theodosius II, grandson of Theodosius I, of whom I spoke in discussing the second council. This emperor summoned two hundred bishops to come together to Ephesus.
The Latin writers would like to weave the pope into the story, but it is a fact, nevertheless, that it was not the pope, but the emperor, who had to summon this council, for now that there was a patriarch at Constantinople who was on equal footing with the bishop of Rome, the bishops of the East cared far less about the bishop of Rome than before. It was, therefore, impossible for the bishop of Rome to call this council, especially at Ephesus, which lay far across the sea, in Asia. If he could have done so, he would have put it nearer Rome, as Damasus tried to do with the former council, that of Constantinople. To be sure, he is said to have had his legates there. That may be, but they did not preside.
The reason for this council was as follows: The dear fathers and fine bishops were gone, — St. Ambrose, St. Martin, St. Jerome, St. Augustine (who died that very year), St. Hilary, St. Eusebius, and others like them, and in their place had come other fathers, who were not their equals.
Therefore the Emperor Theodosius was no longer willing to have a bishop of Constantinople chosen from among the priests or clergy of the city of Constantinople, for the reason that they were commonly proud, ambitious, and headstrong and usually caused nothing but trouble. Even St. John Chrysostom was such a person, as the Historia tripartita tells.
Therefore the emperor had an advena, as they called him, brought from Antioch. His name was Nestorius and he was a man of strict and chaste life, loud-voiced and eloquent, and violently opposed to all heretics. He had to become bishop and patriarch of Constantinople. So the emperor made a great effort and had no success; he tried to run out of the rain and fell in the water.
Nestorius began to defend his priest Anastasius, who had preached that the Holy Virgin should not be called Mother of God, for since she was human she could not bear God. This gave offense to all Christians and they took no other meaning from it than that he held that Christ, born of Mary, was not God, but a mere man, like all of us; and out of this there arose such a state of affairs that the emperor had to call a council to help things.
The great bishops came together to Ephesus, though slowly, — Nestorius with many others, Cyril from Alexandria, Juvenalis from Jerusalem, and when John of Antioch delayed his coming, Cyril (who was opposed to Nestorius) and Juvenal condemned Nestorius, and he and his followers, in turn, condemned them. When John of Antioch arrived and found this division, he was angry at Cyril because he had so hot-headedly and hastily condemned Nestorius, and the two went at each other and each condemned the other and deposed the other from his bishopric.
When Nestorius saw that such a disturbance had arisen, he said, “Oh, let us do away with what causes so much trouble and admit that Mary may be called Mother of God.” But this recantation did not help; he had to stay under condemnation and in exile. To be sure, the two bishops, of Antioch and Alexandria, did condemn one another, even after the council, when they were back at home again; but at last they were reconciled.
Nevertheless, it is offensive and distressing to read how these people in high station acted. They needed a Constantine to throw their contentious letters into the fire; but those who could have done that were gone. Now if Nestorius was in such error that he held Christ not for God, but for mere man, then he was justly condemned, for his teaching was much worse than that of Arius or Macedonius.
That is the third great council. It did nothing more than that. And yet we see that it set up no new articles, but defended the old, true faith against the new doctrine of Nestorius, if that is what he taught; and on this basis, we cannot grant the councils the power to establish new articles. For that Christ is true God was defended before, in the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, as a true, old article, held from the beginning and proved by the Holy Scriptures and now testified over against the new heresy of Arius. The other decrees established there have to do with bodily matters and are not articles of faith and we pass them by.
In order, however, that we may understand this council thoroughly, we shall say a little more about it. At one time I myself could not understand what Nestorius’ error was, and thought that Nestorius denied the deity of Christ, and held Christ for nothing more than a mere man, as the pope’s decrees and all the papal authors say; but by their own words, when I looked at them rightly, I was forced to another conclusion, for they accuse him of making Christ two Persons, God and man. Some, who also could not understand the case, imagined that he taught as follows: Christ was first born of Mary as mere man, and then lived such a holy life that the Godhead united with Him and thus He became God. And their writings are so confused that I think that they themselves do not know, to the present day, why they condemned Nestorius. Observe that they admit that Nestorius held Christ for God and man; only he is said to have made two Persons of Him. From this it is certain that Nestorius did not hold Christ for a mere man, as we all thought, since he also holds Him for God, as their own words say. The only knot that remains is that he is said to have taken Christ, really and truly God and man, for a dual Person, divine and human. That is one thing.
Now he who divides Christ and makes two Persons of Him, makes two Christs, — a divine Christ who is altogether God and not a man at all, and a human Christ, who is altogether man, and not God; otherwise there could not be two Persons. It is sure, however, that Nestorius did not believe that there were two Christs, but only one single Christ, as their own words imply, when they say that Nestorius held Christ, viz., the one, same, real Christ and no other, to be two Persons. Therefore it must be false and wrong to say that he held Christ to be two Persons. The two things cannot stand together, viz., that Christ is two Persons and yet is the same, single Christ; but, as said, if there are two Persons, there are two Christs, and not one Christ. But Nestorius holds to no more than one Christ. Therefore he could not have held Christ to be two Persons, or he would have contradicted himself and said yes and no in one statement. So, too, it is not written anywhere in the histories that Nestorius held Christ to be two Persons, except that the popes and their histories make that quibble; though even they themselves admit that they imagine that Nestorius taught that after His birth from Mary, Christ became God, or was united to God in one Person. Their conscience or their misunderstanding forced them to this, since they had to admit that Nestorius did not teach that there was more than one single Christ.
The question then is, What was Nestorius condemned for, and why was this third great council held against him, if he taught nothing else except that Christ was true God and man, and was one Christ, not two, i.e., one Person in two natures, as we all believe, and as the whole Church has believed from the beginning? For it appears that the pope and his followers have invented the story that Nestorius held Christ for a mere man and not also for God, and that he held Christ for two Persons, or two Christs. This appears, I say, not only from the histories, but from the very words of the popes and their writers. What, then, was Nestorius’ error, so that we may know the cause of this council?
You may read it for yourself in a page or two of the Tripartite History, Book 12, chapter 4, and can read it in half of a quarter of an hour. There is written everything that can actually be known about Nestorius and this council. See if I hit it. The fault was this: Nestorius was a proud, unlearned man, and when he became a great bishop and patriarch, he thought that he must be considered the most learned man on earth, and needed neither to read any of the books of his forbears or of other people, nor to learn to speak after their fashion. On the contrary, since he was eloquent with a loud voice, he wanted to be a self-made Doctor or Master, and would have it that whatever he said was right. With this pride, he attacked the statement that Mary was the mother, or bearer of God. Then he found other proud bishops who were not pleased with his pride, especially Cyril of Alexandria, for there was no Augustine or Ambrose at hand.
Nestorius had learned in the church of Antioch that Christ was true God begotten of the Father (the belief defended in the Council of Nicaea) and afterwards born of the Virgin Mary, as true man. Nestorius had no doubts on either of these points; nay, he persecuted the Arians, condemned in the Nicene Council, so violently that he caused many deaths and much bloodshed by it. So firmly did he hold that Christ is true God and man.
Moreover, he admitted that Christ, God’s Son, was born of the Virgin Mary according to His humanity, not according to His divinity, as we, and all Christians, also say. But there he struck a difficulty. He would not have it that Mary should be called, on that account, mother of God, since Christ was not born of her according to His divinity; or, to speak plainly, — he believed that Christ did not have His deity from her, as He had His humanity. That was his whole fight! God cannot be born or have His divine nature from a human being; and a human being cannot bear God or give God His divine nature. The unlearned, rude, proud man stood on the phrase, “God born of Mary,” and interpreted “born” by grammar or philosophy, as though it meant to have the nature of deity from the one who bore Him. Thus the Tripartita says, “He held these words in abomination”; and so do we and all Christians, if we understand them in that sense.
From this it is evident that Nestotius, an ignorant and proud bishop, thinks of Christ in a really serious way, but, in his ignorance, does not know what he is saying. He has no right to speak of such matters, and yet he would be a Magister and speak of them. We, too, know very well that Christ did not derive His deity from Mary; but it does not follow that it must, therefore, be false to say, “God was born of Mary” and “God is Mary’s Son” and “Mary is God’s mother.” I must give you a plain illustration. If a woman bears a child, a worthless Nestorius (so the Tripartita calls him!) can be proud and ignorant, and raise the quibble, “This woman has borne the child, but she is not its mother, for the reason that the soul of the child is not of her nature or blood, but is infused from elsewhere, i.e., from God.
Therefore, this child is, indeed, born of the woman according to the body; but since its soul is not from her body, she is not the child’s mother, because she is not the mother of its soul.”
Such a wretched sophist does not deny that the two natures, body and soul, are one person; nor does he say that there are two persons, or two children; but he confesses that two natures, body and soul, are one person, or one child, and that the mother has borne not two children, but one; but he does not see what he is denying or what he is saying. Just such a man was Nestorius. He admits that Christ is God and man in one Person; but since His deity does not come from His mother, Mary, she ought not to be called the mother of God. This was rightly condemned in the council, and ought to be condemned. Although Nestorius holds a right opinion on one point of the main matter, viz., that Christ is God and man, nevertheless, the other point is not to be endured. It is expressed in words and sayings, like “God was not born of Mary and was not crucified by the Jews.” The sophist says correctly, on one point, that the mother cannot bear, or give, the child’s soul, but it is not to be endured when he says that the child is not the mother’s natural child and the mother not the child’s natural mother.
In a word, the proud unlearned bishop started a Greek, that is, a bad quarrel as the Roman Cicero says of the Greeks, Jam diu torquet controversia verbi homines gracculos, contentionis cupidiores, quam veritatis. He who admits that a mother has borne a child, which is both body and soul, ought also to say and believe that the mother has borne the whole child, and is its mother, even though she may not be the mother of its soul. Otherwise it would have to follow that no woman would be the mother of a child, and the commandment, “Honor thy father and mother” would be abolished. It should, therefore, be said that Mary is the true, natural mother of the child called Jesus Christ, and the true mother and bearer of God. Thus whatever else can be said of children’s mothers can be said of her; they suckle their children, bathe them, give them food and drink, and Mary suckled God, rocked God, made broth and soup for God.
For God and man are one Person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus, not two persons, not two Christs, not two sons, not two Jesuses; just as your son is not two sons, two Hanses, two shoemakers, etc., even though he has two natures, body and soul, — body from you, soul from God alone.
Nestorius’ error, then, is not that he holds Christ to be a mere man or that he makes two Persons of Him; on the contrary he confesses that there are two natures in one Person, but he will not admit a communicatio idiomatum. I cannot say that in German in one word. Idioma means that which attaches to a nature, or is its property, such as dying, suffering, weeping, laughing, eating, drinking, sleeping, sorrowing, rejoicing, being born, having a mother, sucking the breast, walking, standing, working, sitting, lying down, and other things of the kind. These are called idiomata humanae naturae, that is, properties that attach to a man by nature, things that he can, or even must, do or suffer; for idioma in Greek is the same thing as proprium in Latin. Let us call it “property.” Again, idioma deitatis, is a property of divine nature, such as to be immortal, omnipotent, infinite, not to be born, or eat, drink, sleep, stand, walk, sorrow, weep.
Why say more? To be God is an immeasurably different thing than to be a man. Therefore the idiomata of the two natures cannot coincide. That is the opinion of Nestorius. Now if I preached thus: “Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth (for so the Gospels call Him, filium fabri ), goes on the street and brings his mother a pitcher of water and a pennyworth of bread, to eat and drink with her; and this carpenter, Jesus, is real, true God in one Person”; then Nestorius would grant me that and say that was true. But if I were to say: “God goes on the street, and gets water and bread, to eat with His mother”; then Nestorius would not admit that, but would say, “Getting water, buying bread, having a mother, eating and drinking with her, — these are idiomata, properties, of human not of divine nature.” Therefore, if I were to say: “The carpenter, Jesus, was crucified by the Jews, and this same Jesus is true God,” Nestorius would say that this was true. But if I say, “God was crucified by the Jews,” he says, “No! The Cross, suffering and death are not the idioma, or property, of divine, but of human nature.”
If ordinary Christians hear this, they can think nothing else than that he holds Christ to be a mere man, and separates the persons, which he does not intend to do, though his words make it appear that he is doing it. Thus it is apparent what an altogether mad saint and ignorant man he was; for after admitting that God and man were united and mingled in one Person, he can nowise avoid the conclusion that the idiomata of the two natures should also be united and mingled. Otherwise what would it mean, to say that God and man are united in one Person? His folly is exactly that against which it is taught in the schools, Qui concedit antecedens bonae consequentiae, non potest negate consequens; in German we say, “If the one thing is true, the other must be; if the second is not true, neither is the first.” Anyone who admits that Grete is your wife, cannot deny that her child is your child, if she is a good wife. When these things are taught in the schools, no one can believe that there can be anybody crude enough to deny them; but ask the governors and the jurists whether they have not often had parties before them who confess one thing and will not admit the consequences of it.
It might be alleged that Nestorius had been acting the rascal when he confessed that Christ was God, and one Person. No! The proud man was not clever enough for that; he meant it seriously. In one of his sermons, says the Tripartita, he cried, “Nay, my dear Jew, you need not act so proudly! You could not crucify God.” What he would say is that Christ is God, but God was not crucified. And in the council, in the presence of Bishop Cyril, he says, “Many confess that Christ is God, but I shall never say that God is bitris or trinitris” that is to say, “Jesus is God, as many of us confess, but that God is born two or three times, — that I shall not teach.” What is in his mind, as the Tripartita indicates, is that God and death do not agree together, for he thinks it terrible to hear that God died.
His meaning was that, according to His divinity, Christ is immortal; but he had not enough brains to express it that way. Then there is the added fact that the other bishops were also proud, and did not consider how the wounds could be healed, but how they could be torn open and made worse.
Speaking logically, then, it must follow from Nestorius’ opinion, that Christ is a mere man and two persons; but that was not his opinion, for the crude, unlearned man did not see that he was proposing the impossible when he seriously held Christ to be God and man in one Person and, at the same time, would not ascribe the idiomata of the two natures to the Person of Christ. He wants to hold the first statement as true, but he will not grant that which follows out of that first statement. Thus he shows that he himself does not rightly understand what he is denying.
We Christians must ascribe all the idiomata of the two natures to His Person. Christ is God and man in one Person. Therefore what is said of Him as man must also be said of Him as God, viz., Christ died, and Christ is God, therefore God died; not God apart from humanity, but God united with humanity. Of God apart from humanity both statements are false, viz., Christ is God and God died. Both are false, for God is not man. But if Nestorius thinks it strange that God dies, he should remember that it is also strange that God becomes man, for thereby the immortal God becomes something that must die, suffer, and have all the human idiomata. What would that man be, with whom God is personally united, if he were not to have true human idiomata? He would have to be a phantom, as the Manicheans had taught. On the other hand, what is said of God must also be ascribed to the man, i.e., God created the world and is almighty; the man Christ is God; therefore, the man Christ created the world and is almighty. The reason for this is that God and man have become one Person and therefore the Person bears the idiomata of both natures.
Ah, Lord God! Over this blessed, comforting article men ought always rejoice, in true faith, without disputes and without doubts! We ought to sing, and give praise and thanks to God the Father, that He has allowed His dear Son to become like us, a man and our brother! But that wretched Satan, through proud and ambitious and wicked people, raises up such bad feeling that this dear and blessed joy must be hindered and spoiled! We Christians must know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, our side of the scale sinks to the ground. That is to say, if it cannot be said that God, not a mere man, died for us, we are lost. But if God’s death and a dying God are in the balance, His side goes down and ours comes up, as though it were light and empty; but He can also leap up again, or spring out of the scale. He could not be in the scale, however, unless He had become a man like us, so that we could speak of God dying, God’s suffering, God’s blood, God’s death. For in His own nature, God cannot die; but when God and man are united in one Person, then, if the man dies with whom God is one thing, or one Person, then it can be truly called God’s death.
Besides, this council condemned too little of Nestorius’ doctrine. It dealt only with the one idioma, viz., that God was born of Mary. Therefore, the histories say that, in this council it was resolved, against Nestorius, that Mary should be called theotokos, “the one who bore God,” though Nestorius denied to God in Christ all the idiomata of the human nature such as death, cross, passion, and everything that is not suitable to God.
They ought, therefore, to have resolved, not only that Mary was theotokos, but also that Pilate and the Jews were crucifiers and murderers of God.
Afterwards, indeed, he was condemned with reference to all the idiomata, by saying, “Nestorius denies that Christ is God and one Person.” That is true in effect and in logic, but it is too blunt and far-fetched, and Nestorius could get no other idea from it than that he was being treated unjustly and wrongly; for he had never taught that in so many words, but, on the contrary, had always said that Christ was real and true God and was not two persons, and he had persecuted the Arians hard in behalf of this belief. People like him cannot make syllogisms or draw logical conclusions, and see that one who denies the idiomata, or properties, of a nature, can be said to deny the substance, or nature, itself. The decision should have run thus, — “Although Nestorius confesses that Christ is true God and man, one Person; nevertheless, since he does not grant the idiomata of the human nature to the divine Person of Christ, he is wrong, and it is the same as if he had denied the nature itself.” And they ought not to have picked out the one idioma, which concerned His mother, Mary. In that way, the case of this council would have been more clearly understood and it is my opinion that very few people have understood it heretofore. From Platina and his ilk, it is impossible to understand it.
I, too, have had to deal with Nestorians, and they fought against me very stubbornly, saying that the deity of Christ could not suffer. For example, even Zwingli wrote against me concerning the text, Verbum caro factum est. He simply would not have it that factum should agree with verbum, but would have it read, Verbum caro facta est, for the reason that God could not be made anything. At that time I did not know that that was the notion of Nestorius, because I did not understand the council, but I recognized the error of it from the Holy Scriptures, Augustine, and the Master of Sentences. Who knows how many Nestorians there are under the papacy, who boast greatly about this council, and do not know of what it is that they are boasting? The human reason would be wise on this point and not suffer it that God should die or have a human kind of being, even though it believes, because of custom, that Christ is God, as did Nestorius.
So, then, this council established nothing new concerning the faith, as was said above, but defended the old faith against the new opinions of Nestorius, and we cannot use it as an example, or grant, because of it, that the councils have power to fix new or different articles of faith. This article was in the Church from the very first, and was not newly made by the council, but was preserved by the Gospel, or the Holy Scriptures. There it stands, in St. Luke 1:32, that the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that that which should be born of her was the Son of the Highest; and St. Elizabeth asks, “Whence cometh it that the mother of the Lord should come to me?” All the angels, at Christmas, say, “To you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Moreover, St. Paul says, in Galatians 4:4, “God sent His Son, born of a woman.”
These texts, I know for sure, hold firmly enough that Mary is mother of God. So St. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 2:8, “The princes of this world crucified the Lord of Majesty”; and in Acts 20:28, “God has purchased the Church with His own blood” (though God has no blood, if we are to judge by human reason); and in Philippians 2:6, “Christ, though He was equal to God, became a servant and was found in the fashion of all men”; and the childrens’ creed, Symbolum Apostolorum, says, “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived, born of Mary, suffered, was crucified, dead, buried,” etc. There stand the idiomata of human nature plain enough, and they are ascribed to the only Son and Lord, Whom we believe to be equal to the Father, and true God. Let this be enough about this council.
The fourth great council was held at Chalcedon in Pontus, or Asia, about twenty-two or twenty-three years after the third great council, by the Emperor Marcian, who was Emperor at Constantinople after Theodosius II. It was in the year 455. Thus the four great councils were held within the space of one hundred and thirty years, for the council at Nicaea was held in 327, but before them and along with them and after them, there were many other councils, held here and there by the bishops themselves, without the emperors. These four, however, could not come together without the emperors. Such very faulty men were the holy fathers that it was not easy for one of them to yield to another, as the histories, unfortunately, show. And this is a special consolation for us, to show us that we need not despair; since the Holy Ghost was in some of these fathers and they had to be holy and be saved.
What the reason for this council was, I myself would be glad to learn from someone else, for there is no trustworthy history that comes down this far.
The Ecclesiastica ends with the first council, that of Nicaea; the Tripartita and Theodoret with the third council, at Ephesus; from that point on we must believe the histories of the popes and their followers only, and to believe them is a dubious procedure, for strong and evident reasons. Up to the present time, they have so drawn everything into their own hands, and have told and still tell such lies about their own majesty, that no one can build any certainty upon them. Now advise me how I am going to be saved, since I do not understand this council or know what it did? And what has become of the dear saints and Christians who, through all these centuries, have not known what this council established? For there must always be saints on earth, and if they die, other saints must live, from the world’s beginning to its end or the article of the Creed would be false, “I believe one holy, Christian Church, a communion of saints,” and Christ would have been lying, when He said, “I am with you until the end of the world.” There must, I say, always be living saints on earth, wherever they may be, or Christ’s Kingdom would have an end and there would be no one to pray the Lord’s Prayer, confess the Creed, be baptized, go to the Sacrament, be absolved, etc.
Well, then, Platina and others say that this was the reason for it. There was at Constantinople an abbot, — they called him Archimandrite, — named Eutyches, who brought out against Nestorius another doctrine, and taught that Christ was one Person, in the divine nature only. Against this, the fathers in the council determined that Christ is one Person and two natures; and this is true and is the Christian faith. According to the pope’s histories, however, he taught that after the deity had taken on humanity and Christ had thus become one Person, only the deity remained and Christ is to be considered only God, and not man. If that was Eutyches’ opinion, he is almost another Nestorius, who is said to have taught that Christ is two persons and yet one Person, for Eutyches must also have taught that in Christ there are two persons, and yet only one Person; and Pope Leo says in a letter that Eutyches and Nestorius teach contradictory heresies. And, indeed, it is true that he who teaches that Christ is two and yet one in person or nature and, again, that in Christ there are two natures and yet one nature, is teaching contradictions, nay, self-contradictions.
If the papists had known, however, that these were not the opinions of Nestorius and Eutyches, they ought properly to have refrained from such language and spoken a little more plainly and in terminis propriis, i.e., they ought to have used their very words. Otherwise the heretics think that they are being treated unjustly and overcome with false words and false interpretations of their words, as I said above about Nestorius.
That Eutyches did not hold that there was only one nature in Christ appears from the papists’ own words, when they say, Eutyches confessed that there are two natures in Christ, viz., the deity assumed humanity. One who confesses this says that Christ has more than one nature. But they do not tell us what Eutyches means by saying that afterwards only the divine nature in Christ remained, without the human nature. Thus they let the matter hang in the air, as though Eutyches had held, at the same time, that Christ had two natures and not two, but one. Thus the histories afterwards become uncertain and obscure, so that no one can understand what Eutyches meant or what the pope’s histories mean, and thus they lost this council and the reason for its assembling. We cannot find it from the histories of the councils or the papal letters. On the other hand, the pope’s historians ought not to write so roughly and clumsily, and babble out their own words to us, unless we are to gather from them that they understood this council almost as well as I do.
I shall speak out my own ideas. If I hit the mark, well and good; if not, the Christian faith will not fall. Eutyches’ opinion, like that of Nestorius, is wrong on the subject of the idiomata, but in a different way. Nestorius will not ascribe the idiomata of humanity to the divinity in Christ, though he stands firm in the belief that Christ is God and man. Eutyches, on the other hand, will not ascribe the idiomata of divinity to the humanity, though he holds, with equal firmness, that Christ is true God and man. It is as though I preached that the Word, God’s Son, is creator of heaven and earth, equal to the Father in eternity, and that Word, the same Son of God, is true man.
This Eutyches grants me. He has no doubts about that. But if I go on and preach that this man Christ is creator of heaven and earth, Eutyches stumbles and is outraged at the words, “A man creates heaven and earth.”
He says, “No! Such a divine idioma as creating heaven and earth, does not befit man.” But he does not stop to think that he has previously admitted that Christ is true God and man in one Person, and now will not admit the conclusion, the consequens bonae consequentiae. For one who confesses that God and man are one Person must simply and absolutely admit that, because of this union of the two natures in one Person, this man Christ, born of Mary, is creator of heaven and earth, since that is what He has become in one Person, viz., God, who created heaven and earth.
This conclusion Eutyches does not understand and yet says firmly, “Christ is God and man,” not seeing that he must deny the human nature of Christ, if he refuses to ascribe the divine idiomata to the human nature. That would be dividing the Person, and Christ would not be man. That is what they would show who say of Eutyches that he did not allow the human nature in Christ to remain, scilicet in consequenti, though he confesses, scilicet in antecedenti, that the divine and human natures are one Christ, one Person, and two natures. In a word, as said above, he who confesses the two natures in Christ, God and man, must also ascribe the idiomata of both to the person, for to be God and man is to be nothing, if not to have the idiomata of both. Therefore, both Nestorius and Eutyches were rightly condemned because of their error in understanding Christ.
It is true, to be sure, that Eutyches had, perhaps, a greater temptation than Nestorius, for many of the human idiomata have been left behind by Christ, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, sorrowing, suffering, dying, being buried, etc. He now sits at the right hand of God, and no longer eats, drinks, sleeps, sorrows, suffers, dies, to all eternity, as will happen with us also when we pass out of this life, into that, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1. These are temporal and transient idiomata; but the idiomata of the nature remain, such as having body and soul, skin and hair, blood and flesh, marrow and bones and all the members of a human nature. Therefore it must be said that this man, Christ, flesh and blood of Mary, is creator of heaven and earth, has overcome death, abolished sin, broken hell in pieces.
These are all divine idiomata, and yet it is right and Christian to ascribe them all to the Person who is flesh and blood of Mary, because there are not two persons, but one.
Your son Peter is called a scholar, though this idioma is only of the soul, not of the body, and a Eutyches might juggle with the words, and say, “No! Peter is not a scholar, but his soul is.” On the other hand, a Nestorius might say, “No! I did not flog your son, but only his body.” That would sound as though they would make of Peter two persons, or retain only one nature for him, and yet it would not be so meant. That is ignorance and stupidity and shows that they were bad logicians. But that kind of ignorance is not rare in the world and shows itself in other matters also.
People often admit something and yet deny what must logically follow from it. That is what is meant by antecedente concesso, negate consequens. There are today many great lords and scholars who confess, freely and firmly, that our doctrine of faith, which justifies without merit, by pure grace, is true; and yet they take offense when it is said that monasticism and worship of saints and the like should, therefore, be let go and be despised; though logic compels that conclusion. No man can be justified except by faith; it follows, that one cannot be justified by the monastic life.
Then why hold on to it? What is the use of it?
But I shall take myself, too, by the nose and not be so ungrateful as to forget my own folly. Twenty years ago I taught, as I still do, that faith alone justifies, without works. If, at that time, however, someone had risen up and taught that monkery and nunnery ought to be called idolatry and the mass an abomination, if I had not helped burn him at the stake, I should, at least, have believed that burning at the stake served him right; and thoughtless fool that I was! — I could not see the consequence, which I ought to have admitted, viz., that if faith alone does it, monkery and the mass could not do it. What was still worse, I knew that these were doctrines and works of men, and yet I did not ascribe the same value to good works commanded by God and done in faith. In truth, I gave a fine illustration of my Nestorius and my Eutyches, though with reference to other things, when I admitted one thing and did not agree to the other thing, which followed from it. So Nestorius admits that Christ is God and man and will not agree that this God was born and died, though this follows from the first statement.
Moreover, Luther accuses the papists of teaching neither faith nor good works, and they, in turn, have no rest, and accuse Luther still more violently of teaching wrongly concerning the Christian faith and of forbidding good works. What, then, is the issue? Why are they not one, since they confess the same things? I shall tell you. There is a Nestorius here who has gone astray on the idiomata. Luther wants good works, but they are not to have glorious, divine idiomata, so that they make satisfaction for sin, reconcile God’s wrath, and justify sinners. These idiomata belong to Another, Whose name is “Lamb of God, that beareth the sins of the world.” Yea, verily these idiomata should be left to the blood and death of Christ; good works should have other idiomata, other merits, other rewards. This the papists do not want, but they ascribe to good works the power to make satisfaction for sins and make people righteous. Therefore they cry out that Luther teaches no good works, but forbids them. They do not see the logical consequence, however. If one teaches good works which make satisfaction for sin, it is just the same as though one taught no good works at all, for such good works are nihil in rerum natura, they are nothing and nowhere, and cannot be. Therefore in the very act of teaching and confessing good works, firmly and completely, they teach no good works at all.
Here you see Nestorius’ logic. He admits the antecedent and denies the consequence, and thus he makes the antecedent false. If the one is true, the other must also be true in any real, logical argument. On the other hand, if the latter statement be false, the former must also be false. Good works make satisfaction for sin, — they not only admit this, but even insist upon it; but the other statement, viz., that such works are not good, nay, are nothing and not works at all, — this they condemn. And yet the latter statement follows compellingly out of the former; for good works that make satisfaction for sin are the same as no good works; just as it follows compellingly, Qui docet id quod not est, docet nihil, “He who teaches what is not, teaches nothing.” So one may speak, too, of faith. He who teaches a faith that does not justify alone and without works, teaches no faith; for the faith that justifies with or by works, is nothing at all.
I will give a still plainer illustration. Some jurists admit that it is right for a priest to marry, but do not admit the consequence, viz., that a priest’s children are heirs. That is the same thing as saying that a priest’s marriage is fornication, for if there is a marriage, the child must be an heir; if it is not an heir, there is no marriage. This is called in the schools, negare consequens antecedentis concessi in bona consequentia, and destructo consequente, retinere antecedens. This is impossible, and those who do it are known for gross, ignorant people; but it was the failing of both Nestorius and Eutyches, as it is of many other people in other matters. It is sure that both of them were serious in holding that Christ is God and man in one Person, as we gather from the histories, and even from the acts of the councils, and yet they could not agree to the result, or conclusion, that the Person, Who is God and man, was crucified and made the heavens, but thought that Christ could not be crucified and man could not make the heavens.
And what shall we say of ourselves? The apostles at Jerusalem, together with many thousands of the Jews, had been justified by faith alone, i.e., by the grace of Christ; but they had their Nestorius and Eutyches sticking in them and did not see the consequence, viz., that the law of Moses did not and could not contribute anything to this, but wanted to give it the idiomata which belong only to the Lamb of God, and said, as we have noted above, that the Gentiles could not be saved, unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses. That was the same thing as denying Christ and His grace, as St. Paul says in Galatians 2:21, “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ has died in vain”; and in Romans 11:6, “If it is of grace, then it is not of works.”
But those at Jerusalem spoke thus: “It is, indeed, grace alone, but it must also be works alone; for without the law, no one can be saved, though a man must be saved by grace alone, without the law.” In plain German, that is cutting off one’s own nose, and not understanding what one says.
The schools call it, as I have said, antecedens concedere, and consequens negare; or consequens destruere and antecedens affirmare. It is saying Yes and No at the same time about the same thing. This no one must do, unless he is utterly ignorant or a hopeless scoffer.
That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today. They are preaching finely and (I can think nothing else) with real seriousness about Christ’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, and the other things that can be said concerning redemption. But they flee the consequence of this, as though it were the very devil, and will not speak to the people about the Third Article, which is sanctification, i.e., the new life in Christ. For they think that they ought not to terrify people, or disturb them, but always to preach in a comforting way about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and utterly avoid such words as these: “Listen! You want to be a Christian and yet remain an adulterer, fornicator, drunken swine, proud, covetous, a usurer, envious, revengeful, malicious!” On the contrary, they say: “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a fornicator, a miser, or any other kind of sinner, only believe, and you will be saved and need not fear the law; Christ has fulfilled it all!”
Tell me, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? Nay, it is taking away Christ and bringing Him to nought, at the same time that He is most highly preached. It is saying Yes and No to the same thing.
There is no such Christ, Who has died for these sinners who, after forgiveness of sins, do not leave their sins and lead a new life. Thus they finely preach the logic of Nestorious and Eutyches, that Christ is this and is yet not this. They are fine Easter preachers, but shamefully poor Pentecost preachers, for they preach nothing de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, i.e., concerning sanctification by the Holy Ghost, but preach only about redemption by Christ, though Christ, Whom they extol so highly (and rightly so!) is Christ, i.e., He has purchased redemption from sin and death, in order that the Holy Ghost shall make new men of us, in place of the old Adam, so that we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 6:1, beginning and increasing this life here on earth, and completing it yonder. What Christ has earned for us is not only gratia, “grace,” but also donum, the “gift” of the Holy Ghost, so that we might not only have forgiveness of sin, but also cease from sinning.
Whoever, then, does not cease from sinning, but continues in his former wicked life, must have another Christ from the Antinomians, for the real Christ is not there, even though all the angels were to cry only “Christ!
Christ!”; and he must be damned with his new Christ.
See what bad logicians we are in high matters, which are above us or in which we are not practiced, so that at one and the same time, we can believe a thing and not believe it! In lower things, however, we are very keen logicians! A farmer, however stupid he may be, understands and reckons it out at once that he who gives me a groschen gives me no gulden, for it follows as a matter of course, and he sees the logic clearly.
But our Antinomians do not see that they preach Christ without the Holy Ghost and against the Holy Ghost, because they are willing to let the people continue in their old life, and yet declare them saved, though the logic of it is that a Christian should have the Holy Ghost and lead a new life, or know that he has no Christ. These asses, then, want to be better logicians than Master Philip and Aristotle, to say nothing of Luther.
The pope alone must feel them; they fly too high for me. So, then, the logic of Nestorius and Eutyches is a common plague, especially in matters of Holy Scripture; in other matters it knows how to conduct itself. To be sure, it gives the jurists and rulers trouble enough in subtle cases, where they sometimes hear Yes and No at once and have difficulty in telling them apart.
Now if Eutyches or Nestorius, after being instructed by the bishops remained stiff and proud in his opinion, — though I cannot determine this, according to the histories, — then they were justly condemned, not only as heretics, but as gross fools. But if they did not stand stiffly on their own opinions (and the acts of the councils report that Eutyches, especially, did not) and the bishops condemned them without giving kindly instruction to the erring ones, according to Paul’s teaching, in Galatians 6:1, — even then they judged the case aright, though they will have to answer to the true Judge for their pride and hasty action (for these councils have attained great reputation and there were more than six hundred and thirty bishops at this one).
I remember Master John Wesel, who was preacher at Mainz and formerly ruled the University of Erfurt with his books, from which I myself got my Master’s degree there, — how he was condemned by the abandoned, proud murderers, known as “inquisitors (I ought to say ‘inventors’) of heresy,” Dominicans, because he would not say “I believe that there is a God,” but “I know that there is a God”; for all the schools held that the existence of God is known of itself, as St. Paul also says in Romans 1:19. How the barefoot murderers at Eisenach dealt with John Hilten is told in the Apology. Suppose that, without any warning, there were to come to you and me an honorable man, who could make the case sound strange with the uncouthness of his words, and he were to say: “I want to tell you! A new prophet has arisen who teaches that if a man is entirely holy, he cannot only do miracles, but create heaven and earth, and all that is in them, and angels, making them out of nothing, as some of the scholastic doctors have argued in discussing Book 4 of the Sentences. What is still worse, he says that the old God is dead, etc.” Here you and I would say: “This must be the devil and his dam. The Scripture says, ‘I am God, and change not’; and Paul says, Qui solus immortalitatem habet. ‘Who alone hath immortality.’
What is the use of many words? God lives alone and is Himself life.” Then he would begin: “That is what you yourself teach. You say that Christ is a man, entirely holy, who made heaven and earth, and that He is also true God, Who died for you on the Cross.” See how we have, all unwittingly, become blasphemous Nestoriuses and Eutycheses by confessing that Christ, one Person, has died for us and has created heaven and earth, though we have just said that it must be the devil and his dam who says that a man created heaven and earth and that God died; and yet logical consistency compels us to say this, because we believe that Christ is God and man in one Person. There you see how the idiomata get thoughtless people all mixed up and lead them astray unwittingly. In such a case we ought to come along with gentle instruction, and not proudly condemn those who have erred. God grant that I may not be telling the truth, but I fear that at the Last Day some heretics will be judges and some of the bishops who have judged them will be condemned. “God is wonderful and incomprehensible in His judgments” though we know that “He is gracious to the humble and resisteth the proud”; and especially in the ranks of those who have a place in the councils and the Church, nothing should be done from zelo, i.e., envy and pride. God cannot suffer it.
These are my ideas about Eutyches. If I have not hit the mark, I have missed it; and it is their fault. Why did they not treat the subject better and describe it more diligently so that it could be understood more clearly? And what would we do if the acts of this council were lost? The Christian faith would not sink. More things and better things than the acts of this council have been lost. St. Augustine himself complains that he finds almost nothing in the writings of his predecessors that help him against Pelagius, and yet such a great matter must have been much discussed. I have formed my ideas in accordance with the words of the Roman bishop Leo who says that the heresies of Eutyches and Nestorius are opposite and contradictory of one another. Now it is certain from the Tripartita, that Nestorius confessed, even violently, that Christ is true God and man and was no Arian; for the Arians held that Christ is simply not God, and he drove them out and persecuted them even to the point of murder and slaughter. But his heresy lay in this, that the idiomata confused him and led him astray so that he could not see how God could be born of a woman and crucified. Therefore, Eutyches’ opposite heresy must have been that he did, indeed, hold Christ for God and man but would not give the idiomata of the divine nature to the man, just as Nestorius would not ascribe the idiomata of the human nature to God, in the one Person of Christ. This is what is meant by saying that the two are opposite and contradictory.
If it was his intention simply to deny the human nature in Christ, then his heresy is not the opposite of that of Nestorius, but he must have been raving mad to think that in Christ deity and humanity were united and yet that only one nature, the divine, remained. That would have been opposed not only to Nestorius but to all believers and unbelievers, to all heretics and true Christians, to all heathen and all men; for no man ever taught a thing like that. Nevertheless they describe these matters in such a way as to testify that Eutyches confessed that in Christ deity and humanity were united in one Person, and yet they say the other thing also, as though they intended that nobody should understand it; therefore we will not understand it. Why should we, when we have a better understanding of it already. Eutyches said in the council that he had not spoken words like those of which they accused him when he was said to have denied the human nature. From this one can mark that he was in error and did not wish to deny the human nature in Christ. But if I were Doctor Luther, I would like to hear from these papal writers how they themselves could believe their own words, when they said that Nestorious held that there were two persons in Christ and yet only one person, and that Eutyches held that there were two natures in Christ and yet only one nature. I think, indeed, that they, too, are Nestorian and Eutychian logicians; I say nothing about their theology; perhaps they are compelled to be antilogicians.
To come back to the council! We find that here, too, this council established no new article of faith, and so cannot be used as a proof that councils have power to load new articles of faith upon the Church. For this article is far more abundantly and mightily grounded in Scripture, as in John 5:27, “The Father hath given power to the Son to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.”
Here, according to Eutyches’ opinion, Christ would have had to say, “Because he is the Son of God.” For to execute judgment is an idioma of the divine nature and not of the human nature; but Christ ascribes it to His human nature, the Son of man, i.e., the son of the Virgin Mary. In Matthew 22:43, also, Christ asks the Pharisees how it agrees that David calls Christ “Lord,” though He is to be his son and his seed. “If He is David’s son, or seed, how, then, does He sit at the right hand of God?”
Here Eutyches would have had to say that not David’s seed, but only God’s son can sit at the right hand of God. Nevertheless he confesses that David’s son and God’s Son are one person; but where the person sits, there sits God’s Son and David’s. Eutyches did not see this consequence, and therefore had to let men think that he held Christ to be not a man, but only a divine person and nature, though this was not what he meant.
In a word, all the prophets and all the Scriptures which ascribe to Christ, or Messiah, an everlasting kingdom and redemption from sin, death, and hell are all against Eutyches, for they all say that “the seed of the woman shall trample on the head of the serpent,” ( Genesis 3:15), that is, shall overcome sin, death, devil, hell; and these are idiomata of divine nature, not of the woman’s seed. And all the world is to be blessed through the seed of Abraham ( Genesis 22:18), that is, sin, death, hell, the curse of God, are to be taken away, and these, too, are idiomata not of Abraham’s seed, but of divine nature. Later on, the glorious, mighty prophecies of David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets say of David’s seed that he shall establish eternal righteousness, that is, abolish sin, death, and hell; these are idiomata of divine majesty and nature, and yet they are ascribed, throughout the Scriptures, to the son of David, Christ, the son of the Virgin Mary. Even though I have not this council or do not understand it aright, nevertheless, I have these Scriptures and understand them aright, and it is the duty of the council to hold what they teach; and for me that is more certain than all councils.
Anyone who will may read further into the story of this council; I have read myself into a bad humor with it. There is in it so much quarreling and disturbance and disorder that I must almost believe the great Nazianzen, the teacher of St. Jerome, who lived before this time and saw better councils and fathers, and yet says, “To tell the truth, one ought to flee all the councils of bishops, for I have never seen any good results from the councils, not even the abolition of evil, but only ambition, disputes over precedence, etc.” I wonder how it happens that they have not long since made him out the worst of heretics because of these words. But what he says is true. In the councils the bishops are ambitious, proud, quarrelsome, and violent; and you will find that in this council, though it is not necessary, to be sure, that all who teach correctly or uphold correct doctrine shall be holy men. Balaam was a true prophet and Judas was a true apostle and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat and teach correctly. We, too, therefore, must have for our faith something more and something more certain than the councils. That something more and more certain is the Holy Scriptures.
That he speaks the truth when he says that he has seen no good result of the councils, the histories plainly teach us. For before the Nicene Council the Arian heresy was a jest compared with the misery that it created after the council, as was said above. So it went also with the other councils, as in the cases of Macedonius and Nestorius, for the party that was condemned held together all the more firmly, wanted to justify itself and be uncondemned, and fanned the flame more violently than before against the councils, which did not rightly understand them. So it happened to us Germans at the Council of Constance. The pope was made subject to the council and was deposed by it and his tyranny and simony were severely condemned. But since that time the pope is possessed with seven worse devils and his tyranny and simony have just gotten a good start. He devours and robs and steals all the endowed places, the monastic houses and the churches; he sells indulgences, grace, law, God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost; he betrays, ruins, and disturbs emperor and kings; he makes war, sheds blood, and kills bodies and souls, so that one must comprehend what god it is who keeps house at Rome. This is the reward we Germans have for deposing and reforming the popes at the Council of Constance. I think, indeed, that this was the right end for this council. Depose more popes next time, and reform them, if seven devils are not enough for them, so that there may be seventy-seven legions of them to fight against you; if, indeed, there is any room there for more devils to get into them and they are not already filled up with devils. This was the reformation of the Council of Constance.
We now have the four chief councils and the causes for which they were held. The first, at Nicaea, defended the deity of Christ against Arius; the second, at Constantinople, defended the deity of the Holy Ghost against Macedonius; the third, at Ephesus, defended the one Person of Christ against Nestorius; the fourth, at Chalcedon, defended the two natures in Christ against Eutyches: — but they did not thereby establish any new article of faith. For these four articles are established far more abundantly and powerfully in St. John’s Gospel alone, even though the other evangelists and St. Paul and St. Peter had written nothing about them, though all these, together with the prophets, teach them and testify mightily to them. These four councils the bishops of Rome, according to their decree, hold to be like the four evangelists, as though these matters, together with all articles of faith, did not stand far more richly in the Gospels and as though the councils had not taken them from the Gospels; so finely do those asses of bishops understand what the Gospels and the councils are! And if these four chief councils do not intend to make or establish anything new in the way of articles of faith, and cannot do so, as they themselves confess, how much less can such power be ascribed to the other councils, which must be held of smaller account, if these four are to be called the chief councils.
This is the way in which we are to understand all other councils also, whether large or small, even though there were many thousands of them.
They set up nothing new, either in faith or good works, but rather, as the highest judges, and greatest bishops under Christ, they defend the ancient faith and the ancient good works, though, to be sure, they do deal besides with temporal, transient, changing things, to meet the need of their own times. This, however, has to be done, even outside the councils, in the parishes and schools. But if they do establish anything new in faith or good works, be assured that the Holy Spirit is not there, but the unholy spirit with his angels. For they can do this only without the Holy Scriptures and outside of them, nay, contrary to the Holy Scriptures, as Christ says, “He that is not with me is against me.” The Holy Ghost can neither know nor do anything more than St. Paul, when he says, in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “I know nothing save Jesus Christ, the crucified,” and the Holy Ghost is not given us in order to put anything into our minds or teach us anything apart from Christ, but he is to teach us and call to our remembrance all that is in Christ, in whom lie hidden all treasures of wisdom and understanding. He is to make Him clear to us, as Christ says, and not praise up our reason or opinion, or make it an idol.
Therefore, such councils apart from the Scriptures are councils of Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, as the apostles say in Acts 4:26, Convenerunt in unum adversus Dominum, “They take counsel, or hold councils, against God and His Christ”; and all the evangelists say that the high-priests and Pharisees took counsel, or assembled councils, how they might kill Christ, as David had prophesied in Psalm 2:1, saying that they would take counsel against God and His Anointed and call Christ’s preaching “bands” and “cords,” and break them asunder and cast them from them. This is what most of the pope’s councils have been. In them he sets himself up in Christ’s stead as head of the Church, puts the Holy Scriptures beneath him and rends them asunder, as his decrees show. Thus at Constance he condemned both kinds in the sacrament and before that he tore marriage asunder, forbade it and condemned it, and actually crucified and buried the Christ.
And now we come to the main question because of which I am writing this book. What is a council, or what is its work? If it is not to set up new articles of faith, then all the world has heretofore been wretchedly deceived, for it knows nothing else and holds nothing else except that what a council decides is an article of faith, or at least a work necessary to salvation, so that he who does not keep the council’s decree can never be saved, because he is disobedient to the Holy Ghost, the council’s Master.
Ah, well! I think that my conscience is clear, and no council, as I said above, has power to establish new articles of faith, because the four chief councils did not do so. Therefore I shall here speak my opinion and answer the main question as follows. First . A council has no power to establish new articles of faith, despite the fact that the Holy Ghost is in it; for even the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem ( Acts 16:1) established nothing new in the way of faith, but only St. Peter’s conclusion, viz., that all their ancestors had believed this article. A man must be saved without the law, only through the grace of Christ. Second . A council has the power, and is bound, to suppress and condemn new articles of faith according to Holy Scripture and the ancient faith as the Council of Nicaea condemned the new article of Arius, that of Constantinople the new article of Macedonius, that of Ephesus the new article of Nestorius, that of Chalcedon the new article of Eutyches. Third . A council has no power to command new good works. Nor can it do so, for all good works are already abundantly commanded in Holy Scripture. What more good works can one imagine than those which the Holy Ghost has taught in the Scriptures, such as humility, patience, gentleness, mercy, faithfulness, faith, kindness, peace, obedience, selfcontrol, chastity, giving, serving, etc., in a word, love? What good work can one imagine that is not included in the command of love? If it is outside of love, what kind of a good work is it? For love, according to St. Paul’s teaching, is the fulfillment of all commandments, as Christ Himself also says in Matthew 5:44. Fourth . A council has the power, and is bound, to condemn wicked works that are contrary to love, according to the Scriptures and the ancient way of the Church, and to rebuke the individuals who are guilty of them, as the decree of the Nicene Council rebukes the ambition of other vices of the bishops and deacons.
In this connection we ought to speak of two kinds of wicked works. Some of them, such as avarice, murder, adultery, ambition, and the like, are openly wicked. These we find condemned by the councils, as they are also condemned, without the councils, in Holy Scripture and are punished by the temporal law. But beside these there are other new good works, which are not called wicked, but are beautifully wicked, fine vices, holy idolatries, invented by the special saints or even the mad saints; in a word, they are a white devil, a bright Satan. These wicked works (I should rather say, these new good works!) the councils ought to condemn to the uttermost and as sharply as possible, for they are perilous to the Christian faith and are an offense to the Christian life, and cause both to be deformed or despised.
So when a weak Christian sees or hears a holy hermit or monk who leads a life of peculiar strictness beyond the old, ordinary Christian way, he stumbles, and thinks that, compared with this new saint, the life of all the old Christians is nothing, or is entirely worldly and perilous. That is the source of this abomination that has made its way into all the world: a Christian burgher or peasant who has a true, pure Christian faith toward Christ and practices the true, old, good works, such as humility, patience, mildness, chastity, love, and faithfulness to his neighbor, and diligence and care in his work, office, calling, and station, — such a man is a real old saint and Christian; but he must stink and be nothing at all compared with the new saint who, underneath his special dress, food, fasting, bed, outward conduct, and the like new works, is a proud, ambitious, wrathful, impatient, hateful, lustful, presumptuous, false Christian. Such people St. Paul himself calls proud and self-willed saints, who choose for themselves a new kind of life and a new way of serving God (a way that God has not commanded!) over and above the Christian Church’s old, true, common way of living and serving God, which God has ordained and commanded.
The elect may be preserved amid these new and offensive works, but they will have to take off this new skin and be saved in the old Christian skin.
This is what happened to St. Anthony when he had to learn that a shoemaker or tanner in Alexandria was a better Christian than he with his monkery, and he confessed, also, that he had not progressed as far as that shoemaker. So it was, too, with the great saint, John, primus eremita, who prophesied for the Emperor Theodosius and was highly praised by St. Augustine. When the people, among them St. Jerome, admired the severity of his life, he gave this answer: — “Why do you look for anything special among us? Have you not something better in your parish-churches, where the Scriptures and the examples of prophets and apostles are preached to you?” That is taking off the cowl and subjecting oneself to Holy Scripture and praising only the common Christian way of life. Paphnutius also had to learn that he was on a level with a fiddler who had been a murderer, and with two wives who had lain with their husbands that very night, and had to say, “One must despise no rank in life.” The same thing happened to St. Bernard, to Bonaventura, and doubtless to many other good men; when they had to feel at last that their new holiness and monkery could not stand against sin and death, then they crept to the cross and were saved in the old Christian faith, without their new holiness, as the words of St. Bernard testify in many places.
In none of the councils, especially the four chief ones, do we find these new good works condemned, except that one or two small councils, especially that of twenty bishops at Gangra (the proceedings of which have recently been printed) have done something in the matter; but they have rather allowed this new holiness to get the upper hand until the Christian Church is scarcely recognizable any longer. They have acted like lazy gardeners who let the suckers get such headway that the old, true tree has to suffer, or be ruined. Even as early as the time of St. Anthony monkery had made such headway that in the days of the fourth council there was already an abbey near Constantinople of which Eutyches was abbot, though the monasteries were not the imperial castles of stone that they afterwards became. For they call him archimandrite, and mandre is said to mean a simple fence or hedge such as is made of bushes and plants and shoots to keep in cattle or as a pen for sheep; and Eutyches, as the head of it, lived, with his followers, inside such a hedge, and led a separated life.
From this one can understand what a monastery was when as yet there was no monastery enclosed with walls.
But just as happens in a garden where the suckers grow far higher than the true, fruit-bearing shoots, so it goes also in the garden of the Church; these new saints, who grow out at the side and yet want to be Christians and live from the sap of the tree, increase more mightily than the true, old saints of the Christian faith and life. And now that I have come to that, I must tell what I have noticed in the histories. St. Bernard was an abbot for thirty-six years, and in those years founded one hundred and sixty houses of his order, and everyone knows what kind of monasteries the Cistercians have; they may have been smaller, perhaps, at that time, but now they are regular princedoms. I will say still more. At that time, i.e., in the reigns of Emperors Henry III, IV, and V, within a period of twenty years, many princely monastic orders sprang up, — Grandiomontensians, Reformed Regular Canons, Carthusians and Cistercians. And what has come of it in the four hundred years since then? I verily believe that one might say it has rained and snowed monks, and it would be no wonder if there were no town or village left where there was not a monastic house or two, or at least a terminary or stationary. The histories blame Emperor Valentinian because he used monks in war. To be sure! The idle people were getting too many! We read also of some of the kings of France that they had to forbid men, especially serfs, to become monks, for they sought freedom under the cowl and everybody was running into the monasteries.
The world wants to be cheated. If you want to catch many robins or other birds, you must put an owl on the trap or lime-rod and you will get them.
So when the devil wants to catch Christians, he has to set up a monk’s cowl or, as Christ calls it, a sour, hypocritical face; then we wonder more at these owls than at the true sufferings, blood, wounds, death, and resurrection, endured because of our sin, which we see and hear in Christ our Lord. Thus we fall, in a crowd and with all our might, away from the Christian faith and upon the new holiness, that is, we fall into the snares and traps of the devil. We must always have something new. Christ’s death and resurrection are old, and so are faith and love; they are common and therefore can have no more value, but we must have new things to tickle our ears, as St. Paul says. It serves us right, since our ears itch so that we can no longer endure the old, real truth, ut acervimus, that we load upon ourselves great heaps of new doctrines, as has happened and will continue to happen. The later councils, especially the papal councils (for they were afterwards almost all papal) not only left these new good works uncondemned, but exalted them high above the old good works throughout the world, so that the pope canonized, or exalted, many saints from the monastic orders.
At first it had, indeed, a fine appearance, but at last there came out of it a horrible abomination, as everyone added to it from day to day. St. Francis’ beginning looked fine, but the thing has now become so raw that they even put cowls on the dead, so that the dead may be saved in them. Is that not a terrible thing? That is the way it is when one begins to fall away from Christ; when one has started to fall, he cannot stop. What happened in our own time in the Netherlands? Madame Margaret commanded that after her death she should be made a nun. It was done. They dressed her in a nun’s garb, sat her at a table, offered her food and drink, and treated her as a princess is treated at table. Thus she did penance for her sin and became a holy nun. But when this had lasted some days, the pious Emperor Charles heard of it and had it stopped. If he had not done so, I believe that this example would have flooded the whole world. This is what the new holiness does and must do because it wants to improve on the true, old Christian holiness, which does not play the fool in this manner, but abides and constantly practices faith, love, humility, self-control, patience, etc., so that we see in it nothing abominable, but only lovely, gracious, quiet, sober, useful examples, pleasing to God and man. But the new holiness makes a great uproar with peculiar, new kinds of conduct so as to entice light souls to itself; it makes great pretensions, but there is nothing back of them, as St. Peter says.
Again, Gerson says of the Carthusians that they do right when they hold so stiffly to their rule as to eat no meat, even though they have to die for lack of it. Now in a case of this kind, if a godly physician observes that the sick man would be helped by a chicken-stew or a bit of meat, and not otherwise, they do not follow the physician, but the sick man must sooner die. Here I rather praise St. Augustine, who puts it into his rule that the physician’s advice is to be asked, and says, “They are not all of equal ability, and therefore are not all to be held alike.” That is right fine epieikeia and it does not compel them to remain monks forever, for the monastery was no prison, but a voluntary association of some priests. Dr. Staupitz once told me that he had heard the bishop of Worms, who was a Dahlberg, say that if St. Augustine had written nothing but his rule, we should have to say that he was an able and wise man. That is true.
For he would have utterly condemned these Carthusians as murderers and their monasteries as veritable places of death, as in truth they are. At Erfurt I myself saw in the Carthusian monastery a sick man walking with a crutch.
He was still a young man. When I asked him whether they did not relieve him of duty in the choir and the watch, he said sadly, “I must go on.” It has served us right, however, God sent us His Son to be teacher and savior; not satisfied with that, He himself preaches from His high throne in heaven and says, Hunc audite, “Hear ye Him.” With the apostles, we ought to fall down and think that we heard nothing else in all the world; but we allow the Father and the Son to preach in vain and go on and invent our own preaching. Therefore it goes as Psalm 81:11 says, “My people hearken not to my voice: — so I let them go after the imagination of their heart.”
Thence come such fine ethelothreskeiai and apheidiai ( Colossians 2:16), “Self-chosen spirituality and mercilessness to our own bodies,” so that we destroy our own lives, though God has commanded that we are to care for the body, and not to kill it. Do you not think that if according to St. Augustine’s rule and St. Paul’s doctrine they had let the physicians advise them about the bodies of the religious, especially women, it would have helped many a fine person, who must otherwise have gone mad or died, as experience taught us? But this has been the time of wrath, in which this new and mad holiness has had to reign, as a punishment on the world. Fifth . A council has no power to impose upon Christians new ceremonies, — such as feast-days, festivals, food, drink, garb, — that are to be observed on pain of mortal sin or at peril of conscience. If they do this, there stands St. Augustine to Januarius, and says, Hoc genus liberas habet observationes, and Christ appointed few ceremonies. Since a council has no power to impose them, we have power to omit them; nay, St. Paul forbids us to keep them, in Colossians 2:16 saying, “Let not your conscience be troubled over a part of days and fasts, food or drink, etc.” Sixth . A council has the power, and is bound, to condemn such ceremonies according to the Scriptures, for they are unchristian and set up a new idolatry, or service of God that God has not commanded, but forbidden. Seventh . A council has no power to interfere in worldly law and government, for St. Paul says, “He who will serve God in spiritual strife must cast off worldly affairs.” Eighth . A council has the power, and is bound, to condemn attempts of this kind and new laws, according to the Scriptures, that is, to cast the pope’s decretals into the fire. Ninth . A council has no power to make statutes or decrees that seek nothing else than tyranny, that is, statutes which give the bishops authority and power to command what they will and make everybody tremble and obey. On the contrary, it has the power, and is bound, to condemn such things according to Holy Scripture, 1 Peter 5:1, “Ye shall not lord it over the people”; and Christ says Vos non sic, “He that would be highest, let him be your servant.” Tenth . A council has power to appoint some ceremonies, provided, first, that they do not strengthen the bishops’ tyranny! second, that they are needful and profitable to the people and provide a fine and orderly discipline and way of life. Thus it is needful to have some days and also some places for people to assemble; likewise definite hours for preaching, distributing the sacraments, and for praying, singing, and praising and thanking God. So St. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done in order and decently.”
With such measures the bishops’ tyranny is not sought, but the need, the profit, and the order of the people. In short, we must have such things, and cannot do without them, if the Church is to abide.
Yet if anyone from necessity, illness, hindrance, or whatever it may be, can sometimes not keep these rules, it is not a sin. It is all for his benefit, not for that of the bishop and if he is a Christian, he will not seek his own harm. What difference does it make to God if a man does not will to be in such an assembly? Every man will find that out for himself. In a word, if a man is a Christian he is not bound by such ordinances; he will keep them rather than break them, if he can be unhindered. Therefore, no law can be made for him about such matters; he would be glad to do more than such a law would demand. But if a man haughtily and proudly and wantonly despises them, let him go; for such a man will despise higher laws, God’s laws or man’s.
Perhaps you might say here, “What will you finally make of the councils if you clip their powers so close? In this way a pastor, or even a schoolteacher (to say nothing of parents!) would have more power over the Church than a council.” I reply: Do you think, then, that the offices of pastor and school-teacher are so small that they might not be compared with the councils? If there were no pastors or bishops, where would a council be gathered from? If there were no schools, where would we get pastors? I speak of school-teachers who not only teach children and young people the arts, but train them in Christian doctrine and faithfully impress it upon them, and of such pastors as teach God’s Word faithfully and purely.
I can easily show that the poor, insignificant pastor at Hippo, St. Augustine taught more than all the councils (to say nothing of the most holy popes at Rome, whom I fear to mention!) I will go even farther and say that more is given us in the Children’s Creed than in all the councils, and the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments teach more than all the councils teach; and not only do they teach, but they guard against the preaching of anything new that is contrary to the old doctrine. God help me, how the papists will tear these words out of their connection, shout them to bits, torture them to death, and prove that they are self-contradictory, but meanwhile they will let the reasons for my saying them remain; for they are pious and honorable people, who can do nothing but calumniate and lie, and I really ought to be afraid of them; but then God would not forgive me.
I cannot do it and must let them go on slandering and lying.
But now let you and me talk about this thing. What can a council do, or what is its value? Listen to their own words. Anathematizamus, that is their office; “We condemn!” Indeed, they speak far more humbly and say, not, “We condemn,” but Anathematizat ecclesia, “The holy Christian Church condemns.” The council’s condemnation would not frighten me, but the holy Church’s condemnation would slay me in an instant because of the Man who says, “I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” This Man’s condemnation is not to be endured! But the councils, in citing the holy Christian Church as the true supreme Judge on earth, confess that they are not arbitrary judges, but that the judge is the Church, which preaches, believes, and confesses the Holy Scriptures, as we shall hear. A thief or murderer could enslave the judge, if he were only an individual man, but the law and the land are united in the judge and he is their servant; of these the criminal must be afraid.
A council, then, is nothing else than a consistory or court in which the judges, after hearing the parties, give their verdict, but with proper humility, saying, “According to the law our office is anathematizare, ‘to condemn’; not, however, according to our own idea or will, or to newly invented law, but according to the old law, which is recognized as law throughout the empire.” Thus a council condemns even a heretic, not according to its own opinion, but according to the imperial law, i.e., according to the Holy Scriptures, which they confess to be the law of the holy Church. This law, empire, and judge is verily to be feared on peril of eternal damnation, for the law is God’s Word, the empire is God’s Church, and the judge is the officer, or servant, of both.
The servant, or judge, of this empire is not, however, the council alone, but every pastor and school-master. Moreover a council cannot exercise its judicial office everlastingly and without interruption, for the bishops cannot always remain gathered together, but can only come together in certain times of need and anathematize, or be judges. So, if an Arius in Alexandria grows too strong for his pastor or bishop attaches the people to him, and draws in other pastors and people, even from the country, so that the pastor at Alexandria gets the worst of it and in his judicial office can no longer defend the law of the empire, that is, the true Christian faith; — in such a need and at such a time, the other pastors and bishops ought to run with all their might to the help of the pastor of Alexandria against Arius, defend the true Christian faith, and condemn Arius in order to save others, so that such a miserable state of affairs may not get the upper hand entirely.
If the pastors were unable to come, the good Emperor Constantine ought to contribute his power, and help the bishops together. It is just as when a fire breaks out; if the man who lives in the house cannot subdue it, all the neighbors ought to run together and help put it out; and if they do not run together, the government must help, and command that they must run together, and anathematize or condemn the fire, so that the other houses may be saved.
The council, therefore, is the great servant, or judge, for this empire and its law; but when the time of need is past, it has completed its duty. So, in temporal government, the high, great judges have to take hold, when the lower, smaller courts would be too weak to resist the evil, until the matter comes, at last, to the highest, greatest court, the diet, which cannot be perpetual, but breaks up again, when the necessity has been met, and commits the case to the lower courts again. At the diets, however, it happens now and then that new laws and more laws must be made and old ones must be altered and amended or even abolished, and one cannot speak perpetually of a perpetual law; for this is a temporal government, which rules over temporal things that alter and change, and therefore the laws that are made for these temporal things must also change. If the thing for which the law is made is no longer there, then the law is nothing. Thus the city of Rome no longer has the ranks and the organization that it once had, and therefore the laws that were made for these things are dead and no longer in force. Transient things have transient laws.
But in the empire of the Church the rule is, “God’s Word abideth forever.”
Men must judge according to it and not make new or other words of God, or establish new or other articles of faith. Therefore pastors and schoolmasters are the lowly, but daily, permanent, perpetual judges who incessantly anathematize, that is, guard against the devil and his raging. A council, since it is a great judge, must make old and great rascals good, or kill them, but it cannot produce any others; a pastor and a school-master have to do with small, young rascals, and are constantly producing new people to be bishops and, if necessary, to form councils. A council chops the great limbs off the trees or roots the evil trees out altogether; but a pastor and a school-master produce young trees and saplings in the garden.
They have a precious office and work and are the Church’s finest jewels; they preserve the Church. Therefore, all lords should do their part to see that pastors and schools are preserved; for if we cannot have councils, the parishes and schools, small though they are, are perpetual and useful councils.
One sees how highly the ancient emperors prized the parishes and schools by the richness of the endowments which they gave them. That these were originally schools is shown by the names, provost, dean, scolasticus, cantor, canons, vicars, custodians, etc. But what has come out of them?
Lord God! Would that they still were willing to do something, remain what they were, keep what they had, were princes and lords, but introduced hours of study again and compelled the canons, vicars, and choir-pupils to listen to lectures on Holy Scripture, so that they might again have something of the form of schools in order that we could have pastors and bishops, and they might be helping to rule the Church! O Lord God! What immeasurable good they could do the Church! And God would permit them to have their wealth and power, if they were to amend their shameful life! But our sighs and complaints are vain. They neither hear nor see; they let the parishes be laid waste and the people, without God’s Word, become rough and wild. I have heard from people whom I must believe that in many dioceses there are two, three, and four hundred good parishes vacant. Is not that a terrible, horrible thing among Christians? May God in heaven have mercy on us and hear our wretched sighings and laments!
To finish, at last, this matter of the councils, I hold that everyone can get from what has been said, an understanding of what a council is, and what its rights, powers, office, and work are, also of what councils are true and what are false councils. Their duty is to confess and defend the old faith against new articles of faith; also not to set up new good works against the old good works, but to defend the old good works against the new good works. To be sure, he who defends the old faith against the new faith, also defends the old good works against the new good works. For as is the faith, so are its fruits, viz., good works, though the two councils did not see this consequence; otherwise they would have condemned Eutyches not only because of the faith, which they did, but also because of his monkery, which they did not. On the contrary, they rather confirmed the latter and thus proved that they were poor logicians, stating a premise and not drawing the conclusion, and this becoming a plague to the whole world, for they had the same fault with regard to good works that Nestorius and Eutyches had with regard to faith. That is to say, God wills not only to make us children in faith, but in logic, too, He will hold us fools and count us as Eutyches and Nestorius, so that he may humble us. The theology of Nestorius and Eutyches was indeed condemned, but their bad logic always remains in the world, as at the beginning, affirming the premise and not admitting the conclusion. Why say much about it? Though you have all the councils, that does not yet make you a Christian; they give you too little.
And though you have all the fathers, they, too, do not give you less than enough. You must go to the Holy Scriptures, where everything is abundantly given, or to the catechism, where it is given in brief; and there you will find far more than in all the councils and Fathers.
Finally. A council should have to do only with matters of faith, and that only when the faith is in special need. Openly evil works can be condemned, and good works administered at home by temporal government, pastors, and parents. But false good works belong to matters of faith, because they corrupt the true faith. Therefore they, too, belong in the council if the pastors are too weak, though the councils, as I have said, did not trouble themselves about them, except one or two of the little councils, like that at Gangra, mentioned above. Ceremonies ought to be left out of the councils entirely, back in the parishes, where they are at home, nay, in the schools, and the school-masters ought to be the masters of ceremonies, along with the pastors, for all the rest of the people learn the ceremonies from those who go to school, without rules and bother.
For example, what, when, and how the school-boys sing or pray in church, the people learn afterwards, and what they sing by the bier or at the grave, the others also learn. If they kneel down and fold their hands when the school-master raps with his stick at the singing of the Et homo factus est, the crowd does it after them, and if they doff their hats and bow their knees whenever the name of Jesus Christ is mentioned, and perform other Christian acts, the crowd does these things after them, without any preaching, moved by living examples. But under the pope all the ceremonies have been taken out of the schools and parishes except where the pope has sought his own tyranny, with foods, fasts, feasts, etc. Yet here, too, we must use moderation, in order that, in the end, the ceremonies may not become too many. Above all, however, we must see to it that they are not considered necessary to salvation, but only as serving outward discipline and order. They can be changed at any time and cannot be commanded as perpetual laws in the Church, as that ass of a pope does, and set forth in the books with tyrannical threats; for they are entirely external, bodily, transitory, changeable things.
According to this, we would have, in our time, matters that would be more than important enough for the calling of a council. For we poor, wretched Christians, weak in faith and real Misergi; that is, “work-haters,” — those of us who are left — would have to accuse the pope and his followers on the ground of the article of St. Peter, of which you have heard before, viz., that it is tempting God when one lays upon believers intolerable burdens, which neither we nor our forefathers have been able to bear, and which the pope and his followers, especially, will not touch with one finger. St. Peter, indeed, speaks of the law of Moses, which God Himself commanded, but the pope has oppressed us with his foul, dirty, stinking burdens, so that the holy Church has become his privy chamber, and what issues from him has had to be worshiped as God. Moreover he has set fire to and burned up, not one or two churches, as did Arius and his like, but the whole Christian Church, and has utterly wiped out, so far as he could, St. Peter’s old, true article of faith; for that we must be saved only by the grace of Christ, as St. Peter testifies and as all Christendom from the beginning of the world has been saved, all patriarchs, prophets, kings, saints, etc.: — this he calls heresy, and he has condemned this article steadily, from the beginning, and cannot stop.
We call and cry for a council and beg the whole Church for counsel and help against this arch-burner of churches and slayer of Christians, so that we may get back again this article of St. Peter. But we demand, also, that no Nestorian or Eutychian logic be used, which admits or confesses one point, but denies the consequence, or other point. We demand the whole article, full and pure, as it was declared by St. Peter and taught by St. Paul.
We demand, in a word, that everything be condemned whose condemnation is implied in this article; or, as St. Peter calls it, “the intolerable impossible burden,” and St. Augustine, “the countless burdens which the bishops have laid upon the Church.” What good does it do to admit the first point, viz., that we must be justified and saved only through the grace of Christ, and not allow the second point to follow from it? St. Paul says, “If it is grace, then it is not works; if works, then it is not grace”; and St. Peter, “If it is grace, then it is not the intolerable burden; if it is the intolerable burden, then it is not grace, and it is tempting God.” St. Augustine, too, says that since Christ would not burden the Church with many ceremonies, nay, would rather that it be free; therefore, it was not His will to have it oppressed by the countless burdens of the bishops, by means of which the Church has become worse than the Jews, who were burdened with God’s laws but not, like the Church, with human, presumptuous, arbitrary ordinances.
We would have this logic of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Augustine, which is the logic of the Holy Ghost. It admits the whole argument and does not break it up in Nestorian fashion, allowing the one point to be true and not allowing the other to be true, though the second follows from the first. Otherwise it would be like what is written of some of the kings of Israel and Judah, who established again the true worship of God but did not abolish the “high-places” and other altars and other worship. The prophet Elijah calls this “limping between the two sides,” and we Germans call it “wanting two brothers-in-law with one sister.” They wanted to give one people two kinds of gods, or, if they reformed things, to let another, strange god stay alongside the only God. They were stupid, Nestorian logicians, confessing that only one God must be worshiped and yet not seeing that it must follow (or not letting it follow) that all other gods must be put away or they could not have the one God. Therefore, in the council which we demand we shall not tolerate any Nestorius, who gives us one thing and takes from us the other, without which we cannot keep what he gives us and is a regular give-and-taker. For if it is granted us that the grace of Christ alone saves us, and if the consequence of that is not granted us, viz., that works do not save us, but it is maintained that works are necessary for satisfaction or for righteousness, that is the same thing as taking from us the first thing, which was granted us, namely that grace alone saves us, without works. Thus we keep nothing, and the evil has become only worse.
I will say it in plain German! The pope, in a council, should not only utterly abolish all his tyranny of human commandments, but also hold with us that even the good works done according to God’s commandments cannot help men to righteousness, to the blotting out of sin, to the attainment of God’s grace, but that this can be done only by faith in Christ, who is a king of righteousness in us, by His precious blood, death, and resurrection, whereby He has blotted out sin for us, made satisfaction, reconciled God, and redeemed us from death, wrath and hell. Therefore he should condemn and burn all his bulls, decretals, books about indulgence, purgatory, monasticism, saint-worship, and pilgrimages, together with all the countless lies and idolatries, because they rage directly against this article of St. Peter’s. He should also return all that has bought, stolen, robbed, plundered, or won, especially his falsely invented primacy, which he boasts as so necessary to salvation that no one can be saved who is not subject to him; for the pope’s hat did not die for my sins and its name is not Christ and all Christians, before him and under him, have been made holy and saved without his hat.
This, I think, is a case important enough for the holding of a stately, sharp, mighty council. Emperor and kings ought to do their part here, and force the pope into it, if he is unwilling, as the emperors did in the four chief councils. But not all the bishops, abbots, monks, doctors, and the worthless rag-picker’s rabble and great tail ought to come to it. If so, it will be a council that spends the first year in arriving and in quarreling about who shall have the highest place, who precede and who follow; the second year in reveling, banqueting, racing, and fencing; the third year in other matters, burning a John Hus or two, perhaps; meanwhile the cost would be mounting until it would be enough to support a campaign against the Turks. On the contrary, it would be necessary to summon from all lands the people who were really learned in the Scriptures and whose minds and hearts were seriously concerned with God’s honor, the Christian faith, the welfare of souls, and the peace of the world. Among them there should also be some intelligent and faithful men of the worldly estate, for the case concerns them, too. If Sir Hans von Schwarzenberg were living, he could be trusted, and men like him. It would be sufficient if there were three hundred of them altogether, picked men, to whom land and people could be trusted. So the first council had only three hundred and eighteen members from all the lands which the Turks and our monarchs now rule, though seventy of them were false and Arians; the second, at Constantinople, had one hundred and fifty; the third, at Ephesus, two hundred; the fourth, at Chalcedon, had six hundred and thirty, almost as many as the others put together, and they were quite unequal to the fathers of Nicaea and Constantinople.
Moreover, the matters of all countries, which no one can or will judge, and old, obsolete, bad practices must not be raked up and all dumped on the neck of the council. There must be a Constantine there, who will rake up all these things and throw them into the fire, telling them to let these matters be judged and decided at home, in their own lands, but bidding them also get down to business and get away as quickly as possible. Then the pope’s heresy, nay, his abominations, would be read out, point by point, and all of it shown to have been invented, contrary to St. Peter’s article and the ancient, true faith of the Church, which has held St. Peter’s article since the beginning of the world; and it would be quickly condemned. “Nay,” you say, “such a council is never to be hoped for.” I think so myself, but if one is going to talk about it, and demand a council or wish for one, then one must wish for such a council, or else let it all go and wish for none, and keep quiet. The first council, at Nicaea, was such a council, and the second, at Constantinople, and these examples ought to be followed. And I am citing them to show that it would be the duty of emperor and kings, since they, too, are Christians, to assemble such a council for the rescue of many thousand souls whom the pope, with his tyranny and his avoidance of a council (so far as in him lies!), allows to go to destruction, and who, by means of a council, could all be brought back to St. Peter’s article and the true, ancient Christian faith, though they must otherwise be lost. They cannot get this doctrine of St. Peter’s, because they neither hear nor see anything of it.
Even though other monarchs would do nothing toward such a great council, the Emperor Charles and the German princes could hold a provincial council in Germany. Some think that a schism would grow out of that; but if we did our part and earnestly sought only God’s honor and the welfare of souls, who knows whether God could not yet turn the hearts of the other monarchs, so that in time they would praise and accept the judgment of this council; for it cannot happen suddenly. But if Germany were to accept it, it would have an echo in other lands also, whither it cannot, or can hardly, reach without a great preacher like a council, and a strong voice which reaches far.
Ah, well! If we must despair of a council, let us commend the case to the true judge, our merciful God. Meanwhile, we shall further the little councils and young councils, the parishes and schools, and press St. Peter’s article in every possible way, and maintain it against all the damned new articles of faith and new good works, with which the pope has flooded the world. I shall comfort myself when I see the children wearing bishop’s masks, thinking that God makes, and will make real bishops of these playbishops and, on the other hand, will hold those who, according to their name, ought be real bishops as play-bishops and mockers at His majesty; as Moses says, “I will make them wroth with that which is not my people and move them to bitterness with a foolish people, because they have made me wroth with that which is not God.” It will not be the first time that He has cast off bishops; He threatened it in Hosea 4:6, “Because thou rejectest the doctrine, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt not be my priest.”
Et factum est ita, et ita fit. Let that suffice about the councils. We shall now speak, at the end, about the Church.