|The Wise Men, by Norma A. Boeckler|
Matthew 2:1-12. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
1. This Gospel harmonizes with the Epistle and speaks of the temporal coming of the heathen to Christ, by which their spiritual coming to Christ, mentioned in the Epistle, is signified and commenced. It is both a terrifying and consoling Gospel: terrifying to the great and wise, the self-satisfied and the mighty, because they all reject Christ; consoling to the humble and despised, because to them alone Christ is revealed.
I. THE HISTORY OR LESSON STORY.
2. The Evangelist first refers to Herod the king, in order to recall the prophecy of Jacob the patriarch, who said: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be.” Genesis 4:9-10.
From this prophecy is evident that Christ must come, when the kingdom or government of the Jews is taken from them, so that no other king or ruler from the house of Judah might sit on the throne. This was fulfilled now when Herod, who was not of the house of Judah, nor of Jewish descent but of Edom, hence a foreigner, was made king over the Jews by the Romans to the great dissatisfaction of the Jewish people. Hence for thirty years he warred with them before he finally silenced and subdued them.
3. Now when this foreigner had ruled over the Jews for thirty years, had taken possession of the government, and the Jews had acquiesced therein having no hopes of getting rid of him and thus the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled, then the time was at hand, then Christ came and was born under this first stranger and appeared according to the prophecy; as though he would say: The scepter has now departed from Judah, a stranger is ruling over my people; it is now time that I should appear and become king; the government now belongs to me.
4. These wise men are usually called the three Kings. As not much depends on this, we will grant this opinion to the simple minded people. However, it is not known whether there were two, three or more. But they certainly came from the rich country Arabia or Sheba, which is evident from their gifts viz. gold, frankincense and myrrh. All three of these are very precious in that country. It can certainly not be assumed that they had bought these elsewhere, for it is customary in these Eastern countries to do homage and make presents of the choice fruits and wealth of the country. Just like Jacob commanded his sons to carry presents of the choice fruits of the land to Joseph in Egypt. Genesis 43:11. Had these gifts of the wise men not been of their own country, why should they then have brought frankincense, myrrh and gold produced in the land of Judea, instead of silver and precious stones or fruits of some other country?
5. Therefore these gifts were not presented to Christ like artists paint the scenery that one offers gold, another frankincense and the third myrrh, but they presented the gifts in common as one man. And probably there were quite a number present, a few of them being the leaders, just as now a prince or a city sends a few brave men as messengers to the emperor with presents.
6. The Evangelist calls these men wise men which means in German weissager, i.e. (predictors, diviners); not in the same manner as the prophets predicted, but like those whom we call wise men and wise women, who can tell people all kinds of things; who know a great deal about the secret arts and follow adventures. The art of such people is called magic, which is sometimes accomplished by the black arts and the help of the devil, but not in all things as by the witches and sorcerers. For the wise men imitate the true prophets and prophesy like the true prophets, though not by the spirit of God. For this reason they sometimes happen to be correct as their work is not, like that of the witches, altogether the devil’s work, but rather human reason aided by the devil.
7. Again, their miraculous deeds are not altogether done by the devil’s cunning, like the doings of the witches, but by a combination of natural forces and the power of the devil. Hence a magician always imitates the real natural arts. For there are many hidden forces in nature, and he who knows how to apply them performs miracles in the eyes of those who know no better as, for instance, the alchemists make gold out of copper.
8. Of these secret forces of nature Solomon knew a great deal by the spirit of God, and made good use of this knowledge when he judged between the two women concerning the living and the dead child, 1 Kings 3:25, discovering the real mother by appealing to the deepest feelings of nature.
Again, Jacob also made use of this art when he used the peeled rods and the flocks brought forth speckled and spotted lambs, Genesis 30:39.
9. This is a fine and a truly natural art by which is derived all that physicians and others know about the properties of herbs, plants, metals, stones etc. The Scriptures also recognize this art when they make comparisons of animals, stones, trees, plants etc. This art was especially practiced and studied among the Persians, Arabians and in other Eastern countries, was an honorable art and made wise people.
10. But later on swine and block-heads meddled with it, as usually happens with all arts and doctrines, and have gone far from the truth, have confounded this noble art with juggling and sorcery, and have tried to follow and master both. But when they could not do this, they relinquished the real art and became jugglers and conjurers, prophesying and doing miracles by the help of the devil, though sometimes through the forces of nature. For the devil has retained much of this art and at times uses it through the magicians. Thus the word magic has become disreputable, meaning nothing else now than foretelling and doing miraculous deeds through the evil spirit, though at times it is reliable and helps men because natural forces, which are always reliable, are coupled with it, and used by evil spirit.
11. Hence these magi or wise men were not kings, but men learned and experienced in this natural art though without doubt they also practiced conjury. Even to this day men from these eastern countries are possessed of great and various magic powers and, when this real art ceased, being despised, they brought forth sorcery and spread it throughout the world, but prior to this they relied entirely on the course of the heavenly bodies.
Thus presumptuous human reason has always mixed and disgraced that which was good by imitation and indiscretion, attempting to ape everything that it sees and hears. Hence false prophets imitate the true prophets, false work-righteous saints the true saints, and the falsely learned the truly learned. If we look at the world we will find, that the work of human reason is but aping to imitate the good, only perverts it and thus deceives itself and others.
12. These wise men, therefore, were nothing else than what the philosophers were in Greece and the priests in Egypt, and the learned among us in the universities. In short, they were the priests and learned in the rich country of Arabia; just as if learned men are priests from the universities were now sent to a prince with presents. For the universities also claim that they teach natural arts which they call philosophy while in reality they are teaching not only tomfoolery, but also poisonous error and idle dreams.
13. For the natural art, which was formerly called magic but now physiology, is to learn the forces and work of nature; as for example, that a deer with its breath through the nose will draw a snake from the crevice in the rocks, kill and eat it and then on account of the great heat of the poison pants for cooling streams as stated in Psalm 42:1. Again, that a weasel will induce a snake to come out of its hiding place by wagging its tail before the opening to anger and excite the snake; and then lies in wait so that, when the snake looks up after its enemy the weasel fastens its teeth in the neck of the snake below the venomous fang and thus killing its enemy in its own house.
Such arts the wise men studied, and in them is concealed a great deal of wisdom concerning Christ as well as the conduct of men in life. But this art is not taught in the universities now. Hence even the peasants know more about it than our wise men or natural masters who are not, wrongfully called natural fools, because in spite of so much labor and trouble they have only retrograded and are the devil’s mockingbirds. If we would therefore truly interpret this Gospel we must say: The masters of nature from the East or the naturalists from Arabia have come.
14. Some are also surprised that they could come such long distance in so few days, for it is believed that they appeared the thirteenth day after Christ’s birth, the geographers state that the capital city Sheba in Arabia is a sixty days journey from the Mediterranean sea, which is not much over three German (i.e. fifteen English) miles from Bethlehem. But questions of this kind do not trouble me very. much, nor is it an article of faith to believe that they appeared the thirteenth day.
15. Neither is it necessary to hold that they came from the capital city Sheba, or from the remotest parts of the country. Perhaps they came from a place near the boundary of the country and thus they had sufficient time to come in the usual way of travel.
Mary being unclean had to remain at Bethlehem according to the law for six weeks, just like any other woman, and might thus have been found there even more than twenty or thirty days. However, I will not interpret like the common idea that they came in a miraculous manner; since no one needs to hold as an article of faith the question as to how they proceeded, and what they were accustomed to do in such matters. Whatever the Scriptures do not reveal we do not consider an article of faith.
16. Now the thought of the Evangelist is this’ When Christ was born under Herod, the first foreign king, and the time of the prophecy was fulfilled, this wonderful sign occurred. He whom his own people and fellow citizens would neither seek nor acknowledge was sought by such strangers and foreigners for many days. To him whom the learned and the priests would not acknowledge and worship, came the wise men and astrologers. It was indeed a great shame for the whole Jewish land and people that Christ was born in their midst, and they should first become aware of it through these heathen people living so far away. At least in Jerusalem, the capitol city, they should have known about it. An earnest admonition to seek and to acknowledge Christ was given them. But their neck was an iron sinew and their brow brass as Isaiah says, Isaiah 48:4. “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the East, and are come to worship him.”
17. Text and circumstances demand that we speak further about the natural philosophers or masters of nature, because here the wise men knew by the star of the birth of a King as they declared. It must be observed that to every man is known a certain portion of the knowledge of nature. For instance, I know that a dog’s tongue is good in healing wounds, that a cat will catch mice even when she is not hungry, that a hawk catches partridges etc. One individual may know more also than others about nature either by his own experience, or through instruction. God did not however reveal to us all the facts about nature, but only a small portion of them. Yet human reason is inquisitive and always wants to know more and more, and thus originated the study and investigation of nature.
18. But it is impossible that nature could be understood by human reason after the fall of Adam, in consequence of which it was perverted, any further than experience or divine illumination allows. However, restless human reason will not submit and be satisfied with this, desiring to know and see everything. For this reason it begins to speculate and to investigate farther than is permissible, and thus despises what experience or God has given it. And yet it never attains what it seeks after. All study and wisdom is but error and folly. This is the reason why men, despising or not being able to master this natural art, are divided into numerous sects. Some have written about the earth, others about water, some about this and others about that, so that there is no end to investigation and the making of books. Finally when they were tired of the study of the earth, they turned to the heavens in order to master also the nature of the heavens and the stars, with which no one could ever have any experience. Here they were entirely at liberty to dream, lie and deceive and to say about the innocent heavens whatever they pleased. It is a true saying that: Those who lie about distant countries lie as they please, because no one has had sufficient experience to contradict.
19. So also here, because no one can reach up into the heavens and testify from experience as to the truth or falsity of their teachings, they lie without fear. Hence they teach that whoever is born in this or that sign must become a gambler, whoever is born under this or that star will become rich or wise. Again, this one must be killed, or that one who builds, marries or makes a journey on this or that day must fare so or so. They say, it is the nature of the stars of heaven so to effect human beings that happen to be born at such a time. The Lord help us! Human reason in all sincerity has come to this, because these are all great and glaring lies, and captivating and unprofitable fables, in which reason in its blindness finds the greatest pleasure, as it delights not so much in the truth, as in fables and lies.
20. But finally the real champions appeared who, disdaining to deal with child’s play like this, opened their eyes widely and began to investigate the whole world, whence it came and whither it was going; whether it had a beginning or existed from eternity and will continue to all eternity; whether there is a supreme Being who rules all things etc. Here appeared the great light of nature, the heathen master, the supreme master of all masters of nature, who now rules in Christ’s stead in all the universities viz: the great famous Aristotle, who taught and still teaches them that a stone is heavy, that a feather is light, that water is wet and that fire is dry; again, as a special master-piece that the earth is above and the heavens below, which he proves by the fact that the roots of trees and all kinds of plants are in the ground, and the limbs grow heavenward. Now that part which receives nourishment must always be above, and that part to which the nourishment goes, must always be below as we observe in a human being. Therefore man is a tree turned upside down. And thus when a feather flies upward it goes downward, and when a stone falls it rises upward.
21. Furthermore, when he speaks of the Supreme Being he concludes that the world existed from all eternity and will exist forever, and that all souls die together with the body. And the supreme being sits above the heavens, seeing nothing that occurs, but constantly turns as blind fortune is pictured, the heavens around once every day. In this way all things happen just as they do. His argument is this: Should the Supreme Being see all things, he would see much evil and wrong, and that would make him unhappy. In order to remain happy he must see nothing but himself, and consequently rule the world blindly, just like a mother cradles her child in the night.
22. This is the wisdom of the universities. Whoever knows or learns this will have a brown cap placed upon his head and be addressed: Worthy magister artium et philosophiae! i.e. worthy master of the arts and of philosophy. He who does not know this art, can never become a theologian nor understand the holy Scriptures; yes, he is considered a heretic and can never become a Christian. Tell me, what shall we call these people? They are neither wise men nor sorcerers nor jugglers, but are mad, frantic and senseless. Therefore consider whether Christ did not rightly chastise us in that we have despised the Gospel, being unthankful, in that he permitted us to become such disgraceful and vile dupes of the devil that we not only do not apprehend the fact, but even with great expense, trouble and labor seek after it as the greatest wisdom.
23. St. Paul prophesied all this saying: “Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Colossians 2:8. Again: “O Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21. Here the apostle surely condemns in plain words the teachings of the universities so emphatically that none can contradict him, and wills that everything that is not from Christ should be avoided. Surely every one must confess that Aristotle, the chief master of all the universities, teaches not only nothing about Christ, but even teaches such foolish things, as has been stated, that the apostle properly commands us to guard the doctrine committed unto us, calling the natural art of Aristotle unchristian, profane, meaningless babblings in opposition to Christ, knowledge falsely so-called. How could the apostle have explained it more plainly than by designating it thus? There is no greater glory than that of Aristotle in the universities, and yet it is but a false glory. For this art is nothing but an opposition that has arisen for the purpose of destroying Christ.
24. Therefore, my dear hearer, let natural art depart. If you do not know what powers the stars, stones, wood, animals or any creatures possess, after which knowledge the natural art strives, even doing its best, then be satisfied with that which your experience and common sense teach you.
Nor does it matter much whether you know all this or not; it is enough for you to know that fire is hot and water cold and wet, that in summer time different work must be done than during the winter; to know how to attend to your farm, stock, home and children. This is enough for you as to natural art. Beyond this think only of how you can learn to know Christ, He will teach you to know yourself, who you are and what power lieth in you. In this way you will know God and yourself, which no master of the arts of nature ever learned as St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 2:8.
25. Coming back to the text you might say. Yes, but the Gospel says that these wise men learned from the stars the birth of a king, and therefore it proves that astrology is to be taught and known. God himself giving encouragement by causing a star to rise and thus teaching the wise men.
26. Answer: Keep to the example and learn as these wise men learned from the star, and then you will do right and not fall into error, for there is no doubt about it that the sun, moon and stars were created to be signs and to serve the earth with their light, as Moses says, Genesis 1:14. When the sun rises, you learn that the day begins; when it sinks, that the day has ended; and when it stands in the meridian, that it is noon-day. Furthermore, it has been fixed as a sign and measure of time and of the hours in which to do your work. So also the moon and the stars at night. Again, you also need the sun as a guide in tilling your farm and in caring for your stock, its heat determining your work. Let it be sufficient to know this much about the sun and the heavens. Whatever more you desire to know, you do not need and is but idle curiosity for the most part, unreliable and inclined to error. For instance, when fools pretend to know how large the sun is, how far it is from the earth, what particular power it has over gold, and that one born in the sign of the sun will become wise, and more such tomfoolery, for which they can give no sure reason.
27. Furthermore, you should also know that when the sun loses its brightness it is surely a sign which forebodes disaster; and likewise when a comet appears. This is taught by experience; and Christ says, Luke 21:25, that such signs will appear in the sun, moon and stars and will signify the final destruction of the world. Great storms, lightning, floods and fire in the air and on earth are also great signs. But how these things occur or what kind of natural forces there are in all of these signs, or what effect they mysteriously produce, about which the magicians inquire and juggle; all this is of no value to you nor necessary for you to know. It is enough that you behold in all of these signs the wrath of God, and amend your life. During these years there have also occurred many eclipses and many signs have been seen in many countries, presaging great disturbances.
Thus the eclipse at the suffering of Christ signified the calamity which rests upon the Jews to this day. These are indeed certain signs for which purpose God created them, but those of which astrologers dream are unreliable.
28. Hence these wise men had nothing else in this star than a sign and only used it as such according to the decree of God. Therefore, astrologers and fortune tellers can not find encouragement for their false art in this Gospel.
For though these wise men may also have been infatuated by this art, in this case they used this star only as a sign. They do not at all foretell what Christ would be in the future, what should happen to him, do not concern themselves about it. They are satisfied that it was a sign of a great king, and only ask where he is to be found.
29. And in order that Christ might forever stop the mouth of such babblers, he created for his birth a special new star as yet unsullied by their babbling.
Knowing that they might say that he was born under the power of this star, he meets them beforehand and says: This star is not like one of those about which you are speculating. If the future fate of all men rests in the stars, as you teach, then there can be no such power in this star, which is new and of a different nature than the other stars, of which you have hitherto not heard or known anything. Again, if none of the other stars had any power over Christ, having his own new star, it follows that they have no power over any human being, because Christ was in every respect a man like other men. Furthermore, if this new star had no power over other men, existing only for a short time, it certainly had also no power over Christ, as he is just like all other men. For this reason astrology is mere tomfoolery.
30. But how these wise men could see in this star a sign that unmistakably signified a new-born king, I do not know. Perhaps they read in their histories and chronicles that afore-time the birth of other kings had been signified in the heavens or through a star. For we find also in the histories of the Romans and the Greeks that the coming or birth of some great princes and extraordinary men had been foretold by miracles and signs in the air and in the heavens. These wise men also knew quite well that these Jews were the chosen people of God, who were and had been above all other people, especially favored of God. Therefore, as this was such a beautiful star, they certainly thought that God had given this people a new king. But the claim of some that these wise men knew the saying of Balaam: “There shall come forth a star out of Jacob,” etc. ( Numbers 21:17), will avail nothing, as this passage speaks mainly of the spiritual coming of Christ, who is the star himself. But whoever is not satisfied with this may think as he pleases about it. Perhaps they knew all by divine revelation.
31. At first they did not consider this king to be God, but in the usual manner took him for a temporal king, just as the queen of Sheba considered Solomon a king, coming to him with presents from her country.
For this reason they also come to Jerusalem, the capital city, hoping to find him in the king’s palace and in splendor. For the star that they saw over the Jewish country when they were yet at home in Arabia, must have disappeared so that they did not see it again on their journey till they proceeded from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, as the Gospel states.
32. But when they say, We have seen his star, they do not yet think that Christ had created it, but that it was his star because it signified his birth, just as the astrologers today call each man’s sign in which he was born his sign, not as though he had created it himself. For the glory of Christ’s divinity remained unseen until his ascension, though glimpses were sometimes afforded.
33. So also when they worshipped him, they did it after the manner of those eastern countries, as the Scriptures state, not as though they considered them gods. The falling down before them and the homage given is called worship by the Scriptures and it is applied both to men and God, just as the words lord and king, yea, even the name of God are applied to man as when Jehovah said to Moses: “See, I have made thee as God to Pharaoh.” Exodus 7:1.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF HEROD TO THE ARRIVAL OF THE WISE MEN.
“And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
34. Why are they troubled? Were not the Jews waiting for Christ who was promised them by God, as we have seen from Genesis 49, 10? Were not Simeon and Anna and many more pious people at Jerusalem at that time looking for Christ’s coming and rejoicing in it? That Herod was troubled, there was good reason. He feared the loss of his kingdom because he well knew that he was a foreigner and merited the ill will of the Jews. He also knew that the Jews looked for the Christ who should deliver them as Moses had done. Troubled by his conscience, he feared an insurrection against him and that he be driven from his kingdom. On the other hand the Jews feared Herod and the Romans, believing that to have a new king would mean much bloodshed for them. They had before this, to their own great misfortune, revolted against the Romans and Herod, hence they were minded like the people of Israel in Egypt, who, when Moses was to lead them out and they were oppressed more than before, murmured against Moses. This was a sign of their weak faith, just as this fear of the Jews at Jerusalem indicates unbelief, and more trust in human than divine power.
35. However, the true believers were not frightened, but rather rejoiced.
And when the Evangelist says that all Jerusalem was troubled together with Herod, he does not mean all the inhabitants and citizens of the city, but speaks after the manner of the Scriptures, viz., that when it mentions a city only and not its inhabitants also, it means not all who dwell in it but the majority of them. Thus it is often said in the book of Joshua that he destroyed this and that city, killing all the inhabitants and whatever lived in it, but meaning only the largest part and number of them. “And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written through the prophet, and thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth a governor, who shall be shepherd of my people Israel.”
36. Here we ask, why did not Christ lead these wise men to Bethlehem by the star instead of allowing his birth, which was now known, to be learned from the Scriptures? This was done that he might teach us to adhere to the Scriptures and not depend on our own wisdom nor the teaching of any man. The Scriptures have been given for a purpose. In them he desires to be found, and nowhere else. Whoever despises and rejects these shall and will never find him.
We have also heard, in Luke 2:12, that the angel also gave the shepherds a sign, but not to Mary nor to Joseph nor to any other men, no matter how pious they were, but gave to them only the swaddling clothes and the manger in which he was wrapped and laid; that is, the writings of the prophets and the law; in these he is wrapped, they contain him, they speak only of him and bear witness of him; they are his sure sign, as he says himself. “Ye search the Scriptures because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me.” John 5:89.
And Paul says: “A righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” Romans 3:21. Furthermore, we have also heard that Simeon and Anna represent the Scriptures, which manifest Christ and bear him in their arms. And according to Luke 16:29-81, Abraham would not grant the request of Dives in hell that Lazarus be sent to his brothers, but points to the Scriptures, saying: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead.”
37. Against this divine doctrine our learned men have until now set up all kinds of means to learn the truth. We must speak of a few in order to guard ourselves against them. In the first place they have set up innumerable laws, statutes, articles and teachings invented by men, such as clerical canons, orders, regulations, etc.; all of which are without doubt not the swaddling clothes and the manger of Christ, neither do they represent Simeon nor Anna. St. Paul has earnestly warned us against such teachings and urged us to abide in the Word of God alone. For all human doctrines are dangerous and cause us to depart from the faith, just as Solomon was led astray by strange women, and as Paul says, Titus 1:14, “That fables and commandments of men turn away from the truth.”
38. If any one were to use human doctrines as he eats and drinks and wears clothing, they might be harmless. No one eats or drinks or clothes himself for the purpose of becoming holy and being saved thereby. Such an opinion or conviction would be base folly for anyone. His intention and desire to become holy rests upon this, that he strives firmly to believe in Christ and thus become holy and be saved. Such intention is correct and the desire good. Hence let him who fasts, labors, wears the garments of monks or priests, or keeps the rules o! his order, consider this just as he considers eating and drinking, not as making him holy by doing it, or as making him unholy by omitting it. Let him know that he can become holy only through faith. Doing this he will be safe and human teachings will do him no more harm than eating and drinking or the wearing of clothing. But where are they that are doing this? Among a thousand there is scarcely one, for they usually all say: If I do not become holy and am not saved by such a life, order, regulations and work, what a fool I am to walk in them and observe them.
39. It is therefore not possible for human doctrines not to lead away from the truth, as Paul says. For one of two things must take place, viz.; They will either be despised and rejected when it is understood that they will not make us holy nor save us; or they will ensnare and deaden conscience and conviction if it is believed that they do make us holy and must therefore be kept. In this case faith is destroyed and the soul must perish. There is no help nor rescue. For true faith cannot exist nor can it tolerate that anyone should conscientiously hold something else to be necessary to become holy and be saved than faith in Christ alone. Therefore, whoever has this faith can not trust in human teachings, but observes them when and wherever he pleases, being lord over them. But he who follows human doctrines without having faith, can never apprehend faith, remains forever a slave of human commandments and will never do a really good work, as St. Paul says, Titus 1:16. For this reason we must hold fast to the plain teaching of Scripture which presents Christ only, and that by faith in him we become true Christians and then freely do all kinds of good works to the good of our neighbor, as has often been said.
40. In the second place they point us to tradition and the examples of the saints to strengthen and prove their man-made teachings. And this is very effective and leads many souls to destruction. It leads away from the Scriptures and faith in such a smooth unsuspecting manner that no one is aware of it. Thus they point to St. Benedict, Gregory, Bernard, Augustine, Francis, Dominic and many other saints, whom we all recognize as holy men and say that they observed such human ordinances and regulations and by virtue of them became holy men. Tell me how can the simple-minded Christian withstand such arguments and still keep the faith? It must be an apostolic or evangelical spirit that will here remain firm. Oh, how sure they are and how boldly they parade! When they produce such examples of holy men they think that they have kindled a great light.
41. Now, if I say to them, these holy men also ate, drank, slept and wore clothing, does it therefore follow that we should also establish an eat-order, drink-order, sleep-order and clothes-order? They will answer: O, these holy fathers did not observe this, viz., eating and drinking, etc, to become pious and holy men, as they observed these other regulations which they believed to be good and holy institutions. Here I answer, if you say that these holy fathers become pious and holy through such human ordinances more than by eating and drinking, sleeping and wearing clothing, then you are quite mistaken. For God has wisely desisted from ever honoring one of these saints with a miracle on account of his good works, rather were they all full of the spirit and faith. You seem to care not for their spirit and faith, but instead cling to their external deeds only. A fool would do the same if he were to sleep all his life because he heard that St. Bernard also slept once, and were to hope thereby to become holy and be saved. Therefore these holy men are wronged if it is claimed that they observed these ordinances to become holy and be saved, and the people are deceived by the life and in the name of these saints.
42. But you may say: Yes, but they still kept them, did not reject them, nor consider them so important as you seem to teach. Answer: It is not for you or me to judge their hearts and intentions, bot we say this, It is not impossible that they considered them of too great importance. If so, they as human beings, have erred concerning them For everybody must confess that the saints have also erred and sinned. Therefore God demands that we look to his Word only, and not follow the example of the saints except as these agree with the word of God. But whenever they as human beings follow also their own inventions or human teachings, then we should do as the pious Shem and Japhet, who covered the wickedness of their father, and not like the impious Ham, who went around talking about it. Thus we should keep silent about the infirmities of the saints and not make them known that we may follow them only in their strength.
It is no wonder that these saints have stumbled and erred in these things.
The knowledge of Christ and of faith is so above the natural man that only God’s grace can work it in us. Flesh and blood can not reveal it unto us, but only the Father in heaven, as Christ says, Matthew 16:17. Even greater saints than Augustine, Benedict, Gregory and others like them have erred in these things. At the time of the apostles there were already such teachers, against whom St. Paul wrote all his epistles in order to keep the faith altogether free from works and human doctrines.
48. And that you may marvel still more, the whole Christian church in its early days, and at its best, erred in these things, only Peter, Paul and Barnabas standing firm and holding that neither law nor good works are profitable and necessary for salvation. St. Luke clearly states it in Acts 15. There were great saints there, the apostles and their disciples who insisted and would have continued to insist that the law and good works were necessary for salvation, had not St. Paul and Peter declared against it.
And even they themselves would not have known this had not God by miraculous signs from heaven confirmed them in their opinion that only faith is profitable and necessary for salvation, as we read, Acts 10:48.
44. More than this, although St. Peter knew all this and helped to defend it, yet at Antioch he also erred and made improper use of his Christian liberty, and only St. Paul understood him, as he writes, Galatians 2:11. Not as though St. Peter believed that he must keep the law, but that he did not at once make proper use of his Christian liberty, which he well understood thinking that he had to hesitate for the sake of others, This was wrong and was censured by Paul.
Therefore, it amounts to nothing whatever if those works of the saints are referred to which they did outside of the Scriptures. They are deceiving just as well and even more than the errors of heretics and false teachers, because real and true holiness adorns such infirmities altogether too much.
God permits such things in order that he might hold us to his Word and doctrine without which there is neither life nor light, even if all the angels were to teach such things.
45. In the third place, they hold up to us the saints’ interpretations of the Scriptures, and consider them a great light. They finally adhere to them and believe that in these interpretations they possess something that no one could reject, and claim again and again in order to keep us away from the pure Word that the Scriptures are obscure and make many heretics.
46. Is not this a masterpiece of blasphemy? But who guarantees them that the fathers are not also obscure? Or who will give us the guaranty that the fathers did not err in their interpretations? Indeed it is well known that they did often err, often contradicted themselves, often contradicted each other and very seldom were unanimous in their agreement. God permitted this to happen to make uncertain also the interpretations of the fathers and to warn us on all sides not to depart from the Scriptures. And yet we stumble here and do not permit ourselves to be guided by the Scriptures. Therefore we should know that it is not true when they say: The fathers give light to the obscure Scriptures. They are doing injustice to the fathers, and belie them. The work of the fathers was not to give light to the Scriptures with their comments, but rather to set forth the clear Scriptures and thus interpret Scripture by Scripture only without any additions of their own.
47. However, that heretics originated from the Scriptures, is true. From where else should they have come? There is no other book that teaches the Christian faith but the Scriptures. Therefore, as no one can become a Christian except by the Scriptures, so also can no one become a heretic but by the same Scriptures. Christ is indeed a sign spoken against and set for the falling and rising of many. Should we on that account reject him or set up another Christ by his side? You do not at the same time need wine and bread, but should we on that account quit tilling the farm and the vineyards or start others besides them? Satan is the enemy of the Scriptures and therefore he has decried and calumniated them by this clamor and blasphemy.
48. But what does this Gospel teach? In the first place, these wise men did not inquire after the chief priests and do not ask: Where is Annas or Caiaphas, or how did this or that man live? But they ask: Where is the newborn king of the Jews? Yes, Christ permits them, as a warning to us, to go astray and to seek him in Jerusalem in the holy city among the priests, the learned and the royalty. He is not found in the holy place nor in the holy customs. Nor did they receive as an answer any human opinions, but only what the Scriptures say about Christ, which alone are to be sought among the holy people and in holy places.
49. Sufficient examples are here given to show us that disregarding all human works, teachings, comments and life we should be mindful only of the clear Scriptures, and as to the life and teachings of the saints preserve the right not to rake or snatch up everything that they teach or live, but rather to sit in judgment on these things and accept with discretion only that which is compatible with the Scriptures. But what is their own, without Scripture proof, we should consider as human inventions and avoid, as St. Paul teaches: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Moses has also indicated this, Leviticus 11:3, Deuteronomy 14:6, where he describes clean and unclean beasts, that all animals which are not cloven looted and ruminant are unclean. These are the men who are not cloven looted, who spend their lives carelessly, rake up whatever comes before them and follow it. But the clean animals are those men who by the spirit act with discretion in all external things and doctrines. Whatever they see harmonizing with the Scriptures they keep, but whatever is without Scriptural foundation and mere human inventions they dismiss, no matter how great and famous the saints who taught it may be. For no saint has been so perfect as to be free from flesh and blood, or the continued struggle with flesh and blood, so that it is scarcely possible that all their teachings and works were spiritually perfect and are to be accepted as examples. Human nature and reason often concurred in their work, and these are not to be trusted at all. Hence Moses commands us to be cloven looted and Paul to discern the spirits and not to accept all the works and doings of men.
50. Now in these three things, viz., human teachings, examples of the saints and the comments of the fathers, they think and many believe it that they are quite right, that no one dares to doubt or contradict them and that they rule here in perfect safety. They imagine that no one but they alone possess the holy Scriptures, which they have so beautifully summarized in these three vessels.
51. In addition they sink still deeper into the abyss of spiritual darkness when they claim that natural light or intellect and heathen philosophy are also safe means of discovering the truth. In this direction the universities have gone so far astray that they teach that no one can be a theologian, i.e. one of the best Christians without Aristotle. O blindness above all blindness!
It might be tolerated if they were to refer here to truths of nature as would call this natural philosophy, viz., that fire is hot, that three and five are eight, etc., which reason at once recognizes. But they soar high and invent idle dreams and useless thoughts about things that are vain and of which they know nothing; and it is grievous to think of their senseless. absurd studying. They go to so much expense and trouble that even Satan mocks at them, whereby God deservedly punishes them because they would not abide in the pure Word. For this reason they must devour the very pollution of hell and be lost.
52. They then meddled even with the work of the devil and followed the example of the souls or spirits appearing and praying for help and believed everything that these spirits said without fear or hesitation. Thus the mass, i.e. the Lord’s Supper, has been so abused by saying mass for souls in purgatory and by the selling of indulgences, that the whole world by shedding tears of blood day and night could not bewail it sufficiently.
Thus the devil has permitted himself to be conjured and constrained to reveal the truth and has turned our faith and sacrament into play and mockery to his own liking. All this is the result and reward of our overcuriousness, which has not been satisfied with the Scriptures of God and has made our true and faithful God and Father a fool and clown, who pretends to teach us by his Word and yet does not care to teach us that which we ought and necessarily need to know. For this reason he serves us right in permitting us to become the devil’s pupils, inasmuch as we despised his school.
53. But you say: Should we then deny that wandering spirits go astray and seek for help? Answer: Let wander who will, you listen to what God commands. If you hold all these spirits in suspicion, you are not sinning; but if you hold some of them to be genuine and honest, you are already indanger of erring. And why? Because God does not want you to seek and learn the truth from the dead. He himself wants to be your living and all sufficient teacher. To his Word you should cling. He knows best what to tell you about the living and the dead, for he knows all things. But whatever he does not want to tell you, you should not desire to know, and give him the honor to believe that he knows what is not necessary, profitable nor good for you to know.
54. Therefore you should freely and unhesitatingly cast all such ghostly apparitions to the winds and not be afraid of them; they will then leave you in peace. And should it seem, that perhaps in your house you hear a hobgoblin or rumbling spirit, then make no ado about it, but be assured that it can not be a good spirit come from God. Make the sign of the cross and firmly hold to your faith. Has he been sent by God to chastise you, like Job, then be ready to endure it willingly, but should it be the spirit’s own sport, then defy him by strong faith and joyfully depend on God’s Word.
Depend upon it he will not attack that.
However, I hold that none of these hobgoblins are ordained of God to molest us, but it is their own mischief to terrify the people, because they have no longer any power to harm. If they had any power to harm, they would surely not engage in much racketing, but do their evil work before you could be aware who had done it. But if a good spirit were to visit you, it would not occur with such noise and frivolity. Do this and manifest strong faith and you will find that such a spirit is not of God, and will cease its work. If you have not such faith, then he will have easy work, for then God’s Word which alone he fears is not with you.
55. The words of the Scriptures upon which you should boldly rely are Luke 16:29, where Abraham said to Dives in hell, who desired the departed Lazarus to be sent to his brothers living on earth, but Abraham refusing to do this, said: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” From these words if is plain that God will not have us taught by the dead, but have us abide in his Word. Therefore, no matter how and where a spirit comes to you, do not ask whether he be good or evil, but bravely, quickly and defiantly cast into his teeth the words: “they have Moses and the prophets,” and he will soon understand what you mean. Is it a good spirit, he will only love you the more for adhering so gladly and firmly to the Word of your God. Is it an evil spirit, as are all those that are noisy, he will soon bid you adieu.
Again, another word of God is spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:11: “When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through fire, one that useth divination, one that practiceth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer.”
Here you are told that it is an abomination in the sight of God to consult the dead or the spirits, and it is strictly forbidden. To this word of Moses Abraham looked when he did not permit Lazarus to come back to the earth. You can also use this passage against these spirits, saying: “Thou shalt not consult the dead, saith the Lord.”
56. God has insisted on this so firmly, that there is no example recorded in the Scriptures, where the saints have ever consulted the dead about anything. And this is the third argument that you can use against these spirits: No one ever heard or read of an example in the Scriptures as to such spirits and their work, hence the whole must be condemned and avoided as of the devil.
57. From this we maw easily learn, that the coming up of Samuel was an apparition, 1 Samuel 28:13, inasmuch as it is altogether contrary to this commandment of God. It is therefore not to be assumed that the real prophet Samuel came up by the power of the witch of Endor. But that the Scriptures are silent on this point, not telling us whether it was the real or false Samuel, is because they demand of everybody to remember well that through Moses God forbade to consult the dead. And he never revokes his Word, as Job says and Balaam also, Numbers 23:10. How can the witch have any power over the saints, who are resting in God’s hands?
58. However, should it be said: In this way purgatory will also be denied, I will answer: You are not a heretic for disbelieving in purgatory, as there is nothing said about it in the Scriptures. And it is better not to believe that which is outside of the Scriptures, than to depart from that which is in the Scriptures. Let pope and Papists here rage as they please, who have made purgatory an article of faith because it has brought to them the wealth of the earth but also countless souls to hell, souls that depended and relied on good works for redemption from it. God gave no command concerning purgatory, but he did command us in no way to consult the dead nor to believe what they say. Consider God more truthful and trustworthy than all angels, to say nothing of the pope and the Papists who, as all their work is but lying and deceiving, awaken but little faith in purgatory. However, if you want to pray for the dead, I will not interfere. I am of the opinion that purgatory is not so general as they say, but that only a few souls will enter it. Still as I have said, it is without any danger to your soul if you do not believe in a purgatory. You are not called upon to believe more than what the Scriptures teach.
But should they advance also the sayings and comments of Gregory, Augustine and other saints concerning purgatory, then remember that I have already told you how far these saints are to be followed and believed.
Who will assure us that they did not err and were not deceived here as in many other things.
59. Our faith must have a sure foundation, God’s Word; and not the sand or bog of human custom and inventions. With this Isaiah also agrees when he says, ‘And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter. Should not a people seek unto their God? On behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them etc.” Isaiah 8:19-20. This is certainly a clear passage that urges and compels us to seek in God’s law and testimony all that we want to know. And he who will not do this, shall, be deprived of the morning light which no doubt means Christ and the truth itself. Note also that after Isaiah said we should seek unto God, so that no one might stare at the heavens and expect something extraordinary from God, he shows where and whence we should seek unto God, saying: To the law and to the testimony. He will not permit any seeking unto God in himself outside of the Scriptures, much less will he permit it in others.
60. Moses mentions many ways by which men seek knowledge. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 There are eight classes as follows.
1. The users of divination. They are those who reveal the future, like the astrologers and false prophets by inspiration of the devil.
2. Those that practice augury. They designate some days as lucky for making a journey, for building, for marrying, for wearing fine clothes, for battle and for all kinds of transactions.
3. The enchanters or rather diviners — I know no better name to call these, who conjure the devil by means of mirrors, pictures, sticks, words, glass, crystals, fingers, nails, circles, rods, etc., and expect in this way to discover hidden treasures, history and other things.
4. The sorcerers, or witches, the devil mongers who steal milk, make the weather, ride on goats, brooms and sails (mantles) shoot the people, cripple and torture and wither, slay infants in the cradle, bewitch certain members of the body, etc.
5. The charmers, who bless people and animals, bewitch snakes, bespeak steel and iron, bluster and see much, and can do wonders.
6. The consulters of familiar spirits, who have the devil in their ears and tell the people what they have lost, what they are doing or what they will do in the future, just as the gypsies do.
7. The wizards, who can change things into different forms so that something may look like a cow or an ox, which in reality is a human being, that can drive people to illicit love and intercourse, and more such works of the devil.
8. The necromancers, who are walking spirits.
61. Behold, Moses did not forget anything, stopping up every avenue where men seek to learn, outside of the Word of God. Thus he has often denounced self-conceit and human reason, especially Deuteronomy 12:8: Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes. And Proverbs 8:5: Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart and lean not upon thine own understanding. He does this that we might know that God wants us to follow neither our own reason nor that which is above reason, but only his Word, as Isaiah said above, not to seek unto the living nor the dead, but to seek unto God only in the law and testimony.
St. Peter also says in 2 Peter 1:19: “And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the day-star arise in your hearts.” Does not St. Peter here agree nicely with Isaiah as to God’s Word and the dawn of the morning? And when St. Peter says that the Word alone is a light that shines in a dark place, does he not clearly show that there is only darkness where God’s Word is absent?
62. This digression was necessary in order to reply to the false teachers and doctrines of men, and to preserve the Scriptures in their purity. We now come back to our text and learn of these wise men to ask: “Where is the new born King of the Jews?” Let Herod consult the priests and scribes, we will only inquire after the new born King. Let the universities ask, Where is Aristotle? Where is the pope? What does human reason teach? What says St. Bernard, St. Gregory, the church councils and the learned doctors, etc., We ask, Where is Christ? We are not satisfied until we hear what the Scriptures say about him. We are not concerned as to how great and holy Jerusalem is, nor how great and mighty Rome may be. We seek neither Jerusalem nor Rome, but Christ the King in the Scriptures. If we have the Scriptures, we cast aside Herod, the priests and the scribes, Jerusalem and Rome, and search in them till we find Jesus.
63. However we learn here that the Scriptures and Christ have three kinds of disciples. The first are the priests and the scribes. They know and teach the Scriptures to all, but do not come to him. Is not this great hardness of heart and contempt on the part of the learned? They hear and see that great and honest men come from a far country to seek Christ, and they are told that a star in the heavens testified to his birth; in addition they themselves produce testimony from the Scriptures. Since they were the priests and most learned men they should have been the first, joyfully and eagerly to hurry to Bethlehem. Yes, if they had been told that Christ had been born in some Eastern country, they should even then by all means have hurried to him, inasmuch as all their hopes and consolation rested in Christ’s coming.
64. But they feared Herod who would surely have killed them, if they had without word confessed Christ and their willingness to accept him as their king, as he had before killed Hircanus and many others and slew innocent babes. Hence because they feared death they forsook their Lord and king, and remained with the tyrant Herod and the devil.
65. Afterward when Christ did not appear with splendor and power they looked with contempt and disregard upon all this, believing that the wise men had been deceived. Hence Christ grew up among them entirely unknown, and no one knew finally whence he should come as stated, John 1:26.
There are disciples of Christ who indeed know the truth, but dare not confess it nor defend it, and are therefore lost as Christ says Matthew 10:32-83: “Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
66. The second class of disciples are Herod and his people. Herod searched the Scriptures, believing that it was the truth, and that the coming of Christ was predicted therein, and that Christ had now been born, otherwise he would despise all this and not have been concerned about it. Hence it is certain that he held the Scriptures to be the Word of God which must be fulfilled, and that in Christ’s birth the work of God was revealed. Yet he at once determines to set himself intentionally and directly against God’s Word and work, and thinks he can bring to naught that which God has spoken and done, in spite of better knowledge. Therefore he searched the Scriptures, diligently to learn about Christ, but only for the purpose of bringing to naught and destroying all. He was concerned lest that which God, who cannot lie, spoke, would come to pass. Is not this incredibly foolish arrogance? Who would have thought that such intentions could have ever entered the human heart? And yet the world is always full of such people, and they are generally the rulers and upper classes.
67. The third class of disciples are the pious wise men who left their country, home and possessions, forsaking all in order to find Christ. They represent the people who fearlessly confess Christ and the truth; but Herod stands for those who persecute and destroy the former, though they still claim to serve God, and enter the house of God just as other pious persons do.
THE PROPHECY OF MICAH.
68. One may be interested in asking why the Evangelist changed the words of the prophet and said. “And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth a governor, who shall be shepherd of my people Israel:” While the prophet Micah says: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.” Micah 5:2.
Matthew says: Thou art in no wise the least, but Micah says: Thou art little. How do these two statements agree with each other?
69. The other difference between Matthew and Micah, the former saying:
Among the princes of Judah, the latter: Among the thousands of Judah, can easily be adjusted as the Hebrew word Alpha means both a prince and a thousand, hence whoever chooses may interpret the prophet either way.
For instance if I say, There comes a duke, by this one may understand either a prince or an army, as duke means a prince, and also a leader of an army, and whatsoever an army is doing we usually say the duke did it. The law of Moses also provides that men should be made rulers over thousands, Exodus 18:21, so that we can say among the princes or rulers as well as among the thousands. For the prince stands for the army of thousands into which the people were divided. And among them the princes or thousands in Judah the city of Bethlehem is mentioned as being the least, just as though we were to say: Among the cities of Saxony, Wittenberg is the least. But it pleased the Evangelist to say among the princes rather than among the thousands, as it is not necessary that there should be just a thousand men, it being sufficient that there be a regiment in which there may be a thousand men, and always having a prince who may rule over a thousand.
So also might we call the mayor of each city, or the community, Alpha i.e. a thousand, or a community in which there may be about a thousand inhabitants who have an Alpha i.e. a prince or a mayor. Hence we might render the words of the Evangelist and the prophet thus: And thou Bethlehem art a humble and common city among the communities or cities of Judah. And in comparison to such cities as Hebron, Kariath, and Sephar, etc., It was but a small city at that time.
70. That the prophet calls the city Bethlehem Ephrathah, and the Evangelist Bethlehem in Judah, is after all the same, for both of them undoubtedly intended to point out that city which aforetime was called Ephrathah, but now Bethlehem in the land of Judah. We heard in the first gospel lesson for Christmas why this city was called Ephrathah and Bethlehem, that is, a country rich in grain, from which it perhaps has its name. For Bethlehem means a house of bread, and Ephrathah means fruitful, so that it must have been a rich country and blessed with plenty (with plenty of food in it.) 71. Nor does it present any difficulty that the prophet says: “A ruler in Israel,” and the Evangelist: “A governor, who shall be a shepherd of my people Israel.” The latter speaks of a government without saying how blessed it is nor how it rules.
72. But how can we harmonize the fact that the prophet calls the city little, and the Evangelist in no wise least. These seem diametrically opposed to each other. It would not be a sufficient answer to say that the books were falsified. There can be no doubt that the Evangelist looks more at the spiritual greatness which is also indicated by the prophet, as though he would say: Thou Bethlehem art little before men, but before God thou really art in no wise the least inasmuch as the ruler of Israel shall come out of thee. Hence what the prophet meant but did not express, the Evangelist states clearly. The figure of speech by which a certain thing is not directly mentioned but only indicated is also used in common conversation. If I say for instance: You are my friend, yet you side with my enemies, I really said:
You are not of the least among my’ enemies. Again: The beggars are poor, yet they have much money, that is, they are not the poorest. So also when Paul says in Romans 2:22, “Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou rob temples?” he means thou dost not infrequently abhor idols in order to rob the temples.
73. Let this suffice for it does not afford much pleasure to argue very much on this point, nor is it necessary for a true believer to do so for he gives all glory to God and never doubts that everything is truly and correctly stated in the Scriptures, though he is not able to prove everything. For the learned it is necessary in order to defend the Scriptures against the blasphemers and perverse. Therefore we return to the sense and meaning of the Scriptures, which do not speak here of a common master in Israel such as there had been many before, whom the prophets so highly honored and predicted must be altogether different from others. For the passage of Micah reads as if there had been no ruler in Israel before, because he says out of Bethlehem shall he come forth that shall be a ruler in Israel. That sounds as though he would say: I will give the people of Israel a ruler, so that they may also have their own prince. So far the kings and princes have only been servants, and the people were not their own. This one however shall be a ruler to whom the people belong.
74. For this reason the fathers among them always understood such passages to mean that Christ would be not only man, but God, and that his government would be without end, and not be a temporal but a spiritual government. For no man, nor angel has a people of his own. God alone is the Lord of his own people as David says. “The Lord ministereth judgment to the people.” Psalm 7:8. And when Gideon was asked by the people to rule them he replied: “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: The Lord shall rule over you.” Judges 8:23. And when the people asked for a king of Samuel, God said: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not be king over them.” Samuel 8:7. Not that it was a sin to have a King for he gave them one; but they trusted more in human power and government than in God. And that was a great sin.
75. Now if Christ was to be a ruler over his own people, then his government could be neither temporal nor corporeal, but he must rule over the entire people past, present and future. Therefore he must be an eternal king. And this he can only be spiritually. But as God bestows on Christ his own government, he could not be a human being only. For it is not possible for God to bestow his glory, government, property or people on one who is not true God, as he himself declares: “And my glory will I not give to another.” Isaiah 42:8.
76. Therefore Micah continues: “Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” As if he would say: I proclaim the ruler that shall come out of Bethlehem, but he does not there begin to be; he has been already from the beginning before the world began, in that no day or beginning can be named in which he did not already have his being. Now from all eternity and before the creation of the world there existed nothing but God alone.
Hence the going forth from everlasting could not be by one person only, for going forth signifies that there was some one from whom he came forth. Hence Micah proves that this ruler must be God’s own true son, born of God the Father, and that the one true God must be with him eternally before all creation began.
77. Again, if he shall come out of Bethlehem in time, then he must be a true and natural man. And this, viz. that Christ is Cod and man is the corner stone of Christian faith. Those are his own people and the true Israel who acknowledged him as such a ruler and permit him to rule and work in their hearts.
78. From this we can easily conclude why Christ had to die and rise again in order to rule spiritually to all eternity. For though the passage here proves that he had to become a true natural man, it yet follows that he had to change this bodily life into a spiritual invisible life, as it was impossible for him to rule bodily as widely and as long as the prophet indicates.
79. Micah continues and says: “Therefore will he give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the residue of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.”
From these words it is clear that Christ’s kingdom should be extended to the ends of the earth by preaching and suffering, of which the prophet says that in the majesty of the name of Jehovah he would preach and feed his flock, showing also that he would be persecuted on account of his preaching. Therefore the prophet also says that they should be given a respite as to their temporal existence and government until a new people had been born. The woman in travail represents the little flock of the apostles which during the sufferings of Christ was in the agony of the birth of a new spiritual people for this ruler of Israel, as Christ himself foretells, John 16:2. “Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him.”
80. From this text we learn that the wise men were not kings nor princes, but common, honest people, like the learned and the clergy. Herod does not treat them as belonging to royalty, but sends them to Bethlehem, tells them to attend to their mission, and, as if they were his subjects, commands them to bring him word again. He would not have done this if they had been kings or lords; he would have invited them to his palace, accompanied them on their journey, and treated them with great honor. For all historians agree that Herod was a pompous man, who knew how to treat people royally after the way of the world, and wished to be admired by the people.
As, however, he calls the men privily and without display and parade they must have been of much lower rank than he was.
81. But why does he call them privately, since the land was his and in his full control? He did it for this reason. He knew quite well that the Jews were his sworn enemies and wished to be rid of him. He was afraid, therefore, that if he called the men publicly and the Jews became aware of it, they would go to the wise men and enjoin them not to acquaint Herod with the true state of affairs, so that the new king may live before his eyes.
82. When he asks them about the time of the star he does it out of the same anxiety. He was already resolved in his heart to slay the innocent children.
He reasoned thus: If the new king is born the Jews will rejoice, and will secrete him for a while until he is grown up, and then will espouse his cause, put horn on the throne and banish me. I must forestall them, therefore, and carefully inquire into the time of his birth; and although he is hidden from me I shall still find him amongst the people when I slay all the children, and their disguise will avail them nothing. He pursues this plan diligently so that the new king might be made known to him, commands the wise men to bring him word again, and puts on a pious and devout face as if he wished to worship the child also.
83. Humanly speaking, he acted wisely enough in his purpose of slaying Christ. But it is true what Solomon says, Proverbs 21:30: “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against Jehovah.” And Psalm 33:10: “Jehovah bringeth the counsel of the nations to naught; he maketh the thoughts of the people to be of none effect.” And Psalm 37:32-33: “The wicked watcheth the righteous and seeketh to slay him. Jehovah will not leave him in his hand.” Herod is here compelled to fulfill such passages against his will, and be an illustration of the same for our own comfort, in order that we might be free and secure and need fear none but God alone.
If he is with us neither guile nor force can harm us.
III. HOW THE WISE MEN CONTINUE THEIR JOURNEY, FIND CHRIST AND WORSHIP HIM.
“And they having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
84. It is not said here that they promised the king to return, but that they heard his request to bring him word again. Yet it appears from the warning they received in a dream that, in the simplicity of their hearts, they were willing to return to Herod, not knowing his depravity nor his purpose and thinking him to be an artless honest man. We learn from this that the children of God may be so misled by the pleasing manners and false pretensions of unbelieving saints that they take that to be good which is not. But they do not always remain in deception, for they are directed and delivered, if need be, from heaven. Their hearing of the king, as mentioned by the Evangelist, may also be understood to mean that they listened to the words of the prophet, that in Bethlehem was to be born the new king for whom they inquired, and who was the object of their search.
85. This is an illustration of how the enemies of Christ may at times be of service and teach others rightly, as Caiaphas teaches, John 11:50, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people, and as Balaam, Numbers 24, utters many beautiful words concerning Christ, although they do it sometimes unintentionally and in ignorance. So Christ instructs the people, Matthew 23:2-3, they should listen to the scribes and Pharisees and follow them when they sit in Moses’ seat; but forbids them to do after their works. These wise men were right, therefore, and give us a good example by listening to Herod, not for Herod’s sake, neither as said by him, but for the sake of the Scriptures, which he taught them; and they followed this and not Herod’s works. From this is derived the good rule that we should hear the evil bishops and priests, as well as the good ones, and should follow, not their lives, but their teachings, provided their teaching is Scripture and not idle talk. For, as we are to listen to the teachings of Holy Writ, even when spoken by Herod, though he also commit murder, so we are not to listen to human doctrine, even if spoken by St. Peter, Paul, or an angel, and accompanied by many wondrous signs.
86. It was said above that the saints often err and give offense by human doctrines and works. It is God’s will, therefore, that we shall not be guided by their examples, but by his Word. For this reason he permits the saints often to deliver human doctrine and works. Again, he disposes that the impious sometimes teach the clear and plain Scriptures, in order to guard us against offenses, on the one hand, and from the wicked life of the ungodly, on the other hand from the shining deeds of the saints. For, if you do not follow the Scriptures alone, the lives of the saints are ten times more dangerous and offensive than those of the ungodly. These commit gross sins, which are easily recognized and avoided, but the saints exhibit a subtle, pleasing appearance in human doctrines, which might deceive the very elect, as Christ says, Matthew 24:24.
87. But now such offense of the saints is directly against the articles of faith and its doctrine; gross sins, however, do not oppose faith and doctrine. If they desert it they do not rail against it, while human doctrine is nothing but rebellion against faith and its doctrine, for it makes men rely upon themselves and upon their works. From this Christ rescues his saints in the midst of human doctrine and work, just as he preserved the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ( Daniel 3) at Babylonia, in the midst of the fiery furnace. Hence the lives of the saints are not to be followed as an example in this but are rather to be avoided, like miracles which are only to be admired and praised. For he does not desire to do wonders to everyone in the fiery furnace, neither does he wish to make everyone a Bernhard, Francis, Gregory, Benedict or Augustine.
88. This was the Evangelist’s intention when he omitted Herod’s name, saying, they heard the king. He calls him by the name of his office and dignity, just as John 11:51, says that Caiaphas uttered his prophesies, not because his name was Caiaphas, but because he was high priest. The offices of king and priest are good and by divine institution, although wicked people make evil use of them, as gold and silver and all creatures are good, and yet may be put to good or evil use.
God uses Herod when he may be used to advantage as God’s creature, and offers him to the wise men for their service. Hence they did not look upon or listen to Herod but to the king. It did not concern them that he was wicked within himself, they took hold of what was good in him, as the bee sucks the honey from the flower and leaves the poison to the spider. They listened to him when he told them to go to Bethlehem and search diligently for the child, as the prophet had foretold; which intelligence he had not from himself but from the priests. They could not, however, know his wicked counsel and purpose, nor his evil life. Thus we are to learn to hate the vices of men, but love the men; we are to distinguish the honey from the poison.
89. It is also indicated here that this star was not high in the heavens like the other stars, but hung above them in the air; otherwise it would have been impossible for them to discover whether it stood over Jerusalem or over Bethlehem. For, according to astronomy and experience, it cannot be discerned on account of their height over the town the stars of heaven really are suspended, since two cities, ten or more miles apart, both think the star above them. Again, you cannot perceive their movement with the eye, although they move more swiftly than time or lightning. This star, however, they did not see move swiftly but glide slowly before them according to the speed of their journey. A star in heaven moves farther in one movement than ten journeys from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, for they move once around earth and heaven every day and night. Besides, all stars move from east to west.
90. But this star accompanying them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, traveled from north to south. This was proof that it was of another kind, its course and place in the sky different from the other stars in the heavens. It was not a fixed star, as astronomers call them, but rather a movable star that could rise and descend and move from one place to another. With this those astronomers are again silenced who say that the star had no special significance in Christ’s birth or life. It was probably not as large as the stars in the heavens, although it appeared larger on account of its nearness. In short, it was a servant of Christ and had no power or authority over Christ’s birth.
91. It seems strange, however, that the star reappears to them now when they do not need it any more, when they know the town of Christ’s birth, while it was hidden before, when they needed it and knew not the town.
But this was done to strengthen their faith, as the law of Moses says, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. The wise men first heard the word of the prophet in Jerusalem, as a witness of Christ’s birth; with this the second witness, the star, agrees and announces the same birth, so that they may be sure of their ground. The prophet speaks only of the Child at Bethlehem; in like manner the star does not go any further than where the child is, to Bethlehem, and remains over him.
And they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. “And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they Jell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts o[gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
92. It was diligently prevented that the wise men should find Christ through themselves, or men. On the contrary, they found him alone through the Scriptures of the prophet and by the aid of the stars of heaven that there might be put to naught all natural ability, all human reason, all light outside of the spirit and of grace, which now boasts and pretends to teach the truth and lead people aright, as was said above is done in the universities. Here it is concluded that Christ, the knowledge of salvation, is not taught or acquired by human teaching or assistance, but the Scriptures and divine light must reveal him. as he says, Matthew 16:17: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” With this Christ distinctly casts aside flesh and blood with its revelation, i.e., man and all human wisdom, which, being nothing but darkness, cannot reveal Christ.
Christ says, John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father that hath sent me draw him.” By this all boasting of human reason is condemned, since it cannot guide aright and all who follow it must go astray. So strongly does God everywhere resist our natural haughtiness and will, that we may know we are blind, despair of our own light, put ourselves into his hands and be led by him into the ways which reason cannot know nor follow.
OF THE FAITH OF THE WISE MEN.
93. The wise men here teach us the true faith. After they heard the sermon and the word of the prophet they were not slow to believe, in spite of obstacles and difficulties. First they came to Jerusalem, the capital, and did not find him, the star also disappearing. Do you not think they would have said within themselves, if they had followed human reason alone: Alas, we have traveled so far in vain, the star has misled us, it was a phantom. If a king were born he should of course be found in the capital and lie in the royal chamber. But when we arrived the star disappeared and no one knew anything about him. We strangers are the first to speak of him in his own country and royal city! Indeed, it must be all false!
94. Besides, his own people are troubled and do not care to hear of him, and direct us from the royal city to a little village. Who knows what we shall find? The people act so coldly and strangely, no one accompanies us to show us the child; they do not believe themselves that a king is born to them, and we come from afar and expect to find him. O how odd and unusual everything appears at the birth of a king! If a young pup were born, there would be a little noise. A king is born here, and there is no stir.
Should not the people sing and dance, light candles and torches and pave the streets with branches and roses? O the poor king whom we seek! Fools we are to permit ourselves to be deceived so shamefully.
95. Having been flesh and blood, doubtless they were not free from such thoughts and views, and they had to battle for their faith. Natural reason could here not have held its own; if they had not found the king as they had expected, they would have murmured and complained and said: The devil must have led us here. A king cannot have been born since everything is so quiet and nothing is going on. There is more noise when a child is born to our shepherd, and a calving cow is more talked about than this king.
96. Reason and nature never proceed any farther than they can see and feel. When they cease to feel they at once deny God’s existence and say as Psalm 14:1 says. “There is no God,” therefore the devil must be here.
This is the light of the universities which is to lead men to God, but rather leads to the abyss of hell. The light of nature and the light of grace cannot be friends. Nature wants to feel and be certain before she believes, grace believes before she perceives. For this reason, nature does not go further than her own light. Grace joyfully steps out into the darkness, follows the mere word of Scripture, no matter how it appears. Whether nature holds it true or false, she clings to the Word.
97. For the sake of this very strife and struggle, by which the wise men accepted the word of the prophet and followed it into such wild, unnatural appearance of a royal birth, God comforted and strengthened them by this star which went before them more friendly than before. Now they see it near, it is their guide, and they have an assurance which needs no further question. Before it was far from them, and they were not certain where they would find the king.
98. So it is always with the Christian, after affliction has been endured God becomes more dear to him and is so near and so distinctly seen that man not only forgets anxiety and affliction, but has a desire for greater affliction. He gradually becomes so strong that he does not take offense at the insignificant, unattractive life of Christ. For now he experiences and realizes that to find Christ it must appear as though he found nothing but disgrace.
99. Even so the wise men must have been ashamed of themselves if they had doubted and had said, as perhaps they did say secretly in their hearts:
We were so successful, let us travel a little farther on and seek new kings.
I call this buffoonery, as Dame Gay, i.e. nature, conducts herself in the presence of divine words and works. For from the fact that the wise men were so much rejoiced when they saw the star we can infer that they were in such temptation and were heavy-minded when everything appeared so inconsistent. Their joy indicates that they were perhaps despondent and tempted with unbelief. There was cause enough if you look at nature alone.
Hence Christ says, Matthew 11:6: “Blessed is he whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” Blessed indeed, but how difficult since appearances were against Christ’s presence.
100. When the wise men had overcome their temptation and were born again by the great joy they were strong and took no offense at Christ, they had overcome in the trial. For although they enter a lowly hut and find a poor young wife with a poor little child, and find less of royal appearance than the homes of their own servants presented, they are not led astray.
But in a great, strong, living faith they remove from theft’ eyes and their minds whatever might attract and influence human nature with its pretense, follow the word of the prophet and the sign of the star in all simplicity, treat the child as a king, fall down before him, worship him, and offer gifts.
This was a strong faith indeed, for it casts aside many things which impress human nature. Perhaps there were some people present who thought: What great fools are these men to worship such a poor child. They must indeed be in a trance to make of him a king.
101. This is the kernel of the Gospel, in which the nature and character of faith is explained as an assurance of things not seen. It clings alone to the words of God and follows the things that are not seen, as alone conveyed in the word of God, and looks askance at many things which urge it to disbelieve the Word. What nature calls playing the fool faith calls the true way. Nature may be wise and clever, faith remains nature’s fool and idiot, and thus comes to Christ and finds him. St. Paul’s words, 1 Corinthians 1:25 apply here: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” For feeling and believing do not get together.
102. When they give three presents and worship him it does not imply that each gave a separate gift, but, as mentioned above, it was a common gift of the goods of their country, with which they honored him as a king. Nor was the worship like that due to God, for, in my opinion, they did not yet recognize him as God, but after the usage of the Scriptures, kings and dignitaries were worshipped, i.e. honored and respected, by the bending of the knee as we do today.
103. What conversation they had with Mary and Joseph I leave to the imagination of idle minds. The languages in the orient are not so foreign to the Hebrew, so that they may easily have understood each other. They had spoken with Herod and the priests and the citizens of Jerusalem, hence they no doubt spoke with Mary and Joseph. If they had a different language, the Jews still had such business connections and were so well known at the Red Sea that in both countries both languages were no doubt known, as in German lands you find French and in France German. The Red Sea country is on one side exclusively Arabic, and from there the wise men came.
IV. HOW THE WISE MEN BY THE COMMAND OF GOD RETURNED TO THEIR FATHERLAND.
“And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod they departed into their own country another way.”
104. Here it appears that those who believe in God enjoy his special protection. He has an eye upon these wise men so that he keeps watch over their return and directs them in a dream.
105. And why does he not allow them to return to Herod since he could have shielded the child from all the world even if Herod had known and found him? It is done for the purpose of teaching us not to tempt God.
Whatever can be accomplished by ordinary means should be done. We should not presume upon faith and say in idleness: I trust in God everything will grow that is to grow. His creatures have no purpose if we make use of them. In Genesis 1 he created and ordained all creatures with their works, and indicated the use man shall make of them. This will he never recall and ordain something special for you.
106. Here the question arises: How can I strike the golden mean to believe and yet not tempt God, for you preach and praise faith alone and can not extol it enough? Answer: You should not believe save where you have a word of God. It is the character and nature of faith to be built and to rely on the Word of God. Where there is no Word of God there cannot and shall not be any faith. Is this not stated clearly and positively enough?
Hence the Word of God is called in Scripture: testament, testimonia, pacta, foedera, testimonies, agreements, Covenants, as these postulate faith; nor did God ever command us to believe any of his works without his Word.
107. Again, he has confirmed his works and wonders, as Christ says, John 10:33 “Though ye believe not me believe the works.” If you have not God’s Word you should continue to make use of your power, of your goods, of your friends, and of all that God has given you, and thus abide in the dispensation, established by God, Genesis 1. For he did not give it to you in vain, he will not, for your sake, turn water into wine or stone into bread, but you should use according to his order whatever he has created until he forces you by word or work to use it differently.
108. But when the hour comes that the creature cannot help you any more and all your strength fails, behold then God’s Word begins. For then he has commanded us to acknowledge him as God, i.e. expect everything that is good from him. This word, though in force all the time, will yet be only understood and made use of in need, when nothing else avails. Of this he speaks, Psalm 50:15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” From this it is clear that we cannot make trial of God in need, for all his words and promises point to the time of trouble, when no one but he is able to help. Hence we read, Matthew 4:7, that when the devil tempted Christ to cast himself down from the temple, Christ said, no, for it is written: “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God,” as if to say: I can go down by the steps, it is not necessary to do signs and wonders.
Again we read in the legends of the fathers that two brothers journeyed and one of them died of hunger for God’s sake; that is, he went to hell; for they came amongst wicked people, who offered them something to eat, and the one said, he would not take bread from these people, but expect his food from heaven. The other took and ate and lived. That fool did nothing else but set aside God’s order and tempted him. However sinful people may be they are still God’s creatures as well as thorns and thistles. You make use of a thorn to open a boil or for some other purpose; will you look contemptuously upon it, because it is a prickly brush? Thus we read that Abraham and Isaac gave up their own wives and had them taken from them in order not to tempt God. Therefore God preserved them so that no harm was done to them or to their wives, while great kings were punished. From this it is clear that to tempt God is mere wickedness and frivolity except in time of trouble.
109. There is another temptation also in the time of trouble which was punished severely among the people of Israel and which alas is common as compared to the other temptation and equally irrational. That temptation occurs before God’s Word is heard; this after we hear the Word, namely thus: when we know that God has promised help in the time of any trouble, but are not content with it, go forward and will not abide his promise, but prescribe time, place, and manner for his help; and then if he does not come as we expect and desire, faith vanishes. There faith is too long, here it is too short; there it is too early, here it is too late. In both cases men fall from the Word. Those have faith without Word, these have Word without faith, both of which are of no avail. Middle ground is blessed, both Word and faith united in one, as God and man are one in Christ.
110. He who holds fast to the Word alone, trusts and abides in it, does not doubt that what the Word says will come to pass; he who does not dictate aim or time or means and ways, but resigns all freely to God’s will and pleasure as to when, how, where, and by whom he will fulfill his Word; he, I say, has a true living faith which does not nor can not tempt God.
111. Learn then what it means to tempt God; it is easily understood; it is a deficiency of true faith. To faith belongs above all the Word of God, as the foundation and rock of faith.
Hence to tempt God is nothing else than to deal with him aside from his Word, i.e. to believe when he did not command faith and gave us no Word, or to disbelieve when he bids believe and gives us his Word. He did not give orders to believe that he would feed you when you have food before you or can find it without a miracle. But where you cannot find it, he has commanded that you firmly believe he will not forsake you. But you should not set time or measure for him, for he deserves to be free, which is becoming, and will not forsake you, which is divine; what more could you desire?
112. Such was the lot of Christ. God could have rescued him from the power of Herod. But since without apparent necessity of a miracle all could be adjusted, he used for our example ordinary means, and led the wise men into their own country by another way. It would have required an unnecessary exhibition of miracles if they had returned to Herod and made known the house wherein the child was to be found. But even this has its meaning, as we shall see later.
II. THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS GOSPEL.
113. Christ’s natural birth always signifies his spiritual birth, since he is born in us and we in him, as St. Paul says in Galatians 4:19: “My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you.” Now in order to complete this birth God’s Word and faith are necessary, because only through these can Christ’s spiritual birth be wrought in us.
Therefore this Gospel signifies spiritually nothing more than the nature of the divine Word and of faith; also, how they fare who are born spiritually; what temptations and conflicts faith must encounter.
114. First: God used the circumstance that Herod, a stranger, reigned over his people to signify thereby the kind of reign existing within the soul. They had rejected God, so that he could no more govern them by faith. The Jews had become nothing but a Pharisaical, Sadusaical, hypocritical and selfish people, who wanted to save themselves by human doctrines and outward works. They have no faith, which the entire Gospel and the life of Christ prove. As they, unbelieving in spirit, made for themselves a Herod in the place of Christ: they had to submit bodily and spiritually to a Herod instead of one who descended from the royal line of David, and therefore in both relations there was purely a kingdom of Herod. In the Greek language we are accustomed to call those who are noted for great clamor and deeds heroes, as were Hercules, Hector, Achilles, and the like, who in German are called giants, but in Saxon a fellow (Kerl), hence the name Carolus or Carl means among us what hero or Herod does in Greek. Herod comes from hero, because he was like a fellow, like a giant, a boaster, a Dieterich from Bern, a Hildebrand, a Roland, or by whatever other name you may call these great murderers and devourers of the people, who were also before the flood and whom Moses calls in Hebrew Niphlim (giants), Genesis 6:4, which means that the people who fall upon others and with force suppress them will themselves fall. The people of Israel destroyed many of them in the land of Canaan, as the Anakims, Raphaims and Emims. Anak is called a golden chain; hence the Anakims ( Deuteronomy 2:11) were called giants in the land and wore golden chains. The Rephaims were called rescuers, because they rescued the land and the people. The Emims were called terrible and frightful because the people were afraid of them.
115. Thus there always have been Herods, only in a different way and tinder other names: and thus there always will be Herods until the day of judgment, whom Christ at his coming will destroy. They are now called pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, monks, spiritual lords and holy fathers, who are very unjustly called shepherds and sheep of Christ, but who are in reality ravenous wolves that flay and devour Christ’s people in body, soul and property. They are in these last days the mighty fellows, giants, devourers of the people and Herods, whom none but Christ from heaven can destroy.
116. Now Christ and Herod are entirely different and diametrically opposed one to the other. Christ’s merit consists not in a great clamor and in pretentious deeds. With him there are no doings such as the giants and the fellows boast of, but only pure humanity that thinks not of self, is despised and content to let God be all in all and to do all and also to give him all the glory. Herod’s ambition is to do great things, to possess every ability, to make a loud clamor, to be everything and to lack nothing.
117. Since the Jews were inwardly veritable Herods, boasting much of themselves and of their deeds, commanding great respect on account of their ostentatious lives, Christ’s humble demeanor amounted to nothing with them; therefore God sent them a king, Herod, who dealt with them in temporal things as they dealt with souls in spiritual things. They rejected Christ and God; therefore he rejected their royal family. Since he could not reign in their souls, he did not allow their own flesh and blood to reign over their bodies and property; and as they destroyed and suppressed the people spiritually with their government and with human doctrines, therefore he permitted them to be destroyed, suppressed and tormented through Herod. The physical Herod was a chastisement and a sign of their spiritual Herod.
118. As in all sin, one ‘feels and hates the punishment, but loves the sin without being conscious of it; so it was with the Jews. They indeed felt the physical Herod and hated him, but the spiritual Herod, their unbelief, spiritual tyranny, they considered excellent, arrogantly claiming, through their PharIsaical, sectarian conduct in human doctrines and works of the law, to have earned much before God, and they could not discern that they had thereby earned the kingdom of Herod, from which they were not able to free themselves however much they desired it, and they considered themselves worthy on account of their spiritual and holy conduct.
119. Thus we now also keenly feel our Herod, who is flaying and devouring us in body and estate; and since we are not sincere Christians and do not permit Christ to be our king in a pure and free faith, but are satisfied with the spiritual affairs now existing and with our own works, we are unable to rid ourselves of this Herod and there is no hope of relief. We must suffer ourselves to be devoured and ruined, there is no help, he must be our bodily and spiritual Herod.
120. Let this be an established truth, that in the first place Herod signifies a kingdom; not simply a kingdom such as worldly lords rule, but a spiritual kingdom. Therefore the kingdom does not include only the temporal possessions of people but also their spiritual possessions; that is, their consciences and the affairs belonging to salvation, such as good works, a pious life, the sacraments and the Word of God.
121. Furthermore, this spiritual kingdom may be governed in a twofold manner: first, in a blessed way, when Christ alone governs in the true faith and the pure Gospel; secondly, in a pernicious way, when man governs with works and human doctrines. Just as the people of Israel were governed at one time by one of their own kindred, by their own king, and then again by Herod, a foreign king. Therefore Herod signifies nothing else than such a spiritual kingdom, in which people are governed, not through faith and the Gospel, but through works and doctrines of men. It has the name, indeed, and the appearance of being the true way to heaven and of teaching the people right, but in reality it is nothing else than the broad road to hell. The sum of it all is that Herod is the pope with his spiritual kingdom. There we see no faith, no Gospel, but simply human doctrines and works, and he has an enormous Herod-like power and makes a loud clamor in the world. The consciences of men should be guided, fed and preserved through God’s Word alone, but he leads and feeds them only with his own swivel and slabber, with indulgences, orders, masses, prayers, fasts and the like, and in this respect is a mighty giant, a Roland and a fellow, a Kerl.
122. They say that if the Christian church were not sustained by the state she would founder, when the truth is that faith in Christ alone should govern her. Hence it is in this respect as the peasants say: Kuntz Hildebrand, the great whale, carries the world on his tail; that is, if it were not for what the pope did with his kingdom, God would be entirely too weak, the apple of the world would certainly fall out of his hand and neither faith nor Gospel could avail anything. But now since the pope comes to his assistance and lays the foundation for him with his many tonsures, caps, robes, wooden shoes, bishop and cardinal hats, organ peals and smoke of incense, sounding of bells and candle-snuffing, bawling in the church and turkeys in their bellies, particularly in those who fast, eating neither milk, eggs nor meat and the like, in which the pope’s holiness consists, every thing will be sustained. And if the pope were in favor of doing away with such spiritual, orderly, holy government, where would the world be? Here we have what Herod and Christ are, two spiritual kingdoms, one unbelieving and the other believing.
123. Now, what is the “star”? It is nothing else than the new light, the oral and public preaching of the Gospel. Christ has two witnesses of his birth and kingdom; the one is the Scripture, the written Word; the other is the voice or the word preached orally. The same word Paul calls in Corinthians 4:6, and Peter in Peter 1:19, a light and lamp.
124. The Scriptures are not understood until the light is risen, for through the Gospel the prophets arose; therefore the star must first arise and shine.
In the New Testament sermons must be preached orally, with living voices publicly, and that which formerly lay concealed in the letter and secret vision must be proclaimed in language to the ear. Since the New Testament is nothing else than a resurrection and revelation of the Old Testament, as Revelation 5:9 testifies, where the Lamb of God opens the Book with its seven seals. We furthermore see that all the preaching of the apostles was nothing else than a presentation of the Scriptures upon which they built. Christ did not write his doctrines himself as Moses did, but he gave them orally, and commanded that they should be published abroad by preaching, and he did not command that they should be written. Likewise the Apostles wrote very little, except Peter, Paul, John, Matthew and a few others; from the rest we have nothing, for many do not consider the epistles of James and Jude apostolic writings. Those who have written do nothing more than direct us to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, just as the angel directed the shepherds to the manger and the swaddling clothes and the star led the wise men to Bethlehem.
125. Nor do we need any more New Testament books concerning Christian doctrine, but we need good, learned, spiritual, faithful preachers in every locality who without books can draw forth the living Word from the old Scriptures and make it plain and simple to the people, just as the apostles did; for previous to their writing they preached and conferred with the people by word of mouth, which was strictly the apostolic and New Testament mode of evangelical work. This is also the right star, testifying of Christ’s birth and the angelic message concerning the swaddling clothes and the manger.
126. That there was a necessity of writing books was in itself a great detriment and denotes an infirmity of the human spirit and does not arise out of the nature of the New Testament. For instead of pious preachers there came heretics, false teachers and all kinds of errorists giving the sheep of Christ poison in the place of pasture. Hence in order to rescue at least some of the sheep from the wolves it was necessary to write books in harmony with the Scriptures, so that as much as possible the lambs of Christ might be fed and the Scriptures preserved in their purity, thereby enabling the sheep to protect themselves against the wolves and to be their own guides when their false shepherds would not lead them into the green pastures.
127. Luke says in his preface, Luke 1:1, that he was influenced to write his Gospel by the fact that some had undertaken to write the history of Christ in whose reliableness he did not have full confidence. It was the object of all the epistles of Paul to guard and foster what he had taught before, doubting not that he had preached much more abundantly than he wrote. If wishing did any good, one could wish nothing better than that all books were simply destroyed and that nothing remained in the world except that which Christians formerly had, namely, the pure Scriptures alone or the Bible. It contains more than is necessary of all kinds of art and doctrine which man ought to know, but wishing is now to no purpose; would to God there were only good books besides the Bible.
128. Let it suffice for the present that this star is the visible sermon and the bright revelation of Christ as he is concealed and foreshadowed in the promises of the Scriptures. Therefore, whoever sees the star certainly recognizes the king of the Jews, the newly-born Christ. For the Gospel teaches nothing else but Christ and therefore the Scripture contains nothing else than Christ. But he who does not recognize Christ may hear the Gospel, or indeed carry the book in his hands, but he has not yet its real meaning. To have the Gospel without its meaning is to have no Gospel; and to have the Scripture without recognizing Christ means to have no Scripture and is nothing else than to let this star shine and yet not see it.
129. Therefore the Herodites and the people of Jerusalem fare thus: the star rises over their land and over their heads, but they do not see it.
Hence, when the Gospel arose over the Jewish people, as Isaiah says in the Epistle, Romans 10:21, they let it shine but did not acknowledge it. Of this Paul writes, 2 Corinthians 4:3,4, “And even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: in whom the god of this world,” that is, the devil, “hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them.” From this it is evident, that unbelief alone is the cause of blindness, on account of which they do not see the Gospel although it shines and is preached without ceasing. That it is impossible for Christ and his Gospel to be acknowledged by reason, but by faith alone, is here plainly taught. And the seeing of the star signifies this individual star.
130. The wise men signify, and are themselves the first fruit of heathendom converted unto faith through the Gospel. For the heathen were the wise men, that is, people of nature, living according to their reason, who did not have the law and the prophets, as ‘the Jews, but walked only according to nature, without the divine law and the Word. Now, as the natural masters, the wise men, generally deviated from the line of right, and converted the natural art into witchcraft and sorcery, as stated above, so the natural reason when left to itself, and not assisted by the doctrines of God, most certainly will go astray, and will loose itself in error and blindness as a veritable witch, full of all manner of unbelief.
131. Thus Paul writes, Romans 2:14, that the heathen, although the law of God had not been given to them, nevertheless had a natural law of conscience and performed the works of the law, which they found written in their hearts. But though they were far from the truth, and were without the law of God, they were brought to faith much more easily and much sooner than the Jews, for the reason, that the Jews, having the law depended upon it, and thought they had sufficiently satisfied it by their works. Therefore they despised the Gospel as something entirely superfluous and false, because it rejected works, concerning which they boasted so much, and lauded faith alone. The heathen had no ground for such vain boasting, because they were without the law; hence they more easily yielded to the Gospel, acknowledged its necessity, and their need of it.
132. That the wise men came to Jerusalem and inquired after the new born king signifies nothing else than that the heathen were enlightened through the Gospel, came into the Christian church and sought Christ. For Jerusalem is a figure of the Christian church, into which God’s people are gathered, which in German may be called, vision of peace, because in the Christian church peace is seen, that is, when all have a good conscience, and peaceful confidence of heart, who, being in the Christian church and being true Christians, have forgiveness of sins through the grace of God.
133. Now in this peaceful place, Herod the devourer of men, would reign at all times; for all the doctrines and works of men, have in them this vexatious evil, that they in their very nature mislead, oppress, and destroy the true Jerusalem, en-snaring good consciences and pious hearts, teaching them to trust in themselves and in their good works, thereby causing faith to perish, peace and a good conscience to be destroyed, while the rule of Herod with its great show and clamor and faithless works, alone remains.
This is what our Gospel wishes to say, that thus Christ was born and sought after at the time of Herod, in the very city of his kingdom. For evangelical truth wages its whole warfare with the false holiness of Herod, and every time it renews the strife it finds Herods, who rule the people with their doctrines and human works, and these things are so for no other reason than that the truth condemns these doings of theirs and teaches the pure grace of God instead of works and pure faith instead of law, in order to rescue the people of God from the reign of Herod, and save them for the true Jerusalem.
134. When Herod heard this he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.
Why? Because Herod was afraid of another king, the true king, for he himself, with force wanted to be the only king. It came to pass, that through the Gospel the heathen began to praise Christ and to have faith, contrary to the works and doctrines of men; thereupon the Jews became enraged, because they could easily perceive that if this matter should grow and spread, their affairs would soon be considered worthless, and their great and false doings would surely be brought to shame. This they could not endure, and therefore they began to rage, as is shown by the history of the apostles. For they knew very well that the progress of the Gospel, their government, honor, power and riches, which they had in such abundance under the spiritual reign of Herod, would receive a powerful blow.
135. Human works and doctrines at all times yield much revenue and carnal gain, while the doctrines of God and the work of Christ bring the cross, poverty, ignominy, and all kinds of calamity, which the holiness of Herod can not endure. Thus it happens always, that they who have ensnared and oppressed the poor with an erring conscience and with human doctrines, do not like to hear that poor, miserable consciences receive instruction, attain a right understanding, and seek the simple, pure Word of God and faith. Many say that they want a new king, and have seen his star; for thus the pope, bishops, holy fathers and lords could not indulge their carnal desires.
136. Therefore, it is not at all agreeable nor serviceable to the reign of Herod that the wise men, the learned, the laity, who know nothing, should begin to speak of the light of the Gospel, and to inquire about another matter in the midst of Jerusalem, paying no attention to spiritual pomp of the rulers. This must indeed have frightened Herod and his associates because it concerned their purses and their belly. Yes, it also frightened all Jerusalem; for many pious people, though they hated the reign of Herod and wished that it were not thus, also were afraid that the truth might be brought to light at an unpropitious time, that through it a tumult and confusion might be caused in the world, that the government might be attacked, and that perhaps this tumult could not without great detriment, be suppressed. Therefore they thought that it might be better to withhold the truth for a time, or to bring it forth in such a manner as not to frighten Herod, and arouse him to some desperate action.
137. But the wise men do not inquire after his fright and anger, but speak openly of the star and the new king and are not in the least concerned that the heavens might fall. For one must neither confess nor deny the Gospel on account of any particular person; it is God’s Word, Herod must yield to it and follow it. Does he rage however? Then let him rage, Christ must remain in preference to him.
138. And now behold! Herod is foremost to learn of the new king, not with sincerity but with deceit, and so he gathers together all the learned men and diligently searches the Scripture, as though he were anxious to learn the truth, and yet we know that it was his determination to accomplish his own will and intention instead of obeying the Scripture. Here we arrive at the real character of Herod; here we see the pope and his followers truly portrayed.
139. But that no one may blame me for applying this to the pope, and comparing his holy order and its reign so contemptuously with that of Herod. I want it understood that I do it because it is my Christian duty and a debt of faithfulness which I feel in my conscience that I owe every one. If the truth and experience do not prove all that I say, then let any one who will chastise me for lying; I will fulfill my fraternal office satisfactorily and be excused before God. If any one despises my faithful warning, let him answer for it himself, I want to say to him, that Christ and his doctrine shall not suffer on account of the pope and his spiritual rule. Therefore let every one guard himself against them, as against his eternal destruction, and adhere alone to Christ. Whether it brings the pope and his divines any fortune or honor, does not concern me in the least; I must preach Christ and not the fortune and honor of the pope and his divines. What is said of the pope and his divines, is said of all those who oppress the people with their works and doctrines, and do not teach the true faith, the pure Scripture and the one Christ, as the Jews also did but accomplished very little against the pope and his associates. He who will suffer himself to be misled has herewith heard my warning: I am innocent of his blood and ruin.
140. That Herod called the princes, priests and scribes of the people together and inquired of them concerning the birth of Christ, is the same as our spiritual kingdom, and is what the unbelieving tinkers are doing; they keep the Scriptures to themselves, and what they teach is presumably contained in the Scripture, but in this sense, that their own opinion comes first, and the Scriptures must be twisted so as to agree with their opinion.
For their intention is to use the Scripture only to this end, that it may suppress the truth and satisfy, their own doings, just as Herod searched in the Scriptures for no other purpose than that he might slay Christ.
141. Thus our Herod is doing, with his Herodites, the people; he indeed searches the Scriptures and uses it, but he explains it only in such a way that he may destroy its real sense, and read into it his own sense. With such show even the elect are deceived; for there is no greater show, which frightens and deceives every conscience, than that which sets forth the name of God and claims only to search and follow God’s Scripture and Word, while at the same time it seeks thereby only to oppose and to quell the Scriptures with all their contents. Therefore the wise men do not see the star of Jerusalem, and do not know where they shall go. And all who walk among such genteel and glittering folks will be deceived and will lose the real Christian sense on account of the great bustle and glittering exterior of unbelieving divines, unless they grasp firmly the pure Scripture.
142. Although both Herod and the wise men received the Scriptures here from the priest, Herod received them in a false and vicious sense. The wise men received them in a right and good sense; therefore they see again the star shining, and are rescued from Herod’s hypocrisy under which they had lost the star. As here the strife between Herod and the wise men is signified, so also is signified the strife between the true and the false divines who place themselves over the Scriptures, that the true divines are indeed a trifle in error, and for a little while lose the true light, but they do not continue in error. They finally grasp the true sense of Scripture, come again to the clear light, and let the Herods praise themselves in their false understanding of the Scripture.
143. Concerning this St. Paul writes, 2 Timothy 3:1-9: “But knew this, that in the last days, grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy. Without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong puffed up, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away.
For of these are they who creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sin, led away by divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth; men corrupt in mind, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further for their folly shall be evident unto all men, as theirs also came to be.” etc.
144. I think that here St. Paul has spoken freely, and pointed out our spiritual lords, and Herod’s holy domestics. Indeed there is not a letter here, which cannot be seen by any one publicly verified in the spiritual order. But they have a petrified pate, and imagine that this does not speak of themselves at all; and fancy that because the pope fortifies them with parchment and pencil, they are greatly wronged if one understands Paul’s words to mean them. Therefore we must consider this rich text of Paul’s a little more closely so that we may clearly see and recognize Herod. He says that in the last times there should come people who had been running for many years already, and who were dangerous, because on account of such deceivers, few people would be saved, destroying the faith and slaying souls with their human doctrines and individual nonsense.
145. The apostle would not be understood to mean the common people, whom they now call wordlings or laymen, but his words are clear and forcibly point to the tonsure crowned and hooded people, the spiritual kingdom. For among others of their noble virtues, he mentions very notably their chief virtue, namely, that they affect the appearance of the Christian life and of the service of God, but renounce the reality. Who does not know who they are. Where is the spiritual life, God’s service, holy orders, except in their institutions and cloisters. Likewise he says, “They creep into houses, and lead captive silly women,” teaching them constantly, which is clearly said of teachers and preachers, particularly of mendicant friars and vagabonds. Likewise the statement that they withstand the truth, as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, signifies plainly that he is speaking of those who preach and rule among the people. But let us give attention to another class.
146. First, they are the Philauti, who think much of themselves and are well pleased with themselves; everything they do is well done and right; they alone will get to heaven, and are the only ones who have found the right way; they alone are the Christian church, and they are the only people who rule heaven and earth. Compared with them, other people are poor sinners, in a dangerous relation, and must buy from them intercessions, good works and merit. Finally, they have accomplished so much, that all other Christians are called worldlings, while they are the divines. It cannot be expressed how this title pleases them, how they think themselves too good for other relations, and how there are other people on earth to whom the name Philauti can be given than to themselves. The apostle has indeed hit them well; but above all, their chief lord, the pope, who fairly stinks with self-esteem and self-complacency in all the world, so that they must confess themselves how his spiritual claims are nothing but Philautia, purely his own satisfaction.
147. God help! how much the abomination thinks of himself, how well his station pleases him, how insolently he distinguishes between himself and all other Christians, not only in the temporal but also in spiritual things, doing no more than tickling himself until he laughs himself nearly to death from sheer wantonness, as everyone who sees his life, his kingdom. his bulls, his laws and his doctrines must publicly confess. Such poison others in their respective stations, draw from him, and he helps them in it with liberties, protection, blessing and praise. Afterward the laymen learn it also from them, each one in his good little prayer and peculiar manner, in this way Christian faith must perish, which has its pleasure and good intention in Christ alone, all other affairs being indifferent to it, and it has no preference among them.
148. Secondly, they are haughty. This follows from the first, their own selfesteem, that they exalt themselves in their hearts over all others, thinking themselves better than everybody else. This you can abundantly see in the people and the ministers; how they, beyond measure; shamelessly say and boast of themselves, that the spiritual station is better than the temporal, although Christians are in the latter; but the fact is that the Christian relation alone is good, which will either not suffer such a distinction or it will perish. Yes, this spiritual pride is the foundation upon which their entire kingdom stands; for if it were not respectable and better, all its affairs and government must be destroyed.
149. These two great, low and horrible vices are so artful and so entirely spiritual that they do not see a glimpse of them; yes, they hold them as the very truth and as established righteousness. They go right on also in their satanical would-be holy life, allowing themselves, in their frightful vices, to be called and honored as holy, spiritual and blessed people.
150. Thirdly, they are arrogant. This follows from the former, namely their haughtiness. For haughtiness is not satisfied with honoring one’s self, but it breaks forth and soars so high, esteems itself so highly, hovers entirely in the regions above, sits on the very highest seat and acts outwardly according to its internal sentiment. The difference between haughtiness and arrogance is that haughtiness possesses the heart, while arrogance consists in the external lofty bearing and demeanor. Who cannot see this in the pope and the entire spiritual order? Do they not veritably carry themselves above emperors, kings and princes, and everything both great and small on earth?
They have set themselves over man’s possessions, and with free and malicious strength govern both body and soul, as though they had the best right and cause. And if they are told that Christ forbids such arrogance, when he says to his disciples, Luke 22:26, “But he that is the greater among you let him become as the younger,” and Luke 22:25, “Ye shall not have lordship over them as the kings of the Gentiles”, they wrest the entire force of the passage unto themselves by giving an explanation, which no one except themselves can give, by saying that Christ has thereby not forbidden the authority and rulership over others, but that this refers to the intention of the heart, namely that they are not to exalt and esteem themselves better than others. For, say they, there can be a prelate, indeed, who is humble and does not exalt himself in his heart over others, and yet he must soar above them outwardly. Hence they quote several passages from the fathers and thereby blind and fool themselves, and everybody else.
151. The apostle would say of this external imperviousness: I know very well that he who would teach and rule others must be spiritually superior, but they make spiritual that which is bodily; for they want to soar high bodily; their goods, honor, behavior, persons, affairs, right and rule must be over all other goods, honor, persons, affairs and rule. They want to have everything their own way and insist on having it that way too, those dear squires, and therefore convert temporal goods, honor, person, behavior, clothes, etc. into spiritual things.
152. Christ was spiritually the highest on the earth, for he taught everybody, as a teacher and master, but he did not exalt his person over any man. Yea, he served man with all that he had and was able to do. The prophets and apostles undoubtedly were also among the highest on the earth spiritually, but when did ever anyone of them set his person, goods and existence over others, much less over kings and princes. They were much rather subject to them and offered them their service, as Christ also was subject to Caesar, Matthew 17:2-7. Beloved Herodites, the spiritual kingdom is not seen with eyes, and does not rule over goods nor persons, but over souls and spirits through the Word of God. But you convert it into an earthly kingdom, and give it the spiritual name, in order to cover and adorn the accursed arrogance, that you might not be subject to anyone, nor pay interest, taxes and toll, that you might be exempt from every duty, and only receive and rob.
153. I have forgotten and overlooked the fact that I should have credited them with avarice, and must therefore consider it here in the fourth place.
This vice is so enormous in the pope and the spiritual order, that wood and stone cry out about it. But this is nothing compared with that which few people see, namely that the spiritual order is founded almost entirely upon usury,, through the highly damnable rental sales, which the pope has instituted as a reserve and patron of avarice, that he might visibly swallow the world. Furthermore, among thousands one scarcely sees the secret avarice prevailing among them, that they are spiritual simply for the sake of bodily maintenance and support.
154. The proverb has hit upon the truth, Despondency makes the monk. “For how many are there not who become spiritual for no other reason than that of anxiety, lest they may not be able to nourish themselves, or must do it with labor and worry. There are now bishops and dignitaries who became such for this very reason. What is it but avarice, when one does not trust God, who created him, to the extent that he will also nourish him? But some also become spiritual because they are despondent on account of their salvation; these however are the few, and since this is no good reason they are not well established.
155. Fifthly, they are slanderers. This must follow from the former virtues.
For if their pride, arrogance, avarice and self-esteem are to stand and be preserved, they must equip themselves with armor, and defend themselves against those who chastise such sins with Scripture, as they justly deserve to be chastised, and cannot endure the Scripture. Therefore the pope must here send out his bulls and law, and must curse, damn, slander, and excommunicate all who militate against his kingdom and say it is not God’s Word but the devil’s, all who withstand his holiness and his divines, who must be avoided as the worst of heretics, as St. Peter also proclaimed in 2 Peter 2:2, that such people shall speak evil of the way of truth, and shall afterward say, that they did it all to the honor of God, and for the sake of spiritual possessions. But the pope’s faction, his Herod-like associates, will adhere to him, and will spread such slander and cursing as far as their avarice, pride and arrogance prevail, so that the world shall be filled with blasphemy and curses.
156. O God, heavenly Father! Thy terrible wrath and fearful judgment are visited upon all the world in these dangerous and miserable times, and alas, no one acknowledges it; wilt thou have created all men to no purpose?
157. Sixthty, they are disobedient to parents. Next to obedience unto himself, before and above everything else, God has commanded obedience to parents. But what do the pope and his spiritual kingdom now teach? If a father has reared a son to be a parson or a bishop, he has raised a lord over himself, who is under no obligation to be obedient to him, on account of this great worthiness and the exultant holiness of Herodic spirituality.
Therefore the people also as we can see lead a free and unrestrained life.
God’s command concerning obedience to parents is disregarded, and they claim that they are under the highest obedience to God; although God has not commanded one single letter of their claim, but it is all of their own invention. Now God does not recall one command, even on his own account much less on account of man’s choosing and selection. Likewise, the cloisters also have come into vogue in order to get rid of this commandment of God; therefore the son or daughter, without the will of the father, leaves the parental roof and goes into the cloister. The holy father pope and his Herodites decide that this is right and proper and so compel the people to break the commandment of God. Thus the entire spiritual order has been made free and independent of the highest and first commandment of the second table.
158. But if you will listen to me, I will from my whole soul, advise you rightly, in the name of Christ Jesus. If your child becomes clerical contrary to your will, whether it be priest, monk or nun, you may, if you chose subsequently, sanction and tolerate the disobedience: But if you do not sanction it, and if you are afraid, that on account of weakness your child might not preserve his chastity, or otherwise might lead a perverse and dissolute life, or perhaps spiritually misguided, or if you should need his support at home then do not dispute about the matter but go, unhesitatingly, and take your child out of the cloister, out of his monk’s dress and tonsure, or whatever else he may have crept into. Do not yield if he has made a hundred thousand vows, and all the bishops in a pile have blessed him. Your child has been entrusted by God to you to govern, and from you he will again be demanded. What answer will you give if you allow him to be lost, when you can advise and save him? If the authorities object, then oppose them in return with the commandment of God, that children are to be obedient to their parents, particularly when parents are concerned about their danger, and will not allow it. Why, the pope’s law allows a wife, unhindered, to take her husband out of the cloister and priesthood. Now the fourth commandment, to be obedient to parents in matters not contrary to God’s commandment, is just as well God’s commandment, as that man and wife shall not be separated.
159. Therefore, I say that the pope takes the liberty from sheer insolence, to remove monks and nuns from the cloisters, though he has no power to do so. The parents have the power to leave their child there or take him away when they please, or as they see it beneficial for the child.
160. But when the Herodites here say, that obedience to parents cease when the service of God orders it, and that the first commandment is above the fourth commandment, then answer them boldly, that God’s service is not their spiritual order, concerning which God has commanded nothing, and that they lie when they call their little invention God’s service. The service of God is nothing else than to keep his commandments. In the first table, his commandments require faith and love to God. Now they do not walk in faith and love to God, who become clerical only in external particular affairs, in which there is less love, than in domestic and worldly affairs.
161. But now alas! many people are pleased to see their children become clerical, because they do not see the danger in it. Some solemnly promise their children to the clerical rank. Such is all pure ignorance concerning the faith and the Christian relation. If however, parents should demand something contrary to God’s commandments, as for example, against faith and love to our neighbor, they are not to be obeyed. Here Christ’s word must stand: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” Matthew 10:37, otherwise the commandment of obedience remains. Parents however may and ought to be willing, and even suffer themselves to be persuaded to give their child, when it is possible and necessary for his soul.
162. In this connection another subject of great importance must be considered, namely the marriage of our children. No one indeed is so foolish as to force his child into marriage. This must not be done. When a daughter wishes to marry, I claim that she shall pledge obedience in her virginity, and ask her father’s consent. Neither should she be compelled to take this or that man, but she should have her own free choice; as in the case of Rebekah, Genesis 24:58. When, however, obedience is coerced, I claim that it must be respected.
163. But the question is here whether the father has the power to annul the marriage, when the child became engaged contrary to his will. The pope answers no! releasing the child from obedience to the father; but I say, yes, and do not release the child from obedience to the father. And I think also that no other man has the power to release previous to entering into the marriage relation. But when the relation has already been entered and the fruits are apparent, and they want to remain together, it is very unkind of the father to separate and tear them apart, though he have the power to do so, for however great his power may be, it is a duty he owes to love and friendship, to connive a little, and act according to the child’s desire, that such separation may not be affected by self-will and wantonness, undertaken without any cause whatever.
164. For parents are sometimes inclined to give attention to their own disposition rather than to the benefit and need of the child. Although the child may suffer in this way it is not right on the part of the father, whose duty it is to be friendly and, to the best of his ability, to use his power for his child’s welfare; just as Manoah and his wife listened to Samson’s intercession, to get the wife for him whom he desired, though she was not their choice, Judges 14:8.
165. When it happens, however, that the maid betrothes herself clandestinely, while the father, or the father’s vice-parent had given her another, then she shall trample the pope’s snare under foot, and without any conscientious scruples dismiss the first, and take the second. For the pope has no power to act contrary to God’s command, or to substitute the first engagement and break the second, causing thereby consciences to err, saying that such a maid is an adulteress for marrying the second, and forcing her to the first, claiming that she must suffer, and not willingly take the second, nor demand the conjugal duty. O thou murderer of souls! how miserably thou comfortest consciences! jumbling one thing with another, until there is no more any room for salvation, and causing perilous times! If the maid should beg her father’s pardon, and plead that she may live with the first, because she has such a strong desire, then let her do so; otherwise obedience is a mere farce; she can insist upon conjugal duty and act as though she had never been betrothed. Had this precept been preserved, clandestine engagements would long since have been suppressed, and the great destructive snare for consciences in the pope’s jurisdiction would never have prevailed.
166. Now you can see, I think, how keenly St. Paul understood this spiritual kingdom which would teach all children to be obedient to their parents, and yet give them liberty to choose temporal or spiritual stations, or to continue in those already chosen, without the sanction of the parents.
In this way it has simply destroyed and nullified God’s commandment concerning obedience, and thereby so lamentably confused consciences, that they do not know what to do. As they teach disobedience toward parents, and separation from God’s command through their spiritual holiness, so also they teach young and worldly people to act wrong in the marriage relation.
167. But a pious child must learn to honor his parents and to be pleased and satisfied with their dealings with him when they do not act contrary to God’s command. And if he should be able to awaken the dead, or heaven should open its portals at his bidding, he must undertake none of these, knowing that such an act would be contrary to the will of his parents. For he who is obedient to his parents is obedient also to God, whose commandment it is to be obedient to parents. Therefore one should be glad to see destroyed that which is done contrary to parental obedience when not required of God, however good and however great a service of God it may seem to be; for that cannot please God which is contrary to parents, if God has not commanded it. Therefore God speaks through Jeremiah, Jeremiah 29:6, to the parents: “And take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands,” etc., so that the children may not take them themselves, but that the parents have the power to dispose of them. More might be said on this point, but let this suffice for this time.
168. Seventhly, they are ungrateful not only toward God, which is a necessary sequence, when they blaspheme, condemn his word and destroy his commandments, but also toward men; for they have received great good and honor from the princes of the whole world, and their entire comfortable life is the sweat and blood of others. Neither do they acknowledge that when a city or district is destroyed they shall contribute and help with their abundant riches and treasures; this is nothing else than simply keeping their treasures in their own pockets. Again, if their interest and goods in any way are interfered with there is no mercy exercised in excommunication, driving and martyrdom. No one thinks or says, “Very well, then, seeing that we have such and such goods or lands and to spare, and since they have had such trouble and ruin, we will now show them love and extend a helping hand.” It is a spiritual blessing and must not serve worldly affairs; yes, they consider it the greatest vice if they should be charitable, and say, “He who does that ravages the goods of the bishopric, cloister and the holy church.” Therefore that the goods of the church may always remain, Christian love and genuine gratitude must perish. And yet those who do such things are not spiritual, holy people, and they will enter into heaven as little as a cow into a mouse-hole.
169. Eighthly, they do not consider holy things. Here the apostle deals them a powerful blow by calling them Anosios, Osios means consecrated, holy, spiritual, such as deal in holy things and are ordained to this end; such as through consecration become spiritual and holy. Anosios, hence, means unconsecrated and unholy. But is he not an insolent apostle who dryly and openly calls these spiritual fellows unspiritual and the consecrated unconsecrated? Have they not the tonsure and are they not anointed with oil? Have they not white gowns, and do they not hold masses, sing high and read low, play organs and pipes, bells and sounding symbols, consecrate churches and chapels, burn incense and sprinkle water, carry the cross and banners, dress themselves in silk and velvet, carry golden caps and silver pyxes, and do everything that is great? If these are not spiritual things, then what is spiritual? Thus the pope and bishops must go astray.
Certainly St. Paul is under the pope’s ban, because he has spoken against such a spiritual right, in which purely such spiritual things are performed.
170. No cow, no ass, no swine is so entirely devoid of sense that it would not be able to recognize these things as physical and external, through which no one can become spiritual or holy. Neither do we now call everything of this Herodian rule spiritual and consecrated. Therefore St.
Paul rightly calls them the unspiritual ecclesiastics on account of these unspiritual things which cause them to neglect the true spiritual things. He understood their perversion and how they assumed the place of ecclesiastics, and therefore changed their name, as if to say: These men profess to be the spirituals and say that they administer holy things; they are rather the unspirituals, concerning themselves about foolish deeds and neglecting the true spiritual things.
171. For he is called osios or spiritual who administers the Word of God and the sacraments in order that he may lead himself and his fellowmen to God. This is in truth the office of the spirituals. But neither of these do they do; yes, through their abuse of all the sacraments, especially of the mass, they lead themselves and everyone else still further away from God.
Neither do they preach the Gospel nor fulfill their spiritual duties rightly.
Much could be said concerning this. The apostle has in these words embraced everything that pertains to their true office and on account of which they are called spirituals, and he says: They do none of these things, therefore they are rather the unspirituals.
172. Ninthly, without natural affection. They do not with their heart mean anyone, that is they do not interest themselves in any one, they let every one fare as he will and go where he pleases. If they but have enough, they are satisfied. As has been said, it is the duty of the clergy to minister to the spiritual wants of the people, and also to see that the poor are provided with the necessities of life. Now it is evident that no one on earth manifests less interest in his fellowmen than does the clergy. And all this is caused by the aforesaid wickedness, love of money, unthankfulness and unholiness.
They are a united people, bent upon their own profit and advantage in temporal as well as spiritual things.
173. Or is there anyone who would call that kindness, when the pope and his allies shed the blood of so many Christians, when they instigate the whole world to war, when they exhaust, suck out and flay the world with their indulgences and all kinds of roguery? It is indeed a very fine virtue in rulers to interest themselves in their subjects and heartily to be concerned about their affairs and their needs in things of this world; but it is a still finer virtue when the clergy does likewise in spiritual matters, as they would do if they were truly Osii But now they are anosii and astorgi, unholy as well as unkind.
174. In the tenth place, they are obstinate, not willing to help others. Here St. Paul vehemently attacks the holy canon law, which speaks so much of privileges, liberties and exemptions, and strikes the holy scrinium pectoris (heart-shrine) at Rome. Nature and God’s disposition ordain that people who must live together in one community unite to carry common burdens upon common backs and do common work with common hands. Thus they are bound together with common burdens. In disregard of this, the pope and the canon law have their privilegia, libertates, immunitates, indulta, gratias, nothing but exceptions; he and his allies avail themselves of the advantages which community affords but leave the doing of common work and the carrying of common burdens to others; yes, it were the greatest sin to follow St. Paul, to relinquish their privileges and to help carry the burdens of the community. And still they plainly see that such liberties cause people to look at them askance and with dissatisfaction and that it justly embitters their hearts and therefore is contrary to brotherly love.
175. Moreover, the holiest father, the pope, has the power if members of the clergy would unite or had united with the community to tear all such bonds and to absolve them from their oaths and vows because they had been made to the detriment of the church. It is the fruit of unkindness that no one but they is to be free and rich, is to have the necessities and pleasures of life and is to live without the burden of danger and care.
176. They exempt themselves from the obligations which they have as members of the community and are subject only to the pope; therefore St.
Paul calls them aspondos, those that exempt themselves, the obstinate, who are of no service to their fellowmen, but wish to enjoy the service of everyone else, and who wish to enjoy the advantage in all things, but repudiate the disadvantage. Such a state of affairs can not be tolerated in any community and is indeed contrary not only to Christian love, but also to all fairness and all reason.
177. In the eleventh place, they are slumberers and back-biters. What an awful vice of which St. Paul speaks here, which is most commonly found among the clergy, much more so than among other men, and also among those who, in the eyes of the people, are highly renowned as men of breeding, honor, and upright character. Do but take notice what attitude these people take toward the sins and faults of others; how they boast of their love and kindness as examples of good breeding, honor and uprightness, how they apply themselves with great earnestness to righteousness, that indeed there is nothing lacking in regard to love and mercy toward their neighbors.
178. That we may understand this well, we shall speak of it carefully and slowly. In the former vices it has been shown what attitude these men take toward the person and the property of their neighbors. Here he particularly tells us what attitude they take toward the sins of their neighbors. Oh, how blind and ignorant they are here, how they are led by their own pleasure and haughtiness! The Scriptures teach us what attitude to take toward our neighbor’s sins, namely, this: 179. First, we are not to be suspicious, but are to put, if at all possible, the best construction on everything that we see in our neighbor which is not an open sin. For thus writes St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:7: “Love believeth all things,” that is, it has the best opinion of every one and is suspicious of no one; it is of the opinion that others act and think as love itself acts and thinks. Love always means well, though its actions may be apparently evil at times; therefore it puts the best construction upon everything others do, no matter how evil it may appear.
180. Secondly, when our neighbor’s deed is an open sin and cannot be otherwise construed, then love acts thus: Has this deed been seen by, or is it known to, no one else, then love will keep it quiet and not disclose it, will tell no one of it and will, if possible, Rover it, that no one else may know of it, and will thus preserve its neighbor’s honor; but love will also reprove him and pray for him, have patience and mercy with him, and will think as a certain father thought, he fell yesterday, I may fall today; or, if he sins in this thing, I sin in another; we both need the same grace. Therefore love will forgive and help, as we also pray that we may be forgiven and helped. Thus Christ teaches us, Matthew 18:15: “And if thy brother sin against thee (that is, secretly, that no one has seen it but you) go show him his fault between thee and him alone.” And St. Paul, Galatians 6:1: “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to thyself lest thou also be tempted.”
181. Thirdly, if our neighbor’s sin is committed publicly and cannot be covered because it is known to a number of people, then love will again act thus: love will keep silence, will tell no one else of this sin, but will go and make it known to his superior, whose duty it is to reprimand him and will let that suffice; then love will pray for him and have mercy as before. Thus we read, Genesis 37:2, that Joseph told his father Jacob the bad rumor which was spread concerning his brother. He did not tell their secret deed, but as the text says, the bad rumor concerning them, which was to show that their deed was no more a secret but had become public and the talk of the people.
182. Compare with this what these lovers of discipline and honor now do.
In the first place, because they secretly think so much of themselves and are so well pleased with themselves, they think that no one acts and thinks as well as they do, they are the most suspicious people on earth, full of unnecessary care and anxiety that no one does right, and they put the worst construction upon everything; and even when a deed is good, they nevertheless think the intention is evil. Then they search for and meditate closely upon the intention that a person may possibly have and are not satisfied until they have heard something bad about their neighbor. Oh! what respectable and honorable people are addicted to this vice; and it really seems at times as though it were only cautiousness with them and fear of being deceived. But cautiousness considers casual danger and protects itself from being degraded, speaks openly: I believe that you have no bad intentions, but we are all human, you may change and err as well as I, etc. But suspicion considers the present deed only, thinking nothing good of it, and not of the casual danger; it thinks that that is already wrong which caution regards as good and for which it provides means to save it from becoming bad.
183. Secondly, when suspicion sees the neighbor’s evil deed secretly or hears of it, it is delighted, for it can now show how pious it is and how bad other people are, how it loves righteousness, propriety and honor. The poor publican must submit to the Pharisee; Noah must suffer to have his son Ham see his nakedness. Yea, we are accustomed to say, what an honorable, pious man this is; every one must now hear of this neighbor’s evil deed. Some take great pleasure in hearing and talking about the sins of others and say: Indeed it is true. This vice has assumed greater proportions than any one believes, especially among those who seem to be honorable and well bred people. Here there is no one who would conceal, who would reprove, who would amend, who would intercede; but everyone slanders and defames and yet they are holy and spiritual people.
184. Thirdly, when, however, they wish to reprove or accuse another, they deal as unmercifully with him as though they themselves were in need of no grace, and as though they themselves had never committed any sin. They do not tell his superior but revile him publicly before those who knew nothing of it before. Here the love of justice is bought for a high price, for thereby the neighbor is robbed of his honor and disgraced. Here it concerns them not when he is driven into despair, hazards his body and soul, becomes a desperate man. They have reproved the sin as pious, honorable people, but as to betterment, let another see to that. They cast him from them as one who would always remain a good-for-nothing. Oh, what a senseless mass of holy, honorable people they are; they have no scruples of conscience, they go and pray as though they had done their part well!
Behold! to this vice they add the ones spoken of previously; they are boastful lovers of self and also without natural affection, obstinate, who concern themselves about no one, are of service to no one and seek only their own honor to the shame and detriment of others. For this reason St.
Paul her calls them diabolus, slanderers, defilers, who know no other way of dealing with their neighbor’s sins than thereby to disgrace him, to rob him publicly of his good name that they only may be looked upon as pious, well bred and honored men: For if they were merciful and kind-hearted, they would seek to better and not to defame or cast away any one but destroy his sin.
185. St. Paul has indeed described them perfectly; for experience teaches how insanely the clergy and men of this kind are bent upon listening to other people’s sins and shame, ridiculing, speaking about and spreading them, that they indeed are worthy of the name diaboli or devils. St. Paul always uses this little word diabolus in this sense; although some people use it for the devil, whose nature also is to expose, spread and magnify people’s sins. But when St. Paul speaks of the devil he usually says Satan.
Thus he says, 1 Timothy 3:6: “A bishop must not be a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the diabolus,” that is, the slanderer, that he may not have occasion to judge evil of him etc.
186. In the twelfth place, they are unchaste. How could it be otherwise when they are leading such a haughty, free, secure, indolent, gay and wanton life? How is it possible that they should remain chaste, addicted to all the aforesaid vices, when those scarcely succeed who live an irreproachable, virtuous life? Now, this vice is publicly known to exist among them, they indulge in it immeasurably and yet go unpunished. But no one is responsible for this unchastity but the pope, because he has forbidden the clergy to marry. If they were allowed to marry, many would abstain from the vices, but many of them would be obliged to choose a different calling. The evil spirit knew this well, and in order that such vice may be strengthened, he prompted the pope to forbid marriage. Thus has originated this peculiar institution, which is pleasing unto themselves. And lastly, he has beguiled them with this pretense, that they do not acknowledge, never regret, nor repent of, the eleven vices previously described, but regard them as right and virtuous, and enter heaven with them. But this twelfth vice is so coarse that they can not deny it. Here they do penance and confess it and thereby become as white again as snow, just as a sow that lies in the mud with its entire body. but keeps only one ear and a few bristles on its back clean.
187. In the thirteenth place, they are fierce; that is, they are entirely untried, untrained, inexperienced people, who cannot understand any shame; when you touch them they loose their temper, and this must all follow from their unrestrained life in which they have been reared. As a child that has been left to do as it pleased becomes coarse and knotty, so they also are inflexible, ungentle, intolerable people. They are accustomed to be honored, to receive plenty, to have their will and to go unpunished; if anything else, therefore, comes in their way, they will not tolerate it. But if they were under discipline as others, they would oftentimes have to give way and abstain from that which they now freely do and would no doubt become more mellow and mild, so that one could get along better with them. This vice is also a very open one, especially in the monasteries, where they call themselves pas-donates; that is, such that easily become angry.
188. In the fourteenth place, they are no lovers of good; that is, they do not regard the good, they are entirely unconcerned about performing good works and proceed as though they were not in need of good works and as if they knew another and better way to heaven. For they maintain that they are so superabundantly rich in good works, through holding mass and praying their horas that they can even sell them to others. They simply know of no other good works than their own self-imposed and self-chosen works, concerning which God has commanded nothing. Those who are the most pious make their testament when they die, institute masses and vigils, increase the fees of the officiating clergy and improve the possessions and the worship of the holy church. These are their good works; besides this their whole life is of no good and no benefit to anyone. Or would you call that a good work when they extort money from the poor people, as the Jews did, practice usury in all the lands and levy taxes on every house and head? Do not believe that they would ever give without returns, or loan without interest; on the contrary, they must gather for their wills and soulmasses.
Therefore it has become proverbial that a priest’s testament is a sausage, remains a sausage, and will be a sausage. Therefore the will passes through and through the testators from one to the other; that the property is not worthy to be of any benefit to the poor people. Thus also other good works, such as visiting the sick, clothing the naked, comforting the downcast and the like; being of service and benefit to neighbors, is with them neither a matter of concern nor an act of worship. They abide by their masses and church — howling and make of the mass a good work and offering. This costs them neither trouble nor money, but brings money and secures indolent and good days.
189. Then they proceed and speak of two kinds of works of mercy, spiritual and bodily ones, and say: The spiritual ones are better than the bodily; therefore they despise the bodily as inferior and abide by the spiritual as superior; and therefore secretly and without being aware of it, depart from the ways and commands of Christ. The spiritual works of mercy, they say, are the mass and its commands; what, therefore, is not mass and vigil is vile in their eyes. Thus they entirely forget and disregard good works. Tell me, I pray, how can the devil succeed better in beguiling them than by teaching them that they shall call their mass and prayer spiritual and better works than the bodily, which Christ commanded, who knows nothing of their spiritual works.
190. Therefore the apostle has indeed pictured them most clearly when he reproves them for lack of interest in good works. He does not say that they do not know what good works are, but says that they have no regard for them. For they know very well that Christ has commanded them; yes, they themselves confess that there are bodily works of mercy. but now they come with their interpretation and destroy them with their spiritual good works. My dear friend, look at all the convents and monasteries and tell me who derives a farthing’s worth of benefit from these people. Whom do they serve? Whom do they help? They profess to do only spiritual works of mercy, which are nothing but their idolatrous masses and vile bawlings and murmurings in the churches. This they themselves call good spiritual works, but God does not, though they are certainly nothing more than the devil’s phantom.
191. Now this possibly could be endured if they alone would thereby go to hell, but this cursed rabble leads the whole world to damnation. For others learn from them to despise good works and follow and obey them in masses, vigils, prayers, gifts to the saints and similar satanical good works.
Thus it happens that they live in indolence and laziness, that they are not allowed to do good to anyone but suffer others to do good to them and to give unto them so that all join with them in their spiritual good works and leave the bodily good works undone. No one helps another, but every one is bent upon doing these spiritual good works. They are spiritual good works, to be sure, wrought, however, not by the Holy Spirit, but by the evil spirit.
192. Oh, how many thousand times more blessed is the estate of matrimony or any secular profession! For married life necessitates good works toward the children and servants. A married man must of necessity be of bodily benefit to others as well as to himself; and a secular government must surely be of some benefit to its subjects. Servants, maids and all subjects must be of some benefit and service to others. But this miserable rabble is of no benefit to any one in this world, but wants every one to be of benefit to them, and they are drowned in their disregard for everything that is good. Still they pray and hold mass for other people, just as though prayer and mass were committed to them alone and not to the whole congregation. Oh Lord God, behold this cursed conduct and perverted divine service!
193. In the fifteenth place, they are traitors. Ay, St. Paul! Whereto art thou going? When wilt thou cease? How thou dost bite and sting and strike so terribly this tender crowd with their soft ears! Are they indeed traitors of the race of Judas who sold Christ? Whereby have they rendered themselves guilty? A traitor accepts money or favor and with kind words leads his master or friend into danger and death: just as Judas accepted money and with loving greeting and kiss delivered the Lord into the Lands of his enemies. This also the pope and his clergy are continually doing spiritually by taking the treasures of the whole world and giving indulgences for them; and his preachers preach to the poor people his lies of indulgence and false works, speaking good words to them from faith to works, that they might lose Christ and fall into the meshes of the devil. This is indeed a great abominable treachery toward all the souls in the world. But still it is spiritual. St. Paul, however, must also be understood to mean bodily treason.
194. We can often read how the popes with their sleek words incited kings and princes against one another and against the Turks by promising them heaven and thus destroying their body and soul and filling the world with the blood of Christians. And they continue still to betray the poor people in this way whenever they please; they preach and command to be preached, how sacred the wars are that are carried on for the sake of spiritual treasures and the church. Yet they are concerned only about their bellies and their preaching is nothing but lies. As to the pope himself, he has always been perfidious in dealing with emperors and kings, as history abundantly proves. And here the bishops and the clergy stand by him and help him; otherwise he could not have accomplished it. Perfidy is so common to all of them that the apostle justly calls them traitors. And they will continue whenever an opportunity presents itself to betray and sell emperors and kings: for they cannot otherwise suppress and overpower them. Now they must side with one, now with another, that they may subdue one after another and thus retain their power.
195. And here they have no scruples of conscience; on the contrary, it is a great merit, for he who sides with the most holy father, the pope, is no traitor, but an obedient child of the Christian church. Just as they have bodily betrayed kings, countries and people, so also they themselves betray each other spiritually, suffering themselves to be led into treason with sleek words, as if it were an act of worship receiving the pope’s benediction and grace as their reward and helping to betray the whole world. Do you see how clearly St. Paul saw all these things long before and how correctly he describes the state of affairs as it exists now and has already existed long.
He has not missed it by a hair’s breadth.
196. In the sixteenth place, they are headstrong; that is, their treason and all their vices they commit freely, securely, boldly, without any timidity for men and without any fear of God, as though it were impossible for them to err or as though no one saw them who would judge and punish them. They are a most foolhardy, thirsty and presumptuous people in whatever they undertake. Because they have freed themselves from all duties and obligations, there is nothing occurring to them which they will not boldly and eagerly undertake, if they only have the chance and the right to do so.
197. This vice we find particularly in the pope, who permits himself to be called plenitudinem potestatis (absolute power), likewise: proprium motum et certam scientiam (absolute will and infallible knowledge). The others are addicted to this vice also and they call it zelum veritatis et justitiae, reverentiam ecclesiae (zeal for truth and righteousness and reverence for the church), and the like. If they once get a person under their influence, then beware! there is nothing but pure malice and thirst.
198. In the seventeenth place, they are puffed up, having a big turgid heart.
This follows very naturally from the vice just mentioned, their headstrongness. For when they have committed treason and all wickedness in the most shameless manner they brag of it, blow it about and say: Who will punish us for it? Who will restrain us? Who will judge us on account of it? We are under obligations to no one; we may judge and punish, but no one shall judge and punish us. Thus they do not only wish to have liberty to do all kinds of knavery, but defy those who would restrain them, and go unjudged. One is to remain quiet about it and call them gracious young men and to suffer them to do all the harm they wish to the body, soul, goods and honor of all the world.
199. Concerning this vice St. Paul also writes, 2 Peter 2:18, that they desire to go unpunished uttering great swelling words of vanity, as if their throat was swollen. Many laws in the pope’s canon law are of this kind, for here he puffs himself up like an adder and defies the whole world; no one is to interfere with whatever he does nor judge neither him nor his associates.
And all the clergy follow his example, they are also haughty and bombastic, suffering themselves to be judged by no one, threatening with lightning, thunder and twenty and four hells, as experience teaches. For St. Paul says nothing about them which they have not publicly committed: and thus they richly and abundantly fulfill the words of St. Paul.
200. In the eighteenth place, they are blind. Be careful, holy apostle, be careful! These are the learned and the lights of the world, who have the power to make new articles of faith, and without whom no one can dare to interpret the Scriptures. Thou wouldst like to cause an uproar and incite the laity against the clergy; then the divine services would be turned upside down and the heavens, which rest upon them alone, certainly would fall.
Thou better be still, or otherwise scold the laity alone; for to scold the clergy brings no good, fosters dissatisfaction among the people and causes them to despise the spiritual authority. Neither will these fellows be reformed by your admonitions, they only become angry and worse than before; they would like to put you under the ban, damn and burn you as a heretic.
201. But why are they blind? Why do they concern themselves in such foolishness that even children and fools see its worthlessness? They do not see a spark of the true light of faith and of the Gospel. Egyptian darkness has so thickly settled on them and in them one can almost grasp it; and yet they consider them nothing but virtues. It is now the highest virtue of the bishops to be great, coarse unlearned ass-heads, who consider it a shame to be really learned.
202. In the nineteenth place, they are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Hence the apostle agrees with the common proverb: The clergy has an easy life. If there is a life of sensual pleasure on earth, it is their’s; for they live without work, reap the fruits of the sweat and blood of others, lead a lazy life, eat and drink the very best, clothe themselves with the finest goods, have the best lands and houses and withal the most beautiful little maidens, or any other pleasure and amusement, so that it is commonly said: The good things belong to the clergy.
203. But the holy cross which Christ lays upon all his followers and which cannot be reconciled with sensual pleasure they have perverted in a masterly manner; they have enchased it in silver, for then it can be more easily carried and causes no pain; yes, they have sold its kisses and its blessing, and it has become a useful servant of sensual pleasure. But into their hearts the dear cross may not come and dare have nothing to do with their lives; for their liberty, thirst, scorn and pomp have placed a barrier between them and the cross. Nevertheless, they carry the Lord’s cross in silver to his praise and go to heaven thereby. If the Lord should now say to them: I have carried my cross myself and have not commanded you to carry it, let each one of you carry his own cross and follow me; then they would perhaps again outwit him by producing a twofold cross, as they have produced twofold works of mercy, and say that Christ’s cross is better than their’s; therefore they have abided by the best and have forsaken their own cross that they could honorably carry his; yes, honor it and worship it as their idol; as they now unfortunately lead these poor people and teach them to worship wood, silver and gold, telling them of their relation to God through the cross; just as if the poor, common man were able to grasp their subtle buffoonery when he prays to the holy cross.
They are the enemies of the cross of Christ, that is the sum and substance of it all.
204. In the twentieth and last place, “Holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof.” How ruthlessly the apostle proceeds and anticipates a forcible question and objection, namely, that one should say:
How is this possible? They pray and sing so much, daily hold mass and divine services with great pomp and honor. Thus the clergy have always lived in obedience, poverty and chastity under their holy orders and rules.
To all this and to whatever may yet be brought forth the apostle briefly answers and says: It is nothing but pretense, glitter and color, beneath which are covered, adorned and fattened such abominable vices, for all their things are chosen and devised by men and not commanded by God.
Therefore they abandon God’s commandments and adhere to their own nonsense and are veritable electors who do not the will of God but what they have chosen themselves. The Lord Jesus himself, Matthew 24:15, briefly mentions all these vices, under such pretense, and calls them an abomination and says: “When, therefore, ye see the abomination of desolution,” etc. For it is an abomination of which every one justly has a horror that under such a small pretense such great, ugly, offensive vices should grow and flourish.
205. He speaks also very intelligently: “They deny the power or the strength of the godly life, which is plainer and severer. They are without the power and activity of a godly life. They deny and antagonize. But what that means we shall consider later when we again come to Herod and speak of his worship. Let it suffice now that St. Paul is recognized in this text and that we see how he agrees with the Gospel. For here the wise men search and have the Scriptures with honest intentions and Herod has them also, but only in pretense and with wrong intention, namely, to hinder them for the sake of his kingdom, as the Papists also do. Therefore we shall consider St. Paul’s text to the end.
206. He says: “Beware! from these also turn away.” Here he warns us to guard ourselves against this clerical rule and orders and gives permission, yes, commands us to leave them if we have been caught in their meshes, as we shall hear; he throws open all monasteries and cloisters and frees every priest and monk. Thus Christ also teaches, Matthew 24:16, to flee from them and avoid them.
207. Furthermore he portrays some among them in particular when he says: “For of these are they that creep into houses and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Who can interpret this differently than that here are meant the mendicant orders, which the apostle here clearly foresaw? They are they who have always crept into houses. St.
Paul calls that a house which we now call a church, for at his time there were no churches, but the Christians assembled in houses just as it may happen now that ten or twenty neighbors come together and preach and pray and all receive the sacrament.
208. Thus these mendicant orders now also creep into parish churches which do not belong to them and preach their sermons there. This right the pope has given them by reason of his own insolence and power. The other thing is that they alone rule almost the entire confession. This privilege the pope has also given them by reason of the same power through which he has allowed them to creep into the houses. This is truly the devil’s game and the women adhere to it, especially those who are already guilty of gross transgressions, as St. Paul here says, laden with sin. For when these foolish women are troubled in their conscience and do not know how to help or counsel themselves, they go and pour out their troubles before the priest and think that all is well. But then they are caught and they give and bring as much as they have and can. And then the holy fathers come and preach and admonish the people to confess their sins, citing many examples of how women who were in perdition and who appeared after death declare that they were damned because they had neglected the confession, and they utter such enormous papistical lies that the very stones tremble and sweat.
209. If you observe closely these examples which they adduce, you will discover that only women have been damned because of neglect of confession and not men; so that one can clearly see that a great arch-knave has ,contrived these examples who was eager to know the secrets of women’s hearts and who, having seen how the women out of natural faintheartedness are naturally more bashful than men, has said to himself: I will advise them rightly and through the fear of confession learn to know their hearts; and by the help of the devil he was successful. But he has withal entangled and damned many consciences who on account of shame and timidity which they could not overcome have not confessed and yet have thereby sinned against their consciences because they believed that it was necessary to confess and yet had not done so. For as you believe so God will judge you; if you believe that it is your duty to do something, and you do not do it, you sin. It is my conviction that such a knave who with such examples entangles and damns consciences through a false faith, deserves that not only his body but also his soul be torn and ground by all the devils into a hundred thousand pieces. What horrible murders of souls these hellish traitors and papistical liars commit in all the world! Oh, weep, he that can weep, over such lamentable destruction of poor souls.
210. When poor timid women who are naturally simple and credulous, and wish to be devout and pious, hear such a sermon, they suffer themselves to be entrapped; and when they seek advice and help of their spiritual father, the coarse ass and blind leader cannot tell them anything about Christ and faith, but proceeds to teach them that they must atone for their sins through satisfactions and works. Then the torturing begins of which St.
Paul here speaks; thus they are always learning and never come to a knowledge of the truth: therefore the woman’s conscience finds no rest, her sins oppress and torture her; she would like to be freed from them and cannot; then it follows what St. Paul says, that they are led away by diverse desires; then she begins to fast with water and bread, makes pilgrimages in bare feet to the saints; some scourge themselves until the blood flows, some give here to the church and there to the cup, and their diverse desires have neither end nor measure; whatever they hear as being good for the atonement of their sins they try to do in full earnest, but find no rest. In the meantime the holy spiritual father sits, and rests, having caught the poor creatures, which are of no more value to him so many milk cows. And when the women are caught the men will also be caught before long and what secret confession imposes upon them must be done.
211. If you would preach free penance correctly, then say thus: Dear women, if any one is burdened with sin, let her confess, if she will; if she confess, or if she do not confess, let her have a firm faith that Christ will forgive her sins, and let her confess them to him secretly, with entire, sincere confidence in his grace, which he has promised to all who desire it, never doubting, and then her sins are certainly forgiven. Then abstain from them and perform good works toward your neighbors who are in need of them, invite poor people, wash their feet and humbly serve them. Behold! this is the right way to rescue a sinful woman, and it can be done without burdening the conscience, with good will and delight, as is pleasing to God.
But if this were done these men who murder souls and frighten spirits would lose the confession penny, the milk Cow would go dry, and the poor consciences would be freed, not led any more by their endless teaching and preaching. But this would hurt the holy clergy, yes, they would have to starve to death. For the apostle has not without reason mentioned the women who are laden with sins, for the others who are innocent they do not trouble with such devilish examples, teachings and incarcerations. In order that this milk may not be diminished they must urge such fright upon the consciences, especially such women who are easily misled; and that particularly, when they are burdened with an evil, sinful conscience. For then there is nothing that they would not obey, and too much can never be imposed upon them. They eventually become unsteadfast and finally despairing souls, who have learned to comfort themselves not with the grace of God but with their own works, and wish to have their sins taken away not through faith but through satisfaction, and this is impossible.
212. They request that we should spare the clergy, and not scold and reprove, but honor and excuse them. Yes, if they alone were evil and if they would ruin only themselves, I could well be silent; but their rule destroys the whole world. He who remains silent to this, and does not hazard his body and life, is no true Christian, and does not love his neighbor’s salvation as his own. If I were only able to tear the souls out of hellish jaws, I would then scold more temperately. They set the city on fire and say I should not cry, fire! nor quench the flames. “Cursed be he,” says Jeremiah, Jeremiah 48:10, “that doeth the work of Jehovah negligently, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” God desires us to strike vigorously with our swords, that the blood may flow; he that does the work unfaithfully is accursed. They however wish to be treated leniently and with much indulgence. Not thus, dear man!
213. St. Paul says further: “And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth.” Here he does not speak of the mendicant orders only, but also of the aforesaid members of the clergy, who withstand the truth, and will not suffer the people to be led out of their rule of fear to the knowledge of free faith. Every one can now see that they fear that their rule and tyranny will be suppressed. Thus, when the children of Israel were oppressed in Egypt by King Pharaoh, and God sent Moses to deliver them. Moses performed two miracles, to prove that God had sent him; then two of King Pharaoh’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, performed the same miracles, thereby detaining the king and rendering Moses’ miracles ineffectual so that the Israelites had to remain until the third miracle was performed: This the magicians could not perform and then it was known that they were wrong and that Moses was right.
214. Thus it always is, the tyrants among God’s people have always had a pretense, they act as though they were the true saints. Thus they hinder and retard the simple, that they cannot become free; for they are weak in conscience and cannot clearly distinguish between show and reality, between pretense and truth. Therefore the people will always be en-trapped through show and pretense, and the truth is hindered and retarded. Thus the wise men were detained at Jerusalem through Herod who pretended to search the Scriptures. And now the clerical pageantry also prevents people from coming to faith and the truth, because it has a good appearance and is so much like the true worship. St. Paul says further: 215. “Men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith.” Here you can see what they really are; their mind and their imagination are corrupted. For they insist that what they do is right and that there is nothing else, and yet they know nothing about faith. True faith alone can make uncorrupted minds and spiritual virgins. He teaches a correct imagination and a good mind who insists that the grace of God alone is our comfort. He who is not of this mind is a Christian like the harlot is a virgin, though he may perform the good works of all the saints. Where there is such a corrupted mind there is little hope that they will ever come to true faith; especially not when they have gone so far as to oppose true faith and when they suffer themselves to be corrupted after true faith had been planted in them by baptism.
210. Further, “But they shall proceed no further; for their loll7 shall be evident unto all men.” Thus also the pope and our clergy will fare; the truth will remain and will be so strong against them that their empty show and knavery must be exposed; though they rage and storm and have four thousand Turkish emperors on their side. Show and lie cannot obtain in the end, for that is impossible, although they may save themselves and remain for a time. Let this now suffice concerning St. Paul’s text, and let us return to the Gospel and its interpretation.
217. That Herod called the wise men and inquired of them secretly as to when the star appeared, indicates that the spiritual Herods do not deny the Gospel outwardly, but learn it from the true Christians, however, only, with this intention that they will use it to do mischief; just as Herod here intended to use the time the star appeared, to kill Christ and confirm his own kingdom. Thus also now, when we hold up the Gospel to our clergy they do not deny that it is the Gospel, they hear and accept it. They deny, however, that this is not the correct meaning, that it has a gloss and an interpretation which we shall get from no one but them, and that every one must acknowledge their interpretation. Thus they do not deny the Gospel, but rob it of its power, and under the name and appearance of the Gospel they teach their own dreams. This St. Paul, 2 Timothy 2:5, calls: “Holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof.” He does not say they have the power of the divine essence, although that is true also; but he says much more forcibly, that they deny it. Thereby he gives us to understand clearly, that they are godless not only in their life and walk, but also in their doctrine and government; that they lead themselves with their lives, and others with their doctrine away from the Gospel and salvation. This the pope and the clergy now do in all their sermons. Though they cry loudly: Gospel! Gospel! Yet they deny, damn and curse everything that is in the Gospel with all its contents. Just as Herod learned of the star, but endeavored to destroy everything the star signified. We will now consider a few of their doctrines, and guard against them.
218. The Gospel teaches that salvation is by faith alone. This they hear and do not deny; nevertheless, they destroy all its power by saying that faith without works is useless. Thus they secretly depart from faith to works, and publicly condemn faith and ascribe everything to works. Therefore they retain the little word faith only in appearance, and deny, condemn and curse everything of the nature of faith, and begin to divide it into many parts; some say there is a natural faith, others a spiritual, some a common, some others a particular, some a simple, others a complex, and they themselves, these blind leaders, know less of what they are juggling, than any natural fool. The Gospel knows nothing of their manifold faith, has but the one, which is founded upon the pure grace of God, without any merit of works, of this they have not the faintest idea, yes, condemn it as the worst heresy, and yet they say that they will defend the Gospel and the Christian faith.
219. Again the Gospel says that Christ is our Savior; this they hear, but then loosen and weaken every natural work, manner, and attribute of Christ inasmuch as they publicly teach that man can, through natural strength and works, earn the grace of God, therefore they condemn Christ and all his works, as St. Peter, ( 2 Peter 2:1,) has prophesied of them: “There shall be false teachers among you denying even the Master that bought them.” For if nature itself can attain the grace of God, as now all high schools, institutions, and cloisters, hold and teach in harmony with the pope, then Christ was born and died to no purpose. Why should Christ have shed his blood to acquire grace for us, if we through our nature could have acquired ourselves? Yet they wish to be Christians, and raise aloft the name of Christ, under the appearance of which they revile and condemn as heresy the entire Christian essence.
220. Again, the Gospel teaches that the law of God is spiritual and cannot possibly be fulfilled by nature; but that the Spirit of God must fulfill it in us through faith, Romans 8:2-3. Therefore they deny neither the Spirit nor the law, but they nevertheless destroy all its power, and teach that man, without the help of the Spirit, can fulfill the law naturally in all its works, although he cannot thereby earn heaven. This is nothing less than denying the power of the law and of the Spirit, retaining only the name.
221. Then they proceed and tear the law of God asunder where they think it too difficult for nature, making superfluous, unnecessary things of it; as for example, that it is neither necessary nor commanded that we should love God with the entire heart, that we give the cloak with the coat; again, that we should not go to court; again, that we should loan and give to everybody, without profit or gain. Again, that we should suffer evil and do good unto our enemies, etc. Thus they have destroyed the true nature of Christianity, which consists alone in this that we suffer wrong and do good to everybody. And then they institute in its stead their own command, that they wear tonsures and caps, eat no meat, eggs, butter, and milk, make a great noise in the church; that nothing remains now of the law of God.
222. Again, the Gospel praises the pure grace of God as pardoning and destroying sin. Now they do not deny the little word grace, but hold it seemingly in high esteem; besides this, however, they teach a multiplicity of satisfactions for sin, payments of money, orders, divisions of repentance in order to purchase from God the forgiveness of sin, and to pay him for his grace. Therefore the nature and work of grace are destroyed and condemned to the very foundation; for grace is pure grace or nothing at all.
223. Again, the Gospel teaches that through original sin all men are under wrath and disfavor, and that all their works are thereby rendered sinful.
They do not deny the expression, original sin, but destroy its force by saying that nature is still good, and its works are not sinful, and can as yet well prepare itself, yet for grace. They say also that original sin did not injure nature so that it should be condemned, but simply weakened it towards the good, and disposed it to evil. If it does not follow its inclination, which of itself it does not need to do, it does not deserve hell, and can also acquire the grace of God. Behold, this is as much as to say: original sin is not original sin; and under this name they deny the work and nature of sin.
224. Again, the Gospel teaches: that love does not seek its own, but serves others only. Now they indeed hold to the little word love, but curtail its entire nature, in as much as they teach, ordinary love begins with itself and loves itself first and most. Then they say, it is loving enough if, one simply wishes another well, it is not necessary to add the deed of serving him; for it would be dishonest for the pope to humble himself and serve his subject, but he permits his feet to be kissed, and thinks it enough simply to say: I wish everybody well except my enemies. Behold! here lie in ruins, the nature and power of love, and nothing remains but the simple empty name.
225. Again, the Gospel teaches how hope builds alone upon pure divine revelation; they confess the little word, hope, teach, however, that hope does not rest upon divine revelation, but upon its own merits.
226. Again, the Gospel teaches how God’s providence is eternally sure; they, however, teach that it rests upon the free will and is uncertain.
297. In short, they confess God and his name, but root out and condemn as the worst heresy whatever God orders, wills, does, establishes, and executes, from which we can clearly see how Christ’s suffering is now spiritually fulfilled under the rule of the pope. Behold, see they have in their teaching the appearance of faith, of hope, of love, of grace, of sin, of the law, of Christ, of God, of the Gospel; yet they deny all strength and nature of the same, and even condemn it all as the worst heresy. On this account the apostle spoke so sharply when he said: They deny the power of the whole divine worship and life, and live only the pretense of it. Oh, Lord God of heaven, where are the streams of water, yes, of blood that rightly should flow from our eyes in this last terrible and dreadful time of the unspeakable, immeasurable wrath of God upon the world because of its sin and thanklessness.
228. Further, Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem and commands them diligently to seek the child, pretending that he also wished to come and worship him. Here our Herodians are shown another thing, namely, that they ought to live as they preach. Teaching and living are with them empty show and denial of the truth, for the life must be as the teaching directs.
However the pope and the religious orders now do allow Christians to be pious, and command them to seek Christ and the truth; yet with this addition, that they must be his betrayers, and serve the priesthood in thus seeking Christ. For the pope now shamelessly and eagerly declares this to all the world: Anyone is allowed to seek Christ and to live righteously; but, if he does not also obey the pope’s orders and command, and serve him, with all his good life, be subject to his authority, he still cannot be saved.
The people are thus made to think that more, or at least just as much, depends upon obedience to the pope than upon God’s commands.
229. See, this is Herod’s addition, that he not only sends the wise men to Bethlehem, but also holds them subject to himself and feels bound treacherously to destroy Christ. For what do all who thus hold that obedience to the pope is necessary to salvation, and that whoever does not hold it is condemned, do, except betray and surrender Christ that Herod may find and kill him. For Christian faith cannot exist beside such obedience or such conscience, as has often been said. For faith alone must save, and such obedience be counted useful and permitted, faith must perish, and Herod reign in Christ’s stead. That means then really to surrender and betray Christ and one’s faith.
230. But, when Herod says: I too will come and worship him, everyone sees that he lies, that these are mere words and a clear pretense, beneath which he is still planning something quite different, namely to kill Christ and to destroy his kingdom. Here you have in Herod the image of all unbelieving saints well and briefly set forth. In the first place Herod does not pretend any common thing: he does not say that he wishes to give him gold or myrrh, neither that he wishes to help him or to be his true friend; but undertakes the very highest and best thing that there is in the service of God, namely, humility and worship. I will come, he says, as a lowly one, and show the highest honor, even worship.
231. Thus do now also the Herodians, the priests, who do not undertake any ordinary work, but the very highest, the service of God. This they appropriate to themselves, in that they exercise themselves, saying openly that the life of other men is temporal and worldly, but that they are in the service of God day and night, and, while others labor, they pray and serve God for the poor people.
Do you not believe this? Well then, ask the bells about it which ring for their worship. To this they go in humble manner, let themselves be proclaimed God’s servants before all men, fattening their bellies right well in so doing, gather for themselves riches out of all the world, and build houses, as if they expected to live here forever. Accordingly we must here note the difference between true and false worship, that we may recognize and avoid the spirit of the villain Herod.
THE TRUE AND FALSE WORSHIP O[GOD.
232. No better distinction is to be had here than God’s Word. The worship which is there taught must surely be the true worship; but that which is set up beside God’s Word or outside of it. as invented by men, must certainly be the false Herod-worship. Now the worship of God is nowhere established, except in his commandments. For without doubt he alone serves God who keeps his commandments; just as a servant in the house is said to serve his master only when he does, and attends to, whatever his master bids him to do. However, if he does not do this, even if he otherwise does the will of the whole town he is not said to serve his master. So then, whoever does not keep God’s commandments, does not serve God, even though he keeps the teachings and commandments of all men.
233. Now the worship of God consists in this that you confess, honor and love God with your whole heart, put all your trust and confidence in him, never doubt his goodness, either in life or in death, either in sins or in right living, as the first commandment teaches. To this we can attain through the merit and blood of Christ alone, who has gained for us and gives us such a heart, if we hear and believe his word; for our nature cannot have such a heart of itself. Behold, this is the chief worship of God and the greatest thing, to wit, an upright Christian faith and love to God through Christ.
Therefore the first commandment is fulfilled by us through the precious blood of Christ, and God is faithfully served from the heart.
234. In the second place, if you honor God’s name, and call upon it in need, and openly confess it before the tyrants and persecutors of this true worship, not fearing them, but punishing the Herodians and guarding, as much as you can, that they do not dishonor God’s name with their false life and teaching, set forth under God’s name, which is truly a great thing and takes the burdens of the world upon itself. See, this is the second article of worship which is kept in the commandment.
235. Thirdly, if you bear the holy cross, and must suffer much because of such faith and confession, that you must risk for it body and life, goods and honor, friend and favor; this means rightly keeping and hallowing the Sabbath, since it is not you, but God only who works in you, for you are but a suffering, persecuted man. This is the third article of worship, and is included in the third commandment. See, here is the first table with the first three commandments, which are contained in the three articles, faith, confession, and suffering. By this the present life and the world are renounced and God alone is praised.
236. Fourthly, we come into the second table, and henceforth you serve God, if you honor father and mother, are subject and obedient to them, and help them where they need it before all mankind, and if you do not without their consent, go into orders, when they are in need of your services in some other way.
237. Fifthly, that you injure no one in body, but show kindness to everyone, even to your enemies, that you visit the sick and prisoners, and give a helping hand to all needy, and have a good, kind heart for all men.
238. Sixthly, that you live chastely and temperately, or always honor your marriage vow, and help others to honor theirs.
239. Seventhly, that you do not deceive or injure anyone, or take advantage in business; but that you lend and give to everyone or exchange with him, as far as you can, and protect your neighbor against injury.
240. Eighthly, that you guard your tongue, and injure, slander, or belie no one, but defend, excuse and spare everyone.
241. Ninthly and tenthly, that you do not covet any man’s wife or property.
242. See, these are the parts of truly good worship. This and nothing else God requires of you; if you do anything more, he does not value it. This is also clear and easy to be understood by everyone. Now you see that the true worship must be common to all classes, and to all men, and only this alone dare be found among God’s people. And, where another worship is found, it must certainly be false and misleading; as that is what will not be common to all, but limits itself to some especial classes and men. Thus far we have spoken of the true, universal, and only worship.
243. Now let us see the false, peculiar, factional and multifarious worship which is not commanded of God, but made up by the pope and his priests.
There you may see many kinds of monasteries, orders, and cloisters, of which one has nothing in common with any other. One monk wears a large, another a small shaven crown; one wears gray, another wears black, another white, another woolen, another linen clothing, another made of hair; this one prays on such days and time; this one eats flesh, that one fish; this one is a Carthusian, that one a barefoot monk. This one has such ceremonies; that one others; one prays with the stool toward Rome; another with the bench toward Jerusalem; this one conducts mass so, that one differently; this one is bound to this monastery, that one to another; this one bawls in this choir, that one in another, and the churches are full of their mutterings. They live too in celibacy and have all kinds of disciplines.
And who can name all their countless, factional, odd and sectarian practices?
Well, now this worship has vomited forth another, yet more overgrown.
There is neither limit nor measure to the building of churches, chapels, monasteries, and altars, to founding masses and vigils, to establishing hours of prayer, and to creating mass vestures, choir caps, chalices, monstrance’s, silver images and ornaments, candlesticks, tapers, lights, incense, tables and bells. He, what an ocean, what a forest of these things there is! into this has gone all the devotion, tribute, money, and property of the laity; this calling increasing the worship of God and caring for the service of God, as the pope calls it in his divine right.
244. Compare now this article with true worship, and tell me, where has God ever commanded anyone a letter of the article? Do you still doubt then that the whole clergy under the pope is nothing but the creature, the empty show, or the imposture of Herod, only that people may be hindered and turned away from the true worship? These are the altars and the groves over which the prophets lament regarding the people of Israel, that every town set up its own grove and altar, and forsook the true temple of God. Just so has this ungodly, superstitious, popish, Herodian worship filled all the corners of the world and has forced away and destroyed the only true worship of God.
245. Perhaps you look about and think: What, could so many people be wrong all at once? Beware, and do not let their number trouble you; hold fast to God’s word; he cannot deceive you, though all mankind be false, as indeed the Scriptures say, Psalm 116:11: “All men are liars.” Do not be astonished that so many are now in error for in the days of Elijah there were only seven thousand righteous men in all Israel,1 Kings, 19:18. Tell me, what were seven thousand men over against all Israel, of whom there were more than twelve hundred thousand fighting men, besides women and children? What was even the whole people over against the whole world that was all at one time in sin? What then is to be now, since Christ and the apostles have spoken such terrible things of these times that even Christ himself says, Luke 18:8: When the son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? These must be great and terrible things and must lead a great many people astray, and those most of all of whom one should expect it the least shall be ruled by the Anti-Christ who leads the world astray. We should be certain, since we do not regard God’s judgment and do not take his wrath to heart, that it would be no miracle, if he retained scarce one man on earth as righteous.
246. This is the last and worst time, of which all Scriptures has spoken so terribly. Thank God, therefore, that you see his word, telling which is true and which the false worship. Then see that you remain therein and do not follow the mob that wanders without God’s word. If those scarcely remain steadfast who have God’s word and hold fast to it, where shall those stay who, without God’s word, follow their own head? Therefore, let him doubt who will; God’s word and worship convincingly show that the pope is the Anti-Christ and the priests his disciples who lead all the world astray.
247. See now, has it not been well arranged? The Herodian worship has brazen bells, and these are many and large, with which they allure the people to such worship. As the worship is, so also are the bells or allurements. God has given to the true worship other and right bells, namely the preachers who should ring and sound such worship into the people. But where are they now? Those are dead, senseless bells, and they would be more useful if one made pots and vessels of them. Just so the worship is dead and useless, and it would be better if one carried on such a business in the field of jugglery.
248. See, this is the worship of Herod which pretends to worship Christ and serve God, and is nothing but deception. Yet it plays the hypocrite so well that it daily deceives many good, pious people, and has often deceived them, as Christ says, Matthew 24:25, that they shall lead astray, if possible, even the elect. As it has happened to St. Bernard, to St. Francis, and to St. Dominic and others, who however, did not perish in error, nor remained in it, since their saving faith kept them safe through such error and led them out.
249. So also it happened to these pious wise men. They had a good, true faith and purpose; still they were mistaken in Herod, thinking his pretense true and believing his lies, and were ready also to do as they were told and to be obedient to him, had they not been otherwise instructed from heaven.
So it happens today, and so it has happened, that many are obedient to the pope, and believing in simple faith that his existence is right and good, thus falling into error. However their Christian faith helps them that such poison does not in the end injure them, as Christ says, Mark 16:17-18: “And if they drink any deadly thing, it shall in no wise hurt them, if they believe in my name.” But what drink can be more deadly than such lies and hypocrisy of false teaching and wrong worship?
250. According as we have now learned to know Herod’s worship and perceived his artful hypocrisy, let us now see too his evil purpose and maliciousness, with which he plans to destroy not only the true worship, but also Christ, the King, and his whole kingdom. He attempts to do this in three ways. First, with the same hypocritical appearance of this false worship. For such an appearance of worship is so strong an enticement from true worship that it can be overcome only by especial grace, so that St. Paul well names it energiam erroris, a strong working of error. The people cannot defend themselves against such seduction, where there are not true bishops and preachers who preach the only true worship, hold the people to the pure word of God, and forbid the false worship; as the prophets did in Israel, and were all for that reason put to death.
251. In the second place Herod destroys true worship through his teaching, of which we have already spoken. Thus he teaches works instead of faith, contrary to the first commandment to honor and serve God; in the second and third commandments he perverts and teaches one’s own works and sufficiency, and forbids to confess the faith and God’s name. As has been said, he teaches disobedience to father and mother, contrary to the fourth commandment. Contrary to the fifth he teaches that it is not necessary to love one’s enemy and to do him good. Contrary to the sixth he tears matrimony to pieces. He robs and steals and even justifies so doing, thus breaking the seventh commandment. He teaches also that it is not necessary to lend and give. Summa sum-mature, he teaches that it is not necessary to love God and one’s neighbor from the heart. That means, to be sure, that he destroys the whole Scripture and worship of God.
252. In the third place, he is not satisfied with such poisonous examples and deadly teachings, but goes ahead and exercises two kinds of force in them; he banishes and execrates the souls that do not follow him, also burns, hunts and persecutes their bodies, property and honor in the most shameful way. What more could he do that is evil? I mean to say that he is a Herod; nevertheless he must leave Christ alone, and cannot carry out his will. He destroys many, but faith remains to the end of the world, although hidden, a fugitive, and unknown.
253. But here perhaps you ask me, what then should they do who are spiritual captives under Herod in false worship, in convents and monasteries? I answer: You cannot do otherwise than lay aside the false worship and hold to God’s word and true worship; or do as the wise men did, and drink the poison, firmly believing that it will not hurt you. You will find no other means: God’s word will remain unchanged to all eternity.
But, although I have already spoken of this in another gospel, I must speak of it again.
254. Well now, we place before us one who holds fast in this matter and argues against us that a priest, a monk, or a nun, or any other person who has gone into orders, is bound to keep his spoken vow and may not in any way during his whole life leave it or turn aside. Such a man may take his stand in the Scripture, which says that one should fulfill what one has vowed. But let us, however, speak of vows which God has not commanded, but which men make of their own accord. For, since in baptism we vowed to serve God and keep his commandment, such a vow is demanded by God of all men, as the Scripture says, Psalm 22:25: “I will pay my vows before them that fear him,” and, Psalm 116:18: “I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, yea, in the presence of all his people.” But the vow of the religious orders he has not commanded.
255. With this opponent we shall deal in two ways. First, let us decide definitely upon those things in which there is no doubt or argument; secondly, let us dispute with him, explore and seek the truth. First, no one can or should doubt that all contrary to God’s command, whether it be to live or to die, to vow or to become free, to speak or to be silent, is to be condemned and by all means to be changed and to be avoided. For the will of God must soar above all and be done in heaven and on earth, as we pray, even if a man could work all miracles. This is clear and certain enough. So there is now no doubt or argument, but it is certainly determined: If anyone has been consecrated as priest, monk or nun against God’s will, such priesthood and monkery is nothing and altogether to be condemned, and he is bound to let it all go and change. Thus, if anyone has become priest or monk only for the purpose of stealing a chalice or ornaments, he has certainly taken the vow against God’s commandment, and has also sinned in so doing and his vow does not bind him. Such a man may and should return to secular life, or he must take the vow anew and from right motives. For his purpose has never been to enter the clergy; but, if thievishness had not urged him, he would certainly not have taken the vow and considered entering the order. Accordingly God cannot accept the vow, nor is it binding upon the man to observe it.
256. But before men it is different, for whoever has vowed anything must keep his vow, although he did not intend it in his heart. For man does not see his neighbor’s heart, and accordingly accepts his vow as honest and believes it to be from the heart. So he has the right to ask him to fulfill it, and may honestly state that he is not bound to believe that the promisor has changed his mind and rued his bargain. If, however, the other lied, the loss is his. But God cannot be deceived, and he judges only by the heart.
Accordingly such a vow counts for nothing with him, and he does not ask it, but is angry to have anyone thus tempt him.
257. If now anyone had taken vows against the first great commandment of God of the first table, he would be much more obliged to give up his vow than that thief who had vowed against the seventh commandment, as the first commandment is higher than the seventh commandment. For whoever thus steals contrary to the seventh commandment steals only worldly property, the very least of created things. But he who deals contrary to the first commandment robs and denies God himself, the highest good and the Creator of all. The priests and monks, then, who sin against the first commandment, are many times worse than that thievish cheat and breaker of the seventh commandment. What, if we could now prove that nearly all priests and monks enter orders against the first commandment, and that they become spiritual just as little, or even less than these thievish roguish knaves. Oh, this means to throw open monasteries and convents and to set free the monks and priests. Well now, consider and listen.
258. The first commandment contains the Christian faith, for he who does not believe cannot have a God or know him; all unbelief is idolatry. This is Christian faith that trusts in God’s grace alone, gained for us and bestowed upon us through the blood of Christ, and that counts no work useful or good to win God’s favor. For this were too hard for nature, which is conceived and born in sin, and also lives, works and dies in it if Christ would not come to its help, gaining God’s mercy for us by his works alone and not by our own. Through him, too, we fulfill the first commandment and have a God on whose mercy we can depend with all confidence, so that without our merit he forgives all our sins and saves us in Christ, as has often already been said. Therefore it is impossible that this faith should permit beside itself a trust in works, as though anyone could obtain forgiveness of sins and grace and become holy and be saved by them, for this belongs to Christ alone, who does all this through his work. Thus we have only to believe and confidently to entrust ourselves to him 259. Therefore there is no penance, no satisfaction for sin, no acquiring of grace, no becoming holy, for we believe only in Christ, that he has done enough for our sin, won mercy for us and saved us. After that we should first of all do good works of free will, to his honor and for the good of our neighbor, not that we may become holy or be saved or put away sin thereby, for that must remain entrusted to Christ alone through faith. He does not grant to angels, much less to our good works that they should put away sin, win grace, and make holy: that belongs to him, he has done and does it alone. This he wishes to have us believe, and if we believe it then we have it.
Of this St. Paul says: I do not make void the grace of God; for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for naught, Galatians 2:21. That is to say, if we are able to do so much that God forgives our sins and gives grace and salvation on account of our works, then we do not need Christ. For what other reason did he die, except to atone for our sins and win grace, that we give up hope in ourselves and our works, make nothing of them, confide in Christ alone and hold with a fixed faith that he is the one whom God regards in our place and through whose merit alone forgives us our sins, becomes reconciled and saves us. This is a Christian faith, of which Christ says, Mark 16:16. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
260. Now let us consider the religious orders and estimate them over against the first commandment and Christian faith. Does anyone wish to become a priest or to take a vow in the Christian spirit so that he does not run against the first commandment and tempt God, then the intention of his heart must be that he can say: Well, I intend to become a priest, a monk, or nun, or to take some other vow, not that I consider the station of life or order a way to salvation, neither because I expect through such a life to become holy, to atone for sin and to win God’s grace. God protect me against this, for this would be against Christ and his blood, this would be destroying all his merit and honor and the worst scorn and mockery of God. For all that will I expect from him in pure faith, since I do not doubt that he has done it for me. However, since I must do something on earth, I will take up this life, exercise myself in it, chastise my body and serve my neighbor: just as another man works in the field or garden or at his trade without regard to merit and good in his works. See, where this purpose is not, there Christ must be denied and the first commandment destroyed, and vain, unchristian, unbelieving, Jewish and heathen life be found. This also says the mighty Scripture truth of St. Paul, Romans 14:23: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” For without faith no one will be saved, Mark 16:16. So, too, without faith there can be no righteousness nor truth.
261. Tell me now how many priests and monks, think you, are to be found who take vows and live under vows with so Christian a purpose? Do not nearly all of them speak thus: Well, if my order does not count more for me in atoning for sin, in becoming holy, and in getting to heaven than a farmer’s plough or a tailor’s needle does for him, then what am I doing in the order of priesthood? No, I will do good works, hold many masses, pray and do penance for myself and other people. What kind of word is that of an unbelieving heart that has denied Christ and that ascribes to its order and works that which should be expected of Christ alone through faith?
262. Moreover, as has been said above, it is the meaning and teaching of all those in the religious orders that one can through his own work win God’s grace and put away sin. They are so devoid of shame that they sell, promise and divide to others their good works, merit and brotherhood; they are so bold as to do for men what Christ alone is able to do, namely, to put away men’s sins and to make them holy. Of this Christ has especially prophesied and said, Matthew 24:5: “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ.” Beloved, give heed to the word. Is it not true, as has just been said, that our priests and monks make themselves Christ?
Although no one of them says with the mouth, I am Christ; nevertheless they say: I help other people, give them my merit, win grace for them, put away their sin, which is Christ’s work and office only. Accordingly, they are Christ, although they do not call themselves Christ. For Matthew does not say that they will say: I am called Christ, but I am Christ. It is not the name, but the office and work of Christ that they take for themselves.
263. Therefore we conclude here without any dispute or question or doubt that all in religious orders who are not priests, monks or nuns from the above named Christian purpose have certainly taken vows and live against the first commandment of God and are ten times worse than the thievish, tricky rascal of whom we have spoken. And they are truly the lost multitude, heathen and Jews, the Devil’s own, as they come and go; they are truly and exactly those of whom St. Peter says, 2 Peter 2:1-3: “Among you also there shall be false teachers denying even the Master that bought them. And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” This they do to perfection, for all possessions and tribute come to the religious orders, because of their false, unchristian life, which they hold up with false words.
264. Accordingly, all these are to be advised to leave tonsures and caps, monastery and convent, and to cease keeping their vow; or to begin anew to vow such a life in Christian faith and purpose. For the vow observed in the Christian purpose counts no more before God than this much: See here, God, I vow to you not to be a Christian as long as I live. I recall the vow of my baptism, and will now make and keep for thee a better vow, apart from Christ, in my own doings and works. Is not that a terrible, horrible vow? Now it is nothing different, as can clearly be seen from the above.
But these are the ones who take vows in the best way, as they suppose.
265. For the great, mad crowd who become priests and monks for their bellies’ sake, that they may be provided for in this world, and who compose the larger part of the clergy, are not worthy to be discussed and much less is their vow of any validity. These can surely become secular, if they wish, for they have never become nor been religious. And it would indeed be necessary for them to cease mocking God with their mummery, to give up their prebend, tenure, priesthood, monkery and nuns’ life. Oh, Lord God, how totally blind is the world, how perverted it is! The world now is religious and religious orders are now the world. How strong is the rule of Anti-Christ!
266. In the second place we shall now argue and say: Although some one had honestly taken the vow with Christian intention, has he not the power, if occasion demand, to return to secular life? Here I desire that only pious, honest spirits would give heed, who are not swift to judge, but are eager to learn and reason. For nothing can be said to the mad Papists and Herodians, no one can argue with them: they can only hold their ears, gnash their teeth and scream: Heretic, heretic, fire, fire, fire! We let these alone as irrational and talk with those who would gladly have their own and other people’s conscience instructed.
267. It is undeniable that a Christian purpose to take vows consists, as has been said above, in this, that it does not take the vow because the order is useful and necessary to abolish sin, to win grace, to become pious, to especially serve God and to be saved. These are properties of the common Christian faith only which nowhere, except in Christ. expects such blessings, but which, free and exempt from such unchristian madness, thinks only of accepting a good discipline of the body in this life. Just so undeniable it is that God accepts no vow or religious order, except it be taken with this Christian purpose, since St. Paul stands firmly here and says, Romans 14:23: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” But God cannot accept sin, Psalm 5:5, Habakkuk 1:13. Because, therefore, God does not accept such vow and order otherwise than as voluntary and unnecessary to salvation, and because true Christian purpose does not begin nor vow otherwise, I should like to hear the man who thoroughly and with honest reason could deny that one in religious orders could reenter secular life without injury to his soul and with a good conscience before God, especially if he had cause to do so.
268. That many say: It is not customary, the holy fathers have done and written differently, settles nothing, as anyone can see. We ask here, not what custom does or what the writings of the fathers ask, but what is right and pleasing before God. Who will assure that custom is not wrong and that the fathers are not in error, since even Christ declares, Matthew 24:24, that even the elect shall be deceived by false Christs, such as those in the religious orders. Say what you will, it cannot be made to agree that anything which is free and unnecessary to the soul’s salvation as undertaken or vowed before God and the conscience, can not be let go, but, on the contrary must, at the risk of the soul’s salvation, be kept until death. The two things are exactly opposite, as you can see for yourself.
269. A Christian vow to take religious orders must before God be thus:
See, dear God, I vow to thee to lead this life, which can be led free by nature and without regard to salvation. Ought not God answer here: Well, what then have you vowed to me here, and what are you keeping? Have you not enough necessary things to observe? In this you vow nothing to me, since you may observe it and again let it go. Good, this I will allow.
And thus the vow before God naturally excludes that the life under the vow remains free to be observed or to be let go. It is just as if your servant made you a vow and promised: Master, I vow to you on this extra day free service, which I may do or leave undone; on the other days I am bound to serve you. Here, I think, whether the servant did or left undone, as it may happen, he would have done enough for his vow.
270. I cannot understand differently but that the vow of all those who are in religious orders is the same; for the reason that faith makes all things free, and it is impossible that anything should be necessary or should be made necessary to salvation, either through ourselves, through angels or through any creatures, faith alone excepted. And this is the liberty which Christ has won for us, of which St. Paul teaches, Galatians 5:1, and says against all the teaching of men: “For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore.” Therefore the vow of all those who are in orders must naturally have in it liberty again to leave this life and should read thus: I vow to God and you, chastity, poverty and obedience, according to the rule of St. Augustine, to be freely held or given up, until death.
271. Here probably someone begins to laugh and to say that would be a foolish, ridiculous vow and a mere deception. I answer: Do not be surprised if men do ridiculous and foolish things, when they leave God’s ordering to follow their own blindness and to do, not what god’s Word teaches, but what suits them. Ridiculous, foolish and worthless such a vow is; but nevertheless by it God’s wrath is fulfilled and countless souls are led astray, so that scarcely the elect escape.
272. Men have invented such vows and such a life, therefore it is and remains a human order. Many years ago when young people were accepted to be taught and reared in a Christian way, as now ought to be done in the schools, they were allowed, of their own free will, to remain for a while under discipline. Now some remained willingly in this state all their lives and became so accustomed to it that few forsook the company, but remained altogether in it until their end; thus finally monasteries and convents arose.
Since now the masters have become lazy and the youth intractable, men invented these cords and chains of the vow and with it took the conscious prisoners and rid themselves with care and oversight by making each one constrain himself to be and to remain disciplined and pious for the sake of the bond of his vow; just as in the higher schools also, the abominable practice prevails of guarding and carrying out everything with oaths and vows to bind the poor youth so shamefully without any necessity.
273. Thus convents and cloisters have grown out of the free Christian schools, and faith has been perverted into works, and liberty destroyed and bound through vows. Accordingly, it is not surprising that, where Christian liberty again shines forth, human vows appear ridiculous and foolish.
Christian liberty can at no time exist together with the timid vows of external works. One of the two must yield; that is unavoidable. Faith makes all external things free; the vow binds them fast; how then can both remain together? Thus faith is divine, the vow is human; therefore it is not possible that God should let faith go and regard our vow. Therefore it is not possible that he should sin against God or break his vow who remains priest, monk or nun as long as he wishes, and returns to secular life when he wishes.
274. We would further discuss this for the comfort of the wretched, imprisoned consciences, oppressed under this Herod and Anti-Christ. If we take for granted that vows made in a Christian way ought to be kept, what then will you say if one of these would become impossible for someone to observe? I take up the one that is the most plausible, the vow of chastity, which, as we see with our own eyes, cannot be kept by the majority: for nature is far too weak to keep it, where especial grace is not present.
275. Moses has written much of the natural sexual intercourse between man and woman, both while awake and asleep, of which no one dare now speak openly. So much purer have our ears become than the mouth of the Holy Ghost that we are ashamed where there is nothing to be ashamed of, and are not ashamed where there is cause for shame. Yet it is necessary that everyone should know and be instructed in these things, and especially the youth. Where especial heavenly grace is not found, there nature must be satisfied according to its constitution. If man and woman do not come together, nature takes its own course and is unrestrained, so that it would be better for man and woman to come together, as God created them and as nature prompts. Many teachings and books have been written about this; would to God they were all well written and helpful!
276. So now I ask, How will they advise one for whom it is impossible to restrain himself? You say that such should guard themselves with prohibitions. Well then, one of these three things will follow, where there is not especial grace. Man and woman will come together, if they can, as now takes place among priests; or nature will relieve itself; or, where neither of these happens, there will be a continual burning and secret suffering. Here then you have a diabolical torture, and it comes about that the man would take the ugliest woman on earth, and the woman the most disgusting man because of the raging evil lust of the flesh.
277. Modest ears should and will pardon me; I must lay hold on the sickness of souls as a physician does of the excrement and secret places if I am to help at all. Now God can and will have no forced, unwilling chastity, which is no chastity to him; it must be voluntary, as all other services of God must be voluntary, or he does not regard it. What are you doing then that you hold this poor man for his whole life in unchaste chastity, that without cessation he sins with the heart against his vow, so that it would be better for the young man to have a young woman and for the young woman to have a young man?
278. Here some teach that it is enough if one willingly begins the life of chastity and takes the vow accordingly, for by virtue of the willing beginning it will not harm, if he afterwards become unwilling. Oh, ye betrayers and blind leaders who adapt the service of God to works and not to the Spirit! All is in vain that is unwillingly done, and it would better be left undone. For it may happen that the man and the woman who live together have much less fire and lust than such solitary men and women; but the greater the lust the greater is the sin of unchastity. So now these three kinds of men can find no counsel; the Pope lets them burn and be martyred, as they may, so that I consider these to be the children who among the people of Israel were offered and burned before the fiery idol of Moloch.
279. Then you say, What shall I do otherwise? It is not fitting to let them marry, on account of the vow, since the Scriptures say: Vovete et reddite, vow and observe. That answer I would have. Now answer me again: It is not fitting to let them marry, you say; why then is it fitting to let them play the profligate, to have secret sexual intercourse and to burn? Will not the vow be violated worse here than if they were married? How cleverly this helps the vow when you forbid marriage and when you see that you can not prevent profligacy and lust. I think to do the latter would be to leave the beam in the eye and to draw out the mote.
280. Yes, say you, the man may at last leave the woman and live chastely, and this he could not do if married. My dear man, give me a few examples:
It would happen sooner that married people separate and voluntarily abstain than such people. But let that go until another time. Answer me here: St. Augustine makes a rule that his brethren are not to go alone, but two by two. This I have vowed till death; well then, I am taken prisoner and compelled to be alone; tell me, what becomes of my vow? Shall I keep my vow here, then I must let myself be killed, rather than be alone. But what if they will not kill me and keep me alone by force, then my vow must be broken or I must always have made for myself this condition, that I vow to keep the rule in this and this particular, as far as it is possible for me.
281. Further, I vow to pray, to wear a habit and other things of the kind according to the rule. Well then, I become sick, must keep my bed and cannot observe any of them. What becomes now of the command: Vovete et reddite, vow and observe? It does not help me that I am sick, for God’s commandment should always be kept in death as well as in life, in sickness as well as in health. What will you say to this? It does not count to invent careless, lazy, unfounded excuses here, we are to do with serious matters, on which the salvation of the soul depends, so that one should answer honestly, uprightly and thoroughly. Accordingly, if you should say: If I am imprisoned and forced to be alone, if I am sick that I cannot keep the other rules, it is enough that I have the will to keep them and that I act contrary to the rule against my will; God accepts the will, where the act cannot follow; then I say, My friend, that does not help; my vow rests on the deed and embraces not only the will but also the work prescribed in the rule.
282. Therefore where the work does not follow, the vow is broken, or the vow excludes the possibility of the lack of ability. Otherwise I too might take a woman and say: I do this unwillingly and I would gladly by choice remain chaste, but it is impossible for me, my nature forces, seizes and draws me on. Who in the world is there who would not prefer to live chaste and alone if he could do as he would? You must answer here differently.
283. Now see, as in other points in religious vows impossibility is reserved (as no one can deny), and as no one sins, though he never in his life keeps the vow, because of impossibility, I should like to hear honest reasons why chastity alone must be observed, whether it is possible or impossible to observe it, and why not in the vow this condition should be made: I vow chastity, as far as it is possible for me. If we would speak without foolish talk, we must say that either the impossible chastity, like the other impossible things, shall never be vowed, or there never was a monk on earth. For there never has been one who has not at one time been sick or otherwise hindered that he had to leave undone certain parts of his rule which is contrary to his vow.
284. Concerning all this it is in accord with their usual custom to leave such parts of the rule in the power of the abbot, that he may give his inferiors dispensation and excuse them from keeping what he will; not only because of impossibility, but also for convenience’ sake, and as it seems good to him, all of which is contrary to the vow, where vows are to be understood without any condition. For what you vow to God to keep no creature can take away. Now you vow the whole rule and your prelate excuses you in whatever point he will or you have need, so that without doubt all monks’ vows can be considered as having this meaning: I vow to keep the rule as far as is possible for me and agreeable to my superior. If that is not the contents and meaning of the vow, then all orders and cloisters are false and damnable, or there never has been a monk on earth.
For no one has ever believed and regarded this point differently. Why then should not a superior have the power to give a brother permission to become secular and to marry, when he sees how the fiery and restless temptations of the flesh are tormenting him? If he can not release from the vow of chastity, how then can he release from the others? But if he can release from the others, why not also from the vow of chastity, for which there is so much more cause than for the others?
285. Therefore it has come about that they have divided vows into substantialia and accidentialia; that is, some vows are fixed and others are removable. Of fixed vows they have made three: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. All the others, with the whole rule and order, they call removable.
286. What a rascal the devil is and how full of a thousand tricks! If we ask them here for what reason they make such a difference, and who has given them the power to do this, they cannot say anything else than that they do it of their own power and without all reason and cause. For when they saw that it was impossible to vow the order and rule, and that it could not be kept, they thought: Well, what shall we do now, this is all vowed and will not be kept. If they should all be condemned, there is no monk in a state of holiness, and all orders and rules would be nothing else than impossible, foolish things. We will do thus with it. We will exclude three points that shall be called fixed, and whoever does not keep these shall be damned; the others shall be called removable and not damnable. And so it has also happened; so they all hold, practice and teach. But wait, dear sirs, we have something to discuss with you about this.
287. If it is true that you have the power to make vows fixed and removable, you have also the power to condemn people and to save them.
But tell me, how shall I be sure that this division of yours is right and pleasing to God? Who will quiet my conscience and assure it, when it is pressed with the commandment, Vovete et reddite? Do you think that it will be enough for me that you so divide, or that you point out how it is not to be observed? No, your division and non-observance will not satisfy me against this storm: Vovete et reddite. I have vowed not only the fixed vows, but the whole rule, with removable and fixed vows. The judge of all will not permit that I change his word and say: Omnia vovete, aliqua reddite; but he will say: Quodcunque voveris, redde. Et iterum; Redde vota tua.
288. Therefore to exclude these three vows is surely a senseless, misleading thing, invented by mere human presumption, or all vows must be alike removable; for they are all vowed alike, demanded by the same commandment, and must alike be kept or given up. What can you say to this, dear sirs? You will say: Such a religious life is an impossible and useless thing. That is certainly true. We are fools, we vow and do not know what we vow, afterwards we would help ourselves and make possible, impossible, observe, let go, remove and fix as it suits us. But the Highest will not permit us this, he will not allow his commandment to move this way and that according to our will.
289. You have learned such things from the pope; he too takes this commandment of God, Vovete et reddite, and stretches it as far as he will.
He will set aside all vows, except those of chastity and pilgrimages to Rome, to St. James, and to Jerusalem, and God’s commandment is now taking this meaning: Vow chastity and a pilgrimage to St. James, Rome, and Jerusalem; observe this; what you have vowed otherwise you dare not observe. See, it is to be in his power which of God’s commands are to be observed and what are not to be observed. Oh, thou cursed abomination, how impudent, how trifling is thy insolence towards thy God! But what reason and cause has he for this? No other but that chastity and pilgrimage are great things, and that the other vows are little.
Behold here the senseless fool and blasphemer who sets aside God’s commandment if it commands a little thing and teaches to observe it if it commands a great thing. This is directly contrary to Christ, Matthew 5:19: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
You should not hold, like the pope, that a thing is trifling. We listen to the command, Vovete et reddite, even in little things; while the religious orders do as their father, the pope, teaches them and say: Vovete et reddite the three fixed vows, but Vovete et non reddite the removable vows. See, then, whether the religious orders are not the devil’s own government and nature, founded on mere lies and blasphemy.
290. Is it not so, my dear man? Be it little or great, whatever is comprehended in God’s commandments should and must be observed. One must here direct himself, not according to works, but according to the commandment. You must not consider whether the work is great or little, but only whether it is commanded. If it is commanded, there should be no neglecting it, be the case as it may. For Christ says: Not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law till all be fulfilled. But the pope and his disciples take away not only jot and tittle from this commandment, Vovete et reddite, but also letters, text, meaning and everything.
291. The religious orders cannot deny that they vow removable vows which they include under the word Vovete; for they call them Vota, vows, although they change them into removable ones. So they can never deny that they are bound to observe these, and that they are also to remain under the word Reddite. Otherwise you might be an enemy to your neighbor in your heart, and say that you are not bound to love him, but that it is sufficient that you do not kill him, thus keeping the larger part of the fifth commandment and neglecting the smaller part. Henceforth we could divide all God’s commandments into great and small or into removable and fixed parts and say that we are not bound to observe the small or removable ones. This is contrary to God, although the pope and the universities thus hold and teach and the religious orders follow them.
292. What shall we now do? If the religious orders hold all their vows and rules as fixed, who among them can be saved? Will you then condemn them all? I would not willingly condemn one but would far rather that they all escaped from the cloisters or became holy in another way. In this way they must certainly all be condemned, if they tear and twist God’s word according to their whims. I have discussed all this in order that I conclude beyond contradiction that all vows be made removable or all fixed and equal; one must be like the other. And if one among them can be given up with a good conscience for some cause, then the vow of chastity too, and all the others can and should be given up, where need and cause demand. I hope I have now stopped the mouth of all gainsayers so that they on this account must be silent and have nothing to answer.
293. Since we now see plainly that the impossible vows must be given up, even by the holy people, and that God does not ask these of them, I shall have concluded that no vow will be otherwise accepted by God, or can otherwise be made, except with the restriction and meaning: If it is possible and pleases the Superior. Accordingly, we may give all young monks and nuns wives and husbands and let them re-enter secular life, where it is necessary, and where we cannot hold them with a good conscience so as to please God. By this means we shall restore the cloisters to their original purity and nature as Christian schools, in which boys and girls learn discipline, reverence and faith, after which they may freely remain there until death, or as long as they wish, if God has not otherwise planned and willed for them.
294. Further, we would have another encounter with them, that we may see how wholly confused and groundless a thing the “religious” life is. I grant that their dream of the three fixed vows, Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, is true. Poverty is of two kinds, spiritual and bodily.
Concerning spiritual poverty Christ says, Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.” This means that man is content and ready to deny himself all riches, and that he bears in his heart only a renounced desire for them, although he may have and control great riches, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and many pious Christians. This poverty of spirit is vowed by all Christians in common at baptism and is not vowed by the religious orders; for their vow demands that the Christian, evangelical, common poverty first exist.
295. Bodily poverty means to possess or have no property outwardly. This is not possible. Christ neither demanded nor practiced it, for man cannot live without bodily food and clothing. Therefore they have made it mean this that bodily purity is, not to have anything of one’s own. This poverty Luke has described in Acts 4:34: “For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the prices of the things that were sold.” Christ also practiced this, for his purse, which Judas carried, was common to all the apostles, so that John does not say that Judas had Christ’s purse to carry, but: “Having the bag, took away what was put therein,” John 12:6. This word proves that the purse was common to all: otherwise he had said, He had Christ’s purse and carried what was given to Christ.
296. Now see, St. Bonaventura was a cardinal; Eugene, the pope, was St.
Bernhard’s disciple, and many in religious orders have become bishops and popes. Tell me, what has become of their vow of poverty? They are always holy. And if their vow had not been removable and free before God, they would certainly have been damned, since they did not keep their vow until death. Now, popes, cardinals and bishops always have their own property and do with it what they will; which is directly contrary to the vow of poverty, so that being a pope, cardinal or bishop is considered by everyone as secular, as over against the monkish orders.
297. Will you say here: They have followed obedience and have risen to a more perfect order, and do not have their own property but that of the church in their control? My dear man, observe what you say; are not these empty words? Or do you think to stop my mouth with this? Is it not so, dear brother? I would say, first: Obedience here, obedience there; to keep one’s vows is God’s commandment and obedience, from which we ought not follow even an angel, as St. Paul says, Galatians 1:8: “But though we, or an angel from heaven should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema.” Also St.
Peter, Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than man.” Have they now left God’s obedience for the sake of the pope’s obedience? Then they have left heaven for hell. No, you dare not thus throw away God’s commandment and obedience. Then I too would say that you may depart also from the vow of chastity for the pope’s sake, and set aside all God’s commandments. If you can set aside one command of God, for the sake of men, then you can set them all aside.
298. Secondly, even if the orders of pope, cardinals, and bishop were a perfect order, we ought nevertheless not free ourselves from God’s commandment. For without God’s commandment there is no order, much less a perfect order, but nothing but error and seduction. Perfection is not contrary to God’s commandment, but it much rather follows God’s commandments and sees none but observes all. See, with what great lies and foolishness the people have to do, that it does not know what and of what it speaks, that it establishes perfection without God’s commandment and wishes thereby to abolish God’s commandment. But now because the orders of pope, bishop, and cardinal form a real aristocracy, and are the most imperfect, we shall not keep these saints, unless we confess that all vows exist before God only for a time and can be changed, as we see that this vow of poverty is here changed. For why should not the vow of chastity be changed on account of necessity and cause, since it is not vowed more strongly than poverty? But now let it be that such saints have passed out of the vow of poverty into the perfect state, then you must grant me that the state of matrimony is perfect over against the state of unchastity, or against impossible chastity, as St. Paul says, Corinthians 7:9: “It is better to marry than to burn.” It is always better to have a lawful wife than to live with a woman unlawfully or to burn. Well then, let those pass out into this perfect state of marriage who hold an unchaste chastity or an imperfect, unwilling state of chastity; or, if you will not have that, then your excuse of the perfect state counts for nothing.
299. In the third place, how can you be so bold as to say that the vow of poverty is not broken for the reason that they care not for their own property, but for that of the church. If that now were true, in what were they better than a secular servant or official? Why then do you not consider these also as “religious,” since they do not control their own property?
This is empty, foolish chatter. But now is it not true that the bishops hold property of their own, and that, in respect of poverty, their life is a thousand miles removed from that of the monks. Accordingly, nothing can be claimed here, you must acknowledge that poverty is vowed no further than the prelate wishes or cause demands, if we would keep our saints.
300. And what is the need of so much round about talk? It is clear that a man in a religious order vows only the childish, slavish poverty, which consists in this ‘that he has no property in his hands; but is subordinate, and takes what people give him. As soon, however, as he comes into power and stands before others to administer property he is no longer under the vow of poverty, unless he is deposed and again becomes subordinate. For what difference is there between such a ruler and the secular housefather or official, as far as having, using, ruling over and administering property is concerned? These are only feigned words, as St. Peter says, what men speak to the contrary: in reality it is a purely secular office, work and order. Therefore we see that God does not accept vows, unless they be free and removable; otherwise no cloister could have a prelate; so that necessity compels us to support the cloisters or schools for the training of young people.
301. In the same way obedience may and can not be understood otherwise than as childish and slavish obedience; for the words of the vow clearly demand obedience to the abbot or prior. If then one becomes a bishop or prelate, what becomes of his vow of obedience? People must now be obedient to him, and he is not obedient.
302. Will you again bring forward your foolish pretense that such a one passes into a higher obedience, or keeps his heart willing to become again obedient? All this has already been set aside; for it says: Vovete et Reddite; against this word there is no gloss; God will not have his command destroyed for the sake of either higher, middle or lower obedience. It is clear then that those in the religious orders vow a subjection, not of the heart, but only of the body; for the willing subjection of the heart toward everyone is common to all Christians, as St. Paul says, Romans 12:10: “In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another: in honor preferring one another.” But now again the cloisters dare have no prelates and supply no bishops; or the word subjection ends with the vow. See therefore how cleverly those two vows are called immovable and what fables and reigned words they use. God allows his saints both to vow and to live; he suffers their folly; but he does not accept the fixed vows, as you see from all this discussion; since they are contrary to Christian liberty and all good order, and exist only that Satan may have his sport with the unbelieving and may work his deception in them, as St. Paul teaches.
303. Now there remains only the vow of chastity; that alone must remain fixed and unchangeable which justly should be the first of all and most removable. In all the others they say Vovete et non reddite; here alone it is like iron and steel, Vovete et reddite. Is not this a horrible perversion? But Satan has done it for this reason, that he may the more firmly hold souls in unchastity, and he grasps just where they are the weakest and most easily held; for he saw clearly that all other vows could be more easily kept.
Accordingly he did not insist upon them; but he insists upon this impossible thing alone, that he may be sure of his tyranny. Alas, Oh God, what illusion and foolery does he carry on with the religious orders!
304. We find then in the whole “religious” life nothing fundamental, certain or permanent; everything shakes and moves without Scripture or reason, so that there is cause enough that we should run away from the whole thing. There is the especial reason that it has no Scripture foundation, and that it has so many kinds of errors and lies in its leading points. Moreover, it is so condemned and cursed by Christ in Matthew 24, by St. Paul in 2 Timothy 3, by St. Peter in 2 Peter 2, that, if you had taken ten vows and you saw that it was the Devil’s doing and against God, you would be obliged to give it up or to vow in a new, free way, as has been said above.
305. They have one thing that they advance: There have been holy fathers in the religious orders. But here they should be terrified when Christ says, that the elect may be deceived by them, as here the magi were deceived by Herod, and many other examples. The three children of Israel, Ananias, Azarias and MIsael, remained in the fiery oven of Babylon. Naaman the Syrian alone remained pious in the temple of the false god. Joseph remained pious in Egypt. What shall I say? St. Agnes remained chaste in an ordinary brothel, and the martyrs remained pious in dungeons, and Christians still daily remain pious in the flesh, in the world and in the midst of devils. Could God then not have been able to preserve Francis, Bernhard and their like in the midst of error, and although they have sometimes erred to rescue them from this error again?
306. He has allowed hardly any great saint to live without error. He allowed Moses and Aaron and Miriam, David, Solomon and Hezekiah and many more to stumble, that no one should rely without Scripture upon the mere example and work of the saints. But we throw in whatever we see and hear of the saints, and so we come upon and generally find that as men they have erred in their infirmity. This error has then to be for us a fundamental truth, and thus we build on the crooked wall of which Psalm 62:3-4 speaks. “How long will ye set upon a man, that ye may slay him, all of you; like a leaning wall, like a tottering fence. They only consult to thrust him down from his dignity; they delight in lies. They bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly.”
307. But if all other things were good in the priesthood, the abuse of the mass would be enough to cause one to flee wherever one hears of it. I think that such abuse of the holy sacrament is reserved for this order as the worst, most destructive, and horrible that has Come upon earth, and which will be the greatest and last among evil things. Thus they make out of the mass a sacrifice and a good work which they sell to people and make all kinds of money out of it. Oh, the terrible perversion! What wrath ought it not merit? Would to God that all secondary masses were done away with; then there might be hope that God would be a little more merciful to us.
But now, blinded as we are, we think that we should commit a great sin if we were to drop the masses; and we intend with such horrible abuse to propitiate and serve God. Thus there is no end to his wrath, and all our prayer becomes only sin, as Psalm 109:1-7 has declared. Only one mass a day should be held, and this should be treated as a sacrament for all, yes, one mass a week would be still better. But the matter cannot be improved; it is too deeply seated.
308. This utterance I wish to have made for the benefit of whom will use it; it makes no difference to me if the priests are angry at and cry over me. I prefer that they should be angry rather than Christ. I know that I am obliged to advise and help wretched consciences and souls, and to share with everyone that which God has given me. I will not leave the blame upon myself. I shall not be responsible for the man who does not accept it; he must take care of himself. He has my true service and advice so far; if I could do more for him, I would do more. Whoever will can enter and remain in a religious order; but whoever wishes to be saved must see to it that he becomes a Christian, and let priests and monks be priests and monks.
309. Here probably the chaste hearts and holy priests of God, whom nothing pleases except what they themselves speak and write, will pucker up their mouths and say: Oh, how the cowl presses the monk, how he wishes he had a wife! But let them slander and enjoy their malice, the chaste hearts and great saints; let them be iron and steel, as flay set themselves up to be; but do you not deny that you are a man of flesh and blood, and let God afterward judge between the strong, angelic heroes and you, the poor, despised sinner. I hope I have come so far that by the grace of God! shall remain as I am; although I am not yet over the mountain, and I do not venture to compare myself with the chaste hearts. I should be sorry to do this, and may God in his mercy keep me from it. For if you know them, who they are who pretend so great chastity and make a show of discipline, and what it is that St. Paul says, Ephesians 5:12, “For the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of,” you would not consider their much-praised chastity fit for a whore to wipe her shoe with. Here too the perversion is found, that the chaste are the unchaste, and that whatever glitters deceives.
310. Dear youth, do not be ashamed that you desire a girl, and that the girl desires a boy; only let this result in marriage, not unchastity, and then it is no more a disgrace than eating and drinking. Celibacy ought to be a virtue which happens among God’s miracles, as the instance of a man who neither eats nor drinks. It is beyond healthy nature, not to mention sinful, fallen nature. God has not let many virgins live long, but quickly hastened them out of the world, as Caccilia, Agnes, Lucia, Agatha and their like, for he well knows how noble the treasure is, and how difficult it is to preserve long. If in every city there were five young men and five young women, twenty years old and entirely pure who had discovered nothing of the natural flowings, then I could say that Christianity of today were better than in the times of the apostles and martyrs.
311. Alas, Lord God, I consider that in no other way has unchastity been able to spread faster or more terribly than through such a command and vow of chastity. What a Sodom and Gomorrah that the devil established through such a command and vow, and how altogether vile has he made this same chastity to indescribable wretchedness. There is neither the common house of prostitution nor any other allurement so destructive in this command and vow invented by the devil himself.
312. Here I shall say something of the boys and girls who have taken the vow before they felt what flesh and blood are, when they were only fifteen, sixteen or twenty years old. These should be taken out at once, if they so desire; for their vow is as yet nothing at all, as if a child had engaged itself to marry. Here the Shrove-Tuesday consecration is not to be regarded, whether the man be a priest, a deacon or hold any other religions rank.
Such consecration is jugglery and counts for nothing with God. But enough of this, let us come again to our subject, where we left it.
313. When the wise men came from Herod, and turned to Bethlehem, the star appeared to them again, and they became very glad. This always happens when, after the error and deception of human teaching, the heart comes again to the knowledge of the pure truth and of the Gospel. Then at once it is free from Herod and sees how altogether certain and light the way of the truth is, over against the appearances that the Herodians pretend; so the heart is made glad. For the Gospel is a comforting doctrine, which leads us out of human presumption into the confidence of the pure grace of God, as Psalm 4:7-8 says.
314. Again, all who wander in the teachings of men and in their own strength lead a hard, anxious life, and still it does not help them. What heart should not rejoice to discover that the pope’s rule is merely trouble and burden for the conscience, and that it deceives the whole world with its pretense. Heavenly light and truth has this nature, that it lifts up the conscience, comforts the heart, and creates a free spirit; just as on the other hand the teaching of men naturally oppresses the conscience, tortures the heart and, quenches the spirit.
315. The star thus goes before them and does not leave them until it brings them to Christ, yet it goes no farther, but remains at rest over where the child is. So too the light of the holy gospel does; it is as a light in the darkness, as St. Peter calls it, 2 Peter 1:19, and goes before us and leads us, if we only cherish it with a strong faith, it does not leave us until it brings us to Christ and to the truth; but it goes no further, for beside Christ it teaches us nothing.
316. Accordingly, in this leading of a star the manner and work of the Gospel is shown, and through the wise men all · believers; so that, as the star led them bodily to Christ, and they followed it in the body, so the gospel spiritually guides the hearts of men in this world, and believing hearts see it and follow it with joy until they come to Christ.
So too St. Paul boasts, 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And in Colossians 2:8, he forbids us to follow any doctrine which does not teach Christ. What else is this than that the star points to Christ alone, and nothing else, and goes no farther? In this figure, therefore, all doctrines of men are condemned, and should no longer be preached to Christians, but only the pure, simple light of the Gospel, is to be preached and we should follow this star only. Therefore pope, bishops, priests, and monks, with all their rule and teachings, are here condemned, and are to be avoided as the tyranny of Herod.
317. Here too the mouth of the Papists and Herodians is closed, and their lies rightly punished, since they teach with deliberate sacrilege that we can find the Christian church and faith only with them; and whoever does not hear them, should be considered as if he did not hear the Christian church.
They wish to be the sign and the star that leads to Christ, but this is all a lie. Do you wish to know where Christ and the truth are? Learn that here from this history. Do not look to the pope nor to the bishops, nor to the universities and monasteries, do not be led astray by their abundant preaching, praying, singing and holding of masses; do not mind that they sit in the place of the apostles and usurp spiritual jurisdiction: that may all deceive, and does deceive continuously; they are in error and teach error.
There is only one sure sign whereby you can recognize where Christ and his church are, namely, the star, the holy Gospel; all else is false. But where the Gospel is preached, there this star shines, there Christ certainly is, there you surely find the Church. whether it be in Turkey, Russia, Bohemia, or anywhere else. It is not possible that God’s word should be heard, and God, Christ and the Holy Ghost not to be there. On the other hand it is not possible that God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Church, or anything holy should be where God’s Word is not heard, even if they worked all miracles; but there can be only Herodians and the devil’s rule at such a place. Now everyone can see how the pope and the clergy are occupied not with God’s Word but with human teaching. “And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him.”
319. This house is the Christian church, the assembly of all believers on earth, in which alone you can find Christ and his mother; for in the Christian church alone are those who, being filled by the Holy Ghost, bring forth the fruits of Christianity and lead a Christian life. Everything that is outside of this house, however beautiful it may appear, however reasonable it may be, has neither Christ nor his mother; that is, there is no Christian there, for these cannot exist without faith and the Holy Ghost.
320. Therefore, if the pope, bishops, or anyone else demand of you that you should look to them, if you wish to see the church, then think of this Gospel, and look to the star. Be assured that where the star does not stand there is not the house where Christ and his mother are to be found. In other words, where the Gospel does not give its light, there the Christian church is certainly not found. This star will never fail you, and without it you will never arrive at the right place. It leads to this house and remains over this house, and just so the Gospel brings you into the church, and remains over the church, keeping its place and not letting itself be driven away by any persecution. Here it sounds and shines freely and clearly, to the vexation of all its enemies, as we see entirely fulfilled in the apostles, martyrs, and all saints, and still daily, where it is preached.
AND OPENING THEIR TREASURES THEY OFFERED UNTO HIM GIFTS, GOLD AND FRANKINCENSE AND MYRRH.
321. All bodily sacrifices in the law of Moses, wherever they occur, point to the spiritual sacrifice of which Hebrews 13:15, speaks. “Through him let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of the lips which make confession to his name.” And Hosea 14:2-3: “O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.
Take with you words, and return unto Jehovah; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept that which is good,” that is, take away the evil, which thou bringest over us through thy hand, and take the good into thy hand, that thou mayest give it to us; so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips,” that is, praise and thanksgiving. These are the true bullocks that we should offer thee, of which also Psalm 51:21 speaks: “Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: Build thou the walls of Jerusalem. Then wilt thou delight in the sacrifices of righteousness, then will they offer bullocks thine altar.” Also Psalm 50:7-15: “Hear, O Israel, I am thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices. What will you offer me? Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? If I were hungry I would not tell thee: For the world is mine, and all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field. Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the highest. The sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me, and that is the way to salvation.” From these verses we can see that sacrifice, if it is to find favor before God, must be praise and thanksgiving, or at least not without praise and thanksgiving.
And where a sacrifice is offered without praise and thanksgiving, he will reject it, as he says, “What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? I have had enough of the burnt offerings.”
322. Moreover we could not give God anything else, for everything is his already, and we have everything from him; praise thanks and honor only we can give him. So also Psalm 116:12-13 teaches: “What shall I render unto Jehovah for all his benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of Jehovah. Thou hast loosed my bonds, I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Now praise is nothing else than recognizing the favor received from God, and ascribing this, not to ourselves, but to him. And this praise and confession is rendered in two ways; first before God alone, and then before men, and is a true work and fruit of faith. St. Paul teaches of this in Romans 10:9-10: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This is as though St. Paul were to say: That is not the true faith, if you were to believe in Christ secretly in your heart and praise him in some hidden place; you must freely confess him with your mouth before everyone, even as you believe in your heart. This perhaps may cost you your life. For devils and men do not like to hear such confession, and the cross goes with such confession, as you see that even now the pope, bishops, priests, and monks cannot bear or endure Christ’s Word, so that the prophet well says: “I will take the wholesome cup, and preach the name of the Lord.” This is as though he were to say: If I praise and confess God, they will afflict and persecute me with the cup of the martyrs; well, I will take it in God’s name, and not cease from praising God. He will not harm me, but will be a savior to me, and help me quickly to salvation. This Christ too will do, Mark 8:38, “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also shall be ashamed of him, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
323. Many have commented upon these three offerings, one in this way, another in that, yet all agree that it is a threefold confession. Therefore we shall take from all what seems true to us. The offering of gold, they say, means that they confess Christ as king; the frankincense that he is a priest; the myrrh, that he died and was buried. All three articles apply to Christ according to his human nature; yet so that he is God, and that such things have happened to his humanity because of his divinity.
324. In the first place, the Christian faith confesses and rejoices that Christ is a king and lord over all things, according to the sayings of Psalm 8:6: “Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”
Also Psalm 110:1: “Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
This confession of the true faith is a high and strong defense and boast for all who believe in Christ against all that is against them, though it be, as St.
Paul says, Romans 8:36, sword, hunger, cold or any other creature.
Who can injure or terrify a Christian, if he offers this gold, believes and confesses that his Lord Christ is Lord also over death, hell, over the devils and over all other creatures, and that everything lies in his hands, yes, under his feet?
325. If anyone has a gracious prince, he fears nothing that is under the power of this prince, he boasts of glories and declares his master’s favor and power. How much more does a Christian boast and glory against pain, death, hell, and the devil, and say confidently to him: What can you do to me? Are you not under the feet of my Lord? Attach and devour me without his will! See, such a free heart makes this offering of gold. Oh, how rare has that become! Therefore it is truly comforting, if anything terrifies or injures you, to come out openly, confess Christ and say, Omnia subjecisti sub pedibus ejus, all things are under his feet; who will then be against me?
326. In the second place, they use incense in divine services, according to the law of Moses, to burn incense in the temple, which pertains to the office of priest. Therefore, to offer incense is nothing else than to recognize Christ as a priest who is an intercessor between God and us, as St. Paul says, Romans 8:34, that he speaks for us, and is our intercessor before God, which is most necessary for us. For through his kingdom and rule he protects us against evil in all things; but through his priesthood he defends us against all sin and the wrath of God, takes his place before us, and offers himself to propitiate God, that we through him may have confidence toward God, and that our conscience may not be terrified before his wrath and judgment, as St. Paul says, Romans 5:12: “Through him we have peace with God and access by faith into his grace.”
327. Now this is a much greater thing, that he makes us safe toward God and sets our consciences at peace, that God and ourselves are not at enmity, than that he should make the creatures harmless to us. For guilt is much greater than pain, and sin than death, since sin brings death, and without sin there would be no death, or it would not be injurious. As Christ is now Lord over sin and death, and has it in his power to give grace and life to all who believe on him; so to offer gold and incense is to recognize these two offices and works of his, and to thank him, as St. Paul does, Corinthians 15:55-56: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
328. This is surely a strong defense, that a man can set this high priest against his sin, against his bad conscience, against God’s terrible anger and judgment, and with unshaken faith say and confess: Tu es saderdos in aeternum, thou art a high priest forever. But, if thou art a high priest, thou interecedest for all sin of those who confess you as such a priest. As little as God’s judgment and anger, sin and a bad conscience may condemn or terrify you, do they condemn and terrify me, for whom thou art such a priest. See, this is to offer true incense, to be undismayed against all sin and the wrath of God through faith in Christ.
329. In the third place, they used myrrh to anoint dead bodies, that they should not corrupt in the grave. Therefore the death and resurrection of Christ are here set forth; since it is he alone who died and was buried and is not corrupted, but arose again from the dead, as Psalm 16:10 says: “For thou wilt not leave my soul to Shed, neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” And his incorruptibility is indicated through all who are preserved and kept through bodily myrrh. Accordingly to offer myrrh is as much as to confess that Christ died and yet remained incorrupt, that is, that death has been overcome by life, and that he never died according to his divinity, and that his human nature again awoke from death.
330. This confession is the most important of all the three, although all three are necessary and must be undivided. For, since he has become a king and priest for you, and given you so great a possession, you must not think that it has been done in vain, or that it has cost little, or come to you through your own merit. Sin and death have been overcome for you in him and through him, and grace and life given you; but it was bitter for him, and cost him much, and has been bought for a high price, namely, with his own blood, body, and life. For it was impossible to put away God’s wrath and judgment, conscience, hell, death, and every evil thing, divine righteousness must be satisfied, sin atoned for, and death overcome by justice. Accordingly it was St. Paul’s practice, when he preached God’s grace in Christ, to mention his suffering and blood together, that he might show how all our good things have been given through Christ, but not without his unspeakable merit and cost, as he says, Romans 3:25: “God has set him forth, to be a propitiation through faith.” Also, Corinthians 2:9: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” etc. Therefore to offer myrrh is to confess the great cost and pains that it meant for Christ to become our priest and king.
331. See, these are the three parts in which we should praise and confess his three works which he has shown us, and will show us daily until the day of judgment. And the order too is fine: but the evangelist puts gold in the first place. For it would not be possible that he should be king over all things for our good, if he had not first reconciled us to God and assured our conscience, that with calm and peace he might rule and work in us as in his own kingdom. Accordingly he must first be priest for us. But, if he is to be priest and to reconcile us to God according to his priestly office, he must fulfill God’s righteousness for us. But there was no other satisfaction; he had to give himself to death, and in his own person overcome sin with death. So too through death he came to the priesthood, through his priesthood to the kingdom, thus receiving the myrrh before the incense, and the incense before the gold. But the Scripture at all times declares the kingdom to be first, then the priesthood, and finally his death, as Psalm 110:1-7 also does, which Psalm describes for the first time his kingdom as follows: “Jehovah saith unto my lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” It follows then from his priesthood thus: “Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Finally he closes with his martyrdom thus: “He will drink of the brook in the way: Therefore will he lift up his head.”
Here too he wishes to say: He will taste the myrrh, therefore he will become a priest; he is a priest, and therefore he will also be king; so that one follows from the other; one is the cause of the other, and they follow one upon another.
332. With these simple and plain interpretations I let the matter rest, and commend the lofty considerations to people of leisure. Here it concerns us most to have care that we do not take any one of these three confessions alone, but offer them together. And although Isaiah 60:6, speaks of gold and incense only, and is silent about the myrrh, it may readily be on this account, namely, that Christ’s kingdom and priesthood have been from the beginning of the world, as St. Paul says, Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever.” For all the saints have been redeemed from death and sin through him and his faith; and yet at that time the third part, his passion, the myrrh, had not yet been accomplished, which properly belonged to the evangelist to announce after its fulfillment.
333. But the Herodians and Papists have not only separated these three offerings, but also by an unspeakable outrage have destroyed them, retaining, however, the names and confessing with words that Christ is a king and priest, and that he has died for us. However, with other, contradictory words they deny all this with the heart and their whole life, and condemn it in the most shameful way. We, to observe such a thing, have begun with the myrrh, but they teach that man, without the grace of God, of himself and from the natural power of his reason and free will, may make himself worthy and receptive of divine favor. What else is this than to desire, without Christ’s blood and suffering, to satisfy through one’s own act the divine righteousness, to appease the worth and judgment of God, and to give the conscience peace? This is indeed to make nothing of Christ’s blood and all his suffering, yea, his whole humanity and all his work, to regard them as useless and to tread them under foot, of which St.
Paul says, Hebrews 6:5-6: “It is impossible to renew to repentance those who fell away; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” For without Christ there is no grace nor repentance, but wrath only. Nevertheless the Papists teach that we can seek and find grace without him. Accordingly the offering of myrrh is entirely done away with.
334. Then the offering of incense must first cease to be. For how shall Christ be their priest and intercessor, if they are so good and pure that they do not need his blood and intercession, but intercede through themselves, and stand of themselves before God, and attain grace and eternal life through their own ability?
Thereby they confess and teach that natural ability is pure and good, and therefore Christ need not be priest. Who would ever have believed that Christians would arrive at such a stage when some one would teach and hear such things which are dreadful to think of?
335. But now we see that all higher schools as well as the pope and his clergy do not teach and hold differently, yes, they condemn as heresy whatever does not conform to their teaching. How clearly has Peter described them, when he says, 2 Peter 2:1: “Among you also there shall be false teachers, denying even the Master that bought them.” He does not say: They will deny Christ, but: “the Master that bought them;” as if he wished to say: Christ they will confess with words; but they will not regard him as having bought them with his blood; but without his blood they will redeem themselves, through their own natural power they will attain God’s grace, which Christ alone has bought for us all with his blood. This is what they mean, when they say that is costs and affords nothing to attain God’s grace. Therefore they wish to redeem themselves and can not bear to hear of Christ’s redemption.
336. Where, however, Christ is not acknowledged as priest, there he is much less acknowledged as king. For they are in no wise subject to him, they are their own masters, that is, the devil’s own household. Although they do not suffer him to rule over them and to exercise his power in them, he is nevertheless a king, priest, and redeemer, without their consent, over all creatures. Behold, thus you see that now is the time when St. Peter thrice denies Christ. Would to God that they would hear the cock’s crow, that they would recover from their error, acknowledge their fall, cry bitterly, and go out from the house of Caiphas, that is, out from the diabolical assembly of the pope, where the fire of wordly love has been kindled, and where the pope’s household is to warm itself; for the divine love is utterly extinguished in them. Let this suffice of the spiritual offerings. We come now to: And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
337. This is the outcome and end, namely, that we are to shun human teaching, and are not to relapse into it, when we have once been redeemed therefrom; just as the wise men, having once been freed from Herod, do not return to him. Thus I also say that we are to shun the pope’s and all Papists’ law and teaching, if we do not wish to incur God’s displeasure and hazard our soul’s salvation, since we have already experienced the true evangelical truth. For their teaching brings us away from God and makes us follow our own reason and work. Thereby God’s work is hindered, who should and would give us and work in us all things, and who desires us also to expect that of him.
338. Human teaching, however, leads us so that we just begin all works, desire to be the first ones to seek God, and that we then expect God to come afterwhile and to look at what we have begun. Let me give you this for an example: Those that seem to be the best teachers of young people say to them that they are willing to pray and to go to church, to live chaste, and to be pious; however, they do not tell them where they are to begin and to seek all this; just as it were enough that they had instructed them to be pious. Again, when after this they are to marry or to enter orders, they think it is enough that they themselves have begun, they do not look at God, neither do they consult him about it; but, when they have begun, then they want God to come, to see what they have made and to be satisfied with it.
339. Yes, the young people are educated so that a girl is ashamed to ask God for a young man, and a young man to ask God for a girl; they consider it foolish to ask God for a such a thing, they want to do it themselves.
Ought not a girl to be taught with all earnestness to come to God and to say with all confidence: See, dear God, I have become old enough to marry, be thou my Father and let me be thy child, give me a pious young man, and graciously help me to enter the estate of matrimony, or, if it pleases thee, give me a spirit to remain chaste. Thus also a young man is to ask for a girl, and is to begin nothing himself, but is to ask God that he may begin and to lay the first stone. These would be true children of God indeed, who begin nothing but consult God about it, no matter how insignificant it may be. Thus Christ would remain our king, and all our works would be his works and would be done well. But human teachings do not allow this, they act as if there is no God, and as if they would have to do whatever is to be done well. Behold, from these examples you can learn, how all human teaching is seductive and against God.
340. There are, however, three ways in which human teaching can be avoided: first, that it is avoided by the conscience only and not by the deed.
For instance, when I confess, pray, and fast according to the pope’s canon, not as if it were necessary for us to do so, or as if it were sin, if I were not to do it; but when I do it willingly, of my own accord, not compelled by necessity, when I can leave it undone, if I wish so. Here the deed is under human teaching, but the conscience is free, it considers the doing no more nor no less than the not doing, it does not think it a sin to neglect it, nor a good work to do it; for it is not obedient but does it of its own accord.
This is the best way.
341. Thus the wise men are still in Herod’s land, they also travel under his rule, but they do not regard him, do not come to him, and are not obedient to him. He, therefore, who now also is under the pope, and who observes his law, not for the sake of obedience, but of his own accord, how, when, where, and as long as he pleases, he, I say, suffers no harm. This understanding, however, is above the average mind and is found with but few people, and as it was given to the wise men secretly in their sleep, so we experience it only in our heart through God’s Spirit; it can not be given to anyone with a heart from without, if the heart itself does not receive it from heaven.
342. The second way is that human teaching is avoided by the conscience as well as by deeds, as those do who trample it under foot and only do the contrary with a glad secure conscience. And this way is the most necessary and best for weak consciences that they may be liberated and made strong, perfect, and free, as the foregoing. This can not be very. readily accomplished with words and conscience alone, if you do not show the contrary by examples; just as Christ did, who allowed his disciples, contrary to the law of the Pharisees, to neglect to wash their hands. Thus it were good, if we would neglect the prescribed confession, prayer, and fasting for a certain time and show by examples that the pope’s laws are foolery and deception, and if we would at another time do all this of our own accord.
343. The third way is that it is avoided by the deed alone and not by the conscience, as those do who boldly neglect human teaching and still believe that they do wrong in not observing it. And alas, such a conscience is ever to be found among the common people. For their sake St. Paul calls these times grievous times, 2 Timothy 3:1. For such consciences sin continually whether they observe or do not observe, and the pope with his law is the murderer of their souls and the cause of such danger and sin. If they observe, they do it against faith, which is to be free from all human teaching. If they do not observe, they do it against their conscience which believes that it must be observed. It is necessary that these are well instructed in the free Christian faith, and that they put aside this false conscience, or if they are not able to do this, that we bear their infirmities for a time as St. Paul teaches, Romans 15:1, and that we suffer them to follow and observe such a conscience together with faith, till they also have become large and strong.
344. Behold, this is the other way to depart into one’s own country and not to return to Herod. For generally, when people begin to be pious, they do it through human teaching and outward holiness, but we must abandon this and come to pure faith and not suffer ourselves again to fall from faith into works. Thus we surely come into our fatherland, from which we have come, that is, to God, by whom we have been created. The end thus comes together with the beginning as in a golden ring. God grant this through Christ, our king and priest, who be blessed to all eternity.