Lutheranism, the Basics: The Augsburg Confession, Updated and Corrected
August 12, 2012 4 Comments
Some of us have been having a conversation about how Lutheranism differs from Catholicism and Anglicanism. The short answer is : not much. Lutherans. like Anglicans, are a direct daughter of the Roman Catholic Church, and our beliefs reflect that.
The Augsburg Confession is the first statement of the beliefs of the Lutheran Church and was adopted June 23, 1530, and was presented to Emperor Emperor Charles V on June 25. The Coonfession was written by Philipp Melanchthon, a professor at the University of Wittenberg and a close friend of Martin Luther, who approved the Confession. Luther could not appear at the diet as he had been declared an outlaw by the Emperor.
Most serene, most mighty, invincible Emperor, most gracious Lord. A short time ago, Your
Imperial Majesty graciously summoned an imperial diet to convene here in Augsburg.3 The
summons indicated an earnest desire, first, to deliberate concerning matters pertaining to ―the
Turks, that hereditary foe of ours and of the Christian name, and how this foe ―might be
effectively resisted with unwavering help; and second, to deliberate ―and diligently to consider
how we may act concerning the dissension in the holy faith and Christian religion and to hear,
understand, and consider with love and graciousness everyone‘s judgment, opinion, and beliefs
among us, to unite the same in agreement on one Christian truth, and to lay aside whatever may
not have been rightly interpreted or treated by either side, so that all of us can accept and preserve a single, true religion. Inasmuch as we are all enlisted under one Christ, we are all to
live together in one communion and in one church. Because we, the undersigned elector and
princes, including our associates as well as other electors, princes, and estates, have been
summoned for these purposes, we have complied and can say, without boasting, that we were
among the first to arrive.
Moreover, Your Imperial Majesty graciously, most diligently, and earnestly desired, in
reference to the most humble compliance with the summons and in conformity to it, as well as in
the matters pertaining to the faith, that each of the electors, princes, and estates should commit to
writing, in German and Latin, his judgments, opinions, and beliefs concerning said errors,
dissensions, and abuses, etc. Accordingly, after due consideration and counsel, it was proposed
to Your Imperial Majesty last Wednesday that, in keeping with Your Majesty‘s wish, we
should present our case in German and Latin today, Friday. Wherefore, in most humble
obedience to Your Imperial Majesty, we offer and present a confession of our pastors‘ and
preachers‘ teachings as well as of our faith, setting forth on the basis of the divine Holy
Scripture what and in what manner they preach, teach, believe, and give instruction in our lands,
principalities, dominions, cities, and territories.
If the other electors, princes, and estates also submit a similar written statement of their
judgments and opinions, in both Latin and German, we are quite willing, in complete obedience
to Your Imperial Majesty, our most gracious Lord, to discuss with them and their associates—as
far as this can be done in fairness—such practical and equitable ways as may unite us. Thus, the
matters at issue between the parties may be presented in writing on both sides; they may be
negotiated charitably and amicably; and these same differences may be so explained as to unite
us in one, true religion, since we are all enlisted under one Christ and should confess Christ. All
of this may be done in consequence of Your Imperial Majesty‘s aforementioned summons and in
estates of the other party, do not comply with the procedure intended by Your Imperial Majesty‘s
summons, so that no charitable and amicable negotiations take place among us, and if they are
not fruitful, we on our part shall not have failed in anything that can or may serve the cause of
Christian unity, as far as God and conscience allow. Your Imperial Majesty as well as our
aforementioned friends, the electors, princes, estates, and every lover of the Christian religion
who is concerned about these matters, will be graciously and sufficiently assured of this by what
follows in the confession which we and our people submit.
In the past, Your Imperial Majesty graciously intimated to the electors, princes, and estates of
the empire, especially in a public instruction at the Diet of Speyer in the year 1526, that, for
reasons there stated, Your Imperial Majesty was not disposed to render a decision in matters
pertaining to our holy faith, but would urge the pope16 to call a council. Again, by means of a
written instruction at the last diet in Speyer a year ago, the electors, princes, and estates were,
among other things, informed and notified by Your Imperial Majesty‘s viceroy, His Royal
Majesty of Hungary and Bohemia, etc., and by Your Imperial Majesty‘s orator and appointed
commissioners, ―that Your Imperial Majesty‘s viceroy, deputy, and councilors of the imperial
government, together with representatives of the absent electors, princes, and estates who were
assembled at the diet convened at Regensburg,had considered the proposal for a general
council and acknowledged that it would be fruitful to have one called. Since, then, the
negotiations between Your Imperial Majesty and the pope resulted in a good, Christian
understanding, so that Your Imperial Majesty was certain that the pope would not refuse to call
In this case, therefore, we offer in full obedience to Your Imperial Majesty even beyond what
is required: to participate in such a general, free, Christian council, as the electors, princes, and
estates have requested, with high and noble motives, in all the diets of the empire that have been
held during Your Imperial Majesty‘s reign. We also have, following legal form and procedure,
called upon and appealed to such a council and to Your Imperial Majesty at various times
concerning these most important matters. We now once again adhere to these actions, and
neither these nor any subsequent negotiations shall make us waver (unless the matters in
dissension are in a charitable and friendly manner finally heard, considered, settled, and result in
Christian unity, according to Your Imperial Majesty‘s summons), as we herewith make public
witness and appeal. This is our confession and that of our people, article by article, as follows.
Articles of Faith and Doctrine
I. Concerning God
In the first place, it is with one accord taught and held, following the decree of the Council of
Nicea, that there is one divine essence which is named God and truly is God. But there are
three persons in the same one essence, equally powerful, equally eternal: God the Father, God
the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. All three are one divine essence, eternal, undivided, unending,
of immeasurable power, wisdom, and goodness, the creator and preserver of all visible and
invisible things. What is understood by the word ―person is not a part nor a quality in another
but that which exists by itself, as the Fathers once used the word concerning this issue.
Rejected, therefore, are all the heresies that are opposed to this article, such as the
Manichaeans,30 who posited two gods, one good and one evil; the Valentinians,31 the Arians,32
the Eunomians,33 the Mohammedans,34 and all others like them; also the Samosatenians, old and
new,35 who hold that there is only one person and create a deceitful sophistry about the other
two, the Word and the Holy Spirit, by saying that the two need not be two distinct persons since
―Word means an external word or voice and the ―Holy Spirit is a created motion in all
II. Concerning Original Sin
Furthermore, it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in
the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust
and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover,
this same innate disease and original sin is truly sin and condemns to God‘s eternal wrath all
who are not in turn born anew through baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Rejected, then, are the Pelagians and others who do not regard original sin as sin in order to
make human nature righteous through natural powers, thus insulting the suffering and merit of
III. Concerning the Son of God
Likewise, it is taught that God the Son became a human being, born of the pure Virgin Mary, and
that the two natures, the divine and the human, are so inseparably united in one person that there
is one Christ. He is true God and true human being who truly ―was born, suffered, was
crucified, died, and was buried in order both to be a sacrifice not only for original sin but also
for all other sins and to conciliate God‘s wrath. Moreover, the same Christ ―descended into
hell, truly rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, is sitting at the right hand of
God in order to rule and reign forever over all creatures, so that through the Holy Spirit he may
make holy, purify, strengthen, and comfort all who believe in him, also distribute to them life
and various gifts and benefits, and shield and protect them against the devil and sin. Finally, the
same Lord Christ ―will come in full view of all ―to judge the living and the dead . . . ,
according to the Apostles‘ Creed. Rejected are all heresies that are opposed to this article.
IV. Concerning Justification
Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God
through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become
righteous before God out of grace for Christ‘s sake through faith46 when we believe that Christ
has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are
given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul
says in Romans 3[:21–26*] and 4[:5*].
V. Concerning the Office of Preaching
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments.
Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when
he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our
merit but through Christ‘s merit, when we so believe.
Condemned are the Anabaptists48 and others who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit
without the external49 word of the gospel through our own preparation, thoughts, and works.
VI. Concerning the New Obedience
It is also taught that such faith should yield good fruit and good works and that a person must do
such good works as God has commanded for God‘s sake but not place trust in them as if thereby
to earn grace before God. For we receive forgiveness of sin and righteousness through faith in
Christ, as Christ himself says [Luke 17:10*]: ―When you have done all [things] . . . , say, We
are worthless slaves.‘ The Fathers also teach the same thing. For Ambrose says: ―It is
determined by God that whoever believes in Christ shall be saved and have forgiveness of sins,
not through works but through faith alone, without merit.
VII. Concerning the Church
It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the
assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are
administered according to the gospel.
For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that there the gospel is preached
harmoniously55 according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in
conformity with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church
that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere. As Paul says in
Ephesians 4[:4–5*]: ―There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of
your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, We are worthless slaves; we
have done only what we ought to have done!‘
VIII. What Is the Church?
Likewise, although the Christian church is, properly speaking, nothing else than the assembly of
all believers and saints, yet because in this life many false Christians, hypocrites, and even public
sinners remain among the righteous, the sacraments—even though administered by unrighteous
priests—are efficacious all the same. For as Christ himself indicates [Matt. 23:2–3*]: ―The
scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses‘ seat. . . .
Condemned, therefore, are the Donatists and all others who hold a different view.
IX. Concerning Baptism
Concerning baptism it is taught that it is necessary, that grace is offered through it, and that one
should also baptize children, who through such baptism are entrusted to God and become
pleasing to him.
Rejected, therefore, are the Anabaptists who teach that the baptism of children is not right.
X. Concerning the Lord’s Supper
Concerning the Lord‘s Supper it is taught that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present
under the form61 of bread and wine in the Lord‘s Supper and are distributed and received there.
Rejected, therefore, is also the contrary teaching.
XI. Concerning Confession
Concerning confession it is taught that private absolution should be retained and not abolished.
However, it is not necessary to enumerate all misdeeds and sins, since it is not possible to do
so. Psalm 19[:12*]: ―But who can detect their errors?
XII. Concerning Repentance
Concerning repentance it is taught that those who have sinned after baptism obtain forgiveness of
sins whenever they come to repentance and that absolution should not be denied them by the
church. Now properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror about sin, and yet at the same time to believe in the gospel and absolution that
sin is forgiven and grace is obtained through Christ. Such faith, in turn, comforts the heart and
puts it at peace. Then improvement should also follow, and a person should refrain from sins.
For these should be the fruits of repentance, as John says in Matthew 3[:8*]: ―Bear fruit worthy
Rejected here are those who teach that whoever has once become righteous cannot fall
However, also condemned are the Novatians, who denied absolution to those who had
sinned after baptism.
Also rejected are those who do not teach that a person obtains forgiveness of sin through
faith but through our own satisfactions.
Also rejected are those who teach that “canonical satisfactions” are necessary to pay for
eternal torment or purgatory.
XIII. Concerning the Use of Sacraments
Concerning the use of sacraments it is taught that the sacraments are instituted not only to be
signs by which people may recognize Christians outwardly, but also as signs and testimonies of
God‘s will toward us in order thereby to awaken and strengthen our faith. That is why they also
require faith and are rightly used when received in faith for the strengthening of faith.
Rejected, therefore, are those who teach that the sacraments justify ex opere operato
without faith and who do not teach that this faith should be added so that the forgiveness of sin
(which is obtained through faith and not through work) may be offered there.
XIV. Concerning Church Government
Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or
administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call.
XV. Concerning Church Regulations
Concerning church regulations made by human beings, it is taught to keep those that may be kept
without sin and that serve to maintain peace and good order in the church, such as specific
celebrations, festivals, etc. However, people are also instructed not to burden consciences with
them as if such things were necessary for salvation. Moreover, it is taught that all rules and
traditions made by human beings for the purpose of appeasing God and of earning grace are
contrary to the gospel and the teaching concerning faith in Christ. That is why monastic vows
and other traditions concerning distinctions of foods, days, and the like, through which people
ex opere operato: “by the mere performance of an act,” a formula used since the thirteenth century
to describe the power of the external action in the celebration of sacraments. When the officiating
priest performs the sacramental action exactly the way the church has ordered (for example,
consecrating the bread and wine in the Mass), the sacrament becomes efficacious.
XVI. Concerning Public Order and Secular Government
Concerning public order and secular government it is taught that all political authority,85 orderly
government, laws, and good order in the world are created and instituted by God and that
Christians may without sin exercise political authority; be princes and judges; pass sentences and
administer justice according to imperial and other existing laws; punish evildoers with the sword;
wage just wars; serve as soldiers; buy and sell; take required oaths; possess property; be married;
Condemned here are the Anabaptists who teach that none of the things indicated above is
Also condemned are those who teach that Christian perfection means physically leaving
house and home, spouse and child, and refraining from the above-mentioned activities. In fact,
the only true perfection is true fear of God and true faith in God. For the gospel teaches an
internal, eternal reality and righteousness of the heart, not an external, temporal one. The
gospel does not overthrow secular government, public order, and marriage but instead intends
that a person keep all this as a true order of God and demonstrate in these walks of life91
Christian love and true good works according to each person‘s calling. Christians, therefore, are
obliged to be subject to political authority and to obey its commands and laws in all that may be
done without sin. But if a command of the political authority cannot be followed without sin, one
must obey God rather than any human beings (Acts 5[:29*]).
XVII. Concerning the Return of Christ to Judgment
It is also taught that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the Last Day to judge, to raise all the
dead, to give eternal life and eternal joy to those who believe and are elect, but to condemn the
ungodly and the devils to hell and eternal punishment.
Rejected, therefore, are the Anabaptists who teach that the devils and condemned human
beings will not suffer eternal torture and torment.
Likewise rejected are some Jewish teachings, which have also appeared in the present, that
before the resurrection of the dead saints and righteous people alone will possess a secular
kingdom and will annihilate all the ungodly.
XVIII. Concerning Free Will
Concerning free will it is taught that a human being has some measure of free will, so as to live
an externally honorable life and to choose among the things reason comprehends. However,
without the grace, help, and operation of the Holy Spirit a human being cannot become pleasing
to God, fear or believe in God with the whole heart, or expel innate evil lusts from the heart.
Instead, this happens through the Holy Spirit, who is given through the Word of God. For Paul
says (1 Cor. 2[:14*]): ―Those who are natural do not receive the gifts of God‘s Spirit.
In order that it may be recognized that nothing new is taught here, these are the clear words
of Augustine concerning free will, quoted here from the third book of the Hypognosticon: ―We
confess that there is a free will in all human beings. For all have a natural, innate mind and
reason—not that they can act in matters pertaining to God, such as loving or fearing God with
their whole heart—but they do have the freedom to choose good or evil only in the external
works of this life. By good ‘I mean what can be done by nature: whether to work in the field or
not, whether to eat and drink, whether to visit a friend or not, to dress or undress, to build a
home, to marry, to engage in a trade, and to do whatever may be useful and good. To be sure, all
of this neither exists nor endures without God, but everything is from him and through him. On
the other hand, a human being can by personal choice do evil, such as to kneel before an idol,
commit murder, and the like.
Rejected here are those who teach that we can keep the commandments of God without grace
and the Holy Spirit. For although we are by nature able to do the external works of the
commandments, yet we cannot do the supreme commandments in the heart, namely, truly to fear,
love, and believe in God.
XIX. Concerning the Cause of Sin
Concerning the cause of sin it is taught among us that although almighty God has created and
preserves all of nature, nevertheless the perverted will causes sin in all those who are evil and
despise God. This, then, is the will of the devil and of all the ungodly. As soon as God withdrew
his hand, it turned from God to malice, as Christ says (John 8[:44*]): ―When [the devil] lies, he
speaks according to his own nature.
XX. Concerning Faith and Good Works
Our people are falsely accused of prohibiting good works. But their writings concerning the
Decalogue99 and other writings demonstrate that they have given good and useful account and
admonition concerning proper Christian walks of life and works, about which little had been
taught before our time. Instead, for the most part childish, unnecessary works—such as rosaries,
the cult of the saints, joining religious orders, pilgrimages, appointed fasts, holy days,
brotherhoods,103 and the like—were emphasized in all sermons. Our opponents also no longer
praise such unnecessary works as highly as they once did. Moreover, they have also learned to
speak now of faith, about which they did not preach at all in former times. Rather, they now
teach that we do not become righteous before God by works alone, but they add faith in Christ,
saying that faith and works make us righteous before God. Such talk may offer a little more
comfort than the teaching that one should rely on works alone.
Because at present the teaching concerning faith, which is the principal part of the Christian
life, has not been emphasized for such a long time, as all must admit, but only a doctrine of
works was preached everywhere, our people have taught as follows:
In the first place, our works cannot reconcile us with God or obtain grace. Instead, this
happens through faith alone when a person believes that our sins are forgiven for Christ‘s sake,
who alone is the mediator to reconcile the Father. Now all who imagine that they can accomplish
this by works and can merit grace despise Christ and seek their own way to God contrary to the
This teaching about faith is publicly and clearly treated in Paul at many places, especially in
Ephesians 2[:8–9*]: ―For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own
doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. . . .
That no new interpretation is introduced here can be demonstrated from Augustine, who
diligently deals with this matter and also teaches that we obtain grace and become righteous
before God through faith in Christ, and not through works. His whole book On the Spirit and the
Letter proves it.
Now although untested people despise this teaching completely, it is nevertheless the case
that it is very comforting and beneficial for timid and terrified consciences. For the conscience
cannot find rest and peace through works but by faith alone, when it concludes on its own with
certainty that it has a gracious God for Christ‘s sake, as Paul says (Rom. 5[:1*]): ―Therefore,
since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.
In former times people did not emphasize this comfort but instead drove the poor consciences
to their own works. As a result, all sorts of works were undertaken. For the conscience forced
some into monasteries, in the hope of obtaining grace there through the monastic life. Some
devised other works as a way of earning grace and making satisfaction for sins. Many of them
discovered that a person could not obtain peace by such means. That is why it became necessary
to preach this teaching concerning faith in Christ and diligently to emphasize it, so that each
person may know that God‘s grace is grasped by faith alone, without merit.
We must also explain that we are not talking here about the faith possessed by the devil and
the ungodly, who also believe the story that Christ suffered and was raised from the dead. But
we are talking about true faith, which believes that we obtain grace and forgiveness of sin
All who know that in Christ they have a gracious God call upon him and are not, like the
heathen, without God. For the devil and the ungodly do not believe this article about the
forgiveness of sin. That is why they are enemies of God, cannot call upon him, and cannot hope
for anything good from him. Moreover, as has now been indicated, Scripture talks about faith but
does not label it knowledge such as the devil and the ungodly have. For Hebrews 11[:1*] teaches
that faith is not only a matter of historical knowledge, but a matter of having confidence in God to receive his promise. Augustine also reminds us that we should understand the word ―faith
in Scripture to mean confidence in God—that God is gracious to us—and not merely such
knowledge of these stories as the devils also have.
Further, it is taught that good works should and must be done, not that a person relies on
them to earn grace, but for God‘s sake and to God‘s praise. Faith alone always takes hold of
grace and forgiveness of sin. Because the Holy Spirit is given through faith, the heart is also
moved to do good works. For before, because it lacks the Holy Spirit, the heart is too weak.
Moreover, it is in the power of the devil who drives our poor human nature to many sins, as we
observe in the philosophers who tried to live honestly and blamelessly, but then failed to do so
and fell into many great, public sins. That is what happens to human beings when they are
separated from true faith, are without the Holy Spirit, and govern themselves through their own
human strength alone.
That is why this teaching concerning faith is not to be censured for prohibiting good works.
On the contrary, it should be praised for teaching the performance of good works and for
offering help as to how they may be done. For without faith and without Christ human nature and
human power are much too weak to do good works: such as to call on God, to have patience in
suffering, to love the neighbor, to engage diligently in legitimate callings, to be obedient, to
avoid evil lust, etc. Such lofty and genuine works cannot be done without the help of Christ, as
he himself says in John 15[:5*]: ―Apart from me you can do nothing.
XXI. Concerning the Cult of the Saints
Concerning the cult of the saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we
may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by
faith. Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the
saints‘ good works as an example. For instance, His Imperial Majesty, in a salutary and righteous
fashion, may follow the example of David in waging war against the Turk. For both hold a
royal office that demands defense and protection of their subjects. However, it cannot be
demonstrated from Scripture that a person should call upon the saints or seek help from them.
―For there is only one single reconciler and mediator set up between God and humanity, Jesus
Christ (1 Tim. 2[:5*]).117 He is the only savior, the only high priest, the mercy seat, and
intercessor before God (Rom. 8[:34*]). He alone has promised to hear our prayers. According to
Scripture, in all our needs and concerns it is the highest worship to seek and call upon this same
Jesus Christ with our whole heart. ―But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ, the righteous . . . [1 John 2:1*].
Conclusion of Part One
This is nearly a complete summary of what is preached and taught in our churches for proper
Christian instruction and the comfort of consciences, as well as for the improvement of believers.
For we certainly wish neither to expose our own souls and consciences to grave danger before
God by misusing the divine name or Word nor to pass on or bequeath to our children and
descendants any other teaching than that which accords with the pure Word of God and Christian
truth. Since, then, this teaching is clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and is, moreover, neither
against nor contrary to the universal Christian church—or even the Roman church—so far as can be observed in the writings of the Fathers, we think that our opponents cannot disagree
with us in the articles set forth above. That is why those who undertake to isolate, reject, and
avoid our people as heretics, without having themselves any solid basis in divine command or
Scripture, act in a very unfriendly and hasty manner, contrary to all Christian unity and love. For
the dissension and quarrel are chiefly over some traditions and abuses. Since, then, there is
nothing unfounded or deficient in the principal articles and since this our confession is godly and
Christian, the bishops should in all fairness act more leniently even if there were a deficiency in
regard to tradition—although we hope to offer solid grounds and reasons why some traditions
and abuses have been changed among us.
Disputed Articles, Listing the Abuses That Have Been Corrected
Nothing contrary to Holy Scripture or to the universal, Christian church is taught in our churches
concerning articles of faith. Rather, only some abuses have been corrected that in part have crept
in over the years and in part have been introduced by force. Necessity demands that we list them
and indicate reasons why correction is permissible in these matters so that Your Imperial Majesty
may recognize that we have not acted in an unchristian or sacrilegious manner. On the contrary,
we have been compelled by God‘s command (which is rightly to be esteemed higher than all
custom) to permit such corrections.
XXII. Concerning Both Kinds123 of the Sacrament
Among us both kinds of the sacrament are given to the laity for the following reason. There is a
clear order and command of Christ in Matthew 26[:27*]: ―Drink from it, all of you. Concerning
the cup Christ here commands with clear words that they all should drink from it. The renowned teachers of the ancient Western church, such as Ambrose and Augustine.
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ―Drink from it, all of you;
So that no one can contest and interpret these words as if they only applied to priests, Paul
indicates in 1 Corinthians 11[:21*] that the whole assembly of the Corinthian church used both
kinds. Moreover, this usage remained in the church for a long time, as can be demonstrated from
the historical accounts and from the writings of the Fathers. Cyprian mentions in many places
that the cup was given to the laity in his time. St. Jerome says that the priests who administer
the sacrament distribute the blood of Christ to the people. Pope Gelasius himself ordered that
the sacrament should not be divided (dist. 2, chap. Concerning Consecration). Not a single
canon with the order to receive only one kind can be found. Nobody knows when or through
whom this custom of receiving only one kind was introduced, although Cardinal Cusanus
mentions when this custom was formally approved. Now it is obvious that this custom,
introduced contrary to God‘s command and to the ancient canons, is not right. Accordingly, it
was not proper to burden the consciences of those who desired to use the sacrament according to
Christ‘s institution and to compel them to act contrary to the order of our Lord Christ.
Furthermore, because dividing the sacrament contradicts Christ‘s institution, the customary
procession with the sacrament has also been discontinued.
XXIII. Concerning the Marriage of Priests
From everyone, both of high and low degree, a mighty, loud complaint has been heard
throughout the world about the flagrant immorality and dissolute life of priests who were not
able to remain chaste; their vices reached the height of abomination. In order to avoid so much
terrible offense, adultery, and other immorality, some priests among us have entered the married
state. They give as their reason that they are compelled and moved to do so by the great distress
of their consciences, especially since Scripture clearly proclaims that the married state was
instituted by God to avoid sexual immorality, as Paul says that to avoid immorality, ―Each man
should have his own wife [1 Cor. 7:2*], and again, ―For it is better to marry than to be aflame
with passion [1 Cor. 7:9b*]. When Christ says, in Matthew 19[:11*], ―Not everyone can accept
this teaching, he shows that he knew human nature quite well, namely, that few people have the
gift to live a celibate life. For ―God created humankind . . . male and female (Gen. 1[:27*]).
Experience has made it all too clear whether human power and ability can improve or change the
creation of God, the supreme Majesty, through their own intentions or vows without a special
gift or grace of God. What good, honorable, chaste life, what Christian, honest, or upright
existence has resulted for many? For it is clear—as many have confessed about their own lives—
how much abominable, terrifying disturbance and torment of conscience they experienced at the
time of their death. Therefore, because God‘s Word and command cannot be changed by any human vow or law, priests and other clergy have taken wives for themselves for these and other
reasons and causes.
It can also be demonstrated from the historical accounts and from the writings of the Fathers
that it was customary in the Christian church of ancient times for priests and deacons to have
wives. This is why Paul says in 1 Timothy 3[:2*]: ―Now a bishop must be above reproach, the
husband of one wife. It was only four hundred years ago that priests in Germany were
compelled by force to leave the married state and take the vows of celibacy. But they all
offered so much serious and strong resistance that an archbishop of Mainz, who had promulgated
the new papal decree, was nearly crushed to death during an uprising of the entire clergy. In
the beginning, this same prohibition was so hastily and ineptly enforced that the pope at the time
prohibited not only future marriages of priests but also broke up existing marriages of long
standing. Of course, this was not only contrary to all divine, natural, and civil laws but also was
totally opposed and contrary to the canons that the popes themselves had made and to the most
Many godly and intelligent people of high standing have also often expressed similar
opinions and misgivings that such enforced celibacy and prohibition of marriage (which God
himself instituted and left open for individuals to enter) never introduced any good but rather
many great and evil vices and much scandal. Moreover, as his biography indicates, one of the
popes himself, Pius II, often said and had these words recorded: there may well have been some
reason why the clergy was prohibited from marrying; but there were many better, greater, and more important reasons why they should again be free to marry. Undoubtedly, Pope Pius, as
an intelligent and wise man, made this statement because of grave misgivings.
Therefore, in loyalty to Your Imperial Majesty we are confident that, as a most praiseworthy
Christian emperor, Your Majesty will graciously take to heart the fact that now in these last
times and days of which Scripture speaks, the world is becoming more wicked and human beings
more frail and infirm.
Therefore it is most necessary, useful, and Christian to give this situation thorough
inspection, so that the prohibition of marriage may not cause worse and more shameful
immorality and vices to gain ground in German lands. For no one will ever be able to change or
arrange these matters better or more wisely than God himself, who instituted marriage to help
human frailty and to prevent sexual immorality. The old canons also state that sometimes
severity and rigor must be alleviated and relaxed for the sake of human weakness and to prevent
and avoid greater scandal. Now that certainly would be Christian and highly necessary in this
case. How can the marriage of priests and clergy, especially of the pastors and others who are to
serve the church, be disadvantageous to the Christian church as a whole? There may well be a
shortage of priests and pastors in the future if this harsh prohibition of marriage should last much
Thus, that priests and clergy may marry is based on the divine Word and command.
Moreover, the historical accounts demonstrate that priests were married and that the vow of
celibacy has caused so much awful, unchristian offense, so much adultery, such terrible,
unprecedented immorality and abominable vice that even some of the sincere cathedral clergy
and also some courtiers in Rome have often confessed and complained how such abominable and
overwhelming vice in the clergy would arouse the wrath of God. It is, therefore, quite deplorable
that Christian marriage has not only been prohibited but also most swiftly punished in many
places, as if it were a great crime. And yet, God commanded in Holy Scripture to hold marriage
in high esteem. Moreover, the marital state is also highly praised in imperial laws and in all
monarchies—wherever there has been law and justice. Only in this day and age are people
beginning to be tortured without cause, simply because they are married—especially priests who
above all should be spared. This is done not only contrary to divine law but also to the canons. In
1 Timothy 4[:1*, 3*] the apostle Paul calls the teaching that prohibits marriage a teaching of the devil. Christ himself says in John 8[:44*] that the devil is a murderer from the beginning. These
two statements fit well together. For it certainly must be a teaching of the devil to prohibit
marriage and then to dare to maintain such a teaching with the shedding of blood.
However, just as no human law can abolish or change God‘s command, neither can any vow
change God‘s command. That is why St. Cyprian advised that women who do not keep the vow
of chastity should get married. He says in Epistle 11: ―But if they are unwilling or unable to keep
their vows of chastity it is better for them to marry than to fall into the fire through their lusts,
and they should see to it that they cause no offense to their brothers and sisters.
In addition, all the canons show great lenience and fairness toward those who have made
vows in their youth, as is the case with large numbers of priests and monks who entered their
vocations out of ignorance when they were young.
XXIV. Concerning the Mass
Our people have been unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. But it is obvious,
without boasting, that the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents. The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest
diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be
used, namely, as a comfort to terrified consciences. In this way, the people are drawn to
Communion and to the Mass. At the same time, they are also instructed about other, false
teaching concerning the sacrament. Moreover, no noticeable changes have been made in the
public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside
the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people. For after all, all ceremonies
should serve the purpose of teaching the people what they need to know about Christ.
Now, because previously the Mass was misused in many ways (as has come to light) by
turning it into a fair, by buying and selling it, and, for the most part, by celebrating it in all
churches for money, such misuse was repeatedly rebuked by learned and upright people—even
before our time. Now the preachers among us preached about this, and the priests were
reminded of the terrible responsibility, which should properly concern every Christian, that
whoever uses the sacrament unworthily is ―answerable for the body and blood of Christ [1 Cor.
11:27*]. Consequently, such mercenary Masses and private Masses, which had up to now
been celebrated under compulsion for the sake of money and stipends, were discontinued in our
At the same time, an abominable error was also rebuked, namely, the teaching that our Lord
Jesus Christ had made satisfaction by his death only for original sin and had instituted the Mass
as a sacrifice for other sins. Thus, the Mass was made into a sacrifice for the living and the dead
for the purpose of taking away sin and appeasing God. Thereupon followed a debate as to
whether one Mass celebrated for many people merited as much as a special Mass celebrated for
an individual. This resulted in the countless multiplication of Masses, and with this work people
wanted to obtain from God everything they needed. Meanwhile, faith in Christ and true worship
of God were forgotten.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be
answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27 (NRSV)
That is why instruction was given, clearly of necessity, so that everyone would know how to
use the sacrament properly. In the first place, Scripture demonstrates in many places that there is
no other sacrifice for original sin or any other sin than the one death of Christ. For it is written in
Hebrews [9:28*; 10:10*, 14*] that Christ offered himself once and thereby made satisfaction for
all sins. It is an unprecedented novelty in church doctrine that Christ‘s death should have made
satisfaction only for original sin and not for other sins as well. Consequently, we hope everyone
understands that such error is not unjustly rebuked.
In the second place, St. Paul teaches that we obtain grace before God through faith and not
through works. Clearly contrary to this is the misuse of the Mass where people imagine that they
may obtain grace through performing this work. For everyone knows that the Mass is used for
removing sin and obtaining grace and all benefits from God—not only for the priest himself but
also for the whole world and for others, living or dead. And this takes place through performing
the work, ex opere operato, without faith.
In the third place, the holy sacrament was not instituted to provide a sacrifice for sin—for the
sacrifice has already occurred—but to awaken our faith and comfort our consciences. The
sacrament makes them aware that they are promised grace and forgiveness of sin by Christ. That
is why this sacrament requires faith and without faith is used in vain.
Now since the Mass is not a sacrifice for others, living or dead, to take away their sins but
should be a Communion where the priest and others receive the sacrament for themselves, we
celebrate it in this fashion. On holy days and at other times when communicants are present,
Mass is celebrated, and those who desire it receive the sacrament. Thus, the Mass remains among
us in its proper use, as it was observed formerly in the church. This can be demonstrated from St.
Paul (1 Cor. 11[:23–33*]) and from many writings of the Fathers. For Chrysostom tells how the
priest stands every day and invites some to receive the sacrament, but forbids others to
approach. The ancient canons also indicate that one priest officiated and gave the sacrament to
the other priests and deacons. For the words of the Nicene canon read: ―After the priests, the
deacons shall receive the sacrament from the bishop or priest in order.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he
was betrayed took a loaf of bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ―This is my body that is for you. Do this in
remembrance of me.
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ―This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.‖
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord‘s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be
answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.
Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged.
But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
1 Corinthians 11:23–33 (NRSV)
No novelty has been introduced that did not exist in the church in days of old. No noticeable
change has occurred in the public liturgy of the Mass, except that other, unnecessary Masses,
which perhaps through misuse were celebrated besides the parish Mass, have been discontinued.
Therefore this way of celebrating Mass should, in all fairness, not be condemned as heretical or
unchristian. For in former times, Mass was not celebrated every day in the large churches where
there were many people, even on days the people assembled. As the Tripartite History, Book 9,
indicates, in Alexandria Scripture was read and interpreted on Wednesday and Friday, and all
these worship services were held without the Mass.
XXV. Concerning Confession
Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. For the custom has been
retained among us of not administering the sacrament to those who have not previously been
examined and absolved. At the same time, the people are diligently instructed how comforting
the word of absolution is and how highly and dearly absolution is to be esteemed. For it is not
the voice or word of the person speaking it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin. For it is
spoken in God‘s stead and by God‘s command. Great diligence is used to teach about this
command and power of the keys, and how comforting and necessary it is for terrified
consciences. It is also taught how God requires us to believe this absolution as much as if it were
God‘s voice resounding from heaven and that we should joyfully find comfort in the absolution,
knowing that through such faith we obtain forgiveness of sin. In former times, the preachers,
while teaching much about confession, never mentioned a single word about these necessary
matters but instead only tormented consciences with long enumerations of sins, with
satisfactions, with indulgences, with pilgrimages, and the like. Moreover, many of our opponents
themselves confess that our side has written about and dealt with true Christian repentance more
appropriately than had been done in a long time.
Concerning confession, it is taught that no one should be compelled to enumerate sins in
detail. For this is impossible, as the psalm [19:12*] says: ―But who can detect their errors? And
In former times it was taught, preached, and written that distinction among foods and similar
traditions instituted by human beings serve to earn grace and make satisfaction for sin.163 For this
reason, new fasts, new ceremonies, new monastic orders, and the like were invented daily. They
were fervently and strictly promoted, as if such things were a necessary service of God whereby
people earned grace if they observed them or committed a great sin if they did not. Many
harmful errors in the church have resulted from this.
In the first place, the grace of Christ and the teaching concerning faith are thereby obscured.
The gospel holds these things up to us with great earnestness and strongly insists that everyone
regard the merit of Christ as sublime and precious and know that faith in Christ is to be esteemed
far above all works. For this reason, St. Paul fought vehemently against the Law of Moses and
against human tradition so that we should learn that we do not become righteous before God by
our works but that it is only through faith in Christ that we obtain grace for Christ‘s sake. Such
teaching has been almost completely extinguished by the instruction to earn grace with
prescribed fasts, distinction among foods, dress, etc.
In the second place, such traditions have also obscured God‘s commands. For these traditions
are placed far above God‘s commands. This alone was considered the Christian life: whoever
observed festivals this way, prayed in this way, fasted in this way, and was dressed in this way
was said to live a spiritual, Christian life. On the other hand, other necessary good works were
considered secular, unspiritual ways of life: that each person is obliged to act according to his or
her calling—for example, that the father of a family works to support his wife and children and
raises them in the fear of God; that the mother of a family bears children and looks after them;
that a prince or rulers govern a country; etc. Such works, commanded by God, had to be a
secular and imperfect way of life, while the traditions had to have impressive names, so that
only they were called -holy and perfect works. That is why there was no end or limit in the
making of such traditions.
In the third place, such traditions turned out to be a heavy burden to consciences. For it was
not possible to keep all the traditions, and yet people thought that keeping them was required for
true service to God. Gerson writes that many fell into despair doing this. Some even
committed suicide because they had heard nothing about the comfort of Christ‘s grace. For
reading the summists and theologians discloses how consciences became confused when these
people tried to collate the traditions and sought fairness in order to help consciences. They
were so occupied with such efforts that in the meantime they ignored all wholesome Christian
teaching concerning more important matters, such as faith, comfort in spiritual trials, and the
like. Many upright and learned people before our time have also complained a lot about the fact
that such traditions cause much quarreling in the church and thereby prevent devout people from
coming to a right understanding of Christ. Gerson and others complained bitterly about this. In
fact, Augustine also was displeased that consciences were burdened with so many traditions.
That is why in this connection he gives instruction that no one should regard them as
Consequently, our people have not taught about these matters out of malice or contempt
toward ecclesiastical authority. But dire need has necessitated instruction about the above-
mentioned matters, which have arisen from a misunderstanding of tradition. For the gospel
demands that in the church one should and must emphasize the teaching concerning faith. But
this cannot be understood if people imagine that grace is earned through self-chosen works.
Concerning this the following is taught. No one can earn grace, become reconciled with God,
or make satisfaction for sin by observing the aforesaid human traditions. That is why they should
not be made into a necessary service of God. Reasons for this are cited from Scripture. In
Matthew 15[:9*] Christ defends the apostles for not observing customary traditions, saying: ―In
vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. Since he calls them vain
worship they must not be necessary. Then soon thereafter he says: It is not what goes into the
mouth that defiles a person [Matt. 15:11*]. Likewise, Paul says in Romans 14[:17*]: For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
kingdom of God is not food and drink, and in Colossians 2[:16*]: ―Therefore do not let anyone
condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing . . . sabbaths. Peter says in Acts
15[:10–11*]: ―Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the
disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we
believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. Here Peter
forbids the burdening of consciences with additional external ceremonies, whether from Moses
or others. In 1 Timothy 4[:1–3*] such prohibitions as forbidding food, marriage, and the like are
called teachings of the devil. For it is directly opposed to the gospel to institute or perform such
works for the purpose of earning forgiveness of sin through them or to suppose that no one may
be a Christian without such service.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to
deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1 Timothy 4:1–3 (NRSV)
But the accusation that our people, like Jovinian, prohibit mortification and discipline will
not be found in their writings, which reveal something quite different. For concerning the holy
cross they have always taught that Christians are obliged to suffer, and that this is proper and
real, not contrived, mortification.
In addition, it is also taught that all are obliged to conduct themselves regarding bodily
discipline, such as fasting and other work, in such a way as not to give occasion to sin, but not as
if they earned grace by such works. Such bodily discipline should not be limited only to
specific days but should be maintained continually. Christ speaks about this in Luke 21[:34*]:
Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation, and [Mark 9:29*:]
This kind [of demon] can come out only through prayer and fasting. Paul says that he
punished his body and enslaved it [1 Cor. 9:27*], indicating that mortification should not serve
the purpose of earning grace but of keeping the body in a condition that does not prevent
performing the duties required by one‘s calling. So fasting in itself is not rejected. Instead, we reject making it a required service with prescribed days and foods, for this confuses the
Our side also retains many ceremonies and traditions, such as the order of the Mass and other
singing, festivals, and the like, which serve to preserve order in the church. At the same time,
however, the people are taught that such external worship of God does not make them righteous
before God and that it is to be observed without burdening consciences, that is, no one sins by
omitting it without causing offense. The ancient Fathers also maintained such liberty with respect
to external ceremonies. For in the East the festival of Easter was celebrated at a date different
from that in Rome. When some wanted to divide the church over this difference, others
admonished them that there was no need to have uniformity in such customs. As Irenaeus says:
Diversity in fasting does not dissolve unity in faith. Furthermore, concerning such diversity
in human ordinances, dist. 12 also states that they are not in conflict with the unity of
Christendom. The Tripartite History, Book 9, gathers many examples of diverse church
customs and establishes a useful Christian saying: ―It was not the intention of the apostles to
institute festivals but to teach faith and love.
XXVII. Concerning Monastic Vows
In speaking of monastic vows, it is necessary, first of all, to consider how they were viewed
earlier, what kind of life there was in the monasteries, and how much happened in them daily
that was contrary not only to God‘s Word but also to papal canons. For at the time of St.
Augustine monastic vocations were voluntary. Later, when proper discipline and teaching
became corrupted, monastic vows were contrived. With them, as in a prison of their own
devising, people wanted to restore discipline.
In addition to monastic vows many other things were introduced, and a great number of
bonds and burdens were laid on many even before they had attained an appropriate age.
Many persons also entered monastic life in ignorance. Although they were not too young,
they nevertheless did not sufficiently estimate and understand their capabilities. All of those who
were entangled and ensnared in this way were forced and compelled to remain in such bondage,
in spite of the fact that even papal canons would have set many of them free. It was more
difficult in nunneries than in monasteries, even though it would have been seemly to spare the
women as the weaker gender. Such rigor and severity also displeased many devout people in
former times. For they certainly noticed that both boys and girls had been stuck away in
monasteries for the sake of keeping them alive. They certainly also noticed how badly this
arrangement turned out and what offense and burdening of consciences it caused. Many people
complained that the canons were not respected at all. In addition, monastic vows have such a
reputation that even many monks with little understanding were clearly displeased.
It was pretended that monastic vows would be equal to baptism, and that through monastic
life one could earn forgiveness of sin and justification before God. Indeed, they added that one
earns through monastic life not only righteousness and innocence, but also that through it one
keeps the commands and counsels written in the gospel. In this way monastic vows were
praised more highly than baptism. It was also said that one could obtain more merit through the
monastic life than through all other walks of life, which had been ordered by God, such as the
office of pastor or preacher, the office of ruler, prince, lord, and the like. (These all serve in their
vocations according to God‘s command, Word, and mandate without any contrived spiritual
status.) None of these things can be denied, for one can find them in their own books.
Furthermore, whoever was so ensnared and ended up in the monastery learned little about
Christ. At one time there were schools of Holy Scripture and other disciplines useful for the
Christian church in the monasteries, so that pastors and bishops were taken from the monasteries.
But now the picture is quite different. In former times, people adopted the monastic life in order
to study Scripture. Now they pretend that the monastic life is of such a nature that through it a
person may earn God‘s grace and righteousness before God—indeed that it is a state of
perfection, far above all other walks of life instituted by God. All this is mentioned, without any disrespect intended, in order that everyone may better grasp and understand what and how
our people teach and preach.
In the first place, it is taught among us concerning those who are inclined to marry, that all
those who are not suited for celibacy have the power, authority, and right to marry. For vows
cannot annul God‘s order and command. Now God‘s command reads (1 Cor. 7[:2*]): ―But
because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her
own husband. Not only God‘s command urges, compels, and insists upon this, but also God‘s
creation and order direct all to the state of marriage who are not blessed with the gift of virginity
by a special work of God, according to God‘s own Word (Gen. 2[:18*]): ―It is not good that the
man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.
What objections can be raised against this? People may praise the vow and obligation as
highly as they want, but they still cannot force the abrogation of God‘s command. The teachers
say that vows made contrary to papal law are not even binding. How much less should they be
binding or have legal standing when they are contrary to God‘s command!
If there were no reasons for allowing the annulment of the binding vows, popes would also
not have given dispensation and release from them. For no human being has the right to break an
obligation derived from divine laws. That is why the popes were well aware that some balance
should be used in regard to this obligation and have often given dispensation, as in the case of
the king of Aragon and many others. If, then, dispensations were granted for the maintenance
of temporal interests, how much more fairly should dispensations be granted for the sake of the
Next, why do our opponents insist so strongly that vows must be kept without first
ascertaining whether a vow has integrity? For in matters within human power a vow should not
be forced but voluntary. However, it is well known to what degree perpetual chastity lies
within human power and ability. Moreover, there are few—men or women—who have taken
monastic vows on their own, willingly and after due consideration. They were talked into taking
monastic vows before they understood what was involved. At times, they were also forced and
driven to do so. Accordingly, it is not right to argue so rashly and insistently about the obligation
of vows, in view of the fact that everyone confesses it is against the nature and integrity of a vow
to be taken by force, but rather it should be taken with good counsel and due consideration.
Some canons and papal laws annul vows made under the age of fifteen years. For they take
into consideration that before this age a person does not have sufficient understanding to decide
how possibly to determine or arrange an entire life. Another canon concedes still more years to
human frailty, for it forbids taking monastic vows before the eighteenth year. This provides an
excuse and reason for a great many to leave the monasteries. For a majority entered the
monastery in childhood before attaining such age.
Finally, even if the breaking of monastic vows might be censured, it could not be concluded
from this that the marriage of those who broke them should be dissolved. For St. Augustine,
cited in Marriage Matters (q. 27, chap. 1),195 says that such a marriage should not be dissolved.
Now St. Augustine certainly does not have a low reputation in the Christian church, even though
some have subsequently differed from him.
Although God‘s command concerning marriage frees and releases many from monastic
vows, our people offer still more reasons why monastic vows are null and void. For all service of
God instituted and chosen by human beings without God‘s command and authority to obtain
righteousness and God‘s grace is contrary to God, the holy gospel, and God‘s decree, as Christ
himself says (Matt. 15[:9*]): ―In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as
doctrines. St. Paul also teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought in our precepts and services of God contrived by human beings, but that righteousness and innocence before
God come from faith and trust, when we believe that God receives us in grace for the sake of
Christ, his only Son.
Now it is quite evident the monks have taught and preached that their contrived spiritual
status makes satisfaction for sin and obtains God‘s grace and righteousness. What is this but to
diminish the glory and praise of the grace of Christ and to deny the righteousness of faith? It
follows from this that the customary vows have been improper and false services of God. That is
why they are also not binding. For a godless vow, made contrary to God‘s command, is null and
void, just as the canons also teach that an oath should not bind a person to sin.
St. Paul says in Galatians 5[:4*]: ―You who want to be justified by the law have cut
yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. Therefore, those who want to be
justified by vows are also cut off from Christ and fall away from the grace of God. For they rob
Christ, who alone justifies, of his honor and give such honor to their vows and monastic life.
No one can deny that the monks also taught and preached that they become righteous and
earn forgiveness of sins through their vows and monastic life. In fact, they have contrived an
even more useless and absurd claim, saying that they imparted their good works to others. Now
if someone wanted to take all this to an extreme and bring accusation against them, how many
items could be assembled that the monks themselves are now ashamed of and wish had never
occurred! Besides all this, they persuaded the people that these humanly contrived spiritual
orders were states of Christian perfection. Surely this means to praise works as the means of
becoming righteous. Now it is no small offense in the Christian church to present to the people a
service of God, which human beings have contrived without God‘s command, teaching that such
service of God makes people innocent and righteous before God. For righteousness of faith,
which ought to be emphasized most, is obscured when people are bedazzled with this strange
angelic spirituality and false pretense of poverty, humility, and chastity.
In addition, the commands of God and proper, true service of God are obscured when people
hear that only monks must be in the state of perfection. For Christian perfection is to fear God
earnestly with the whole heart and yet also to have a sincere confidence, faith, and trust that we
have a gracious, merciful God because of Christ; that we may and should pray for and request
from God whatever we need and confidently expect help from him in all affliction, according to
each person‘s vocation and walk of life; and that meanwhile we should diligently do external
good works and attend to our calling. This is true perfection and true service of God—not being
a mendicant or wearing a black or gray cowl, etc. However, the common people form many
harmful opinions from false praise of the monastic life, such as when they hear the state of
celibacy praised above all measure. For it follows that their consciences are troubled because
they are married. When the common people hear that only mendicants may be perfect, they
cannot know that they may keep possessions and transact business without sin. When the people
hear that it is only a ―counsel [of the gospel] not to take revenge, some will conclude that it is
not sinful to take revenge outside their office. Still others think that revenge is not right for
Christians at all, even on the part of political authority.
Many examples are recorded of people leaving wife and child—even their civil office—and
putting themselves into a monastery. This, they said, is fleeing from the world and seeking a life
that is more pleasing to God than the other life. They were unable to realize that one should serve
God by observing the commandments he has given and not through the commandments
contrived by human beings. Now the life supported by God‘s command is certainly a good and
perfect state, but the life not supported by God‘s command is a dangerous state. It has been
necessary to keep people well informed about such matters.
In former times, Gerson also rebuked the errors of the monks about perfection. He showed
that it was an innovation in his day to speak of monastic life as a state of perfection.
There are so many ungodly notions and errors attached to monastic vows: that they justify
and make righteous before God; that they must be Christian perfection; that through them a
person may keep both the counsels of the gospel and the commandments; that they contain
works of supererogation, beyond what is owed to God. Since, then, all of this is false, useless,
and humanly contrived, monastic vows are null and void.
XXVIII. Concerning the Power of Bishops204
Many and various things have been written in former times concerning the power of bishops.
Some have improperly mixed the power of bishops with the secular sword, and such careless
mixture has caused many extensive wars, uprisings, and rebellions. For the bishops, under the
guise of power given to them by Christ, have not only introduced new forms of worship205 and
burdened consciences with reserved cases and with forcible use of the ban, but they also took
it upon themselves to set up and depose emperors and kings according to their pleasure. Such
outrage has long since been condemned by learned and devout people in Christendom. That is
why our people have been compelled, for the sake of comforting consciences, to indicate the
difference between spiritual and secular power, sword, and authority. They have taught that, for
the sake of God‘s command, everyone should honor and esteem with all reverence both
authorities and powers as the two highest gifts of God on earth.
Our people teach as follows. According to the gospel the power of the keys or of the
bishops is a power and command of God to preach the gospel, to forgive or retain sin, and to
administer and distribute the sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with this command
(John 20[:21–23*]): As the Father has sent me, so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If
you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are
The same power of the keys or of the bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and
preaching God‘s Word and by administering the sacraments to many persons or to individuals,
depending on one‘s calling. Not bodily but eternal things and benefits are given in this way, such
as eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These benefits cannot be obtained
except through the office of preaching and through the administration of the holy sacraments.
For St. Paul says [Rom. 1:16*]: ―The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. Now inasmuch as the power of the church or of the bishops bestows eternal benefits
and is used and exercised only through the office of preaching, it does not interfere at all with
public order and secular authority. For secular authority deals with matters altogether different
from the gospel. Secular power does not protect the soul but, using the sword and physical
penalties, it protects the body and goods against external violence.
That is why one should not mix or confuse the two authorities, the spiritual and the secular.
For spiritual power has its command to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments. It
should not invade an alien office. It should not set up and depose kings. It should not annul or
disrupt secular law and obedience to political authority. It should not make or prescribe laws for
the secular power concerning secular affairs. For Christ himself said [John 18:36*]: ―My
kingdom is not from this world. And again [Luke 12:14*]: ―Who set me to be a judge or
arbitrator over you? And St. Paul in Philippians 3[:20*]: ―Our citizenship is in heaven. And in
2 Corinthians 10[:4–5*]: ―For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have
for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy
strongholds. We destroy arguments
divine power to destroy strongholds . . . arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against
the knowledge of God. In this way our people distinguish the offices of the two authorities and powers and direct that both be honored as the highest gifts of God on earth.
However, where bishops possess secular authority and the sword, they possess them not as
bishops by divine right but by human, imperial right, given by Roman emperors and kings for the
secular administration of their lands. That has nothing at all to do with the office of the gospel.
Consequently, according to divine right it is the office of the bishop to preach the gospel, to
forgive sin, to judge doctrine and reject doctrine that is contrary to the gospel, and to exclude
from the Christian community the ungodly whose ungodly life is manifest—not with human
power but with God‘s Word alone. That is why parishioners and churches owe obedience to
bishops, according to this saying of Christ (Luke 10[:16*]): ―Whoever listens to you listens to
me. But whenever they teach, institute, or introduce something contrary to the gospel, we have
God‘s command in such a case not to be obedient (Matt. 7[:15*]): ―Beware of false prophets.
And St. Paul in Galatians 1[:8*]: ―But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to
you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! And in 2
Corinthians 13[:8*]: ―For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. And
again [2 Cor. 13:10*]: ―. . . using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not
for tearing down. Canon law also commands the same in Part II, Question 7, in the chapters
entitled Priests and Sheep. And St. Augustine writes in the letter against Petilian that one
should not obey bishops, even if they have been regularly elected, when they err or teach and
command something contrary to the holy, divine Scripture.
Whatever other power and jurisdiction bishops have in various matters, such as marriage or
tithes, they have them by virtue of human right. However, when bishops neglect such duties,
the princes are obligated—whether they like it or not—to administer justice to their subjects for
the sake of peace, in order to prevent discord and great unrest in their lands.
Furthermore, it is also debated whether bishops have the power to establish ceremonies in the
church as well as regulations concerning food, festivals, and the different orders of the clergy.
For those who grant bishops this power cite this saying of Christ (John 16[:12–13*]): ―I still have
many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. They also cite the example in Acts 15[:20*, 29*],212 where the
eating of blood and what is strangled was prohibited. They appeal as well to the transference of
the sabbath to Sunday contrary to the Ten Commandments, as they view it. No other example
is so strongly emphasized and quoted as the transference of the sabbath. Thereby they want to
maintain that the power of the church is great, because it has dispensed with and altered part of
the Ten Commandments.
Concerning this question, our people teach that bishops do not have the power to institute or
establish something contrary to the gospel, as is indicated above and as is taught by canon law
throughout the ninth distinction. Now it is patently contrary to God‘s command and Word to
make laws out of opinions or to require that by observing them a person makes satisfaction for
sin and obtains grace. For the honor of Christ‘s merit is slandered when we take it upon
ourselves to earn grace through such ordinances. It is also obvious that, because of this notion,
human ordinances have multiplied beyond calculation while the teaching concerning faith and
the righteousness of faith have been almost completely suppressed. Daily new festivals and new
fasts have been commanded; new ceremonies and new venerations of the saints have been
instituted in order that by such works grace and everything good might be earned from God.
Moreover, those who institute human ordinances also act contrary to God‘s command when
they attach sin to food, days, and similar things and burden Christendom with bondage to the
law, as if in order to earn God‘s grace there had to be such service of God among Christians like
the Levitical service,215 which God supposedly commanded the apostles and bishops to establish, as some have written. It is quite believable that some bishops have been deceived by the example
of the Law of Moses. This is how countless ordinances came into being: for example, that it is
supposed to be a mortal sin to do manual labor on festivals, even when it offends no one else;
that it is a mortal sin to omit the seven hours; that some foods defile the conscience; that
fasting is a work that appeases God; that in a reserved case sin is not forgiven unless one first
asks to be forgiven by the person for whom the case is reserved—despite the fact that canon laws
do not speak of the reservation of guilt but only of the reservation of church penalties.
Where, then, did the bishops get the right and power to impose such ordinances on
Christendom and to ensnare consciences? For in Acts 15[:10*] St. Peter prohibits placing the
yoke on the necks of the disciples. And St. Paul tells the Corinthians [2 Cor. 10:8*] that they
have been given authority for building up and not for tearing down. Why then do they increase
sin with such ordinances?
Indeed, clear sayings of divine Scripture prohibit the establishment of such ordinances for the
purpose of earning God‘s grace or as if they were necessary for salvation. St. Paul says in
Colossians 2[:16–17*]: ―Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink
or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come,
but the substance belongs to Christ. Again [Col. 2:20–23*]: ―If with Christ you died to the
elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do
you submit to regulations, ̳Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch?‘ All these regulations
refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have
indeed an appearance of wisdom. . . .Again, in Titus 1[:14*] St. Paul clearly prohibits paying
attention to Jewish myths or human commandments, which obstruct the truth.
In Matthew 15[:14*] Christ himself also speaks of those who drive the people to human
commandments: ―Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And he rejects such service
of God, saying [Matt. 15:13*]: ―Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be
If, then, bishops have the power to burden the churches with innumerable ordinances and to
ensnare consciences, why does divine Scripture so frequently prohibit the making and keeping of
human ordinances? Why does it call them teachings of the devil? Could the Holy Spirit possibly
have warned against all this in vain?
Inasmuch as it is contrary to the gospel to establish such regulations as necessary to appease
God and earn grace, it is not at all proper for the bishops to compel observation of such services
of God. For in Christendom the teaching of Christian freedom must be preserved, namely, that
bondage to the law is not necessary for justification, as Paul writes in Galatians 5[:1*]: ―For
freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of
slavery. For the chief article of the gospel must be maintained, that we obtain the grace of God
through faith in Christ without our merit and do not earn it through service of God instituted by
How, then, should Sunday and other similar church ordinances and ceremonies be regarded?
Our people reply that bishops or pastors may make regulations for the sake of good order in
the church, but not thereby to obtain God‘s grace, to make satisfaction for sin, or to bind
consciences, nor to regard such as a service of God or to consider it a sin when these rules are
broken without giving offense. So St. Paul prescribed in Corinthians that women should cover
their heads in the assembly [1 Cor. 11:5*], and that preachers in the assembly should not all
speak at once, but in order, one after the other [1 Cor. 14:30–33*]. but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head— it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 1 Corinthians 11:5 (NRSV)
Such regulation belongs rightfully in the Christian assembly for the sake of love and peace,
to be obedient to bishops and pastors in such cases, and to keep such order to the extent that no
one offends another—so that there may not be disorder or unruly conduct in the church.
However, consciences should not be burdened by holding that such things are necessary for
salvation or by considering it a sin when they are violated without giving offense to others; just
as no one would say that a woman commits a sin if, without offending people, she leaves the
house with her head uncovered.
The same applies to the regulation of Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, or similar festivals and
customs. For those who think that the sabbath had to be replaced by Sunday are very much
mistaken. For Holy Scripture did away with the sabbath, and it teaches that after the revelation of
the gospel all ceremonies of the old law may be given up. Nevertheless, the Christian church
instituted Sunday because it became necessary to set apart a specific day so that the people might
know when to assemble; and the church was all the more pleased and inclined to do this so that
the people might have an example of Christian freedom and so that everyone would know that
neither the keeping of the sabbath nor any other day is necessary.
There are many faulty debates about the transformation of the law, the ceremonies of the
New Testament, and the change of the sabbath.
They have all arisen from the false and erroneous opinion that in Christianity one would have
to have services of God that correspond to the Levitical or Jewish ones, and that Christ
commanded the apostles and the bishops to invent new ceremonies that were necessary for
salvation. Christianity has been permeated with these kinds of errors because the righteousness
of faith was not taught or preached with purity and sincerity. Some argue that although Sunday
cannot be kept on the basis of divine law, it must be kept almost as if it were divine law; and they
prescribe the kind and amount of work that may be done on the day of rest. But what else are
such debates except snares of conscience? For although they presume to moderate and
mitigate human ordinances, there certainly cannot be any mitigation and moderation as long as
the opinion remains and prevails that they are necessary. Now this opinion will persist as long as
no one knows anything about the righteousness of faith and Christian freedom.
The apostles directed that one should abstain from blood and from what is strangled. But who
observes this now? Yet those who do not observe it commit no sin. For the apostles themselves
did not want to burden consciences with such bondage, but prohibited such eating for a time to avoid offense. For in this ordinance one must pay attention to the chief part of Christian doctrine
which is not abolished by this decree.
Hardly any of the ancient canons are observed according to the letter. Many of their rules fall
daily into complete disuse, even among those who observe such ordinances most diligently.
Consciences can neither be counseled nor helped unless we keep this moderation in mind: that
such ordinances are not to be considered necessary, and even disregarding them does no harm to
Bishops could easily foster obedience if they did not insist on the observance of ordinances
that cannot be observed without sin. However, now they engage in prohibiting both kinds of the
holy sacrament or prohibiting marriage for the clergy; they admit no one to the ministry who
refuses to swear an oath not to preach this doctrine, even though it is undoubtedly in accord with
the holy gospel. Our churches do not desire that the bishops restore peace and unity at the
expense of their honor and dignity (even though it is incumbent on the bishops to do this, too, in
an emergency). They ask only that the bishops relax certain unreasonable burdens which did not
exist in the church in former times and which were adopted contrary to the custom of the
universal Christian church. Perhaps there were some reasons for introducing them, but they are
not in tune with our times. Nor can it be denied that some ordinances were adopted without being
understood. Accordingly, the bishops should be so gracious as to temper these ordinances, since
such change does not harm the unity of the Christian church. For many ordinances devised by
human beings have fallen into disuse with the passing of time and need not be observed, as papal
law itself testifies. If, however, this is impossible and permission cannot be obtained from
them to moderate and abrogate such human ordinances as cannot be observed without sin, then
we must follow the apostolic rule which commands us to obey God rather than any human
beings [Acts 5:29*].
St. Peter prohibits the bishops to rule as if they had the power to force the churches to do
whatever they desired [1 Peter 5:2*]. Now the question is not how to take power away from the bishops. Instead, we desire and ask that they would not force consciences into sin. But if they
will not do so and despise this request, let them consider how they will have to answer to God,
since by their obstinacy they cause division and schism, which they should rightly help to
These are the chief articles that are regarded as controversial. For although many more abuses
and errors could have been added, we listed only the principal ones in order to avoid prolixity
and undue length. The others can easily be assessed in the light of these. In the past, there were
many complaints about indulgences, pilgrimages, and the misuse of the ban. Moreover, pastors
had endless quarrels with monks about hearing confession, funerals, sermons on special
occasions, and countless other matters. All this we have passed over, being as considerate as we
could, so that the chief points at issue may be better discerned. Moreover, it must not be thought
that anything has been said or introduced out of hatred or effrontery. On the contrary, we have
listed only matters that we thought needed to be brought up and reported on. We did this in order
to make it quite clear that among us nothing in doctrine or ceremonies has been accepted that
would contradict either Holy Scripture or the universal Christian church. For it is manifest and
obvious that we have very diligently and with God‘s help (to speak without boasting) prevented
any new and godless teaching from insinuating itself into our churches, spreading, and finally
gaining the upper hand.
In keeping with the summons, we have desired to present the above articles as a
declaration of our confession and the teaching of our people. Anyone who should find it
defective shall willingly be furnished with an additional account based on divine Holy Scripture.
Your Imperial Majesty‘s most humble, obedient [servants]
JOHN, duke of Saxony, elector
GEORGE, margrave of Brandenburg[-Ansbach]
ERNEST, duke of Lüneburg
PHILIP, landgrave of Hesse
JOHN FREDERICK, duke of Saxony
FRANCIS, duke of Lüneburg
WOLFGANG, prince of Anhalt
The Mayor and Council of Nuremberg
The Mayor and Council of Reutlingen
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