Vol. 7, Chapter V (Cont’d) – Common Schools


Luther: An die Rathsherren aller Städte deutschen Landes, dass sie christliche Schulen aufrichten und halten sollen. Wittenberg, 1524. The book appeared in the same year in Latin (De constituendis scholis), with a preface of Melanchthon, the probable translator, at Hagenau. In Walch, x. 533; in the Erlangen. ed., xxii. 168-199.

Church and school go together. The Jewish synagogue was a school. Every Christian church is a school of piety and virtue for old and young. The medieval church was the civilizer and instructor of the barbarians, founded the convent and cathedral schools, and the great universities of Paris (1209), Bologna, Padua, Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, Glasgow, Salamanca, Alcala, Toledo, Prague (1348), Vienna (1365), Heidelberg (1386), Cologne (1388), Erfurt (1393), Leipzig (1409), Basel (1460), Ingolstadt (1472), Tübingen (1477), Wittenberg (1502), etc. But education in the middle ages was aristocratic, and confined to the clergy and a very few laymen of the higher classes. The common people were ignorant and superstitious, and could neither read nor write. Even noblemen signed their name with a cross. Books were rare and dear. The invention of the printing-press prepared the way for popular education. The Reformation first utilized the press on a large scale, and gave a powerful impulse to common schools. The genius of Protestantism favors the general diffusion of knowledge. It elevates the laity, emancipates private judgment, and stimulates the sense of personal responsibility. Every man should be trained to a position of Christian freedom and self-government.

Luther discussed this subject first in his Address to the German Nobility (1520). In 1524 he wrote a special book in which he urged the civil magistrates of all the cities of Germany to improve their schools, or to establish new ones for boys and girls; this all the more since the zeal for monastic institutions had declined, and the convents were fast getting empty. He wisely recommended that a portion of the property of churches and convents be devoted to this purpose, instead of being wasted on secular objects, or on avaricious princes and noblemen. He makes great account of the study of languages, and skillfully refutes the objections. A few extracts will give the best idea of this very useful little book on a most important subject.

“Grace and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ … Although I am now excommunicated for three years, and should keep silent if I feared men more than God, … I will speak as long as I live, until the righteousness of Christ shall break forth in its glory … I beg you all, my dear lords and friends, for God’s sake to take care of the poor youth, and thereby to help us all. So much money is spent year after year for arms, roads, dams, and innumerable similar objects, why should not as much be spent for the education of the poor youth? … The word of God is now heard in Germany more than ever before. But if we do not show our gratitude for it, we run the risk of sinking back into a worse darkness.

“Dear Germans, buy while the market is at the door. Gather while the sun shines and the weather is good. Use God’s grace and word while it is at hand. For you must know that God’s grace and word is a travelling shower, which does not return where once it has been. It was once with the Jews, but gone is gone (hin ist hin); now they have nothing. Paul brought it into Greece, but gone is gone; now they have the Turk. Rome and Italy have also had it, but gone is gone; they have now the Pope. And ye Germans must not think that you will have it forever; for ingratitude and contempt will not let it abide. Therefore, seize and hold fast, whoever can.

It is a sin and shame that we should need to be admonished to educate our children, when nature itself, and even the example of the heathen, urge us to do so.… You say, the parents should look to that, it is none of the business of counselors and magistrates. But how, if the parents neglect it? Most of the parents are incapable; having themselves learnt nothing, they cannot teach their children. Others have not the time. And what shall become of the orphans? The glory of a town consists not in treasure, strong walls, and fine houses, but in fine, educated, well-trained citizens. The city of old Rome trained her sons in Latin and Greek and all the fine arts ….

“We admit, you say, there should and must be schools, but what is the use of teaching Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and other liberal arts? Could we not teach, in German, the Bible and God’s word, which are sufficient for salvation? Answer: Yes, I well know, alas! that we Germans must ever be and abide brutes and wild beasts, as the surrounding nations call us, and as we well deserve to be called. But I wonder why you never say, Of what use are silks, wines, spices, and other foreign articles, seeing we have wine, corn, wool, flax, wood, and stones, in German lands, not only an abundance for sustenance, but also a choice and selection for elegance and ornament? The arts and languages, which do us no harm, nay, which are a greater ornament, benefit, honor, and advantage, both for understanding Holy Writ, and for managing civil affairs, we are disposed to despise; and foreign wares, which are neither necessary nor useful to us, and which, moreover, peel us to the very bone, these we are not willing to forego. Are we not deserving to be called German fools and beasts? …

“Much as we love the gospel, let us hold fast to the languages. God gave us the Scriptures in two languages, the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Therefore we should honor them above all other languages.… And let us remember that we shall not be able to keep the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is hid. They are the casket in which this treasure is kept. They are the vessels in which this drink is contained; they are the storehouse in which this food is laid by; and, as the gospel itself shows, they are the baskets in which these loaves and fishes and fragments are preserved. Yea, if we should so err as to let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but it will come to pass at length that we shall not be able to speak or write correctly either Latin or German….

Herewith I commend you all to the grace of God. May He soften and kindle your hearts so that they shall earnestly take the part of these poor, pitiable, forsaken youth, and, through Divine aid, counsel and help them to a happy and Christian ordering of the German land as to body and soul with all fullness and overflow, to the praise and honor of God the Father, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.”

The advice of Luther was not unheeded. Protestant nations are far ahead of the Roman Catholic in popular education. In Germany and Switzerland there is scarcely a Protestant boy or girl that cannot read and write; while in some papal countries, even to this day, the majority of the people are illiterate.


84. Reconstruction of Church Government and Discipline

Aemil Ludw. Richter: Die evangel; Kirchenordnungen des 16 Jahrh., Weimar, 1846, 2 vols. By the same: Gesch. der evang. Kirchenverfassung in Deutschland. Leipz., 1851. By the same: Lehrbuch des kath. und evang. Kirchenrechts, Leipzig, 5th ed., 1858. J. W. F. Höfling: Grundsätze der evang.-lutherischen Kirchenverfassung. Erlangen, third ed., 1853. Stahl: Die Kirchenverfassung nach Recht und Lehre der Protestanten. Erlangen, 1862. Mejer: Grundl. des luth. Kirchenregiments, Rostock, 1864. E. Friedberg: Lehrbuch des kath. u. evang. Kirchenrechts, Leipz., 1884.

The papal monarchy and visible unity of Western Christendom were destroyed with the burning of the Pope’s bull and the canon law. The bishops refused to lead the new movement; disorder and confusion followed. A reconstruction of government and discipline became necessary. The idea of an invisible church of all believers was not available for this purpose. The invisible is not governable. The question was, how to deal with the visible church as it existed in Saxony and other Protestant countries, and to bring order out of chaos. The lawyers had to be consulted, and they could not dispense with the legal wisdom and experience of centuries. Luther himself returned to the study of the canon law, though to little purpose. He hated it for its connection with popery, and got into conflict with the lawyers, even his colleague, Professor Schurf, who had accompanied him to the Diet of Worms as a faithful friend and counselor, but differed from him on matrimonial legislation. He abused the lawyers, even from the pulpit, as abettors of the Pope and the Devil. He was not a disciplinarian and organizer like John Calvin, or John Knox, or John Wesley, and left his church in a less satisfactory condition than the Reformed churches of Switzerland and Scotland. He complained that he had not the proper persons for what he wished to accomplish; but he did what he could under the circumstances, and regretted that he could do no more.

Four ways were open for the construction of an evangelical church polity: — 

1. To retain the episcopal hierarchy, without the papacy, or to create a new one in its place. This was done in the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia, and in the Church of England, but in the closest connection with the state, and in subordination to it. In Scandinavia the succession was broken; in England the succession continued under the lead of Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, was interrupted under Queen Mary, and restored under Queen Elizabeth.

Had the German bishops favored the Reformation, they would, no doubt, have retained their power in Germany, and naturally taken the lead in the organization of the new church. Melanchthon was in favor of episcopacy, and even a sort of papacy by human (not Divine) right, on condition of evangelical freedom; but the hostility of the hierarchy made its authority impossible in Germany. He had, especially in his later years, a stronger conception of the institutional character and historical order of the church than Luther, who cared nothing for bishops. He taught, however, the original equality of bishops and presbyters (appealing to the Pastoral Epistles and to Jerome); and held that when the regular bishops reject the gospel, and refuse to ordain evangelical preachers, the power of ordination returns to the church and the pastors.

2. To substitute a lay episcopate for the clerical episcopate; in other words, to lodge the supreme ecclesiastical power in the hands of the civil magistrate, who appoints ministers, superintendents, and church counselors as executive officers.

This was done in the Lutheran churches of Germany. The superintendents performed episcopal duties, but without constituting a distinct and separate grade of the ministry, and without the theory of the episcopal or apostolical succession. The Lutheran Church holds the Presbyterian doctrine of the parity of ministers. The organization of the Lutheran churches was, however, for a number of years regarded as provisional, and kept open for a possible reconciliation with the episcopate. Hence the princes were called Nothbischöfe.

3. To organize a presbyterian polity on the basis of the parity of ministers, congregational lay-elders, and deacons, and a representative synodical government, with strict discipline, and a distinction between nominal and communicant membership. This was attempted in Hesse at the Synod of Homberg (1526) by Lambert (a pupil of Zwingli and Luther), developed by Calvin in Geneva, and carried out in the Reformed churches of France, Holland, Scotland, and the Presbyterian churches of North America. Luther rather discouraged this plan in a letter to Philip of Hesse; but in 1540 he expressed a wish, with Jonas, Bugenhagen, and Melanchthon, to introduce Christian discipline with the aid of elders (seniores) in each congregation. Several Lutheran Church constitutions exclude adulterers, drunkards, and blasphemers from the communion.

4. Congregational independency; i.e., the organization of self-governing congregations of true believers in free association with each other. This was once suggested by Luther, but soon abandoned without a trial. It appeared in isolated attempts under Queen Elizabeth, and was successfully developed in the seventeenth century by the Independents in England, and the Congregationalists in New England.

The last two ways are more thoroughly Protestant and consistent with the principle of the general priesthood of believers; but they presuppose a higher grade of self-governing capacity in the laity than the episcopal polity.

All these forms of government admit of a union with the state (as in Europe), or a separation from the state (as in America). Union of church and state was the traditional system since the days of Constantine and Charlemagne, and was adhered to by all the Reformers. They had no idea of a separation; they even brought the two powers into closer relationship by increasing the authority of the state over the church. Separation of the two was barely mentioned by Luther, as a private opinion, we may say almost as a prophetic dream, but was soon abandoned as an impossibility.

Luther, in harmony with his unique personal experience, made the doctrine of justification the cardinal truth of Christianity, and believed that the preaching of that doctrine would of itself produce all the necessary changes in worship and discipline. But the abuse of evangelical freedom taught him the necessity of discipline, and he raised his protest against antinomianism. His complaints of the degeneracy of the times increased with his age and his bodily infirmities. The world seemed to him to be getting worse and worse, and fast rushing to judgment. He was so disgusted with the immorality prevailing among the citizens and students at Wittenberg, that he threatened to leave the town altogether in 1544, but yielded to the earnest entreaties of the university and magistrate to remain.

The German Reformation did not stimulate the duty of self-support, nor develop the faculty of self-government. It threw the church into the arms of the state, from whose bondage she has never been able as yet to emancipate herself. The princes, nobles, and city magistrates were willing and anxious to take the benefit, but reluctant to perform the duties, of their new priestly dignity; while the common people remained as passive as before, without a voice in the election of their pastor, or any share in the administration of their congregational affairs. The Lutheran prince took the place of the bishop or pope; the Lutheran pastor (Pfarrherr), the place of the Romish priest, but instead of obeying the bishop he had to obey his secular patron.


85. Enlarged Conception of the Church. Augustin, Wiclif, Hus, Luther

Köstlin: Luthers Lehre von der Kirche. Stuttgart, 1853. Comp. his Luthers Theologie in ihrer geschichtl. Entwicklung, II. 534 sqq.; and his Martin Luther, bk. VI. ch. iii. (II. 23 sqq.). Joh. Gottschick: Hus’, Luther’s und Zwingli’s Lehre von der Kirche, in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte.” Bd. VIII., Gotha, 1886, pp. 345 sqq. and 543 sqq. (Very elaborate, but he ought to have gone back to Wiclif and Augustin. Hus merely repeated Wiclif.)

Comp. also on the general subject Münchmeyer: Das Dogma von der sichtbaren und unsichtbaren Kirche, 1854. Ritschl: Ueber die Begriffe sichtbare und unsichtbare Kirche, in the “Studien und Kritiken” for 1859. Jul. Müller: Die unsichtbare Kirche, in his “Dogmatische Abhandlungen.” Bremen, 1870, pp. 278-403 (an able defense of the idea of the invisible church against Rothe, Münchmeyer, and others who oppose the term invisible as inapplicable to the church. See especially Rothe’s Anfänge der christl. Kirche, 1837, vol. I. 99 sqq.). Alfred Krauss: Das protestantische Dogma von der unsichtbaren Kirche, Gotha, 1876. Seeberg: Der Begriff der christlichen Kirche, Part I., 1885. James S. Candlish: The Kingdom of God. Edinburgh, 1884.

Separation from Rome led to a more spiritual and more liberal conception of the church, and to a distinction between the one universal church of the elect children of God of all ages and countries, under the sole headship of Christ, and the several visible church organizations of all nominal Christians. We must trace the gradual growth of this distinction.

In the New Testament the term ἐκκλησία (a popular assembly, congregation) is used in two senses (when applied to religion): 1, in the general sense of the whole body of Christian believers (by our Lord, Mat_16:18); and 2, in the particular sense of a local congregation of Christians (also by our Lord, Mat_18:17). We use the equivalent term “church” (from κυριακόν, belonging to the Lord) in two additional senses: of a denomination (e.g., the Greek, the Roman, the Anglican, the Lutheran Church), and of a church edifice. The word ἐκκλησία occurs only twice in the Gospels (in Matthew), but very often in the Acts and Epistles; while the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are used very often in the Gospels, but rarely in the other books. This indicates a difference. The kingdom of God precedes the institution of the church, and will outlast it. The kingdom has come, is constantly coming, and will come in glory. It includes the government of God, and all the religious and moral activities of man. The visible church is a training-school for the kingdom. In many instances the terms may be interchanged, while in others we could not substitute the church for the kingdom without impropriety: e.g., in the phrase “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat_5:3; Mar_10:14); or, “thy kingdom come” (Mat_6:10) or, “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation, … the kingdom of God is within you” (Luk_17:20, Luk_17:21) or, “to inherit the kingdom” (Mat_25:34; 1Co_6:10; 1Co_15:30; Gal_5:21); or, “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” A distinction between nominal and real, or outward and inward, membership of the church, is indicated in the words of our Lord, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mat_22:14), and by Paul when be speaks of a circumcision of the flesh and a circumcision of the heart (Rom_2:28, Rom_2:29). Here is the germ of the doctrine of the visible and invisible church.

The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds include the holy catholic church and the communion of saints among the articles of faith, and do not limit them by the Greek, Roman, or any other nationality or age. “Catholic” means universal, and is as wide as humanity. It indicates the capacity and aim of the church; but the actualization of this universalness is a process of time, and it will not be completed till the whole world is converted to Christ.

The medieval schoolmen distinguished three stages in the catholic church as to its locality, — the militant church on earth (ecclesia militans), the church of the departed or the sleeping church in purgatory (ecclesia dormiens), and the triumphant church in heaven (ecclesia triumphans). This classification was retained by Wiclif, Hus, and other forerunners of Protestantism; but the Reformers rejected the intervening purgatorial church, together with prayers for the departed, and included all the pious dead in the church triumphant.

In the militant church on earth, Augustin made an important distinction between “the true body of Christ” (corpus Christi verum), and “the mixed body of Christ” (corpus Christi mixtum or simulatum). He substitutes this for the less suitable designation of a “twofold body of Christ” (corpus Domini bipartitum), as taught by Tichonius, the Donatist grammarian (who referred to Son_1:5). These two bodies are in this world externally in one communion, as the good and bad fish are in one net, but they will ultimately be separated. To the true or pure church belong all the elect, and these only, whether already in the Catholic Church, or outside of it, yet predestinated for it. “Many,” he says, “who are openly outside, and are called heretics, are better than many good Catholics; for we see what they are today; what they shall be tomorrow, we know not; and with God, to whom the future is already present, they already are what they shall be hereafter.” On the other hand, hypocrites are in the church, but not of the church.

It should be added, however, that Augustin confined the true church on earth to the limits of the visible, orthodox, catholic body of his day, and excluded all heretics, — Manichaeans, Pelagians, Arians, etc., — and schismatics, — Donatists, etc., — as long as they remain outside of fellowship with that body. In explaining the article “the holy church,” in his version of the Creed (which omits the epithet “catholic,” and the additional clause “the communion of saints”), he says that this surely means, the Catholic Church;” and adds, “Both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. But heretics in holding false opinions regarding God do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe. Wherefore, neither do the heretics belong to the Church Catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same, inasmuch as it loves the neighbor, and consequently readily forgives the neigbbor’s sin.” It is well known that this great and good man even defended the principle of forcible coercion of schismatics, on a false interpretation of Luk_14:23, “Constrain them to come in.”

In the ninth century the visible Catholic Church was divided into two rival Catholic churches, — the patriarchal church in the East, and the papal church in the West. The former denied the papal claim of universal jurisdiction and headship, as an anti-Christian usurpation; the latter identified the Church Catholic with the dominion of the papacy, and condemned the Greek Church as schismatical. Hereafter, in Western Christendom, the Holy Catholic Church came to mean the Holy Roman Church.

The tyranny and corruptions of the papacy called forth the vigorous protest of Wiclif, who revived the Augustinian distinction between the true church and the mixed church, but gave it an anti-Roman and anti-papal turn (which Augustin did not). He defined the true church to be the congregation of the predestinated, or elect, who will ultimately be saved. Nobody can become a member of this church except by God’s predestination, which is the eternal foundation of the church, and determines its membership. No one who is rejected from eternity (praescitus, foreknown, as distinct from praedestinatus, foreordained) can be a member of this church. He may be in it, but he is not of it. As there is much in the human body which is no part of it, so there may be hypocrites in the church who will finally be removed. There is but one universal church, out of which there is no salvation. The only Head of this church is Christ; for a church with two heads would be a monster. The apostles declared themselves to be servants of this Head. The Pope is only the head of a part of the church militant, and this only if he lives in harmony with the commandments of Christ. This conception of the church excludes all hypocrites and bad members, though they be bishops or popes; and it includes all true Christians, whether Catholics, or schismatics, or heretics. It coincides with the Protestant idea of the invisible church. But Wiclif and Hus denied the certainty of salvation, as taught afterwards by Calvinists, and herein they agreed with the Catholics; they held that one may be sure of his present state of grace, but that his final salvation depends upon his perseverance, which cannot be known before the end.

Wiclif’s view of the true church was literally adopted by the Bohemian Reformer Hus, who depended for his theology on the English Reformer much more than was formerly known. From Hus it passed to Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, who agreed in denying the claims of the papacy to exclusive catholicity, and in widening the limits of the church so as to include all true believers in Christ. But they distinguished more clearly between the invisible and visible church, or rather between one true invisible church and several mixed visible churches. The invisible church is within the visible church as the soul is in the body, and the kernel in the shell. It is not a Utopian dream or Platonic commonwealth, but most real and historical. The term, “invisible” was chosen because the operations of the Holy Spirit are internal and invisible, and because nobody in this life can be surely known to belong to the number of the elect, while membership of the visible church is recognizable by baptism and profession.

Important questions were raised with this distinction for future settlement. Some eminent modern Protestant divines object to the term “invisible church,” as involving a contradiction, inasmuch as the church is essentially a visible institution; but they admit the underlying truth of an invisible, spiritual communion of believers scattered throughout the world. As Protestantism has since divided and subdivided into a number of denominations and separate organizations, the idea of the church needs to be further expanded. We must recognize a number of visible churches, Greek, Latin, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and all the more recent Christian denominations which acknowledge Christ as their Head, and his teaching and example as their rule of faith and duty. The idea of denominations or confessions, as applied to churches, is of modern date; but is, after all, only an expansion of the idea of a particular church, or a contraction of the idea of the universal church, and therefore authorized by the double Scripture usage of ecclesia. The denominational conception lies between the catholic and the local conception. The one invisible church is found in all visible denominations and congregations as far as true Christianity extends. Another distinction should also be made between the church, and the kingdom of God, which is a more spiritual and more comprehensive idea than even this invisible catholic church, although very closely allied to it, and usually identified with it. But we cannot anticipate modern discussions. The Reformers were concerned first of all to settle their relation to the Roman Church as they found it, and to reconcile the idea of a truly catholic church which they could not and would not sacrifice, with the corruptions of the papacy on the one hand, and with their separation from it on the other.

Luther received a copy of Hus’s treatise De Ecclesia from Prague in 1519. He was driven to a defense of the Bohemian martyr in the disputation at Leipzig, and ventured to assert that Hus was unjustly condemned by the Council of Constance for holding doctrines derived from Augustin and Paul. Among these was his definition of the universal church as the totality of the elect (universitas praedestinatorum).

Luther developed this idea in his own way, and modified it in application to the visible church. He started from the article of the Creed, “I believe in the holy catholic church,” but identified this article with the “communion of saints,” as a definition of the catholic church. He explained the communion (Gemeinschaft) to mean the community or congregation (Gemeinde) of saints. He also substituted, in his Catechism, the word “Christian” for “catholic,” in order to include in it all believers in Christ. Hence the term “catholic” became, or remained, identical in Germany with “Roman Catholic” or “papal;” while the English Protestant churches very properly retained the word “catholic” in, its true original sense of “universal,” which admits of no sectarian limitation. The Romanists have no claim to the exclusive use of that title; they are too sectarian and exclusive to be truly catholic.

Luther held that the holy church in its relation to God is an article of faith, not of sight, and therefore invisible. But as existing among men the true church is visible, and can be recognized by the right preaching of the gospel or the purity of doctrine, and by the right administration of the sacraments (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s Supper). These are the two essential marks of a pure church. The first he emphasized against the Romanists, the second against what he called Enthusiasts (Schwarmgeister) and Sacramentarians (in the sense of anti-sacramentarians).

His theory acquired symbolical authority through the Augsburg Confession, which defines the church to be “the congregation of saints in which the gospel is rightly taught, and the sacraments are rightly administered.” Worship and discipline, rites and ceremonies, are made secondary or indifferent, and reckoned with human traditions which may change from time to time. The church has no right to impose what is not commanded in the Word of God. In such things everybody is his own pope and church. The Lutheran Confession has always laid great — we may say too great — stress on the unity of doctrine, and little, too little, stress on discipline. And yet in no other evangelical denomination is there such a diversity of theological opinions, from the strict orthodoxy of the Formula Concordiae to every form and degree of Rationalism.

How far, we must ask here, did Luther recognize the dominion of the papacy as a part of the true catholic church? He did not look upon the Pope in the historical and legal light as the legitimate head of the Roman Church; but he fought him to the end of his life as the antagonist of the gospel, as the veritable Antichrist, and the papacy as an apostasy. He could not have otherwise justified his separation, and the burning of the papal bull and law-books. He assumed a position to the Pope and his church similar to that of the apostles to Caiaphas and the synagogue. Nevertheless, whether consistently or not, he never doubted the validity of the ordinances of the Roman Church, having himself been baptized, confirmed, and ordained in it, and he never dreamed of being re-baptized or re-ordained. Those millions of Protestants who seceded in the sixteenth century were of the same opinion, with the sole exception of the Anabaptists who objected to infant-baptism, partly on the ground that it was an invention of the popish Antichrist, and therefore invalid.

Nor did Luther or any of the Reformers and sensible Protestants doubt that there always were and are still many true Christians in the Roman communion, notwithstanding all her errors and corruptions, as there were true Israelites even in the darkest periods of the Jewish theocracy. In his controversy with the Anabaptists (1528), Luther makes the striking admission: “We confess that under the papacy there is much Christianity, yea, the whole Christianity, and has from thence come to us. We confess that the papacy possesses the genuine Scriptures, genuine baptism, the genuine sacrament of the altar, the genuine keys for the remission of sins, the true ministry, the true catechism, the Ten Commandments, the articles of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer.… I say that under the Pope is the true Christendom, yea, the very elite of Christendom, and many pious and great saints.”

For proof he refers, strangely enough, to the very passage of Paul, 2Th_2:3, 2Th_2:4, from which he and other Reformers derived their chief argument that the Pope of Rome is Antichrist, “the man of sin,” “the son of perdition.” For Paul represents him as sitting “in the temple of God;” that is, in the true church, and not in the synagogue of Satan. As the Pope is Antichrist, he must be among Christians, and rule and tyrannize over Christians. Melanchthon, who otherwise had greater respect for the Pope and the Roman Church, repeatedly expressed the same view. Luther came nearer the true position when he said that the Roman Church might be called a “holy church,” by synecdoche or ex parte, with the same restriction with which Paul called the Galatian Christians “churches,” notwithstanding their apostasy from the true gospel.

He combined with the boldest independence a strong reverence for the historical faith. He derives from the unbroken tradition of the church an argument against the Zwinglians for the real presence in the eucharist; and says, in a letter to Albrecht, Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia (April, 1532, after Zwingli’s death): “The testimony of the entire holy Christian church (even without any other proof) should be sufficient for us to abide by this article, and to listen to no sectaries against it. For it is dangerous and terrible (gefährlich und erschrecklich) to hear or believe any thing against the unanimous testimony, faith, and doctrine of the entire holy Christian church as held from the beginning for now over fifteen hundred years in all the world.… To deny such testimony is virtually to condemn not only the holy Christian church as a damned heretic, but even Christ himself, with all his apostles and prophets, who have founded this article, ‘I believe a holy Christian church,’ as solemnly affirmed by Christ when he promised, ‘Behold, I am with you all the days, even to the end of the world’ (Mat_28:20), and by St. Paul when he says, ‘The church of God is the pillar and ground of the truth’ (1Ti_3:15).”

A Roman controversialist could not lay more stress on tradition than Luther does in this passage. But tradition, at least from the sixth to the sixteenth century, strongly favors the belief in transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass, both of which he rejected. And if the same test should be applied to his doctrine of solifidian justification, it would be difficult to support it by patristic or scholastic tradition, which makes no distinction between justification and sanctification, and lays as much stress on good works as on faith. He felt it himself, that on this vital point, not even Augustin was on his side. His doctrine can be vindicated only as a new interpretation of St. Paul in advance of the previous understanding.

Calvin, if we may here anticipate his views as expounded in the first chapters of the fourth book of his “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” likewise clearly distinguishes between the visible and invisible church, and in the visible church again between the true evangelical church and the false papal church, which he assails as unmercifully as Luther; yet he also admits that the Roman communion, notwithstanding the antichristian character of the papacy, yea, for the very reason that Antichrist sits “in the temple of God,” remains a church with the Scriptures and valid Christian ordinances. So the Jewish synagogue under Caiaphas retained the law and the prophets, the rites and ceremonies, of the theocracy.

The Westminster Confession implies the same theory, and supports it by the same questionable exegesis of 2Th_2:3 sqq. and Rev_13:1-8.

The claims of the Roman Church rest on a broader and more solid base than the papacy, which is merely the form of her government. The papal hierarchy was often as corrupt as the Jewish hierarchy, and some popes were as wicked as Caiaphas; but this fact cannot destroy the claims nor invalidate the ordinances of the Roman Church, which from the days of the apostles down to the Reformation has been identified with the fortunes of Western Christendom, and which remains to this day the largest visible church in the world. To deny her church character is to stultify history, and to nullify the promise of Christ. (Mat_16:18; Mat_28:20.)


Notes. Luther’s Views on the Church Fathers

Walch, XXII. 2050-2065. Erlangen ed. LXII. 97 sqq. (Tischreden). Bindseil: Mart. Lutheri Colloquia (1863), 3 vols.

In this connection it may be interesting to collect from his writings and Table Talk some of Luther’s characteristic judgments of the church fathers whose works began to be more generally known and studied through the editions of Erasmus.

Luther had no idea of a golden age of virgin purity of the church. He knew that even among the apostles there was a Judas, and that errors and corruptions crept into the Galatian, Corinthian, and other congregations, as is manifest from the censures, warnings, and exhortations of the Epistles of the New Testament. Much less could he expect perfection in any post-apostolic age. His view of the absolute supremacy of the Word of God over all the words of men, even the best and holiest, led him to a critical and discriminating estimate of the fathers and schoolmen. Besides, he felt the difference between the patristic and the Protestant theology. The Continental Reformers generally thought much less of the fathers than the Anglican divines.

“The fathers,” says Luther, “have written many things that are pious and useful (multa pia et salutaria), but they must be read with discrimination, and judged by the Scriptures.” “The dear fathers lived better than they wrote; we write better than we live.” (Melius vixerunt quam scripserunt: nos Deo juvante melius scribimus quam vivimus. Bindseil, l.c. III. 140; Erl. ed., LXII. 103.) He placed their writings far below the Scriptures; and the more he progressed in the study of both, the more he was impressed with the difference (Erl. ed., LXII. 107). To reform the church by the fathers is impossible; it can only be done by the Word of God (XXV. 231). They were poor interpreters, in part on account of their ignorance of Hebrew and Greek (XXII. 185). All the fathers have erred in the faith. Nevertheless, they are to be held in veneration for their testimony to the Christian faith (propter testimonium fidei omnes sunt venerandi. Erl. ed. LXII. 98).

Of all the fathers he learned most from Augustin. For him he had the profoundest respect, and him he quotes more frequently than all others combined. He regards him as one of the four pillars of the church (the claims of Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory, he disputed), as the best commentator, and the patron of theologians. “Latina nostra ecclesia nullum habuit praestantiorem doctorem quam Augustinum” (Bindseil, I. 456). “He pleased and pleases me better than all other doctors; he was a great teacher, and worthy of all praise” (III. 147). The Pelagians stirred him up to his best books, in which he treats of free-will, faith, and original sin. He first distinguished it from actual transgression. He is the only one among the fathers who had a worthy view of matrimony. The papists pervert his famous word: “I would not believe the gospel if the Catholic Church did not move me thereto,” which was said against the Manichaeans in this sense: Ye are heretics, I do not believe you; I go with the church, the bride of Christ, which cannot err (Erl. ed., XXX. 394 sq.). Augustin did more than all the bishops and popes who cannot hold a candle to him (XXXI. 358 sq.), and more than all the Councils (XXV. 341). If he lived now, he would side with us, but Jerome would condemn us (Bindseil, III. 149). Yet with all his sympathy, Luther could not find his “sola fide.” Augustin, he says, has sometimes erred, and is not to be trusted. “Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers.” “When the door was opened to me for the understanding of Paul, I was done with Augustin” (da war es aus mit ihm. Erl. ed., LXII. 119).

Next to Augustin he seems to have esteemed Hilary on account of his work on the Trinity. “Hilarius,” he says, “inter omnes patres luctator fuit strenuissimus adversus haereticos, cui neque Augustinus conferri potest” (Bindseil, III. 138). Ambrose he calls “a pious, God-fearing, and brave man,” and refers to his bold stand against the Emperor Theodosius. But his six books on Genesis are very thin, and his hymns have not much matter, though his (?) “Rex Christe, factor omnium,” is “optimus hymnus.” He praises Prudentius for his poetry. Tertullian, whom he once calls the oldest of the fathers (though he lived after 200), was “durus et superstitiosus.” Of Cyprian he speaks favorably. As to Jerome, he had to admit that he was the greatest Bible translator, and will not be surpassed in this line (Erl. ed. LXII. 462). But he positively hated him on account of his monkery, and says: “He ought not to be counted among the doctors of the church; for he was a heretic, although I believe that he was saved by faith in Christ. I know no one of the fathers, to whom I am so hostile as to him. He writes only about fasting, virginity, and such things” (LXII. 119sq.). He was tormented by carnal temptations, and loved Eustochium so as to create scandal. He speaks impiously of marriage. His commentaries on Matthew, Galatians, and Titus are very thin. Luther had no more respect for Pope Gregory I. He is the author of the fables of purgatory and masses for souls; he knew little of Christ and his gospel, and was entirely too superstitious. The Devil deceived him, and made him believe in appearances of spirits from purgatory. “His sermons are not worth a copper” (Erl. ed., LI. 482; LII. 187; LX. 189, 405; XXVIII. 98 sqq.; Bindseil, III. 140, 228). But he praises beyond its merits his hymn Rex Christe, which he wrongly ascribes to Ambrose (Bindseil, III. 149; comp. Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnol., vol. I. 180 sq.).

With the Greek fathers, Luther was less familiar. He barely mentions Ignatius, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, and Epiphanius. He praises Athanasius as the greatest teacher of the Oriental Church, although he was nothing extra (obwohl er nichts sonderliches war). He could not agree with Melanchthon’s favorable judgment of Basil the Great. He thought Gregory of Nazianzen, the eloquent defender of the divinity of Christ during the Arian ascendency, to be of no account (“Nazianzenus est nihil.” Bindseil, III. 152). He speaks well of Theodoret’s Commentary to Paul’s Epistles, but unreasonably depreciates Chrysostom, the golden preacher and commentator, and describes him as a great rhetorician, full of words and empty of matter; he even absurdly compares him to Carlstadt! “He is garrulous, and therefore pleases Erasmus, who neglects faith, and treats only of morals. I consulted him on the beautiful passage on the highpriest in Hebrews; but he twaddled about the dignity of priests, and let me stick in the mud (Bindseil, III. 136; Erl. ed. LXII. 102).

Of medieval divines Luther esteemed Nicolaus Lyra as a most useful commentator. He praises St. Bernard, who in his sermons “excels all other doctors, even Augustin.” He speaks highly of Peter the Lombard, “the Master of Sentences,” and calls him a “homo diligentissimus et excellentissimi ingenii,” although he brought in many useless questions (Bindseil, III. 151; Erl. ed. LXII. 114). He calls Occam, whom he studied diligently, “summus dialecticus” (Bindseil, III. 138, 270). But upon the whole he hated the schoolmen and their master, “the damned heathen Aristotle,” although he admits him to have been “optimus dialecticus,” and learned from him and his commentators the art of logical reasoning. Even Thomas Aquinas, “the Angelic Doctor,” whom the Lutheran scholastics of the seventeenth century highly and justly esteemed, he denounced as a chatterer (loquacissimus), who makes the Bible bend to Aristotle (Bindseil, III. 270, 286), and whose books are a fountain of all heresies, and destructive of the gospel (“der Brunn und Grundsuppe aller Ketzerei, Irrthums und Verleugnung des Evangeliums.” Erl. ed. XXIV. 240). This is, of course, the language of prejudice and passion. — His views on Augustin are the most correct, because he knew him best, and liked him most.

Melanchthon and Oecolampadius from fuller knowledge and milder temper judged more favorably and consistently of the fathers generally, and their invaluable services to Christian literature.


86. Changes in the Views on the Ministry

The Reformers unanimously rejected the sacerdotal character of the Christian ministry (except in a spiritual sense), and hence also the idea of a literal altar and sacrifice. No priest, no sacrifice. “Priest” is an abridgment of “presbyter,” and “Presbyter” is equivalent to “elder.” It does not mean sacerdos in the New Testament, nor among the earliest ecclesiastical writers before Tertullian and Cyprian. Moreover, in Scripture usage “presbyter” and “bishop” are terms for one and the same office (as also in the Epistle of Clement of Rome, and the recently discovered “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”. This fact (conceded by Jerome and Chrysostom and the best modern scholars) was made the basis for presbyterian ordination in those Lutheran and Reformed churches which abolished episcopacy.

In the place of a graded hierarchy, the Reformers taught the parity of ministers; and in the place of a special priesthood, offering the very body and blood of Christ, a general priesthood of believers, offering the sacrifices of prayer and praise for the one sacrifice offered for all time to come. Luther derived the lay-priesthood from baptism as an anointing by the Holy Spirit and an incorporation into Christ. “A layman with the Scriptures,” he said, “is more to be believed than pope and council without the Scriptures.”

Nevertheless, he maintained, in opposition to the democratic radicalism of Carlstadt and the fanatical spiritualism of the Zwickau prophets, the necessity of a ministry, as a matter of order and expediency; and so far he asserted its divine origin. Every public teacher must be called of God through the Church, or prove his extraordinary call by miracles. And so the Augsburg Confession declares that “no man shall publicly teach in the church, or administer the sacraments, without a regular call.”

But what constitutes a regular call? Luther at first took the ground of congregational independency in his writings to the Bohemian Brethren (1523), and advocated the right of a Christian congregation to call, to elect, and to depose its own minister. He meant, of course, a congregation of true believers, not a mixed multitude of nominal professors. In cases of necessity, which knows no law, he would allow any one who has the gift, to pray and sing, to teach and preach; and refers to the congregation of Corinth, and to Stephen, Philip, and Apollos, who preached without a commission from the apostles. In a conflagration everybody runs to lend a helping hand, to save the town. But, in ordinary cases, no one should be a teacher unless called and elected by the congregation. Even Paul did not elect elders without the concurrence of the people. The bishops of our days are no bishops, but idols. They neglect preaching, their chief duty, leaving it to chaplains and monks: they confirm and consecrate bells, altars, and churches, which is a self-invented business, neither Christian nor episcopal. They are baby-bishops.

But congregations of pure Christians, capable of self-government, could not be found in Germany at that time, and are impossible in state churches where churchmanship and citizenship coincide. Luther abandoned this democratic idea after the Peasants’ War, and called on the arm of the government for protection against the excesses of the popular will.

In the first years of the Reformation the congregations were supplied by Romish ex-priests and monks. But who was to ordain the new preachers educated at Wittenberg? The bishops of Saxony (Naumburg-Zeiz, Meissen, and Merseburg) remained loyal to their master in Rome; and there was no other ordaining power according to law. Luther might have derived the succession from two bishops of Prussia, — Georg von Polenz, bishop of Samland, and Erhard von Queis, bishop of Pomesania, — who accepted the Reformation, and afterwards surrendered their episcopal rights to Duke Albrecht as the summus episcopus (1525). But he did not wish to go outside of Saxony, and hated the whole hierarchy of pope and bishop as a human invention and spiritual tyranny. He congratulated the bishop of Samland that he, as by a miracle of grace, had been delivered from the mouth of Satan; while all other bishops raged like madmen against the reviving gospel, although he hoped that there were some timid Nicodemuses among them.

With these views, and the conviction of his own divine authority to reform the church, he felt no reluctance to take the episcopal prerogative into his hands. He acted to the end of his life as an irregular or extraordinary bishop and pope in partibus Protestantium, being consulted by princes, magistrates, theologians, and people of all sorts.

He set the first example of a Presbyterian ordination by laying hands on his amanuensis, Georg Rörer (Rorarius), and making him deacon at Wittenberg, May 14, 1525. Rörer is favorably known by his assistance in the Bible Version and the first edition of Luther’s works. He died as librarian of the University of Jena, 1557. Melanchthon justified the act on the ground that the bishops neglected their duty.

But Luther ventured even to consecrate a bishop, or a superintendent; as John Wesley did two hundred and fifty years afterwards in the interest of his followers in the United States. When the bishopric of Naumburg became vacant, the chapter, backed by the Roman-Catholic minority of the nobility and people, regularly elected Julius von Pflug, one of the ablest, purest, and mildest opponents of the Reformation. This choice displeased the Protestants. The Elector John Frederick, by an illegal use of power, confiscated the property of the diocese, and appointed a counter-bishop in the person of Nicolaus von Amsdorf, Luther’s most devoted friend, who was unmarried and a nobleman, and at that time superintendent at Magdeburg. The consecration took place on June 20, 1542, in the dome of Naumburg, in the presence of the Elector, the Protestant clergy, and a congregation of about five thousand people. Luther preached the sermon, and performed the consecration with the assistance of three superintendents (Medler, Spalatin, and Stein) and an abbot, by the laying-on of hands, and prayer. This bold and defiant act created great sensation and indignation, and required a public defense, which he prepared at the request of the Elector. He used the strongest language against popery and episcopacy to overawe the opposition, and to make it contemptible. He even boasts of having made a bishop without chrism, butter, and incense. “I cannot repent,” he says, “of such a great and horrible sin, nor expect absolution for it.” He assigns, among the reasons for setting aside the election of a Catholic bishop, that God had in the first three commandments, as by a thunder-stroke of judgment, forever condemned to hell the chapter of Naumburg, together with the pope, cardinals, and all their regime, for breaking those commandments by their idolatry and false worship. Christians are forbidden, on pain of eternal damnation, to hear and tolerate them. They must flee a false prophet, preacher, or bishop, and regard a popish bishop as no bishop at all, but as a wolf, yea, as a devil. “And what does the most hellish father in his hellish Church? Does he not depose all bishops, abbots, priests, whom he finds heretics or apostates from his idolatry? … Yea, he interferes even with secular and domestic government, deposes emperors, kings, princes, separates man and wife, dissolves marriage, abolishes obedience, duty, and oath, simply for disobedience to his audacious devilish decretals and accursed bulls.” But, as the holy Virgin sings in her Magnificat, “the Lord hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, and hath put down princes from their thrones” (Luk_1:51, Luk_1:52) and as St. Peter writes, “Deus superbis resistit” (1Pe_5:5). The proud and haughty, whether he be pope, emperor, king, prince, nobleman, citizen, or peasant, will be humbled, and come to a bitter end. The chapter of Naumburg elected a bishop who would have been bound by obedience to the pope to persecute the gospel, “to worship the devil,” and to let the pope, the archbishop of Mainz, and their courtiers rule and ruin at pleasure. The papists have been playing this game for more than twenty years. It is high time to stop it. He who rules in heaven and also here in our hearts turns the wise into fools, and “taketh the wise in their craftiness” (1Co_3:19).

This is the spirit and language of this apologetic Tract. It was followed by a still fiercer attack upon popery as an invention of the Devil” (1545).

Amsdorf was forced upon the chapter and the people by the Elector, but lost his bishopric in the Smalcaldian War (1547), took a leading and ultra-Lutheran part in the bitter theological controversies which followed, and died at Eisenach, 1565, in his eighty-second year. His ephemeral episcopate was, of course, a mere superintendency.

Several of Luther’s friends and pupils were appointed superintendents; as Lauterbach at Pirna (d. 1569); Heidenreich, or Heiderich, at Torgau (d. 1572), who with Mathesius, Dietrich, Weller, and others, preserved his “table spice” (condimenta mensae), as they called his familiar conversations.

The appointment of these superintendents was in the hands of the prince as summus episcopus over his territory. The congregations had not even the power of electing their own pastors.

In the cities the magistrate assumed the episcopal power, and appointed the superintendents.

The further development of the episcopal, territorial, and collegial system in the Lutheran Church lies beyond our limits.