34] Thus those who teach that the monastic life merits the remission of sins or eternal life, and transfer the confidence due Christ to these foolish observances, altogether suppress the Gospel concerning the free remission of sins and the promised mercy in Christ that is to be apprehended. Instead of Christ they worship their own hoods and their own filth. But since even they need mercy, they act wickedly in fabricating works of supererogation, and selling them [their superfluous claim upon heaven] to others.
35] We speak the more briefly concerning these subjects, because from those things which we have said above concerning justification, concerning repentance, concerning human traditions, it is sufficiently evident that monastic vows are not a price on account of which the remission of sins and life eternal are granted. And since Christ calls traditions useless services, they are in no way evangelical perfection.
36] But the adversaries cunningly wish to appear as if they modify the common opinion concerning perfection. They say that a monastic life is not perfection, but that it is a state in which to acquire perfection. It is prettily phrased! We remember that this correction is found in Gerson. For it is apparent that prudent men, offended by these immoderate praises of monastic life, since they did not venture to remove entirely from it the praise of perfection, have added the correction that it is a state in which to acquire perfection. 37] If we follow this, monasticism will be no more a state of perfection than the life of a farmer or mechanic. For these are also states in which to acquire perfection. For all men, in every vocation, ought to seek perfection, that is, to grow in the fear of God, in faith, in love towards one’s neighbor, and similar spiritual virtues.
38] In the histories of the hermits there are examples of Anthony and of others which make the various spheres of life equal. It is written that when Anthony asked God to show him what progress he was making in this kind of life, a certain shoemaker in the city of Alexandria was indicated to him in a dream to whom he should be compared. The next day Anthony came into the city, and went to the shoemaker in order to ascertain his exercises and gifts, and, having conversed with the man, heard nothing except that early in the morning he prayed in a few words for the entire state, and then attended to his trade. Here Anthony learned that justification is not to be ascribed to the kind of life which he had entered [what God had meant by the revelation; for we are justified before God not through this or that life, but alone through faith in Christ].
39] But although the adversaries now moderate their praises concerning perfection, yet they actually think otherwise. For they sell merits, and apply them on behalf of others, under the pretext that they are observing precepts and counsels; hence they actually hold that they have superfluous merits. But what is it to arrogate to one’s self perfection, if this is not? Again, it has been laid down in the Confutation that the monks endeavor to live more nearly in accordance with the Gospel. Therefore it ascribes perfection to human traditions if they are living more nearly in accordance with the Gospel by not having property, being unmarried, and obeying the rule in clothing, meats, and like trifles.
40] Again, the Confutation says that the monks merit eternal life the more abundantly, and quotes Scripture, Matt. 19:29: Every one that hath forsaken houses, etc. Accordingly, here, too, it claims perfection also for factitious religious rites. But this passage of Scripture in no way favors monastic life. For Christ does not mean that to forsake parents, wife, brethren, is a work that must be done because it merits the remission of sins and eternal life. Yea, such a forsaking is cursed. For if any one forsakes parents or wife in order by this very work to merit the remission of sins or eternal life, this is done with dishonor to Christ.
41] There is, moreover, a two-fold forsaking. One occurs without a call, without God’s command; this Christ does not approve, Matt. 15:9. For the works chosen by us are useless services. But that Christ does not approve this flight appears the more clearly from the fact that He speaks of forsaking wife and children. We know, however, that God’s commandment forbids the forsaking of wife and children. The forsaking which occurs by God’s command is of a different kind, namely, when power or tyranny compels us either to depart or to deny the Gospel. Here we have the command that we should rather bear injury, that we should rather suffer not only wealth, wife, and children, but even life, to be taken from us. This forsaking Christ approves, and accordingly He adds: For the Gospel’s sake, Mark 10:29, in order to signify that He is speaking not of those who do injury to wife and children, but who bear injury on account of the confession of the Gospel.42] For the Gospel’s sake we ought even to forsake our body. Here it would be ridiculous to hold that it would be a service to God to kill one’s self, and without God’s command to leave the body. So, too, it is ridiculous to hold that it is a service to God without God’s command to forsake possessions, friends, wife, children.
43] Therefore it is evident that they wickedly distort Christ’s word to a monastic life. Unless perhaps the declaration that they “receive a hundredfold in this life” be in place here. For very many become monks not on account of the Gospel, but on account of sumptuous living and idleness, who find 44] the most ample riches instead of slender patrimonies. But as the entire subject of monasticism is full of shams, so, by a false pretext, they quote testimonies of Scripture, and as a consequence they sin doubly, i.e., they deceive men, and that, too, under the pretext of the divine name.
45] Another passage is also cited concerning perfection Matt. 19:21: If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come and follow Me. This passage has exercised many, who have imagined that it is perfection to cast away possessions and the control of property. 46] Let us allow the philosophers to extol Aristippus, who cast a great weight of gold into the sea. [Cynics like Diogenes, who would have no house, but lay in a tub, may commend such heathenish holiness.] Such examples pertain in no way to Christian perfection. [Christian holiness consists in much higher matters than such hypocrisy.] The division, control, and possession of property are civil ordinances, approved by God’s Word in the commandment, Ex. 20:15: Thou shalt not steal. The abandonment of property has no command or advice in the Scriptures. For evangelical poverty does not consist in the abandonment of property, but in not being avaricious, in not trusting in wealth, just as David was poor in a most wealthy kingdom.
47] Therefore, since the abandonment of property is merely a human tradition, it is a useless service. Excessive also are the praises in the Extravagant, which says that the abdication of the ownership of all things for God’s sake is meritorious and holy, and a way of perfection. And it is very dangerous to extol with such excessive praises a matter conflicting with political order. [When inexperienced people hear such commendations, they conclude that it is unchristian to hold property; whence many errors and seditions follow; through such commendations Muentzer was deceived, and thereby many Anabaptists were led astray.] 48] But [they say] Christ here speaks of perfection. Yea, they do violence to the text who quote it mutilated. Perfection is in that which Christ adds: 49] Follow Me. An example of obedience in one’s calling is here presented. And as callings are unlike [one is called to rulership, a second to be father of a family, a third to be a preacher], so this calling does not belong to all, but pertains properly to that person with whom Christ there speaks, just as the call of David to the kingdom, and of Abraham to slay his son, are not to be imitated by us. Callings are personal, just as matters of business themselves vary with times and persons; but the example of obedience is general. 50] Perfection would have belonged to that young man if he had believed and obeyed this vocation. Thus perfection with us is that every one with true faith should obey his own calling. [Not that I should undertake a strange calling for which I have not the commission or command of God.]
51] Thirdly. In monastic vows chastity is promised. We have said above, however, concerning the marriage of priests, that the law of nature [or of God] in men cannot be removed by vows or enactments. And as all do not have the gift of continence, many because of weakness are unsuccessfully continent. Neither, indeed, can any vows or any enactments abolish the command of the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. 7:2: To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife. Therefore this vow is not lawful in those who do not have the gift of continence, but who are polluted on account of weakness. 52]Concerning this entire topic enough has been said above, in regard to which indeed it is strange, since the dangers and scandals are occurring before men’s eyes, that the adversaries still defend their traditions contrary to the manifest command of God. Neither does the voice of Christ move them, who chides the Pharisees, Matt. 23:13f , who had made traditions contrary to God’s command.
53] Fourthly. Those who live in monasteries are released from their vows by such godless ceremonies as of the Mass applied on behalf of the dead for the sake of gain; the worship of saints, in which the fault is twofold, both that the saints are put in Christ’s place, and that they are wickedly worshiped, just as the Dominicasters invented the rosary of the Blessed Virgin, which is mere babbling, not less foolish than it is wicked, and nourishes the most vain presumption. Then, too, these very impieties are applied only for the sake of 54] gain. Likewise, they neither hear nor teach the Gospel concerning the free remission of sins for Christ’s sake, concerning the righteousness of faith, concerning true repentance, concerning works which have God’s command. But they are occupied either in philosophic discussions or in the handing down of ceremonies that obscure Christ.
55] We will not here speak of the entire service of ceremonies, of the lessons, singing, and similar things, which could be tolerated if they [were regulated as regards number, and if they] would be regarded as exercises, after the manner of lessons in the schools [and preaching], whose design is to teach the hearers, and, while teaching, to move some to fear or faith. But now they feign that these ceremonies are services of God, which merit the remission of sins for themselves and for others. For on this account they increase these ceremonies. But if they would undertake them in order to teach and exhort the hearers, brief and pointed lessons would be of more profit than these infinite babblings. 56] Thus the entire monastic life is full of hypocrisy and false opinions [against the First and Second Commandments, against Christ]. To all these this danger also is added, that those who are in these fraternities are compelled to assent to those persecuting the truth. There are, therefore, many important and forcible reasons which free good men from the obligation to this kind of life.
57] Lastly, the canons themselves release many, who either without judgment [before they have attained a proper age] have made vows when enticed by the tricks of the monks, or have made vows under compulsion by friends. Such vows not even the canons declare to be vows. From all these considerations it is apparent that there are very many reasons which teach that monastic vows such as have hitherto been made are not vows; and for this reason a sphere of life full of hypocrisy and false opinions can be safely abandoned.
58] Here they present an objection derived from the Law concerning the Nazarites, Num. 6:2f. But the Nazarites did not take upon themselves their vows with the opinions which, we have hitherto said, we censure in the vows of the monks. The rite of the Nazarites was an exercise [a bodily exercise with fasting and certain kinds of food] or declaration of faith before men, and did not merit the remission of sins before God, did not justify before God. [For they sought this elsewhere, namely, in the promise of the blessed Seed.] Again, just as circumcision or the slaying of victims would not be a service of God now, so the rite of the Nazarites ought not to be presented now as a service, but it ought to be judged simply as an adiaphoron. It is not right to compare monasticism, devised without God’s Word, as a service which should merit the remission of sins and justification, with the rite of the Nazarites, which had God’s Word, and was not taught for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins, but to be an outward exercise, just as other ceremonies of the Law. The same can be said concerning other ceremonies prescribed in the Law.
59] The Rechabites also are cited, who did not have any possessions, and did not drink wine, as Jeremiah 35:6f says. Yea, truly, the example of the Rechabites accords beautifully with our monks, whose monasteries excel the palaces of kings, and who live most sumptuously! And the Rechabites, in their poverty of all things, were nevertheless married. Our monks, although abounding in all voluptuousness, profess celibacy.
60] Besides, examples ought to be interpreted according to the rule, i.e., according to certain and clear passages of Scripture, not contrary to the rule, that is, contrary to the Scriptures. 61] It is very certain, however, that our observances do not merit the remission of sins or justification. Therefore, when the Rechabites are praised, it is necessary [it is certain] that these have observed their custom, not because they believed that by this they merited remission of sins, or that the work was itself a justifying service, or one on account of which they obtained eternal life, instead of, by God’s mercy, for the sake of the promised Seed. But because they had the command of their parents, their obedience is praised, concerning which there is the commandment of God: Honor thy father and mother.
62] Then, too, the custom had a particular purpose: Because they were foreigners, not Israelites, it is apparent that their father wished to distinguish them by certain marks from their countrymen, so that they might not relapse into the impiety of their countrymen. He wished by these marks to admonish them of the [fear of God, the] doctrine of faith and immortality. 63] Such an end is lawful. But for monasticism far different ends are taught. They feign that the works of monasticism are a service; they feign that they merit the remission of sins and justification. The example of the Rechabites is therefore unlike monasticism; to omit here other evils which inhere in monasticism at present.
64] They cite also from 1 Tim. 5:11ff concerning widows, who, as they served the Church, were supported at the public expense, where it is said: They will marry, having damnation, because 65] they have cast off their first faith. First, let us suppose that the Apostle is here speaking of vows [which, however, he is not doing]; still this passage will not favor monastic vows, which are made concerning godless services, and in this opinion, that they merit the remission of sins and justification. For Paul, with ringing voice, condemns all services, all laws, all works, if they are observed in order to merit the remission of sins, or that, on account of them, instead of through mercy on account of Christ, we obtain remission of sins. On this account the vows of widows, if there were any, must have been unlike monastic vows.
66] Besides, if the adversaries do not cease to misapply the passage to vows, the prohibition that no widow be selected who is less than sixty years, 1 Tim. 5:9, must be misapplied in the same way. Thus vows 67] made before this age will be of no account. But the Church did not yet know these vows. Therefore Paul condemns widows, not because they marry, for he commands the younger to marry; but because, when supported at the public expense, they became wanton, and thus cast off faith. He calls this first faith, clearly not in a monastic vow, but in Christianity (of their Baptism, their Christian duty, their Christianity]. And in this sense he understands faith in the same chapter, 5:8: If any one provide not for his own, and specialty for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith. 68] For he speaks otherwise of faith than the sophists. He does not ascribe faith to those who have mortal sin. He, accordingly, says that those cast off faith who do not care for their relatives. And in the same way he says that wanton women cast off faith.
69] We have recounted some of our reasons, and, in passing, have explained away the objections urged by the adversaries. And we have collected these matters, not only on account of the adversaries, but much more on account of godly minds, that they may have in view the reasons why they ought to disapprove of hypocrisy and fictitious monastic services, all of which indeed this one saying of Christ annuls, which reads, Matt. 15:9: In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Therefore the vows themselves and the observances of meats, lessons, chants, vestments, sandals, girdles, are useless services in God’s sight. And all godly minds should certainly know that the opinion is simply pharisaic and condemned that these observances merit the remission of sins; that on account of them we are accounted righteous; that on account of them, and not through mercy on account of Christ, we obtain eternal life. And the holy men who have lived in these kinds of life must necessarily have learned, confidence in such observance having been rejected, that they had the remission of sins freely; that for Christ’s sake through mercy they would obtain eternal life, and not for the sake of these services [therefore godly persons who were saved and continued to live in monastic life had finally come to this, namely, that they despaired of their monastic life, despised all their works as dung, condemned all their hypocritical service of God, and held fast to the promise of grace in Christ, as in the example of St. Bernard, saying, Perdite vixi, I have lived in a sinful way]; because God only approves services instituted by His Word, which services avail when used in faith.