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Article XXVII: (XIII): Of Monastic Vows

1] In the town of Eisenach, in Thuringia, there was, to our knowledge, a monk, John Hilten, who, thirty years ago, was cast by his fraternity into prison because he had protested against certain most notorious abuses. For we have seen his writings, from which it can be well understood what the nature of his doctrine was [that he was a Christian, and preached according to the Scriptures]. And those who knew him testify that he was a mild old man, and serious indeed, 2] but without moroseness. He predicted many things, some of which have thus far transpired, and others still seem to impend, which we do not wish to recite, lest it may be inferred that they are narrated either from hatred toward one or from partiality to another. But finally, when, either on account of his age or the foulness of the prison, he fell into disease, he sent for the guardian in order to tell him of his sickness; and when the guardian, inflamed with pharisaic hatred, had begun to reprove the man harshly on account of his kind of doctrine, which seemed to be injurious to the kitchen, then, omitting all mention of his sickness, he said with a sigh that he was bearing these injuries patiently for Christ’s sake, since he had indeed neither written nor taught anything which could overthrow the position of the monks, but had only protested against some well-known abuses. 3] But another one, he said, will come in A. D. 1516, who will destroy You, neither will you be able to resist him. This very opinion concerning the downward career of the power of the monks, and this number of years, his friends afterwards found also written by him in his commentaries, which he had left, concerning certain passages of Daniel.4] But although the outcome will teach how much weight should be given to this declaration, yet there are other signs which threaten a change in the power of the monks, that are no less certain than oracles. For it is evident how much hypocrisy, ambition, avarice there is in the monasteries, how much ignorance and cruelty among all the unlearned, what vanity in their sermons and in devising continually new means of gaining money. [The more stupid asses the monks are, the more stubborn, furious, bitter, the more venomous asps they are in persecuting the truth and the Word of God.] 5] And there are other faults, which we do not care to mention. While they once were [not jails or everlasting prisons, but] schools for Christian instruction, now they have degenerated, as though from a golden to an iron age, or as the Platonic cube degenerates into bad harmonies, which, Plato says, brings destruction. [Now this precious gold is turned to dross, and the wine to water.] All the most wealthy monasteries support only an idle crowd, which gluttonizes upon 6] the public alms of the Church. Christ, however, teaches concerning the salt that has lost its savor that it should be cast out and be trodden under foot, Matt. 5:13. Therefore 7] the monks by such morals are singing their own fate [requiem, and it will soon be over with them]. And now another sign is added, because they are, in many places, the instigators of the death of good men. [This blood of Abel cries against them and] These murders God undoubtedly will shortly avenge. 8] Nor indeed do we find fault with all; for we are of the opinion that there are here and there some good men in the monasteries who judge moderately concerning human and factitious services, as some writers call them, and who do not approve of the cruelty which the hypocrites among them exercise.

9] But we are now discussing the kind of doctrine which the composers of the Confutation are now defending, and not the question whether vows should be observed. For we hold that lawful vows ought to be observed; but whether these services merit the remission of sins and justification; whether they are satisfactions for sins; whether they are equal to Baptism; whether they are the observance of precepts and counsels; whether they are evangelical perfection; whether they have the merits of supererogation; whether these merits, when applied on behalf of others, save them; whether vows made with these opinions are lawful; whether vows are lawful that are undertaken under the pretext of religion, merely for the sake of the belly and idleness; whether those are truly vows that have been extorted either from the unwilling, or from those who on account of age were not able to judge concerning the kind of life, whom parents or friends thrust into the monasteries that they might be supported at the public expense, without the loss of private patrimony; whether vows are lawful that openly tend to an evil issue, either because on account of weakness they are not observed, or because those who are in these fraternities are compelled 10] to approve and aid the abuses of the Mass, the godless worship of saints, and the counsels to rage against good men: concerning these questions we are treating. And although we have said very many things in the Confession concerning such vows as even the canons of the Popes condemn, nevertheless the adversaries command that all things which we have produced be rejected. For they have used these words.

And it is worth while to hear how they pervert our reasons, and what they adduce to fortify their own cause. Accordingly, we will briefly run over a few of our arguments, and, in passing, explain away the sophistry of the adversaries in reference to them. Since, however, this entire cause has been carefully and fully treated by Luther in the book to which he gave the title De Votis Monasticis, we wish here to consider that book as reiterated.

11] First, it is very certain that a vow is not lawful by which he who vows thinks that he merits the remission of sins before God, or makes satisfaction before God for sins. For this opinion is a manifest insult to the Gospel, which teaches that the remission of sins is freely granted us for Christ’s sake, as has been said above at some length. Therefore we have correctly quoted the declaration of Paul to the Galatians, Gal. 5:4: Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the Law; ye are fallen from grace. Those who seek the remission of sins, not by faith in Christ, but by monastic works, detract from the honor of Christ, and crucify Christ afresh. But hear, hear how the composers of the Confutation escape in this place! 12] They explain this passage of Paul only concerning the Law of Moses, and they add that the monks observe all things for Christ’s sake, and endeavor to live the nearer the Gospel in order to merit eternal life. And they add a horrible peroration in these words: Wherefore those things are wicked that are here 13] alleged against monasticism. O Christ, how long wilt Thou bear these reproaches with which our enemies treat Thy Gospel? We have said in the Confession that the remission of sins is received freely for Christ’s sake, through faith. If this is not the very voice of the Gospel, if it is not the judgment of the eternal Father, which Thou who art in the bosom of the Father hast revealed to the world, we are justly blamed. But Thy death is a witness, Thy resurrection is a witness, the Holy Ghost is a witness, Thy entire Church is a witness, that it is truly the judgment of the Gospel that we obtain remission of sins, not on account of our merits, but on account of Thee, through faith.

14] When Paul denies that by the Law of Moses men merit the remission of sins, he withdraws this praise much more from human traditions; and this he clearly testifies Col. 2:16. If the Law of Moses, which was divinely revealed, did not merit the remission of sins, how much less do these silly observances [monasticism, rosaries, etc.], averse to the civil custom of life, merit the remission of sins!

15] The adversaries feign that Paul abolishes the Law of Moses, and that Christ succeeds in such a way that He does not freely grant the remission of sins, but on account of the works of other laws, if any 16] are now devised. By this godless and fanatical imagination they bury the benefit of Christ. Then they feign that among those who observe this Law of Christ, the monks observe it more closely than others, on account of their hypocritical poverty, obedience, and chastity, since indeed all these things are full of sham. In the greatest abundance of all things they boast of poverty. Although no class of men has greater license than the monks [who have masterfully decreed that they are exempt from obedience to bishops and princes], they boast of obedience. Of celibacy we do not like to speak; how pure this is in most of those who desire to be continent, Gerson indicates. And how many of them desire to be continent [not to mention the thoughts of their hearts]?

17] Of course, in this sham life the monks live more closely in accordance with the Gospel! Christ does not succeed Moses in such a way as to remit sins on account of our works, but so as to set His own merits and His own propitiation on our behalf against God’s wrath, that we may be freely forgiven. Now, he who, apart from Christ’s propitiation, opposes his own merits to God’s wrath, and on account of his own merits endeavors to obtain the remission of sins, whether he present the works of the Mosaic Law, or of the Decalog, or of the rule of Benedict, or of the rule of Augustine, or of other rules, annuls the promise of Christ, has cast away Christ, and has fallen from grace. This is the verdict of Paul.

18] But, behold, most clement Emperor Charles, behold, ye princes, behold, all ye ranks, how great is the impudence of the adversaries! Although we have cited the declaration of Paul to this effect, they have written: Wicked are those things that are here cited against monasticism. But what 19] is more certain than that men obtain the remission of sins by faith for Christ’s sake? And these wretches dare to call this a wicked opinion! We do not at all doubt that if you had been advised of this passage, you would have taken [will take] care that such blasphemy be removed from the Confutation.

But since it has been fully shown above that the opinion 20] is wicked, that we obtain the remission of sins on account of our works, we shall be briefer at this place. For the prudent reader will easily be able to reason thence that we do not merit the remission of sins by monastic works. Therefore this blasphemy also is in no way to be endured which is read in Thomas,that the monastic profession is equal to Baptism. It is madness to make human tradition, which has neither God’s command nor promise, equal to the ordinance of Christ, which has both the command and promise of God, which contains the covenant of grace and of eternal life.

21] Secondly. Obedience, poverty, and celibacy, provided the latter is not impure, are, as exercises, adiaphora [in which we are not to look for either sin or righteousness]. And for this reason the saints can use these without impiety, just as Bernard, Franciscus, and other holy men used them. And they used them on account of bodily advantage, that they might have more leisure to teach and to perform other godly offices, and not that the works themselves are, by themselves, works that justify or merit eternal life. Finally, they belong to the class of which Paul says, 1 Tim. 4:8: Bodily exercise 22]profiteth little. And it is credible that in some places there are also at present good men, engaged in the ministry of the Word, who use these observances without wicked opinions [without hypocrisy and with the understanding that they do not regard their monasticism as holiness]. 23] But to hold that these observances are services on account of which they are accounted just before God, and through which they merit eternal life, conflicts with the Gospel concerning the righteousness of faith, which teaches that for Christ’s sake righteousness and eternal life are granted us. It conflicts also with the saying of Christ, Matt. 15:9: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. It conflicts also with this statement, Rom. 14:23: Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. But how can they affirm that they are services which God approves as righteousness before Him when they have no testimony of God’s Word?

24] But look at the impudence of the adversaries! They not only teach that these observances are justifying services, but they add that these services are more perfect, i.e., meriting more the remission of sins and justification, than do other kinds of life [that they are states of perfection, i.e., holier and higher states than the rest, such as marriage, rulership]. And here many false and pernicious opinions concur. They imagine that they [are the most holy people who] observe [not only] precepts and [but also] counsels [that is, the superior counsels, which Scripture issues concerning exalted gifts, not by way of command, but of advice]. Afterwards these liberal men, since they dream that they have the merits of supererogation, sell these 25] to others. All these things are full of pharisaic vanity. For it is the height of impiety to hold that they satisfy the Decalog in such a way that merits remain, while such precepts as these are accusing all the saints: Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, Deut. 6:5. Likewise: Thou shalt not covet, Rom. 7:7. [For as the First Commandment of God (Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind) is higher than a man upon earth can comprehend, as it is the highest theology, from which all the prophets and all the apostles have drawn as from a spring their best and highest doctrines; yea, as it is such an exalted commandment, according to which alone all divine service, all honor to God, every offering, all thanksgiving in heaven and upon earth, must be regulated and judged, so that all divine service, high and precious and holy though it appear, if it be not in accordance with this commandment, is nothing but husks and shells without a kernel, yea, nothing but filth and abomination before God; which exalted commandment no saint whatever has perfectly fulfilled, so that even Noah and Abraham, David, Peter and Paul acknowledged themselves imperfect and sinners: it is an unheard-of, pharisaic, yea, an actually diabolical pride for a sordid Barefooted monk or any similar godless hypocrite to say, yea, preach and teach, that he has observed and fulfilled the holy high commandment so perfectly, and according to the demands and will of God has done so many good works, that merit even superabounds to him. Yea, dear hypocrites, if the holy Ten Commandments and the exalted First Commandment of God were fulfilled as easily as the bread and remnants are put into the sack! They are shameless hypocrites with whom the world is plagued in this last time.] The prophet says, Ps. 116:11: All men are liars, i.e., not thinking aright concerning God, not fearing God sufficiently, not believing Him sufficiently. Therefore the monks falsely boast that in the observance of a monastic life the commandments are fulfilled, and more is done than what is commanded [that their good works and several hundred-weights of superfluous, superabundant holiness remain in store for them].

26] Again, this also is false, namely, that monastic observances are works of the counsels of the Gospel. For the Gospel does not advise concerning distinctions of clothing and meats and the renunciation of property. These are human traditions, concerning all of which it has been said, 1 Cor. 8:8: Meat commendeth us not to God. Therefore they are neither justifying services nor perfection; yea, when they are presented covered with these titles, they are mere doctrines of demons.

27] Virginity is recommended, but to those who have the gift, as has been said above. It is, however, a most pernicious error to hold that evangelical perfection lies in human traditions. For thus the monks even of the Mohammedans would be able to boast that they have evangelical perfection. Neither does it lie in the observance of other things which are called adiaphora, but because the kingdom of God is righteousness and life in hearts, Rom. 14:17, perfection is growth in the fear of God, and in confidence in the mercy promised in Christ, and in devotion to one’s calling; just as Paul also describes perfection 2 Cor. 3:18: We are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. He does not say: We are continually receiving another hood, or other sandals, or other girdles. It is deplorable that in the Church such pharisaic, yea, Mohammedan expressions should be read and heard as, that the perfection of the Gospel, of the kingdom of Christ, which is eternal life, should be placed in these foolish observances of vestments and of similar trifles.

28] Now hear our Areopagites [excellent teachers] as to what an unworthy declaration they have recorded in the Confutation. Thus they say: It has been expressly declared in the Holy Scriptures that the monastic life merits eternal life if maintained by a due observance, which by the grace of God any monk can maintain; and, indeed, Christ has promised this as much more abundant to those who have left home or brothers, etc., Matt. 19:29. 29] These are the words of the adversaries, in which it is first said most impudently that it is expressed in the Holy Scriptures that a monastic life merits eternal life. For where do the Holy Scriptures speak of a monastic life? Thus the adversaries plead their case, thus men of no account quote the Scriptures. Although no one is ignorant that the monastic life has recently been devised, nevertheless they cite the authority of Scripture, and say, too, that this their decree has been expressly declared in the Scriptures.

30] Besides, they dishonor Christ when they say that by monasticism men merit eternal life. God has ascribed not even to His Law the honor that it should merit eternal life, as He clearly says in Ezek. 20:25: I gave them also statutes that were not good, 31] and judgments whereby they should not live. In the first place, it is certain that a monastic life does not merit the remission of sins, but we obtain this by faith freely, as has been said above. 32] Secondly, for Christ’s sake, through mercy, eternal life is granted to those who by faith receive remission, and do not set their own merits against God’s judgment, as Bernard also says with very great force: It is necessary first of all to believe that you cannot have the remission of sins unless by God’s indulgence. Secondly, that you can have no good work whatever, unless He has given also this. Lastly, that you can merit eternal life by no works, unless this also is given freely. The rest that follows to the same effect we have above recited. Moreover, Bernard adds at the end: Let no one deceive himself, because if he will reflect well, he will undoubtedly find that with ten thousand he cannot meet Him [namely, God] who cometh against him with twenty thousand. 33] Since, however, we do not merit the remission of sins or eternal life by the works of the divine Law, but it is necessary to seek the mercy promised in Christ, much less is this honor of meriting the remission of sins or eternal life to be ascribed to monastic observances, since they are mere human traditions.


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