3.1 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to the riches of His mercy has preserved in His Church this sacrament at least, untouched and untainted by the ordinances of men, and has made it free to all nations and every estate of mankind, nor suffered it to be oppressed by the filthy and godless monsters of greed and superstition. For He desired that by it little children, incapable of greed and superstition, might be initiated and sanctified in the simple faith of His Word. Even today baptism's chief blessing is for them. But if this sacrament were to be given to adults and older people, I think it could not possibly have retained its power and its glory against the tyranny of greed and superstition which has everywhere laid waste to divine things. Doubtless the wisdom of the flesh would here too have devised its preparations and worthinesses, its reservations, restrictions, and I know not what other snares for taking money, until water fetched as high a price as parchment does now.
3.2 But Satan, though he could not quench the power of baptism in little children, nevertheless succeeded in quenching it in all adults, so that scarcely anyone calls to mind their baptism and still fewer glory in it. So many other ways have they discovered of ridding themselves of their sins and of reaching heaven. The source of these false opinions is that dangerous saying of St. Jerome's – either unhappily phrased or wrongly interpreted – which he terms penance "the second plank" after the shipwreck, as if baptism were not penance. Accordingly, when men fall into sin, they despair of "the first plank," which is the ship, as though it had gone under, and fasten all their faith on the second plank, that is, penance. This has produced those endless burdens of vows, religious works, satisfactions, pilgrimages, indulgences, and sects, from this has arisen that flood of books, questions, opinions and human traditions, which the world cannot contain. So that this tyranny plays worse havoc with the Church of God than any tyrant ever did with the Jewish people or with any other nation under heaven.
3.3 It was the duty of the pontiffs to abate this evil, and with all diligence to lead Christians to the true understanding of baptism, so that they might know what manner of men they are and how Christians ought to live. But instead of this, their work is now to lead the people as far astray as possible from their baptism, to immerse all men in the flood of their oppression, and to cause the people of Christ, as the prophet says, to forget Him days without number. ( Jeremiah 2:32) How unfortunate are all who bear the name of pope today! Not only do they not know or do what popes should do, but they are ignorant of what they ought to know and do. They fulfill the saying in Isaiah 56: "His watchmen are all blind, they are all ignorant. The shepherds themselves knew no understanding. All have declined into their own way, every one after his own gain."
3.4 Now, the first thing in baptism to be considered is the divine promise, which says: " He that believes and is baptised shall be saved." This promise must be set far above all the glitter of works, vows, religious orders, and whatever man has added to it. For on it all our salvation depends. We must consider this promise, exercise our faith in it and never doubt that we are saved when we are baptised. For unless this faith be present or be conferred in baptism, we gain nothing from baptism. No, it becomes a hindrance to us, not only in the moment of its reception, but all the days of our life. For such lack of faith calls God's promise a lie, and this is the blackest of all sins. When we try to exercise this faith, we shall at once perceive how difficult it is to believe this promise of God. For our human weakness, conscious of its sins, finds nothing more difficult to believe than that it is saved or will be saved. Yet unless it does believe this, it cannot be saved, because it does not believe the truth of God that promises salvation.
3.5 This message should have been persistently impressed upon the people and this promise diligently repeated to them. Their baptism should have been called again and again to their mind, and faith constantly awakened and nourished. Just as the truth of this divine promise, once pronounced over us, continues to death, so our faith in the same ought never to cease, but to be nourished and strengthened until death, by the continual remembrance of this promise made to us in baptism. Therefore, when we rise from sins, or repent, we are only returning to the power and the faith of baptism from this we fell, and find our way back to the promise then made to us, from which we departed when we sinned. For the truth of the promise once made remains steadfast, ever ready to receive us back with open arms when we return. This, if I am not mistaken, is the real meaning of the obscure saying, that baptism is the beginning and foundation of all the sacraments, without which none of the others may be received.
3.6 Therefore a penitent will gain much by laying hold of the memory of his baptism above all else, confidently calling to mind the promise of God, which he has forsaken. He should plead it with His Lord, rejoicing that he is baptised and therefore is yet within the fortress of salvation. He should detest his wicked ingratitude in falling away from its faith and truth. His soul will find wondrous comfort, and will be encouraged to hope for mercy, when he considers that the divine promise which God made to him and which cannot possibly lie, still stands unbroken and unchanged, yes, unchangeable by any sins, as Paul says in 2 Timothy 2. "If we do not believe, He continues to be faithful, He cannot deny Himself." Yes, this truth of God will sustain him, so that if all else should sink in ruins, this truth, if he believes it, will not fail him. For in it he has a shield against all assaults of the enemy, an answer to the sins that disturb his conscience, an antidote for the dread of death and judgment, and a comfort in every temptation – namely, this one truth – he can say, " God is faithful that promised, Whose sign I have received in my baptism. If God be for me, who is against me?"
3.7 The children of Israel, whenever they repented of their sins, turned their thoughts first of all to the exodus from Egypt, and, remembering this, returned to God Who had brought them out. This memory and this refuge were many times impressed upon them by Moses, and afterward repeated by David. How much rather ought we to call to mind our exodus from Egypt, and, remembering, turn back again to Him Who led us forth through the washing of regeneration, which we are bidden remember for this very purpose. And this we can do most fittingly in the sacrament of bread and wine. Indeed, in ancient times these three sacraments –penance, baptism and the bread – were all celebrated at the same service, and one supplemented and assisted the other. We read also of a certain holy virgin who in every time of temptation made baptism her sole defense, saying simply, "I am a Christian." Immediately the adversary fled from her, for he knew the power of her baptism and of her faith which clung to the truth of God's promise.
3.8 See, how rich therefore is a Christian, the one who is baptised! Even if he wants to, he cannot lose his salvation, however much he sin, unless he will not believe. For no sin can condemn him save unbelief alone. All other sins – so long as the faith in God's promise made in baptism returns or remains –all other sins, I say, are immediately blotted out through that same faith, or rather through the truth of God, because He cannot deny Himself. If only you confess Him and cling believing to Him that promises. But as for contrition, confession of sins, and satisfaction – along with all those carefully thought out exercises of men – if you turn your attention to them and neglect this truth of God, they will suddenly fail you and leave you more wretched than before. For whatever is done without faith in the truth of God, is vanity of vanities and vexation of spirit.
3.9 Again, how perilous, no, how false it is to suppose that penance is the second plank after the shipwreck! How harmful an error it is to believe that the power of baptism is broken, and the ship has foundered, because we have sinned! No! That one, solid and unsinkable ship remains, and is never broken up into floating timbers. It carries all those who are brought to the harbor of salvation. It is the truth of God giving us its promise in the sacraments. Many, indeed, rashly leap overboard and perish in the waves. These are they who depart from faith in the promise and plunge into sin. But the ship herself remains intact and holds her steady course. If one be able somehow to return to the ship, it is not on any plank but in the good ship herself that he is carried to life. Such a one is he who through faith returns to the sure promise of God that lasts forever. Therefore Peter, in 1 Peter 1, rebukes those who sin, because they have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins, in which words he doubtless chides their ingratitude for the baptism they had received and their wicked unbelief.
3.10 What is the good, then, of writing much on baptism and yet not teaching this faith in the promise? All the sacraments were instituted for the purpose of nourishing faith, but these godless men so completely pass over this faith that they even assert a man dare not be certain of the forgiveness of sins, that is, of the grace of the sacraments. With such wicked teachings they delude the world, and not only take captive but altogether destroy the sacrament of baptism, in which the chief glory of our conscience consists. Meanwhile they madly rage against the miserable souls of men with their contritions, anxious confessions, circumstances, satisfactions, works and endless other absurdities. Read, therefore, with great caution the Master of the Sentences in his fourth book, or, better yet, despise him together with all his commentators, who at their best write only of the material and form of the sacraments, that is, they discuss the dead and death-dealing letter of the sacraments, but pass over in utter silence the spirit, life and use, that is, the truth of the divine promise and our faith.
3.11 So be careful, that the external pomp of works and the deceits of human traditions mislead you, so that you may not wrong the divine truth and your faith. If you would be saved, you must begin with the faith of the sacraments, without any works whatever. But on faith the works will follow. Only do not think lightly of faith, which is a work, and of all works the most excellent and the most difficult to do. Through it alone you will be saved, even if you should be compelled to do without any other works. For it is a work of God, not of man, as Paul teaches. The other works He works through us and with our help, but this one He works in us and without our help.
3.12 From this we can clearly see the difference, in baptism, between man the minister and God the Doer. For man baptises and does not baptise. He baptises, for he performs the work, immersing the person to be baptised. He does not baptise, for in that act he officiates not by his own authority, but as God's representative. Hence, we ought to receive baptism at the hands of a man just as if Christ Himself, no, God Himself, were baptising us with His own hands. For it is not man's baptism, but Christ's and God's baptism, which we receive by the hand of a man, just as every other created thing that we make use of by the hand of another, is God's alone. Therefore beware of dividing baptism in such a way as to ascribe the outward part to man and the inward part to God. Ascribe both to God alone, and look upon the person administering it as the instrument in God's hands, by which the Lord sitting in heaven thrusts you under the water with His own hands, and speaking by the mouth of His minister promises you, on earth with a human voice, the forgiveness of your sins.
3.13 This the words themselves indicate, when the priest says: " I baptise you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," and not: "I baptise you in my own name." It is as though he said: " What I do, I do not by my own authority, but in the name and as God's representative, so that you should regard it just as if our Lord Himself had done it in a visible manner. The Doer and the minister are different persons, but the work of both is the same work, or, rather, it is the work of the Doer alone, through my ministry." For I hold that "in the name of" refers to the person of the Doer, so that the name of the Lord is not only to be uttered and invoked while the work is being done, but the work itself is to be done not as one's own work, but in the name and as another's representative. In this sense, in Matthew 24, Christ says, "Many shall come in my name," and in Romans 1 it is said, "By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for His name."
3.14 This view I freely endorse. It is very comforting and greatly aids faith to know that one has been baptised not by man, but by the Triune God Himself through a man acting among us in His name. This will dispose of that fruitless quarrel about the "form" of baptism, as these words are called. The Greeks say: "May the servant of Christ be baptised," while the Latins say: "I baptise." Others again, pedantic triflers, condemn the use of the words, "I baptise you in the name of Jesus Christ" – although it is certain that the Apostles used this formula in baptising, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles – they would allow no other form to be valid than this: " I baptise you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." But their contention is in vain, for they bring no proof, but merely assert their own dreams. Baptism truly saves in whatever way it is administered, as long as it is not administered in the name of man but in the name of God. No, I have no doubt that if one received baptism in the name of the Lord, even though the wicked minister should not give it in the name of the Lord, he would yet be truly baptised in the name of the Lord. For the effect of baptism depends not so much on the faith or practice of him that confers it as on the faith or practice of the one who receives it – of which we have an illustration in the case of the play-actor who was baptised as a joke. Such anxious disputings and questionings are aroused in us by those who ascribe nothing to faith and everything to works and forms, while we owe everything to faith alone and nothing to forms, and faith makes us free in spirit from all those scruples and fancies.
3.15 The second part of baptism is the sign, or sacrament, which is that immersion into water from this also it derives its name. For the Greek baptize means "I immerse," and baptisma means "immersion." For, as has been said, signs are added to the divine promises to represent that which the words signify, or, as they now say, that which the sacrament "effectively signifies." We shall see how much of truth there is in this.
3.16 The great majority have supposed that there is some hidden spiritual power in the word or in the water, which works the grace of God in the soul of the recipient. Others deny this and hold that there is no power in the sacraments, but that grace is given by God alone, Who according to His covenant aids the sacraments He has instituted. Yet all are agreed that the sacraments are effective signs of grace, and they reach this conclusion by this one argument: If the sacraments of the New Law merely "signified," it would not be apparent in what respect they surpassed the sacraments of the Old Law. Hence they have been driven to attribute such great power to the sacraments of the New Law that in their opinion they benefit even such men as are in mortal sins, and that they do not require faith or grace. It is sufficient not to oppose a "bar," that is, an actual intention to sin again.
3.17 But these views must be carefully avoided and shunned, because they are godless and faithless, being contrary to faith and to the nature of the sacraments. For it is an error to hold that the sacraments of the New Law differ from those of the Old Law in the effectiveness of their "signifying." The "signifying" of both is equally effective. The same God Who now saves me by baptism saved Abel by his sacrifice, Noah by the rainbow, Abraham by circumcision, and all the others by their respective signs. So far as the "signifying" is concerned, there is no difference between a sacrament of the Old Law and one of the New – provided that by the Old Law you mean that which God did among the patriarchs and other fathers in the days of the law. But those signs which were given to the patriarchs and fathers must be sharply distinguished from the legal types which Moses instituted in his law, such as the priestly rites concerning robes, vessels, meats, dwellings, and the like. Between these and the sacraments of the New Law there is a vast difference, but no less between them and those signs that God from time to time gave to the fathers living under the law, such as the sign of Gideon's fleece, Manoah's sacrifice, or the sign which Isaiah offered to Ahaz, in Isaiah 7. for to these signs God attached a certain promise which required faith in Him.
3.18 This, then, is the difference between the legal types and the new and old signs is that the types do not have attached to them any word of promise requiring faith. Hence they are not signs of justification, for they are not sacraments of the faith that alone justifies, but only sacraments of works. Their whole power and nature consisted in works, not in faith, and he that observed them fulfilled them, even if he did it without faith. But our signs, or sacraments, as well as those of the fathers, have attached to them a word of promise, which requires faith, and they cannot be fulfilled by any other work. Hence they are signs or sacraments of justification, for they are the sacraments of justifying faith and not of works. Their whole efficacy, therefore, consists in faith itself, not in the doing of a work. For whoever believes them fulfils them, even if he should not do a single work. From this has arisen the saying, "Not the sacrament but the faith of the sacrament justifies." Thus circumcision did not justify Abraham and his seed, and yet the Apostle calls it the seal of the righteousness of faith, because faith in the promise, to which circumcision was added, justified him and fulfilled that which circumcision signified. For faith was the spiritual circumcision of the foreskin of the heart, which was symbolised by the literal circumcision of the flesh. And in the same manner it was obviously not Abel's sacrifice that justified him, but it was his faith, by which he offered himself wholly to God and which was symbolised by the outward sacrifice.
3.19 Even so it is not baptism that justifies or benefits anyone, but it is faith in the word of promise, to which baptism is added. This faith justifies, and fulfils that which baptism signifies. For faith is the submersion of the old man and the emerging of the new. Therefore it cannot be that the new sacraments differ from the old, for both have the divine promise and the same spirit of faith. But they do differ vastly from the ancient types on account of the word of promise, which is the one decisive point of difference. Even so, today, the outward show of vestments, holy places, meats and of all the endless ceremonies has doubtless a fine symbolical meaning, which is to be spiritually fulfilled. Yet because there is no word of divine promise attached to these things, they can never be compared with the signs of baptism and of the bread, nor do they in any way justify or benefit one, since they are fulfilled in the very observance, apart from faith. For while they are taking place or are being performed, they are being fulfilled. The Apostle says of them, in Colossians 2,"Which are all to perish with the using, after the commandments and doctrines of men." The sacraments, on the contrary, are not fulfilled when they are observed, but when they are believed.
3.20 It cannot be true, therefore, that there is in the sacraments a power efficacious for justification, or that they are effective signs of grace. All such assertions tend to destroy faith, and arise from ignorance of the divine promise. Unless you should call them effective in the sense that they certainly and efficaciously impart grace, where faith is unmistakably present. But it is not in this sense that efficacy is now ascribed to them. Witness the fact that they are said to benefit all men, even the godless and unbelieving, provided they do not put an "obstacle" in the path of grace – as if such unbelief were not in itself the most obstinate and hostile of all obstacles to grace. That is how firmly they are bent on turning the sacrament into a command, and faith into a work. For if the sacrament confers grace on me because I receive it, then indeed I obtain grace by virtue of my work and not of faith. I lay hold not on the promise in the sacrament, but on the sign instituted and commanded by God. Do you not see, then, how completely the sacraments have been misunderstood by our theologians of the Sentences? They do not account for either faith or the promise, in their discussions on the sacraments. They only cling to the sign and the use of the sign, and draw us away from faith to the work, from the word to the sign. Thus they have not only carried the sacraments captive (as I have said), but have completely destroyed them, as far as they were able.
3.21 Therefore, let us open our eyes and learn to give more heed to the word than to the sign, and to faith than to the work, or the use of the sign, remembering that wherever there is a divine promise there faith is required, and that these two are so necessary to each other that neither can be efficacious apart from the other. For it is not possible to believe unless there be a promise, and the promise is not established unless it be believed. But where these two meet, they give a real and most certain efficacy to the sacraments. Hence, to seek the efficacy of the sacrament apart from the promise and apart from faith, is to labor in vain and to find damnation. Thus Christ says: "He that believe and is baptised, shall be saved. He that does not believe shall be damned." He shows us in this word that faith is so necessary a part of the sacrament that it can save even without the sacrament. For which reason He did not see fit to say: "He that does not believe, and is not baptised..."
3.22 Baptism, then, signifies two things –death and resurrection – that is, full and complete justification. When the minister immerses the child in the water, baptism signifies death. When he draws the child forth again, baptism signifies life. Thus Paul expounds on this in Romans 6, "We are buried together with Christ by baptism into death. As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life." This death and resurrection we call the new creation, regeneration, and the spiritual birth. And this must not be understood only in a figurative sense, of the death of sin and the life of grace, as many understand it, but of actual death and resurrection. The significance of baptism is not an imaginary significance, and sin does not completely die, nor does grace completely rise, until the body of sin that we carry about in this life is destroyed. This the Apostle teaches in the same chapter. For as long as we are in the flesh, the desires of the flesh stir and are stirred. When we begin to believe, we also begin to die to this world and to live to God in the life to come. Faith is truly a death and a resurrection, that is, it is that spiritual baptism in which we are submerged and from which we rise.
3.23 Hence it is indeed correct to say that baptism washes sins away, but that expression is too weak and mild to bring out the full significance of baptism, which is rather a symbol of death and resurrection. For this reason I would have the candidates for baptism completely immersed in the water, as the word says and as the sacrament signifies. Not that I deem this necessary, but it would be well to give to so perfect and complete a thing a perfect and complete sign. Thus it was also doubtless instituted by Christ. The sinner does not so much need to be washed as he needs to die, in order to be wholly renewed and made another creature, and to be conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ, with Whom, through baptism, he dies and rises again. Although you may properly say that Christ was washed clean of mortality when He died and rose again, yet that is a weaker way of putting it than if you said He was completely changed and renewed. In the same way it is far more forceful to say that baptism signifies that we die completely and rising to eternal life, than to say that it signifies merely our being washed clean from sins.
3.24 Here, again, you see that the sacrament of baptism, even in respect to its sign, does not last only for a moment, but continues on forever. Although its administration is soon over, yet the thing it signifies continues until we die, no, until we rise at the last day. For as long as we live we are continually doing that which our baptism signifies, that is, we die and rise again. We die, that is, not only spiritually and in our affections, by renouncing the sins and vanities of this world, but in reality we die. We begin to leave this bodily life and to lay hold on the life to come. So there is, as they say, a real and even a bodily leaving of this world to go to the Father.
3.25 We must, therefore, beware of those who have reduced the power of baptism, making it something thin and small. While they do say that baptism indeed pours the grace of God into us, but afterwards sin pours it out again. So, they say, one must reach heaven by another way. As if baptism had then become entirely useless! Do not hold such a viewpoint, but know that baptism signifies that you die and live again. Therefore, whether it is by penance or by any other way, you can only return to the power of your baptism, and once again do what you were baptised to do and what your baptism signified. Never does baptism lose its power, unless you despair and refuse to return to its salvation. You may, indeed, for a time wander away from the sign, but that does not mean that the sign is powerless. You have, thus, been baptised once in the sacrament, but you must be constantly baptised again through faith, you must constantly die, you must constantly live again. Baptisms absorbs your whole body, and gives it back again. Even so that which baptism signifies should absorb your whole life in body and soul, and give it back again at the last day, clothed in robes of glory and immortality. We are, therefore, never without the sign of baptism nor yet without the thing it signifies. No, we must be baptised ever more and more completely, until we perfectly fulfill the sign, at the last day.
3.26 Therefore, whatever we do in this life that promotes the mortifying of the flesh and the giving life to the spirit, belongs to baptism. The sooner we depart this life the sooner we fulfill our baptism. The greater our sufferings the more closely do we conform to our baptism. Hence those were the Church's happiest days, when the martyrs were being killed everyday and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. For then the power of baptism reigned supreme in the Church, which power we have today lost sight of in the midst of the multitude of works and doctrines of men. For all our life should be baptism, and the fulfilling of the sign, or sacrament, of baptism. We have been set free from all else and wholly given over to baptism alone, that is, to death and resurrection.
3.27 This glorious liberty of ours, and this understanding of baptism have been carried captive in our day. And whom have we to thank for this but the Roman pontiff with his despotism? More than all others, it was his first duty, as chief shepherd, to preach and defend this liberty and this knowledge, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4 "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries, or sacraments, of God." Instead of this, he seeks only to oppress us with his decrees and his laws, and to enslave and ensnare us in the tyranny of his power. By what right, in God's name, does the pope impose his laws upon us – to say nothing of his wicked and damnable neglect to teach these mysteries? Who gave him power to despoil us of this liberty, granted us in baptism? One thing only (as I have said) has been enjoined upon us all the days of our life – be baptised – That is, to be put to death and to live again, through faith in Christ. This faith alone should have been taught, especially by the chief shepherd. But now there is not a word said about faith, and the Church is laid waste with endless laws concerning works and ceremonies So the power and right understanding of baptism are put aside, and faith in Christ is prevented.
3.28 Therefore I say: neither the pope nor a bishop nor any other man has the right to impose a single syllable of law upon a Christian man without his consent. If he does, it is done in the spirit of tyranny. Therefore the prayers, fasts, donations, and whatever else the pope decrees and demands in all of his decretals, as numerous as they are evil, he demands and decrees without any right whatever. He sins against the liberty of the Church whenever he attempts any such thing. In fact, today's churchmen are indeed such vigorous defenders of the liberty of the Church, that is, of wood and stone, of land and rents – for "churchly" is nowadays the same as "spiritual" – yet with such fictions they not only take captive but utterly destroy the true liberty of the Church, and deal with us far worse than the Turk, in opposition to the word of the Apostle, "Do not be enslaved by men." Yes, to be subjected to their statutes and tyrannical laws is to be enslaved by men.
3.29 This impious and sinful tyranny is fostered by the pope's disciples, who here drag in and pervert that saying of Christ, "He that hears you hears me." With puffed cheeks they blow up this saying to a great size in support of their traditions. Though Christ said this to the apostles when they went forth to preach the Gospel, and though it applies solely to the Gospel, they pass over the Gospel and apply it only to their fables. He says in John 10 "My sheep hear my voice, but the voice of a stranger they do not hear." To this end He left us the Gospel, that His voice might be uttered by the pontiffs. But they utter their own voice, and themselves desire to be heard. Moreover, the Apostle says that he was not sent to baptise but to preach the Gospel. Therefore, no one is bound to the traditions of the pope, nor does he need to give ear to him unless he teaches the Gospel and Christ, and the pope should teach nothing but faith without any restrictions. But since Christ says, "He that hears you hears me," and does not say to Peter only, "He that hears you," why doesn't the pope also hear others? Finally, where there is true faith, there must also be the word of faith. Why then does not an unbelieving pope now and then hear a believing servant of his, who has the word of faith? It is blindness, sheer blindness, that holds the popes in their power.
3.30 But others, more shameless still, arrogantly ascribe to the pope the power to make laws, on the basis of Matthew 16, "Whatever you shall bind," etc., though Christ treats in this passage of binding and loosing sins, not of taking the whole Church captive and oppressing it with laws. So this tyranny treats everything with its own lying words and violently wrests and perverts the words of God. I admit indeed that Christians ought to bear this accursed tyranny just as they would bear any other violence of this world, according to Christ's word: " If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other cheek." But this is my complaint –?at the godless pontiffs boastfully claim the right to do this, that they pretend to be seeking the Church's welfare with this Babylon of theirs, and that they foist this fiction upon all mankind. For if they did these things, and we suffered their violence, well knowing, both of us, that it was godlessness and tyranny, then we might number it among the things that contribute to the mortifying of this life and the fulfilling of our baptism, and might with a good conscience rejoice in the inflicted injury. But now they seek to deprive us of this consciousness of our liberty, and would have us believe that what they do is well done, and must not be censured or complained of as wrongdoing. Since they wolves, they want to look like shepherds. Since they are antichrists, they want to be honored as Christ.
3.31 I only lift my voice to defend this freedom of conscience. I confidently cry out: No one – not men – not angels – may justly impose laws upon Christians without their consent, for we are free from all things. If any laws are laid on us, we must bear them in such a way as to preserve the consciousness of our liberty. We must know and strongly affirm that the making of such laws is unjust, that we will bear and rejoice in this injustice. We will be careful neither to justify the tyrant nor complain against his tyranny. "For who is he," says Peter, "that will harm you, if you are followers of that which is good?" " All things work together for good to the elect." Nevertheless, since few know this glory of baptism and the blessedness of Christian liberty, and cannot know them because of the tyranny of the pope, I for one will walk away from it all and redeem my conscience by bringing this charge against the pope and all his papists: Unless they will abolish their laws and traditions, and restore to Christ's churches their liberty and have it taught among them, they are guilty of all the souls that perish under this miserable captivity, and the papacy is truly the kingdom of Babylon, yes, the kingdom of the real Antichrist! For who is " the man of sin" and "the son of perdition" but he that with his doctrines and his laws increases sins and the perdition of souls in the Church, while he sits in the Church as if he were God? All this the papal tyranny has fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, these many centuries. It has extinguished faith, obscured the sacraments and oppressed the Gospel. But its own laws, which are not only impious and sacrilegious, but even barbarous and foolish, it has enjoined and multiplied world without end.
3.32 Behold, then, our miserable captivity. How empty is the city that was full of people! The mistress of the Gentiles has become like a widow. The princess of provinces has been made a client nation! There is none to comfort her. All her friends despise her. There are so many orders, so many rites, so many sects, so many vows, exertions and works, in which Christians are engaged, that they lose sight of their baptism. This swarm of locusts, cankerworms and caterpillars – not one of them is able to remember that he is baptised or what blessings his baptism brought him. Are engaged in no efforts and no works, but are free in every way, secure and saved only through the glory of their baptism. For we are indeed little children, continually baptised anew in Christ.
3.33 Perhaps someone will oppose what I have said by pointing to the baptism of infants. Infants do not understand God's promise and cannot have baptismal faith. So either faith is not necessary or else infant baptism is useless. Here I say what everyone says: the faith of others, namely, the faith of those who bring them to baptism aids infants. For the Word of God is powerful, when it is uttered. It can change even a godless heart, which is no less unresponsive and helpless than any infant. Even so the infant is changed, cleansed and renewed by faith poured into it, through the prayer of the Church that presents it for baptism and believes. All things are possible for this prayer. Nor should I doubt that even a godless adult might be changed, in any of the sacraments, if the same Church prayed and presented him. We read in the Gospel of the paralytic, who was healed through the faith of others. I should be ready to admit that in this sense the sacraments of the New Law confer grace effectively, not only to those who do not resist, but even to those who do resist it very obstinately. Is there any obstacle that the faith of the Church and the prayer of faith cannot remove? We believe that Stephen by this powerful means converted Paul the Apostle, don't we? But then the sacraments accomplish what they do not by their own power, but by the power of faith, without which they accomplish nothing at all, as has been said.
3.34 The question remains, whether it is proper to baptise an infant not yet born, with only a hand or a foot outside the womb. Here I will decide nothing hastily, and confess my ignorance. I am not sure whether the reason given by some is sufficient – that the soul resides in its entirety in every part of the body. After all, it is not the soul but the body that is externally baptised with water. Nor do I share the view of others that he who is not yet born cannot be born again, even though it has considerable force. I leave these matters to the teaching of the Spirit. For the moment I permit every one to be convinced by his own opinion.
3.35 One thing I will add – and I wish I could persuade everyone to do it! – namely, to completely abolish or avoid all the making of vows, whether they are vows to enter religious orders, to make pilgrimages or to do any works whatsoever. Then we could remain in the freedom of our baptism, which is the most religious, rich in works, state of all. It is impossible to say how greatly that widespread delusion of vows weakens baptism and obscures the knowledge of Christian liberty. This is to say nothing now of the unspeakable and infinite peril to souls which that mania for making vows and that ill-advised rashness daily increase. Godless pontiffs and unhappy pastors! You slumber on without heeding, and indulge your evil lusts, without pity for this "affliction of Joseph," so dreadful and fraught with peril!
3.36 Vows should be abolished by a general edict, especially life-long vows, and all men diligently recalled to the vows of baptism. If this is not possible, everyone should be warned not to take a vow rashly. No one should be encouraged to do so. Permission to make vows should be given only with difficulty and reluctance. For we have vowed enough in baptism – more than we can ever fulfill. If we devote ourselves to the keeping of this one vow, we shall have all we can do. But now we travel over earth and sea to make many converts. We fill the world with priests, monks and nuns, and imprison them all in life-long vows. You will find those who argue and decree that a work done in fulfilment of a vow ranks higher than one done without a vow. They claim such works are rewarded with I know not what great rewards in heaven. Blind and godless Pharisees, who measure righteousness and holiness by the greatness, number or other quality of the works! But God measures them by faith alone, and with Him there is no difference between works except in the faith which performs them.
3.37 These wicked men inflate with bombast their own opinions and human works. They do this to lure the unthinking populace, who are almost always led by the glitter of works to make shipwreck of their faith, to forget their baptism and to harm their Christian liberty. For a vow is a kind of law or requirement. Therefore, when vows are multiplied, laws and works are necessarily multiplied. When this is done, faith is extinguished and the liberty of baptism taken captive. Others, not content with these wicked allurements, go on to say that entrance into a religious order is like a new baptism which may be repeated later and as often as the commitment to live the religious life is renewed. Thus these "votaries" have taken for themselves alone all righteousness, salvation and glory, and left to those who are merely baptised nothing to compare with them. No, the Pope of Rome, that fountain and source of all superstitions, confirms, approves and adorns this mode of life with high-sounding bulls and dispensations, while no one deems baptism worthy of even a thought. And with such glittering pomp (as we have said) they drive the easily led people of Christ into certain disaster, so that lose their gratitude for baptism and presume to achieve greater things by their works than others achieve by their faith.
3.38 Therefore, God again shows Himself perverse to the perverse. He repays the makers of vows for their ingratitude and pride, causes them to break their vows or to keep them only with prodigious labor. He compels them to remain sunk in these vows, never coming to the knowledge of the grace of faith and baptism. He makes them continue in their hypocrisy to the end – since God does not approve their spirit –and that at last makes them a laughing-stock to the whole world, always persuing righteousness, yet never achieving righteousness. God ordains all this so that they fulfill the word of Isaiah: " The land is full of idols."
3.39 I am indeed far from forbidding or discouraging any one who may desire to take a vow privately and of his own free choice; for I would not altogether despise and condemn vows. But I would most strongly advise against setting up and sanctioning the making of vows as a public mode of life. It is enough that every one should have the private right to take a vow at his peril; but to commend the vowing of vows as a public mode of life – this I hold to be most harmful to the Church and to simple souls. And I hold this, first, because it runs directly counter to the Christian life; for a vow is a certain ceremonial law and a human tradition or presumption, and from these the Christian has been set free through baptism. For a Christian is subject to no laws but the law of God. Again, there is no instance in Scripture of such a vow, especially of life-long chastity, obedience and poverty. But whatever is without warrant of Scripture is hazardous and should by no means be commended to any one, much less established as a common and public mode of life, although whoever will must be permitted to make the venture at his own peril. For certain works are wrought by the Spirit in a few men, but they must not be made an example or a mode of life for all.
3.40 Moreover, I greatly fear that these modes of life of the religious orders belong to those things which the Apostle foretold: " They shall teach a lie in hypocrisy, forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving." Let no one retort by pointing to Sts. Bernard, Francis, Dominic and others, who founded or fostered monastic orders. Terrible and marvelous is God in His counsels toward the sons of men. He could keep Daniel, Ananias, Azarias and Misael holy at the court of the king of Babylon, that is, in the midst of godlessness; why could He not sanctify those men also in their perilous mode of living or guide them by the special operation of His Spirit, yet without desiring it to be an example to others? Besides, it is certain that none of them was saved through his vows and his "religious" life; they were saved through faith alone, by which all men are saved, and with which that splendid slavery of vows is more than anything else in conflict.
3.41 But every one may hold to his own view of this. I will return to my argument. Speaking now in behalf of the Church's liberty and the glory of baptism, I feel myself in duty bound publicly to set forth the counsel I have learned under the Spirit's guidance. I therefore counsel the magnates of the churches, first of all, to abolish all those vows, or at least not to approve and extol them. If they will not do this, then I counsel all men who would be assured of their salvation, to abstain from all vows, above all from the great and life-long vows; I give this counsel especially to all growing boys and youths. This I do, first, because this manner of life has no witness or warrant in the Scriptures, as I have said, but is puffed up solely by the bulls (and they truly are "bulls") of human popes. And, secondly, because it greatly tends to hypocrisy, by reason of its outward show and its unusual character, which engender conceit and a contempt of the common Christian life. And if there were no other reason for abolishing these vows, this one were reason enough, namely, that through them faith and baptism are slighted and works are exalted, which cannot be done without harmful results. For in the religious orders there is scarce one in many thousands, who is not more concerned about works than about faith, and on the basis of this madness they have even made distinctions among themselves, such as "the more strict" and "the more lax," as they call them.
3.42 Therefore I advise no one to enter any religious order or the priesthood – no, I dissuade everyone – unless he be forearmed with this knowledge and understand that the works of monks and priests, be they never so holy and arduous, differ no whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic toiling in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before Him by faith alone; as Jeremiah says: " O Lord, thine eyes are upon faith"; and Ecclesiasticus: " In every work of thine regard your soul in faith: for this is the keeping of the commandments." no, he should know that the menial housework of a maidservant or manservant is ofttimes more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or a priest, because the latter lacks faith. Since, therefore, vows seem to tend nowadays only to the glorification of works and to pride, it is to be feared that there is nowhere less of faith and of the Church than among the priests, monks and bishops, and that these men are in truth heathen or hypocrites, who imagine themselves to be the Church or the heart of the Church, and "spiritual," and the Church's leaders, when they are everything else but that. And it is to be feared that this is indeed " the people of the captivity," among whom all things freely given us in baptism are held captive, while "the people of the earth" are left behind in poverty and in small numbers, and, as is the lot of married folk, appear vile in their eyes.
3.43 From what has been said we learn that the Roman pontiff is guilty of two glaring errors.
3.44 In the first place, he grants dispensations from vows, and does it as though he alone of all Christians possessed this authority; such is the temerity and audacity of wicked men. If it be possible to grant a dispensation from a vow, then any brother may grant one to his neighbour or even to himself. But if one's neighbour cannot grant a dispensation, neither can the pope by any right. For from this has he his authority? From the power of the keys? But the keys belong to all, and avail only for sins (Matthew 18:15). Now they themselves claim that vows are "of divine right." Why then does the pope deceive and destroy the poor souls of men by granting dispensations in matters of divine right, in which no dispensations can be granted? He babbles indeed, in the section "Of vows and their redemption," of having the power to change vows, just as in the law the firstborn of an ass was changed for a sheep (Exodus 13:13) – if the firstborn of an ass, and the vow he commands to be everywhere and always offered, were one and the same thing, or as if when God decrees in His law that a sheep shall be changed for an ass, the pope, a mere man, may immediately claim the same power, not in his own law but in God's! It was not a pope, but an ass changed for a pope, that made this decretal; so egregiously senseless and godless is it.
3.45 The other error is this. The pope decrees, on the other hand, that marriage is dissolved if one party enter a monastery even without the consent of the other, provided the marriage be not yet consummated. Grammercy, what devil puts such monstrous things into the pope's mind! God commands men to keep faith and not break their word to one another, and again, to do good with that which is their own; for He hates "robbery in a holocaust," as he says by the mouth of Isaiah. (Isaiah 61:8) But one spouse is bound by the marriage contract to keep faith with the other, and he is not his own. He cannot break his faith by any right, and whatever he does with himself is robbery if it be without the other's consent. Why does not one who is burdened with debts follow this same rule and obtain admission to an order, so as to be released from his debts and be free to break his word? O more than blind! Which is greater; the faith commanded by God or a vow devised and chosen by man? you art a shepherd of souls, O pope? And ye that teach such things are doctors of sacred theology? Why then do ye teach them? Because, forsooth, ye have decked out your vow as a better work than marriage, and do not exalt faith, which alone exalts all things, but ye exalt works, which are nothing in the sight of God, or which are all alike so far as any merit is concerned.
3.46 I have no doubt, therefore, that neither men nor angels can grant a dispensation from vows, if they be proper vows. But I am not fully clear in my own mind whether all the things that men nowadays vow come under the head of vows. For instance, it is simply foolish and stupid for parents to dedicate their children, before birth or in early infancy , to "the religious life," or to perpetual chastity; no, it is certain that this can by no means be termed a vow. It seems a mockery of God to vow things which it is not at all in one's power to keep. As to the triple vow of the monastic orders, the longer I consider it, the less I comprehend it, and I marvel from this the custom of exacting this vow has arisen. Still less do I understand at what age vows may be taken in order to be legal and valid. I am pleased to find them unanimously agreed that vows taken before the age of puberty are not valid. Nevertheless, they deceive many young children who are ignorant both of their age and of what they are vowing; they do not observe the age of puberty in receiving such children, who after making their profession are held captive and devoured by a troubled conscience, as though they had afterward given their consent. As if a vow which was invalid could afterward become valid with the lapse of time.
3.47 It seems absurd to me that the terms of a legal vow should be prescribed to others by those who cannot prescribe them for themselves. Nor do I see why a vow taken at eighteen years of age should be valid, and not one taken at ten or twelve years. It will not do to say that at eighteen a man feels his carnal desires. How is it when he scarcely feels them at twenty or thirty, or when he feels them more keenly at thirty than at twenty? Why do they not also set a certain age-limit for the vows of poverty and obedience? But at what age will you say a man should feel his greed and pride? Even the most spiritual hardly become aware of these emotions. Therefore, no vow will ever become binding and valid until we have become spiritual, and no longer have any need of vows. You see, these are uncertain and perilous matters, and it would therefore be a wholesome counsel to leave such lofty modes of living, unhampered by vows, to the Spirit alone, as they were of old, and by no means to change them into a rule binding for life.
3.48 But let this suffice for the present concerning baptism and its liberty; in due time I may discuss the vows at greater length. Of a truth they stand sorely in need of it.