De captivitate ecclesiae. Praeludium Martini Lutheri

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De captivitate ecclesiae. Praeludium Martini Lutheri

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III The Sacrament of Penance

4.1 We come in the third place to the sacrament of penance. On this subject I have already given no little offense by my published treatise and disputations, in which I have amply set forth my views. These I must now briefly rehearse, in order to unmask the tyranny that is rampant here no less than in the sacrament of the bread. For because these two sacraments furnish opportunity for gain and profit, the greed of the shepherds rages in them with incredible zeal against the flock of Christ; although baptism, too, has sadly declined among adults and become the servant of avarice, as we have just seen in our discussion of vows.

4.2 This is the first and chief abuse of this sacrament: They have utterly abolished the sacrament itself, so that there is not a vestige of it left. For they have overthrown both the word of divine promise and our faith, in which this as well as other sacraments consists. They have applied to their tyranny the word of promise which Christ speak in Matthew 16:19, "Whatsoever you shall bind," etc., in Matthew 18:18, " Whatsoever ye shall bind," etc., and in John, the last chapter, (John 20:23) "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them," etc. In these words the faith of penitents is aroused, to the obtaining of remission of sins. But in all their writing, teaching and preaching their sole concern has been, not to teach Christians what is promised in these words, or what they ought to believe and what great comfort they might find in them, but only to extend their own tyranny far and wide through force and violence, until it has come to such a pass that some of them have begin to command the very angels in heaven and to boast in incredible mad wickedness of having in these words obtained the right to a heavenly and an earthly rule, and of possessing the power to bind even in heaven. Thus they say nothing of the saving faith of the people, but babble only of the despotic power of the pontiffs, while Christ speaks not at all of power, but only of faith.

4.3 For Christ has not ordained principalities or powers or lordships, but ministries, in the Church; as we learn from the Apostle, who says.: " Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God." (1 Corinthians 4:1) Now when He said: " He that believe and is baptised shall be saved," (Mark 16:16) He called forth the faith of those to be baptised, so that by this word of promise a man might be certain of being saved if he believed and was baptised. In that word there is no impartation of any power whatever, but only the institution of the ministry of those who baptise. Similarly, when He says here: "Whatsoever you shall bind," etc., (Matthew 16:19) He calls forth the faith of the penitent, so that by this word of promise he may be certain of being truly absolved in heaven, if he be absolved and believe. Here there is no mention at all of power, but of the ministry of him that absolves, it is a wonder these blind and arrogant men missed the opportunity of arrogating a despotic power to themselves from the promise of baptism. But if they do not do this in the case of baptism, why should they have presumed to do it in the case of the promise of penance? For in both there is a like ministry, a similar promise, and the same kind of sacrament. So that, if baptism does not belong to Peter alone, it is undeniably a wicked usurpation of power to claim the keys for the pope alone. Again, when Christ says: "Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Take, drink; this is the chalice in my blood," ( 1 Corinthians 11:24 f.) etc., He calls forth the faith of those who eat, so that through these words their conscience may be strengthened by faith and they may rest assured of receiving the forgiveness of sins, if they have eaten. Here, too, He says nothing of power, but only of a ministry.

4.4 Thus the promise of baptism remains in some sort, at least to infants; the promise of bread and the cup has been destroyed and made subservient to greed, faith becoming a work and the testament a sacrifice; while the promise of penance has fallen prey to the most oppressive despotism of all and serves to establish a more than temporal rule.

4.5 Not content with these things, this Babylon of ours has so completely extinguished faith that it insolently denies its necessity in this sacrament; no, with the wickedness of Antichrist: it calls it heresy if any one should assert its necessity. What more could this tyranny do that it has not done? (Isaiah 5:4) Verily, by the rivers of Babylon we sit and weep, when we remember you, O Zion. (Psalm 137:1, 2) We hang our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. The Lord curse the barren willows of those streams! Amen.

4.6 Now let us see what they have put in the place of the promise and the faith which they have blotted out and overthrown. Three parts have they made of penance – contrition, confession, and satisfaction; yet so as to destroy whatever of good there might be in any of them and to establish here also their covetousness and tyranny.

4.7 In the first place, they teach that contrition precedes faith in the promise; they hold it, much too cheap, making it not a work of faith, but a merit; no, they do not mention it at all. So deep are they sunk in works and in those instances of Scripture that show how many obtained grace by reason of their contrition and humility of heart; but they take no account of the faith which wrought such contrition and sorrow of heart, as it is written of the men of Nineveh in Jonah 3:5, "And the men of Nineveh believed in God: and they proclaimed a fast," etc. Others, again, more bold and wicked, have invented a so-called "attrition," which is, converted into contrition by virtue of the power of the keys, of which they know nothing. This attrition they grant to the wicked and unbelieving and thus abolish contrition altogether. O the intolerable wrath of God, that such things should be taught in the Church of Christ! Thus, with both faith and its work destroyed, we go on secure in the doctrines and opinions of men – yes, we go on to our destruction. A contrite heart is a precious thing, but it is found only where there is a lively faith in the promises and the threats of God. Such faith, intent on the immutable truth of God, startles and terrifies the conscience and thus renders it contrite, and afterwards, when it is contrite, raises it up, consoles and preserves it; so that the truth of God's threatening is the cause of contrition, and the truth of His, promise the cause of consolation, if it be believed. By such faith a man merits the forgiveness of sins. Therefore faith should be taught and aroused before all else; and when faith is obtained, contrition and consolation will follow inevitably and of themselves.

4.8 Therefore, although there is something of truth in their teaching that contrition is to be attained by what they call the recollection and contemplation of sins, yet their teaching is perilous and perverse so long as they do not teach first of all the beginning and cause of contrition – the immutable truth of God's threatening and promise, to the awakening of faith – so that men may learn to pay more heed to the truth of God, whereby they are cast down and lifted up, than to the multitude of their sins, which will rather irritate and increase the sinful desires than lead to contrition, if they be regarded apart from the truth of God. I will say nothing now of the intolerable burden they have bound upon us with their demand that we should frame a contrition for every sin. That is impossible; we can know only the smaller part of our sins, and even our good works are found to be sins, according to Psalm 143:2, "Enter not into judgement with your servant; for in your sight shall no man living be justified." It is enough to lament the sins which at the present moment distress our conscience, as well as those which we can readily call to mind. Whoever is in this frame of mind is without doubt ready to grieve and fear for all his sins, and will do so whenever they are brought to his knowledge in the future.

4.9 Beware, then, of putting your trust, in your own contrition and of ascribing the forgiveness of sins to your own sorrow. God does not have respect to you because of that, but because of the faith by which you have believed His threatenings and promises, and which wrought such sorrow within you. Thus we owe whatever of good there may be in our penance, not to our scrupulous enumeration of sins, but to the truth of God and to our faith. All other things are the works and fruits of this, which follow of their own accord, and do not make a man good, but are done by a man already made good through faith in the truth of God. Even so, "a smoke goeth up in His wrath, because He is angry and troubleth the mountains and kindleth them," as it is said in Psalm 18:8. First comes the terror of His threatening, which burns; up the wicked, then faith, accepting this, sends up the cloud of contrition, etc.

4.10 Contrition, however, is less exposed to tyranny and gain than wholly given over to wickedness and pestilent teaching. But confession and satisfaction have become the chief workshop of greed and violence.

4.11 Let us first take up confession.

4.12 There is no doubt that confession is necessary and commanded of God. Thus we read in Matthew (Matthew 3:6) "They were baptised of John in Jordan, confessing their sins." And in 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." If the saints may not deny their sin, how much more ought those who are guilty of open and great sins to make confession! But most effectively of all does Matthew 18:15 prove, the institution of confession, in which passage Christ teaches that a sinning brother should be rebuked, haled before, the Church, accused, and, if he will not hear, excommunicated. But he hears when, heeding the rebuke, he acknowledges and confesses his sin.

4.13 Of private confession, which is now observed, I am hearty in favor, even though, it cannot be proved from the Scriptures; it is useful and necessary, nor would I have it abolished – no, I rejoice that it exists in the Church of Christ, for it is a cure without an equal for distressed consciences. For when we have laid bare our conscience to our brother and privately made known to him the evil that lurked within, we receive from our brother's lips the word of comfort spoken by God Himself; and, if we accept it in faith, we find peace in the mercy of God speaking to us through our brother. This alone do I abominate – that this confession has been subjected to the despotism and extortion of the pontiffs. They reserve to themselves, even hidden sins, and command that they be made known to confessors named by them, only to trouble the consciences of men. They merely play the pontiff, while they utterly despise the true duties of pontiffs, which are to preach the Gospel and to care for the poor. yes, the godless despots leave the great sins to the plain priests, and reserve to themselves those sins only which are of less consequence, such as those ridiculous and fictitious things in the bull Coenadoinini. no, to make the wickedness of their error the more apparent, they not only do not reserve, but actually teach and approve, the sins, against the service of God, against faith and the chief commandments; such as their running on pilgrimages, the perverse worship of the saints, the lying saints'? legends, the various forms of trust in works and ceremonies, and the practicing of them, by all of which faith in God is extinguished and idolatry encouraged, as we see in our day. We have the same kind of priests today as Jereboam ordained of old in Dan and Beersheba,(1 Kings 12:26 ff.) ministers of the golden calves, men who are ignorant of the law of God, of faith and of whatever pertains to the feeding of Christ's sheep, and who inculcate in the people nothing but their own inventions with terror and violence.

4.14 Although my advice is that we bear this outrage of reserved cases, even as Christ bids us bear all the tyranny of men, and teaches us that we must obey these extortioners; nevertheless I deny that they have the right to make such reservations, nor do I believe they can bring one dot of an I or cross of a T of proof that they have it. But I am going to prove the contrary. In the first place, Christ, speaking in Matthew 18:15 of open sins, says that if our brother shall hear us when we rebuke him, we have saved the soul of our brother, and that he is to be brought before the Church only if he refuse to hear us; so that his sin may be corrected among brethren. How much more will it be true of hidden sins, that they are forgiven if one brother freely makes confession to another? So that it is not necessary to tell it to the Church, that is, as these babblers interpret it, the prelate or priest. We have another proof of this in Christ's words in the same chapter: "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:18) For this is said to each and every Christian. Again, He says in the same place: "Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning anything whatsoever that they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven." ( Matthew 18:19) Now, the brother who lays his hidden sins before his brother and craves pardon, certainly consents with his brother upon earth in the truth, which is Christ. Of which Christ says yet more clearly, confirming His preceding words: "Verily I say to you, where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew18:20)

4.15 Hence. I have no doubt but that every one is absolved from his hidden sins when he has made confession, either of his own accord or after being rebuked, has sought pardon and amended his ways, privately before any brother, however much the violence of the pontiffs may rage against it; for Christ has given to every one of His believers the power to absolve even open sins. Add yet this little point: If any reservation of hidden. sins were valid, so that one could not be saved unless they were forgiven, then a man's salvation would be prevented most of all by those aforementioned good works and idolatries, which are nowadays taught by the popes. But if these most grievous sins do not prevent one's salvation, how foolish it is to reserve those lighter sins! Verily, it is the foolishness and blindness of the pastors that produce these monstrous things in the Church. Therefore I would admonish these princes of Babylon and bishops of Bethaven ( Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:5) to refrain from reserving any cases whatsoever. Let them, moreover, permit all brothers and sisters freely to hear the confession of hidden sins, so that the sinner may make his sins known to whomever he will and seek pardon and comfort, that is, the word of Christ, by the mouth of his neighbor. For with these presumptions of theirs they only ensnare the consciences of the weak without necessity, establish their wicked despotism, and fatten their avarice on the sins and ruin of their brethren. Thus they stain their hands with the blood of souls, sons are devoured by their parents, Ephraim devours Juda, and Syria Israel with open mouth, as Isaiah said. (Isaiah 9:20)

4.16 To these evils they have added the " circumstances," and also the mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers-and sisters-in-law, branches and fruits of sins; since, forsooth, astute and idle men have worked out a kind of family tree of relationships and affinities even among sins so prolific is wickedness coupled with ignorance. For this conceit, whatever rogue be its author, has like many another become a public law. Thus do the shepherds keep watch over the Church of Christ; whatever new work or superstition those stupid devotees may have dreamed of, they immediately drag to the light of day, deck out with indulgences and safeguard with bulls; so far are they from suppressing it and preserving to God's people the true faith and liberty. For what has our liberty to do with the tyranny of Babylon?

4.17 My advice would be to ignore all circumstances utterly. With Christians there is only one circumstance – that a brother has sinned. For there is no person to be compared with a Christian brother. And the observance of places, times, days, persons, and all other superstitious moonshine, only magnifies the things that are nothing, to the injury of those which are everything; as if aught could be greater or of more importance than the glory of Christian brotherhood! Thus they bind us to places, days and persons, that the name of brother may be lightly esteemed, and we may serve in bondage instead of being free – we to whom all days, places, persons, and all external things are one and the same.

4.18 How unworthily they have dealt with satisfaction, I have abundantly shown in the controversies concerning indulgences. They have grossly abused it, to the ruin of Christians in body and soul. To begin with, they taught it in such a manner that the people never learned what satisfaction really is, namely, the renewal of a man's life. Then, they so continually harp on it and emphasize its necessity, that they leave no room for faith in Christ. With these scruples they torture poor consciences to death, and one runs to Rome, one to this place, another to that, this one to Chartreuse, that one to some other place, one scourges himself with rods, another ruins his body with fasts and vigils, and all cry with the same mad zeal, "Lo here is Christ! lo there!" (Luke 17:20f.) believing that the kingdom of heaven, which is within us, will come with observation. For these monstrous things we are indebted to you, O Roman See, and thy murderous laws and ceremonies, with which you hast corrupted all mankind, so that they think by works to make satisfaction for sin to God, Who can be satisfied only by the faith of a contrite heart! This faith thou not only keepest silent with this uproar of thine, but even oppressest, only so your insatiable horseleech have those to whom it may say, "Bring, bring!" and may traffic in sins. (Proverbs 30:15)

4.19 Some have gone even farther and have constructed those instruments for driving souls to despair – their decrees that the penitent must rehearse all sins anew for which he neglected to make the imposed satisfaction. Yes, what would not they venture to do, who were born for the sole purpose of carrying all things into a tenfold captivity? Moreover, how many are possessed with the notion that they are in a saved state and are making satisfaction for their sins, if they but mumble over, word for word, the prayers the priest has imposed, even though they give never a thought meanwhile to amending their life! They believe that their life is changed in the one moment of contrition and confession, and it remains only to make satisfaction for their past sins. How should they know better, when they are not taught otherwise? No thought is given here to the mortifying of the flesh, no value is attached to the example of Christ, Who absolved the woman taken in adultery and said to her, "Go, and sin no more!" (John 8:11) thereby laying upon her the cross – the mortifying of her flesh. This perverse error is greatly encouraged by our absolving sinners before the satisfaction has been completed, so that they are more concerned about completing the satisfaction which lies before them, than they are about contrition, which they suppose to be past and over when they have made confession. Absolution ought rather to follow on the completion of satisfaction, as it did in the ancient Church, with the result that, after completing the work, penitents gave themselves with greater diligence to faith and the living of a new life.

4.20 But this must suffice in repetition of what I have more fully said on indulgences, and in general this must suffice for the present concerning the three sacraments, which have been treated, and yet not treated, in so many harmful books, theological as well as juristic. It remains to attempt some discussion of the other sacraments also, lest I seem to have rejected them without cause.

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