7.1 Of this sacrament the Church of Christ knows nothing; it is an invention of the pope's church. Not only is there nowhere any promise of grace attached to it, but there is not the least mention of it in the whole New Testament. Now it is ridiculous to put forth as a sacrament of God that which cannot be proved to have been instituted by God. I do not hold that this rite, which has been observed for so many centuries, should be condemned; but in sacred things I am opposed to the invention of human fictions, nor is it right to give out as divinely instituted what was not divinely instituted, lest we become a laughing-stock to our opponents. We ought to see to it that every article of faith of which we boast be certain, pure, and based on clear passages of Scripture. But that we are utterly unable to do in the case of the sacrament under consideration.
7.2 The Church has no power to make new divine promises, as some rant, who hold that what is decreed by the Church is of no less authority than what is decreed by God, since the Church is under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But the Church owes its life to the word of promise through faith, and is nourished and preserved by this same word. That is to say, the promises of God make the Church, not the Church the promise of God. For the Word of God is incomparably superior to the Church, and in this Word the Church, being a creature, has nothing to decree, ordain or make, but only to be decreed, ordained and made. For who begets his own parent? Who first brings forth his own maker? This one thing indeed the Church can do – it can distinguish the Word of God from the words of men; as Augustine confesses that he believed the Gospel, moved thereto by the authority of the Church, which proclaimed, this is the Gospel.
7.3 Not that the Church is, therefore, above the Gospel; if that were true, she would also be above God, in whom we believe because she proclaims that He is God. But, as Augustine elsewhere says, the truth itself lays hold on the soul and thus renders it able to judge most certainly of all things; but the truth it cannot judge, but is forced to say with unerring certainty that it is the truth. For example, our reason declares with unerring certainty that three and seven are ten, and yet it cannot give a reason why this is true, although it cannot deny that it is true; it is taken captive by the truth and does not so much judge the truth as it is judged by the truth. Thus it is also with the mind of the Church, when under the enlightenment of the Spirit she judges and approves doctrines; she is unable to prove it, and yet is most certain of having it. (1 Corinthians 2:16) For as in philosophy no one judges general conceptions, but all are judged by them, so it is in the Church with the mind of the Spirit, that judges all things and is judged by none, as the Apostle says. (1 Corinthians 2:15) But of this another time.
7.3 Let this then stand fast – the Church can give no promises of grace; that is the work of God alone. Therefore she cannot institute a sacrament. But even if she could, it yet would not follow that ordination is a sacrament. For who knows which is the Church that has the Spirit? since when such decisions are made there are usually only a few bishops or scholars present; it is possible that these may not be really of the Church, and that all may err, as councils have repeatedly erred, particularly the Council of Constance, which fell into the most wicked error of all. Only that which has the approval of the Church universal, and not of the Roman church alone, rests on a trustworthy foundation. I therefore admit that ordination is a certain churchly rite, on a par with many others introduced by the Church Fathers, such as the blessing of vases, houses, vestments, water, salt, candles, herbs, wine, and the like. No one calls any of these a sacrament, nor is there in them any promise. In the same manner, to anoint a man's hands with oil, or to shave his head, and the like, is not to administer a sacrament, since there is no promise given to those things; he is simply prepared, like a vessel or an instrument, for a certain work.
7.4 But you will reply: "What do you say to Dionysius, who in his Ecclesiastical Hierarchy enumerates six sacraments, among which he also includes orders?" I answer: I am well aware that this is the one writer of antiquity who is cited in support of the seven sacraments, although he omits marriage and thus has only six. We read simply nothing about these "sacraments" in the other Fathers, nor do they ever refer to them as sacraments; for the invention of sacraments is of recent date. Indeed, to speak more boldly, the setting so great store by this Dionysius, whoever he may have been, greatly displeases me, for there is scarce a line of sound scholarship in him. I ask you, by what authority and with what reasons does he establish his assortment of arguments about the angels, in his Celestial Hierarchy? – a book over which many curious and superstitious spirits have cudgeled their brains. If one were to read and judge fairly, is not all Shaken out of his sleeve and very like a dream? But in his Mystic Theology, which certain most ignorant theologians greatly puff, he is downright dangerous, being more of a Platonist than a Christian; so that, if I had my way, no believing mind would give the least attention to these books. So far from learning Christ in them, you will lose even what you know of Him. I know whereof I speak. Let us rather hear Paul, that we may learn Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2) He is the way, the life and the truth; He is the ladder by which we come to the Father, as He said: "No man cometh to the Father but by me." (John 14:6)
7.5 And in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, what does this Dionysius do but describe certain churchly rites and play round them with his allegories without proving them? just as among us the author of the book entitled Rationale divinorum. Such allegorical studies are the work of idle men. do you think I should find it difficult to play with allegories round anything in creation? Did not Bonaventure by allegory draw the liberal arts into theology? And Gerson even converted the smaller Donatus into a mystic theologian. It would not be a difficult task for me to compose a better hierarchy than that of Dionysius, for he knew nothing of pope, cardinals and archbishops, and put the bishop at the top. no, who has so weak a mind as not to be able to launch into allegories? I would not have a theologian give himself to allegorizing until he has perfected himself in the grammatical and literal interpretation of the Scriptures; otherwise his theology will bring him into danger, as Origen discovered.
7.6 Therefore a thing does not need to be a sacrament simply because Dionysius describes it. Otherwise, why not also make a sacrament of the processions, which he describes in his book, and which continue to this day? There will then be as many sacraments as there have been rites and ceremonies multiplied in the Church. Standing on so unsteady a foundation, they have nevertheless invented "characters" which they attribute to this sacrament of theirs and which are indelibly impressed on those who are ordained. from this do such ideas come? By what authority, with what reasons, are they established? We do not object to their being free to invent, say and give out whatever they please; but we also insist on our liberty and demand that they shall not arrogate to themselves the right to turn their ideas into articles of faith, as they have hitherto presumed to do. It is enough that we accommodate ourselves to their rites and ceremonies for the sake of peace; but we refuse to be bound by such things as though they were necessary to salvation, when they are not. Let them put by their despotic demands, and we shall yield free obedience to their opinions, and thus live at peace with them. It is a shameful and wicked slavery for a Christian man, who is free, to be subject to any but heavenly and divine traditions.
7.7 We come now to their strongest argument. It is this: Christ said at the Last Supper: "Do this in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:24) Here, they say, Christ ordained the apostles to the priesthood. From this passage they also concluded, among other things, that both kinds are to be administered to the priests alone. In fine, they have drawn out of this passage whatever they pleased, as men who might arrogate to themselves the free will to prove anything whatever from any words of Christ, no matter where found. But is that interpreting the words of God? Pray, answer me! Christ gives us no promise here, but only commands that this be done in remembrance of Him. Why do they not conclude that He also ordained priests when He laid upon them the office of the Word and of baptism, saying, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature, baptising them in the name," etc.? (Mark 16:15) (Matthew 28:19) For it is the proper duty of priests to preach and to baptise. Or, since it is nowadays the chief and, as they say, indispensable duty of priests to read the canonical hours, why have they not discovered the sacrament of ordination in those passages in which Christ, in many places and particularly in the garden, commanded them to pray that they might not enter into temptation? (Matthew 26:41) But perhaps they will evade
this argument by saying that it is not commanded to pray; it is enough to read the canonical hours. Then it follows that this priestly work can be proved nowhere in the Scriptures, and thus their praying priesthood is not of God, as, indeed, it is not.
7.8 But which of the ancient Fathers claimed that in this passage priests were ordained? from this comes this novel interpretation? I will tell you. They have sought by this device to set up a nursery of implacable discord, whereby clerics and laymen should be separated from each other farther than heaven from earth, to the incredible injury of the grace of baptism and the confusion of our fellowship in the Gospel. Here, indeed, are the roots of that detestable tyranny of the clergy over the laity; trusting in the external anointing by which their hands are consecrated, in the tonsure and in vestments, they not only exalt themselves above lay Christians, who are only anointed with the Holy Spirit, but regard them almost as dogs and unworthy to be included with them in the Church. Hence they are bold to demand, to exact, to threaten, to urge, to oppress, as much as they please. In short, the sacrament of ordination has been and is a most approved device for the establishing of all the horrible things that have been wrought hitherto and will yet be wrought in the Church. Here Christian brotherhood has perished, here shepherds have been turned into wolves, servants into tyrants, churchmen into worse than worldlings.
7.9 If they were forced to grant that as many of us as have been baptised are all priests without distinction, as indeed we are, and that to them was committed the ministry only, yet with our consent, they would presently learn that they have no right to rule over us except in so far as we freely concede it. For thus it is written in 1 Peter 2:9, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a priestly kingdom." Therefore we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. But the priests, as we call them, are ministers chosen from among us, who do all that they do in our name. And the priesthood is nothing but a ministry, as we learn from 1 Corinthians 4:1, "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God."
7.10 It follows from this that whoever does not preach the Word, called by the Church to this very thing, is no priest at all. And further, that the sacrament of ordination can be nothing else than a certain rite of choosing preachers in the Church. For thus is a priest defined in Malachi 2:7, "The lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth: because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts" You may be certain, then, that whoever is not an angel of the Lord of hosts, or whoever is called to anything else than such angelic service – if I may so term it – is never a priest; as Hosea says, "Because you hast rejected knowledge, I will reject you, that you shall not do the office of priesthood to me." (Hosea 4:6) They are also called pastors because they are to pasture, that is, to teach. Therefore, they who are ordained only to read the canonical hours and to offer masses are indeed papist, but not Christian, priests, because they not only do not preach, but are not called to preach; no, it comes to this, that such a priesthood is a different estate altogether from the office of preaching. Thus they are hour-priests and mass-priests, that is, a sort of living idol, having the name of priest, while they are in reality such priests as Jeroboam ordained, in Bethaven, of the off-scouring of the people, and not of the tribe of Levi. (1 Kings 12:31)
7.11 See, whither has the glory of the Church departed! The whole earth is filled with priests, bishops, cardinals and clerics, and yet not one of them preaches by virtue of his office, unless he be called to do so by another and a different call besides his sacramental ordination. Every one thinks he is doing full justice to his sacrament by mumbling the vain repetitions of his prescribed prayers and by celebrating masses; moreover, by never really praying those hours, or if he does pray them, by praying them for himself, and by offering his masses as a sacrifice – which is the height of perversity! – while the mass consists in the use of the sacrament. It is clear, therefore, that the ordination which, as a sacrament, makes clerics of this sort of men, is in truth nothing but a mere fiction, devised by men who understand nothing about the Church, the priesthood, the ministry of the Word, or the sacraments. And as is the sacrament, so are the priests it makes. To such errors and such blindness has come a still worse captivity; in order to separate themselves still farther from other Christians, whom they deem profane, they have unmanned themselves, like the priests of Cybele, and taken upon them the burden of a pretended celibacy.
7.12 It was not enough for this hypocrisy and error to forbid bigamy, viz., the having of two wives at the same time, as it was forbidden in the law, and as is the accepted meaning of the term; but they have called it bigamy if a man married two virgins, one after the other, or if he married a widow. no, so holly is the holiness of this most holy sacrament, that no married man can become a priest as long as his wife lives. And – here we reach the very summit of holiness – even, he is prevented from entering the priesthood, who without his knowledge or by an unfortunate chance married a fallen woman. But if one have defiled a thousand harlots, or ravished countless matrons and virgins, or even kept numerous Ganymedes, that would be no hindrance to his becoming bishop or cardinal or pope. Moreover, the Apostle's word, "the husband of one wife," (1 Timothy 3:2) must be interpreted to mean, "the prelate of one church," and this has given rise to the incompatible benefices." At the same time the pope, that munificent dispenser, may join to one man three, twenty, one hundred wives – I should say churches – if he be bribed with money or power – I should say, moved by godly charity and constrained by the care of the churches.
7.13 O pontiffs worthy of this holy sacrament of ordination! O princes, not of the catholic churches, but of the synagogues, no, the black dens, of Satan! (Revelation 2:9) I would cry out with Isaiah: (Isaiah 28:14) "Ye scornful men, who rule over my people that is in Jerusalem"; and with Amos: (Amos 6:1) "Woe to you that are wealthy in Sion, and to you that have confidence in the mountain of Samaria: ye great men, heads of the people, that go in with state into the house of Israel." O the reproach that such monstrous priests bring upon the Church of God! Where are there any bishops or priests who know the Gospel, not to speak of preaching it? Why then do they boast of being priests? Why do they desire to be regarded as holier and better and mightier than other Christians, who are merely laymen? To read the hours – what unlearned men, or, as the Apostle says, what men speaking with tongues, cannot do that? (1 Corinthians 14:23) But to pray the hours – that belongs to monks, hermits, and men in private life, all of them laymen. he duty of the priest is to preach, and if he does not preach he is as much a priest as a painted man is a man. Does ordaining such babbling priests make one a bishop? Or blessing churches and bells? Or confirming boys? Certainly not. Any> deacon or layman could do as much. The ministry of the Word makes the priest and the bishop.
7.14 Therefore my advice is: Flee, all ye that would live in safety; begone, young men, and do not enter upon this holy estate, unless you are determined to preach the Gospel, and are able to believe that you are not made one whit better than the laity through this sacrament of ordination! For to read the hours is nothing, and to offer mass is to receive the sacrament. What then is there left to you that every layman does not have? Tonsure and vestments? A sorry priest, forsooth, who consists of tonsure and vestment! Or the oil poured on your fingers? But every Christian is anointed and sanctified with the oil of the Holy Spirit, both in body and soul, and in ancient times touched the sacrament with his hands no less than the priests do now. But today our superstition counts it a great crime if the laity touch either the bare chalice or the corporale; not even a nun who is a pure virgin would be permitted to wash the palls and sacred linens of the altar. O God! how the sacrosanct sanctity of this sacrament of ordination has grown and grown. I anticipate that ere long the laity will not be permitted to touch the altar except when they offer their money. I can scarce, contain myself when I contemplate the wicked tyrannies of these desperate men, who with their farcical and childish fancies mock and overthrow the liberty and the glory of the Christian religion.
7.15 Let every one, therefore, who knows himself to be a Christian be assured of this, and apply it to himself – that we are all priests, and there is no difference between, us; that is to say, we have the same power in respect to the Word and all the sacraments. (Ordination, the Rite of Choosing Preachers) However, no one may make use of this power except by the consent of the community or by the call of a superior. For what is the common property of all, no individual may arrogate to himself, unless he be called. And therefore this sacrament of ordination, if it have any meaning at all, is nothing else than a certain rite whereby one is called to the ministry of the Church. Furthermore, the priesthood is property nothing but the ministry of the Word, mark you, of the Word – not of the law, but of the> Gospel. And the diaconate is not the ministry of reading the Gospel or the Epistle, as is the present practice, but the ministry of distributing the Church's alms to the poor, so that the priests may be relieved of the burden of temporal matters and may give themselves more freely to prayer and the Word. For this was the purpose of the institution of the diaconate, as we read in Acts 6:4. Whoever, therefore, does not know or preach the Gospel, is not only not a priest or bishop, but he is a plague of the Church, who under the false title of priest or bishop – in sheep's clothing, forsooth – oppresses the Gospel and plays the wolf in the Church.
7.16 Therefore, unless those priests and bishops with whom the Church is now filled work out their salvation, in some other way, that is, realize that they are not priests or bishops and bemoan the fact that they bear the name of an office whose duties they either do not know or cannot fulfil, and thus with prayers and tears lament their wretched hypocritical life – unless they do this, they are truly the people of eternal perdition, and the words of Isaiah are fulfilled in them: Isaiah 5 "Therefore is my people led away captive, because they had not knowledge, and their nobles have perished with famine, and their multitude were dried up with thirst. Therefore has hell enlarged her soul and opened her mouth without any bounds, and their strong ones, and their people, and their high and generous ones shall go down into it." What a dreadful word for our age, in which Christians are sucked down into so deep an abyss!
7.17 Since, therefore, what we call the priesthood is a ministry, so far as we can learn from the Scriptures, I cannot understand why one who has been made a priest cannot again become a layman; for the sole difference between him and a layman is his ministry. But to depose a man from the ministry is so far from impossible that it is even now the usual penalty imposed upon guilty priests; they are either suspended for a season or permanently deprived of their office. For that lying "indelible character" has long since become a laughing-stock. I admit that the pope imparts this character, but Christ knows nothing of it; and a priest who is consecrated with it becomes thereby the life-long servant and captive, not of Christ, but of the pope; as it is in our day. Moreover, unless I am greatly mistaken, if this sacrament and this lie fall, the papacy itself with its characters will scarcely survive; our joyous liberty will be restored to us; we shall realize that we are all equal by every right, and having cast off the yoke of tyranny, shall know that he who is a Christian has Christ, and that he who has Christ has all things that are Christ's and is able to do all things. (Philippians 4:13) Of this I will write more, and more tellingly, as soon as I perceive that the above has displeased my friends the papists.