De captivitate ecclesiae. Praeludium Martini Lutheri

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De captivitate ecclesiae. Praeludium Martini Lutheri

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VII Extreme Unction

8.1 To the rite of anointing the sick our theologians have made two additions which are worthy of them; first, they call it a sacrament, and secondly, they make it the last sacrament. So that it is now the sacrament of extreme unction, which may be administered only to such as are at the point of death. Being such subtle dialecticians, perchance they have done this in order to relate it to the first unction of baptism and the two succeeding unctions of confirmation and ordination. But here they are able to cast in my teeth, that in the case of this sacrament there are, on the authority of James the Apostle, both promise and sign, which, as I have all along maintained, constitute a sacrament. For does not James say: (James 5:14 f.) "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him." There, say they, you have the promise of the forgiveness of sins, and the sign of the oil.

8.2 But I reply: If ever there was a mad conceit, here is one indeed. I will say nothing of the fact that many assert with much probability that this Epistle is not by James the Apostle, nor worthy of an apostolic spirit, although, whoever be its author, it has come to be esteemed as authoritative. But even if the Apostle James did write it, I yet should say, no Apostle has the right on his own authority to institute a sacrament, that is, to give a divine promise with a sign attached; for this belongs to Christ alone. Thus Paul says that he received from the Lord the sacrament of the Eucharist, (1 Corinthians 11:23) and that he was not sent to baptise but to preach the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 1:17) And we read nowhere in the Gospel of this sacrament of extreme unction. But let us also waive that point. Let us examine the words of the Apostle, or whoever was the author of the Epistle, and we shall at once see how little heed these multipliers of sacraments have given to them.

8.3 In the first place, then, if they believe the Apostle's words to be true and binding, by what right do they change and contradict them? Why do they make an extreme and a particular kind of unction of that which the Apostle wished to be general? For he did not desire it to be an extreme unction or administered only to the dying; but he says quite generally: "If any man be sick" – not, "If any man be dying." I care not what learned discussions Dionysius has on this point in his Ecclesiastical Hierarchy; the Apostle's words are clear enough, on which words he as well as they rely, without, however, following them. It is evident, therefore, that they have arbitrarily and without any authority made a sacrament and an extreme unction out of the misunderstood words of the Apostle, to the detriment of all other sick persons, whom they have deprived of the benefit of the unction which the Apostle enjoined.

8.4 But what follows is still better. The Apostle's promise expressly declares that the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up. The Apostle commands us to anoint the sick man and to pray, in order that he may be healed and raised up; that is, that he may not die, and that it may not be an extreme unction. This is proved also by the prayers which are said, during the anointing, for the recovery of the one who is sick. But they say, on the contrary, that the unction must be administered to none but the dying; that is, that they may not be healed and raised up. If it were not so serious a matter, who could help laughing at this beautiful, apt and sound exposition of the Apostle's words? Is not the folly of the sophists, here shown in its true colors? As here, so in many other places, they affirm what the Scriptures deny, and deny what they affirm. Why should we not give thanks to these excellent magisters of ours? I therefore spoke truth when I said they never conceived a crazier notion than this?

8.5 Furthermore, if this unction is a sacrament it must necessarily be, as they say, an effective sign of that which it signifies and promises. Now it promises health and recovery to the sick, as the words plainly say: "The prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up." But who does not see that this promise is seldom if ever fulfilled? Scarce one in a thousand is restored to health, and when one is restored nobody believes that it came about through the sacrament, but through the working of nature or the medicine; for to the sacrament they ascribe the opposite power. What shall we say then? Either the Apostle lies in making this promise or else this unction is no sacrament. For the sacramental promise is certain; but this promise deceives in the majority of cases. Indeed – and here again we recognize the shrewdness and foresight of these theologians – for this very reason they would have it to be extreme unction, that the promise should not stand; in other words, that the sacrament should be no sacrament. For if it is extreme unction, it does not heal, but gives way to the disease; but if it heals, it cannot be extreme unction. Thus, by the interpretation of these magisters, James is shown to have contradicted himself, and to have instituted a sacrament in order not to institute one; for they must have an extreme unction just to make untrue what the Apostle intends, namely, the healing of the sick. If that is not madness, pray what is?

8.6 These people exemplify the word of the Apostle in 1 Timothy 1:7, "Desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither the things they say, nor whereof they affirm." Thus they read and follow all things without judgment. With the same thoughtlessness they have also found auricular confession in our Apostle's words – "Confess your sins one to another." (James 5:16) But they do not observe the command of the Apostle, that the priests of the church be called, and prayer be made for the sick. Scarce a single priestling is sent nowadays, although the Apostle would have many present, not because of the unction but of the prayer. Wherefore he says: "The prayer of faith shall save the sick man," etc. I have my doubts, however, whether he would have us understand priests when he says presbyters, that is, elders. For one who is an elder is not therefore a priest or minister; so that the suspicion is justified that the Apostle desired the older and graver men in the Church to visit the sick; these should perform a work of mercy and pray in faith and thus heal him. Still it cannot be denied that the ancient churches were ruled by elders, chosen for this purpose, without these ordinations and consecrations, solely on account of their age and their long experience.

8.7 Therefore, I take it, this unction is the same as that which the Apostles practiced, in Mark 6:13, "They anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." It was a ceremony of the early Church, by which they wrought miracles on the sick, and which has long since ceased; even as Christ, in the last chapter of Mark, gave them that believe the power to take up serpents, to lay hands on the sick, etc. (Mark 16:17) It is a wonder that they have not made sacraments also of these things; for they have the same power and promise as the words of James. Therefore, this extreme – that is, this fictitious – unction is not a sacrament, but a counsel of James, which whoever will may use, and it is derived from Mark 6, as I have shown. I do not believe it was a counsel given to all sick persons, (Romans 5:3) for the Church's infirmity is her glory and death is gain; (Philippians 1:21) but it was given only to such as might bear their sickness impatiently and with little faith. These the Lord allowed to remain in the Church, in order that miracles and the power of faith might be manifest in them.

8.8 For this very contingency James provided with care and foresight by attaching the promise of healing and the forgiveness of sins not to the unction, but to the prayer of faith. For he says: "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up:

and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him." A sacrament does not demand prayer or faith on the part of the minister, since even a wicked person may baptise and consecrate without prayer; a, sacrament depends solely on the promise and institution of God, and requires faith on the part of him who receives it. But where is the prayer of faith in our present use of extreme unction? Who prays over the sick one in such faith as not to doubt that he will recover? Such a prayer of faith James here describes, of which he said in the beginning of his Epistle: (James 1:6) "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering." And Christ says of it: "Whatsoever you ask, believe that you shall receive and it shall be done to you." (Mark 11:24)

8.9 If such prayer were made, even today, over a sick man – that is, prayer made in full faith by older, grave and saintly men – it is beyond all doubt that we could heal as many sick as we would. For what could not faith do? But we neglect, this faith, which the authority of the Apostle demands above all else. By presbyters – that is, men preeminent by reason of their age and their faith – we understand the common herd of priests. Moreover, we turn the daily or voluntary unction into an extreme unction, and finally, we not only do not effect the result promised by the Apostle, namely, the healing of the sick, but we make it of none effect by striving after the very opposite. And yet we boast that our sacrament, no, our figment, is established and proved by this saying of the Apostle, which is diametrically opposed to it. What theologians we are!

8.10 Now I do not condemn this our sacrament of extreme unction, but I firmly deny that it is what the Apostle James prescribes; for his unction agrees with ours neither in form, use, power nor purpose. Nevertheless; we shall number it among those sacraments which we have instituted, such as the blessing and sprinkling of salt and holy water. For we cannot deny that every creature is sanctified by the word and by prayer, (1 Timothy 4:4 f.) as the Apostle Paul teaches us. We do not deny, therefore, that forgiveness of sins and peace are granted through extreme unction; not because it is a sacrament divinely instituted, but because he who receives it believes that these blessings are granted to him. For the faith of the recipient does not err, however much the minister may err. For one who baptises or absolves in jest, that is, does not absolve so far as the minister is concerned, does yet truly absolve and baptise if the person he baptises or absolves believe. How much more will one who administers extreme unction confer peace, even though he does not really confer peace, so far as his ministry is concerned, since there is no sacrament there. The faith of the one anointed receives even that which the minister either could not or did not intend to give; it is sufficient for him to hear and believe the Word. For whatever we believe we shall receive, that we do really receive, it >matters not what the minister may do or not do, or whether he dissemble or jest. The saying of Christ stands fast – "All things are possible to him that believe," (Mark 9:23) and, "Be it to you even as you hast believed." (Matthew 8:13) But in treating the sacraments our sophists say nothing at all of this faith, but only babble with all their might of the virtues of the sacraments themselves – "ever learning, and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7)

8.11 Still it was a good thing that this unction was made extreme unction, for, thanks to that, it has been disturbed and subjected least of all the sacraments by tyranny and greed. This one last mercy, forsooth, has been left to the dying – they may freely be anointed, even without confession and communion. If it had remained a practice of daily occurrence, especially if it had conferred health on the sick, even without taking away sins, how many worlds would not the pontiffs have under their control today? For through the one sacrament of penance and through the power of the keys, as well as through the sacrament of ordination, they have become such mighty emperors and princes. But now it is a fortunate thing that they despise the prayer of faith, and therefore do not heal any sick, and that they have made for themselves, out of an ancient ceremony, a brand-new sacrament.


9.1 Let this suffice now for these four sacraments. I know how it will displease those who believe that the number and use of the sacraments are to be learned not from the sacred Scriptures, but from the Roman See. As though the Roman See had given those sacraments and had not rather got them from the lecture halls of the universities, to which it is unquestionably indebted for whatever it has. The papal despotism would not have attained its present position, had it not taken over so many things from the universities. For there was scarce another of the celebrated bishoprics that had so few learned pontiffs; only in violence, intrigue, and superstition has it hitherto surpassed the rest. For the men who occupied the Roman See a thousand years ago differ so vastly from those who have since come into power, that one is compelled to refuse the name of Roman pontiff either to the former or to the latter.

9.2 There are yet a few other things it might seem possible to regard as sacraments; namely, all those to which a divine promise has been given, such as prayer, the Word, and the cross. Christ promised, in many places, that those who pray should be heard; especially in Luke 11, where He invites us in many parables to pray. Of the Word He says: "Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." (Luke 11.28) And who will tell how often He promises aid and glory to such as are afflicted, suffer, and are cast down? no, who will recount all the promises of God? The whole Scripture is concerned with provoking us to faith; now driving us with precepts and threats, now drawing us with promises and consolations. Indeed, whatever things are written are either precepts or promises; the precepts humble the proud with their demands, the promises exalt the humble with. their forgiveness.

9.3 Nevertheless, it has seemed best to restrict the name of sacrament to such promises as have signs attached to them. The remainder, not being bound to signs, are bare promises. Hence there are, strictly speaking, but two sacraments in the Church of God – baptism and bread; for only in these two do we find both the divinely instituted sign and the promise of forgiveness of sins. The sacrament of penance, which I added to these two, lacks the divinely instituted visible sign, and is, as I have said, nothing but a return to baptism. Nor can the scholastics say that their definition fits penance, for they too ascribe to the sacrament a visible sign, which is to impress upon the senses the form of that which it effects invisibly. But penance, or absolution, has no such sign; wherefore they are constrained by their own definition, either to admit that penance is not a sacrament, and thus to reduce the number of sacraments, or else to bring forward another definition.

9.4 Baptism, however, which we have applied to the whole of life, will truly be a sufficient substitute for all the sacraments we might need as long as we live. And the bread is truly the sacrament of the dying; for in it we commemorate the passing of Christ out of this world, that we may imitate Him. Thus we may apportion these two sacraments as follows: baptism belongs to the beginning and the entire course of life, the bread belongs to the end and to death. And the Christian should use them both as long as he is in this poor body, until, fully baptised and strengthened, he passes out of this world and is born to the new life of eternity, to eat with Christ in the Kingdom of His Father, as He promised at the Last Supper – "Amen I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Matthew 26:29) Thus He seems clearly to have instituted the sacrament of the bread with a view to our entrance into the life to come. Then, when the meaning of both sacraments is fulfilled, baptism and bread will cease.

9.5 Herewith I conclude this prelude, and freely and gladly offer it to all pious souls who desire to know the genuine sense of the Scriptures and the proper use of the sacraments. For it is a gift of no mean importance, to know the things that are given us, as it is said in 1 Corinthians 2, and what use we ought to make of them. Endowed with this spiritual judgment, we shall not mistakenly rely on that which does not belong here. These two things our theologians never taught us, no, I think they took particular pains to conceal them from us. If I have not taught them, I certainly did not conceal them, and have given occasion to others to think out something better. It has at least been my endeavor to set forth these two things. Nevertheless, not all can do all things. To the godless, on the other hand, and those who in obstinate tyranny force on us their own teachings inas God's representative's, I confidently and freely oppose these pages, utterly indifferent to their senseless fury. Yet I wish even them a sound mind, and do not despise their efforts, but only distinguish them from such as are sound and truly Christian.

9.6 I hear a rumor of new bulls and papal curses sent out against me, in which I am urged to recant or be declared a heretic. If that is true, I desire this book to be a portion of the recantation I shall make; so that these tyrants may not complain of having had their pains for nothing. The remainder I will publish ere long, and it will, please Christ, be such as the Roman See has hitherto neither seen nor heard. I shall give ample proof of my obedience. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

9.7 Why doth that impious Herod fear When told that Christ the King is near? He takes not earthly realms away, Who gives the realms that ne'er decay.
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  • Conclusion

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