John Calvin

On May 27, 1564, John Calvin died as a sickly old man in his bed. A sui generis Protestant Reformer, Calvin was a Frenchman who pastored in Geneva and in Strasbourg. Like Martin Luther before him, Calvin had initially set out to study law, but he gave himself to the study of theology after he was converted to Christ.

Calvin was arguably the greatest mind of Christendom since Augustine, and many Reformers, scholars, and civil leaders of his own day even acknowledged him as an intellectual giant.

John Calvin is simultaneously the most loved and hated theologian of the Protestant Reformation (maybe in all of Church history). There are few Christian leaders who have drawn such admiration and such disdain at the same time.

During his time pastoring in Geneva, some of his church members named their dog ‘Calvin,’ so as to insult their pastor-theologian. And yet others gave such sparkling endorsements of him.

Jacobus Arminius (the often-cited counter theologian to Calvin) said,

“Next to the study of the Scriptures… I exhort my students to read Calvin’s Commentaries carefully and thoroughly… for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture.”

The fact is that the Protestant Reformation would simply not have been what it was without John Calvin. Many Protestants today believe what they do because Calvin first thought and wrote about it.

Calvin wrote the first systematic theology, and all those written since have followed his pattern and built on his foundation. Calvin masterfully preached expositional sermons, which were a novelty at the time since the Bible had only recently become available in the common language. Calvin destroyed the wall between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular,’ arguing instead that all things (especially one’s work) could and should be done to the glory of God.

While some assert that Calvin’s theology should suppress evangelism and missions, history and practice have demonstrated the opposite. William Carey is known as the ‘father of modern missions,’ but Calvin organized missionary efforts that preceded him by 200 years and spanned across the globe.

Calvin reminds us of the incredible wealth Christians today have inherited. Our theological debates have all been discussed before. Calvin and many others have thought, argued, and written about things we are just now noticing, and our innovations usually erode faithful theology rather than provide an insightful breakthrough.

We would certainly be foolish to think that Spirit-illumined Christians of the past have nothing to teach us today. Whatever one thinks of Calvin, to neglect his writings is to miss a grand portion of Christian heritage.

May God help us to be Christians who rely preeminently on the Holy Spirit for illumination. And may God also help us to remember that we are not the first generation of Christians to receive brilliant light from God’s Spirit.

Should Protestants Still Protest?

This year marks the 500th anniversary since that fateful day when Martin Luther nailed a document, intended to initiate a collegiate theological discussion, to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany. Unintentionally (it seems), Luther struck the match that ignited a powder keg.

Germany, Switzerland, England, Scottland, and several other lands experienced an upheaval of the established religious system of the day (Roman Catholicism); and there were many and various contributors. Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, and many others played their respective and overlapping parts in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Today, many are asking if the Protestant Reformation is over, and others seem to think it was a vastly overblown misunderstanding to begin with. Should Protestants still protest? Are Protestants who do still protest revealing themselves as merely irreconcilable curmudgeons?

I think it is quite helpful to answer questions like these by first understanding the disagreement. One can hardly seek to reconcile two parties without knowing what has divided them thus far. So, let’s go back to the place where the disagreement was codified.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many people believed that some reformation within Christendom was necessary. When the Reformation became undeniable, both Roman Catholics and Protestants still agreed that change was needed, but each side differed considerably on what that reform should look like. The Roman Catholic Church officially responded to their protesting brethren through the forum of a Church Council.

The Council of Trent gathered in Trento and Bologna, Italy, over 18 years (1545-1563). Sometimes infrequent and sometimes intensive, these meetings included discussion and debate on many topics of Roman Catholic theology. Bishops and theologians considered dogma, doctrine, and tradition regarding authority, sacraments, purgatory, indulgences, and much more. Finally, the Council of Trent published its decrees (statements of affirmation) and canons (statements of judgment) in 1564, and these were confirmed by Pope Pius IV.

Specifically addressing some Protestant theological assertions, the Council of Trent clearly presented an opposing position. While there are certainly still many things about which Roman Catholics and Protestants agree (God as Trinity, Jesus as Savior, and grace as necessary), there is a stark contrast on vital matters.

Few questions are as important as, “How is a sinner justified before God?” Rome answered the question by saying (among other things) that the sinner must participate in his/her justification by sacraments and other good works.

The Council of Trent states that baptism is the ‘instrumental cause,’ or the means by which justification is obtained.

“The instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which justification never befell any man…”

The Council of Trent states that justification can and should be increased through the efforts of obedience on the part of the sinner.

“Having, therefore, been thus justified… they [those who are justified], through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in the justice received through the grace of Christ, and are still more justified…”

The Council of Trent states that faith alone cannot and will not justify any sinner.

“No one ought to flatter himself upon faith alone, deeming that by faith alone he is made an heir, and will obtain the inheritance [the inheritance of salvation or eternal life in Christ Jesus].”

The Council of Trent not only clarified the Roman Catholic teaching on important matters, it also unequivocally named what is at stake. The strong denials below include the phrase, “let him be anathema,” which is a superlative condemnation of anyone who disagrees with the statement. With intentional language, the Roman Catholic Church condemned all protesters.

The following are some of the Roman Catholic canons on the subject of justification.

Canon 11: If any one shall say, that men are justified by the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ… or even that the grace, by which we are justified, is only the favor of God; let him be anathema.

Canon 12: If any one shall say, that justifying faith is naught else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified; let him be anathema.

Canon 24: If any one shall say, that the justice received is not preserved, and also increased in the sight of God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

The message could not be clearer: believing that justification comes by way of Christ’s righteousness and not by any work or effort on the part of the sinner is a justification condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Anyone who believes in justification by faith alone in Christ alone is thus condemned or “anathematized.”

In two major Protestant catechisms, the question of justification is asked and answered. The Westminster Shorter catechism (following the Westminster Confession of 1647) and the Baptist catechism (following the Second London Confession of 1689) both provide an identicle answer (dependent upon translation).

“What is justification?”

“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

With the same precision and clarity as the Roman Catholics, Protestants articulated their own understanding of justification, and one cannot miss the antithesis. What Rome said was condemnable, Protestants wholeheartedly affirm. What Rome stated as doctrine, Protestants denied outright.

The only question we are left with now is, Should Protestants still protest?

Well, does Rome still affirm the decrees and canons published from the Council of Trent?

Yes, the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, affirms, and cites the Council of Trent throughout (including the section on Justification, pg. 535-537). Furthermore, reversing the official condemnation of “justification by faith alone in Christ alone” would require a new and clear council statement (Vatican I and Vatican II (subsequent councils) reaffirmed the Council of Trent).

Do Evangelical Protestants still affirm the doctrine of justification as articulated in the two catechisms cited above?

Yes, the Westminster Confession is still the authoritative doctrinal body of teaching (under the authority of Scripture) for Presbyterians. Yes, though Baptists are generally a less creedal bunch, this denomination is marked by a fierce affirmation of justification by personal faith alone – apart from any good work – in Christ alone.

So, Should Protestants still protest?

What else can any thinking person expect from a Protestant? The Roman Catholic who seeks to reconcile with Protestants either denies or betrays his/her own ignorance of Rome’s doctrine and dogma. The Protestant who seeks to reconcile with Rome is by definition no longer a Protestant – since he/she has stopped protesting.

Protestants must not only protest, but Protestants must know what and why we are protesting. The very Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and this is no time to capitulate.

 

*If you enjoyed this article, then you will probably also like others in this category, “Reformation Heroes.”

 

The Augsburg Confession

The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, came to realize that there were too many Protestants in Germany for him to kill all of them. In 1521, Charles V had issued the Edict of Worms, which condemned Martin Luther to die at the hands of anyone who could do the job. Now, nearly ten years later, there were many more Germans who followed and protected Luther rather than trying to kill him.

While the Emperor would have been glad to be rid of the problem, those Protestants simply would not go away or realign with the Roman Catholic Church. They were peasants and nobleman, farmers and princes, but they were united by a desire to read and know the Bible – God’s Word – for themselves.

Many people noticed deep-rooted corruption in the religious leaders of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the Protestant Reformers offered a new hope for a purer faith. Rather than approaching God by way of an aloof clerical substitute, the Reformers read and spoke the words of God Himself from the pages of Scripture. This attracted many, but they needed something around which to unite those who separated from the Roman Catholic Church.

Statements of faith were common in Christianity from the very beginning. These statements (or confessions) are brief and precise declarations of the substance of Christian belief. In the Bible, we find the earliest known statement of faith,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

Some statements of faith were as short as one sentence (Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior) symbolized by the well-known Christian fish.[1]

In April of 1530, Charles V summoned Protestant leaders to a meeting in Augsburg, Germany. This was the hearing the Reformers had been waiting for, but they quickly realized that much of their agreement thus far had been on matters of divergence from the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants knew what they were protesting, but they had not spent nearly as much time codifying what united them as a group.

Martin Luther’s student and friend, Philip Melanchthon, drafted what came to be known as the Augsburg Confession.[2] In this statement of faith, many Protestants found unity among themselves. While there were still matters of some disagreement, this confession was a declaration of belief regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is an excerpt from the Augsburg Confession regarding the justification of sinners by faith alone in Christ:

“Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.”

This confession of faith reminds us that Protestants (more importantly, Christians) must always unite around the essential truths of the Gospel of Christ. There, of course, will inevitably be many other doctrines related to these core truths, and there are good reasons to believe all that you do with deep conviction. However, there is room in the shadow of Christ’s cross for disagreement about how we shall arrange ourselves under it.

It has been said many times, but we would do well to remember: In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

May God unite His people afresh upon the bedrock foundation of His Gospel.

 

[1] ICTHUS (ιχθύος) is the Greek word for “fish,” and the word is an acronym for the Greek words, “Ιησου Χριστου Θεος υιος σωτηρ,” which are translated: “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.” Therefore, to display the ‘Christian fish’ was to make a public declaration that one believed Jesus to be the Christ (or Messiah) and the Son of God and the Savior through whom God reconciled sinners to Himself. A fish, no matter how big, was never such a mouthful as this.

[2] The Augsburg Confession is a thoroughly Protestant confession of faith, but it is primarily the heritage of the Lutheran denomination. Since Philip Melanchthon authored much of it, and Martin Luther endorsed it, the doctrines within are Lutheran. All Protestants agree regarding the “Five Solas,” but baptism, Lord’s Supper, and ecclesiology are matters of disagreement among Protestants (then and now). See the Augsburg Confession, including the preface to the Emperor, HERE.

Martin Luther’s Stand

On April 17, 1521, at the Diet of Worms (an imperial meeting in Worms, Germany) Martin Luther stood before the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and many high representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. The hall was full of churchmen and civil leaders, governors and nobles, some who supported Luther as a heroic theologian and others who wanted him to burn as a heretic.

Luther must have felt the weight of the whole world upon his shoulders. In fact, he had stood right where he was on the day before and asked for some time to consider how he would answer the lethal question he was being asked, “Will you recant these things you have written and said?” Luther’s life was a stake because he had written and said things that impugned the doctrines and dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. He would have to withdraw his words or face serious consequences.

Four years earlier, Professor Martin Luther published an academic work on the university bulletin board. He wrote his now famous 95 Theses in Latin, which amounted to a professor’s invitation for scholarly dialogue on the practice of indulgences. Nailing this document to the chapel door in Wittenberg was the pivotal moment that set Luther’s trajectory towards the Diet of Worms.

Now, there Luther stood, surrounded by such an illustrious crowd. If he refused to recant, he would be charged as a heretic and burned alive. If he recanted, he feared the wrath of God would come upon him for not standing for divine truth amidst such tyrannical error. However, it does not seem that fear compelled him most. He was convinced by Scripture, and he simply could not knowingly deny what had gripped him so.

In a clear and distinct voice, Martin Luther answered,

“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen.”[1]

In God’s providence, Luther did not die that day, nor was he ever burned as a heretic. He was certainly condemned as an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Edict of Worms (a decree issued soon after the Diet), Charles V offered a reward for Luther’s capture (dead or alive), but Luther remained a champion of biblical Christianity until he died from various ailments and fatigue at 62 years old.

Like Athanasius before him, Martin Luther lived contra mundum (against the world), but he reminds us that the word of God is true even if the whole world is against it. May God raise up many convinced men and women in our own day, and may we be gripped – above all else – by His word.

[1] Reeves, Michael. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (p. 15). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you enjoyed this post, see by article Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and my essay Luther & the “Five Solas” of the Reformation.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

It has been said that Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the chapel door at the university of Wittenberg. If that is true, then the content of Luther’s theses is quite lackluster. There are certainly points at which Luther’s words must have upset the bloated belly of the Roman Catholic Church of the sixteenth-century, but the dramatic doctrinal disputes for which the Protestant Reformation is known are simply absent.

That said, Luther’s theses are still potent and worth our time. This is especially true when we become more familiar with the context.

Martin grew up a faithful German son of the Roman Catholic Church. His father, Hans, was a miner who had worked hard to send Martin to law school. Expecting a profitable career in law, Hans was furious when Martin decided he would become a monk instead. Martin was plagued by guilt, and he feared God’s wrath was always imminent. He, like many young men and women of Martin’s day, thought the best way to appease God would be to serve Him through monastic life.

Martin’s fears, however, only intensified when he joined the Augustinian order. He punished his body through abuse and fasting. He confessed sins in the confessional chamber for hours at a time. Martin said later that if anyone could have earned entrance into heaven my “monkery,” then he would surely have qualified.

In order to help him address his fears, Martin’s mentor and friend (John Staupitz) sent him to Wittenberg to be a professor of theology. This may seem odd, but Staupitz believed that Martin would be best served by studying the Bible deeply – surprisingly something he had not done as a monk. Martin Luther did become a professor, and he earned his doctorate degree in theology.

At some point, teaching through the New Testament book of Romans, Luther began to understand the grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “righteousness” of God was not something a person must achieve, but it is something God gives to those who trust in Christ (Rom. 1:17).

Luther progressively pulled away from the Roman Catholic Church, since he discovered vast differences between Scripture and Roman Catholic dogma and doctrine. Luther’s 95 theses were posted somewhat early in his theological pilgrimage out of Rome. This is why we don’t see a more full-orbed disputation of Roman Catholic doctrines in them. However, we are able to see the beginning of a trajectory and a brilliant mind express disagreements that would take finer shape over time.

I commend the reading of Luther’s theses to you.

Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, in his own (translated) words:

In the desire and with the purpose of elucidating the truth, a disputation will be held on the underwritten propositions at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Monk of the Order of St. Augustine, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and ordinary Reader of the same in that place. He therefore asks those who cannot be present and discuss the subject with us orally, to do so by letter in their absence. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ in saying: “Repent ye,”[1] etc., intended that the whole life of believers should be penitence.
  2. This word cannot be understood of sacramental penance, that is, of the confession and satisfaction which are performed under the ministry of priests.
  3. It does not, however, refer solely to inward penitence; nay such inward penitence is naught, unless it outwardly produces various mortifications of the flesh.
  4. The penalty[2] thus continues as long as the hatred of self — that is, true inward penitence — continues; namely, till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The Pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties, except those which he has imposed by his own authority, or by that of the canons.
  6. The Pope has no power to remit any guilt, except by declaring and warranting it to have been remitted by God; or at most by remitting cases reserved for himself; in which cases, if his power were despised, guilt would certainly remain.
  7. God never remits any man’s guilt, without at the same time subjecting him, humbled in all things, to the authority of his representative the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and no burden ought to be imposed on the dying, according to them.
  9. Hence the Holy Spirit acting in the Pope does well for us, in that, in his decrees, he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Those priests act wrongly and unlearnedly, who, in the case of the dying, reserve the canonical penances for purgatory.
  11. Those tares about changing of the canonical penalty into the penalty of purgatory seem surely to have been sown while the bishops were asleep.
  12. Formerly the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying pay all penalties by death, and are already dead to the canon laws, and are by right relieved from them.
  14. The imperfect soundness or charity of a dying person necessarily brings with it great fear, and the less it is, the greater the fear it brings.
  15. This fear and horror is sufficient by itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the pains of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven appear to differ as despair, almost despair, and peace of mind differ.
  17. With souls in purgatory it seems that it must needs be that, as horror diminishes, so charity increases.
  18. Nor does it seem to be proved by any reasoning or any scriptures, that they are outside of the state of merit or of the increase of charity.
  19. Nor does this appear to be proved, that they are sure and confident of their own blessedness, at least all of them, though we may be very sure of it.
  20. Therefore the Pope, when he speaks of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean simply of all, but only of those imposed by himself.
  21. Thus those preachers of indulgences are in error who say that, by the indulgences of the Pope, a man is loosed and saved from all punishment.
  22. For in fact he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which they would have had to pay in this life according to the canons.
  23. If any entire remission of all penalties can be granted to any one, it is certain that it is granted to none but the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. Hence the greater part of the people must needs be deceived by this indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalties.
  25. Such power as the Pope has over purgatory in general, such has every bishop in his own diocese, and every curate in his own parish, in particular.
  26. The Pope acts most rightly in granting remission to souls, not by the power of the keys (which is of no avail in this case) but by the way of suffrage.
  27. They preach man, who say that the soul flies out of purgatory as soon as the money thrown into the chest rattles.
  28. It is certain that, when the money rattles in the chest, avarice and gain may be increased, but the suffrage of the Church depends on the will of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory desire to be redeemed from it, according to the story told of Saints Severinus and Paschal.
  30. No man is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of the attainment of plenary remission.
  31. Rare as is a true penitent, so rare is one who truly buys indulgences — that is to say, most rare.
  32. Those who believe that, through letters of pardon, they are made sure of their own salvation, will be eternally damned along with their teachers.
  33. We must especially beware of those who say that these pardons from the Pope are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to God.
  34. For the grace conveyed by these pardons has respect only to the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, which are of human appointment.
  35. They preach no Christian doctrine, who teach that contrition is not necessary for those who buy souls out of purgatory or buy confessional licences.
  36. Every Christian who feels true compunction has of right plenary remission of pain and guilt, even without letters of pardon.
  37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has a share in all the benefits of Christ and of the Church, given him by God, even without letters of pardon.
  38. The remission, however, imparted by the Pope is by no means to be despised, since it is, as I have said, a declaration of the Divine remission.
  39. It is a most difficult thing, even for the most learned theologians, to exalt at the same time in the eyes of the people the ample effect of pardons and the necessity of true contrition.
  40. True contrition seeks and loves punishment; while the ampleness of pardons relaxes it, and causes men to hate it, or at least gives occasion for them to do so.
  41. Apostolical pardons ought to be proclaimed with caution, lest the people should falsely suppose that they are placed before other good works of charity.
  42. Christians should be taught that it is not the mind of the Pope that the buying of pardons is to be in any way compared to works of mercy.
  43. Christians should be taught that he who gives to a poor man, or lends to a needy man, does better than if he bought pardons.
  44. Because, by a work of charity, charity increases, and the man becomes better; while, by means of pardons, he does not become better, but only freer from punishment.
  45. Christians should be taught that he who sees any one in need, and, passing him by, gives money for pardons, is not purchasing for himself the indulgences of the Pope, but the anger of God.
  46. Christians should be taught that, unless they have superfluous wealth, they are bound to keep what is necessary for the use of their own households, and by no means to lavish it on pardons.
  47. Christians should be taught that, while they are free to buy pardons, they are not commanded to do so.
  48. Christians should be taught that the Pope, in granting pardons, has both more need and more desire that devout prayer should be made for him, than that money should be readily paid.
  49. Christians should be taught that the Pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them, but most hurtful, if through them they lose the fear of God.
  50. Christians should be taught that, if the Pope were acquainted with the exactions of the preachers of pardons, he would prefer that the Basilica of St. Peter should be burnt to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians should be taught that, as it would be the duty, so it would be the wish of the Pope, even to sell, if necessary, the Basilica of St. Peter, and to give of his own money to very many of those from whom the preachers of pardons extract money.
  52. Vain is the hope of salvation through letters of pardon, even if a commissary — nay, the Pope himself — were to pledge his own soul for them.
  53. They are enemies of Christ and of the Pope, who, in order that pardons may be preached, condemn the word of God to utter silence in other churches.
  54. Wrong is done to the word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is spent on pardons than on it.
  55. The mind of the Pope necessarily is that, if pardons, which are a very small matter, are celebrated with single bells, single processions, and single ceremonies, the Gospel, which is a very great matter, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, and a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The treasures of the Church, whence the Pope grants indulgences, are neither sufficiently named nor known among the people of Christ.
  57. It is clear that they are at least not temporal treasures, for these are not so readily lavished, but only accumulated, by many of the preachers.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and of the saints, for these, independently of the Pope, are always working grace to the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell to the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church are the poor of the Church, but he spoke according to the use of the word in his time.
  60. We are not speaking rashly when we say that the keys of the Church, bestowed through the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. For it is clear that the power of the Pope is alone sufficient for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases.
  62. The true treasure of the Church is the Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. This treasure, however, is deservedly most hateful, because it makes the first to be last.
  64. While the treasure of indulgences is deservedly most acceptable, because it makes the last to be first.
  65. Hence the treasures of the Gospel are nets, wherewith of old they fished for the men of riches.
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets, wherewith they now fish for the riches of men.
  67. Those indulgences, which the preachers loudly proclaim to be the greatest graces, are seen to be truly such as regards the promotion of gain.
  68. Yet they are in reality in no degree to be compared to the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to receive the commissaries of apostolical pardons with all reverence.
  70. But they are still more bound to see to it with all their eyes, and take heed with all their ears, that these men do not preach their own dreams in place of the Pope’s commission.
  71. He who speaks against the truth of apostolical pardons, let him be anathema and accursed.
  72. But he, on the other hand, who exerts himself against the wantonness and licence of speech of the preachers of pardons, let him be blessed.
  73. As the Pope justly thunders against those who use any kind of contrivance to the injury of the traffic in pardons,
  74. Much more is it his intention to thunder against those who, under the pretext of pardons, use contrivances to the injury of holy charity and of truth.
  75. To think that Papal pardons have such power that they could absolve a man even if — by an impossibility — he had violated the Mother of God, is madness.
  76. We affirm on the contrary that Papal pardons cannot take away even the least of venial sins, as regards its guilt.
  77. The saying that, even if St. Peter were now Pope, he could grant no greater graces, is blasphemy against St. Peter and the Pope.
  78. We affirm on the contrary that both he and any other Pope has greater graces to grant, namely, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc. (1 Cor. xii. 9.)
  79. To say that the cross set up among the insignia of the Papal arms is of equal power with the cross of Christ, is blasphemy.
  80. Those bishops, curates, and theologians who allow such discourses to have currency among the people, will have to render an account.
  81. This licence in the preaching of pardons makes it no easy thing, even for learned men, to protect the reverence due to the Pope against the calumnies, or, at all events, the keen questionings of the laity.
  82. As for instance: Why does not the Pope empty purgatory for the sake of most holy charity and of the supreme necessity of souls — this being the most just of all reasons — if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of that most fatal thing money, to be spent on building a basilica — this being a very slight reason?
  83. Again; why do funeral masses and anniversary masses for the deceased continue, and why does not the Pope return, or permit the withdrawal of the funds bequeathed for this purpose, since it is a wrong to pray for those who are already redeemed?
  84. Again; what is this new kindness of God and the Pope, in that, for money’s sake, they permit an impious man and an enemy of God to redeem a pious soul which loves God, and yet do not redeem that same pious and beloved soul, out of free charity, on account of its own need?
  85. Again; why is it that the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in themselves in very fact and not only by usage, are yet still redeemed with money, through the granting of indulgences, as if they were full of life?
  86. Again; why does not the Pope, whose riches are at this day more ample than those of the wealthiest of the wealthy, build the one Basilica of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with that of poor believers?
  87. Again; what does the Pope remit or impart to those who, through perfect contrition, have a right to plenary remission and participation?
  88. Again; what greater good would the Church receive if the Pope, instead of once, as he does now, were to bestow these remissions and participations a hundred times a day on any one of the faithful?
  89. Since it is the salvation of souls, rather than money, that the Pope seeks by his pardons, why does he suspend the letters and pardons granted long ago, since they are equally efficacious?
  90. To repress these scruples and arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to solve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the Pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian men unhappy.
  91. If then pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the Pope, all these questions would be resolved with ease; nay, would not exist.
  92. Away then with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ: “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace.
  93. Blessed be all those prophets, who say to the people of Christ: “The cross, the cross,” and there is no cross.
  94. Christians should be exhorted to strive to follow Christ their head through pains, deaths, and hells.
  95. And thus trust to enter heaven through many tribulations, rather than in the security of peace.

 

[1] In the Latin, from the Vulgate, “agite pœnitentiam,” sometimes translated “Do penance.” The effect of the following theses depends to some extent on the double meaning of “pœnitentia”—penitence and penance.

[2] I.e. “Pœna,” the connection between “pœna” and “pœnitentia” being again suggestive.

*The content above is part of Martin Luther’s larger body of work, which you can find at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL)

 

If you enjoyed this post, I suggest reading my brief article Martin Luther’s Stand and my not-so-brief essay Luther & the “Five Solas” of the Reformation.

 

Diet & Protestation at Speyer

Martin Luther had been condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1521, but his legend and writings continued to spread. Luther, undaunted by the full fury of Rome, also wrote more pamphlets and books in opposition to Roman Catholic doctrines. Furthermore, he attempted to clarify the Bible’s core teachings on justification through Christ alone, apart from any sacramental necessity. Luther was no political genius, but his voice and pen were certainly fueling reform in the civil realm as much as in the religious.

The Roman Emperor, Charles V, called the Diet of Speyer in order to do something about all the political and religious instability Luther and his followers were causing. A “Diet” is a legislative assembly, a meeting of political and/or religious leaders for the purpose of passing judgments and/or laws. Speyer was the German town in which the Diet was to be held.

On March 15, 1529, Charles V sent his younger brother King Ferdinand to oversee the Diet of Speyer. The Roman Catholic leaders were outraged by the doctrines of the Reformation, and there was no room for agreement. Philip Melanchthon (Luther’s partner and pupil) spoke for the Protestants, asking that there at least be the liberty to believe and practice religion according to one’s own conscience.

Ferdinand wanted no more of this unproductive discussion, so he ruled that Roman Catholicism would be the religion of the land. After demanding a full submission on the part of the Protestants, Ferdinand left without giving a moment of time to any objections. It was ordered that the Protestants of Germany live as Catholics whether they wanted to or not.

Some civil and religious leaders among the Protestants refused to give up on their petition to believe and practice true Christianity as they understood the Bible to teach it. They organized and requested an official opportunity to protest.

One month later, another Diet was arranged at Speyer, this one was called the Protestation at Speyer. It was there that civil leaders and reformers objected to the previous ruling of King Ferdinand. John the Steadfast, Elector or Governor of Saxony, read the protest aloud.

“We are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure preaching of God’s holy Word, such as is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments, without adding anything to it that may be contrary to it. This word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell…

For these reasons, most dear lords and friends, we earnestly entreat you to weigh carefully our grievances and our motives. …we protest before God, our only Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer and Savior… we, for us and our people, neither consent nor adhere in any manner whatsoever to the proposed decree in anything that is contrary to God, to His holy Word, to our right conscience, and to the salvation of souls.

There is no true preaching or doctrine but that which conforms to the Word of God. The Lord forbids the teaching of any other faith… This Holy Book is in all things necessary for the Christian and easy to be understood. It shines clearly in its own light, and is found to enlighten the darkness… We therefore reject the yoke that is imposed upon us.”[1]

This protest is the foundation of the label which all Protestants wear today. The Protestation at Speyer remains the protestation among all true Protestants since. We reject any yoke imposed upon us but the yoke of the Lord Jesus Christ. His Word and His Word alone shall rule and govern what we believe and how we live.

May God, our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, help us to build on the sure foundation of His Word in order that – come whatever will – we may stand.

[1] Kleyn, Diane. Reformation Heroes (Kindle Locations 1010-1026). Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.

Thomas Cranmer

In the early-to-mid 1500s, Thomas Cranmer was the personal chaplain to King Henry VIII and the archbishop of Canterbury, the highest position in the Church of England. At a time when Protestantism was being celebrated and embraced in England, Cranmer was a political and spiritual ally. Cranmer was instrumental in England’s rejection of papal rule and in getting William Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible placed in every church.

Though chained to the pulpit, the Bible was available for anyone to come and read God’s word in their own language.

Cranmer was such a friend to the Reformation that he tried to assure that a Protestant would take the crown after the death of King Henry VIII and his young and sickly son, Edward VI. Cranmer endorsed Lady Jane Grey (the young nine-day queen), but her half-sister Mary was crowned instead.

Bloody Mary, as she has become known, wanted to reverse all of the Reformation strides that had taken place in England. She was especially angry with those who had defiantly acted against her and her mother, Catherine.

Cranmer and many others were arrested and urged to profess themselves once again faithful children of the Roman Catholic Church. After much ridicule and suffering, Cranmer wrote letters that recanted (gave up) his Protestant faith. In spite of his humiliation, Queen Mary still wanted him to die for his previous words and actions.

On the day of his execution (he was to be tied to a pole and burned alive), Cranmer was allowed to address the crowd. Since he had already renounced his Protestant faith, what he said was a great surprise to all.

Cranmer said, “Now I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other… in my life… I wrote things against the truth, because I was afraid I would be killed. I now here renounce and refuse these things as written with my hand contrary to the truth which I believed in my heart… My hand has offended in writing contrary to my heart; therefore, my hand shall be burned first.”

Echoing the words of Stephen (the biblical martyr) in the book of Acts, Cranmer said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” On March 21, 1556, at the age of 67, Thomas Cranmer was burned alive as an enemy to the crown and the Roman Catholic Church.

Cranmer reminds us that we too may serve Christ with a less-than-perfect witness. But, we may all decide this day to serve Him well.

God help us all to live for His glory, and may He make us all faithful servants to the end.