The Necessity of Reforming the Churchby John Calvin
Presented to Imperial Diet at Spires, AD 1544,
in the name of all who wish Christ to reign.
I have shown above that Christ was in a great measure defrauded, not of the honour of the priesthood merely, but also of the gratitude due for his benefits. True, he is called a Redeemer, but in a manner which implies that men also, by their own free will, redeem themselves from the bondage of sin and death. True, he is called righteousness and salvation, but so that men still procure salvation for themselves, by the merit of their works; for this inestimable gift, which no eloquence of men or angels is able adequately to describe, the school men are not ashamed to restrict, telling us that though he confers the first merit, i.e., as they explain it, the occasion of meriting, yet after receiving this help, we merit eternal life by our own works. True, they confess that we are washed from our sins by the blood of Christ, but so that every individual cleanses himself by washings elsewhere obtained. True, the death of Christ receives the name of a sacrifice, but so that sins are expiated by the daily sacrifices of men. True, Christ is said to have reconciled us to the Father, but with this reservation, that men, by their own satisfactions, buy off the punishments which they owe to the justice of God. When supplementary aid is sought from the benefit of the keys, no more honour is paid to Christ than to Cyprian or Cyricius. For, in making up the treasury of the Church, the merits of Christ and of martyrs are thrown together in the slump.
In all these things, have we not just as many execrable blasphemies as we have words, blasphemies by which the glory of Christ is rent, and torn to shreds? For, being in a great measure despoiled of his honour, he retains the name, while he wants the power. Here, too, no doubt, we might have been silent, though we saw the Son, on whom the Father hath bestowed all authority, and power, and glory, and in whom alone he bids us glory, so classified with his servants, that he had scarcely any preeminence above them. When we saw his benefits thus in oblivion—when we saw his virtue destroyed by the ingratitude of men—when we saw the price of his blood held in no estimation, and the fruits of his death almost annihilated—when, in fine, we saw him so deformed by false and profane opinions, that he had more resemblance to an unsubstantial phantom than to himself; did it behove us to bear it calmly and silently? O accursed patience, if; when the honour of God is impaired, not to say prostrated, we are so slightly affected, that we can wink and pass on! O ill-bestowed benefits of Christ, if we can permit the memory of them to be thus suppressed by impious blasphemies!
I again return to the second branch of Christian doctrine.
Who can deny that men are labouring under a kind of delirium, when they suppose that they procure eternal life by the merit of their works? I admit that they conjoin the grace of God with their works, but in as much as their confidence of obtaining acceptance is made to depend on their own worthiness, it is clear that the ground of their confidence and boasting lies in their works. The trite and favourite doctrine of the schools, the opinion deeply seated in almost all minds, is that every individual is loved by God in exact proportion to his deserts. Entertaining this view, are not souls, by means of a confidence which the devil inspires, raised to a height, from which, as from a loftier precipice, they are afterwards plunged into the gulf of despair? Again, when they pretend to merit the favour of God, it is not merely by true obedience, but by frivolous observances, of no value. The meritorious works to which the first place is assigned are these to mumble over a multitude of little prayers, to erect altars, and place statues or pictures thereon —to frequent churches, and run up and down from one church to another—to hear many masses, and to buy some to wear out their bodies, by I know not what abstinences,abstinences having nothing in common with Christian fasting; and, in particular, to be most careful in observing the traditions of men. In the matter of satisfactions, is it not even a greater infatuation which makes them, after the manner of the heathen, set out in quest of expiations, by which they may reconcile themselves to God? After all these attempts, after great and long fatigue, what did they gain? Doing everything with a dubious and trembling conscience, they were always exposed to that fearful anxiety, or rather that dire torment, of which I have already spoken, because they were enjoined to doubt whether their persons and their works were not hateful to God. Confidence being in this way overthrown, the necessary consequence was, as Paul declares, that the promise of the eternal inheritance was made void. In such circumstances, what became of the salvation of men? Where there was such necessity for speaking, had we kept silence, we should have been not only ungrateful and treacherous towards God, but also cruel towards men, over whom we saw eternal destruction impending, unless they were brought back into the proper path.
Were a dog to see an injury offered to his master, equal to the insult which is offered to God in the sacraments, he would instantly bark, and expose his own life to danger, sooner than silently allow his master to be so insulted. Ought we to show less devotedness to God than a brute is wont to show to man? I say nothing of the fact that rites, founded merely on human authority, have been put on a footing with the mysteries instituted by Christ, and recommended by his Divine authority, though the procedure is deserving of the severest rebuke. But when the mysteries themselves were thus corrupted, by the many superstitions, and dishonoured by the many false opinions, to which we have already adverted, for base and filthy lucre, ought we to have dissembled and borne it, or pretended not to see? Christ with a whip drove the money-changers out of the temple, threw down their tables, and scattered their merchandise. I admit it is not lawful for every man to take the whip into his own hand, but it is incumbent on all who professedly belong to Christ to burn with the zeal, with which Christ was animated, when he vindicated the glory of his Father. Therefore, that profanation of the temple, at which he, in a manner so marked, expressed his strong displeasure, it is at least our part to condemn, in a free, firm, and decided tone. Who is ignorant that sacraments have now for a long time been sold in churches, as openly as the wares which stand exposed in the public market? Other rites, too, have their fixed price, while as to some a bargain is not struck till after long higgling.
But since the instances which are exhibited in the Lord's Supper are manifest, and of a nature more heinous than in the case of other rites, come and say with what conscience could we have connived at profanations of it, at once so numerous and so blasphemous? Seeing that even now I want words to express them, with what justice are we charged with excessive vehemence in inveighing against them? By the sacred body of Christ, which hung in sacrifice for us, by the holy blood which he shed for our ablution, I here beseech your Imperial Majesty, and you, Most Illustrious Princes, that you will be pleased seriously to consider how great must be the mystery in which that body is set before us for meat, and that blood for drink; to consider how carefully, how religiously, it ought to be kept unpolluted. What ingratitude, then, must it be when this heavenly mystery, which Christ has committed to us like a most precious jewel, is trodden under feet of swine, for any man to look on, and be silent? But we may see it not only trodden, but also defiled by every species of pollution. What an insult was offered, when the efficacy of Christ's death was transferred to a theatrical performance by men—when some priestling, as if he had been the successor of Christ, interposed himself as a Mediator between God and man—when, after destroying the virtue of the only sacrifice, a thousand sacrifices of expiation were daily offered in a single city—when Christ was sacrificed a thousand times a day, as if he had not done enough in once dying for us? In heaping all these insults upon Christ, they abused the character of the Holy Supper; for they are all included in this single notion of sacrifice. I am not ignorant of the glosses which our opponents employ, in order to screen their absurdities. Up to the present age, they impudently practised all the abominations to which I have referred; but being now detected, they burrow in new holes, without being able, however, to hide their turpitude. They taught that the mass was a sacrifice, by which the sins not only of the living, but also of the dead, were expiated. What do they now gain by quibbling, except it be to betray their impudence? How deeply, too, is the sacrament polluted, when, instead of the open preaching of the Word, which constitutes its legitimate consecration, a charm is wrought with the bread by means of whiffs and whispers? When, instead of being distributed among the assembly of the faithful, it is devoured apart by one man, or set aside for another's use? And when, even in the ease where a kind of distribution is made, the people are, in defiance of the clear injunction of our Lord, defrauded of the half; I mean the cup? What delirium to fancy that by their exercises the substance of bread is transmuted into Christ? How shameful to see a trade in masses plied as unblushingly as a trade in shoes! For if it is true, as they say, that the thing they vend is the merit of Christ's death, the insult which they offer to Christ is not less gross than if they spat in his face.
Be pleased, Most Invincible Emperor, and Most Illustrious Princes, to call to mind the disaster which of old befell the Corinthians on account of one, and that not at first sight, so very heinous an abuse of this sacrament. Each brought from home his own supper, not as a common contribution, but that the rich might feast luxuriantly while the poor hungered. For this cause the Lord chastised them with a severe and deadly pestilence. Such is the account of Paul, who, at the same time, bids us regard it as a paternal rod, by which the Lord called them to repentance. From this infer what we have at this day to expect, who have not declined merely in some little iota from the genuine institution of Christ, but wandered to an immeasurable distance from it; who have not only corrupted its purity in one instance, but defaced it in numerous instances, and these, too, of a shocking description; who have not merely interfered with its legitimate end, by some single abuse, but perverted its whole administration. Nor can it be doubted, that now, for some time, God has begun to avenge this impiety. Now, for many years in succession, the world has been pressed by numerous varying troubles and calamities, until it has at length arrived at almost the extreme of wretchedness. We, indeed, stand amazed at our disasters, or suggest other reasons why God so afflicts us. But if we reflect how slight the error by which the Corinthians had vitiated the sacred Supper was, if contrasted with all the defilements by which, in the present day, it is sullied and polluted amongst ourselves, it is strange not to perceive that God, who so severely punished them, is justly more offended with us.
Were I to follow out all the flagitious corruptions of ecclesiastical government, I should enter an interminable forest. Of the lives of the priests, for many reasons, I at present decline to speak; but there are three vices of an intolerable description, on which each individual may reflect for himself: First, Disregarding the character of a holy vocation, clerical offices are everywhere acquired either by violence or by simony, or by other dishonest and impious arts: Secondly, The rulers of the Church, in so far as regards the performance of their duties, are more like empty shadows or lifeless images than true ministers; and, Thirdly, When they ought to govern consciences in accordance with the Word of God, they oppress them with an iniquitous tyranny, and hold them in bondage by the fetters of many impious laws. Is it true, that, not only in contempt of the laws of God and man, but in the absence of everything like a sense of shame, foul disorder reigns in the appointment of Bishops and Presbyters? that caprice assumes the place of justice, simony is seldom absent, and, as if these were evils of no consequence, the correction of them is deferred to a future age? What is become of the duty of teaching—the proper characteristic of the ministry? As to true liberty of conscience, we know how many struggles Paul engaged in, and how earnestly he contended in its defence; but every person who judges impartially must certainly perceive, that at the present time we have much more cause to contend for it. In a corruption of sound doctrine so extreme, in a pollution of the sacraments so nefarious, in a condition of the Church so deplorable, those who maintain that we ought not to have felt so strongly, would have been satisfied with nothing less than a perfidious tolerance, by which we should have betrayed the worship of God, the glory of Christ, the salvation of men, the entire administration of the sacraments, and the government of the Church. There is something specious in the name of moderation, and tolerance is a quality which has a fair appearance, and seems worthy of praise; but the rule which we must observe at all hazards is, never to endure patiently that the sacred name of God should be assailed with impious blasphemy—that his eternal truth should be suppressed by the devil's lies—that Christ should be insulted, his holy mysteries polluted, unhappy souls cruelly murdered, and the Church left to writhe in extremity under the effect of a deadly wound. This would be not meekness, but indifference about things to which all others ought to be postponed.
I trust I have now clearly shown, as I proposed, that in correcting the corruption of the Church, we have by no means been more urgent than the case demanded. Even those who blame us are aware of this, and, accordingly, they have recourse to another charge, viz., that the utmost we have gained by our interference has been to fill the Christian world, which was formerly at pence, with intestine discord—that so far from any amendment appearing, things have gone on to worse—that of those who have embraced our doctrine few have been made better, nay, that some have been emboldened, if not to greater, at least to more unrestrained licentiousness. They object, moreover, that in our churches there is no discipline, no laws of abstinence, no exercises of humility; that the people, thrown loose from the yoke, riot with impunity in vicious courses. Lastly, they throw upon us the odium of seizing on the property of ecclesiastics, asserting that our princes have made a rush upon it as if it had been lawful spoil; that in this way the Church has been violently and shamefully plundered, and that now the patrimony of the Church is possessed indiscriminately by those who, amid the uproar of contention, have usurped it without law or any proper title.
I, for my part, deny not that when impiety reigned, her kingdom was disturbed by us. But if; at the moment when the light of sound and pious doctrine beamed upon the world, all, as in duty bound, had spontaneously, and with ready mind, lent their aid, there would at the present day be no less peace and quietness in all the churches, (the kingdom of Christ flourishing,) than in the days when Antichrist tyrannized. Let those who, it is manifest, impede the course of truth, desist from waging war with Christ, and there will instantly be perfect concord; or let them desist from throwing upon us the blame of dissensions, which they themselves excite. For it is certainly most unfair, while they refuse all terms of peace unless Antichrist be permitted, after putting the doctrine of piety to flight, and as it were again consigning Christ to the tomb, to subjugate the Church; it is most unfair not only to boast as if they themselves were innocent, but also to insult over us; and that we, who desire nothing else than unity, and whose only bond of union is the eternal truth of God, should bear all the blame and odium, as much as if we were the authors of dissension. In regard to the allegation, that no fruit has been produced by our doctrine, I am well aware that profane men deride us, and allege that in probing sores which are incurable, we only enlarge the ulcer. For their opinion is, that the desperate condition of the Church makes it vain to attempt remedies, there being no hope of cure; and they hence conclude that the best course is not to meddle with an evil well fixed. Those who speak in this way understand not that the restoration of the Church is the work of God, and no more depends on the hopes and opinions of men, than the resurrection of the dead, or any other miracle of that description. Here, therefore, we are not to wait for facility of action, either from the will of men, or the temper of the times, but must rush forward through the midst of despair. It is the will of our Master that his gospel be preached. Let us obey his command, and follow whithersoever he calls. What the success will be it is not ours to inquire. Our only duty is to wish for what is best, and beseech it of the Lord in prayer; to strive with all zeal, solicitude, and diligence, to bring about the desired result, and, at the same time, to submit with patience to whatever that result may be.
Groundless, therefore, is the charge brought against us of not having done all the good which we wished, and which was to be desired. God bids us plant and water. We have done so. He alone gives the increase. What, then, if he chooses not to give according to our wish? If it is clear that we have faithfully done our part, let not our adversaries require more of us: if the result is unfavourable, let them expostulate with God. But the pretence that no benefit has resulted from our doctrine is most false. I say nothing of the correction of external idolatry, and of numerous superstitions and errors; though that is not to be counted of no moment. But is there no fruit in this, that many who are truly pious feel their obligation to us, in that they have at length learned to worship God with a pure heart, and to invoke him with a calm conscience, have been freed from perpetual torments, and furnished with true delight in Christ, so as to be able to confide in him? But if we are asked for proofs which every eye can see, it has not fared so unhappily with us that we cannot point to numerous sources of rejoicing. How many who formerly led a vicious course of life have been so reformed as to seem converted into new men? How many whose past lives had been free from censure, nay, who were held in the highest estimation, have, instead of retrograding, been able to testify by their conduct that our ministry has proved neither barren nor unfruitful? Our enemies, no doubt, have it in their power to traduce and lacerate us by their calumnies, especially among the ignorant; but this they can never wrest from us, viz., that in those who have embraced our doctrine, greater innocence, integrity, and true holiness, are found, than in all who among them are deemed of greatest excellence. But if there are any (and we confess the number is but too great) who pervert the gospel, by giving loose reins to their passions, the circumstance, assuredly, is not new; and if it was, how can we be made to bear the blame of it? It is admitted that the gospel is the only rule of a good and holy life; but in the fact that all do not allow themselves to be ruled by it, and that some, as if set free from restraint, even sin more presumptuously, we recognise the truth of Simeon's saying, that Christ "is set up, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed," (Luke ii. 35.) If God sees meet to kindle the light of the gospel, in order that the hidden iniquity of the wicked may be exposed, out of this to concoct a charge against the ministers of the gospel, and their preaching, is the utmost stretch of malice and effrontery. But I do them no injury when I retort upon them the very thing out of which they attempt to rear up a charge against us. For where do the despisers of God learn their daring licentiousness, except it be from imagining, amid the uproar of dissensions, that there is nothing which they are not licensed to do? In this, therefore, let them recognise it as their own crime, viz., that by retarding the course of truth, they encourage the wicked with hopes of impunity.
As to the vituperative allegation, that we are devoid of discipline and laws, fitted to keep the people under due restraint, we are provided with a twofold answer. Were I to say that discipline is adequately established among us, I should be refuted by the daily discourses, in which our teachers lament that it still lies neglected. But while I deny not that we want the blessing of thorough discipline, still, I say, it ought to be considered who the persons are to whom it has hitherto been, and still is, owing that we do not enjoy it, in order that they may be made to bear the blame. Let our enemies deny, if they can, that they employ every artifice for the purpose, not only of hampering our exertions in forming and constituting our churches, but also of defeating and overthrowing whatever we begin. We labour sedulously in building up the Church, and when we are intent on the work, they, ever and anon, make a hostile entrance to disturb our operations, and allow us no interval which we might employ in arranging the domestic concerns of the Church. After this they upbraid us with the dilapidation of which they are themselves the cause. What kind of ingenuousness is this, to give us constant annoyance, and then make it a charge against us, that, in consequence of that annoyance, we are not at leisure to arrange all the departments of the Church? God is witness to our grief; men witnesses to our complaints, on account of the distance we still are from perfection. But then it is said, there are some things pertaining to discipline which we have discarded. True; but as men are wont, in rebuilding a fallen edifice, to drag out and collect the fragments which lie in heaps, or scattered about, in order that they may fit each into its proper place, so were we obliged to act. For if any part of ancient discipline survived, it was so mixed and buried with the confused mass of ruins; it had so lost its pristine form, that no use could be made of it till it was gathered out from amidst the confusion.
I wish, at all events, our opponents would stimulate us by their example. But how? The discipline which they clamorously maintain that we have not, do they themselves possess? Would it not be better were they to unite with us in admitting and confessing their fault before God, than to upbraid us with what may instantly be retorted on their own heads?
Discipline consists of two parts, the one relating to the clergy, the other to the people. Now, I wish to know with what strictness they confine their clergy to an upright and chaste behaviour. That purer and more refined holiness to which the ancient canons bind the clergy, I exact not of them. For I know how they laugh in their hearts when any one raises up from oblivion those laws which have now been dead for several ages. All I ask of their clergy is common decency, so that, if they are not distinguished for purity of life, they may, at least, not be infamous for turpitude. When any one, by means of gifts, or favour, or sordid obsequiousness, or surreptitious certificates, winds his way into the priesthood, the canons pronounce it simony, and order it as such to be punished. How many, in the present day, enter the priesthood by any other means? But adieu, as I have said, to that stern rigour. Still, were no enactment on the subject in existence, how disgraceful is it that the houses of bishops should be forges of open and adulterous simony? What shall I say of the Roman See, where it now seems matter of course that sacerdotal offices are openly disposed of to the highest bidder, or where they are the hire paid for panderism and sorcery, and the obscener crimes? If common sense has any influence amongst us, can it but seem monstrous that boys of twelve years of age should be made archbishops? When Christ was buffeted, was he more insulted than by this? Can there be a greater mockery to God and man, than when a boy is set to rule a Christian people, and installed in the seat of a father and pastor?
The injunctions of the canons concerning bishops and presbyters are, that all should be vigilant in their stations, and no one long absent from his church. But, let us suppose that there was no such precept, who sees not that the Christian name is subjected to the derision even of Turks, when the denomination of pastor of a church is given to one who does not pay it a single visit during his whole life? For, as to constant residence in the place where he has been appointed pastor, it is now long since an example of it became rare. Bishops and abbots either hold their own courts or dwell in ordinary in the courts of princes. Each, according to his disposition, selects the place where he may live in luxury. Those, again, who take more pleasure in their nest, are truly said to reside in their benefices, for they are lazy bellies, to whom nothing is less known than their duty!
It was forbidden by the ancient cannons to give two churches to one individual. Well, let this prohibition be as it had never been. Still, with what gloss will they excuse the absurdity of bestowing five benefices, or more, on one man? of allowing one, and that one sometimes a boy, to possess three bishoprics, seated at such a distance from each other that he could scarcely make the circuit of them in a year, were he to do nothing else?
The cannons require, that in promoting priests, a strict and minute examination be made into life and doctrine. Let us concede to the present times, that they cannot be tied down to so stern a rule. But we see how the ignorant and those utterly devoid both of learning and prudence, are inducted without discrimination. Even in hiring a mule-driver, more regard is paid to his past life than in choosing a priest. This is no fiction, no exaggeration. True, they go through the form like players on a stage, that they may exhibit some image of ancient practice. The bishops, or their suffragans, put the question, whether those whom they have determined to ordain are worthy? There is someone present to answer that they are worthy. There is no occasion to go far for a witness, or to bribe him for his testimony. The answer is merely a form; all beadles, tonsors, and doorkeepers, know it by heart.
Then, after ordination, the least suspicion of lewdness in the clergy ought, according to the ancient canons, to be corrected, and the proof of it punished with deposition and excommunication. Let us remit somewhat of this ancient rigour. Yet, what will be said to such a toleration of daily lewness, as might almost imply a right to commit it? The canons declare, that on no account shall a clergyman be permitted to indulge in hunting, or gaming, or revelry, and dancing. Nay, they even expel from the ministry every man to whom any kind if infamy attaches. In like manner, all who involve themselves in secular affairs, or so intermeddle in civil offices, as to distract their attention from the ministry—all, in fine, who are not assiduous in the discharge of their duties, they order to be severely censured, and, if they repent not, deposed. It will be objected, that these severe remedies, which cut all vices to the quick, this age cannot bear. Be it so, I do not call upon them for so much purity. But that an unbridled licentiousness should reign in the clergy, a licentiousness so unbridled that they, more than any other order, give additional taint to a world already most corrupt, who can forgive them?
With regard to the discipline exercised over the people, the matter stands thus:—provided the domination of the clergy remains intact, provided no deduction is made from their tribute or plunder, almost anything else is done with impunity, or carelessly overlooked. We see the general prevalence of all kinds of wickedness in the manners of society. In proof of this, I will call no other witnesses than your Imperial Majesty and Most Illustrious Princes. I admit that the fact is attributable to many causes, but among the many, the primary cause is, that the priests, either from indulgence or carelessness, have allowed the wicked to give loose reins to their lusts. How do they act at the present hour? What care do they imploy in eradicatings vices, or at least in checking them? Where their admonitions? Where their censures? To omit other things, what use is made of excommunication, that best nerve of discipline? True, they possess, under the name of excommunication, a tyrannical thunderbolt which they hurl at those whom they call contumacious. But what contumacy do they punish, unless it be of persons who, when cited to their tribunal about money matters, have either not appeared, or, from proverty, have failed to satisfy their demands? Accordingly, the most salutary remedy for chastising the guilty, they merely abuse in vexing the poor and the innocent. They have, moreover, the ridiculous custom of sometimes flagellating hidden crimes with an anathema, as in the ease where a theft has been committed and the thief is unknown. This practice is altogether at variance with the institution of Christ. But, though so many disgraceful proceedings take place openly before the eyes of all, as to them excommunication is asleep. And yet the very persons among whom all these disorders prevail have the hardihood to upbraid us with want of order! No doubt, if we are equally guilty, we gain nothing by accusing them; but in what I have hitherto said, my object has not been, by recrimination, to evade the charge which they bring against us, but to show the real value of that discipline which they complain that we have overthrown. If it is thought proper to compare the two, we are confident that our disorder, such as it is, will be found at all events somewhat more orderly than the kind of order in which they glory. I mean not to palliate or flatter our defects, when I thus speak. I know how much we require to be improved. Undoubtedly, were God to call us to account, excuse would be difficult; but when called to answer our enemies we have a better cause, and an easier victory than we could wish.
With similar effrontery, they clamour that we have seized upon the wealth of the Church, and applied it to secular purposes. Were I to say that we have not sinned in this respect, I should lie. Indeed, changes of such magnitude are seldom made without bringing some inconveniences along with them. If; herein, aught has been done wrong, I excuse it not. But, with what face do our adversaries present this charge against us? They say, it is sacrilege to convert the wealth of the Church to secular uses. I admit it. They add, that we do so. I reply, that we have not the least objection to answer for ourselves, provided they, too, in their turn, come prepared to plead their cause. We will immediately attend to our own case; meanwhile, let us see what they do. Of bishops I say nothing, except what all see, that they not only rival princes in the splendour of their dress, the luxuries of their table, the number of their servants, the magnificence of their palaces, in short, every kind of luxury; but also, that they dilapidate and squander ecclesiastical revenues, in expenditure of a much more shameful description. I say nothing of field-sports, nothing of gaming, nothing of the other pleasures which absorb no small portion of their incomes. But, to take from the Church, in order to spend on pimps and harlots, is surely too bad. Then how absurd, not only to plume themselves on pomp and show, but to carry them to the utmost excess.
Time was, when poverty in priests was deemed glorious. So it was in the Council of Aquila. On one occasion, too, it was decreed that a bishop should reside within a short distance of his church in a humble dwelling, with a scanty table and mean furniture, (Conc. Garth. iv. cap. iv. Can. 14.) But, without going to that ancient rigour, after numerous corruptions had crept in with the progress of wealth, even then the ancient law was again confirmed which divided ecclesiastical revenues into four portions; one to go to the bishop for hospitality, and the relief of those in want, another to the clergy, a third to the poor, and a fourth to the repairing of churches. Gregory attests that this rule was in full observance even in his day. Besides, were there no laws on the subject, and at one time there were none, (for that which I have mentioned was, as in the case of other laws, rendered necessary by the corruption of manners,) still there is no man who will not admit the truth of what Jerome says, (ad Nepotianum,) that it is the glory of a bishop to provide for the wants of the poor, and the disgrace of all priests to have a hankering after private wealth. It will, perhaps, be thought that another injunction, which he gives in the same passage, is too severe, viz., that open table should be kept for the poor, and for strangers. It is, however, equally well-founded.
The nearer abbots approach to bishops in extent of revenue, the more they resemble them. Canons and parish priests, not deriving enough from one cure for gluttony, luxury, and pomp, soon found out a compendious method of remedying the inconvenience. For there is nothing to prevent him who could, in one month, swallow much more than he draws in a year, from holding four or five benefices. The burden is nothing thought of. for there are vicars at hand ready to stoop, and take it on their shoulders, provided they are allowed to gobble up some small portion of the proceeds. Nay, few are found who will be contented with one bishopric, or one abbacy. Those of the clergy who live at the public expense of the Church, though able to live on their patrimony, Jerome styles sacrilegious, (C. Cler. I. Quaest. 2.). What, then, must he thought of those who at once engulf three bishoprics, i.e., from fifty to a hundred tolerable patrimonies? And, lest they complain that they are unjustly traduced for the fault of a few, what are we to think of those who not only luxuriate on the public revenues of the Church, but abuse them in paying the hire of panders and courtesans? I speak only of what is notorious.
Then, were we to ask, I say, not at the whole order, but at the few who reside in their benefices, by what right they receive even a frugal and moderate stipend, even such a question they are not able to answer. For what duties do they perform in return? In the same way as anciently, under the law, those who served at the altar lived by the altar, "even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel," (1 Cor. lx. 9.) These are Paul's words. Let them, then, show us that they are ministers of the gospel, and I will have no difficulty in conceding their right to stipend. The ox must not be muzzled that treadeth out the corn. But is it not altogether at variance with reason that the ploughing oxen should starve, and the lazy asses be fed? They will say, however, that they serve at the altar. I answer, that the priests under the law deserved maintenance, by ministering at an altar; not that, as Paul declares, the case under the New Testament is different. And what are those altar services, for which they allege that maintenance is due to them? Forsooth, that they may perform their masses and chant in churches, i.e., partly labour to no purpose, and partly perpetrate sacrilege, thereby provoking the anger of God. See for what it is that they are alimented at the public expense!
There are some who accuse our princes of inexpiable sacrilege, as having, with violence and the greatest injustice, seized upon the patrimony of the Church, which had been consecrated to God, and as now dilapidating it for profane uses.
I have already declared that I am unwilling to be the apologist of everything that is done amongst us; nay, rather, I openly declare my dissatisfaction that more regard is not paid to the due application of ecclesiastical revenues to those purposes only for which they were destined. This I deplore in common with all good men. But the only point under discussion at present is, whether our princes sacrilegiously seized on the revenues of the Church, when they appropriated what they had rescued out of the hands of priests and monks? Is it profanation to apply these to some other purpose than stuffing such lazy bellies? For it is their own cause which our adversaries plead, not the cause of Christ and his Church. No doubt, heavy judgments are denounced against those who rob the Church, and carry off for their own use what belongs to her. But the reason is at the same time added, viz., because they defraud true ministers of their maintenance, and because, starving the poor to death, they are guilty of their blood. But what have our opponents to do with this? For who among their whole tribe can make the declaration which Ambrose once made, that whatever he possessed was the revenue of the needy; and again, that every thing which a bishop possesses belongs to the poor? (Ambrose, Epist.Lib. V. Ep. 31 et 33.) Nay, how few of them do not abuse what they possess with as much licence as if it had been given to be profusely squandered as they list? It is vain, therefore, for them to expostulate, because deprived of that which they possessed without any right, and wasted with the greatest iniquity.
And it was not only lawful, but necessary also, for our princes so to deprive them. When they saw the Church absolutely destitute of true ministers, and the revenues destined for their support absorbed by lazy idle men; when they saw the patrimony of Christ and the poor either ingulfed by a few, or dissolutely wasted on expensive luxuries, were they not to interfere? Nay, when they saw the obstinate enemies of the truth lying like an incubus on the patrimony of the Church, and abusing it, to attack Christ, to oppress sound doctrine, and persecute its ministers, was it not right immediately to wrest it from their hands, that, at all events, they might not be armed and equipped by the resources of the Church to vex the Church? King Josiah is commended, on the authority of the Holy Spirit, because, on perceiving that the sacred oblations were improperly consumed by the priests, he appointed an officer to call them to account, (2nd Chronicles. 43:14.) And yet they were priests whom God had entrusted with the ordinary administration. What, then, is to be done with those who exercise no lawful ministry, and who not only, like them, neglect the repairing of the temple, but exert all their nerves and resources to pull down the Church?
But some one will ask, how are the appropriated revenues administered? Certainly not in a manner altogether free from blame, but still in a manner far better and holier than by our enemies. Out of them, at all events, true ministers are supported, who feed their flocks with the doctrine of salvation, whereas, formerly, churches left utterly destitute of pastors were burdened with the payment of them. Wherever schools or hospitals for the poor existed they remain; in some instances their revenues have been increased; in none have they been diminished. In many places, also, in lieu of monasteries, hospitals have been established where there were none before; in others new schools have been erected, in which not only have regular salaries been given to the masters, but youths also are trained, in the hope of being afterwards of service to the Church.
In fine, churches derive many advantages in common from these revenues, with which, before, only monks and priests were gorged. Nor is it a small portion which is devoted to extraordinary expenses, though these are well entitled to be taken into account. It is certain that much more is consumed when matters are in disorder, than would be if proper arrangements were made among the churches. But nothing could be more unjust than to deny to our princes and magistrates the right of making expenditure of this kind, not for their private benefit, but to meet the public necessities of the Church. Besides, our adversaries forget to deduct their spoliation's and unjust exaction's, by which communities were pillaged for sacrifices, of which they are now relieved. But there is one reason which renders all this discussion, in a great measure, superfluous. More than three years ago, our princes declared their readiness to make restitution, provided the same course were enforced against those who detain a much larger amount for a less honourable cause, and who are guilty of much greater corruption in the administration of it. Our princes, therefore, stand bound to your Imperial Majesty by their promise. The document also is before the world; so that this should not be any hindrance to uniformity of doctrine.
The last and principal charge which they bring against us is, that we have made a schism in the Church. And here they boldly maintain against us, that in no case is it lawful to break the unity of the Church. How far they do us injustice, the books of our authors bear witness. Now, however, let them take this brief reply—that we neither dissent from the Church, nor are aliens from her communion. But, as by this specious name of Church, they are wont to cast dust in the eyes even of persons otherwise pious and right hearted, I beseech your Imperial Majesty, and you, Most Illustrious Princes, first, to divest yourselves of all prejudice, that you may give an impartial ear to our defence; secondly, not to be instantly terrified on hearing the name of Church, but to remember that the Prophets and Apostles had, with the pretended church of their days, a contest similar to that which you see us have in the present day with the Roman Pontiff and his whole train. When they, by the command of God, inveighed freely against idolatry, superstition, and the profanation of the temple, and its sacred rites, against the carelessness and lethargy of priests, and against the general avarice, cruelty, and licentiousness, they were constantly met with the objection which our opponents have ever in their months—that by dissenting from the common opinion, they violated the unity of the Church. The ordinary government of the Church was then vested in the priests. They had not presumptuously arrogated it to themselves, but God had conferred it upon them by his law. It would occupy too much time to point out all the instances. Let us, therefore, be contented with a single instance, in the case of Jeremiah.
He had to do with the whole college of priests, and the arms with which they attacked him were these, "Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet," (Jeremiah 18:18.) They had among them a High Priest, to reject whose judgment was a capital crime, and they had the whole order to which God himself had committed the government of the Jewish Church concurring with them. If the unity of the Church is violated by him, who, instructed solely by Divine truth, opposes himself to ordinary authority, the prophet must be a schismatic; because, not at all deterred by such menaces from warring with the impiety of the priests, he steadily persevered. That the eternal truth of God, preached by the prophets and apostles, is on our side, we are prepared to show, and it is indeed easy for any man to perceive. But all that is done is to assail us with this battering ram, "Nothing can excuse withdrawal from the Church." We deny out and out that we do so. With what,. then, do they urge us? With nothing more than this, that to them belongs the ordinary government of the Church. But how much better right had the enemies of Jeremiah to use this argument? To them, at all events, there still remained a legal priesthood, instituted by God; so that their vocation was unquestionable. Those who, in the present day, have the name of prelates, cannot prove their vocation by any laws, human or divine. Be it, however, that in this respect both are on a footing, still, unless they previously convict the holy prophet of schism, they will prove nothing against us by that specious title of Church. I have thus mentioned one prophet as an example. But all the others declare that they had the same battle to fight—wicked priests endeavouring to overwhelm them by a perversion of this term Church. And how did the apostles act? Was it not necessary for them, in professing themselves the servants of Christ, to declare war upon the synagogue? And yet the office and dignity of the priesthood were not then lost. But it will be said, that, though the prophets and apostles dissented from wicked priests in doctrine, they still cultivated communion with them in sacrifices and prayers. I admit they did, provided they were not forced into idolatry. But which of the prophets do we read of as having ever sacrificed in Bethel? Which of the faithful, do we suppose, communicated in impure sacrifices, when the temple was polluted by Antiochus, and profane rites were introduced into it?
On the whole, we conclude that the servants of God never felt themselves obstructed by this empty title of Church, when it was put forward to support the reign of impiety. It is not enough, therefore, simply to throw out the name of Church, but judgment must be used to ascertain which is the true Church, and what is the nature of its unity. And the thing necessary to be attended to, first of all, is, to beware of separating the Church from Christ its Head. When I say Christ, I include the doctrine of his gospel, which he sealed with his blood. Our adversaries, therefore, if they would persuade us that they are the true Church, must, first of all, show that the true doctrine of God is among them and this is the meaning of what we often repeat, viz., that the uniform characteristics of a well-ordered Church are the preaching of sound doctrine, and the pure administration of the Sacraments. For, since Paul declares (Ephesians 2:20) that the Church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets," it necessarily follows that any church not resting on this foundation must immediately fall. I come now to our opponents.
They, no doubt, boast in lofty terms that Christ is on their side. As soon as they exhibit him in their word we will believe it, but not sooner. They, in the same way, insist on the term Church. But where, we ask, is that doctrine which Paul declares to be the only foundation of the Church? Doubtless your Imperial Majesty now sees that there is a vast difference between assailing us with the reality and assailing us only with the name of Church. We are as ready to confess as they are that those who abandon the Church, the common mother of the faithful, the "pillar and ground of the truth," revolt from Christ also; but we mean a Church which, from incorruptible seed, begets children for immortality, and, when begotten, nourishes them with spiritual food, (that seed and food being the Word of God,) and which, by its ministry, preserves entire the truth which God deposited in its bosom. This mark is in no degree doubtful, in no degree fallacious, and it is the mark which God himself impressed upon his Church, that she might be discerned thereby. Do we seem unjust in demanding to see this mark? Wherever it exists not, no face of a church is seen. If the name, merely, is put forward, we have only to quote the well-known passage of Jeremiah, "Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these," (Jer. vil. 4.) "Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?" (Jeremiah 7:11.)
In like manner, the unity of the Church, such as Paul describes it, we protest we hold sacred, and we denounce anathema against all who in any way violate it. The principle from which Paul derives unity is, that there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all," who hath called us into one hope, (Ephesians 4:4, 5.) Therefore, we are one body and one spirit, as is here enjoined, if we adhere to God only, i.e., be bound to each other by the tie of faith. We ought, moreover, to remember what is said in another passage, "that faith cometh by the word of God." Let it, therefore, be a fixed point, that a holy unity exists amongst us, when, consenting in pure doctrine, we are united in Christ alone. And, indeed, if concurrence in any kind of doctrine were sufficient, in what possible way could the Church of God be distinguished from the impious factions of the wicked? Wherefore, the Apostle shortly after adds, that the ministry was instituted "for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God: That we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ," (Eph. iv. 12-15.) Could he more plainly comprise the whole unity of the Church in a holy agreement in true doctrine, than when he calls us back to Christ and to faith, which is included in the knowledge of him, and to obedience to the truth? Nor is any lengthened demonstration of this needed by those who believe the Church to be that sheepfold of which Christ alone is the Shepherd, and where his voice only is heard, and distinguished from the voice of strangers. And this is confirmed by Paul, when he prays for the Romans, "The God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," (Romans 15:5, 6.)
Let our opponents, then, in the first instance, draw near to Christ, and then let them convict us of schism, in daring to dissent from them in doctrine. But, since I have made it plain, that Christ is banished from their society, and the doctrine of his gospel exterminated, their charge against us simply amounts to this, that we adhere to Christ in preference to them. For what man, pray, will believe that those who refuse to be led away from Christ and his truth, in order to deliver themselves into the power of men, are thereby schismatics, and deserters from the communion of the Church? I certainly admit that respect is to be shown to priests, and that there is great danger in despising ordinary authority. If, then, they were to say, that we are not at our own hand to resist ordinary authority, we should have no difficulty in subscribing to the sentiment. For we are not so rude, as not to see what confusion must arise when the authority of rulers is not respected. Let pastors, then, have their due honour—an honour, however, not derogatory in any degree to the supreme authority of Christ, to whom it behoves them and every man to be subject. For God declares, by Malachi, that the government of the Israelitish Church was committed to the priests, under the condition that they should faithfully fulfil the covenant made with them, viz., that their "lips should keep knowledge," and expound the law to the people, (Malachi 2:7.) When the priests altogether failed in this condition, he declares, that, by their perfidy, the covenant was abrogated and made null. Pastors are mistaken if they imagine that they are invested with the government of the Church on any other terms than that of being ministers and witnesses of the truth of God. As long, therefore, as, in opposition to the law and to the nature of their office, they eagerly wage war with the truth of God, let them not arrogate to themselves a power which God never bestowed, either formerly on priests, or now on bishops, on any other terms than those which have been mentioned.
But, because they hold that the communion of the Church is confined to a kind of regimen which they have struck out for themselves, they think it sufficient to decide the victory in their favour, when they point to our alienation from the Romish See. But to this vaunted primacy of the Romish See it is not difficult to reply. It is a subject, however, on which I will not here enter, both because it would occupy too much time, and because it has been amply discussed by our writers. I will only beg your Imperial Majesty, and Most Illustrious Princes, to listen to Cyprian, when be points out a better method of ascertaining the true communion of the Church, than that of referring it, as our opponents do, to the Roman Pontiff alone. For, after placing the only source of ecclesiastical concord in the episcopal authority of Christ, which episcopal authority he affirms that each bishop, to the extent to which it has been communicated, holds entire, he thus proceeds: "There is one church, which, by the increase of its fruitfulness, spreads into a multitude, just as there are many rays of the sun, but only one light, many branches in a tree, but one trunk, upheld by its tenacious root; and when many streams flow from one fountain, though, from the copiouness of the supply, there seems a division into parts, still, in regard to the origin, unity is preserved. Separate a ray from the body of the sun, the unity of the light is not divided. Break a branch from a tree, that which is broken cannot germinate. Cut off a stream from the fountain, and it dries up. So, also, the Church of God, irradiated with light, sends its beams over the whole world. Still it is one light which is everywhere diffused. The unity of the body is not violated."(Cyprian De Unitat. Ecclesiae.) Heresies and Schisms, therefore, arise when a return is not made to the origin of truth, when neither the head is regarded, nor the doctrine of the heavenly Master preserved. Let them then show us a hierarchy in which the bishops are distinguished, but not for refusing to be subject to Christ, in which they depend upon him as the only head, and act solely with reference to him, in which they cultivate brotherly fellowship with each other, bound together by no other tie than his truth; then, indeed, I will confess that there is no anathema too strong for those who do not regard them with reverence, and yield them the fullest obedience. But is there any thing like this in that false mask of hierarchy on which they plume themselves? The Roman Pontiff alone as Christ's vicar is in the ascendant, and domineers without law and without measure, after the manner of a tyrant, nay, with more abandoned effrontery than any tyrant. The rest of the body is framed more according to his standard than that of Christ. The light of which Cyprian speaks is extinguished, the copious fountain cut off; in short, tile only thing exhibited is the tallness of the tree, but a tree dissevered from its root.
I am aware that our adversaries have good reason for labouring so strenuously to maintain the primacy of the Romish See. They feel that on it both themselves and their all depend. But your part, Most Invincible Emperor, and Most Illustrious Princes, is to be on your guard in order that they may not with vain glosses deceive you, as they are wont to deceive the unwary. And, first, this vaunted supremacy, even themselves are forced to confess, was established by no divine authority, but by the mere will of man. At least, when we give proof of this fact, though they do not expressly assent, they seem as if ashamed to maintain the opposite. There was a time, indeed, when they audaciously perverted certain passages of Scripture to confirm this palpable falsehood, but as soon as we came to close quarters, it was found easy to pluck out of their hands the bits of lath, to which, when at a distance, they had given the appearance of swords. Abandoned, accordingly, by the Word of God, they flee for aid to antiquity. But here, also, without much ado, we dislodge them. For both the writings of holy Fathers, the acts of Councils, and all history, make it plain that this height of power, which the Roman Pontiff has now possessed for about four hundred years, was attained gradually, or rather was either craftily crept into, or violently seized. But let us forgive them this, and let them take for granted that primacy was divinely bestowed on the Romish See, and has been sanctioned by the uniform consent of the ancient Church; still there is room for this primacy only on the supposition that Rome has both a true church and a true bishop. For the honour of the seat cannot remain after the seat itself has ceased to exist. I ask, then, in what respect the Roman Pontiff performs the duty of a bishop, so as to oblige us to recognise him as a bishop? There is a celebrated saying of Augustine, "Bishopric is the name of an office, and not a mere title of honour." And ancient Synods define the duties of a bishop to consist in feeding the people by the preaching the Word, in administering thc sacraments, in curbing clergy and people by holy discipline, and, in order not to be distracted from these duties, in withdrawing from all the ordinary cares of the present life. In all these duties, presbyters ought to be the bishop's coadjutors. Which of them do the Pope and his Cardinals pretend to perform? Let them say, then, on what ground they claim to be regarded as legitimate pastors, while they do not, with their little finger, in appearance even, touch any part of the duty.
But let us grant all these things, viz., that he is a bishop who entirely neglects every part of his duty, and that a Church which is destitute, as well of the ministry of the Word as of the pure administration of the Sacraments; still, what answer is made when we add not only that these are wanting, but that everything which exists is directly the reverse? For several centuries that See has been possessed by impious superstitions, open idolatry, perverse doctrines, while those great truths, in which the Christian religion chiefly consists, have been suppressed. By the prostitution of the Sacraments to filthy lucre, and other abominations, Christ has been held up to such extreme derision, that he has in a manner been crucified afresh. Can she be the mother of all churches, who not only does not retain, I do not say the face, but even a single lineament, of the true Church, and has snapped asunder all those bonds of holy communion by which believers should be linked together? The Roman Pontiff is now opposing himself to the reviving doctrines of the gospel, just as if his head were at stake. Does he not, by this very fact, demonstrate that there will be no safety for his See unless he can put to flight the kingdom of Christ? Your Imperial Majesty is aware how wide a field of discussion here opens upon me. But to conclude this point in a few words: I deny that See to be Apostolical, wherein nought is seen but a shocking apostasy—I deny him to be the vicar of Christ, who, in furiously persecuting the gospel, demonstrates by his conduct that he is Antichrist—I deny him to be the successor of Peter, who is doing his utmost to demolish every edifice that Peter built—and I deny him to be the head of the Church, who by his tyranny lacerates and dismembers the Church, after dissevering her from Christ, her true and only Head. Let these denials be answered by those who are so bent on chaining the hierarchy of the Church to the Romish See, that they hesitate not to subordinate the sure and tried doctrines of the gospel to the authority of the Pope. Yea, I say, let them answer; only do you, Most Invincible Emperor, and Most Illustrious Princes, consider whether, in so calling upon them, the thing I ask is just or unjust.
Continue to Part V