[Article XII(V):] Of Repentance

Written in Latin by Philip Melanchthon (1531)

Translated from the Latin into German by Justus Jonas (1531)

English Translation by Ambrose and Socrates Henkel (1851), Revised by W. F. Lehmann (1854)

Link to Bente/Dau Translation from Latin (1921)

[1] Our adversaries approve the first part of the twelfth article, in which we assert that all those who fall into sin after Baptism, obtain the remission of sins, whenever, and as often as they repent.

They condemn and reject the other part, however, in which we declare that repentance consists of two parts,--contrition, and faith; that is, it includes a penitent, contrite heart, and the faith that we obtain the remission of sins through Christ.

Observe here, then, what our adversaries deny. They have the impudence to deny, that faith is a part of repentance. [2] Now, what shall we do, most gracious Emperor, in such a case? We surely obtain the remission of our sins through faith. This declaration is not ours, but it is the voice and Word of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

The writers of the Confutation condemn this clear declaration of Christ; therefore we can in no way assent to the Confutation. If it please God, we will not deny the clear words of the Gospel, the holy divine truth, and the blessed Word, in which all our consolation and our salvation rest. For thus to deny that we obtain the remission of sins by faith, would be to revile and blaspheme the blood and death of Christ.

[3] We therefore entreat your Imperial Majesty, graciously and attentively to hear and recognize us, on this great, important, and most weighty subject, which concerns our own souls and consciences, the whole Christian faith, the whole Gospel, the knowledge of Christ, and our highest and greatest interests; not only in this transitory life, but also in the future, yea, our eternal salvation and perdition before God. All pious and upright men shall discover, that we have taught and caused to be taught nothing but the divine truth on this subject, and have given nothing but wholesome, necessary, and consolatory instruction. In this doctrine all pious hearts, in the whole Christian church are most deeply interested; yea, it involves entirely their salvation and happiness; without such instruction, no ministry or Christian church can exist.

All godly men will find, that our doctrine concerning repentance has again brought to light the Gospel and its true meaning, and that it has removed many pernicious and odious errors, while the writings of the Scholastics and Canonists had entirely suppressed this doctrine of true repentance. [4] We shall now show this, before we enter upon the subject. All honorable, honest, and intelligent men of every order, even the theologians, must confess, and no doubt our enemies themselves are convinced in their own minds, that before Dr. Luther wrote, we had none but obscure and confused treatises on the subject of repentance; [5] as may be seen in the writings of the Sententiaries, in which there is an infinite number of useless questions, which no theologian has ever been able to explain satisfactorily. Much less could the people learn, from these sermons and confused writings what the substance of repentance is, or what are the principal parts of true repentance, and how the soul must seek rest and peace; [6] and we venture to say that no one can learn from their books, when his sins are truly forgiven.

Great God! What blindness! What consummate ignorance on this subject! Their writings are nothing but darkness and obscurity. They raise questions: Whether the forgiveness of sins takes place in attrition or contrition; --"If sin is forgiven on account of penitence or contrition, what is the use of absolution? If sin be already forgiven, what need of the power of the keys?" With these things they trouble and perplex themselves, and entirely destroy the power of the keys. [7] Some of them pretend that guilt is not forgiven before God, by the power of the keys, but that eternal is thus converted into temporal punishment; thus making absolution and the power of the keys, from which we are to expect consolation and life, a power simply to impose punishment on us. Others who would be more skilful, say that through the power of the keys sins are forgiven before men, or before the Christian congregation, but not before God.

This is a most pernicious error; for if the power of the keys, which God has given, does not console us before him, how is the conscience to obtain peace? They, moreover, teach things even more ill-judged and confused; [8] they say that men can merit grace by contrition. Now if they were asked why Saul and Judas, and like individuals, who were very contrite, did not merit grace, they would have to reply, that in Judas and Saul there was a want of the Gospel and of faith, that Judas did not console himself with the Gospel and believe; for faith distinguishes the contrition of Peter from that of Judas.

Our adversaries, however, never mention faith and the Gospel, but appeal to the law, saying, Judas did not love God, but dreaded punishment. Is not this a loose and improper representation of repentance? [9] For when can the alarmed conscience know, especially in the serious and great terrors, described in the Psalms and the writings of the Prophets, whether we fear God out of love, as our God, or whether we dread his wrath and eternal condemnation?

They can have experienced but little of these great terrors, quibbling as they do, and making distinctions according to their fancies, but in the heart and in actual experience it is far otherwise. No conscience can be pacified with mere words and sounds, as these bland and idle sophists dream. [10] We appeal to the experience of all pious men, all that are honest and intelligent, and desire to know the truth, will confess that in all their books, our adversaries give no correct and satisfactory exposition of repentance, but mere confused, idle talk; and yet repentance and the remission of sins are most important articles of Christian doctrine.

Now their doctrines on the above questions are full of error and hypocrisy, suppressing the true doctrine of Christ, of the power of the keys, and of faith, to the unspeakable injury of souls.

[11] Further, on the subject of confession, they propagate more errors still; all they teach is, to enumerate and make long lists of sins, mostly sins against human commands; and they urge these things upon the people, as if they were de jure divino, that is, by divine right, or commanded of God. [12] But even this would not have been so very oppressive, if they had only taught the truth concerning absolution and faith. But these also they pass by, taking no notice of the consolation they afford, and setting up the fiction that the work itself, confession and contrition, makes the soul righteous, ex opere operato, without Christ and without faith. They are veritable Jews.

[13] The third part of this subject is satisfaction, or the atonement for sin. On this point their teachings are still more bungling and confused; they present such a perfect medley, that the poor conscience cannot there obtain the least of the true consolation it needs. They invent the fancy, that eternal punishment is changed before God into the punishment of purgatory; that a part of the punishment is forgiven and remitted through the [power of the] keys, but a part must be atoned for by works. [14] They moreover call the opera supererogationis, atonements; these are their puerile and foolish works--pilgrimages, rosaries, and the like, which are not commanded of God.

[15] Moreover, as they would redeem themselves from the pains of purgatory by an atonement of their own, so they invented an additional scheme of redemption from this atonement itself, which finally became a very profitable speculation, and resembled a great annual fair. Shamelessly selling their indulgences, they asserted that all who procured them were released from rendering satisfaction. This traffic they unblushingly carried so far, as not only to sell indulgences to the living, but also to require them for the dead. Besides, they also introduced the monstrous abuse of the Mass, pretending by it to redeem the dead. [16] Under such doctrines of the devil, the whole Christian doctrine concerning faith and Christ, and the consolation it affords us, lay buried.

Hence all honest, upright, honorable, and intelligent men, to say nothing of Christians, perceive that it was urgently necessary to condemn this ungodly doctrine of the sophists and Canonists on the subject of repentance, for it is manifestly false, wrong, contrary to the clear words of Christ, to all the writings of the Apostles, to all the Scriptures, and to the Fathers. Their errors are:

[17] I. That God must forgive us our sins, if we do good works even without grace.

[18] II. That we merit grace by attrition or contrition.

[19] III. That, to blot out our sins, it is sufficient to hate and reprove them.

[20] IV. That we obtain the remission of sins by our contrition, not by faith in Christ.

[21] V. That the power of the keys confers the remission of sins, not before God, but before the church or men.

[22] VI. That the power of the keys not only forgives sins, but was instituted to convert eternal into temporal punishment, to impose certain acts of expiation upon the conscience, and to establish forms of divine service and expiatory works, to which to bind the conscience before God.

[23] VII. That the enumeration, and actual specification of all sins, are commanded of God.

[24] VIII. That acts of atonement (satisfactiones), which are established by man, are necessary to the expiation of punishment, or are even a compensation for guilt. For, although in the schools the satisfactiones are set off only for the punishment, yet they are universally understood as meriting the forgiveness of guilt.

[25] IX. That through the reception of the Sacrament of Repentance, although the heart be not engaged therein, we obtain grace, ex opere operato, without faith in Christ.

[26] X. That by virtue of the power of the keys, souls are released from purgatory, by means of indulgences.

[27] XI. That in reserved cases not only the canonical punishment, but even the guilt of sin before God can be retained, by the Pope, in those who are truly converted to God.

[28] Now in order to extricate the conscience from the innumerable snares and complicated nets of the sophists, we assert that repentance or conversion consists of two parts, contrition and faith. If anyone, however, feels disposed to add, as a third part, the fruits of repentance and conversion, which are good works, and which shall and must follow, we shall not seriously object. [29] But when we speak de contritione, that is, concerning true contrition, we cut off their innumerable and useless questions, such as: "When are we contrite through the love of God?" or: "When are we contrite through fear of punishments?" These are nothing but empty words and mere prating on the part of those, who have not experienced how an alarmed conscience feels.

We affirm that contrition or true penitence is, to be alarmed in the conscience, to feel our sins and the great wrath of God on account of them, and to regret that we have sinned. This contrition takes place, when our sins are rebuked by the Word of God. For the substance of the Gospel is:--First, that it calls upon us to reform, and convicts all men of sin; and in the second place, that it offers through Christ the remission of sins, eternal life, felicity, complete salvation, and the Holy Spirit, through whom we are born anew.

[30] Thus Christ also sums up the substance of the Gospel, when he says, Luke 24:47: "That repentance and the remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations." [31] Of the terror and anxiety of the conscience the Scriptures speak in the 38th Psalm verse 4: "Mine iniquities are gone over mine head; as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me;" and in the sixth Psalm verses 2 and 3: "Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?" And Isa. 38:10,13,14: "I said, in the cutting off my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years," etc. "I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones," etc. Again, "Mine eyes fail with looking upward: O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me." [32] In this agony the conscience feels the wrath and anger of God against sin, which are unknown to idle and carnal-minded men, like the sophists; then only does it perceive that sin is the grossest disobedience to God; and then does the terrible wrath of God truly oppress the conscience; yea, human nature could not endure it, without support from the Word of God.

[33] Thus Paul says, Gal. 2:19: "I through the laws am dead to the law;" [34] for the law only accuses and alarms the conscience, and commands what we do. Here our adversaries do not say a word about faith, about the Gospel or Christ, but teach the law only, and assert that we may secure divine favor by our grief, contrition, sorrow, and alarm, provided we love God, or are contrite, from love towards him. Great God, what preaching is this for consciences needing consolation! How is it possible for us to love God, when involved in such great terror and unspeakable agony, or feeling the great and terrible displeasure and wrath of God, which are then more forcibly felt, than any one on earth is able to express or describe? What else but despair do the teachings of such preachers and doctors lead to, who preach no Gospel, no consolation, but simply the law, to the poor conscience in such deep distress? [35] But we add the other part of repentance, namely, faith in Christ, and say, that in such terror, the Gospel of Christ, in which is promised the gracious remission of sin through him, should be presented to the conscience: which should then believe its sins forgiven for the sake of Christ. [36] This faith encourages, consoles, imparts life and joy to such contrite hearts; as Paul, Rom. 5:1, says: "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." This faith truly shows the difference between the contrition of Judas and Peter, of Saul and David. And for this reason the contrition of Judas and Saul was of no account, because they did not by faith cleave to the promise of God through Christ.

On the other hand, the contrition of David and Peter was genuine: for they by faith embraced the promise of God, that offers the remission of sins through Christ. [37] For, properly speaking, there is no love of God in our hearts, until we are reconciled to God through Christ. No one can fulfil the law of God, or the First Commandment, without Christ; as Paul Eph. 2:18, says: "Through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father;" and faith during the whole life contends against sin, and is proved and strengthened by various trials. Where this faith exists, there only does the love of God follow, as we have stated above.

[38] This is the proper definition of filial fear (timor filialis), namely, the fear and terror before God, in which, faith in Christ consoles and sustains the heart; servile fear, however, (servilis timor,) is fear without faith, where there is nothing but wrath and despair.

[39] Now the power of the keys announces to us the Gospel, through absolution; for absolution proclaims peace to the soul, and is the Gospel itself. Therefore, when we speak of faith, we include absolution; because faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). When we hear absolution, that is, the promise of divine grace, or the Gospel, our hearts and consciences are consoled. [40] Inasmuch as God truly grants new life and comfort to our hearts through the Word, our sins are truly remitted here on earth through the power of the keys, so that we are released from them before God in heaven; as we find, Luke 10:16: "He that heareth you, heareth me." We should therefore esteem or believe the words of absolution no less, than the clear voice of God from heaven. [41] Of right, absolution, this blessed, consolatory Word, should be called the Sacrament of Repentance; as some of the more learned scholastics also say.

[42] This faith in these words should be strengthened more and more, by hearing the preaching of the Word, by reading, and the use of the Sacraments; for these are the seals and signs of the covenant and of grace in the New Testament; these are signs of reconciliation and the remission of sins; for they offer forgiveness of sin, as the words in the Lord's Supper clearly show, Matt. 26:26–28: "This is my body," etc. "This is my blood of the new testament," etc. Thus faith is strengthened by the words of absolution, by the preaching of the Gospel, and by the reception of the Sacraments, that it may not perish in the alarm and anxiety of conscience.

[43] This is a clear, perspicuous, and correct exhibition of repentance, from which we may learn the nature of the keys, the benefits of the Sacraments, the blessings of Christ, and why and how he is our Mediator.

[44] But since our adversaries condemn us, for proposing these two parts of repentance or conversion, we shall show that this is not our own, but the Scripture doctrine. Christ says, Matt. 11:28: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Here are two parts,--the labor or burden of which Christ speaks,--this is the misery, the great fear of the heart, in view of God's wrath; and secondly, the coming to Christ, which is simply to believe, that for his sake our sins are forgiven, and that through the Holy Ghost we are born anew and receive life. [45] Contrition and faith, then, must be the chief parts of repentance.

Mark 1:15, Christ says: "Repent ye, and believe the Gospel." In the first place, he convicts us of sin and alarms us; then he consoles us and announces the remission of sins. For faith in the Gospel is, not only to believe the history of the Gospel, a faith which the devils also have; but, properly, to believe that our sins are remitted through Christ. This is the faith, revealed unto us in the Gospel. Here are the two parts: contrition or the terror of the conscience, when he says, repent; and faith, when he adds: believe the Gospel. If anyone should say, that Christ includes also the fruits of repentance, the whole new life, we shall not object. It is sufficient for us here, that the Scriptures state these two parts chiefly,--contrition and faith.

[46] Paul in all his epistles, whenever he shows how we are converted, combines these two parts:--the mortification of the old man, that is, contrition, and fear of God's wrath and judgment; on the other hand, renovation through faith; for by faith we are consoled, renovated, and delivered from death and hell. Concerning these two parts he clearly says, Rom. 6:11, that we are dead unto sin, which is brought about by contrition and fear; and again, that we shall live through Christ, which takes place, when we obtain consolation and life through faith. Now as faith is to give consolation, and peace to the conscience, agreeably to the passage, Rom. 5:1: "Being justified by faith, we have peace," etc.; it follows that fear and anxiety previously exist in the conscience. [47] Thus contrition and faith go together.

[49] But what need is there for quoting many passages and testimonies from the Scriptures, when they abound with them; as in the 118th Psalm, verse 18: "The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over to death." And in the 119th Psalm, verse 28: "My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word." First the Psalmist speaks of terror, or contrition; in the other part of the verse, he clearly shows how the contrite heart is consoled again, namely, by the Word of God, which offers grace, and reanimates us. [50] Again, 1 Sam. 2:6: "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up." Here also these two parts, contrition and faith, are referred to. [51] Again, Isa. 28:21: The Lord "shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work." He says that God will terrify, although this is not properly the work of God; for God's proper work is to make alive,--other works, such as to terrify and kill, are not properly God's. God brings only to life, and when he terrifies, he does so, that his blessed consolation may be the sweeter and more acceptable to us; for secure and carnal hearts, insensible of the wrath of God and their sins, do not appreciate consolation.

[52] Thus the holy Scriptures usually connect these two parts, first the terror, afterwards the consolation; showing, that true repentance or conversion includes: first, sincere contrition, and then faith, which consoles the conscience. Surely it is hardly possible to present this subject more clearly or correctly. We know assuredly, that God thus operates in the Christians in his church.

[53] These are therefore the two principal works of God in his people. Of these two things all the Scriptures speak: first, that he terrifies our hearts, and shows our sins; secondly, that he consoles, encourages and revives us. These two things are taught in all the Scriptures; on the one hand the law, which shows us our misery, and condemns sin; on the other the Gospel; for God's promise of grace through Christ is repeated from Adam down through the whole Scripture; for in the first place, the promise of grace, or the first Gospel message was delivered to Adam: "I will put enmity," etc., Gen. 3:15. Afterwards there were promises made to Abraham and other patriarchs, concerning the same Christ, which the Prophets afterwards preached; then the same promises of grace were preached by Christ himself among the Jews, after he had come; and lastly they were spread abroad by the Apostles among the heathens in all the world. [54] For, by faith in the Gospel, or in the promises concerning Christ, all the patriarchs and all the saints, from the beginning of the world, were justified before God, and not on account of their contrition or sorrow, or any kind of works.

[55] These examples of the justification of saints, likewise set forth the above two parts, namely, the law and the Gospel; for Adam, after he had fallen, was first reproved, that his conscience might be alarmed and filled with anxiety; this is true sorrow or real contrition. Afterwards, God promised him grace and salvation through the blessed seed, namely, Christ, by whom death, sin, and the kingdom of the devil should be destroyed. Here God offered grace and the remission of sin unto man.

These are the two parts. Although God afterwards inflicted punishment on Adam, yet he did not thereby merit the remission of his sins. Concerning this punishment we shall hereafter speak.

[56] In this manner, David was likewise severely reproved and alarmed by the prophet Nathan, so that he confessed, "I have sinned against the Lord," 2 Samuel 12:13. Now this is contrition. Afterwards he heard the Gospel and absolution: "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." When David believed these words, his heart received consolation, light, and life; and although punishment was also inflicted upon him, yet he did not thereby merit the remission of sin. [57] There are instances also, in which such particular punishment is not added; but these especially always belong to true repentance: first, that the conscience be sensible of and alarmed by sin; secondly, that we believe the divine promises; as set forth in the case of the poor sinful woman, (Luke 7:38,) that came unto Christ and wept bitterly. Here weeping shows her sorrow or contrition; afterwards she heard the Gospel: "Thy sins are forgiven: thy faith has saved thee: go in peace," (48,50). This is the other principal part of repentance, namely, faith, which consoled her. [58] From all this it is apparent to every Christian reader, that we are introducing no uncalled-for controversy, but clearly, correctly, and properly laying down the parts of repentance, without which sin cannot be forgiven, nor any one become righteous or holy before God, or be born anew.

The fruits of repentance and good works, and patience, willingly to bear the crosses and punishment God inflicts upon the old man, all follow, after our sins are thus remitted through faith and we are born anew. We have clearly laid down these two parts, in order that the doctrine of faith in Christ, on which the sophists and Canonists are all silent, might also be taught at last; and in order that the nature of faith might be more clearly understood, when thus opposed to our great anxiety and terror.

[59] But inasmuch as our adversaries expressly condemn, without fear or shame, this clear, indubitable and most excellent article, setting forth that men obtain the remission of their sins through faith in Christ, we shall offer some reasons and proofs for it, to show that we do not obtain remission of sin, ex opere operato, or through the work performed, through contrition or sorrow, etc., but exclusively through the faith, in which each one believes individually, that his own sins are forgiven. This article is the most important of those concerning which we are contending with our adversaries, and it is most essential for every Christian to know. But as we have said enough on the subject, in the above article concerning justification, we shall the more briefly speak of it here.

[60] Our adversaries, when they speak of faith, say: "Faith must precede repentance." They do not mean the faith which justifies before God, but that which in genere, that is, in a general way, believes that there is a God, a hell, etc. But we, in addition, require each one firmly to believe in reference to himself, that his sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. We contend for the faith which must follow terror, console the conscience, and restore the heart to peace in this severe struggle and great anxiety.

We shall, God willing, always defend it, and maintain against all the powers of hell, that this faith is necessary to obtain the forgiveness of sins. We therefore add this part to repentance. Nor can the Christian church hold otherwise, but that sin is forgiven through such faith; although our adversaries furiously clamor against it.

[61] In the first place, we ask our adversaries, whether it is also a part of repentance, to hear or receive absolution? For if they separate absolution from confession, as they are adepts in making subtle distinctions, no one will be able to ascertain or tell the use of confession without absolution. But if they do not separate absolution from confession, they must admit that faith in the Word of Christ is a part of repentance, as we cannot receive absolution except through faith. But that absolution cannot be received, except through faith, can be proved with Paul, (Rom 4:16,) who says that no one can receive the promises of God, except through faith.

Absolution, however, is nothing but the Gospel, a divine promise of the grace and favor of God, etc. Therefore, no one can possess or obtain it, except through faith. [62] For how can the declarations of absolution benefit those who do not believe them? But to doubt absolution, is to make God a liar. While the heart wavers and doubts, it regards the promises of God as uncertain. It is therefore written, 1 John 5:10: "He that believeth not God, hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son."

[63] In the second place, our adversaries are surely obliged to confess that the remission of sins is a part of repentance, or, to speak after their own manner, that it is finis, the end, or terminus ad quem, the object, aim, of the whole of repentance. For what would repentance avail us, if the remission of sins were not obtained? That, therefore, through which the remission of sins is obtained, must of course be one of the principal parts of repentance. But it is certainly true and obvious, though all devils, all the powers of hell, cry out against it, that no one can embrace the annunciation of the remission of sins, but by faith, Rom 3:25: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood, " etc.; again, Rom 5:2: "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand," etc. [64] An alarmed conscience, which feels its sins, soon perceives that the wrath of God cannot be appeased by our miserable works; but the conscience truly obtains peace, when it cleaves to Christ the Mediator, and believes the divine promises. For those do not understand the remission of sins, or how it is obtained, who imagine that the heart and conscience can be pacified without faith in Christ.

[65] The apostle, 1 Pet. 2:6, quotes the words of Isaiah: "He that believeth on him, shall not be confounded." The hypocrites shall therefore be confounded before God, who imagine that they will obtain the remission of sins by their works, and not for Christ's sake. And, Acts 10:43, Peter says: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him, shall receive remission of sins." He could not have expressed himself more clearly than he has in the words, "Through his name," and, "All who believe in him."

We therefore obtain the remission of sins through the name of Christ, that is, for Christ's sake, and not on account of our merit or our works, and this takes place when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake.

[66] True, our adversaries exclaim that they are the Christian church, and that they hold what the catholic or universal church holds. But the apostle Peter, in reference to this case, and to our chief article, also speaks of a catholic or universal church, saying: To this Jesus give all the Prophets witness, that we obtain remission of sins through his name. Most assuredly the unanimous voice of all the holy Prophets--for God regards a single prophet even as a precious treasure--is at least equal to a decree, a declaration, or a unanimous, strong conclusion of the universal, catholic, Christian, holy church, and ought to be so regarded.

We shall not concede to popes, bishops, or the church, the power to maintain or determine anything against the unanimous voice of all the Prophets. [67] Yet Pope Leo X undertook to condemn this article as an error, and our adversaries do the same.

Thus it plainly appears what a noble Christian church this must be, that undertakes, not only to condemn by public, written decrees and edicts, the article, that we obtain remission of sins without works, through faith in Christ; but also to condemn and murder the innocent for confessing this article. They exile pious, upright men for teaching thus; and hunt them down with all manner of tyranny and cruelty.

[68] But they may say, that they have the authority of distinguished teachers, such as Scotus, Gabriel, and others, in their favor, besides the sayings of the Fathers, which are quoted in the Decrees in a mutilated form. True, they are all called teachers and writers, but by their notes these birds may be known. These writers have taught nothing but philosophy, and were ignorant of Christ and the work of God: this is manifest from their books.

[69] We shall therefore not permit ourselves to be misled by them; for we are sure that we may unhesitatingly oppose the words of the holy apostle Peter, as those of a great doctor, to the whole mass of Sententiaries, though there were thousands of them. [70] Peter clearly says, that this doctrine is the unanimous voice of all the Prophets; [71] and God powerfully confirmed this glorious declaration of the illustrious Apostle, and the time, by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit; for thus says the text: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word," Acts 10:44.

[72] Therefore Christians should carefully observe that it is the Word and command of God which declares that our sins are forgiven without merit, through Christ, not for the sake of our works. This is a genuine, efficacious, sure, and imperishable consolation against all the terrors of sin and death, against all the trials and despair, the anguish and terror of the conscience.

[73] Of this the idle sophists know but little; and the blessed Gospel of the remission of sins through the blessed seed, Christ, has been the greatest treasure and consolation, from the beginning of the world, to all the patriarchs, pious kings, prophets, and believers; for they believed in the same Christ in whom we believe. From the beginning of the world no saint was saved, except by faith in this Gospel. Peter therefore says, that it is the unanimous voice of all the Prophets. The apostles uniformly preach the same thing, and tell us that the Prophets spoke as through one mouth.

We have, moreover, the testimony of the holy Fathers. Bernard says in clear terms: "Therefore, it is necessary above all things to know that we cannot obtain the forgiveness of sins otherwise than through the grace of God; but you must also believe that you, as well as others, receive forgiveness through Christ. This is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in you, when he says in your heart: 'Your sins are forgiven you,' Matt 9:2. For thus the Apostle says, (Rom 3:24,) that men are justified through faith without merit."

[74] These words of St. Bernard highly extol and properly illustrate our doctrine; for he says, that we must not only believe in a general way that our sins are remitted, but also adds: "Each one must believe, individually, that his own sins are forgiven." Moreover, he teaches still more specifically how our hearts may be assured of grace and the remission of sin, namely, by the comfort and peace wrought within us. But what now, we ask our adversaries? Is St. Bernard also a heretic? What more do ye require? Will ye yet deny that we obtain the remission of sins through faith?

[75] In the third place, our adversaries affirm that sin is forgiven, quia attritus vel contritus elicit actum dilectionis Dei, when we undertake by our own reason to love God; through this work (say they) we obtain the remission of sins. This is surely abolishing the Gospel and the divine promises, and teaching merely the law; for they speak of nothing but the law and our works, as the law requires love.

They, moreover, teach us to trust that we obtain the forgiveness of our sins through such contrition and through our love. What is this but relying on our works, and not upon the promises concerning Christ? Now if the law is sufficient to obtain the remission of sins, what need is there of Christ, or of the Gospel? [76] But we call men away from the law and from their works, to the Gospel and the promises of grace; for this offers us Christ and pure grace, and bids us rely on the promise, that for the sake of Christ we are reconciled to the Father, and not on account of our contrition or love. There is no Mediator or Reconciler but Christ; and consequently we cannot fulfil the law, until we are reconciled through Christ. And though we do some good, yet we must believe that we obtain remission of sin not on account of these works, but for Christ's sake.

[77] To assert, therefore, that we obtain remission of sin through the law, or in any way except through faith in Christ, is a reproach to Christ and an abolition of the Gospel. This we have showed above, in the article de Justificatione, where we gave our reasons for teaching that we are justified by faith, and not by the love of God, or by our love towards him.

[78] Therefore, when our adversaries teach that we obtain the remission of sins through contrition and love, and encourage us to rely on them, they inculcate nothing but the law, which, however, they do not understand; especially with regard to the kind of love it requires towards God. Like the Jews, they look only upon the veiled face of Moses. Even if we suppose that works and love are there; yet neither works nor love can reconcile us to God, or weigh as much as Christ; as the 143d Psalm, verse 2, says: "Enter not into judgment with thy servant," etc. We should not, therefore, attribute the honor of Christ to our works.

[79] Paul, for the same reason, contends that we are not justified by the law, and opposes to the law the promise of God, the promise of the grace offered unto us for Christ's sake. He calls us away from the law to this divine promise; he desires us to look upon God and his promise, and to regard Christ the Lord as our treasure; for this promise would be useless, if we were justified before God by the law, and if we merit the remission of our sins through our righteousness.

[80] Now, there can be no doubt that God made the promise, and that Christ came, because we were unable to fulfil the law. We must therefore be reconciled through the promise, before we fulfil the law; the promise, however, cannot be embraced, except through faith.

Hence all those who are really contrite, take hold of the promise of grace through faith, and firmly believe that they are reconciled with the Father through Christ. [81] This is likewise the meaning of Paul, Rom. 4:16: "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure;" and Gal. 3:22: "The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe,"--that is, all men are under sin, and they cannot be redeemed, unless they embrace the promise of the remission of sins through faith. [82] We must, therefore, obtain the forgiveness of sins through faith, before we fulfil the law.

Yet, as we have stated above, love surely follows faith; for those who believe, receive the Holy Spirit, and therefore begin to be devoted and obedient to the law.

[83] We would quote more passages bearing upon this subject, but the Bible is full of them. Besides, we do not wish to be too lengthy, in order that this matter may be the more clearly understood; [84] for there can be no doubt at all about the meaning of Paul, that we obtain the remission of sins for Christ's sake, through faith, and that we must meet the wrath of God, not with our works, but with the Mediator.

Nor should it disturb pious Christians, that our adversaries misinterpret the clear declarations of Paul; for even the most simple, definite, distinct, and clear language is not secure against perversion.

But we positively know that the views which we have advanced, are the true meaning of Paul. Nor can there be any doubt that this doctrine alone is calculated really and truly to pacify and console us in the actual struggle and agony of death and of temptation, as experience has shown.

[85] Away, therefore, with the pharisaic doctrines of our adversaries: that we do not obtain the remission of sins through faith, but must merit it by our works and love towards God; and again, that by these we must appease the wrath of God. For this is really a pharisaic doctrine, a doctrine of the law and not of the Gospel, to teach that we are justified by the law, before we are reconciled to God through Christ; whereas Christ, John 15:5, says: "Without me ye can do nothing;" and again, "I am the vine, ye are the branches."

[86] According to our adversaries, however, we are not branches of Christ, but of Moses; for they would be justified before God by the law, and offer their works and love to him, before they are branches of the vine of Christ. But Paul, who surely is a much greater divine than they, expressly asserts and maintains that no one can keep the law without Christ. For this reason, those who feel or have experienced their sins and anguish of conscience, must lay hold of the gracious promise, that they are reconciled to God through faith, for the sake of Christ, before they fulfil the law. [87] All this is plain and clear enough to every pious mind. And from this, Christians will readily perceive why we have asserted above that we are justified before God through faith alone, not through our works or love. All our ability, our doings, and works, are too weak to pacify and avert the wrath of God: we must therefore offer Christ the Mediator.

[88] But finally, we ask our adversaries: when is the poor conscience to obtain peace and tranquility, if we obtain grace and the remission of sins, because we love God, or because we fulfil the law? The law always accuses us; for no man fulfils the law. Paul, Rom. 4:15, says: "The law worketh wrath."

Chrysostom and the Sententiaries propose the question: How do we become assured that our sins are forgiven? It is truly worthy of inquiry. Happy is he that answers aright! It is impossible to reply to this most vital question; impossible, truly to console or pacify the afflicted conscience, unless we answer thus:

It was God's determination and command from the beginning of the world, that our sins should be remitted through faith in the blessed seed; that is, through faith for Christ's sake, without merit. If any one doubts this, or wavers, he makes God's promise a lie, see 1 John 5:10. Therefore we say that the Christian should firmly believe this to be the command of God; and if he thus holds it, he is assured, pacified, and consoled.

Our adversaries, with all their preaching and teaching otherwise, leave the poor conscience in doubt. [89] It is impossible for us to be at rest, or to enjoy tranquility and peace, while we doubt God's mercy; because when we doubt whether God is gracious to us, whether we are doing right, whether our sins are forgiven, how can we then call upon God, or rest assured that he regards and hears our prayers? Thus the whole life would be faithless, and we could not serve God aright. This is what Paul says, Rom. 14:23: "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." And as they ever continue doubting thus, they never realize what God, Christ, or faith, is; hence they die at last in despair, without God and without any knowledge of him.

Such is the baleful doctrine of our adversaries,--a doctrine which sets aside the Gospel, suppresses Christ, produces sorrow in the heart, torments the conscience, and finally, when temptations arise, plunges the soul into despair.

[90] Your Imperial Majesty will therefore graciously consider that this does not concern gold or silver, but the soul and conscience. Let all honorable and intelligent men carefully note the true nature of this matter. We are willing to let all good men judge, whether we or our adversaries have taught what is most beneficial to the Christian conscience. For most assuredly we take no pleasure in dissensions and strife. Had not the strongest and most weighty reasons, affecting the conscience, our salvation, and our souls, induced us to contend so ardently with our adversaries, we should remain silent; but inasmuch as they condemn the holy Gospel, the clear testimony of the Apostles, and divine truth, we cannot, consistently with the will of God and the dictates of conscience, deny this blessed doctrine and divine truth, from which we expect our only, eternal, and greatest consolation, when this frail, transitory life shall cease and be past the reach of human aid; nor can we in any way forsake this cause, which is not ours only, but that of the whole Christian church, and pertains to Jesus Christ, our richest treasure.

[91] We have now shown for what reason we proposed these two parts of repentance, namely, contrition and faith; and we have pursued this course, because throughout the works of our adversaries we find many mutilated passages, concerning repentance, quoted from the writings of Augustine and other ancient Fathers, which they have in all cases explained and distorted, so as entirely to suppress the doctrine of faith. For instance:--Repentance is a certain pain, by which our sins are punished; again, repentance is, to deplore the sins committed, and to do them no more. In these passages faith is not mentioned at all, nor do they in their schools, where they discuss such passages at length, in any way refer to it.

[92] In order, then, that the doctrine of faith might be better understood, we have set down faith as a part of repentance. For those passages in relation to our contrition and good works, which do not touch upon the subject of faith, are very dangerous, as experience has shown. [93] Now, if they had properly considered the great danger of souls, the Sententiaries and Canonists would of course have been more cautious in writing about their Decrees; for as the Fathers speak of the other part of repentance also, and mention not only one, but both, namely, contrition and faith, our adversaries should have presented both together.

[94] Tertullian also speaks of faith in a very consolatory manner, and especially commends the divine oath of which the Prophet speaks, Ezek. 33:11: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." "Inasmuch as God swears," says he, "that he delights not in the death of the sinner, he certainly requires faith in the oath he has sworn himself, that he will forgive us our sins. Even without this we should regard the promises of God in the most exalted light. Now this promise is confirmed by an oath;" therefore if any one holds that his sins are not forgiven, he makes God a liar, which is the greatest blasphemy. For Tertullian further says: Invitat ad salutem, jurans etiam, etc.; that is: "God invites us, to our own salvation, by his oath, to believe him. Blessed are they, for whose sake God swears! Woe unto us, if we believe not the divine oath!"

[95] Now we must remember that this faith must firmly believe that God forgives our sins through grace for Christ's sake, not on account of our works, our confession, or expiation. As soon as we rely on our works, we are in doubt; for when the conscience is alarmed, we soon perceive that our best works have no value in the sight of God. [96] Hence the remarks of Ambrose on repentance are excellent: "We must repent, and also believe that grace is imparted to us, provided, however, that we look for grace through faith; for faith awaits and obtains grace as from a handwriting. Again, faith is even that which covers our sins." [97] Thus we find clear passages in the works of the Fathers, not only in regard to works, but to faith also. But our adversaries, not understanding the true nature of repentance, do not comprehend the declarations of the Fathers. While they extract from them a few mutilated passages concerning a part of repentance, namely, contrition and works, they pass by what is said of faith.