[Article XIII(VII):] Of the Sacraments and Their Proper Use

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 admit our assertion in the thirteenth article, that the Sacraments are not mere signs, by which men recognize each other,--like the countersign, court-livery, etc.,--but efficacious signs and sure testimonies of God's grace and purposes towards us, by which he admonishes and strengthens our hearts to believe the more firmly and joyfully.

[2] But they also want us to acknowledge, that there are seven Sacraments, neither more nor less. We answer, that all the ceremonies and Sacraments which God instituted in his Word, should be maintained. With respect, however, to the seven Sacraments, we find that the Fathers differed; consequently these seven ceremonies are not all equally necessary.

[3] If we regard as Sacraments the external signs and ceremonies, which God enjoined, and with which he connected the promise of grace, it is easy to determine what are Sacraments; for ceremonies and other external things, instituted by men, are not Sacraments in this sense; because men cannot promise the grace of God, without divine authority. Signs, therefore, which are instituted without the command of God, are not signs of grace: although they may be memorials to children and to the ignorant, like a painted cross.

[4] Now Baptism, the Eucharist, and Absolution are true Sacraments; for they are commanded of God, and have the promise of grace, which in reality belongs to, and is the New Testament. For the external signs were instituted to move our hearts, namely, both by the Word and the external signs, to believe, when we are baptized and when we receive the Lord's body, that God will be truly merciful to us, through Christ, [5] as Paul, Rom. 10:17, says: "Faith cometh by hearing." As the Word enters our ears, so the external signs are placed before our eyes, inwardly to excite and move the heart to faith. The Word and the external signs work the same thing in our hearts; as Augustine well says: "The Sacrament is a visible Word;" for the external sign is like a picture, and signifies the same thing that is preached by the Word; both, therefore, effect the same thing.

[6] But Confirmation and Extreme Unction are ceremonies, derived from the ancient Fathers, which the church never regarded as necessary to salvation, for they are not enjoined by God; it is therefore well to make a distinction between these and the above, which were instituted by the Word and command of God, and have his promise appended.

[7] By the Sacrament of Ordination, or the Priesthood, our adversaries do not mean the administration of the Word and Sacraments to others, but the offering of sacrifices by priests, as if the New Testament must have an order of priests, like the Levites, to sacrifice for the people, and obtain the remission of sins for others. [8] We teach, that the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross was alone sufficient for the sins of the whole world, and that we need no other sacrifices besides this. [10] We have no order of priests in the new covenant, like the Levitical, as the Epistle to the Hebrews proves. [11] But if the Sacrament of ordination were called the Sacrament of the ministry, we should not object to calling ordination a Sacrament. For the ministry was appointed by God, and glorious promises are connected with it, Rom. 1:16: "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth;" Isaiah 55:11: "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void," etc. [12] If the Sacrament of Ordination be understood in this way, the imposition of hands could also be called a Sacrament. For the church is commanded to appoint ministers and deacons. Now, as it is a great consolation to know that God preaches and works through men, and those appointed by them, [13] we should highly applaud and venerate such appointment, especially against the wicked Anabaptists, who despise and rail against such appointment, as well as against the ministry and the external Word.

[14] The state of matrimony was not first instituted in the New Testament; but soon after man was created; and it was enjoined of God; besides, there are also divine promises connected with it, which do not properly belong to the New Testament, but rather concern the physical life. Now, if any one chooses to call it a Sacrament, we shall not seriously object; but it should be separated from the former two, which are in fact signs and seals of the New Testament. [15] If the state of matrimony is to be called a Sacrament, merely because God instituted and enjoined it, the other offices and estates ordained in the Word of God, such as government, magistracy, etc., should also be called Sacraments.

[16] And finally, if men feel disposed to attach the glorious title of Sacrament to all these things, because they are enjoined by the Word of God, they should, above all, apply that name to prayer; for it is forcibly commanded of God, and many noble, divine promises accompany it. And there would seem to be reason for it too; for so great a name would stimulate men to prayer.

[17] Alms might likewise be placed among Sacraments, and the crosses and afflictions of Christians; for, to these the promises of God are also added. But no intelligent man will lay great stress upon the number of Sacraments, whether seven or more; provided only that the Word and command of God be maintained.

[18] It is, however, more important for us to discuss and understand the proper use of the Sacraments. Here we must freely condemn all the scholastics and their false doctrines, that those who simply use the Sacraments, and do not oppose their operation, obtain, ex opere operato, the grace of God, even if the heart at the time has no good emotions. But it is clearly a Jewish error to hold that we are justified by works and external ceremonies, without faith, and although the heart be not engaged therein; yet this pernicious doctrine is preached and promulgated far and wide through all the Papal territory and churches.

[19] Paul, (Rom. 4:9-11,) denies that Abraham was justified through circumcision, and asserts that it was a sign appointed to exercise and strengthen faith. We therefore say, that the proper use of the Sacraments requires faith, to believe the divine promises, and receive the promised grace, which is offered through the Sacraments and the Word. [20] Now this is the obvious and proper use of the holy Sacraments, upon which our hearts and our minds can firmly rely. For the divine promises can be accepted through faith alone. Now, as the Sacraments are external signs and seals of the promises, their proper use requires faith; for when we receive the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, Christ clearly says: "This cup is the new testament," Luke 22:20. We should firmly believe then, that the grace and remission of sins, promised in the New Testament, are imparted to us. Now we should receive this in faith, and thereby console our alarmed, timid hearts, and rest assured, that the Word and promises of God cannot fail, but are as sure, nay, more so, than a new divine voice, or a new miracle from heaven, promising grace to us. But what would miracles benefit us, if they were not believed? [21] Here we are speaking of special faith, namely, the belief that our own sins are surely forgiven, and not of general faith, believing that there is a God. [22] This proper use of the Sacraments really consoles and refreshes the heart.

[23] We cannot, however, too carefully consider, or speak too freely of the abuses and errors, introduced by the pernicious, shameful, and impious doctrine of the opere operato, namely, that the mere use of the Sacraments, the work performed, makes us just before God, and secures his grace, even without a good disposition of the heart. Hence originated the unspeakable and abominable abuse of the Mass. They cannot show a particle of proof from the writings of the ancient Fathers, to support the opinions of the scholastics. Nay, Augustine says, directly to the contrary, that it is not the Sacraments that justify, but faith in their use, justifies us in the sight of God.