[Article XXI(IX):] Of the Invocation of Saints

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 condemn the twenty-first article entirely, because it does not teach the invocation of saints. On this subject they are unusually prolix; but all they can do is, to show that the saints should be honored, and that the living saints pray for one another; from this they infer, that it is our duty to invoke the departed saints.

[2] They allege that Cyprian entreated Cornelius while he was yet living, to pray for the brethren after his death. Thus they would prove the necessity of invoking the departed saints. They also quote Jerome against Vigilantius, and say that he vanquished him in this matter a thousand years ago.

Thus they glory, as if they had won a decided victory, but the dolts are too ignorant to know that in the writings of Jerome against Vigilantius, there is not a syllable concerning the invocation of saints. Jerome says nothing about their invocation, but simply speaks of honoring them. [3] Nor did the ancient writers, prior to Gregory's day, mention the invocation of saints. There is no foundation whatever in the Scriptures for the doctrine of our opponents, in regard to this subject, or to the application of the merit of saints.

[4] We do not deny in our Confession that the saints should be honored. This may be done in three ways: first, by thanking God for showing us examples of his grace in the lives of the saints, and for supplying the church with teachers and other gifts. Now as these gifts are great, we should highly esteem them, and praise the saints who made good use of them, as Christ in the Gospel praised the faithful servants, Matt. 25:21,23.

[5] The second mode of honoring the saints, is, to strengthen our faith by their example. Thus, for instance, when we see that through the rich grace of God Peter's sin was forgiven, when he had denied Christ, our hearts receive strength to believe that grace abounds much more than sin, Rom. 5:20.

[6] In the third place we honor the saints, by following, according to our several vocations, the example of their faith, love, and patience.

[7] Our adversaries say nothing at all of this true mode of honoring the saints, but merely wrangle about invoking them, which, even if it were not calculated to be dangerous to the soul, would still be unnecessary.

[8] We grant, moreover, that the angels pray for us; for according to Zechariah 1:12, the angel prayed, "O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem?" [9] And although we concede, that as the living saints pray for the whole church in general, so the saints in heaven may pray for the whole church; yet there is no evidence to this effect in the Scriptures, except in the second book of Maccabees, (15:14.)

[10] Again, though the saints pray for the church, still it does not follow, that they should be invoked. Our Confession, however, simply declares, that the Scriptures do not teach the invocation of saints, or that we should seek aid at their hands. Now if no command, promise, or example can be produced from the Scriptures to establish this doctrine, it follows that no one can rely on it. For, since every prayer must proceed from faith, how can we know that the invocation of saints is pleasing to God, when it is not enjoined upon us in the Word of God? How can we be assured that the saints hear our prayers and the prayers of each one in particular?

[11] Some indeed, do not hesitate to deify the saints, and assert that they know our thoughts and see into our hearts. These things they devise, not for the purpose of honoring the saints, but in order to maintain their profitable chaffering and trading. [12] We still insist that there is no evidence in God's Word that the saints understand our invocation; and even if they do understand it, that God looks upon it with favor; consequently it has no foundation. [13] Our adversaries are unable to gainsay this; they should therefore not attempt to force us into doubtful things; for prayer without faith is no prayer. True, they say, it is a custom of the church; but certainly it is a new custom; for the ancient Collects, while they mention the saints, do not invoke them.

[14] Our adversaries, moreover, not only advocate the invocation of saints, but also assert that God accepts their merit in the place of our sins; and thus they are made to be, not only intercessors, but mediators and reconcilers. This cannot, by any means, be tolerated; for in this way they confer upon the saints, the honor which is due to Christ alone, by setting them up as mediators and reconcilers.

Now although they attempt to make a distinction between the mediators who intercede for us, and the one who had redeemed us, and propitiated God; yet they make the saints to be mediators, through whom men are reconciled to God. [15] They assert also, but without scriptural authority, that the saints are mediators to intercede for us; and though we speak of this matter even in the mildest terms, we must still say, that by this doctrine Christ and his blessings are suppressed, and that the confidence they owe to him, is transferred to the saints; for they fancy that Christ is a severe judge, and that the saints are kind and gracious mediators; they therefore flee unto the saints, and avoid Christ as they would a tyrant: thus they rely more upon the goodness of the saints than upon the goodness of Christ; they flee from Jesus and seek help of the saints. Thus in fact the saints are still made mediators of redemption (mediatores redemptionis).

[16] We shall accordingly show, that they make not only intercessors, but propitiators, and mediatores redemptionis of the saints. We are not now speaking of gross abuses, through which the populace openly practices idolatry with the saints and pilgrimages; but we refer to avowed principles of their learned men on this subject. As to the gross abuses, even the uninformed can decide for themselves.

[17] Two things are requisite to constitute a mediator and propitiator: first, an indubitable, clear, divine declaration and promise, that through him, God will hear all those who call on him. Such a divine promise is given in the Scriptures, concerning Christ: "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you," John 16:23. As to the saints no such promise is made anywhere in the Scriptures; consequently, no one can have an assurance that he will be heard when invoking the saints, hence such invocation is not of faith. [18] Moreover, the Word of God commands us to call upon Christ, who says: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Matt. 11:28. "Even the rich among the people shall entreat thy favor," Psalm 45:12; and Psalm 72:11: "All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him," verse 15: "And daily shall he be praised." John 5:23, Christ says: "That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father." Again, 2 Thess. 2:16-17, Paul prays and says: "Now, our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work." All these passages refer to Christ. But our adversaries are unable to adduce any divine command, or an example from the Scriptures, to establish the invocation of saints.

[19] Secondly, a propitiator must have merit to compensate for the sins of others, merits that they can partake of, as if they had themselves made payment. When a friend pays a debt for another, the debt is discharged by such payment, which is regarded as his own. Thus the merits of Christ are imparted and accounted to us, when we believe in him, precisely as if they were ours, and his righteousness and merits are imputed unto us, and become our own.

[20] Upon both these things, namely, the divine promises and the merits of Christ, the Christian prayer must be founded. Such faith in these promises and merits belongs to prayer. We must hold the firm assurance, that we are heard and receive God's mercy for Christ's sake.

[21] But our adversaries teach that we should invoke the saints, although we have no command, promise, or example in the Scriptures to this effect; and in this way they cause greater confidence to be placed in the saints than in Christ, who says, Matthew 11:28: "Come unto me," not unto the saints.

[22] In the second place, they assert that God accepts the merits of the saints as recompense for our sins, and thus they teach men to rely on them, instead of the merits of Christ. [23] They also plainly teach the same doctrine in regard to indulgences, by means of which they distribute the merits of the saints, as satisfactiones (expiations) for our sins.

Besides, Gabriel, who explained the canon of the Mass, declared without hesitation: "According to the order which God has instituted, we should flee to the saints, in order to be saved through their aid and merits." These are the plain words of Gabriel. And in various places in the writings of the adversaries, we find many things, even more unseemly respecting the merits of the saints. Now, is not this making the saints our propitiators? In this way they become quite equal to Christ, if we are to trust in their merits to be saved.

[24] But where did God institute this order, of which Gabriel speaks, namely, that we should flee to the saints? Let him adduce but one word or example for it from the Scriptures. Perhaps they derive this order from the custom prevalent in the courts of temporal princes, where the counselors of the prince bring forward and advocate the affairs of the people, as their mediators. But what if the prince or the king has appointed only one mediator, and will not graciously hear cases through any other, or will hear no prayers except through him alone? Now, since Christ alone is appointed our high priest and mediator, why do we seek others? What can our adversaries say against this?

[25] A common form of absolution has been in use up to this day, which reads thus: "The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Virgin Mary and of all saints, shall bring unto you the remission of sins." Here absolution is openly pronounced, not only through Christ's, but also through saints' merits, through which we are to obtain grace and the remission of sins.

[26] Several of us have seen a doctor of divinity in the agony of death, to whom a monk was sent for the purpose of consoling him. Now, all that this monk had for the dying man, was the prayer: "Mary, thou mother of goodness and grace, guard us against the enemy, and in the hour of death receive us, Maria Mater gratiae," etc.

[27] Even if Mary, the mother of God, prays for the church, it is going too far to say that she can overcome death, or guard us against the great power of Satan. What would we need Christ for, if Mary were able to do all this? For, although she is worthy of the highest praise, yet she does not wish to be held equal to Christ, but desires rather that we should follow the example she gave us, in faith and humility. [28] Now, it is evident that by this false doctrine, Mary was made a substitute for Christ,--she was invoked, in her goodness they trusted, through her they endeavored to propitiate Christ; as if he were not a propitiator, but only a terrible, vindictive judge.

[29] We maintain, however, that men should not be taught to rely on the saints, or to believe that their merits save us; for we obtain the remission of sin and salvation, solely for the sake of Christ's merits, when we believe in him. In reference to the saints it is said, (1 Cor. 3:8,) "Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor," that is to say, they cannot impart their merits to one another, as the monks have had the impudence to sell the merits of their orders. [30] And Hilary says of the unwise virgins: "Inasmuch as the foolish virgins could not go out to meet the bridegroom, because their lamps had failed, they entreated the wise to lend them oil. But these answered, that they could not lend them any, lest both might fail, as there was not enough for all." By this he shows that none of us can help others by supererogatory works or merits.

[31] Now, as our adversaries teach that we should rely on the invocation of saints, although not enjoined of God, nor established by any divine declaration, or any example either in the Old or New Testament; and since they place the merits of the saints upon an equality with those of Christ, and confer upon them the honor which belongs to him, we can neither approve nor embrace their views and practice, in reference to the supplication or the invocation of saints. For we know that we should place our trust in Christ; then, according to the promise of God, he will be our Mediator; and then we are assured that the merits of Christ alone are a propitiation for our sins. For his sake we are reconciled when we believe in him, as the text says, Rom. 9:33, 10:11: "Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." We should not believe, therefore, that we are justified before God on account of the merits of Mary.

[32] Their divines likewise have the effrontery to teach, that every saint has a particular gift at his disposal; for instance, St. Anna guards against poverty, St. Sebastian against pestilence, St. Valentine against epilepsy; horsemen invoke the knight St. George to guard against wounds and every kind of danger. All this, in reality, had a heathen origin.

[33] Even supposing that our adversaries did not shamelessly teach heathen falsehoods respecting the invocation of saints, still the example itself is dangerous. Now, as they have no divine authority, nor definite testimony from the writings of the ancient Fathers for it, why should they presume to defend things so unfounded?

[34] But this is especially dangerous, because when men seek other mediators besides Christ, they place their confidence in these, and thus, alas! Christ and the knowledge of Christ, are wholly suppressed, as our experience shows. At first some may have mentioned the saints in their prayers, with a pure intention; soon after that the invocation of the saints followed; and then, in quick succession other strange, heathenish abominations and abuses insinuated themselves one by one, such as the opinion that images have a peculiar, secret power, as the conjurers and magicians hold, who pretend that certain sidereal signs, engraved on gold, or on other metal at a particular time, have a peculiar, mysterious power and effect.

Some of us once observed in a monastery an image of the Virgin Mary, carved in wood, which, when certain inside cords were drawn, appeared to the spectator to move itself, to nod to the worshippers whom it heard, and to turn away its face from those who brought but small offerings, and whose prayers were not heard.

[35] Though this abomination and idolatry, these pilgrimages and delusions with images, had not been so enormous, yet the fables and false legends they publicly preached about the saints, were even more abominable and detestable. For instance, they preached about St. Barbara, that at her death she prayed God to reward her torments, by granting that whoever invoked her, could not die without the Eucharist.

A wise man once had St. Christopher, whose name signifies a bearer of Christ, painted in gigantic size for children, in order to show that it requires more than human power to bear Christ, and to preach and confess the Gospel. For they must wade through the great sea by night, etc.; that is, they must endure all kinds of great trials and dangers. Afterwards the foolish, illiterate, ungodly monks took it in hand, and taught the people to invoke Christopher, as though he had really been such a great giant, and had carried Christ through the sea.

[36] Now, although the Almighty has performed many great things through his saints, as a peculiar people, both in the church and in temporal affairs, and though many excellent examples are found in their lives, which would be of great utility to princes and lords, to true preachers and pastors, both in state and church government, especially to strengthen their faith in God; yet they have passed by these, and lauded the most insignificant things about the saints, preaching of their hard couches, their garments of hair, etc., the most of which are false.

It would indeed be highly useful and consolatory to hear, how certain great and holy men, (as the Scriptures relate of the kings of Israel and Judah,) ruled their states and people, how they taught and preached, how they endured diverse dangers and trials, how many learned men gave advice and comfort to princes and lords in extraordinary and dangerous times, how they preached the Gospel and contended against the heretics. So also would the instances of God's great and special mercy to the saints, be useful and consoling; as, for example, when we see that Peter, who denied Christ, obtained grace; that Cyprian's magic was forgiven him. Again, we read that Augustine, when he was mortally sick, first experienced the power of faith, and publicly confessed God with these words: "Now only have I perceived that God hears the groans and prayers of the believer." Such examples of faith on the part of the saints should have been clearly and faithfully preached and described, to instruct men to fear God and trust in him, and to show them how pious men fared in the church, and in the important affairs of civil government.

[37] But certain idle monks and knaves, not knowing how great and difficult a task it is to govern the church or people of any kind, fabricated fables from the books of heathens, containing nothing but examples, to show that the saints wore garments of hair, that they prayed at the (seven) prescribed hours, and that they ate bread and water. All this they turned into trade, to obtain money from pilgrimages. The miracles with which they extol the rosary, and similar things of which the Franciscans boast, have the same design. But there is little need of introducing examples; their lying legends are still at hand, so that they cannot deny the charge.

[38] These abominations against Christ, this blasphemy, these base, shameless falsehoods and fables, these false preachers, are and have been tolerated by the bishops and theologians, to the great injury of souls. It is frightful to think of; for these falsehoods afforded them an income. But at the same time they desire to destroy us, while we preach the Gospel in its purity, and although we assail the invocation of saints only, in order that Christ alone may be our Mediator, and that great abuses may be abolished. [39] Long too, before Dr. Luther wrote, even their own theologians, as well as all pious and good men, charged against the bishops and preachers, that they tolerated these abuses from selfish and interested motives; and yet our adversaries have not a word to say about these abuses in their Confutation; consequently, if we should receive the Confutation, we would at the same time sanction all their open abuses.

[40] Their Confutation is full of such artifices and dangerous fraud. They pretend to be as pure as gold, and perfectly innocent. But they nowhere distinguish these manifest abuses from their doctrines; yet many of them are honest and upright enough to acknowledge, that there are many errors in the writings of the Scholastics and Canonists, and that many abuses have insinuated themselves into the church, through illiterate preachers and in consequence of the gross, scandalous negligence of the bishops.

[41] Dr. Luther was not alone, nor the first in lifting up his voice against these numberless abuses. Many learned and upright men before him deplored the great abuse of the Mass and of monasticism, the mercenary and venal character of pilgrimages; and especially the utter suppression of the important doctrine of repentance and of Christ, without which no Christian church can stand, and which, above all others, should be taught in its purity and genuineness.

[42] Our adversaries, therefore, have not acted faithfully and like Christians, in silently passing by these palpable abuses in their Confutation. If they had sincerely desired to benefit the church and relieve the oppressed conscience, and not rather to maintain their pomp and avarice, they would have had a proper opportunity and inducement for so doing; and they should, especially on this occasion, have humbly solicited your Imperial Majesty, our most gracious lord, to remove these gross, palpable, and shameful abuses, which bring disgrace upon us Christians, even among the Turks, Jews, and all unbelievers.

We have clearly observed in various matters, that your Majesty, our gracious lord, undoubtedly seeks after truth with the greatest diligence, and that you desire to see the church properly regulated and established. But while our adversaries care little about doing anything to meet your Imperial Majesty's Christian disposition, wishes, and laudable scruples, or to meliorate this state of things, they seek only to put down both us and the truth. [43] They lose but little sleep on account of the preaching of the Gospel doctrine in its purity. They suffer the ministry to lie in waste altogether; they defend open abuses, continue daily to shed innocent blood in unheard-of cruelty and fury, for the sole purpose of sustaining their palpable falsehoods.

Neither will they tolerate pious Christian preachers. Intelligent men can easily judge what this will lead to. For they cannot long rule the church by mere violence and tyranny. If our adversaries seek only to sustain the power of the Pope, this is not the way to do it, but to devastate the empire and the church; for, though they should slay all pious Christian preachers, and put down the Gospel, factionists and fanatics would then rise up in riot and in violence, harass the congregations and churches with false doctrines, and destroy all order in the church, which we wish to preserve.

[44] Therefore, most gracious Emperor, as we entertain no doubt that it is the intention and sincere desire of your Majesty, to preserve the truth of God, the honor of Christ, and the Gospel, and to see them ever increase abundantly, we most humbly entreat your Imperial Majesty, not to indulge the unjust designs of our adversaries, but graciously to seek other ways of union, so that the conscience of Christians may not be thus burdened, and that divine truth may not be violently suppressed, and innocent men tyrannically put to death for its sake, as has hitherto been the case.

Your Imperial Majesty is no doubt aware, that it is your special office, so far as you can, to preserve the doctrines of Christianity for posterity, and to protect and employ pious preachers of the right kind. For the Lord God requires this of all kings and princes, by conferring upon them his own title, and calling them gods, when he says: "Ye are gods," Psalms 82:6. But he calls them gods, because they are, as far as possible, to protect, defend, and administer divine things on earth, that is, the Gospel of Christ and the pure doctrine of God; and because they, in the stead of God are to shelter and protect true Christian teachers and ministers, against unjust power.

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