[Article XXVII(XIII):] Of Monastic Vows

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] About thirty years ago a Franciscan monk, named John Hilten, in Eisenach, a town in the district of Thuringia, was cast into prison by his brethren, because he had exposed certain notorious abuses in monastic life. We have seen a part of his writings, from which it is easy to perceive that he preached in a Christian spirit and agreeably to the holy Scripture; and those who were acquainted with him, testify to this day, that he was a pious, quiet, old man, of irreproachable character. [2] This man predicted many things concerning the present times, and prophesied what has already come to pass, and some things that are still to happen; but these we shall not now relate lest it be thought that we do so from envy, or to please any one. Finally, when the infirmities of age, as well as imprisonment, had thrown him into a state of disease, he sent for the Guardian [spiritual adviser among the Franciscans] to attend him, and gave him an account of his illness. But when the guardian, in Pharisaic bitterness and hatred, assailed him with harsh language, on account of his doctrine, which seemed to obstruct their culinary interest, he ceased complaining of his bodily weakness, and, deeply sighing, he said with an earnest countenance, that he would freely suffer this injustice for Christ's sake, although he had neither written nor taught anything disadvantageous to the condition of the monks, but that he had attacked only gross abuses. [3] Finally, said he: "Another man will come, in the year MDXVI, who will destroy you monks; him you cannot put down or resist." This language concerning the decline of monasticism, and this very date, were afterwards discovered in other books of his, and especially in his commentaries on Daniel. [4] But we shall leave each one to judge for himself what is to be thought of this man's declaration. But there are other indications of the decline of monasticism.

It is evident that the monastic system is nothing but the grossest hypocrisy and deception, full of avarice and pride: and the more ignorant and stupid the monks are, the more obstinate and wrathful, bitter and virulent are they in persecuting the truth and the Word of God. Their sermons and writings are altogether puerile, inconsistent, and foolish; and all their efforts are directed to the gratification of their appetites and avarice.

[5] In the beginning, the cloisters were not such dungeons or everlasting prisons, but schools in which youth and others were trained in the holy Scriptures. But now this pure gold has become dross, and the wine is turned to water. Nearly all the most extensive ecclesiastical institutions and cloisters are filled with indolent, unprofitable, and idle monks, who, under the guise of holiness, live on the public alms in the greatest extravagance and voluptuousness. [6] But Christ says, Matt. 5:13: "But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden underfoot of men." Now the monks, by leading such a wicked life, are actually digging their own graves.

[7] Another sign of the downfall of the monks, is, that they instigate and participate in the murder of many pious, innocent, and learned persons. The blood of Abel is crying out against them, and God will avenge it. [8] We do not say this of all; there may be some in the cloisters, who know the holy Gospel of Christ, and attach no idea of holiness to their traditions, and who have not made themselves guilty of the innocent blood which the hypocrites among them are shedding.

[9] But we are now speaking of the doctrine, which the framers of the Confutation commend and defend. We are not discussing the point, whether we should observe vows to God; for we also maintain that we are bound to observe proper vows. The following are the questions before us:--Can we obtain the remission of sins before God through vows and the monastic ceremonies?

Are they expiations for sin? Are they equal to Baptism?

Do they impart such perfection, as to enable us to keep both the praecepta and consilia, that is, not only the commandments, but even the counsels?

Are they evangelical perfection?

Whether monks have merita supererogationis; that is, so many superfluous merits or holy works, that they do not need them all?

Do these merits save those to whom they are transferred?

Are monastic vows in accordance with the Gospel, when made with this view?

Have these vows a divine and Christian character, when forced upon unwilling hearts, and upon those who are too young to understand what they are doing, and when parents or friends thrust them into cloisters for their temporal support, merely to save their patrimony?

Whether those are Christian vows which really lead to sin, namely, that friars and nuns must approve and embrace the detestable abuse of the Mass, the invocation and adoration of saints, and make themselves partakers of the innocent blood that has been shed?

And finally, are those legitimate and Christian vows which cannot be kept on account of the frailty of human nature?

These are the questions at issue. [10] And although we have referred in our Confession to many improper vows, which the canons of the Popes themselves disapprove; yet our adversaries would have all our propositions rejected. For they say in express terms, that all our suggestions ought to be repudiated.

But is seems necessary now to show how they assail our positions, and how they sustain their cause. We shall, therefore, briefly reply to their remarks. And as this subject is thoroughly discussed in Dr. Martin Luther's treatise on monastic vows, we shall regard this book as renewed and repeated here.

[11] In the first place, such vows certainly are neither divine nor Christian, when made with the view of obtaining the remission of sins before God, or of expiating them. This is an obvious error, contrary to the Gospel, and blasphemy against Christ. For the Gospel teaches that we obtain the remission of sins without merit, through Christ, as we have already abundantly shown. We have, therefore, very properly referred to the declaration of Paul to the Galatians 5:4: "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Those who seek the remission of sins, not through faith in Christ, but through monastic vows and ceremonies, rob Christ of his honor, and crucify him anew. [12] Now we ask the reader to notice, how the authors of the Confutation seek shelter behind the assertion, that Paul here refers to the Law of Moses alone, but the monks perform all their works for Christ's sake, and diligently strive to live in the strictest conformity with the Gospel, in order to merit eternal life. To all this they add the fearful declaration: "Whatever is said against monastic life, is unchristian and heretical." [13] Lord Jesus Christ! How long wilt thou bear with the open reproach offered to thy holy Gospel, when our enemies thus blaspheme thy Word and truth?

It is asserted in our Confession, that we must obtain the remission of sins without merit through faith in Christ. Is not this the pure Gospel, as the Apostles preached it? If this be not the Gospel voice of the eternal Father, which thou, O Lord, who sittest in the bosom of the Father, hast revealed to the world, we justly deserve to be punished. But thy severe and bitter death on the cross, thy holy Spirit, whom thou has richly bestowed, and thine entire holy Christian church, afford irresistible evidence, clear as the sun that the sum and substance of the Gospel is, that we obtain the remission of sins, not on account of our merits, but through faith in Christ.

[14] If Paul asserts that we do not merit the forgiveness of sins even through the holy, divine Law of Moses and its works, he certainly means, that we can much less accomplish this through human ordinances, which he amply shows to the Colossians. For if the works of the Law of Moses, which was revealed of God, do not merit the remission of sins, how much less can it be effected by such foolish things, as monastic works, rosaries, and the like, which are neither necessary nor useful even in the external life, much less capable of imparting eternal life to the soul.

[15] Our adversaries dream that Christ abolished the Law of Moses, and came after him establishing a new and better law, through which the forgiveness of sins must be obtained. [16] By this fanatical, foolish notion, they suppress Christ and his blessings. They also imagine that among those who observe this new law of Christ, the monks more nearly imitate Christ and the Apostles, in their obedience, poverty, and chastity, whereas the whole monastic life is nothing but impudent, shameful hypocrisy. They boast of their poverty, while, in their great abundance, they have never realized how a poor man feels. They boast of their obedience, and no class on earth is under less restraint than the monks, who, with masterly skill, set themselves free from obedience to the bishops and princes. We have no desire to speak of their extraordinary, immaculate chastity; we shall leave this to Gerson, who really concedes but little purity and holiness, even to those who zealously endeavored to live undefiled; while most of them are hypocrites, and scarcely one in a thousand seriously thinks of living pure and chaste, to say nothing of the inward thoughts of the heart.

[17] Is this their boasted holiness? Is this living in accordance with Christ and the Gospel? Christ did not thus succeed Moses, for the purpose of introducing a new law, to remit sins in consideration of our works; but he offers his own merit and his own works, against the wrath of God in our behalf, that we may obtain grace without merit. But he that sets up his own works against the wrath of God, without the reconciliation of Christ, and would obtain the remission of sins on account of his own merits, whether he produce the works of the Law of Moses, of the Decalogue, the rules of Benedict, Augustine, or others, rejects the promises of Christ, and falls away from him and his grace.

[18] Your Imperial Majesty, however, and all the princes and estates (representatives) of the empire, will here observe the excessive impudence of our adversaries, who have the insolence to assert, that all our objections of monasticism are wicked, whereas we produced positive and plain declarations from Paul, [19] and nothing in the whole Bible is taught more clearly and positively, than the remission of sins through faith in Christ alone. Now it is this indubitable, divine truth, that the authors of the Confutation--these abandoned wretches--dare to call wicked doctrine. But we entertain no doubt that your Imperial Majesty and the princes, after being apprised of this fact, will have this palpable blasphemy erased from the Confutation.

[20] But as we have amply shown above, that it is an error, to teach that we obtain the remission of sins on account of our own merits, we shall now be the more brief; for every intelligent reader can easily perceive that we cannot be redeemed from death and from the power of the devil, nor obtain the remission of sins by the miserable works of the monks. Hence the blasphemous, detestable language in the writings of Thomas, that "entering into a cloister is a new Baptism, or equal to it," is utterly intolerable. For it is a gross satanic error, to compare an unholy human ordinance, having no divine authority or promise, with holy Baptism, which is accompanied by the promise of divine grace.

[21] In the second place, these things, namely, voluntary poverty, obedience, and chastity, provided the latter be pure, are all indifferent, bodily exercises, neither sinful nor righteous in themselves. Consequently such holy men, as St. Bernard, Francis, and others, employed them otherwise, than the monks at present. They used these things to exercise their bodies, that they might attend more easily to teaching, preaching, and similar duties; not because they regarded these works as services, that would justify them before God, or merit eternal life. Paul correctly describes these works, when he says: "Bodily exercise profiteth little," 1 Tim. 4:8. [22] It may be, that in some monasteries there are a few pious men, who read and study, and sincerely observe these rules and ordinances, it being understood, that they do not regard their monasticism as holiness. [23] But the doctrine that these works are a divine service, by which we become righteous before God, and merit eternal life, is directly opposed to the Gospel and to Christ. The Gospel teaches that we are justified and obtain eternal life by faith in Christ. It is also contrary to the words of Christ: "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," Matt. 15:9; and opposed to the declaration of Paul: "For whatsoever is not of faith is sin," Rom. 14:23. How, then, can they assert that these services are pleasing and acceptable to God, when they have no divine authority to this effect?

[24] What gross hypocrisy and impudence are practiced by our adversaries, when they not only assert that their monastic vows and orders are services, which justify and make them righteous before God, but also that they are states of perfection; that is, more holy and exalted than other conditions of life, such as matrimony, or the office of rulers. Besides these there are many other monstrous heretical opinions connected with their monastic hypocrisy and Pharisaism. They boast that they are the most holy people, who observe not only the precepts, but even the counsels, that is, what the Scriptures do not enjoin, in regard to special gifts, as a law, but simply recommend or advise. Again, they imagine that their merit and holiness leave them a surplus; and then these pious saints are so liberal, as to offer their supererogatory merits to others, and to sell them for an equivalent in money. All this is a perfect caricature of holiness, mere Pharisaic hypocrisy and deceit.

[25] Now the First Commandment of God:--"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul," etc.--, is exalted above the comprehension of man; and it is the fundamental theology, out of which all the Prophets and Apostles drew their best and most elevated doctrines, as out of a fountain; yea, it is so high a commandment, that all divine services, all worship, all offerings, all thanksgivings in heaven and on earth, must be regulated and governed by it, so that all religious services, no matter how noble, precious, and holy they may appear, are nothing but empty husks, if they deviate from this commandment; nay, mere filth and abomination in the sight of God. This high commandment all the saints were so far from fulfilling completely, that even Noah and Abraham, David, Peter, and Paul, therein acknowledged themselves imperfect and sinners, and were compelled to remain in this humble position. It is therefore extraordinary, Pharisaic, nay, satanic arrogance for a contemptible friar, or any base hypocrite of this kind, to proclaim that he has so perfectly fulfilled this high and holy commandment, and done so many good works according to the will of God, as to have a surplus of merit remaining. Ye precious hypocrites, well might ye thus boast, if the holy Decalogue and the great First Commandment of God could be fulfilled as easily, as your bags are filled with bread and remnants. They are impudent hypocrites, with whom the world is plagued in these latter days.

Psalm 116:11, David says: "All men are liars;" that is, no man on earth, not even the saints, regards or fears God as much, or believes and trusts in him as perfectly as he should, etc. It is therefore a mere hypocritical fiction of the monks, that they boast of living in perfect accordance with the Gospel and the commandments of God, or of doing more than they are in duty bound to perform, and that they have an abundance of good works and superfluous holiness in store.

[26] It is equally false and fictitious, to claim that monastic life is a fulfillment of the counsels or advice given in the Gospel. For the Gospel nowhere advises such distinction of clothing, or meats, or oppression of the people by such exactions; for these are simply human ordinances, of which Paul says: "But meat commendeth us not to God," 1 Cor. 8:8. Consequently, they are not justifying services in the sight of God, nor are they evangelical perfection; but when set forth under these pompous titles, they are really what Paul calls them, "doctrines of devils," 1 Tim. 4:1.

[27] Paul commends continence, and by way of advice recommends it to those who have the special gift, mentioned above. It is therefore an infamous, wicked error to maintain that evangelical perfection consists in the ordinances of men. Then might the Mahometans and Turks also boast of possessing evangelical perfection; for they also have hermits and monks, as we learn from authentic history. Nor does evangelical perfection consist of non-essential or indifferent things; for as the kingdom of God consists in the light, purity, and strength imparted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, to work new enlightenment and life in them, true evangelical, Christian perfection, therefore, is the daily increase of faith, of fear to God, and faithful attention to our vocations. Thus Paul describes perfection, saying: "We are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord," 2 Cor. 3:18. He does not speak of passing from one order to the other, or of putting on this cap now, and another then, or of wearing different girdles, cords, etc. It is lamentable that such Pharisaic, nay, Turkish and Mahometan doctrine has obtained in the Christian church, claiming that evangelical perfection and the kingdom of Christ, in which the blessings of heaven and everlasting life begin here below, consist in hoods, garments, meats, and similar puerile works.

[28] But let us further hear what palpable blasphemy and execrable language these excellent teachers have put into their Confutation. They have the impudence to say, "That it is written in the holy Scripture, that monastic life and the holy orders merit eternal life, and that Christ has promised these in superabundance, especially to the monks, who thus forsake house and home, brother and sister." [29] These are the plain words of our antagonists. What a shameless, hateful falsehood, to say that it is written in the holy Scripture, that we can merit eternal life by monasticism! What audacity! Where does the Bible speak of monastic life? Thus do our adversaries discuss these important matters, and misapply the Scripture. The whole world knows, and history demonstrates, that the monastic orders are entirely new; and yet they boastingly claim that they are scriptural things.

[30] Moreover, they blaspheme Christ, by affirming that eternal life can be merited by living in cloisters. God does not ascribe, even to his own commandments, the honor of meriting eternal life by the works of the law; for he clearly says: "Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live," Eze. 20:25-26. [31] Now, in the first place, it is certain that no one can merit eternal life by monasticism; [32] but it is given for Christ's sake, in pure mercy, to those who obtain the remission of sins through faith, and who hold this faith, not their beggarly merits, as a shield against the judgment of God. St. Bernard has well said, "that we cannot obtain the remission of sins, except through the grace of God; that we can have no good works whatever, unless he grant them; and that we cannot merit eternal life by works, but that it also is given to us through grace." St. Bernard says much to this effect, and finally adds: "Therefore let no one deceive himself; for if we properly reflect on this matter, we shall certainly find that we cannot, with ten thousand, meet God coming against us with twenty thousand." [33] Now, as we do not, even by the works of the divine law, merit remission of sins or eternal life, but must seek the mercy promised in Christ, much less do we merit them by monasticism, which consists altogether of human ordinances, and less still should the honor be assigned to these beggarly ordinances.

[34] Those who teach that we can merit the remission of sins by monasticism, and place their confidence, which belongs to Christ alone, in these miserable ordinances, trample underfoot the holy Gospel and the promises of Christ, honoring their shabby cowls and foolish monastic works, instead of Christ the Savior. And though they themselves are destitute of grace, these ungodly and wicked men devise their merits of supererogation, and sell their superabundant claim on heaven to others.

[35] We shall dwell the more briefly on this subject here, since the foregoing remarks in the reference to repentance, justification, human ordinances, etc., plainly show that monastic vows are not the means by which we are redeemed, and obtain everlasting life, etc. And as Christ himself calls these statutes vain worship, they are in no wise evangelical perfection.

[36] A few reasonable monks, however, hesitated to extol their recluse life as Christian perfection, and moderated this excessive praise by saying that it is not Christian perfection, but designed to encourage it. Gerson also refers to this moderate view, and rejects the unchristian assertion, that monasticism is Christian perfection.

[37] Now, if monastic life be simply a state in which to seek perfection, it is no more than the condition of the husbandman, the mechanic, etc. All these are conditions of life, in which Christian perfection may be sought; for all men, no matter what position they may occupy, should in their respective vocations, aim at perfection, while this life continues, and constantly increase in the fear of God, in faith, in love towards their neighbors, and like spiritual graces.

[38] We read in the "Lives of the Fathers," that St. Antonius and other distinguished hermits were finally taught by experience, that their ascetic works did not make them more righteous in the sight of God, than the works belonging to other spheres of life. St. Antonius once entreated God to show him how far he had advanced in perfection, when he was referred to a shoemaker in Alexandria, and told that he was equal to this mechanic in holiness. Antonius the next day set out for Alexandria, conversed with the shoemaker, and anxiously inquired in what his holy life consisted. The shoemaker replied:--I am doing nothing particular; in the morning I offer up my prayer for the whole city, then I work at my trade, attend to my household affairs, etc. Antonius at once saw what God meant by this revelation, namely, that we are not justified before God by this or that mode of life, but solely by faith in Christ.

[39] Although our adversaries now hesitate to call the monastic life perfection, yet in fact they regard it as such; for they sell their works and merits, pretending that they observe not only the commandments, but also the counsels or recommendations of the Gospel, and imagine that they even have superabundant merits. Now, is not this, in reality, boasting of perfection and holiness, notwithstanding the slight verbal modification of their pretensions? It is also clearly stated in the Confutation, that the monks live in closer conformity with the Gospel than the laity. Now, if they think that it is living in closer conformity with the Gospel, to hold no property, to live in celibacy, to wear a particular garment or cowl, to fast and pray according to certain rules, it must be their opinion that monasticism is Christian perfection, since they claim that it more closely conforms to the Gospel, than the ordinary walks of life.

[40] Again, the Confutation says that the monks obtain eternal life more abundantly than others, and refers to the passage: "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren," etc., Matt. 19:29. Here they also boast of the pretended perfection of monasticism. But this passage does not speak of monastic life; for Christ means not that the desertion of father and mother, wife and children, house and home, merits the forgiveness of sins and eternal life; but on the contrary, such an abandonment of father and mother, so far from being in any way pleasing to God, is accursed and damnable in his sight. Any one abandoning parents and home, for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins and everlasting life, is a blasphemer of Christ.

[41] But there are two kinds of desertion: the one is in compliance with the call and command of God; the other which bears the opposite character, is utterly displeasing to our Lord Jesus Christ. He calls the works of our own choice, vain and useless worship, Matt. 15:9. This shows even more clearly, that Christ does not mean such a desertion of wife and children; he says, he who forsakes wife and children, house and home, etc. Now, we know that God forbids the desertion of wife and children. But the forsaking of parents, wife, children, etc., in obedience to the command of God, widely differs from an arbitrary desertion. If tyrants would attempt to force us to deny the Gospel, and threaten to banish us, it is God's command that we should rather suffer injustice, rather be driven away from our wives and children, houses and homes, yea, rather submit to death. This kind of desertion Christ means; he therefore adds, "for the sake of the Gospel," which plainly shows, that he alludes to those suffering for the sake of the Gospel, not to those who arbitrarily forsake their wives and children. [42] We are even bound to surrender our own lives for the sake of the Gospel. Now, it would be the height of folly to kill ourselves without being commanded of God to do so; and it is equally absurd to regard the arbitrary desertion of wife and children, which is not commanded of God, as holiness and divine worship.

[43] The reference of this passage to monastic life is, therefore, a gross perversion of the language of Christ. But perhaps the words, "they receive a hundredfold in this life," might be applicable to the monks; for many become monks for the sake of a living, and to spend their days in idleness and luxury, when, though mendicants, they enter into rich monasteries. [44] But while the whole monastic system is full of hypocrisy and deception, they also pervert the Scriptures, thus committing twofold fearful sin: first, by deceiving the world with idolatry; secondly, by falsely quoting the name and Word of God, to gloss over their idolatry.

[45] They also quote Matt. 19:21: "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor; and come and follow me." This passage has perplexed many, who imagined it to be the greatest holiness and perfection, to have no possessions, house or home. [46] Now the Cynics, such as Diogenes, who would not live in a house, but lay in a tub, may extol such pagan holiness. Christian holiness rests upon much nobler ground than such dissimulation. The possession of property, house and home, belongs to the regulations of civil government, and has the sanction of God, for instance in the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not steal," etc., Exod. 20:15. Hence we are neither commanded nor advised in the Scriptures to forsake property, house, and home; for evangelical, Christian poverty does not consist in the abandonment of our property, but in not relying upon it; as, for instance, David was poor, even in the midst of great power and a great kingdom.

[47] Inasmuch, then, as such abandonment of property is nothing but a human ordinance, it is a vain service. This monastic, deceptive poverty is therefore undeservedly applauded in the "Extravagante" [a Papal ordinance] of the Pope, which says: "The relinquishment of property of every kind for the sake of God, is meritorious, holy, and the way to perfection." When uninformed persons hear such extravagant encomiums, they imagine that it is unchristian to hold property. This gives rise to many errors and disturbances; Muenzer was deceived by these eulogies, and many Anabaptists are led astray by them.

[48] But, say they, Christ himself has called it perfection. We deny this; for they do violence to the text by not quoting it entirely. Perfection is obedience to Christ's command, "Follow me." [49] The perfection of every Christian consists in following Christ, each according to his vocation. But their vocations are various: one is called to rule; another to be the head of a family; a third to labor in the ministry. Now, although that young man was called to sell "what he had," his call does not concern others. So the call of David, to be a king, does not pertain to all men; nor does Abraham's call to offer up his son, refer to others. Thus while the calls are various, the obedience should be the same. [50] Perfection consists in obedience in our vocations, not in the assumption of a vocation not belonging to us, nor enjoined upon us by divine authority.

[51] In the third place, one of the principal monastic vows enjoins chastity. Now, we have already stated, in treating of the marriage of priests, that no one can alter the natural or divine law by any statutes or monastic vows; and as many are not endowed with the gift of continence, the vow is often most shamefully violated. Nor can any monastic vow or law change the commandment of the Holy Spirit, in whose name Paul says: "To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife," 1 Cor. 7:2. Hence monastic vows are not right in the case of those who have not the gift of continence; for in their weakness they fall, and do worse than before. [52] In reference to this point we have already said, and it is really a wonder that our adversaries, seeing into what great dangers and offences they lead the consciences of men, nevertheless madly insist upon these human ordinances, contrary to the express command of God, and will not see how severely Christ our Lord censures the Pharisees, who issued ordinances in opposition to God's precepts.

[53] In the fourth place, the abominable abuse of the Masses held for the living and the dead, should deter everyone from monastic life. To this we add the invocation of the saints, which is wholly devoted to avarice, and to satanic abominations. We call this service an abomination, because, on the one hand, its object is filthy lucre; and on the other, it leads to the substitution of the saints in the place of Christ, to their idolatrous worship, and their recognition as mediators before God. Thus the Dominicans in connection with the Fraternity of the Rosary, (to say nothing of the numberless silly dreams of other monks) established the most flagrant idolatry, which both friends and foes now deride. [54] Again, they neither hear nor teach the gospel, which preaches the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, true repentance, and truly good works, enjoined by the Word of God; but they preach legends of saints and works of their own invention, by which Christ is suppressed. All this the bishops were willing to tolerate.

[55] We shall not enlarge upon the innumerable, puerile ceremonies and foolish services, with the lessons, singing, and the like, which might in part be tolerated, if kept within proper bounds, and engaged in for beneficial exercise, as lessons at school, and preaching, are designed for the benefit of the hearers. But they imagine that these various ceremonies are services by which the remission of sins is merited for themselves and for others; for this reason, they are continually introducing new ceremonies. Now, if they would so shape these church services and ceremonies, as to train youth and the people generally in the Word of God, short and thorough lessons would be much more useful than their endless bawling in the choir. [56] Thus the whole monastic life is full of idolatry and hypocritical errors, contrary to the First and Second Commandments, and opposed to Christ. Besides, it is dangerous, because those connected with monasteries or cloisters, must knowingly assist in persecuting the truth. There are, consequently, many great reasons why good men should discard monastic life.

[57] The canons themselves, moreover, declare those free, who were persuaded by enticing words, before they had arrived at a proper age, or who were forced into monasteries by their friends. From all this it appears, that there are many reasons, showing that the monastic vows, hitherto made, are not really Christian and binding. Monastic life may therefore be abandoned with a clear conscience, since it is full of hypocrisy and every species of abomination.

[58] Our adversaries cite the Nazarites under the Law of Moses, (Num. 6:2, etc.) as testimony against us. But they made no vows with a view of obtaining the remission of sins by them, as we have charged in reference to monastic vows. The order of the Nazarites was designed for bodily exercise in fasting and certain meats, as a profession of their faith--not to obtain the remission of sins, or to be saved from eternal death by them; for this they sought elsewhere, namely, from the promise of the blessed seed. Again, no more than circumcision, or the slaying of victims, under the Law of Moses, should be established now as a divine service, can the fasting or ceremonies of the Nazarites be set up or referred to as such a service; but they must be regarded as matters of indifference and as bodily exercises. Accordingly they neither can nor should compare their monasticism--devised as it was, without the authority of God's Word, as a service reconciling God--with the order of the Nazarites, which God had instituted, and which was not designed to enable the Nazarites to obtain the mercy of God, but as an external discipline and exercise of the body; like other ceremonies in the Law of Moses. This answer will apply to the various other vows, laid down in the Law of Moses.

[59] Our opponents also adduce the example of the Rechabites, who held no property and drank no wine, as Jeremiah says, ch. 35. What a striking coincidence between the example of the Rechabites and our monks, whose monasteries are built more magnificently than the palaces of kings, and who live in the greatest splendor! But the Rechabites, in all their poverty, married; the monks, while surrounded with the greatest luxury, make hypocritical pretensions to chastity.

[60] Now, intelligent and learned men well know, that all cases should be quoted and explained according to the rule, that is, according to the plain Scripture, and not contrary to it. [61] Therefore, while the Rechabites are commended in the Word of God, it is certain that they did not observe their customs and ceremonies in order thereby to merit forgiveness of sins or eternal life, or because they thought that their works in themselves could justify them before God; but like pious, godly children they believed in the blessed seed, in the coming Christ; and as they had received the commandments of their parents, their obedience, to which the Fourth Commandment refers--"Honor thy father and thy mother"--is praised in the Scriptures.

[62] There was, moreover, another reason for the practices of the Rechabites. They having been among the heathens, their father wished to distinguish them from the Gentiles by certain signs, so that they might not fall back into ungodliness and idolatry. He therefore designed by this means to admonish them to fear God, to exercise faith, and to remind them of the resurrection of the dead; and this was a good reason. But monasticism is based on quite different grounds. It is imagined to be a divine service, meriting the remission of sins and reconciling God. [63] Hence it will bear no comparison to the example of the Rechabites, to say nothing about the other innumerable evils and offences still connected with monastic life.

[64] They also cite, from the First Epistle to Timothy, 5:11-12, the passage concerning the widows who served the church, and were supported from the common church-property, where Paul says: "For when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith." [65] Even admitting that the Apostle is here speaking of vows, (which is not the case,) still this passage does not show that monastic vows are Christian; for they are designed to be a divine service, through which to merit the forgiveness of sins. But Paul rejects all laws, works, and services performed with this view, and to gain eternal life, which we obtain through Christ alone. It is certain, then, that if these widows made any vows, they were unlike the present monastic profession.

[66] Moreover, if our adversaries insist upon such a perversion of this passage, they must also admit that Paul forbids "a widow to be taken into the number, under threescore years old," 1 Tim. 5:9. Consequently, all monastic vows which were made by persons under this age, are null and void. [67] But at that time the church knew nothing of these monastic vows. Now, Paul does not reprove widows because they married (for he bids the younger women to marry); but because they received support from the common church-treasury, abusing it in their levity and wantonness, and thus casting off their first faith. This he calls "casting off the first faith," not of their monastic vows, but of their Baptism, their Christian duty, their Christianity. Thus he also says of faith, in the same chapter, verse 8: "But if any provide not for his own, especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith." [68] Paul's views of faith differ from those of the sophists; for he says, that those have denied the faith, who do not provide for their own house. Thus he also says of women who are "tattlers and busybodies," that they cast off the faith.

[69] We have thus set forth and refuted some of the arguments of our adversaries, and have done so not only on account of our opponents, but rather for the sake of some pious Christians, so that they may clearly perceive why monastic vows and the various practices of monasticism are neither right nor Christian; all of which are overthrown by the single declaration of Christ: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," Matt. 15:9. These words alone are a summary proof, that the whole of monasticism, with its hoods, cords, girdles, and all its self-devised holiness, are useless and vain services in the sight of God; and all pious Christians should rest perfectly assured, that this is a Pharisaic, execrable, and damnable error, to believe that we obtain the forgiveness of sins, or eternal life, by such monkish practices, rather than by faith in Christ.

[70] Hence pious men, that were saved and preserved in monastic life, had finally to despair of all their monastic works, to regard all their works as filth, to condemn all their hypocritical services, and cleave to the promises of grace in Christ, as we see in the example of St. Bernard, who tells us: Perdite vixi, "I have lived sinfully." For God will accept no services, but those which he himself has established in his Word.

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