Index of Doctrinal Points
Article XXVII: Of Monastic Vows.
What is taught on our part concerning Monastic Vows, will be better understood if it be remembered
what has been the state of the monasteries, and how many things were daily done in those very monasteries,
contrary to the Canons. In Augustine's time they were free associations. Afterward, when discipline
was corrupted, vows were everywhere added for the purpose of restoring discipline, as in a carefully
Gradually, many other observances were added besides vows. And these fetters were laid upon
many before the lawful age, contrary to the Canons.
Many also entered into this kind of life through ignorance, being unable to judge their own
strength, though they were of sufficient age. Being thus ensnared, they were compelled to remain,
even though some could have been freed by the kind provision of the Canons. And this was more the
case in convents of women than of monks, although more consideration should have been shown the weaker
sex. This rigor displeased many good men before this time, who saw that young men and maidens were
thrown into convents for a living. They saw what unfortunate results came of this procedure, and
what scandals were created, what snares were cast upon consciences! They were grieved that the
authority of the Canons in so momentous a matter was utterly set aside and despised. To these
evils was added such a persuasion concerning vows as, it is well known, in former times displeased
even those monks who were more considerate. They taught that vows were equal to Baptism; they
taught that by this kind of life they merited forgiveness of sins and justification before God.
Yea, they added that the monastic life not only merited righteousness before God but even
greater things, because it kept not only the precepts, but also the so-called "evangelical
Thus they made men believe that the profession of monasticism was far better than Baptism,
and that the monastic life was more meritorious than that of magistrates, than the life of pastors,
and such like, who serve their calling in accordance with God's commands, without any man-made
services. None of these things can be denied; for they appear in their own books. [Moreover,
a person who has been thus ensnared and has entered a monastery learns little of Christ.]
What, then, came to pass in the monasteries? Aforetime they were schools of theology and
other branches, profitable to the Church; and thence pastors and bishops were obtained. Now it is
another thing. It is needless to rehearse what is known to all. Aforetime they came together
to learn; now they feign that it is a kind of life instituted to merit grace and righteousness;
yea, they preach that it is a state of perfection, and they put it far above all other kinds of
life ordained of God. These things we have rehearsed without odious exaggerate ion, to the
end that the doctrine of our teachers on this point might be better understood.
First, concerning such as contract matrimony, they teach on our part that it is lawful for
all men who are not fitted for single life to contract matrimony, because vows cannot annul the
ordinance and commandment of God. But the commandment of God is 1 Cor. 7:2, To avoid fornication,
let every man have his own wife. Nor is it the commandment only, but also the creation and
ordinance of God, which forces those to marry who are not excepted by a singular work of God,
according to the text Gen. 2:18, It is not good that the man should be alone. Therefore they
do not sin who obey this commandment and ordinance of God.
What objection can be raised to this? Let men extol the obligation of a vow as much as they
list, yet shall they not bring to pass that the vow annuls the commandment of God. The Canons
teach that the right of the superior is excepted in every vow; [that vows are not binding against
the decision of the Pope;] much less, therefore, are these vows of force which are against the
commandments of God.
Now, if the obligation of vows could not be changed for any cause whatever, the Roman Pontiffs
could never have given dispensation for it is not lawful for man to annul an obligation which is
simply divine. But the Roman Pontiffs have prudently judged that leniency is to be observed in
this obligation, and therefore we read that many times they have dispensed from vows. The case
of the King of Aragon who was called back from the monastery is well known, and there are also examples
in our own times. [Now, if dispensations have been granted for the sake of securing temporal interests,
it is much more proper that they be granted on account of the distress of souls.]
In the second place, why do our adversaries exaggerate the obligation or effect of a vow
when, at the same time, they have not a word to say of the nature of the vow itself, that it ought
to be in a thing possible, that it ought to be free, and chosen spontaneously and deliberately?
But it is not unknown to what extent perpetual chastity is in the power of man. And how few are
there who have taken the vow spontaneously and deliberately! Young maidens and men, before they are
able to judge, are persuaded, and sometimes even compelled, to take the vow. Wherefore it is
not fair to insist so rigorously on the obligation, since it is granted by all that it is against
the nature of a vow to take it without spontaneous and deliberate action.
Most canonical laws rescind vows made before the age of fifteen; for before that age there
does not seem sufficient judgment in a person to decide concerning a perpetual life. Another
Canon, granting more to the weakness of man, adds a few years; for it forbids a vow to be made before
the age of eighteen. But which of these two Canons shall we follow? The most part have an excuse
for leaving the monasteries, because most of them have taken the vows before they reached these ages.
Finally, even though the violation of a vow might be censured, yet it seems not forthwith
to follow that the marriages of such persons must be dissolved. For Augustine denies that they
ought to be dissolved (XXVII. Quaest. I, Cap. Nuptiarum), and his authority is not lightly to be
esteemed, although other men afterwards thought otherwise.
But although it appears that God's command concerning marriage delivers very many from their
vows, yet our teachers introduce also another argument concerning vows to show that they are void.
For every service of God, ordained and chosen of men without the commandment of God to merit justification
and grace, is wicked, as Christ says Matt. 15:9, In vain do they worship Me with the commandments
of men. And Paul teaches everywhere that righteousness is not to be sought from our own observances
and acts of worship, devised by men, but that it comes by faith to those who believe that they are
received by God into grace for Christ's sake.
But it is evident that monks have taught that services of man's making satisfy for sins and
merit grace and justification. What else is this than to detract from the glory of Christ and to
obscure and deny the righteousness of faith? It follows, therefore, that the vows thus commonly
taken have been wicked services, and, consequently, are void. For a wicked vow, taken against
the commandment of God, is not valid; for (as the Canon says) no vow ought to bind men to wickedness.
Paul says, Gal. 5:4, Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified
by the Law, ye are fallen from grace. To those, therefore, who want to be justified by their
vows Christ is made of no effect, and they fall from grace. For also these who ascribe justification
to vows ascribe to their own works that which properly belongs to the glory of Christ.
Nor can it be denied, indeed, that the monks have taught that, by their vows and observances,
they were justified, and merited forgiveness of sins, yea, they invented still greater absurdities,
saying that they could give others a share in their works. If any one should be inclined to enlarge
on these things with evil intent, how many things could he bring together whereof even the monks are
now ashamed! Over and above this, they persuaded men that services of man's making were a state
of Christian perfection. And is not this assigning justification to works? It is no light
offense in the Church to set forth to the people a service devised by men, without the commandment
of God, and to teach that such service justifies men. For the righteousness of faith, which chiefly
ought to be taught in the Church, is obscured when these wonderful angelic forms of worship, with
their show of poverty, humility, and celibacy, are cast before the eyes of men.
Furthermore, the precepts of God and the true service of God are obscured when men hear that
only monks are in a state of perfection. For Christian perfection is to fear God from the heart,
and yet to conceive great faith, and to trust that for Christ's sake we have a God who has been
reconciled, to ask of God, and assuredly to expect His aid in all things that, according to our
calling, are to be done; and meanwhile, to be diligent in outward good works, and to serve our
calling. In these things consist the true perfection and the true service of God. It does not consist
in celibacy, or in begging, or in vile apparel. But the people conceive many pernicious opinions
from the false commendations of monastic life. They hear celibacy praised above measure; therefore
they lead their married life with offense to their consciences. They hear that only beggars are
perfect; therefore they keep their possessions and do business with offense to their consciences.
They hear that it is an evangelical counsel not to seek revenge; therefore some in private life
are not afraid to take revenge, for they hear that it is but a counsel, and not a commandment.
Others judge that the Christian cannot properly hold a civil office or be a magistrate.
There are on record examples of men who, forsaking marriage and the administration of the
Commonwealth, have hid themselves in monasteries. This they called fleeing from the world, and
seeking a kind of life which would be more pleasing to God. Neither did they see that God ought to
be served in those commandments which He Himself has given and not in commandments devised by
men. A good and perfect kind of life is that which has for it the commandment of God. It is
necessary to admonish men of these things.
And before these times, Gerson rebukes this error of the monks concerning perfection, and
testifies that in his day it was a new saying that the monastic life is a state of perfection.
So many wicked opinions are inherent in the vows, namely, that they justify, that they constitute
Christian perfection, that they keep the counsels and commandments, that they have works of supererogation.
All these things, since they are false and empty, make vows null and void.
Article XXVIII: Of Ecclesiastical Power.
There has been great controversy concerning the Power of Bishops, in which some have awkwardly
confounded the power of the Church and the power of the sword. And from this confusion very great
wars and tumults have resulted, while the Pontiffs, emboldened by the power of the Keys, not only
have instituted new services and burdened consciences with reservation of cases and ruthless
excommunications, but have also undertaken to transfer the kingdoms of this world, and to take the
Empire from the Emperor. These wrongs have long since been rebuked in the Church by learned and
godly men. Therefore our teachers, for the comforting of men's consciences, were constrained to
show the difference between the power of the Church and the power of the sword, and taught that
both of them, because of God's commandment, are to be held in reverence and honor, as the chief
blessings of God on earth.
But this is their opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according
to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins,
and to administer Sacraments. For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20:21,
As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit,
they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. Mark 16:15, Go
preach the Gospel to every creature.
This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments,
according to their calling either to many or to individuals. For thereby are granted, not bodily,
but eternal things, as eternal righteousness, the Holy Ghost, eternal life. These things cannot
come but by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, Rom. 1:16, The Gospel is the
power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Therefore, since the power of the Church
grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with
civil government; no more than the art of singing interferes with civil government. For civil
government deals with other things than does the Gospel. The civil rulers defend not minds, but
bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and restrain men with the sword and bodily
punishments in order to preserve civil justice and peace.
Therefore the power of the Church and the civil power must not be confounded. The power of
the Church has its own commission to teach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments. Let
it not break into the office of another; let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world; let it
not abrogate the laws of civil rulers; let it not abolish lawful obedience; let it not interfere
with judgments concerning civil ordinances or contracts; let it not prescribe laws to civil rulers
concerning the form of the Commonwealth. As Christ says, John 18:36, My kingdom is not of this
world; also Luke 12:14, Who made Me a judge or a divider over you? Paul also says, Phil.
3:20, Our citizenship is in heaven; 2 Cor. 10:4, The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but
mighty through God to the casting down of imaginations.
After this manner our teachers discriminate between the duties of both these powers, and
command that both be honored and acknowledged as gifts and blessings of God.
If bishops have any power of the sword, that power they have, not as bishops, by the commission
of the Gospel, but by human law having received it of kings and emperors for the civil administration
of what is theirs. This, however, is another office than the ministry of the Gospel.
When, therefore, the question is concerning the jurisdiction of bishops, civil authority must
be distinguished from ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Again, according to the Gospel or, as they say,
by divine right, there belongs to the bishops as bishops, that is, to those to whom has been committed
the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, no jurisdiction except to forgive sins, to judge doctrine,
to reject doctrines contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the communion of the Church wicked
men, whose wickedness is known, and this without human force, simply by the Word. Herein the
congregations of necessity and by divine right must obey them, according to Luke 10:16, He that
heareth you heareth Me. But when they teach or ordain anything against the Gospel, then the
congregations have a commandment of God prohibiting obedience, Matt. 7:15, Beware of false prophets;
Gal. 1:8, Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed; 2 Cor.
13:8, We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. Also: The power which the Lord
hath given me to edification, and not to destruction. So, also, the Canonical Laws command (II.
Q. VII. Cap., Sacerdotes, and Cap. Oves). And Augustine (Contra Petiliani Epistolam): Neither
must we submit to Catholic bishops if they chance to err, or hold anything contrary to the Canonical
Scriptures of God.
If they have any other power or jurisdiction, in hearing and judging certain cases, as of
matrimony or of tithes, etc., they have it by human right, in which matters princes are bound,
even against their will, when the ordinaries fail, to dispense justice to their subjects for the
maintenance of peace.
Moreover, it is disputed whether bishops or pastors have the right to introduce ceremonies
in the Church, and to make laws concerning meats, holy-days and grades, that is, orders of ministers,
etc. They that give this right to the bishops refer to this testimony John 16:12-13, I have
yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth,
is come, He will guide you into all truth. They also refer to the example of the Apostles, who
commanded to abstain from blood and from things strangled, Acts 15:29. They refer to the Sabbath-day
as having been changed into the Lord's Day, contrary to the Decalog, as it seems. Neither is there
any example whereof they make more than concerning the changing of the Sabbath-day. Great, say they,
is the power of the Church, since it has dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments!
But concerning this question it is taught on our part (as has been shown above) that bishops
have no power to decree anything against the Gospel. The Canonical Laws teach the same thing (Dist.
IX). Now, it is against Scripture to establish or require the observance of any traditions, to
the end that by such observance we may make satisfaction for sins, or merit grace and righteousness.
For the glory of Christ's merit suffers injury when, by such observances, we undertake to
merit justification. But it is manifest that, by such belief, traditions have almost infinitely
multiplied in the Church, the doctrine concerning faith and the righteousness of faith being meanwhile
suppressed. For gradually more holy-days were made, fasts appointed, new ceremonies and services in
honor of saints instituted, because the authors of such things thought that by these works they were
meriting grace. Thus in times past the Penitential Canons increased, whereof we still see some
traces in the satisfactions.
Again, the authors of traditions do contrary to the command of God when they find matters
of sin in foods, in days, and like things, and burden the Church with bondage of the law, as if
there ought to be among Christians, in order to merit justification a service like the Levitical,
the arrangement of which God had committed to the Apostles and bishops. For thus some of them
write; and the Pontiffs in some measure seem to be misled by the example of the law of Moses.
Hence are such burdens, as that they make it mortal sin, even without offense to others, to do manual
labor on holy-days, a mortal sin to omit the Canonical Hours, that certain foods defile the conscience
that fastings are works which appease God that sin in a reserved case cannot be forgiven but by the
authority of him who reserved it; whereas the Canons themselves speak only of the reserving of the
ecclesiastical penalty, and not of the reserving of the guilt.
Whence have the bishops the right to lay these traditions upon the Church for the ensnaring
of consciences, when Peter, Acts 15:10, forbids to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, and
Paul says, 2 Cor. 13:10, that the power given him was to edification not to destruction? Why,
therefore, do they increase sins by these traditions?
But there are clear testimonies which prohibit the making of such traditions, as though they
merited grace or were necessary to salvation. Paul says, Col. 2:16-23, Let no man judge you in
meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days. If
ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye
subject to ordinances (touch not; taste not; handle not, which all are to perish with the using)
after the commandments and doctrines of men! which things have indeed a show of wisdom. Also
in Titus 1:14 he openly forbids traditions: Not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of
men that turn from the truth.
And Christ, Matt. 15:14 says of those who require traditions: Let them alone; they be blind
leaders of the blind; and He rejects such services: Every plant which My heavenly Father hath
not planted shall be plucked up.
If bishops have the right to burden churches with infinite traditions, and to ensnare consciences,
why does Scripture so often prohibit to make, and to listen to, traditions? Why does it call them
"doctrines of devils"? 1 Tim. 4:1, Did the Holy Ghost in vain forewarn of these things?
Since, therefore, ordinances instituted as things necessary, or with an opinion of meriting grace,
are contrary to the Gospel, it follows that it is not lawful for any bishop to institute or exact
such services. For it is necessary that the doctrine of Christian liberty be preserved in the churches,
namely, that the bondage of the Law is not necessary to justification, as it is written in the
Epistle to the Galatians, 5:1, Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. It is necessary
that the chief article of the Gospel be preserved, to wit, that we obtain grace freely by faith in
Christ, and not for certain observances or acts of worship devised by men.
What, then, are we to think of the Sunday and like rites in the house of God? To this we answer
that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church,
not that thereby we should merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound
to judge them necessary services, and to think that it is a sin to break them without offense
to others. So Paul ordains, 1 Cor. 11:5, that women should cover their heads in the congregation, 1
Cor. 14:30, that interpreters be heard in order in the church, etc.
It is proper that the churches should keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquillity,
so far that one do not offend another, that all things be done in the churches in order, and without
confusion, 1 Cor. 14:40, comp. Phil. 2:14, but so that consciences be not burdened to think that
they are necessary to salvation, or to judge that they sin when they break them without offense to
others; as no one will say that a woman sins who goes out in public with her head uncovered provided
only that no offense be given.
Of this kind is the observance of the Lord's Day, Easter, Pentecost, and like holy-days
and rites. For those who judge that by the authority of the Church the observance of the Lord's
Day instead of the Sabbath-day was ordained as a thing necessary, do greatly err. Scripture has
abrogated the Sabbath-day; for it teaches that, since the Gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies
of Moses can be omitted. And yet, because it was necessary to appoint a certain day, that the
people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church designated the Lord's
Day for this purpose; and this day seems to have been chosen all the more for this additional reason,
that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and might know that the keeping neither of the
Sabbath nor of any other day is necessary.
There are monstrous disputations concerning the changing of the law, the ceremonies of the
new law, the changing of the Sabbath-day, which all have sprung from the false belief that there
must needs be in the Church a service like to the Levitical, and that Christ had given commission
to the Apostles and bishops to devise new ceremonies as necessary to salvation. These errors
crept into the Church when the righteousness of faith was not taught clearly enough. Some dispute
that the keeping of the Lord's Day is not indeed of divine right, but in a manner so. They prescribe
concerning holy-days, how far it is lawful to work. What else are such disputations than snares
of consciences? For although they endeavor to modify the traditions, yet the mitigation can never
be perceived as long as the opinion remains that they are necessary, which must needs remain where
the righteousness of faith and Christian liberty are not known.
The Apostles commanded Acts 15:20 to abstain from blood. Who does now observe it? And yet
they that do it not sin not; for not even the Apostles themselves wanted to burden consciences with
such bondage; but they forbade it for a time, to avoid offense. For in this decree we must
perpetually consider what the aim of the Gospel is. Scarcely any Canons are kept with exactness,
and from day to day many go out of use even among those who are the most zealous advocates of traditions.
Neither can due regard be paid to consciences unless this mitigation be observed, that we know
that the Canons are kept without holding them to be necessary, and that no harm is done consciences,
even though traditions go out of use.
But the bishops might easily retain the lawful obedience of the people if they would not
insist upon the observance of such traditions as cannot be kept with a good conscience. Now they
command celibacy; they admit none unless they swear that they will not teach the pure doctrine of
the Gospel. The churches do not ask that the bishops should restore concord at the expense of their
honor; which, nevertheless, it would be proper for good pastors to do. They ask only that they
would release unjust burdens which are new and have been received contrary to the custom of the Church
Catholic. It may be that in the beginning there were plausible reasons for some of these ordinances;
and yet they are not adapted to later times. It is also evident that some were adopted through
erroneous conceptions. Therefore it would be befitting the clemency of the Pontiffs to mitigate them
now, because such a modification does not shake the unity of the Church. For many human traditions
have been changed in process of time, as the Canons themselves show. But if it be impossible to
obtain a mitigation of such observances as cannot be kept without sin, we are bound to follow the
apostolic rule, Acts 5:29, which commands us to obey God rather than men.
Peter, 1 Pet. 5:3, forbids bishops to be lords, and to rule over the churches. It is not
our design now to wrest the government from the bishops, but this one thing is asked, namely, that
they allow the Gospel to be purely taught, and that they relax some few observances which cannot
be kept without sin. But if they make no concession, it is for them to see how they shall give account
to God for furnishing, by their obstinacy, a cause for schism.