Previous: Our Father who art in heaven
< BACK /
Index of Doctrinal Points
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
As the head of the family should teach
it in a simple way to his household.
Of Baptism. (Details from the Large Catechism)
We have now finished the three chief parts of the common Christian doctrine. Besides these we
have yet to speak of our two Sacraments instituted by Christ, of which also every Christian ought
to have at least an ordinary, brief instruction, because without them there can be no Christian;
although, alas! hitherto no instruction concerning them has been given. But, in the first place,
we take up Baptism, by which we are first received into the Christian Church. However, in order that
it may be readily understood we will treat of it in an orderly manner, and keep only to that which
it is necessary for us to know. For how it is to be maintained and defended against heretics and sects
we will commend to the learned.
First: What is Baptism?
Answer: Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God's command and
connected with God's Word.
Which is that word of God?
Answer: Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Details from the Large Catechism)
In the first place, we must above all things know well the words upon which Baptism is founded,
and to which everything refers that is to be said on the subject, namely, where the Lord Christ speaks
in the last chapter of Matthew, v. 19:
Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Likewise in St. Mark, the last chapter, v. 16:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall
In these words you must note, in the first place, that here stand God's commandment and institution,
lest we doubt that Baptism is divine, not devised nor invented by men. For as truly as I can say, No
man has spun the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer out of his head, but they are
revealed and given by God Himself, so also I can boast that Baptism is no human trifle, but instituted
by God Himself, moreover, that it is most solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or
we cannot be saved, lest any one regard it as a trifling matter, like putting on a new red coat. For
it is of the greatest importance that we esteem Baptism excellent, glorious, and exalted, for which
we contend and fight chiefly, because the world is now so full of sects clamoring that Baptism is
an external thing, and that external things are of no benefit. But let it be ever so much an external
thing here stand God's Word and command which institute, establish, and confirm Baptism. But what God
institutes and commands cannot be a vain, but must be a most precious thing, though in appearance it
were of less value than a straw. If hitherto people could consider it a great thing when the Pope
with his letters and bulls dispensed indulgences and confirmed altars and churches, solely because
of the letters and seals, we ought to esteem Baptism much more highly and more precious, because God
has commanded it, and, besides, it is performed in His name. For these are the words, Go ye baptize;
however, not in your name, but in the name of God.
For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore
although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own work. From this fact every
one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint.
For what work greater than the work of God can we do?
But here the devil is busy to delude us with false appearances, and lead us away from the work of
God to our own works. For there is a much more splendid appearance when a Carthusian does many great
and difficult works and we all think much more of that which we do and merit ourselves. But the Scriptures
teach thus: Even though we collect in one mass the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may
shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a straw. Why? Because the person
is nobler and better. Here, then, we must not estimate the person according to the works, but the
works according to the person, from whom they must derive their nobility. But insane reason will not
regard this, and because Baptism does not shine like the works which we do, it is to be esteemed as
From this now learn a proper understanding of the subject, and how to answer the question what
Baptism is, namely thus, that it is not mere ordinary water, but water comprehended in God's Word
and command, and sanctified thereby, so that it is nothing else than a divine water; not that the
water in itself is nobler than other water, but that God's Word and command are added.
Therefore it is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil that now our new spirits, to mock at
Baptism, omit from it God's Word and institution, and look upon it in no other way than as water which
is taken from the well, and then blather and say: How is a handful of water to help the soul? Aye,
my friend, who does not know that water is water if tearing things asunder is what we are after? But
how dare you thus interfere with God's order, and tear away the most precious treasure with which
God has connected and enclosed it, and which He will not have separated? For the kernel in the water
is God's Word or command and the name of God which is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth.
Comprehend the difference, then, that Baptism is quite another thing than all other water; not on
account of the natural quality, but because something more noble is here added; for God Himself stakes
His honor His power and might on it. Therefore it is not only natural water, but a divine, heavenly,
holy, and blessed water, and in whatever other terms we can praise it, -- all on account of the Word,
which is a heavenly, holy Word, that no one can sufficiently extol, for it has, and is able to do,
all that God is and can do [since it has all the virtue and power of God comprised in it]. Hence also
it derives its essence as a Sacrament, as St. Augustine also taught: Aocedat verbum ad elementum et
fit sacramentum. That is, when the Word is joined to the element or natural substance, it becomes a
Sacrament, that is, a holy and divine matter and sign.
Therefore we always teach that the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes
should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask, as we regard the shell of a nut, but
as the Word of God is included therein. For thus we also speak of the parental estate and of civil
government. If we propose to regard them in as far as they have noses, eyes, skin, and hair flesh
and bones, they look like Turks and heathen, and some one might start up and say: Why should I esteem
them more than others? But because the commandment is added: Honor thy father and thy mother, I behold
a different man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment (I say) is
the chain of gold about his neck, yea, the crown upon his head which shows to me how and why one
must honor this flesh and blood.
Thus, and much more even, you must honor Baptism and esteem it glorious on account of the Word,
since He Himself has honored it both by words and deeds; moreover, confirmed it with miracles from
heaven. For do you think it was a jest that, when Christ was baptized, the heavens were opened and
the Holy Ghost descended visibly, and everything was divine glory and majesty?
Therefore I exhort again that these two the water and the Word, by no means be separated from one
another and parted. For if the Word is separated from it, the water is the same as that with which
the servant cooks, and may indeed be called a bath-keeper's baptism. But when it is added, as God has
ordained, it is a Sacrament, and is called Christ-baptism. Let this be the first part regarding the
essence and dignity of the holy Sacrament.
Secondly: What does Baptism give or profit?
Answer: It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation
to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are such words and promises of God?
Answer: Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter
of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
(Details from the Large Catechism)
In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is, and how it is to be regarded, we must also
learn why and for what purpose it is instituted; that is, what it profits, gives and works. And this
also we cannot discern better than from the words of Christ above quoted: He that believeth and is
baptized shall be saved. Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit,
and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a
prince, but, as the words declare, that he be saved. But to be saved. we know. is nothing else than
to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live
with Him forever.
Here you see again how highly and precious we should esteem Baptism, because in it we obtain such
an unspeakable treasure, which also indicates sufficiently that it cannot be ordinary mere water.
For mere water could not do such a thing, but the Word does it, and (as said above) the fact that
the name of God is comprehended therein. But where the name of God is, there must be also life and
salvation, that it may indeed be called a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water; for by the
Word such power is imparted to Baptism that it is a laver of regeneration, as St. Paul also calls
it, Titus 3:5.
But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external
things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith,
as we shall hear still further. But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith
must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and
rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation
and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is
embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe
this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this
ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?
Now, they are so mad as to separate faith and that to which faith clings and is bound though it
be something external. Yea, it shall and must be something external, that it may be apprehended by
the senses, and understood and thereby be brought into the heart, as indeed the entire Gospel is an
external, verbal preaching. In short, what God does and works in us He proposes to work through such
external ordinances. Wherever, therefore, He speaks, yea, in whichever direction or by whatever means
He speaks, thither faith must look, and to that it must hold. Now here we have the words: He that believeth
and is baptized shall be saved. To what else do they refer than to Baptism, that is, to the water
comprehended in God's ordinance? Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God,
faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism.
Thirdly: How can water do such great things?
Answer: It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the
water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water
is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water
of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By
the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through
Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to
the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.
(Details from the Large Catechism)
In the third place since we have learned the great benefit and power of Baptism, let us see further
who is the person that receives what Baptism gives and profits. This is again most beautifully and
clearly expressed in the words: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. That is, faith alone
makes the person worthy to receive profitably the saving, divine water. For, since these blessings are
here presented and promised in the words in and with the water, they cannot be received in any other
way than by believing them with the heart. Without faith it profits nothing, notwithstanding it is in
itself a divine superabundant treasure. Therefore this single word (He that believeth) effects this
much that it excludes and repels all works which we can do, in the opinion that we obtain and merit
salvation by them. For it is determined that whatever is not faith avails nothing nor receives anything.
But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of
no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for
salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God's (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism
far away from a bath-keeper's baptism). God's works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation,
and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. For by suffering
the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits
you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that
this is according to God's command and ordinance, and besides in God's name, in order that you may
receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart
must believe it.
Thus you see plainly that there is here no work done by us, but a treasure which He gives us, and
which faith apprehends; just as the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross is not a work, but a treasure
comprehended in the Word, and offered to us and received by faith. Therefore they do us violence by
exclaiming against us as though we preach against faith; while we alone insist upon it as being of
such necessity that without it nothing can be received nor enjoyed.
Thus we have these three parts which it is necessary to know concerning this Sacrament especially
that the ordinance of God is to be held in all honor, which alone would be sufficient, though it be
an entirely external thing like the commandment, Honor thy father and thy mother, which refers to bodily
flesh and blood. Therein we regard not the flesh and blood, but the commandment of God in which they
are comprehended, and on account of which the flesh is called father and mother; so also, though we
had no more than these words, Go ye and baptize, etc., it would be necessary for us to accept and do
it as the ordinance of God. Now there is here not only God's commandment and injunction, but also the
promise, on account of which it is still far more glorious than whatever else God has commanded and
ordained, and is, in short, so full of consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot comprehend
it. But it requires skill to believe this, for the treasure is not wanting, but this is wanting that
men apprehend it and hold it firmly.
Fourthly: What does such baptizing with water signify?
Answer: It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned
and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall
live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?
Answer: St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ
by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,
even so we also should walk in newness of life.
(Details from the Large Catechism)
Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has
always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil,
forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. In short,
it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be
true. For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying,
or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever,
how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one
could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one's door such a treasure and
medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.
Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience
oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am
baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. For
that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism namely, that the body, which can apprehend
nothing but the water, is sprinkled, and, in addition, the word is spoken for the soul to apprehend.
Now, since both, the water and the Word, are one Baptism, therefore body and soul must be saved and
live forever: the soul through the Word which it believes, but the body because it is united with the
soul and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel
in body and soul, for by it we are made holy and are saved, which no other kind of life, no work upon
earth, can attain.
Let this suffice respecting the nature, blessing, and use of Baptism, for it answers the present
Of Infant Baptism.
Here a question occurs by which the devil through his sects, confuses the world, namely, Of Infant
Baptism, whether children also believe, and are justly baptized. Concerning this we say briefly: Let
the simple dismiss this question from their minds, and refer it to the learned. But if you wish to answer
then answer thus: --
That the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from His own work, namely,
that God sanctifies many of them who have been thus baptized, and has given them the Holy Ghost; and
that there are yet many even to-day in whom we perceive that they have the Holy Ghost both because of
their doctrine and life; as it is also given to us by the grace of God that we can explain the Scriptures
and come to the knowledge of Christ, which is impossible without the Holy Ghost. But if God did not accept
the baptism of infants, He would not give the Holy Ghost nor any of His gifts to any of them; in short,
during this long time unto this day no man upon earth could have been a Christian. Now, since God confirms
Baptism by the gifts of His Holy Ghost as is plainly perceptible in some of the church fathers, as St.
Bernard, Gerson, John Hus, and others, who were baptized in infancy, and since the holy Christian Church
cannot perish until the end of the world, they must acknowledge that such infant baptism is pleasing to
God. For He can never be opposed to Himself, or support falsehood and wickedness, or for its promotion
impart His grace and Spirit. This is indeed the best and strongest proof for the simple-minded and
unlearned. For they shall not take from us or overthrow this article: I believe a holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints.
Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or
not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and
command of God. This now is perhaps somewhat acute but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that
Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is when the Word
is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make
Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or
employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.
For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize
him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water
together with the Word of God. even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who
unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament even though they do not believe.
Thus you see that the objection of the sectarians is vain. For (as we have said) even though infants
did not believe, which however, is not the case, yet their baptism as now shown would be valid, and
no one should rebaptize them; just as nothing is detracted from the Sacrament though some one approach
it with evil purpose, and he could not be allowed on account of his abuse to take it a second time the
selfsame hour, as though he had not received the true Sacrament at first; for that would mean to blaspheme
and profane the Sacrament in the worst manner. How dare we think that God's Word and ordinance should
be wrong and invalid because we make a wrong use of it?
Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right,
but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus
before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe,
and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to
the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I
commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood;
that will not deceive me or prove false to me.
Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes,
and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command
of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may
err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err.
Therefore they are presumptuous, clumsy minds that draw such inferences and conclusions as these:
Where there is not the true faith, there also can be no true Baptism. Just as if I would infer: If I
do not believe, then Christ is nothing; or thus: If I am not obedient, then father, mother, and government
are nothing. Is that a correct conclusion, that whenever any one does not do what he ought, the thing
in itself shall be nothing and of no value? My dear, just invert the argument and rather draw this
inference: For this very reason Baptism is something and is right, because it has been wrongly received.
For if it were not right and true in itself, it could not be misused nor sinned against. The saying
is: Abusus non tollit, sed confirmat substantiam, Abuse does not destroy the essence but confirms it.
For gold is not the less gold though a harlot wear it in sin and shame.
Therefore let it be decided that Baptism always remains true, retains its full essence, even though
a single person should be baptized, and he, in addition, should not believe truly. For God's ordinance
and Word cannot be made variable or be altered by men. But these people, the fanatics, are so blinded
that they do not see the Word and command of God, and regard Baptism and the magistrates only as they
regard water in the brook or in pots, or as any other man; and because they do not see faith nor
obedience, they conclude that they are to be regarded as invalid. Here lurks a concealed seditious
devil, who would like to tear the crown from the head of authority and then trample it under foot,
and, in addition, pervert and bring to naught all the works and ordinances of God. Therefore we must
be watchful and well armed, and not allow ourselves to be directed nor turned away from the Word, in
order that we may not regard Baptism as a mere empty sign, as the fanatics dream.
Lastly, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external
sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church. But
the act or ceremony is this, that we are sunk under the water, which passes over us, and afterwards
are drawn out again. These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the
power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after
that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a
truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For
this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam,
and that that which belongs to the new man come forth. But what is the old man? It is that which is
born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving,
infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it. Now, when we are come into the kingdom
of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient
more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.
This is the true use of Baptism among Christians, as signified by baptizing with water. Where this,
therefore, is not practised but the old man is left unbridled, so as to continually become stronger,
that is not using Baptism, but striving against Baptism. For those who are without Christ cannot but
daily become worse, according to the proverb which expresses the truth, "Worse and worse -- the longer,
the worse." If a year ago one was proud and avaricious, then he is much prouder and more avaricious
this year, so that the vice grows and increases with him from his youth up. A young child has no special
vice; but when it grows up, it becomes unchaste and impure, and when it reaches maturity real vices
begin to prevail the longer, the more.
Therefore the old man goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the
power of Baptism. On the other hand where men have become Christians, he daily decreases until he
finally perishes. That is truly to be buried in Baptism, and daily to come forth again. Therefore
the external sign is appointed not only for a powerful effect, but also for a signification. Where,
therefore, faith flourishes with its fruits, there it has no empty signification, but the work [of
mortifying the flesh] accompanies it; but where faith is wanting, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.
And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament,
which has been called repentance, as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance
but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life?
Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life,
but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to
suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.
Therefore our Baptism abides forever; and even though some one should fall from it and sin, nevertheless
we always have access thereto, that we may again subdue the old man. But we need not again be sprinkled
with water; for though we were put under the water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one
Baptism, although the operation and signification continue and remain. Repentance, therefore, is nothing
else than a return and approach to Baptism, that we repeat and practise what we began before, but abandoned.
This I say lest we fall into the opinion in which we were for a long time, imagining that our Baptism
is something past, which we can no longer use after we have fallen again into sin. The reason is, that
it is regarded only according to the external act once performed [and completed]. And this arose from
the fact that St. Jerome wrote that repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and
cross over after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the
Christian Church. Thereby the use of Baptism has been abolished so that it can profit us no longer.
Therefore the statement is not correct, or at any rate not rightly understood. For the ship never breaks
because (as we have said) it is the ordinance of God, and not a work of ours; but it happens, indeed,
that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if any one fall out, let him see to it that he swim up and
cling to it till he again come into it and live in it, as he had formerly begun.
Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the
devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man,
and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.
For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly,
that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in
the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians. But if
any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat does not
recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts
also remain. If, therefore we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every
day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.
How Christians should be taught to confess.
What is Confession? (These questions may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflect
his teachings and were included in editions of the Small Catechism during his lifetime.)
Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other,
that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no wise
doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not
know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone
which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these?
Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are
a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have
been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether
you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.
Pray, Propose to Me a Brief Form of Confession.
Answer: You should speak to the confessor thus: Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my
confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God's sake.
I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess before you
that I am a man-servant, a maidservant, etc. But, alas, I serve my master unfaithfully; for in this
and in that I have not done what they commanded me; I have provoked them, and caused them to curse,
have been negligent [in many things] and permitted damage to be done; have also been immodest in
words and deeds, have quarreled with my equals, have grumbled and sworn at my mistress, etc. For
all this I am sorry, and pray for grace; I want to do better.
A master or mistress may say thus:
In particular I confess before you that I have not faithfully trained my children,
domestics, and wife [family] for God's glory. I have cursed, set a bad example by rude words and
deeds, have done my neighbor harm and spoken evil of him, have overcharged and given false ware and
And whatever else he has done against God's command and his station, etc.
But if any one does not find himself burdened with such or greater sins, he should
not trouble himself or search for or invent other sins, and thereby make confession a torture, but
mention one or two that he knows. Thus: In particular I confess that I once cursed; again, I once
used improper words, I have once neglected this or that, etc. Let this suffice.
But if you know of none at all (which, however is scarcely possible), then mention
none in particular, but receive the forgiveness upon your general confession which you make before
God to the confessor.
Then shall the confessor say:
God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.
Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?
Answer: Yes, dear sir.
Then let him say:
As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive
thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.
But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor
will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture. This is to be
merely a general form of confession for the unlearned.
The Sacrament of the Altar
As the head of the family should teach it
in a simple way to his household.
Of the Sacrament of the Altar. (Details from the Large Catechism)
In the same manner as we have heard regarding Holy Baptism, we must speak also concerning the other
Sacrament, namely, these three points: What is it? What are its benefits? and, Who is to receive it? And
all these are established by the words by which Christ has instituted it, and which every one who desires
to be a Christian and go to the Sacrament should know. For it is not our intention to admit to it and
to administer it to those who know not what they seek, or why they come. The words, however, are these:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when
He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body,
which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me.
After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, gave thanks, and gave
it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you
for the remission of sins: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
Here also we do not wish to enter into controversy and contend with the traducers and blasphemers of
this Sacrament, but to learn first (as we did regarding Baptism) what is of the greatest importance, namely
that the chief point is the Word and ordinance or command of God. For it has not been invented nor introduced
by any man, but without any one's counsel and deliberation it has been instituted by Christ. Therefore,
just as the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Creed retain their nature and worth although
you never keep, pray, or believe them, so also does this venerable Sacrament remain undisturbed, so
that nothing is detracted or taken from it, even though we employ and dispense it unworthily. What
do you think God cares about what we do or believe, so that on that account He should suffer His
ordinance to be changed? Why, in all worldly matters every thing remains as God has created and ordered
it, no matter how we employ or use it. This must always be urged, for thereby the prating of nearly
all the fanatical spirits can be repelled. For they regard the Sacraments, aside from the Word of God,
as something that we do.
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ,
under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.
Where is this written?
The holy Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul, write thus:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread: and
when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is
My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.
After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, gave thanks, and
gave it to them, saying, Take, drink ye all of it. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which
is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?
That is shown us in these words: Given, and
shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life,
and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is
also life and salvation.
(Details from the Large Catechism)
Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar?
Answer: It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in and under the bread and wine
which we Christians are commanded by the Word of Christ to eat and to drink. And as we have said of
Baptism that it is not simple water, so here also we say the Sacrament is bread and wine, but not
mere bread and wine, such as are ordinarily served at the table, but bread and wine comprehended in,
and connected with, the Word of God.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
It is not the eating and drinking,
indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the
remission of sins. Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in
the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness
(Details from the Large Catechism)
It is the Word (I say) which makes and distinguishes this Sacrament, so that it is not mere bread
and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ. For it is said: Accedat verbum ad
elementum, et At sacramentum. If the Word be joined to the element it becomes a Sacrament. This saying
of St. Augustine is so properly and so well put that he has scarcely said anything better. The Word
must make a Sacrament of the element, else it remains a mere element. Now, it is not the word or
ordinance of a prince or emperor, but of the sublime Majesty, at whose feet all creatures should fall,
and affirm it is as He says, and accept it with all reverence fear, and humility.
With this Word you can strengthen your conscience and say: If a hundred thousand devils, together
with all fanatics, should rush forward, crying, How can bread and wine be the body and blood of Christ?
etc., I know that all spirits and scholars together are not as wise as is the Divine Majesty in His
little finger. Now here stands the Word of Christ: Take, eat; this is My body; Drink ye all of it;
this is the new testament in My blood, etc. Here we abide, and would like to see those who will constitute
themselves His masters, and make it different from what He has spoken. It is true, indeed, that if
you take away the Word or regard it without the words, you have nothing but mere bread and wine. But
if the words remain with them as they shall and must, then, in virtue of the same, it is truly the
body and blood of Christ. For as the lips of Christ say and speak, so it is, as He can never lie or
Hence it is easy to reply to all manner of questions about which men are troubled at the present
time, such as this one: Whether even a wicked priest can minister at, and dispense, the Sacrament,
and whatever other questions like this there may be. For here we conclude and say: Even though a knave
takes or distributes the Sacrament, he receives the true Sacrament, that is, the true body and blood
of Christ, just as truly as he who [receives or] administers it in the most worthy manner. For it is
not founded upon the holiness of men, but upon the Word of God. And as no saint upon earth, yea, no
angel in heaven, can make bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ, so also can no one change
or alter it, even though it be misused. For the Word by which it became a Sacrament and was instituted
does not become false because of the person or his unbelief. For He does not say: If you believe or
are worthy, you receive My body and blood, but: Take, eat and drink; this is By body and blood. Likewise:
Do this (namely, what I now do, institute, give, and bid you take). That is as much as to say, No
matter whether you are worthy or unworthy, you have here His body and blood by virtue of these words
which are added to the bread and wine. Only note and remember this well; for upon these words rest
all our foundation, protection, and defense against all errors and deception that have ever come or
may yet come.
Thus we have briefly the first point which relates to the essence of this Sacrament. Now examine
further the efficacy and benefits on account of which really the Sacrament was instituted; which is
also its most necessary part, that we may know what we should seek and obtain there. Now this is plain
and clear from the words just mentioned: This is My body and blood, given and shed FOR YOU, for the
remission of sins. Briefly that is as much as to say: For this reason we go to the Sacrament because
there we receive such a treasure by and in which we obtain forgiveness of sins. Why so? Because the
words stand here and give us this; for on this account He bids me eat and drink, that it may be my
own and may benefit me, as a sure pledge and token, yea, the very same treasure that is appointed
for me against my sins, death, and every calamity.
On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man.
For by Baptism we are first born anew; but (as we said before) there still remains, besides, the
old vicious nature of flesh and blood in man, and there are so many hindrances and temptations of
the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes also stumble.
Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen
itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. For the new
life must be so regulated that it continually increase and progress, but it must suffer much opposition.
For the devil is such a furious enemy that when he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man,
and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides, tries all devices,
and does not desist until he finally wearies us, so that we either renounce our faith or yield hands
and feet and become listless or impatient. Now to this end the consolation is here given when the
heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, that it may here obtain new power and refreshment.
But here our wise spirits contort themselves with their great art and wisdom, crying out and bawling:
How can bread and wine forgive sins or strengthen faith? Although they hear and know that we do not
say this of bread and wine, because in itself bread is bread, but of such bread and wine as is the
body and blood of Christ, and has the words attached to it. That, we say, is verily the treasure,
and nothing else, through which such forgiveness is obtained. Now the only way in which it is conveyed
and appropriated to us is in the words (Given and shed for you). For herein you have both truths,
that it is the body and blood of Christ, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now the body
of Christ can never be an unfruitful, vain thing, that effects or profits nothing. Yet however great
is the treasure in itself, it must be comprehended in the Word and administered to us, else we should
never be able to know or seek it.
Therefore also it is vain talk when they say that the body and blood of Christ are not given and
shed for us in the Lord's Supper, hence we could not have forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament. For
although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot
come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that
such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the
oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the
forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel? But now the entire
Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc.,
are by the Word embodied in this Sacrament and presented to us. Why, then, should we allow this treasure
to be torn from the Sacrament when they must confess that these are the very words which we hear
everywhere in the Gospel, and they cannot say that these words in the Sacrament are of no use, as
little as they dare say that the entire Gospel or Word of God, apart from the Sacrament, is of no use?