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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§85. Enlarged Conception of the Church. Augustin, Wiclif, Hus, Luther.


Köstlin: Luthers Lehre von der Kirche. Stuttgart, 1853. Comp. his Luthers Theologie in ihrer geschichtl. Entwicklung, II. 534 sqq.; and his Martin Luther, bk. VI. ch. iii. (II. 23 sqq.). Joh. Gottschick: Hus’, Luther’s und Zwingli’s Lehre von der Kirche, in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte." Bd. VIII., Gotha, 1886, pp. 345 sqq. and 543 sqq. (Very elaborate, but he ought to have gone back to Wiclif and Augustin. Hus merely repeated Wiclif.)

Comp. also on the general subject Münchmeyer: Das Dogma von der sichtbaren und unsichtbaren Kirche, 1854. Ritschl: Ueber die Begriffe sichtbare und unsichtbare Kirche, in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1859. Jul. Müller: Die unsichtbare Kirche, in his "Dogmatische Abhandlungen." Bremen, 1870, pp. 278–403 (an able defense of the idea of the invisible church against Rothe, Münchmeyer, and others who oppose the term invisible as inapplicable to the church. See especially Rothe’s Anfänge der christl. Kirche, 1837, vol. I. 99 sqq.). Alfred Krauss: Das protestantische Dogma von der unsichtbaren Kirche, Gotha, 1876. Seeberg: Der Begriff der christlichen Kirche, Part I., 1885. James S. Candlish: The Kingdom of God. Edinburgh, 1884.


Separation from Rome led to a more spiritual and more liberal conception of the church, and to a distinction between the one universal church of the elect children of God of all ages and countries, under the sole headship of Christ, and the several visible church organizations of all nominal Christians. We must trace the gradual growth of this distinction.

In the New Testament the term ejkklhsiva (a popular assembly, congregation) is used in two senses (when applied to religion): 1, in the general sense of the whole body of Christian believers (by our Lord, Matt. 16:18); and 2, in the particular sense of a local congregation of Christians (also by our Lord, Matt. 18:17). We use the equivalent term "church" (from kuriakovn, belonging to the Lord) in two additional senses: of a denomination (e.g., the Greek, the Roman, the Anglican, the Lutheran Church), and of a church edifice. The word ejkklhsiva occurs only twice in the Gospels (in Matthew), but very often in the Acts and Epistles; while the terms "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" are used very often in the Gospels, but rarely in the other books. This indicates a difference. The kingdom of God precedes the institution of the church, and will outlast it. The kingdom has come, is constantly coming, and will come in glory. It includes the government of God, and all the religious and moral activities of man. The visible church is a training-school for the kingdom. In many instances the terms may be interchanged, while in others we could not substitute the church for the kingdom without impropriety: e.g., in the phrase "of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3; Mark 10:14); or, "thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10) or, "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation, ... the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20, 21) or, "to inherit the kingdom" (Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:10; 15:30; Gal. 5:21); or, "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." A distinction between nominal and real, or outward and inward, membership of the church, is indicated in the words of our Lord, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14), and by Paul when be speaks of a circumcision of the flesh and a circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:28, 29). Here is the germ of the doctrine of the visible and invisible church.

The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds include the holy catholic church and the communion of saints among the articles of faith,676676    Yet not in the strict and deeper sense in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are articles of (saving) faith; hence the preposition εἰς, in, is omitted before ecclesiam, and the following articles, at least in the Latin forms (the Greek Nicene Creed has εἰς). and do not limit them by the Greek, Roman, or any other nationality or age. "Catholic" means universal, and is as wide as humanity. It indicates the capacity and aim of the church; but the actualization of this universalness is a process of time, and it will not be completed till the whole world is converted to Christ.677677    The term "catholic" (καθολικός, from κατὰand ὅλος, whole, entire, complete) does not occur in the New Testament (for the inscrip-tions of the Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, ἐπιστολαὶ καθολικαί, or simply καθολικαί, are no part of the apostolic text, but added by transcribers), and is first used as an epithet of the Church by Ignatius of Antioch, the enthusiast for episcopacy and martyrdom (Ad Smyrn., c. 8), and in the Martyrium of Polycarp (in Eusebius, II. E., IV. 14). It was applied also to faith, tradition, people, and became equivalent with Christian, in distinction from Jews, idolaters, heretics, and schismatics.

The mediaeval schoolmen distinguished three stages in the catholic church as to its locality,—the militant church on earth (ecclesia militans), the church of the departed or the sleeping church in purgatory (ecclesia dormiens), and the triumphant church in heaven (ecclesia triumphans). This classification was retained by Wiclif, Hus, and other forerunners of Protestantism; but the Reformers rejected the intervening purgatorial church, together with prayers for the departed, and included all the pious dead in the church triumphant.

In the militant church on earth, Augustin made an important distinction between "the true body of Christ" (corpus Christi verum), and "the mixed body of Christ" (corpus Christi mixtum or simulatum). He substitutes this for the less suitable designation of a "twofold body of Christ" (corpus Domini bipartitum), as taught by Tichonius, the Donatist grammarian (who referred to Cant. 1:5). These two bodies are in this world externally in one communion, as the good and bad fish are in one net, but they will ultimately be separated.678678    De Doctr. Christ., III. 32 (in Schaff’s "Nicene and Post-Nicene Library;" Works of St. Augustin, vol. II. 509). To the true or pure church belong all the elect, and these only, whether already in the Catholic Church, or outside of it, yet predestinated for it. "Many," he says, "who are openly outside, and are called heretics, are better than many good Catholics; for we see what they are to-day; what they shall be to-morrow, we know not; and with God, to whom the future is already present, they already are what they shall be hereafter."679679    De Bapt. contra Donat., IV. 5. For a fuller exposition of his doctrine of the church, see his Donatist writings, and Reuter’s Augustin. Studien (1887). On the other hand, hypocrites are in the church, but not of the church.

It should be added, however, that Augustin confined the true church on earth to the limits of the visible, orthodox, catholic body of his day, and excluded all heretics,—Manichaeans, Pelagians, Arians, etc.,—and schismatics,—Donatists, etc.,—as long as they remain outside of fellowship with that body. In explaining the article "the holy church," in his version of the Creed (which omits the epithet "catholic," and the additional clause "the communion of saints"), he says that this surely means, the Catholic Church;" and adds, "Both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. But heretics in holding false opinions regarding God do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe. Wherefore, neither do the heretics belong to the Church Catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same, inasmuch as it loves the neighbor, and consequently readily forgives the neigbbor’s sin."680680    De Fide et Symbolo, c. 10 (in Schaff’s ed., III. 331). It is well known that this great and good man even defended the principle of forcible coercion of schismatics, on a false interpretation of Luke 14:23, "Constrain them to come in."

In the ninth century the visible Catholic Church was divided into two rival Catholic churches,—the patriarchal church in the East, and the papal church in the West. The former denied the papal claim of universal jurisdiction and headship, as an anti-Christian usurpation; the latter identified the Church Catholic with the dominion of the papacy, and condemned the Greek Church as schismatical. Hereafter, in Western Christendom, the Holy Catholic Church came to mean the Holy Roman Church.

The tyranny and corruptions of the papacy called forth the vigorous protest of Wiclif, who revived the Augustinian distinction between the true church and the mixed church, but gave it an anti-Roman and anti-papal turn (which Augustin did not). He defined the true church to be the congregation of the predestinated, or elect, who will ultimately be saved.681681    Tractatus de Ecclesia, c. I., "congregatio omnium praedestinatorum ... Illa est sponsa Christl ... Jerusalem mater nostra, templum Domini, regnum coelorum et civitas regni magni." Then he quotes the distinction made by Augustin, to whom he refers throughout the book more frequent-ly than to all other fathers combined. This important tract was recently published for the first time from three MSS. in Vienna and Prague by the "Wyclif Society," and edited by Dr. Johann Loserth (professor of history in the University of Czernowitz), London (Trübner & Co.), 1886, 600 pp. But the same view of the church is taught in other books of Wiclif, and correctly stated by Dr. Lechler in his Joh. von Wiclif, Leipz., 1873, vol. I. 541 sqq. Nobody can become a member of this church except by God’s predestination, which is the eternal foundation of the church, and determines its membership. No one who is rejected from eternity (praescitus, foreknown, as distinct from praedestinatus, foreordained) can be a member of this church. He may be in it, but he is not of it. As there is much in the human body which is no part of it, so there may be hypocrites in the church who will finally be removed. There is but one universal church, out of which there is no salvation. The only Head of this church is Christ; for a church with two heads would be a monster. The apostles declared themselves to be servants of this Head. The Pope is only the head of a part of the church militant, and this only if he lives in harmony with the commandments of Christ. This conception of the church excludes all hypocrites and bad members, though they be bishops or popes; and it includes all true Christians, whether Catholics, or schismatics, or heretics. It coincides with the Protestant idea of the invisible church. But Wiclif and Hus denied the certainty of salvation, as taught afterwards by Calvinists, and herein they agreed with the Catholics; they held that one may be sure of his present state of grace, but that his final salvation depends upon his perseverance, which cannot be known before the end.

Wiclif’s view of the true church was literally adopted by the Bohemian Reformer Hus, who depended for his theology on the English Reformer much more than was formerly known.682682    The close affinity has recently been shown by Joh. Loserth, Hus und Wiclif; zur Genesis der hussitischen Lehre (Prag and Leipz., l884), and is especially apparent from a comparison of Wiclif’s and Hus’s treatises De Ecclesia. Wiclif’s book exerted little influence in England, but became known in Bohemia in 1407 or before, and the reproduction of it by Hus created a great sensation. The arrangement, the ideas, and arguments of the two books are the same, and often the very language. Comp. Loserth’s Introduction to Wiclif’s De Ecclesia. From Hus it passed to Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, who agreed in denying the claims of the papacy to exclusive catholicity, and in widening the limits of the church so as to include all true believers in Christ. But they distinguished more clearly between the invisible and visible church, or rather between one true invisible church and several mixed visible churches.683683    Luther first used the term "invisible." Zwingli first added the term "visible" in his Expositio christianae. fidei (1531): "Credimus et unam sanctam esse catholicam, h.e. universalem ecclesiam. Eam autem esse aut visibilem aut invisibilem." Zwingli was the only one among the Reformers who included the elect heathen in the invisible church. The clearest symbolical statement of the Protestant doctrine of the invisible and visible church is given in the Westminster Confession, ch. xxv. (Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, III. 657). The invisible church is within the visible church as the soul is in the body, and the kernel in the shell. It is not a Utopian dream or Platonic commonwealth, but most real and historical. The term, "invisible" was chosen because the operations of the Holy Spirit are internal and invisible, and because nobody in this life can be surely known to belong to the number of the elect, while membership of the visible church is recognizable by baptism and profession.

Important questions were raised with this distinction for future settlement. Some eminent modern Protestant divines object to the term "invisible church," as involving a contradiction, inasmuch as the church is essentially a visible institution; but they admit the underlying truth of an invisible, spiritual communion of believers scattered throughout the world.684684    Rothe (Anfänge der christl. Kirche, I. p. 101) says that the idea of a moral and spiritual union and communion of all believers in Christ, or of the communion of saints, is in the highest sense real (ist nach unsrer innigsten Ueberzeugung eine im höchsten Sinne reale), but cannot be called a church. He resolves and dissolves the church ultimately into the kingdom of God, which he identifies with the ideal state. As Protestantism has since divided and subdivided into a number of denominations and separate organizations, the idea of the church needs to be further expanded. We must recognize a number of visible churches, Greek, Latin, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and all the more recent Christian denominations which acknowledge Christ as their Head, and his teaching and example as their rule of faith and duty. The idea of denominations or confessions, as applied to churches, is of modern date; but is, after all, only an expansion of the idea of a particular church, or a contraction of the idea of the universal church, and therefore authorized by the double Scripture usage of ecclesia. The denominational conception lies between the catholic and the local conception. The one invisible church is found in all visible denominations and congregations as far as true Christianity extends. Another distinction should also be made between the church, and the kingdom of God, which is a more spiritual and more comprehensive idea than even this invisible catholic church, although very closely allied to it, and usually identified with it. But we cannot anticipate modern discussions. The Reformers were concerned first of all to settle their relation to the Roman Church as they found it, and to reconcile the idea of a truly catholic church which they could not and would not sacrifice, with the corruptions of the papacy on the one hand, and with their separation from it on the other.

Luther received a copy of Hus’s treatise De Ecclesia from Prague in 1519.685685    Under the date of Oct. 3, 1519, he informed Staupitz that he had received from Prague letters of two priests, "una cum libello Joannis Hus." De Wette, I. 341. An edition of the Tractatus de Ecclesia was published at Mainz and Hagenau in 1520. He was driven to a defense of the Bohemian martyr in the disputation at Leipzig, and ventured to assert that Hus was unjustly condemned by the Council of Constance for holding doctrines derived from Augustin and Paul. Among these was his definition of the universal church as the totality of the elect (universitas praedestinatorum).

Luther developed this idea in his own way, and modified it in application to the visible church. He started from the article of the Creed, "I believe in the holy catholic church," but identified this article with the "communion of saints," as a definition of the catholic church.686686    This identification may be questioned. The holy catholic church corresponds rather to the church visible, the communion of saints to the church invisible. The communion of saints means that inward and spiritual fellowship of true believers on earth and in heaven which is based on their union with Christ. It is their fellowship with God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit (Comp. 1 John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; Phil. 2:1), and with each other, a fellowship not broken by death, but extending to the saints above. A most precious idea.
   "The saints in heaven and on earth

   But one communion make;

   All join In Christ, their living Head,

   And of his grace partake."

   The article of the communio sanctorum (as well as the epithet catholica) is a later insertion, and not found in the creeds before the fifth century. See Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, I. 22 and II. 52. The oldest commentators understood it of the communion with the saints in heaven. According to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, it means "a community of spiritual blessings," especially the sacraments enjoyed in the Catholic Church. A more comprehensive and satisfactory exposition is given by Pearson on the Creed, Art. IX., and in the Westminster Confession, Ch. XXVI.
He explained the communion (Gemeinschaft) to mean the community or congregation (Gemeinde) of saints. He also substituted, in his Catechism, the word "Christian" for "catholic," in order to include in it all believers in Christ. Hence the term "catholic" became, or remained, identical in Germany with "Roman Catholic" or "papal;"687687    The German proverb, ."Das ist um katholisch zu werden" (This is to turn Catholic), describes a condition of things that drives one to desperation or madness. while the English Protestant churches very properly retained the word "catholic" in, its true original sense of "universal," which admits of no sectarian limitation. The Romanists have no claim to the exclusive use of that title; they are too sectarian and exclusive to be truly catholic.

Luther held that the holy church in its relation to God is an article of faith, not of sight, and therefore invisible.688688    In his second Commentary on the Galatians (Erl. ed., III. 38): "Recte igitur fatemur in symbolo, nos credere ecclesiam sanctam. Est enim invisibilis, habitans in Spiritu, in loco inaccessibili, ideo non potest videri ejus sanctitas." But as existing among men the true church is visible, and can be recognized by the right preaching of the gospel or the purity of doctrine, and by the right administration of the sacraments (i.e., baptism and the Lord’s Supper). These are the two essential marks of a pure church. The first he emphasized against the Romanists, the second against what he called Enthusiasts (Schwarmgeister) and Sacramentarians (in the sense of anti-sacramentarians).

His theory acquired symbolical authority through the Augsburg Confession, which defines the church to be "the congregation of saints in which the gospel is rightly taught, and the sacraments are rightly administered."689689    Art. VII., "Est autem ecclesia congregatio sanctorum [Germ. ed., Versammlung aller Gläubigen], in qua evangelium recte [rein] docetur, et recte [laut des Evangelii] administrantur sacramenta." Comp. the Apol. Conf., Art. VII. and VIII. The same definition is substantially given in the Anglican Art. XIX. It would exclude the Quakers, who reject the external sacraments, yet are undoubted believers in Christ. The Calvinistic Confessions (e.g., Conf. Belgica, Art. XXIX.) and characteristically to those two marks a third one, the exercise of discipline In punishing sin. Worship and discipline, rites and ceremonies, are made secondary or indifferent, and reckoned with human traditions which may change from time to time. The church has no right to impose what is not commanded in the Word of God. In such things everybody is his own pope and church. The Lutheran Confession has always laid great—we may say too great—stress on the unity of doctrine, and little, too little, stress on discipline. And yet in no other evangelical denomination is there such a diversity of theological opinions, from the strict orthodoxy of the Formula Concordiae to every form and degree of Rationalism.

How far, we must ask here, did Luther recognize the dominion of the papacy as a part of the true catholic church? He did not look upon the Pope in the historical and legal light as the legitimate head of the Roman Church; but he fought him to the end of his life as the antagonist of the gospel, as the veritable Antichrist, and the papacy as an apostasy. He could not have otherwise justified his separation, and the burning of the papal bull and law-books. He assumed a position to the Pope and his church similar to that of the apostles to Caiaphas and the synagogue. Nevertheless, whether consistently or not, he never doubted the validity of the ordinances of the Roman Church, having himself been baptized, confirmed, and ordained in it, and he never dreamed of being re-baptized or re-ordained. Those millions of Protestants who seceded in the sixteenth century were of the same opinion, with the sole exception of the Anabaptists who objected to infant-baptism, partly on the ground that it was an invention of the popish Antichrist, and therefore invalid.

Nor did Luther or any of the Reformers and sensible Protestants doubt that there always were and are still many true Christians in the Roman communion, notwithstanding all her errors and corruptions, as there were true lsraelites even in the darkest periods of the Jewish theocracy. In his controversy with the Anabaptists (1528), Luther makes the striking admission: "We confess that under the papacy there is much Christianity, yea, the whole Christianity, and has from thence come to us. We confess that the papacy possesses the genuine Scriptures, genuine baptism, the genuine sacrament of the altar, the genuine keys for the remission of sins, the true ministry, the true catechism, the Ten Commandments, the articles of the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer. … I say that under the Pope is the true Christendom, yea, the very élite of Christendom, and many pious and great saints."690690    "Ich sage, dass unter dem Papst die rechte Christenheit ist, ja der rechte Ausbund der Christenheit, und viel frommer, grosser Heiligen." (Von der Wiedertaufe, Erl. ed. XXVI. 257 sq.) The Roman Catholic Möhler does not fail to quote this passage in his Symbolik, p. 422 sq. He says of Luther’s conception of the church (p. 424), that it is not false, but only one-sided (nicht falsch, obgleich einseitig). He virtually admits the Protestant distinction between the visible and the invisible church, but holds that the Catholics put the visible church first as the basis of the invisible, while the Protestants reverse the order.

For proof he refers, strangely enough, to the very passage of Paul, 2 Thess. 2:3, 4, from which he and other Reformers derived their chief argument that the Pope of Rome is Antichrist, "the man of sin," "the son of perdition." For Paul represents him as sitting "in the temple of God;" that is, in the true church, and not in the synagogue of Satan. As the Pope is Antichrist, he must be among Christians, and rule and tyrannize over Christians.691691    Ibid. p. 258. Critical commentators have long since abandoned this interpretation. Whatever be the wider applicability of this passage, Paul certainly meant a "mystery of lawlessness" (not tyranny) already at work in his time (ἤδη ἐνεργεῖται, 2 Thess. 2:7), long before popery existed, or before there was even a bishop of Rome (unless it be Peter). Moreover, "lawlessness," which is the proper translation of ἀνομία, is not characteristic of popery, but the very opposite. If Paul refers to Rome at all, it is rather as a "restraining" force, τὸ κατέχον, vers. 6, 7 (Comp. Rom. 13:1). The term "Antichrist" occurs only in the Epistles of John, and he speaks of "many Antichrists" in his own day. In a wider sense all is antichristian that is contrary to the spirit and aim of Christ in any church or any age. Melanchthon, who otherwise had greater respect for the Pope and the Roman Church, repeatedly expressed the same view.692692    In his Judicium de Jure reformandi, 1525 ("Corp. Ref." I. 767): "It is written that the Antichrist will have a great and powerful reign in the last times, as Paul says, Antichrist will be seated and rule in the temple of God, that is, in the church." And again in the "Apology of the Augsburg Confession" (1530), arts. VII. and VIII. (Müller’s ed., p. 152): "Paulus praedicat futurum, ut Antichristus sedeat in templo Dei, hoc est, in ecclesia dominetur et gerat officia." Luther came nearer the true position when he said that the Roman Church might be called a "holy church," by synecdoche or ex parte, with the same restriction with which Paul called the Galatian Christians "churches," notwithstanding their apostasy from the true gospel.693693    Com. in Ep. ad Gal. (Erl. ed., 1. 40 sq.): "Paulus vocat ecclesia Galatiae per synecdochen ... Sie et nos hodie vocamus ecclesiam romanam sanctam et omnes episcopatus sanctos, etiamsi sint subversi et episcopi et ministri eorum impii. Deus enim regnat in medio inimicorum suorum; item, Antichristus sedet in templo Dei, et Satan adest in medio filiorum Dei … Manet in romana urbe quamquam Sodoma et Gomorra pejore baptismus, sacramentum, vox et textus evangelii, sacra scriptura, ministeria, nomen Christi, nomen Dei."

He combined with the boldest independence a strong reverence for the historical faith. He derives from the unbroken tradition of the church an argument against the Zwinglians for the real presence in the eucharist; and says, in a letter to Albrecht, Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia (April, 1532, after Zwingli’s death): "The testimony of the entire holy Christian church (even without any other proof) should be sufficient for us to abide by this article, and to listen to no sectaries against it. For it is dangerous and terrible (gefährlich und erschrecklich) to hear or believe any thing against the unanimous testimony, faith, and doctrine of the entire holy Christian church as held from the beginning for now over fifteen hundred years in all the world. … To deny such testimony is virtually to condemn not only the holy Christian church as a damned heretic, but even Christ himself, with all his apostles and prophets, who have founded this article, ’I believe a holy Christian church,’ as solemnly affirmed by Christ when he promised, ’Behold, I am with you all the days, even to the end of the world’ (Matt. 28:20), and by St. Paul when he says, ’The church of God is the pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Tim. 3:15)."694694    De Wette, Briefe, IV. 354.

A Roman controversialist could not lay more stress on tradition than Luther does in this passage. But tradition, at least from the sixth to the sixteenth century, strongly favors the belief in transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass, both of which he rejected. And if the same test should be applied to his doctrine of solifidian justification, it would be difficult to support it by patristic or scholastic tradition, which makes no distinction between justification and sanctification, and lays as much stress on good works as on faith. He felt it himself, that on this vital point, not even Augustin was on his side. His doctrine can be vindicated only as a new interpretation of St. Paul in advance of the previous understanding.

Calvin, if we may here anticipate his views as expounded in the first chapters of the fourth book of his "Institutes of the Christian Religion," likewise clearly distinguishes between the visible and invisible church,695695    Lib. IV., c. i., §§ 4 and 7. He speaks most eloquently of the ecclesia visibilis, as our mother in whose womb we are conceived to enter into spiritual life. and in the visible church again between the true evangelical church and the false papal church, which he assails as unmercifully as Luther; yet he also admits that the Roman communion, notwithstanding the antichristian character of the papacy, yea, for the very reason that Antichrist sits "in the temple of God," remains a church with the Scriptures and valid Christian ordinances.696696    Lib. IV., c. ii., § 12: "Antichristum in templo Dei sessurum praedixerunt Daniel et Paulus (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4): illius scelerati et abominandi regni ducem et antesignanum, apud nos facimus Romanum Pontificem. Quod sedes ejus in templo Dei collocatur, ita innuitur, tale fore ejus regnum quod nec Christi nec ecclesiae nomen aboleat. Hinc igitur patet nos minime negare, quin sub ejus quoque tyrannide ecclesiae maneant: sed quas sacrilega impietate profanarit, quas immani dominatione afflixerit, quas malis et exitialibus doctrinis, ceu venenatis potionibus, corruperit, et propemodum enecarit, in quibus semisepultus lateat Christus, obrutum Evangelium, profligata pietas, cultus Dei fere abolitus: in quibus denique omnia sic sint conturbata, ut Babylonis potius quam civitatis Dei sanctae facies illic appareat." Comp. IV., 7, § 25; and Calvin’s commentary on 2 Thess. 2:3. So the Jewish synagogue under Caiaphas retained the law and the prophets, the rites and ceremonies, of the theocracy.

The Westminster Confession implies the same theory, and supports it by the same questionable exegesis of 2 Thess. 2:3 sqq. and Rev. 13:1–8.697697    Ch. XXV. 6: "The Pope of Rome ... is that Antichrist, that man of sin and perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ and all that is called God." And yet there are American divines who derive from this passage the very opposite conclusion; namely, that the Roman Church is no church at all, and that all her ordinances are invalid. An attempt to sanction this conclusion was made at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Cincinnati in 1885, but failed. The Westminster Confession never calls the Roman Church Antichrist, but only the Pope, who is no more the Roman Church than the Moderator of the General Assembly is the General Assembly, or the President of the United States is the American people, or the Czar of Russia is Russia. The government is only one factor in the life of a nation or a church.

The claims of the Roman Church rest on a broader and more solid base than the papacy, which is merely the form of her government. The papal hierarchy was often as corrupt as the Jewish hierarchy, and some popes were as wicked as Caiaphas;698698    Dante locates them in the Inferno; and Möhler says, "Hell has swallowed them up." but this fact cannot destroy the claims nor invalidate the ordinances of the Roman Church, which from the days of the apostles down to the Reformation has been identified with the fortunes of Western Christendom, and which remains to this day the largest visible church in the world. To deny her church character is to stultify history, and to nullify the promise of Christ. (Matt. 16:18; 28:20.)


NOTES.


luther’s views on the church fathers.


Walch, XXII. 2050–2065. Erlangen ed. LXII. 97 sqq. (Tischreden). Bindseil: Mart. Lutheri Colloquia (1863), 3 vols.


In this connection it may be interesting to collect from his writings and Table Talk some of Luther’s characteristic judgments of the church fathers whose works began to be more generally known and studied through the editions of Erasmus.

Luther had no idea of a golden age of virgin purity of the church. He knew that even among the apostles there was a Judas, and that errors and corruptions crept into the Galatian, Corinthian, and other congregations, as is manifest from the censures, warnings, and exhortations of the Epistles of the New Testament. Much less could he expect perfection in any post-apostolic age. His view of the absolute supremacy of the Word of God over all the words of men, even the best and holiest, led him to a critical and discriminating estimate of the fathers and schoolmen. Besides, he felt the difference between the patristic and the Protestant theology. The Continental Reformers generally thought much less of the fathers than the Anglican divines.

"The fathers," says Luther, "have written many things that are pious and useful (multa pia et salutaria), but they must be read with discrimination, and judged by the Scriptures." "The dear fathers lived better than they wrote; we write better than we live." (Melius vixerunt quam scripserunt: nos Deo juvante melius scribimus quam vivimus. Bindseil, l.c. III. 140; Erl. ed., LXII. 103.) He placed their writings far below the Scriptures; and the more he progressed in the study of both, the more he was impressed with the difference (Erl. ed., LXII. 107). To reform the church by the fathers is impossible; it can only be done by the Word of God (XXV. 231). They were poor interpreters, in part on account of their ignorance of Hebrew and Greek (XXII. 185). All the fathers have erred in the faith. Nevertheless, they are to be held in veneration for their testimony to the Christian faith (propter testimonium fidei omnes sunt venerandi. Erl. ed. LXII. 98).

Of all the fathers he learned most from Augustin. For him he had the profoundest respect, and him he quotes more frequently than all others combined. He regards him as one of the four pillars of the church (the claims of Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory, he disputed), as the best commentator, and the patron of theologians. "Latina nostra ecclesia nullum habuit praestantiorem doctorem quam Augustinum" (Bindseil, I. 456). "He pleased and pleases me better than all other doctors; he was a great teacher, and worthy of all praise" (III. 147). The Pelagians stirred him up to his best books, in which he treats of free-will, faith, and original sin. He first distinguished it from actual transgression. He is the only one among the fathers who had a worthy view of matrimony. The papists pervert his famous word: "I would not believe the gospel if the Catholic Church did not move me thereto," which was said against the Manichaeans in this sense: Ye are heretics, I do not believe you; I go with the church, the bride of Christ, which cannot err (Erl. ed., XXX. 394 sq.). Augustin did more than all the bishops and popes who cannot hold a candle to him (XXXI. 358 sq.), and more than all the Councils (XXV. 341). If he lived now, he would side with us, but Jerome would condemn us (Bindseil, III. 149). Yet with all his sympathy, Luther could not find his "sola fide." Augustin, he says, has sometimes erred, and is not to be trusted. "Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers." "When the door was opened to me for the understanding of Paul, I was done, with Augustin" (da war es aus mit ihm. Erl. ed., LXII. 119).

Next to Augustin he seems to have esteemed Hilary on account of his work on the Trinity. "Hilarius," he says, "inter omnes patres luctator fuit strenuissimus adversus haereticos, cui neque Augustinus conferri potest" (Bindseil, III. 138). Ambrose he calls "a pious, God-fearing, and brave man," and refers to his bold stand against the Emperor Theodosius. But his six books on Genesis are very thin, and his hymns have not much matter, though his (?) "Rex Christe, factor omnium," is "optimus hymnus." He praises Prudentius for his poetry. Tertullian, whom he once calls the oldest of the fathers (though he lived after 200), was "durus et superstitiosus." Of Cyprian he speaks favorably. As to Jerome, he had to admit that he was the greatest Bible translator, and will not be surpassed in this line (Erl. ed. LXII. 462). But he positively hated him on account of his monkery, and says: "He ought not to be counted among the doctors of the church; for he was a heretic, although I believe that he was saved by faith in Christ. I know no one of the fathers, to whom I am so hostile as to him. He writes only about fasting, virginity, and such things" (LXII. 119sq.). He was tormented by carnal temptations, and loved Eustochium so as to create scandal. He speaks impiously of marriage. His commentaries on Matthew, Galatians, and Titus are very thin. Luther had no more respect for Pope Gregory I. He is the author of the fables of purgatory and masses for souls; he knew little of Christ and his gospel, and was entirely too superstitious. The Devil deceived him, and made him believe in appearances of spirits from purgatory. "His sermons are not worth a copper" (Erl. ed., LI. 482; LII. 187; LX. 189, 405; XXVIII. 98 sqq.; Bindseil, III. 140, 228). But he praises beyond its merits his hymn Rex Christe, which he wrongly ascribes to Ambrose (Bindseil, III. 149; comp. Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnol., vol. I. 180 sq.).

With the Greek fathers, Luther was less familiar. He barely mentions Ignatius, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, and Epiphanius. He praises Athanasius as the greatest teacher of the Oriental Church, although he was nothing extra (obwohl er nichts sonderliches war). He could not agree with Melanchthon’s favorable judgment of Basil the Great. He thought Gregory of Nazianzen, the eloquent defender of the divinity of Christ during the Arian ascendency, to be of no account ("Nazianzenus est nihil." Bindseil, III. 152). He speaks well of Theodoret’s Commentary to Paul’s Epistles, but unreasonably depreciates Chrysostom, the golden preacher and commentator, and describes him as a great rhetorician, full of words and empty of matter; he even absurdly compares him to Carlstadt! "He is garrulous, and therefore pleases Erasmus, who neglects faith, and treats only of morals. I consulted him on the beautiful passage on the highpriest in Hebrews; but he twaddled about the dignity of priests, and let me stick in the mud (Bindseil, III. 136; Erl. ed. LXII. 102).

Of mediaeval divines Luther esteemed Nicolaus Lyra as a most useful commentator. He praises St. Bernard, who in his sermons "excels all other doctors, even Augustin." He speaks highly of Peter the Lombard, "the Master of Sentences," and calls him a "homo diligentissimus et excellentissimi ingenii," although he brought in many useless questions (Bindseil, III. 151; Erl. ed. LXII. 114). He calls Occam, whom he studied diligently, "summus dialecticus" (Bindseil, III. 138, 270). But upon the whole he hated the schoolmen and their master, "the damned heathen Aristotle," although he admits him to have been "optimus dialecticus," and learned from him and his commentators the art of logical reasoning. Even Thomas Aquinas, "the Angelic Doctor," whom the Lutheran scholastics of the seventeenth century highly and justly esteemed, he denounced as a chatterer (loquacissimus), who makes the Bible bend to Aristotle (Bindseil, III. 270, 286), and whose books are a fountain of all heresies, and destructive of the gospel ("der Brunn und Grundsuppe aller Ketzerei, Irrthums und Verleugnung des Evangeliums." Erl. ed. XXIV. 240). This is, of course, the language of prejudice and passion.—His views on Augustin are the most correct, because he knew him best, and liked him most.

Melanchthon and Oecolampadius from fuller knowledge and milder temper judged more favorably and consistently of the fathers generally, and their invaluable services to Christian literature.



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