Select a Document from the Menu

Commentary on Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you would wish that they do to you.”

by Huldreich Zwingli

(b 1484–d. 1531)

[Zwingli, Huldreich. “Matthew 7:12, Whatever you would wish that they do to you.” Commentary on Matt. 7:12, “Quaecumque volueritis ut vobis faciant.” In Annotationes Huldrici Zuinglii in Evangelium Matthaei. In Latinorum Scriptorum, Pars Sexta, Exegetica Veteris Testamenti Residua ac de Novo Testamento Evangelia. Volume 6, Tome 1 Huldrici Zuinglii Opera. Completa Editio Prima. Edited by Melchior Schuler and Johann Schulthess. Zurich (Turici): Schulthess. 1836. Translated from the Latin original by the Witherspoon Institute.]

Sometimes the translator has indicated in italics within parentheses the original Latin word that the English translates.  Brackets ([ ]) enclose text that is implied in the meaning of the Latin but requires added words to make sense in English. –Site Editor


“Whatever you would wish that they do to you.”

Since Christ is the reformer of created (conditae) nature—which was corrupted in Adam—here he touches on the foundation of the natural law. We know Paul’s judgment (sententia) to the Romans: “For when the gentiles who do not have the law by nature do what is of the law, although they do not have the law, they are a law for themselves; they show that the work (opus) of the law has been written on their hearts, etc.” In the first chapter he had also said: “That which can be known about God has been made manifest to them, for God has revealed (patefecit) it to them.” From these passages we plainly understand that that knowledge about God, which men say has been received into a certain “nature,” (naturae nescio cui) is from God (Dei). For God has made it manifest to them. And what else is nature than the continuous and everlasting operation of God, and his arrangement of all things? Now in this passage Paul has come somewhat close to the manner of the gentiles when they speak about God: not because he himself thinks that way (that the knowledge and law of God originate from human reason) but because the gentiles think that way, which is why he carefully adds, “For God has revealed it to them,” lest anyone think that he has this [knowledge] from himself or his own power (viribus). Nevertheless even all the wisest men of the gentiles (as far as I can tell) understood nature to be nothing else than the unchangeable operation and providence of the highest divinity. One can gather this easily from Seneca, Cicero, and others. For Cicero in his book De Legibus and De Inventione writes the following about the law of nature:

The law of nature is right and highest reason that has been planted in nature. It commands those things that must be done and prohibits the contrary. This is the highest law, which in all ages has come to birth before any law was written, or before any state whatsoever was constituted. For the law of nature arose and was constituted not by opinion but by a certain inborn force (vi). Now all of nature is ruled by God. Among all the animals there is none except man that has knowledge of God. By this law the society of all men has been conquered. These “sparks” by nature have been given to man and made innate to him, so that we may understand that we have been born for justice and for each other’s fellowship. But through the corruption of nature, the debasement of custom, and the vanity of our thoughts, they are snuffed out, as it were. From this vices arise and gain strength, as man departs from nature. Therefore the law of nature is that which not opinion but rather a certain inborn force brings forth, that is, religion, piety, gratitude, vindication, reverence (observantiam), [and] truth. Religion is that which regards the fear and worship of the gods. Piety is that which admonishes us to do our duty toward our country, or parents, or others joined [to us] by blood. Gratitude is that which shows regard in remembrance and repayment of services, honors, and friendship. Vindication is that through which, by defense or by taking vengeance, we fight off violence and insult from ourselves and from those of our household (a nostris)—who should be dear to us—and through which we punish sins. Reverence is that through which we revere and honor those who precede us in age, wisdom, or some other dignity. Truth is that through which we take care that nothing is done, has been done, or will be done otherwise than as we have asserted.


From these passages and others in various places that are read among the Nations, I easily conclude that they had that nature and reason that we call God’s “will” or “ordinance” or sometimes even the “image” of God, which either was first engraved in men or was thereafter illuminated and renewed by the working of the Holy Spirit through faith and charity. For God is and has always been among the gentiles, whom he chose in Christ for justice and life before the foundations of the world were laid. This image of God that was imprinted on man has been quite disfigured and stained. This lamp was darkened and blotted out in the densest shadows, though it was not altogether extinguished. For even among the most impious and wicked men it shows itself and cries out against sins; and as much as it can it struggles and fights against [sins]. That most holy and orthodox man Augustine makes me surer in this judgment in his book De Spiritu et Littera (ch. XXVII [48] and following)[1] where he writes,

And let it not disturb [us] that Paul said that the gentiles do what belongs to the law (quae legis sunt) “by nature” (naturaliter)—not by the Spirit of God, not by faith, not by grace. For the Spirit of grace does this, in order to restore in us the image of God, in which we were made by nature. Vice is indeed contrary to nature and grace certainly heals it. Because of grace we say to God, “Have mercy on me, heal my soul because I have sinned against you!” Therefore men by nature do what belongs to the law. Those who do not do this behave (faciunt) viciously, and through vice the law of God is blotted out from [our] hearts. And because of this, when vice has been healed, when it is written there, “they do [the things] that belong to the law by nature,” it is not that through nature grace has been negated, but rather through grace nature has been repaired. “For through one man sin, etc.” (Rom. 5). By this grace justice is written on the renewed inner man[2] which guilt had destroyed; this is the mercy [that came] upon the human race through Christ Jesus our Lord, “For there is one God, one mediator, etc.” (1 Tim. 2). I will make little dispute if anyone should reject this opinion and think that they who by nature do what belongs to the law must not be reckoned among the number of those whom the grace of Christ justifies, but rather [think that they] should be reckoned among those among whom are even the impious, who do not worship the true God truthfully and justly; nevertheless we read of or know of or hear of certain deeds that, according to the rule of justice, we not only cannot condemn, but we even deservedly and rightly praise them. Although if one were to dispute the purpose with which [these deeds] were done, one could hardly find those who merited the praise and defense due to justice.[3] Nevertheless because the image of God has not been so erased in the human soul by the fall of the earthly affections that no last traces, as it were, remained in it, one therefore could rightly say that even in the impious behavior of one’s life one is doing or appreciating (sapere) some things that are of the law. That which was imprinted when we were created through the image of God was not blotted out in every way. For just as the same image of God is renewed in the minds of believers through the new covenantthat image which impiety had not completely destroyed, for reason remained, without which the soul could not be called rationalso also there the law of God, which was not in every way blotted out through injustice, is certainly written when the mind has been renewed through grace.


Thus far have we reviewed Augustine’s words, which, although they have been set forth rather confusedly and very obscurely, nevertheless they seem to say that something of the image imprinted by God on the soul does remain, by whatever name the gentiles give it, whether reason or nature. Paul certainly calls “law” that which has been imprinted on nature by God. But that which this spark, given and imprinted by God (that is, the reason of uncorrupted nature), does not dictate, will necessarily be vicious and depraved, as Augustine has said, because vices are contrary to nature. Cicero also says the same thing, though with different words: “The things that are good by nature are corrupted by the snares of pleasure, which is the mother of all vices.”

If anyone should focus on this goal, if anyone listens to and follows this voice of nature, he will be illuminated with greater grace through Christ. He who neglects this voice and turns a deaf ear to it because he follows the command of his affections cannot even be called a just or good man in the eyes of men; for as each [such] man (quisque) refers whatever he does to his own advantage, he is thus least of all a good man, seeing as one who measured virtue by its reward would think that there is no virtue except malice.[4]

But if penalties (poena) and not nature had the task of protecting men from injury, what concern would discourage the impious at all if fear of punishment were taken away?although no impious person has ever been so audacious, because either he denies that what he did was wrong, or he invents some explanation for his deserved anguish and looks for a defense against nature by means of some right. Thus wicked people suffer punishment not so much by means of the courts (which at one time existed nowhere; today in many places there are none), as though courts were a fiction (still they are indeed very often fraudulent), as by the fact that the furies agitate and persecute them, not with pestering stings (as in myths), but with the anguish of conscience, and the torment of [having committed] a crime. But if the penalty, if the fear of punishment, and not the baseness itself [is what] deters one from a life of crime and wrongdoing, no one is unjust—we should instead call the wicked “incautious.” And then we who are moved to be good men not by what is noble in itself but rather by some utility and profit (utilitate aliqua et fructu), are “shrewd,” not good.

For what will the man who fears nothing but a witness or a judge do in the shadows? What will a man in a deserted place do if he happens to find a weak and solitary man whom he could rob of a great deal of gold? Our man who is just and good by nature (Noster hic natura vir iustus ac bonus) will certainly talk with him, help him, and lead him along the road. But the man who does nothing for the sake of someone else and measures all things by what is to his advantage, I think you see what he is going to do. If, however, he denies that he would take that man’s life and take away his gold, he will never deny it because nature judges that action to be base, but because he is afraid that the crime might become known and that he might be ruined.

But where is this drawn out philosophizing going, someone might say? The point is so that we can see what Paul called the law written on our hearts by God (for no one but God alone can write onto the heart), and so that we can understand that the truth has been written down even through the gentiles. Indeed, we, who consider not who says something but what it is that they say, gladly accept truth even if it was spoken by gentiles. For we know that every truth is from God, whoever turns out to have been the means of revealing it. From filth we collect gold and gems to decorate the house of our God.

But we are now approaching the main point: we will show in what way Christ by his teaching and spirit reformed this nature or image that was engraved on the mind and was debased. For in Christ all things are most brilliantly and perfectly set forth. And although by virtue of the length of time [that they had] the gentiles said and wrote some good things (for the mystery of that light was covered and buried deep down), nevertheless Christ the light of the whole world establishes all things most perfectly.

And so, when he had come to explaining the law, which had been debased and almost suppressed by the tradition-mongering (deuterotas) Pharisees, with a brief summary at the end of his speech he pulls together all laws into their summit and principle, and reduces them to their primeval origin. For all laws can in no way be good unless they are founded on the law of nature. Therefore Christ says, “Whatever you wish that men do to you, do the same also to them. This is the law and the prophets.” Then he explains this more clearly in chapter 22 when he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, etc., and your neighbor as [you love] yourself. On these two precepts the whole law and the prophets depend.”

But this must be observed: that this law of nature must be measured not by the affections of the flesh or by any man, but by God. For after the flesh was corrupted in Adam, it neither commands nor does anything good. And because Adam soon began to seek the honor belonging to divinity, all those born of Adam desire to be set over others. From this comes the fact that one man wants to be lord over others, and that another wishes to obey and be subordinate to no one. Both of them do not hear the law of uncorrupted nature (for it does cry out to each of them). But just as the law of nature restrains tyrants from oppressing others with violence, despising others, and becoming sole ruler, so in turn does it teach corrupted flesh that it is necessary that some one person be set over others and wield the reins of the state: to punish the guilty, guard the innocent, and be the vindicator of justice and the laws. The law of nature then is nothing else than true religion, that is, the knowledge of how to worship and fear the Supreme Divinity. No one but God alone can teach this knowledge and worship. And this law of nature that has been engraved by God on the human heart (pectori), that has been debased by vice, is renewed through the grace of Christ. For as this light is first illuminated for man through the Spirit of God, so it is later remade and confirmed through the Spirit of Christ.

[1] Zwingli’s Latin edition of St. Augustine (or at least the passage as written in the Schuler and Schulthess edition of this text) differs from later editions (especially that of Migne) that have become standard today. Very important differences are indicated in footnotes here.

[2] This sentence is translated not from Zwingli’s text but rather from the Migne edition, which reads, Qua gratia in interiore homine renovato iustitia scribitur. Zwingli’s text instead reads, Quae gratia in interiore homine renovato iustitia scribitur which admits of more than one reading, neither of which is satisfying. These readings are “This grace is written in the renewed inner man by means of justice” or “This grace in the renewed inner man is written as ‘justice.’”

[3] At the text here rendered “I will make little dispute . . .” down to “deservedly and rightly praise them,” the Migne text of De Spiritu et Littera instead suggests the following (more coherent though more drawn-out) reading: “But if these, who by nature do what is of the law, must not yet be reckoned among the number of those whom Christ justifies, but rather among those whose number indeed includes the impious and those who do not worship the true God truthfully and rightly, we nevertheless do read or know or hear of certain deeds which, according to the rule of justice, not only can we not condemn but we even deservedly and rightly praise them; although if there were a question of the purpose with which they are done we could scarcely find deeds that deserved the praise and defense owed to justice.”

[4]  The text here rendered “for as each [such] man” up to  “no virtue except malice” translates the following sentence: Ut enim quisque maxime ad suum commodum refert quaecumque agit, ita minime est vir bonus, ut qui virtutem praemio metiatur, nullam virtutem nisi malitiam putet. The insertion of “[such]” after “each” in the translation is not strictly necessary from the meaning of quisque (which simply means “each”), but without it Zwingli would seem to suggest that every man makes all his decisions based on what is to his advantage. Such an opinion would contradict the position that Zwingli defends in the remainder of the text.

“Is There Certitude in the Doctrines of Physics?”

By Philip Melanchthon

(b. 1497–d. 1560)

[Philip Melanchthon, “Estne certitudo aliqua doctrinae physicae?” (“Is There Certitude in the Doctrines of Physics?”). Initia Doctrinae Physicae. In Philippi Melanthonis Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia. Edited by Karl Gottlieb Bretschneider. Halis Saxonum: C. A. Schwetschke and Son. 1846. 13: 186–189. Translated from the original Latin by the Witherspoon Institute. 2015.]

Sometimes the translator has indicated in italics within parentheses the original Latin word that the English translates.  The Latin noticia is always translated as “notion” and the Latin norma is always translated as “norm.” Brackets ([ ]) enclose text that is implied in the meaning of the Latin but requires added words to make sense in English. –Site Editor


God wills (vult) that some arts that govern life, indeed that also manifest God in some way, be certain and sure (firmas). As Plato said, He wants “the pleasing rumor (famam) of God to be scattered among the arts.” If they were utterly uncertain and contained nothing sure, they would neither manifest God nor be laws of life. This statement then must be held as true: that there is some certain and sure doctrine of physics (that is, concerning the many things in nature) that is useful and necessary for the life of men, even if in the present (hac) feebleness of the human mind there are many other things that have not been fully investigated (pervestigata).

There are three criteria (that is, rules of judgment) that demonstrate (ostendunt) certainty, namely, principles, universal experience, and the understanding of consequence, for logicians advise [us] that these are the criteria of certainty in all the arts. Philosophers say that these norms (normas) do not deceive because it is clear that, given [their] opposite, the destruction of nature follows. Fire makes heat: if anyone shall deny this norm and throw himself into fire, the destruction of nature will follow.

So let us consider these norms and see what conclusions we can draw from them.

The order of deduction (consequentiae) in the syllogism is itself known by nature, just as the principles are. Therefore the conclusions that are drawn by valid (bona) deduction from principles and experience are certain and sure.

Experience clearly shows that among the lower bodies there are different qualities and motions. In fire there is heat, in earth and water there is cold, and these qualities fight among themselves. Heaven moves by a circular motion, but the elements move by a straight motion: light ones move up and heavy ones move down. To these experiences the physicist joins principles. For instance, when he wishes to show that this world, although its magnitude cannot be grasped by the eyes, is nevertheless finite, he begins from the principle that no infinite body moves in a circle. Now it is clear that heaven can complete a circle in a little bit of time, that is, in twenty-four hours; therefore it is not infinite. Let us take up one of the greater principles: an infinite distance cannot be crossed in a finite time; and where a diameter runs to infinity, a revolution back to the same point cannot happen. Therefore it is a true and sure conclusion that heaven is not an infinite body.

This conclusion (sententia) is useful for observing nature. For it is pleasing (gratum) to, as it were, comprehend and define that enormous vastness with one’s mind; but it is also then helpful for measuring the areas of the regions of heaven and earth, so that we may know where it is that we live and in which part of the world the affairs about which we read and hear take place.

But although we do not grasp all the parts of nature that have been fully investigated, nevertheless experience confirms that there is an enormous multitude of certain propositions that are useful to know. And if I may move on from the bodies of heaven (about which many grant that there is a greater certainty because they are not subject to generation and corruption as mixed things are) I shall speak about generation. It is certain that species do not get mixed (an ox is not begotten from a tree), but any nature tends to propagate something of its own species. Then it is certain that there is an order of numbers, and their progressions and their proportions are clear. Moreover concerning nutrition it is certain that nature requires certain nourishing things and in the right amount. Finally, concerning healing it is clear that there are many certain things: if a body is inflamed with a fever and in addition you give it wine, you will make it burn more. The cause of this is quite clear, and the principles have been handed on truly: that like things increase by the addition of like things, and that contrary things must be cured by contrary things.

Often even when the causes are not perceived the effects are nevertheless clear. For example, we do not see why the peony is good for an epileptic, yet its effect is still known, and we have ascertained that it keeps epilepsy away. There are many such things: Galen tells that it happened by chance that when some people had drunk wine in which there were deadly echidnae, they were freed from elephantiasis or leprosy. When several cases of that outcome were later found, that remedy was accepted as certain.

The bodies of the world have been so divinely ordered in nature that they adhere to each other to prevent the existence of a vacuum. In order to preserve this order a heavy thing will rise, or it will stop if nothing supports it below, like water in punctured sacs if the opening at the top is blocked.

So then it must be said that many things are certain, even if not all parts of nature have been fully investigated.

Moreover, because we are assured by the testimonies of the doctrine of heaven, we can pronounce more assuredly about certitude. We know that God is the author of nature, and that he has handed on many ordinances, which he wants to be certain to us, such as those of generation, nutrition, numbers, life, death, and many motions of the body. To belittle the certitude of these is to insult God.

And what insanity it would it be to say it is not certain whether a man is living if he eats, drinks, speaks, and performs all the functions of a living man: or whether Pompey’s body, if it is lying on the shore with its head cut off, is dead.

Therefore let that doubt of the skeptics and the like be rejected, and let them be refuted both with the rules of certainty, which I have spoken of—principles and universal experience—and also with the testimony of the doctrine of heaven and the will of God.

And let us not be troubled by that sophistry of Plato. In his writing Socrates says that he also burned with desire to examine nature and eagerly learned physics as a young man. But from physics he concluded the following: what he knew before and judged to be most certain, he afterward realized to be uncertain, as though it escaped from his hands.

Let not this saying of Socrates be applied to all things, and let not certainty be taken away from everything. For although it often happens that men both learned and unlearned assent to uncertain things, embrace them as certain, and later their error is grasped, nevertheless in the meantime not all things are uncertain.

In the same place Socrates quite seriously shows what he means. He said that he sought not only proximate causes, but the first and principal cause. For he had read Anaxagoras, who had said that the whole of this creation of the natural world had been laid out and established as it is by the eternal architectonic Mind. These are Anaxagoras’s words: “Mind is the arranger and cause of all things.” Socrates complains that his soul was unable to rest because he could not look more closely and gaze at this cause. At the same time (interim) he does not deny that there are many certain propositions concerning secondary causes.

But it is true that the yearning of the human mind does seek the first cause; indeed this enormous variety of nature has been put before our eyes in order that we might seek God, the creator of nature. When we see him face-to-face, then we will understand completely the nature of things. In the meantime let us hold on to those things that God has handed on to us with certain testimonies about his nature and will. The knowledge of these things will add much light to many disputes about physics.

Many people have committed many errors (Multi sunt multorum errores): Aristotle thought that nerves arise from the heart, while others have grasped correctly that they arise from the brain. Plato says that three humors (red bile, black bile, and phlegm) are not conducive to nutrition but corrupt the blood. Yet others more carefully distinguish the four useful humors from the harmful ones. So, in many instances many people have committed many errors; nor is anything more common for man in his (hac) weakness than to err, be deceived, and go astray in his thoughts (hallucinari). Nevertheless there remains divinely confirmed certainty concerning many propositions: God wills that life be one thing and death another; he wills there to be a certain distinction between species; he wills that the limits of generation and nutrition that he has ordained not be violated; he wills that the order of numbers be unchanging; he wills that the distinction between just (honestorum) and wicked men remain immovable, which is the image of the divine mind. And because that eternal mind is a likeness of God and unchangeable, the number and knowledge of the just that have arisen from that source are immovable

In the beginning students must be warned these things about certainty, lest they applaud the ravings of those who with the impudence of the clever have taken certainty away absolutely. And there are some “slaves of absurd opinions,” as Thucydides calls them, who despise custom, and who for the sake of perverting nature delight in monstrous opinions. Far be this vice from those who, for the sake of seeking the truth and in order to know God, cultivate the study of doctrine.

Let this principle of physics be immovable: anything is or it is not. Let the notion be immovable that “God exists.” Let also the following notions be immovable: things established by God are something; the gradations of things that have been ordained by God are something; life is something that is better than death; there are some actions of the living that have been ordained and are certain, and if they remain life remains. Let this experience be judged certain, just as an ordinance of God, for God has not established things in vain.

Let us search no longer for proofs for why fire burns, but let us be content with experience, which we deduce to be certain, and for this reason: because given the opposite the destruction of nature follows, and because the thing shows that such is the ordinance of God [its] creator (opificis).

“On Law”

By Philip Melanchthon

(b. 1497–d. 1560)

[Philip Melanchthon, “On Law.” The Loci Communes of Philip Melanchthon. Translated by Charles Leader Hill. Boston: Meador Publishing Company. 1944. 110–117. In the Public Domain.]

The translations of Latin or Greek text into English that are found within parentheses are provided by The Witherspoon Institute. –Site Editor

The topic on Laws will much more clearly reveal the power and nature of sin, since the law is said to be the knowledge of sin. Wherefore if anything will seem to be lacking in the preceding topic, it will be supplied, if I mistake not, in that which follows. Nevertheless I do not do this in order to heap up all the things that can be said of each individual head, but I am giving only the nomenclature of the most common topics, so that one may see on what the whole of Christian doctrine hangs, and whither Scripture above all must be referred. And, too, I do not wish you to learn these topics from me as a teacher, but as from one who ad­vises from Scripture and not from his own commentary. For believe me, it matters much whether you seek the substance of such things from the fountains or from the caverns. 

Here not only sweeter waters are drawn, as the poet has said, but also purer. For how much more certain is that which the Scripture prescribes than what is gathered from the commentaries? 

Moreover law is a judgment whereby the good is enjoined and the evil is prohibited. Legal right is the power of acting according to the law.[1] Many things both for and against laws have been spoken by the ancients, and I shall indicate a little later from what fountain these things have flowed. 

Of laws, some are natural, others Divine, still others human. Concerning natural laws, I have not yet seen anything worthily written whether by theologians or lawyers. For since they are designated “natural,” their formulas ought to be collected by a method of human reasoning through a natural syllogism. That is pre­cisely what I have not yet seen done by anyone, and I by no means know whether it can at all be done, since our human reason is so enslaved and blinded. Paul moreover, in Rom. 2:15, teaches by a marvelously elegant and clear argument, that within us there is a natural law. He says that the Gentiles have conscience defending or accusing a thing done; and it is therefore a law unto them. For what is conscience but the judgment of our action which is demanded by some law or common formula? And so a natural law is a common judgment to which all men alike assent, and therefore one which God has inscribed upon the soul of each man, adapted to form and shape character. For as in the theoretical disciplines such as mathematics, there are certain common principles or κοιναὶ ἔννοιαι ἢ προλήψεις (“common notions or concepts”) (as for instance: “The whole is greater than its parts”) so in the moral disciplines there are first common principles then conclusions—these words must be used for the sake of teaching—as the first rules of all human functions. You have rightly called these “natural laws.” Cicero in his book De Legibus fol­lowing Plato, derives the formulas of laws from the nature of man. Now although I do not condemn this notion, yet I think that it was more urbanely than ex­actly done. 

Moreover, very many impious sayings occur in that disputation of Cicero, as customarily happens when we follow the methods and compendiums of our reason, rather than the precepts of Scripture. For a judgment of human comprehension is, on a whole, fallacious, due to innate blindness. And accordingly even though there are certain forms of character imprinted with us, never­theless they scarcely can be apprehended. But I do say this that those natural laws imprinted on human minds, I mean the knowledge of those things which they call “concreated characters,” were not acquired by our char­acter but were placed there by God to serve as a rule for the judgment of character. Now that this view may agree with Aristotelian philosophy, is not the point I labor. For what difference does it make to me what that wrangler has thought? However I omit those things which we have in common with the brute beasts such as the preservation and production of life, and the procreation of one’s kind; and what lawyers refer to the category of natural law, I simply denominate certain “natural impulses” common to all living things. 

Moreover of the laws which belong properly to man, the ones I have submitted seem to me to be the chief: 

I.    God ought to be revered. 

II.  Because we are born into a definite society of life, no man ought to be injured. 

III.  Human society demands that we use all things in common. 

The first law concerning the reverence of God we receive from Romans I, where there is no doubt but that the Apostle considers it among the natural laws when he says that God has declared his majesty to all men by the foundation and administration of the world. But whether or not the fact that God is can be deduced by human syllogism, is a matter more for the curious than for the pious to dispute. This latter fact is espe­cially true since it is not safe for human reason to argue about all things, as I said in the outset of this com­pendium.[2] 

The second law which provides that no man be harmed, without doubt is deduced from the common necessity that all of us are born bound and united to all. Scripture indicates this when in Gen. 2:18 it says: It is not meet that man should live alone, but that he be given assistance for his life. And so the law orders that no man be harmed; that is, that we should all earnestly love one another in order that all might ex­perience our benevolence with zeal and kindness. 

Now if you should say, “why then do the magis­trates kill criminals?” my answer is at hand. Seeing that the state of human affairs since the fall of Adam is such that it has tainted all of us with sin, so that very often the evil injure the good, therefore it results that all mankind must exert itself to see that the law concerning injury is especially preserved. Hence those who have disturbed the public peace and injured the innocent must be restrained and put from our midst and coerced in order that the many, by the removal of offenders, may be preserved. But still the law remains: Injure no man, but if anyone should have been injured, he who inflicted the injury ought to be removed so that the many may not be injured. It is of more importance to preserve the many than just one or two; therefore he is done away who threatens the many by one or two crimes. Hence in the state there are magistrates, the punishment of criminals and wars, all of which lawyers have referred to “Jus gentium” (“the law of nations”).[3] 

The third law concerning the common use of things, plainly takes its rise from the very nature of human society. For if among a very few things that common saying should be valid which being interpreted means: “that friends ought to share all things in, common,”[4] why should it not likewise hold good among many men? Especially so, seeing that they should be so closely united with each other that brothers would cling to brothers, children to parents, and parents to children. Now the law against injury decreed this. But because man’s cupidity does not suffer us to use all things in common, this law must be corrected by a higher one: let no man be injured. And too, possessions are to be shared so far as public peace and the welfare of the many may permit. For inferior laws are amended entirely by higher ones, and mutual participation of the many must be urged to a certain limit. Then a third law must be joined: that property is to be divided since the common safety of the man demands it. More­over because the state of human nature is such that there is need of at least some mutual sharing of prop­erty, since property ought by nature be common, it has been ordained that the use of property is to be shared, to be sure through contracts, buying, selling, leasing, farming out, and in other ways. And here you may discern what is the origin of contracts or agreements.[5] 

Plato saw this when in the fifth book of his De Legibus he says that, that state is best administered in which accession is made as nearly as possible to the common statement: “the possessions of friends are common to all.” And further, when not only posses­sions of friends are held in common, but even when the very members of each one: eyes, hands, feet, mouth, serve public utility. Nor ought any other example of a well constituted republic be sought than that state in which the common statement τὰ φίλων κοινὰ (“the possessions of friends are common [to all]”) can be observed. And thus agreements (contracts) have been devised, through which each man’s possessions are equally shared by the many, lest there should be no sharing of property at all. Now of the general formulas of natural laws you can divide them some­what as follows: 

I.  Love God. 

II.  Because we are born unto a kind of common society, injure no man but assist whomever you may with kindness. 

III. If it cannot be that no man is injured, let this be done in order that the smallest amount of people be injured by the removal of those who disturb the public peace. For this duty let magistrates be ap­pointed, and punishments for the guilty be instituted. 

IV. Divide property for the safety of public peace. As to the rest, let some alleviate the wants of others through contracts. 

Now whoever wishes, let him add to these from the poets, orators, and historians the particular judgments that are customarily referred to “jus gentium,” (“law of nations”) such as what is everywhere written about marriages, adul­teries, restitution, ingratitude, hospitality, permutation of property and other like things. For it seemed suf­ficient to me to note merely the most common forms. But do not indiscreetly consider certain ideas of the gentile writers. For very many of their common judg­ments imitate the depraved affections of our nature and not our laws. For example that from Hesiod (Opp. et. dies 353-354:): 

Τὸν φιλέοντα φιλεῖν καὶ τὸ προσιόντι προσεῖναι. Καὶ δόμεν ὅς κεν δὦ καὶ μὴ δόμεν ὅς κεν μὴ δὦ. (“To be a friend to the one who is a friend to you, and to attack him who is against you. And to give [to] whomever gives and not to give [to] whomever does not give.”) 

For in these verses friendship is measured decid­edly by utility. Such is also that common saying: 

Δός τι καὶ λάβε τι. (“Give something and take something.”) 


To this belongs also what they style “the repulsion of force by force,” as is evidenced from the following quotation from the Ion of Euripides, (1045–47): 

Τὴν δ’εὐσέβειαν, εὐτυχοῦσιν μὲν, καλὸν τιμᾶν. Ὅταν δὲ πολεμίους δράσαι κακῶς θέλῃ τις, οὐδεὶς ἐμποδὼν κεῖται νόμος. (“For those who are fortunate, it is noble to honor piety; but whenever someone wishes to do evil to their enemies, no law stands in the way.”) 


And, too, in “jus civile” (“civil law”) as they call it, there are very many things indicating human affections more than natural laws. For what is more foreign to natural law than the captivity of slaves?[6] And that which is of interest is uncivilly protected by contracts. But of this later. A good man will adjust civil constitutions to fairness and equity, that is, to divine and natural laws, against which it cannot be right for anything to be instituted. So much for natural laws which, if you can, divide more exactly and subtly. 

[1] This definition of law was formulated by a medieval jurist, cf. C. R. 13,552.   The source is otherwise unknown. The text reads: “Jus est auctoritas agendi secundum legem.” K. 110.

[2] Melanchthon apparently flinches from the problem just stated because he deduces the first principle of his natural law not on the nature of man, but grounds it on the Scripture. In (C.) 1522 after an enumeration of the three laws just mentioned, he writes: “Primam legem—principio monui: Posteriores duas leges facile colligat argumentis humana ratio. Primam legem quomodo colligere possit, non video, sic occæcata, post Adæ lapsum. Videmus enim ingeniosissimos quosque in eo fuisse ut nihil esse deum sentirent. Non percipit enim animalis homo ea quæ sunt spiritus dei. Certe de potentia et voluntate dei judicare per sese ratio non potest. (“The first law I taught about in the beginning (principio); let human reason easily deduce the next two laws by argumentation. I do not see how reason could deduce the first law, blinded as it is after Adam’s fall. For we see that all (quosque) have been so clever in that regard that they do not at all sense God. For the animal man does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God. Certainly concerning the power and will of God reason cannot judge by itself.”)

[3] The following explanation of the Tertia Lex proves that, the Augustianian Medieval notion that the state grounded on law is a consequence of sinful development in the life of mankind is re-echoed here. It is to be observed that Thomas and his disciples taught that the state would arise even without any Fall from original righteous­ness. Cf. J. J. Baumann, Die Staatslehre des Thomas von Aquino. S. 167ff. Here and there one finds in Luther ideas which remind of this view only Luther looks upon the State as some moral good. Cf. Luther: Von Weltlicher Obrigkeit 1523: “Wenn alle welt rechte Christen das ist recht Gläubigen wären, so wäre kein Fürst, König, Herr, Schwert noch Recht noth oder nutz. Denn wozu sollts ihn? Dieweil sie den heiligen Geist im Herzen haben, der, sie lehret, und macht, dass sie Niemand unrecht thun, Jedermann lieben, von Jedermann gerne und fröhlich leiden, auch den Tod. E. A. 22, 66 ff. and also on 68.

[4] τὰ τῶν φίλων κοινὰ. Cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8, C. II.

[5] The view here expressed, which sees in commercial traffic and its various forms a moment of sin, agrees in the main with the view of the Scholastics, popularized by Gabriel Biel. Cf. Werner: Duns Scotus S. 504. Thomas following Aristotle argued against community ownership. Cf. Baumann, Die Staatslehre des Thomas Von Aquino" S. 148. The strongly communistic trend of the Reformation in its early stage, which however is to be distinguished from the practical communistic groups of Anabaptists, is due partly to what has been said, and partly to the larger preference for Plato on the side of the humanistic school, whose view respecting community ownership was shared by such fathers as Lactantius, Ambrosius and Chrysostomus. 

[6] Spalatin: das gefenknuss der laybaygen leut. It is noteworthy that Melanchthon grounds the right of personal liberty in the very nature of man. It becomes more noteworthy when we remember that the Pope just a short while before had declared that the faithful should make his enemies the Venetians slaves. Cf, Gieseler: Lehrbuch d. Kichengeschichte II, 4, 182. 

“What Are the Causes of the Certitude of Doctrine?”

By Philip Melanchthon

(b. 1497–d. 1560)

[Philip Melanchthon, “Quae sunt causae certitudinis doctrinarum?” (“What Are the Causes of the Certitude of Doctrine?”). Liber de anima. Philippi Melanthonis Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia. Edited by Karl Gottlieb Bretschneider. Halis Saxonum: C. A. Schwetschke and Son. 1846. 13: 149–153. Translated from the original Latin by the Witherspoon Institute. 2015.]

Sometimes the translator has indicated in italics within parentheses the original Latin word that the English translates. Sometimes the word in parentheses is Melanchthon’s original Greek that is transliterated in the text into Latin characters; at other times a Greek phrase is translated into English and set in parentheses, though not in italics. In the text the Latin noticia is always translated as “notion” and the Latin norma is always translated as “norm.” The Latin sententia and vox/voce (literally “voice”) are translated in different ways in different places, but the original Latin is always noted in parentheses. Brackets ([ ]) enclose text that is implied in the meaning of the Latin but requires added words to make sense in English. –Site Editor


God wishes that some notions (noticias) be certain, so that they may both make him manifest (monstrent) and be norms (normas) for human life. For God wants us to know for certain that there is one divine essence that establishes [all] things; that he is wise, truthful, most generous, kind, chaste, the judge of men, and the punisher of crimes. He by no means wants us to embrace (recipi) the opinions of the Epicureans; he by no means wants us fashion a throng of gods. Then he wishes that the following notions be most sure (firmissimas), because they are the rule of life: you shall not kill the innocent; you shall not lie in giving witness and in contracts; you shall not seize another’s spouse or means. He wishes the notions of numbers to be sure, that we may understand that God is one, not countless, and in order that in all of life we may distinguish (discernamus) [the concept] “one,” and be able to consider “many” and “order.” He wishes that in physics we understand for certain the distinctions between heat, cold, dampness, dryness, and heavy and light bodies, because the life of men cannot be preserved unless they can distinguish these things from each other. I leave out many examples, and moreover I strongly beseech those who seek learning for the glory of God—who loves the truth and commands it to us—that they learn true judgments (sententias), recognize the truth and embrace it constantly, and then, according to God’s will, put it to use. For instance, seeing as it is certain that human bodies cannot remain alive without food, drink, and sleep you should use these things in a just way, recognize the order that has been so established by God, and, because he gives these good things, you should praise him with a thankful (grata) mind and with preaching. In the same way because these notions are certain—you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery—recognize this divinely sanctioned order and submit. Do not like the skeptics (Pyrrhonio more) seek after sophistry (cavillationes) to upend knowledge that is certain.

Now copious amounts are spoken among the logicians concerning the norms of certainty, which the Greeks call criteria. (And here I admonish the young only in passing, that they should consider more what the nature of the natural light in the intellect is, and what the rule of judgment is, and from where the strength of assent comes.)

According to philosophy there are three norms of certainty: universal experience, notions of principles, and the understanding of the order in a syllogism.

Universal experience is [that which] all those who are sane judge in the same way concerning those things that are perceived by sense: that fire is hot; that woman gives birth; that in the life of animals there is sense and movement; that death is the destruction of animals. Now universal experience shows that a notion is certain because if you were to wish to experience the opposite in practice the destruction of nature follows. For example, if anyone who denied that fire burns were to put his hand into flames, he will sense for certain that it is being consumed. Therefore it must be stated that nature has been established that way, and that this is God’s doing (opus Dei). Nor must one look further for another proof (demonstratio). To dissent from universal experience is to wage war against God himself and to deny that this order has been sanctioned by God, such as if anyone were to deny that a woman gives birth and [then] try to carve up live human beings.

Principles are notions that are in us from birth. They are the seeds of each of the arts divinely placed in us, in order that from them we may construct the arts whose use is necessary for life. Such [principles include] the notion of numbers, of order, of proportions, and of many propositions: anything either is or is not; the whole is greater than any part of it; God is a mind that is eternal, wise, truthful, just, chaste, and kind; he establishes the world; he maintains the order of things and punishes crimes. The human mind has been established in the likeness of God’s mind. Therefore let man be truthful, just, kind, [and] chaste. To submit to this norm is to act (facere) rightly. To deviate from this norm is to do what is displeasing to God and foul. And he who does deviate from it invites punishment upon himself. Many things are said about principles among the logicians.

The third criterion is the understanding of the order in syllogisms, when their parts are rightly put together, as is discussed at length among the logicians. In the Stoic doctrine the criteria are named by the following three words: aesthesis (αἴσθησις), prolepsis (πρόληψις), and gnosis (γνῶσις). And there is no doubt that “experience” is meant when they say aesthesis; and “principles” when they say prolepsis; therefore gnosis is “judgment,” that is, understanding of order, sequence, or connection.

In the Church we have also a fourth norm of certainty, namely, divine revelation (patefactionem), made by clear (illustribus) testimonies that do not deceive, and which exist in the books of the prophets and Apostles. But although the human mind more easily and firmly assents to those things that it discerns by its natural light, nevertheless all rational creatures ought to assent with a like constancy to the judgments (sententias) revealed by God, even if we do not see them to be true and sure by our natural light. Just as without doubt we insist that two times four is eight, so we must declare that God will raise dead men, adorn the Church with eternal glory, and cast out the impious into eternal punishments. But many very rashly resist the divine oracles, such as the Epicureans and others. Some part of the human race, however, does assent, because they are moved by the testimonies of miracles. By the proclamation (voce) of the Gospel the Holy Spirit enkindles this light and bends the mind to assent. The mind then submits to the Holy Spirit, it embraces the proclamation of the Gospel, and fights off doubt. And this assent which embraces the judgments (sententias) revealed by God is called Faith, which is stronger in some. And let us not esteem the kindness of God lightly, which has come forth from his hidden throne, has revealed himself to us, and has testified by that revelation that he truly cares for the human race. So then let that revelation be the principal light of our life and govern all our actions and all our decisions. And in our daily prayer let us think about the testimonies of revelation, that faith may be enkindled, and that we may gratefully acknowledge and praise the goodness of God.

Here it is also very useful to consider a distinction. Some things have been handed on by the word (voce) of God which are also known by nature, such as the precepts of the Decalogue. But God wanted his word to come near to us (accedere), that he might show that those same natural notions were imparted of themselves (a sese) in our minds, and so that he might sanction the law by a new testimony. Now the confirmation of the truth is pleasing (Grata) to a good mind, when it understands that God’s word has approached a natural notion. Reason grasps that the earth stands unmoved, and that the sun moves. But when we hear that the same thing has been handed on from God, we assent more firmly.

Now there are some other judgments (sententiae) handed on by God, which before had been absolutely unknown to all creatures, such as what the Gospel says concerning the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, concerning reconciliation for sins, and concerning eternal rewards and punishments: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life. But he who does not believe in the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains against him.” (John 3:36) “As I live,” says the Lord, “I do not wish the death of the sinner, but that he convert and live.” (Ezek. 33:11) Because you have believed for certain that your own (Credito tibi ipsi certo) sins are forgiven because of the Son of God, believe because of the Son of God that your groanings, your prayers are accepted by God. These things have been embraced by firm assent. And let the cause of the assent be God’s authority, by which these judgments have been handed on to us and confirmed by clear testimonies, such as the raising of the dead and other things. So when the mind thinks about why these judgments are immovable, let it gaze upon their author, God, who wishes that he be recognized and called upon, for he has revealed himself. Nor does he wish that we with human brazenness play games forming opinions about him, as the Nations or the Philosophers did.

I have reviewed briefly these things concerning the causes of the certainty of doctrine, because this consideration illustrates the limits of understanding and shows from where the sureness of notions comes. Now this care in distinguishing certain from uncertain notions is necessary for all of life, for often men call forth great calamities upon themselves and others when they assent to false or uncertain things that they think to be true and sure. [Take,] for instance, when Antony with insufficient cause reasons that he can gain power over the whole empire because, he thinks, he is a more experienced commander than Octavian and has bigger armies. It does not follow, however, as a necessary consequence that he who is more experienced and has bigger armies will be the victor, because many obstacles can be thrown in the way of even a cautious leader. And God is the principal cause because he governs events. There are many such errors in life—even among the wise—and they are often the causes of great calamities. This warning is set forth in many sayings, such as mataioi mataia logizontai dia epithumias (Greek: “the vain reason vain things because of their desires”); and Theognis says, pollaki teen gnoomeen exapatoos ideai (Greek: “Often appearances deceive judgment”). As much as possible then let us search out certain things, and above all in life’s decisions let us follow the divine norm, and seek that our minds and events be ruled by God, just as God frequently commands, as in Deut. 6: “You shall follow the commands of the Lord your God, that it may be well with you.”

“Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” Excerpts

By Martin Luther


[Luther, Martin. “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed.” 1523. In Luther’s Works. Volume 45: Christian in Society II. Translated by J. J. Schindel. Revised by Walther I. Brandt. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1962. 81, 109–110, 113–114, 118, 120–121, 126–129.] All footnotes are taken from this edition.

Excerpts from Luthers’ Works copyright © Fortress Press admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress. Complete volumes of the series may be purchased at


To the illustrious, highborn prince and lord, Lord John,[1] Duke of Saxony, Landgrave of Thuringia, Margrave of Meissen, my gracious lord. 

Grace and peace in Christ. Again,[2] illustrious, highborn prince, gracious lord, necessity is laid upon me, and the entreaties of many, and above all your Princely Grace’s wishes,[3] impel me to write about temporal authority and the sword it bears, how to use it in a Christian manner, and to what extent men are obligated to obey it.  

. . . 

Part Two[4]  

How Far Temporal Authority Extends 

. . . 

[T]he temporal lords are supposed to govern lands and people outwardly. This they leave undone. They can do no more than strip and fleece, heap tax upon tax and tribute upon tribute, letting loose here a bear and there a wolf.[5] Besides this, there is no justice, integrity, or truth to be found among them. They behave worse than any thief or scoundrel, and their temporal rule has sunk quite as low as that of the spiritual tyrants. . . . 

But, you say: Paul said in Romans 13 [:1] that every soul [seele][6] should be subject to the governing authority; and Peter says that we should not be subject to every human ordinance [I Pet. 2:13]. Answer: Now you are on the right track, for these passages are in my favor. St. Paul is speaking of the governing authority. Now you have just heard that no one but God can have authority over souls. Hence, St. Paul cannot possibly be speaking of any obedience except where there can be corresponding authority. From this it follows that he is not speaking of faith, to the effect that temporal authority should have the right to command faith. He is speaking rather of external things, that they should be ordered and governed on earth. His words too make this perfectly clear, where he prescribes limits for both authority and obedience, saying, “Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, honor to whom honor is due, respect to whom respect is due” [Rom. 13:7]. Temporal obedience and authority, you see, apply only externally to taxes, revenue, honor, and respect. Again, where he says, “The governing authority is not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” [Rom. 13:3], he again so limits the governing authority that it is not to have the mastery over faith or the word of God, but over evil works. 

. . .  

You must know that since the beginning of the world a wise prince is a mighty rare bird,[7] and an upright prince even rarer.[8] They are generally the biggest fools or the worst scoundrels on earth; therefore, one must constantly expect the worst from them and look for little good, especially in divine matters which con­cern the salvation of souls. They are God’s executioners[9] and hangmen; his divine wrath uses them to punish the wicked and to maintain outward peace. Our God is a great lord and ruler; this is why he must also have such noble, highborn, and rich hangmen and constables. He desires that everyone shall copiously accord them riches, honor, and fear in abundance. It pleases his divine will that we call his hangmen gracious lords, fall at their feet, and be subject to them in all humility, so long as they do not ply their trade too far and try to become shepherds instead of hangmen. If a prince should happen to be wise, upright, or a Christian, that is one of the great miracles, the most precious token of divine grace upon that land. Ordinarily the course of events is in accordance with the passage from Isaiah 3 [:4], “I will make boys their princes, and gaping fools[10] shall rule over them”; and in Hosea 13 [:11], “I will give you a king in my anger, and take him away in my wrath.” The world is too wicked, and does not deserve to have many wise and upright princes. Frogs must have their storks.[11] 

. . . 

Part Three

Now that we know the limits of temporal authority, it is time to inquire also how a prince should use it. We do this for the sake of those very few who would also like very much to be Chris­tian princes and lords, and who desire to enter into the life in heaven. . .

Now you will say, “Who would then want to be a prince? That would make the princely estate the worst on earth, full of trouble, labor, and sorrow. What would become of the princely amusements—dancing, hunting, racing, gaming, and similar worldly pleasures?”[12] I answer: We are not here teaching how a temporal prince is to live, but how a temporal prince is to be a Christian, such that he may reach heaven. Who is not aware that a prince is a rare prize in heaven?[13] I do not speak with any hope that temporal princes will give heed, but on the chance that there might be one who would also like to be a Christian, and to know how he should act. Of this I am certain, that God’s word will neither turn nor bend for princes, but princes must bend themselves to God’s word.

. . .

Therefore, we will close with this brief summation, that a prince’s duty is fourfold: First, toward God there must be true confidence and earnest prayer; second, toward his subjects there must be love and Christian service; third, with respect to his counselors and officials he must maintain an untrammeled reason and unfettered judgment; fourth, with respect to evildoers he must manifest a restrained severity and firmness. Then the prince’s job will be done right, both outwardly and inwardly; it will be pleasing to God and to the people. But he will have to expect much envy and sorrow on account of it; the cross will soon rest on the shoulders of such a prince.

Finally, I must add an appendix in answer to those who raise questions about restitution[14] that is, about the return of goods wrongfully acquired. This is a matter about which the temporal sword is commonly concerned; much has been written about it, and many fantastically severe judgments have been sought in cases of this sort. I will put it all in a few words, however, and at one fell swoop dispose of all such laws and of the harsh judg­ments based upon them, thus: No surer law can be found in this matter than the law of love. In the first place, when a case of this sort is brought before you in which one is to make restitution to another, if they are both Christians the matter is soon settled; neither will withhold what belongs to the other, and neither will demand that it be returned. If only one of them is a Christian, namely, the one to whom restitution is due, it is again easy to settle, for he does not care whether restitution is ever made to him. The same is true if the one who is supposed to make resti­tution is a Christian, for he will do so.

But whether one be a Christian or not a Christian, you should decide the question of restitution as follows. If the debtor is poor and unable to make restitution, and the other party is not poor, then you should let the law of love prevail and acquit the debtor; for according to the law of love the other party is in any event obliged to relinquish the debt and, if necessary, to give him something besides. But if the debtor is not poor, then have him restore as much as he can, whether it be all, a half, a third, or a fourth of it, provided that you leave him enough to assure a house, food, and clothing for himself, his wife, and his children. This much you would owe him in any case, if you could afford it; so much the less ought you to take it away now, since you do not need it and he cannot get along without it.

If neither party is a Christian, or if one of them is unwilling to be judged by the law of love, then you may have them call in some other judge, and tell the obstinate one that they are acting contrary to God and natural law,[15] even if they obtain a strict judgment in terms of human law. For nature teaches—as does love—that I should do as I would be done by [Luke 6:31]. Therefore, I cannot strip another of his possessions, no matter how clear a right I have, so long as I am unwilling myself to be stripped of my goods. Rather, just as I would that another, in such circumstances, should relinquish his right in my favor, even so should I relinquish my rights.

Thus should one deal with all property unlawfully held, whether in public or in private, that love and natural law may always prevail. For when you judge according to love you will easily decide and adjust matters without any lawbooks. But when you ignore love and natural law you will never hit upon the solution that pleases God, though you may have devoured all the lawbooks and jurists. Instead, the more you depend on them, the further they will lead you astray. A good and just decision must not and cannot be pronounced out of books but must come from a free mind, as though there were no books. Such a free decision is given, however, by love and by natural law, with which all reason is filled; out of the books come ex­travagant and untenable judgments. Let me give you an example of this.

This story is told of Duke Charles of Burgundy.[16] A certain nobleman took an enemy prisoner. The prisoner’s wife came to ransom her husband. The nobleman promised to give back the husband on condition that she would lie with him. The woman was virtuous, yet wished to set her husband free; so she goes and asks her husband whether she should do this thing in order to set him free. The husband wished to be set free and to save his life, so he gives his wife permission. After the nobleman had lain with the wife, he had the husband beheaded the next day and gave him to her as a corpse. She laid the whole case before Duke Charles. He summoned the nobleman and commanded him to marry the woman. When the wedding day was over he had the nobleman beheaded, gave the woman possession of his property, and restored her to honor. Thus he punished the crime in a princely way.

Observe: No pope, no jurist, no lawbook could have given him such a decision. It sprang from untrammeled reason, above the law in all the books, and is so excellent that everyone must approve of it and find the justice of it written in his own heart. St. Augustine relates a similar story in The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.[17] Therefore, we should keep written laws subject to reason, from which they originally welled forth as from the spring dependent on its rivulets, or make reason a captive of letters.

[1] John the Steadfast (1468–1532) was the brother of Frederick the Wise, whom he succeeded in the Electorate in 1525. Politically less sagacious than his brother, John nevertheless was a man of fearless courage and deep evangelical conviction. It was he who in the elector’s absence refused to publish the bull directed against Luther. It was he who advised his brother to adopt the Reformer’s cause more openly. It was he to whom Luther sent single sheets of the Wartburg New Testament as they became available, that John might be able daily to read the Scriptures.

[2] Luther had treated this same matter before in A Sincere Admonition (1522) (in this volume, pp. 51–74) and in An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility (1520). PE 2, 61–164. Cf. p. 83.

[3] Duke John himself was among those who requested Luther to write this treatise. See the Introduction, p. 79.

[4] The main divisions of the treatise are suggested in Luther’s dedication to Duke John; see p. 81; cf. also the Introduction, p. 79.

[5] Not only were the beasts which were set free for purposes of hunting a threat to the lives of the peasants, but the hunts themselves were destructive of their lands and property. MA3 5, 398, n. 28, 22.

[6] See p. 86, n. 17.

[7] Seltzam vogel; see Wander (ed.), Sprichwörter-Lexikon, I, 1285, “Fürst,” No. 61.

[8] Cf. ibid., I, 1283, “Fürst,” No. 31.

[9] The term stockmeyster, meaning “jailer,” is also used by Luther synonymously with Zuchtmeister for Paul’s “custodian” of Gal. 3:24–25. See his exegesis of the Nunc Dimittis in a sermon preached on the Day of the Purification of Mary, February 2, 1526, where the term must mean more than merely a guard or warden; it refers actually to one who flogs or other­wise inflicts legal punishment in execution of a sentence. WA 20, 247. See also in the fourth of his Weimar sermons (on which this treatise is based; cf. the Introduction, p. 79) Luther’s statement that “princes are the hangmen and Stockblöcher of Christ” (WA 10III, 381, 1. 31), the latter term being a tautological construction of the two words for “stock” and “block” and sig­nifying an instrument of torture or punishment. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, X3, 54.

[10] Maulaffen is literally an ape with a wide or open mouth. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, VI, 1796. In his 1522 Wider den falsch genannten geistlichen stand Luther defined the word in these terms, “They open their mouths up wide and preach of great things but there is nothing back of it.” WA 10II, 125. The various meanings of the term in Luther are discussed in WA 10II, 510, n. 121, 22.

[11] The proverb means in effect: “like people, like prince” according to Wander (ed.), Sprichwörter-Lexikon, I, 1230, “Frosch,” No. 34. It derives from the Aesop fable about the frogs who insisted on having a king, and were finally granted a stork who devoured them all.

[12] See Luther’s criticism of the rulers’ preoccupation with amusements to the neglect of their office elsewhere in this volume, pp. 249–250 and 367–368.

[13] Eyn furst wiltprett ym hymel ist. Cf. p. 113, n. 80. This proverbial expression (cf. Wander [ed.]), Sprichwörter-Lexikon, I, 1288, “Fürst,” No. 119) was a favorite of Luther (cf. PE 2, 163; LW 21, 345). A Wildbret was a wild bird or beast hunted as game; the term came also to mean anything rare, precious, and desirable. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, XIV2, 53.

[14] The background of this specific question is not known. It may have been raised by Duke John of Saxony, to whom the treatise is dedicated. MA3 5, 400, n. 40, 31.

[15] See the 1521 definition of “natural law” deduced by Melanchthon from Rom. 2:15, “A natural law is a common judgment to which all men alike assent, and therefore one which God has inscribed upon the soul of each man.” Charles Leander Hill (trans.), The “Loci Communes” of Philip Melanchthon (Boston: Meador, 1944), p. 112. Cf. LW 40, 97–98. Luther frequently cited Matt. 7:12 and Luke 6:31 when speaking of the natural law of love. See, e.g., in this volume, pp. 287, 292, 296. Cf. Karl Holl, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte, Vol. I, Luther (6th ed.; Tübingen: Mohr, 1932), p. 265, n. 1.

[16] Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1467–1477, had actually been involved in such a unique case at Vlissingen in 1469 according to the Dutch historian Pontus Heuter (1535–1602), Rerum Burgundicarum libri sex (Hagae-Comitis, 1639), pp. 393ff. In Luther’s fourth sermon at Weimar, October 25, 1522, on which this treatise is based, he had referred to the wise ruler simply as a “king.” WA 10III, 384. Melanchthon relates the same incident in C. R. 20, 531, No. XLII. Both accounts may derive from a contemporary lyrical poem. CL 2, 393, n. 32.

[17] Sermon on the Mount I, xvi, 50. An abridged version of Augustine’s story, dealing with a similar deception involving a woman’s fornication by consent of her husband who was imprisoned for defaulting on a debt to the public treasury, was appended to a German edition of the treatise already in 1523 (WA 11, 280–281). The full text of the original story is in Denis J. Kavanagh (trans.), Saint Augustine: Commentary on the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. FC, p. 71–73, MPL 34, 1254.

“Summary of the Teaching of the Renewed Church to the Illustrious Prince of the Hessians,” Excerpts

By Philip Melanchthon


[Philip Melanchthon, “Summary of the Teaching of the Renewed Church to the Illustrious Prince of the Hessians” (1524). In Reformatorische Schriften. Volume 1 of Melanchthons Werke. ed. Robert Stupperich. C. Bertelsmann Verlag. 1951. Translated from the Latin original by the Witherspoon Institute. 2015.]

Sometimes the translator has indicated in italics within parentheses the original Latin word that the English translates.  Brackets ([ ]) enclose text that is implied in the meaning of the Latin but requires added words to make sense in English. –Site Editor


. . .

There are two topics especially about which there is debate at present. The first is, in what does Christian justice consist? The second: what must one think about human traditions? Now there are a great many who think that the controversy is not about a reality, but about words, and that arguments are being started unnecessarily by fools or even by ambitious men. But when the cause has been explained, it will be apparent that there have been great, serious, and compelling (necessarias) causes for renewing the church’s teaching. I shall speak then about the first topic: What is the meaning of Christian justice or true piety?

[The discussion of the forgiveness of sins—justification by faith—is omitted here]


On Human Justice

Paul says that faith does not belong to everyone. Therefore Christian justice does not belong to all publicly, but to a few, whom God calls out of the world, as it were. What do you do then, you will say, about those who do not have Christian justice? Shall they sin and dare to do all things with impunity, until God changes them? By no means—for Paul teaches that the law is established for the unjust.

So then besides Christian justice there is a human justice, by which the impious should be restrained (coherci). I usually call this justice Pedagogy, following Paul, who in Galatians 3 says, “The law is a pedagogue for Christ, and a child should remain under the law as under his tutors, while he matures in Christ.” This pedagogy of the political regime is a sort of justice, which forms character and contains rituals and human and civil duties; it accustoms children to the worship of God, by teaching and training; it keeps the dull-witted multitudes (stolidum vulgus) from vices, just as Solomon also instructs: “The whip for the horse, the muzzle for the ass, and the rod on the back of the fool” (Proverbs 26) and “Do not withdraw discipline from a child, for if you strike him with the rod, he shall not die” (Proverbs 23). The law of the sword pertains here, too: as Paul says, it should be a cause of fear for those who are evil and of honor for those who are good. This political justice is prudently distinguished from religion or Gospel justice. Yet many today preach Gospel justice in such a way that a new impiety is being born. For some impious men [who] put on the appearance of faith are glorying in the name of Christ and conceiving a kind of security of the flesh, by which they are falling headlong into great vices, and do not think they should be restrained (coherci). The instruction of children is also being neglected, and other things of this sort (hoc genus alia), even though God has subjected to this pedagogy all who are not in Christ or who are weak (imbecilles) according to Paul’s statement in Galatians 3 and 4, “In the law there was a command that the Decalogue be written on the entryways of rooms, and likewise on the fringes of garments.” Such duties—what else were they than a pedagogy, by which children and those who stay like children should be restrained and kept in check? In this way even up to now the multitude had to be taught, ruled, and restrained by laws and certain duties. And I think that in past times it was with this intention that the monasteries were founded, where children might be instructed according to this pedagogy. But such a pedagogy, even though it was divinely commanded, nevertheless does not make one just in God’s eyes, but as Paul says, it consists of impoverished “elements of the world,” (Col. 2:8) that is, ordinances[1] which serve human necessity and do not earn grace or forgiveness of sins or the coming (ut contingat) of the Holy Spirit. For thus says Paul to the Ephesians in chapter 2, “By grace you have been saved, through faith, etc.” Indeed, when people begin to think (ubi accesserit opinio) that that [pedagogy] is what Christian justice is, sin occurs, just as in the monasteries we see that pedagogy has been turned into an impious, false worship of God.

Up to this point I have set forth my opinion (sententiam). It remains for me to point out where my opinion differs from that of the Aristotelian theologians, though I shall do this very briefly. They teach that we earn grace by our strength and effort, that sins are forgiven because of our satisfactions; and by these dogmas it is clear that the satisfaction of Christ is being obscured. What consolation or hope could the conscience have if salvation hangs on our merits and not on grace through Christ? In almost the same way they do not require the Holy Spirit for repentance or for justification; rather they are content with the effort of reason. But this is nothing else than pure hypocrisy, just as Paul testifies when he says, “It has not entered into the heart of man, etc.” Likewise, “All have been emptied of the glory of God.”

From this one can recognize whether the controversy is over words only or about reality: The Gospel corrects consciences by the gratuitous forgiveness of sins on account of Christ, [while] the Aristotelians drive people to despair by their doctrine of merits. The Gospel teaches that hearts are purified and renewed through the Holy Spirit, in order that they may know God, have faith in God, and fear God, [while] the Aristotelians think that these things can be accomplished through hypocrisy of reason. However, the distinction is unclear because one cannot discern it with the eyes of the flesh.


Concerning the Second Point

Although the previous point is more obscure than the dispute concerning human traditions, nevertheless I do not know why it is that this [latter] dispute stirs up greater upheavals in the world. Even though Luther insists very much on those things that I said above concerning repentance, about the gratuitous forgiveness of sins, and about faith and hope, and even though he admonishes that the height of religion is in those things, nevertheless there are many who think that Luther teaches nothing else than a contempt for human traditions. Still more, these people think that they are being very pious when they rail strongly against priests, or when they eat meat contrary to custom. I shall briefly review my opinion.

In Isaiah the Lord says that in vain is he worshipped by human commands, and Christ repeated this same statement in Matthew. For this reason it is impiety to establish or keep any human tradition in place of the worship of God, or in order to be justified by keeping it. Now there are some traditions that one can keep without sinning, such as those that have been established concerning dress or food or similar trifles. Concerning these it is enough to realize (sentire), following the Gospel, that if they are kept they do not make one just, and if they are neglected they do no harm according to the statement of Paul: “Do not be troubled by decrees.” And nevertheless out of a desire for peace it would be fitting that they be kept with civility, according to the rule, “If anyone shall force you into service for a thousand paces, go together with him for two thousand,” (Matt. 5:41) and also, “He who is called when he has circumcision, let him not seek uncircumcision; he who is called when he has uncircumcision, let him not seek circumcision,” (1 Cor. 7:18). There are other traditions that one cannot keep without sinning. Of this kind is that impure celibacy that is cruelly and impiously demanded by the Pope. But Christ denies that celibacy has been given to all (Matt. 19:11); and Paul wrote that it is better to marry than to burn (1 Cor. 7:9). Therefore let those whose strength is not sufficient for celibacy by no means continue to keep this tradition. For no human tradition can establish [anything] against the word of God. It has not been given to all. Nor are vows valid regarding those things that cannot be performed without sin. What if you have vowed to commit murder? Yet in the vows of those who cannot maintain celibacy, or of those who judge that they can be made just through that monastic observance, there is sin. Therefore those vows must be rescinded, especially because Paul plainly says that those who prohibit marriage are lying spirits. Yet those who guard the law of the Pope are the princes, courtiers (lictores), and attendants (satellites) of these spirits. And as Micah says, “The prince demands and the judge yields.” Oh deplorable conspiracy! Oh disastrous alliance! Although the princes see the Pope wage war openly with God, [and] although he openly and directly despises religion, nevertheless they are not moved to consider their own salvation rather than serve that man’s madness. They truly have hearts of stone who for so long show no regard for the will of God.

[A short reference to the matter of the Mass and the closing of the letter are omitted]

[1] Melanchthon’s original Latin could also be translated “they are impoverished ‘elements of the world,’ (that is, the ordinances), which serve human necessity, etc.”

“How Christians Should Regard Moses,” Excerpts

By Martin Luther


[Luther, Martin. “How Christians Should Regard Moses.” 1525. Translated by Martin H. Bertram. In Luther’s Works. Volume 35: Word and Sacrament I. Edited by Theodore Bachmann. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1960. Pages 161–169, 171–172.] All footnotes, except where noted otherwise, are taken from this edition. 

Excerpts from Luthers’ Works copyright © Fortress Press admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress. Complete volumes of the series may be purchased at


Dear friends, you have often heard that there has never been a public sermon from heaven except twice. . . .

Now the first sermon is in Exodus[1] 19 and 20; by it God caused himself to be heard from heaven with great splendor and might. For the people of Israel heard the trumpets and the voice of God himself.

In the second place. God delivered a public sermon through the Holy Spirit on Pentecost [Acts 2:2–4]. On that occasion the Holy Spirit came with great splendor and visible impressiveness, such that there came from heaven the sudden rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where the apostles were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach and speak in other tongues. . . .

Now the first sermon, and doctrine, is the law of God. The sec­ond is the gospel. These two sermons are not the same. Therefore we must have a good grasp of the matter in order to know how to differentiate between them. We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.” The gospel, how­ever, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.” So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two lands of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are sep­arated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God.

We now want to see how this first sermon sounded forth and with what splendor God gave the law on Mount Sinai. . . .

Now you will hear how God used this voice in order to arouse his people and make them brave. For he intended to institute the tangible [eusserliche] and spiritual government. It was previously stated how, on the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law, Moses had established the temporal government and appointed rulers and judges [Exod. 18:13–26]. Beyond that there is yet a spiritual king­dom in which Christ rules in the hearts of men; this kingdom we cannot see, because it consists only in faith and will continue until the Last Day.

These are two kingdoms:[2] the temporal, which governs with the sword and is visible and the spiritual, which governs solely with grace and with the forgiveness of sins. Between these two kingdoms still another has been placed in the middle, half spiritual and half temporal. It is constituted by the Jews, with commandments and outward ceremonies which prescribe their conduct toward God and men.

The law of Moses binds only the Jews and not the Gentiles 

Here the law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel. And Israel accepted this law for itself and its descendants, while the Gentiles were excluded. To be sure, the Gentiles have certain laws in common with the Jews, such as these: there is one God, no one is to do wrong to another, no one is to commit adultery or murder or steal, and others like them. This is written by nature into their hearts; they did not hear it straight from heaven as the Jews did. This is why this entire text does not pertain to the Gentiles. I say this on account of the enthusiasts. For you see and hear how they read Moses, extol him, and bring up the way he ruled the people with commandments. They try to be clever, and think they know some­thing more than is presented in the gospel; so they minimize faith, contrive something new, and boastfully claim that it comes from the Old Testament. They desire to govern people according to the letter of the law of Moses, as if no one had ever read it before.

But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised,[3] wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.

That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved[4] from Exodus 20[:1], where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver—unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law. There­fore it is clear enough that Moses is the lawgiver of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. He has given the Jews a sign whereby they should lay hold of God, when they call upon him as the God who brought them out of Egypt. The Christians have a different sign, whereby they conceive of God as the One who gave his Son, etc.

. . .

Question: Why then do you preach about Moses if he does not pertain to us?

Answer to the Question: Three things are to be noted in Moses.

I want to keep Moses and not sweep him under the rug,[5] be­cause I find three things in Moses.

In the first place I dismiss the commandments given to the people of Israel. They neither urge nor compel me. They are dead and gone, except insofar as I gladly and willingly accept something from Moses, as if I said, “This is how Moses ruled, and it seems fine to me, so I will follow him in this or that particular.”

I would even be glad if [today’s] lords ruled according to the example of Moses. If I were emperor, I would take from Moses a model for [my] statutes; not that Moses should be binding on me, but that I should be free to follow him in ruling as he ruled. . . .

When these factious spirits come, however, and say, “Moses has commanded it,” then simply drop Moses and reply, “I am not concerned about what Moses commands.” “Yes,” they say, “he has com­manded that we should have one God, that we should trust and be­lieve in him, that we should not swear by his name; that we should honor father and mother; not kill, steal, commit adultery; not bear false witness, and not covet [Exod. 20:3–17]; should we not keep these commandments?” You reply: Nature also has these laws. Nature provides that we should call upon God. The Gentiles attest to this fact. For there never was a Gentile who did not call upon his idols, even though these were not the true God. This also happened among the Jews, for they had their idols as did the Gentiles; only the Jews have received the law. The Gentiles have it written in their heart, and there is no distinction [Rom. 3:22]. As St. Paul also shows in Romans 2[:14–15], the Gentiles, who have no law, have the law written in their heart.

But just as the Jews fail, so also do the Gentiles. Therefore it is natural to honor God, not steal, not commit adultery, not bear false witness, not murder; and what Moses commands is nothing new. For what God has given the Jews from heaven, he has also written in the hearts of all men. Thus I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave commandment, but be­cause they have been implanted in me by nature, and Moses agrees exactly with nature, etc.

But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [im­planted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe and others equally fine which I wish we had too. Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely, the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are [implanted in everyone] by nature [and written in everyone's heart].[6] 

The second thing to notice in Moses 

In the second place I find something in Moses that I do not have from nature: the promises and pledges of God, about Christ. This is the best thing. It is something that is not written naturally into the heart, but comes from heaven. God has promised, for example, that his Son should be born in the flesh. This is what the gospel proclaims. It is not commandments. And it is the most im­portant thing in Moses which pertains to us. The first thing, namely, the commandments, does not pertain to us. I read Moses because such excellent and comforting promises are there recorded, by which I can find strength for my weak faith. For things take place in the kingdom of Christ just as I read in Moses that they will; therein I find also my sure foundation.

In this manner, therefore, I should accept Moses, and not sweep him under the rug: first because he provides fine examples of laws, from which excerpts may be taken. Second, in Moses there are the promises of God which sustain faith. . . .

Therefore tell this to Moses: Leave Moses and his people together; they have had their day and do not pertain to me. I listen to that word which applies to me. We have the gospel. Christ says, “Go and preach the gospel,” not only to the Jews as Moses did, but to “all nations,” to “all creatures” [Mark 16:15]. To me it is said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:16]. Again, “Go and do to your neighbor as has been done to you.”[7] These words strike me too, for I am one of the “all creatures.” If Christ had not added, “preach to all creatures,” then I would not listen, would not be baptized, just as I now will not listen to Moses because he is given not to me but only to the Jews. However because Christ says: not to one people, nor in this or in that place in the world, but to “all creatures,” therefore no one is exempt. Rather all are thereby included; no one should doubt that to him too the gospel is to be preached. And so I believe that word; it does pertain also to me. I too belong under the gospel, in the new covenant. Therefore I put my trust in that word, even if it should cost a hundred thousand lives.

This distinction should be noticed, grasped, and taken to heart by those preachers who would teach others; indeed by all Christians, for everything depends entirely upon it. If the peasants had understood it this way, they would have salvaged much and would not have been so pitifully misled and ruined.[8] And where we understand it differently, there we make sects and factions, slavering among the rabble and into the raving and uncomprehending people without any distinction, saying, “God’s word, God’s word.” But my dear fellow, the question is whether it was said to you. God indeed speaks also to angels, wood, fish, birds, animals, and all creatures, but this does not make it pertain to me. I should pay attention to that which applies to me, that which is said to me, in which God admonishes, drives, and requires something of me.

. . .

[1] Where Luther refers to a specific book of the Pentateuch by number (e.g., “The Second Book of Moses”) we have given the corresponding English title.

[2] On the two kingdoms cf. pp. 289290.

[3] In a letter to Chancellor Brück of Saxony dated January 13, 1524, Luther wrote that the people of Orlamünde, Karlstadt’s parish, would probably cir­cumcise themselves and be wholly Mosaic. MA3 4, 402, n. 182.

[4] Zwingen probably means zwingend beweisen as MA3 4, 402, n. 183, 4 suggests.

[5] Unter den banck stecken (literally, “put under the bench” [in Luther’s early sixteenth-century German dialect; in modern German this would be Unter die Bank stecken.Site Editor]) is a proverbial expression meaning to put aside, hide, or forget some despicable thing. WA 51, 661 and 724, No. 468. Wander (ed.), Sprichwörter-Lexikon I, 229, Bank,” No. 40. Cf. p. 253, n. 53.

[6] The bracketed phrases in this paragraph are from the version given in the 1528 Exposition of the Ten Commandments. WA 16, 380, ll. 26, 31. See the Introduction, p. 159.

[7] Cf. Matt. 7:12.

[8] Site Editor: Luther refers here to the so-called Peasant Revolt.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Excerpts of Book 2

By John Calvin


[John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: Westminister Press. 1960. Copyright 1960 Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Westminster John Knox Press.]

All footnotes are taken from McNeill’s 1960 edition. –Site Editor


. . .


. . .

12. Supernatural gifts destroyed; natural gifts corrupted; but enough of reason remains to distinguish man from brute beasts.

And, indeed, that common opinion which they have taken from Augustine pleases me: that the natural gifts were corrupted in man through sin, but that his supernatural gifts were stripped from him.[1] For by the latter clause they understand the light of faith as well as righteousness, which would be sufficient to attain heavenly life and eternal bliss. Therefore, withdrawing from the Kingdom of God, he is at the same time deprived of spiritual gifts, with which he had been furnished for the hope of eternal salvation. From this it follows that he is so banished from the Kingdom of God that all qualities belonging to the blessed life of the soul have been extinguished in him, until he recovers them through the grace of regeneration. Among these are faith, love of God, charity toward neighbor, zeal for holiness and for righteousness. All these, since Christ restores them in us, are considered adventitious, and beyond nature: and for this reason we infer that they were taken away. On the other hand, soundness of mind and uprightness of heart were withdrawn at the same time. This is the corruption of the natural gifts. For even though something of understanding and judgment remains as a residue along with the will, yet we shall not call a mind whole and sound that is both weak and plunged into deep darkness. And depravity of the will is all too well known.

Since reason, therefore, by which man distinguishes between good and evil, and by which he understands and judges, is a natural gift, it could not be completely wiped out; but it was partly weakened and partly corrupted, so that its misshapen ruins appear. John speaks in this sense: “The light still shines in the darkness, but the darkness comprehends it not” (John 1:5). In these words both facts are clearly expressed. First, in man’s perverted and degenerate nature some sparks still gleam. These show him to be a rational being, differing from brute beasts, because he is endowed with understanding. Yet, secondly, they show this light choked with dense ignorance, so that it cannot come forth effectively.

[―page 271―]

Similarly the will, because it is inseparable from man’s nature, did not perish, but was so bound to wicked desires that it cannot strive after the right. This is, indeed, a complete definition, but one needing a fuller explanation.

Therefore, so that the order of discussion may proceed according to our original division of man’s soul into understanding and will,[2] let us first of all examine the power of the understanding.

When we so condemn human understanding for its perpetual blindness as to leave it no perception of any object whatever, we not only go against God’s Word, but also run counter to the experience of common sense. For we see implanted in human nature some sort of desire to search out the truth to which man would not at all aspire if he had not already savored it. Human understanding then possesses some power of perception, since it is by nature captivated by love of truth. The lack of this endowment in brute animals proves their nature gross and irrational. Yet this longing for truth, such as it is, languishes before it enters upon its race because it soon falls into vanity. Indeed, man’s mind, because of its dullness, cannot hold to the right path, but wanders through various errors and stumbles repeatedly, as if it were groping in darkness, until it strays away and finally disappears. Thus it betrays how incapable it is of seeking and finding truth.

Then it grievously labors under another sort of vanity: often it cannot discern those things which it ought to exert itself to know. For this reason, in investigating empty and worthless things, it torments itself in its absurd curiosity, while it carelessly pays little or no attention to matters that it should particularly understand. Indeed, it scarcely ever seriously applies itself to the study of them. Secular writers habitually complain of this perversity, yet they are almost all found to have entangled themselves in it. For this reason, Solomon, through the whole of his Ecclesiastes, after recounting all those studies in which men seem to themselves to be very wise, declares them to be vain and trifling (Eccl. 1:2, 14; 2:11; etc.).

13. The power of the understanding with respect to earthly things and the form of the human community

Yet its efforts do not always become so worthless[3] as to have no effect, especially when it turns its attention to things below. On [–page 272–] the contrary, it is intelligent enough to taste something of things above, although it is more careless about investigating these. Nor does it carry on this latter activity with equal skill. For when the mind is borne above the level of the present life, it is especially convinced of its own frailty. Therefore, to perceive more clearly how far the mind can proceed in any matter according to the degree of its ability, we must here set forth a distinction. This, then, is the distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.

Of the first class the following ought to be said: since man is by nature a social animal,[4] he tends through natural instinct to foster and preserve society. Consequently, we observe that there exist in all men’s minds universal impressions of a certain civic fair dealing and order. Hence no man is to be found who does not understand that every sort of human organization must be regulated by laws, and who does not comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence arises that unvarying consent of all nations and of individual mortals with regard to laws. For their seeds have, without teacher or lawgiver, been implanted in all men.

I do not dwell upon the dissension and conflicts that immediately spring up. Some, like thieves and robbers, desire to overturn all law and right, to break all legal restraints, to let their lust alone masquerade as law. Others think unjust what some have sanctioned as just (an even commoner fault), and contend that what some have forbidden is praiseworthy. Such persons hate laws not because they do not know them to be good and holy; but raging with headlong lust, they fight against manifest reason. What they approve of in their understanding they hate on account of their lust. Quarrels of this latter sort do not nullify the original [―page 273 ―] conception of equity. For, while men dispute among themselves about individual sections of the law, they agree on the general conception of equity. In this respect the frailty of the human mind is surely proved: even when it seems to follow the way, it limps and staggers. Yet the fact remains that some seed of political order has been implanted in all men. And this is ample proof that in the arrangement of this life no man is without the light of reason.

. . .

22. The evidence of God’s will that man possesses makes him inexcusable but procures for him no right knowledge

There remains the third aspect of spiritual insight,[5] that of knowing the rule for the right conduct of life. This we correctly call the “knowledge of the works of righteousness.” The human mind sometimes seems more acute in this than in higher things. For the apostle testifies: “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do the works of the law, they are a law to themselves . . . and show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their thoughts accuse them among themselves or excuse them before God’s judgment” (Rom. 2:14–15). If the Gentiles by nature have law righteousness engraved upon their minds, we surely cannot say they are utterly blind as to the conduct of life.

There is nothing more common than for a man to be sufficiently instructed in a right standard of conduct by natural law[6] (of which the apostle is here speaking). Let us consider, however, for what purpose men have been endowed with this knowledge of the law. How far it can lead them toward the goal of reason and truth will then immediately appear. This is also clear from Paul’s words, if we note their context. He had just before said that those who sinned in the law are judged through the law; they who sinned without the law perish without the law. Because it [―page 282―] might seem absurd that the Gentiles perish without any preceding judgment, Paul immediately adds that for them conscience stands in place of law; this is sufficient reason for their just condemnation. The purpose of natural law, therefore, is to render man inexcusable. This would not be a bad definition: natural law is that apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony. Man is so indulgent toward himself that when he commits evil he readily averts his mind, as much as he can, from the feeling of sin. This is why Plato seems to have been compelled to consider (in his Protagoras) that we sin only out of ignorance.[7] This might have been an appropriate statement if only human hypocrisy had covered up vices with sufficient skill to prevent the mind from being recognized as evil in God's sight. The sinner tries to evade his innate power to judge between good and evil. Still, he is continually drawn back to it, and is not so much as permitted to wink at it without being forced, whether he will or not, at times to open his eyes. It is falsely said, therefore, that man sins out of ignorance alone.

. . .


. . .

6. The severity of the law takes away from us all self-deception

But to make the whole matter clearer, let us survey briefly the function and use of what is called the “moral law.”[9] Now so far as I understand it, it consists of three parts.[10]

The first part is this: while it shows God’s righteousness, that is, the righteousness alone acceptable to God, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. For man, blinded and drunk with self-love, must be compelled to know and to confess his own feebleness and impurity.

[―page 355―]

If man is not clearly convinced of his own vanity, he is puffed up with insane confidence in his own mental powers, and can never be induced to recognize their slenderness as long as he measures them by a measure of his own choice. But as soon as he begins to compare his powers with the difficulty of the law, he has something to diminish his bravado. For, however remarkable an opinion of his powers he formerly held, he soon feels that they are panting under so heavy a weight as to stagger and totter, and finally even to fall down and faint away. Thus man, schooled in the law, sloughs off the arrogance that previously blinded him.

Likewise, he needs to be cured of another disease, that of pride, with which we have said that he is sick. So long as he is permitted to stand upon his own judgment, he passes off hypocrisy as righteousness; pleased with this, he is aroused against God's grace by I know not what counterfeit acts of righteousness. But after he is compelled to weigh his life in the scales of the law, laying aside all that presumption of fictitious righteousness, he discovers that he is a long way from holiness, and is in fact teeming with a multitude of vices, with which he previously thought himself undefiled. So deep and tortuous are the recesses in which the evils of covetousness lurk that they easily deceive man’s sight. The apostle has good reason to say: “I should not have known covetousness, if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7). For if by the law covetousness is not dragged from its lair, it destroys wretched man so secretly that he does not even feel its fatal stab.

7. The punitive function of the law does not diminish its worth

The law is like a mirror. In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both—just as a mirror shows us the spots on our face. For when the capacity to follow righteousness fails him, man must be mired in sins. After the sin forthwith comes the curse. Accordingly, the greater the transgression of which the law holds us guilty, the graver the judgment to which it makes us answerable. The apostle’s statement is relevant here: “Through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). There he notes only its first function, which sinners as yet unregenerate experience. Related to this are these statements: “Law slipped in, to increase the trespass” (Rom. 5:20), and thus it is “the dispensation of death” (II Cor. 3:7) that “brings wrath” (Rom. 4:15), and slays. There is no doubt that the more clearly the conscience is struck with awareness of its sin, the more the iniquity grows. For stubborn disobedience against the Lawgiver is then added to transgression. It remains, [―page 356―] then, to the law to arm God’s wrath for the sinner’s downfall, for of itself the law can only accuse, condemn, and destroy. As Augustine writes: “If the Spirit of grace is absent, the law is present only to accuse and kill us.”[11]

But when we say that, we neither dishonor the law, nor detract at all from its excellence. Surely if our will were completely conformed and composed to obedience to the law, its knowledge alone would suffice to gain salvation. Yet, since our carnal and corrupted nature contends violently against God’s spiritual law and is in no way corrected by its discipline, it follows that the law which had been given for salvation, provided it met with suitable hearers, turns into an occasion for sin and death.[12] For, since all of us are proved to be transgressors, the more clearly it reveals God's righteousness, conversely the more it uncovers our iniquity. The more surely it confirms the reward of life and salvation as dependent upon righteousness, the more certain it renders the destruction of the wicked.

These maxims—far from abusing the law—are of the greatest value in more clearly commending God’s beneficence. Thus it is clear that by our wickedness and depravity we are prevented from enjoying the blessed life set openly before us by the law. Thereby the grace of God, which nourishes us without the support of the law, becomes sweeter, and his mercy, which bestows that grace upon us, becomes more lovely. From this we learn that he never tires in repeatedly benefiting us and in heaping new gifts upon us.

8. The punitive function of the law in its work upon believers and unbelievers

The wickedness and condemnation of us all are sealed by the testimony of the law. Yet this is not done to cause us to fall down in despair or, completely discouraged, to rush headlong over the brink—provided we duly profit by the testimony of the law. It is true that in this way the wicked are terrified, but because of their obstinacy of heart. For the children of God the knowledge of the law should have another purpose. The apostle testifies that we are indeed condemned by the judgment of the law, “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19). He teaches the same idea in yet another place: “For God has shut up all men in unbelief,” not that he may destroy all or suffer all to perish, but “that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). This means [―page 357―] that, dismissing the stupid opinion of their own strength, they come to realize that they stand and are upheld by God’s hand alone; that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to his mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit. For God’s mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true faith. In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds. But in Christ his face shines, full of grace and gentleness, even upon us poor and unworthy sinners.[13]

9. The law, as Augustine states, by accusing moves us to seek grace [title supplied by the editor]

Augustine often speaks of the value of calling upon the grace of His help. For example, he writes to Hilary: “The law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace.” He writes similarly to Asellius: “The usefulness of the law lies in convicting man of his infirmity and moving him to call upon the remedy of grace which is in Christ.” Again, to Innocent of Rome: “The law commands; grace supplies the strength to act.” Again, to Valentinus: “God commands what we cannot do that we may know what we ought to seek from him.” Again: “The law was given to accuse you; that accused you might fear; that fearing you might beg forgiveness; and that you might not presume on your own strength.” Again: “The law was given for this purpose: to make you, being great, little; to show that you do not have in yourself the strength to attain righteousness, and for you, thus helpless, unworthy, and destitute, to flee to grace.” Afterward he addresses God: “So act, O Lord; so act, O merciful Lord. Command what cannot be fulfilled. Rather, command what can be fulfilled only through thy grace so that, since men are unable to fulfill it through their own strength, every mouth may be stopped, and no one may seem great to himself. Let all be little ones, and let all the world be guilty before God.”[14] But it is silly of me to amass so many testimonies, since that holy man has [―page 358―] written a work specifically on this topic, entitled On the Spirit and the Letter.[15] He does not as expressly describe the second value of the law, either because he knew that it depended upon the first, or because he did not grasp it thoroughly, or because he lacked words to express its correct meaning distinctly and plainly enough.

Yet this first function of the law is exercised also in the reprobate. For, although they do not proceed so far with the children of God as to be renewed and bloom again in the inner man after the abasement of their flesh, but are struck dumb by the first terror and lie in despair, nevertheless, the fact that their consciences are buffeted by such waves serves to show forth the equity of the divine judgment. For the reprobate always freely desire to evade God’s judgment. Now, although that judgment is not yet revealed, so routed are they by the testimony of the law and of conscience, that they betray in themselves what they have deserved.

(The law restrains malefactors and those who are not yet believers, 10–11)

10. The law as protection of the community from unjust men [title supplied by the editor]

The second function of the law is this: at least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. But they are restrained, not because their inner mind is stirred or affected, but because, being bridled, so to speak, they keep their hands from outward activity, and hold inside the depravity that otherwise they would wantonly have indulged. Consequently, they are neither better nor more righteous before God. Hindered by fright or shame, they dare neither execute what they have conceived in their minds, nor openly breathe forth the rage of their lust. Still, they do not have hearts disposed to fear and obedience toward God. Indeed, the more they restrain themselves, the more strongly are they inflamed; they burn and boil within, and are ready to do anything or burst forth anywhere—but for the fact that this dread of the law hinders them. Not only that—but so wickedly do they also hate the law itself, and curse God the Lawgiver, that if they could, they would most certainly abolish him, for they cannot bear him either when he commands them to do right, or when he takes vengeance on the despisers of his majesty. All who are still unregenerate feel—some more obscurely, some more openly—that they are not drawn [―page 359―] to obey the law voluntarily, but impelled by a violent fear do so against their will and despite their opposition to it.

But this constrained and forced righteousness is necessary for the public community of men,[16] for whose tranquility the Lord herein provided when he took care that everything be not tumultuously confounded. This would happen if everything were permitted to all men. Nay, even for the children of God, before they are called and while they are destitute of the Spirit of sanctification (Rom. 1:4, Vulgate, etc.), so long as they play the wanton in the folly of the flesh, it is profitable for them to undergo this tutelage.[17] While by the dread of divine vengeance they are restrained at least from outward wantonness, with minds yet untamed they progress but slightly for the present, yet become partially broken in by bearing the yoke of righteousness. As a consequence, when they are called, they are not utterly untutored and uninitiated in discipline as if it were something unknown. The apostle seems specially to have alluded to this function of the law when he teaches “that the law is not laid down for the just but for the unjust and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of parents, for manslayers, fornicators, perverts, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else runs counter to sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:9–10). He shows in this that the law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.

11. The law a deterrent to those not yet regenerate [title supplied by the editor]

What Paul says elsewhere, that “the law was for the Jews a tutor unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24), may be applied to both functions of the law. There are two kinds of men whom the law leads by its tutelage to Christ.

Of the first kind we have already spoken: because they are too full of their own virtue or of the assurance of their own righteousness, they are not fit to receive Christ’s grace unless they first be emptied. Therefore, through the recognition of their own misery, the law brings them down to humility in order thus to prepare them to seek what previously they did not realize they lacked.

Men of the second kind have need of a bridle to restrain them from so slackening the reins on the lust of the flesh as to fall clean away from all pursuit of righteousness. For where the Spirit of [―page 360―] God does not yet rule, lusts sometimes so boil that there is danger lest they plunge the soul bound over to them into forgetfulness and contempt of God. And such would happen if God did not oppose it with this remedy. Therefore, if he does not immediately regenerate those whom he has destined to inherit his Kingdom, until the time of his visitation, he keeps them safe through the works of the law under fear (cf. I Peter 2:12). This is not that chaste and pure fear such as ought to be in his sons, but a fear useful in teaching them true godliness according to their capacity. We have so many proofs of this matter that no example is needed. For all who have at any time groped about in ignorance of God will admit that it happened to them in such a way that the bridle of the law restrained them in some fear and reverence toward God until, regenerated by the Spirit, they began wholeheartedly to love him.[18]

(Principally it admonishes believers and urges them on in well-doing, 12–13)

12. Even the believers have need of the law

The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper purpose of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns.[19] For even though they have the law written and engraved upon their hearts by the finger of God (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 10:16), that is, have been so moved and quickened through the directing of the Spirit that they long to obey God, they still profit by the law in two ways.

Here is the best instrument for them to learn more thoroughly each day the nature of the Lord’s will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the understanding of it. It is as if some servant, already prepared with all earnestness of heart to commend himself to his master, must search out and observe his master’s ways more carefully in order to conform and accommodate himself to them. And not one of us may escape from this necessity. For no man has heretofore attained to such wisdom as to be unable, from the daily instruction of the law, to make fresh progress toward a purer knowledge of the divine will.

Again, because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path [―page 361―] of transgression. In this way the saints must press on; for, however eagerly they may in accordance with the Spirit strive toward God’s righteousness, the listless flesh always so burdens them that they do not proceed with due readiness. The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work. Even for a spiritual man not yet free of the weight of the flesh the law remains a constant sting that will not let him stand still. Doubtless David was referring to this use when he sang the praises of the law: “The law of the Lord is spotless, converting souls; . . . the righteous acts of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts; the precept of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes,” etc. (Ps. 18:8–9, Vulgate; 19:7–8, English Version). Likewise: “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105), and innumerable other sayings in the same psalm (e.g., Ps. 119:5). These do not contradict Paul’s statements, which show not what use the law serves for the regenerate, but what it can of itself confer upon man. But here the prophet proclaims the great usefulness of the law: the Lord instructs by their reading of it those whom he inwardly instills with a readiness to obey. He lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise of grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter. For what would be less lovable than the law if, with importuning and threatening alone, it troubled souls through fear, and distressed them through fright? David especially shows that in the law he apprehended the Mediator, without whom there is no delight or sweetness.

13. Whoever wants to do away with the law entirely for the faithful, understands it falsely

Certain ignorant persons,[20] not understanding this distinction, rashly cast out the whole of Moses, and bid farewell to the two Tables of the Law. For they think it obviously alien to Christians to hold to a doctrine that contains the “dispensation of death” (cf. II Cor. 3:7). Banish this wicked thought from our minds! For Moses has admirably taught that the law, which among sinners can engender nothing but death, ought among the saints to have a better and more excellent use. When about to die, he decreed to the people as follows: “Lay to your hearts all the words which this day I enjoin upon you, that you may command them to your children, and teach them to keep, do, and fulfill all those things [―page 362―] written in the book of this law. For they have not been commanded to you in vain, but for each to live in them” (Deut. 32:46–47, cf. Vulgate). But if no one can deny that a perfect pattern of righteousness stands forth in the law, either we need no rule to live rightly and justly, or it is forbidden to depart from the law. There are not many rules, but one everlasting and unchangeable rule to live by. For this reason we are not to refer solely to one age David’s statement that the life of a righteous man is a continual meditation upon the law (Ps. 1:2), for it is just as applicable to every age, even to the end of the world.

We ought not to be frightened away from the law or to shun its instruction merely because it requires a much stricter moral purity than we shall reach while we bear about with us the prison house of our body. For the law is not now acting toward us as a rigorous enforcement officer who is not satisfied unless the requirements are met. But in this perfection to which it exhorts us, the law points out the goal toward which throughout life we are to strive. In this the law is no less profitable than consistent with our duty. If we fail not in this struggle, it is well. Indeed, this whole life is a race (cf. I Cor. 9:24–26); when its course has been run, the Lord will grant us to attain that goal to which our efforts now press forward from afar.

(Its so-called "abrogation" has reference to the liberation of the conscience, and the discontinuance of the ancient ceremonies, 14–17)

. . .


(The written moral law a statement of the natural law, 1–2)

1. What are the Ten Commandments to us?

Here I think it will not be out of place to introduce the Ten Commandments of the law with a short explanation of them.[21] Thus, the point I have touched upon[22] will also be made clearer: that the public worship that God once prescribed is still in force. Then will come the confirmation of my second point: that the Jews not only learned from the law what the true character of godliness was; but also that, since they saw themselves incapable of observing the law, they were in dread of judgment drawn inevitably though unwillingly to the Mediator. Now in summarizing what is required for the true knowledge of God, we have taught that we cannot conceive him in his greatness without being immediately confronted by his majesty, and so compelled[23] to worship him. In our discussion of the knowledge of ourselves we have set forth this chief point: that, empty of all opinion of our own virtue, and shorn of all assurance of our own righteousness—in fact, broken and crushed by the awareness of our own utter poverty—we may learn genuine humility and self-abasement.[24] Both of these the Lord accomplishes in his law. First, claiming for himself the lawful power to command, he calls us to reverence his divinity, and specifies wherein such reverence lies and consists. Secondly, having published the rule of his righteousness, he reproves us both for our impotence and for our unrighteousness. For our nature, wicked and deformed, is always opposing his uprightness; and our capacity, weak and feeble to do good, lies far from his perfection.

Now that inward law,[25] which we have above described as [―page 368―] written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the two Tables. For our conscience does not allow us to sleep a perpetual insensible sleep without being an inner witness and monitor of what we owe God, without holding before us the difference between good and evil and thus accusing us when we fail in our duty. But man is so shrouded in the darkness of errors that he hardly begins to grasp through this natural law what worship is acceptable to God. Surely he is very far removed from a true estimate of it. Besides this, he is so puffed up with haughtiness and ambition, and so blinded by self-love, that he is as yet unable to look upon himself and, as it were, to descend within himself,[26] that he may humble and abase himself and confess his own miserable condition. Accordingly (because it is necessary both for our dullness and for our arrogance), the Lord has provided us with a written law to give us a clearer witness of what was too obscure in the natural law, shake off our listlessness, and strike more vigorously our mind and memory.

2. The inexorableness of the law

Now what is to be learned from the law can be readily understood: that God, as he is our Creator, has toward us by right the place of Father and Lord; for this reason we owe to him glory, reverence, love, and fear; verily, that we have no right to follow the mind’s caprice wherever it impels us, but, dependent upon his will, ought to stand firm in that alone which is pleasing to him; then, that righteousness and uprightness are pleasing to him, but he abominates wickedness; and that, for this reason, unless we would turn away from our Creator in impious ingratitude, we must cherish righteousness all our life. For if only when we prefer his will to our own do we render to him the reverence that is his due, it follows that the only lawful worship of him is the observance of righteousness, holiness, and purity. And we cannot pretend the excuse that we lack ability and, like impoverished debtors, are unable to pay. It is not fitting for us to measure God’s glory according to our ability; for whatever we may be, he remains always like himself: the friend of righteousness, the foe of iniquity. Whatever he requires of us (because he can require only what is right), we must obey out of natural obligation. But what we cannot do is our own fault. If our lust in which sin reigns (cf. Rom. 6:12) so holds us bound that we are not free to obey our Father, there is no reason why we should claim necessity as a defense, for the evil of that necessity is both within us and to be imputed to us.

[1] See, above, sec. 4, notes 17, 18, 21; Augustine, On Nature and Grace, iii.3; xix.21; xx.22 (MPL 44. 249, 256f; tr. NPNF V.122, 127 f.).

[2] I.xv.7, 8.

[3] In the following account Calvin fails to mention the fine arts, which, however, are admired by him. Cf. I.xi.12; Comm. Gen. 4:20, Comm. Harmony Books of Moses, Ex. 20:4; 34:17. The subject is treated by L. Wencelius, L’Esthétique de Calvin, II.v, vi, and by J. Bohatec, Budé und Calvin, pp. 467–471.

[4] Seneca, On Clemency, I.iii.2; On Benefits, VIII.i.7 (LCL Seneca, Moral Essays, I.364 f.; III.458 f.); Lactantius, Divine Institutes, VI.x, xvii (CSEL 19.515, 545; MPL 6.668, 696; tr. ANF VII.173, 182). In Comm. Gen. 2:18, Calvin speaks of the “general principle that man was created to be a social animal.” Cf. Comm. Seneca On Clemency, I.iii (CR V.40).

[5] Cf. the enumeration in II.ii.18.

[6] Cf. II.viii.1–2, 51, and Comm. Rom. 2:14–16; G. Gloede, Theologia naturalis bei Calvin, pp. 178ff; cf. J. Bohatec, Calvins Lehre von Staat und Kirche, pp. 20–35; E. Brunner, Justice and the Social Order (tr. M. Hottinger, p. 233); J. T. McNeill, “Natural Law in the Teaching of the Reformers,” Journal of Religion XXVI (1946), 168–182.

[7] Plato, Protagoras, 357 (LCL Plato IV.240 f.).

[8] The term “law” for Calvin may mean (1) the whole religion of Moses (II. vii. 1); (2) the special revelation of the moral law to the chosen people i.e., chiefly the Decalogue and Jesus’ summary (II. viii); or (3) various bodies of civil, judicial, and ceremonial statutes (IV. xx. 14–16; Comm. Harmony Four Books of Moses; cf. Decalogue “supplements”). Of these, the moral law, the “true and eternal rule of righteousness” (IV. xx. 15), is most important. It appears in three contexts shown in the three “uses,” below, paragraphs 6–15. For Calvin a positive evaluation of the law allows the “third use” to be the principal one, while for Luther the condemning function is the chief one: cf. Luther, Comm. Gal. 3:19. Calvin regards the condemning function as “accidental” to its true purpose: Comm. II Cor. 3:7; Comm. Rom. 7:10–11. Calvin habitually asserts that the law has validity only as it is related to Christ. Cf. Comm. John 5:38; Acts 13:39; Rom. 10:5; Sermons on Galatians, xxvi (CR L. 603); and Benoit’s note in Institution, II.15.

[9]Officium usumque legis.” The “uses of the law,” which in all preceding editions follow the exposition of the Decalogue, here precede it in a manner appropriate to the covenant setting, and especially to the law’s “principal” use (sec. 12, below), which is that of positive guidance to the Christian. Cf. Luther’s two uses in his Commentary on Galatians 3:19; 4:3 (tr. E. Middleton, pp. 281 ff., 324 f.).

[10] Melanchthon, in Loci communes (1521), holds that it is the proper purpose of the law to make sin manifest and confound the conscience. In the 1535 and later editions, he introduces the three uses of the law here expounded by Calvin. Loci communes (1521), ed. H. Engelland, in the series Melanchthons Werke in Auswahl, ed. R. Stupperich, II.i.122; tr. C. L. Hill, op. cit., p. 215; Loci praecipui theologici (1559), ed. Engelland, op. cit., pp. 321–326, and note 13 on p. 321. Here emphasis is placed upon the second use, which is developed from Rom. 1:18. In the Formula of Concord, the third use is given due recognition (art. vi).

[11] Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace, i.2 (MPL 44.917; tr. NPNF V.472).

[12] Ambrose, De Jacobo et vita beata, (MPL 14.637).

[13] The two sentences preceding are found in Calvin’s Instruction et confession de foy (1537); tr. Fuhrmann, Instruction in Faith 11, p. 35. They appear in the Institutes first in 1539.

[14] The following are the passages from Augustine quoted above in this paragraph: Letters. clvii.2.9; cxcvi.2.6; clxxvii.5 (MPL 33.677, 893, 766; tr. FC 20.325; 30.336, 97); On Grace and Free Will, xvi.32 (MPL 44.900; tr. NPNF V.457); On the Spirit and the Letter, xiii.22 (MPL 44.214 f.; tr. NPNF V.92); Psalms, Ps. 70.i.19; 118.xxvii.3 (MPL 36.889; 37.1581; tr. LF Psalms, V.434). “Innocent of Rome” in the text is Pope Innocent I (402–417).

[15] Text in MPL 44.201–246; tr. NPNF V.83–114.

[16] Note the similar phrases in IV.xx.3, and cf. Melanchthon: “publicae pacis causa” (Loci praecipui theologici, ed. Engelland, op. cit., p. 322); cf. also IV.xx.14–16.

[17]Paedagogia,” rendered “pedagogie” in French versions of 1545–1557, but in 1560 “instruction puerile.

[18] Cf. II.viii.51–59.

[19] Melanchthon, Loci communes (1521), ed. Engelland, op. cit., p. 133 (tr. C. L. Hill, p. 229).

[20] This is probably directed not only against the Libertine sect (cf. Contre la secte phantastique des Libertins, CR VII.206 f., 220, 229, 233) but also against John Agricola, who broke from Luther and began the Antinomian Controversy, 1537, denying all Christian obligation to fulfill any part of the Old Testament law. See Werke WA XXXIX.i.342 ff. and HDRE article “Antinomianism.”

[21] The Commandments, with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, constituted a topic of lay instruction in countless medieval handbooks of religious guidance, such as the English Lay Folk’s Catechism, attributed to John Thoresby, archbishop of York (d. 1373). Pannier cites a separate French booklet on the Commandments, Les fleurs des commandemens (1490, revised 1516): (Institution, I.322, note on p. 197). Their use in Reformation catechisms was begun by Luther (1529), and Calvin had discussed them seriatim in his Instruction et confession de foy (1537); tr. Fuhrmann, Instruction in Faith 8, pp. 24–32.

[22] I.vii.1–2.

[23] I.i.2.

[24] II.i–vi.

[25]Dictat lex illa interior.” Cf., below, in this section, “in lege naturali.” References to natural law in the Institutes are usually, as here, associated with conscience, frequently also with civil positive law and equity, and the Christian’s duties to society. Cf. II.ii.22, where the key Pauline passage for natural law, Rom. 2:14–15, is employed: see also II.vii.3–4; II.viii.1–2, 53; III.xix.15–16; IV.x.3; IV.xx.11 (“natural equity”); IV.xx.15 (the rule of love); IV.xx.16 (“the moral law...a testimony of natural law”). Calvin’s view of the Commandments as a divinely authorized text expressing and clarifying the natural law engraved on all hearts is the traditional one. Lactantius quotes in full Cicero’s important paragraph, in De republica III. xxii, on the law of right reason agreeing with nature, which God has given to all men, and asks what Christian could have set forth so meaningfully the law of God: Divine Institutes, VI.viii (CSEL 19.508 f.; MPL 6.660 f.; tr. ANF VII.171). Cf. Augustine, Confessions II.iv.9 (MPL 32. 678; tr. LCC VII. 54). Aquinas treats natural law with some fullness, e.g., in Summa Theol. Ia IIae, questions xci. 1–3; xciv; c. 1–5, where the principles of the Decalogue are identified with those of natural reason. The association of natural law with the golden rule of Matt. 7:12 is also common: see Gratian, Decretum, I.i (Friedberg I.2). Some references to this background are given in J. T. McNeill’s article “Natural Law in the Thought of Luther” in Church History X (1941), 211–227; for Calvin, see also “Natural Law in the Teaching of the Reformers,” Journal of Religion XXVI (1946), 168–182, and literature there cited. Notable references in Calvin’s commentaries and sermons are: Comm. Rom. 2:14–15; Sermons on Deuteronomy cxix (on Deut. 19:14–15) (CR XXVII. 568); Sermons on Job, ci, on Job 28:1–9 (CR XXXIV: 503 ff.); Comm. Harmony Four Books of Moses, “Praefatio in legem” (CR XXIV. 209–260). Here again the Commandments are seen as a specially accommodated restatement of the law of nature for the chosen people, and the entire body of “Mosaic” legislation is classified under the ten laws.

[26] Cf. I.i.2, note 6. This passage succinctly presents Calvin’s view of the work of the law and of conscience in conversion.

“Against the Sabbatarians,” Excerpts 

By Martin Luther


[Luther, Martin. “Against the Sabbatarians: Letter to a Good Friend.” 1538. In Luther’s Works. Volume 47: Christian in Society IV. Edited by Franklin Sherman. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1971. Pages 89–92, 94–95.] All footnotes are taken from this edition. 

Excerpts from Luthers’ Works copyright © Fortress Press admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress. Complete volumes of the series may be purchased at


[This treatise was published by Luther in the form of an open letter. Its purpose was to refute those who argued that Christians ought to observe practices of God’s covenant with Israel (the Old Testament, or Judaism) that Christians historically either had set aside or had changed with the coming of Christ, but which the Jewish people had continued to practice. One of these Old Testament practices, to observe the Sabbath on Saturday (rather than on Sunday, as Christians had done historically), gave rise to the name that Luther uses for his opponents: “the Sabbatarians.” In Part One of the work, here omitted, Luther argues that God’s covenant with Israel, also called the Law of Moses, is not in force for Christians. Yet he goes on below to say that those parts of the Ten Commandments that are based on the universal moral law remain in force for everyone because that law preceded the Law of Moses.  –Site Editor]


Part Two

. . . 

Finally, we also want to discuss the Ten Commandments. For perhaps the Jews will also call the Ten Commandments the law of Moses, since they were given on Mount Sinai in the presence of none but . . . children of Abraham, etc. You must reply: If the Ten Commandments are to be regarded as Moses’ law, then Moses came far too late, and he also addressed himself to far too few people, because the Ten Commandments had spread over the whole world not only before Moses but even before Abraham and all the patriarchs. For even if a Moses had never appeared and Abraham had never been born, the Ten Commandments would have had to rule in all men from the very beginning, as they indeed did and still do.[1] 

For all creatures rightly regard God as God and honor his name, as do also the angels in heaven. Thus we and all human beings are obligated to hear his word, to honor father and mother, to refrain from killing, from adultery, from stealing, from bearing false witness, from coveting one’s neighbor’s house or anything else that is his. All the heathen bear witness to this in their writings, laws, and governments, as can be clearly seen; but nothing is said therein of circumcision or of the laws Moses gave to the [Israelites] for the land of Canaan. 

Moses did precede all other legislators, however, in revealing in his history the genesis of all creatures and the coming of death into the whole world through Adam’s fall or sin. And later when he wants to set up a special law and nation apart from all others, as he has been commanded to do, he first introduces God himself; he is the universal God of all the nations, who gives the universal Ten Commandments—which prior to this had been implanted at crea­tion in the hearts of all men—to this particular people orally as well. In his day Moses fitted them nicely into his laws in a more orderly and excellent manner than could have been done by anyone else. Circumcision and the law of Moses, however, were not implanted in men’s hearts; they were first imposed by Abraham and Moses on their people. 

We and all Gentiles are just as duty-bound as the Jews to keep the first commandment, so that we have no other gods than the only God. But we Gentiles have no use and can have no use for the phrase with which he modifies this commandment and which ap­plies solely to the Jews, namely, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” . . . for God never performed such a work for [us]. . . . Yet I must recite and keep all the other words of the first commandment. I may also say, “You are my God, the God and also the Creator of us all, who, to be sure, led the children of Israel out of Egypt, but not me; however, you did lead me out of my Egypt and my exile.” Thus the first commandment remains common to both Jews and Gentiles. It is especially adapted and suited to the Jews with refer­ence to the exodus from Egypt, just as everyone after his own exile can and should name and praise the God of all as his own God and Helper. 

. . .

Similarly, the third commandment concerning the Sabbath, . . . is per se a commandment that ap­plies to the whole world; but the form in which Moses frames it and adapts it to his people was imposed only on the Jews. . . . For the true meaning of the third command­ment is that we on that day should teach and hear the word of God, thereby sanctifying both the day and ourselves. And in accord with this, ever after to the present day, Moses and the prophets are read and preached on the Sabbath day among the Jews. Wherever God’s word is preached it follows naturally that one must neces­sarily celebrate at the same hour or time and be quiet, and with­out any other preoccupation only speak and hear what God de­clares, what he teaches us and tells us.

. . .

Nor can we Gentiles join in the words of the fourth command­ment, “that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” And yet all of us must obey the first part, namely, the words, “Honor your father and your mother.” Moses, or rather God himself, is here speaking with the people of Israel whom he had led from Egypt into the land of Canaan. In this com­mandment he refers to the same country of Canaan, which he gave them at that time in order that they should live long in it and ex­perience good times if they would observe the fourth command­ment concerning obedience to parents. So here again the general commandment implanted, into the hearts of all people is adapted and applied especially to the Jews with reference to the land of Canaan. We Gentiles, of course, are not able to say or believe—nor could God tolerate our doing so—that he brought us out of Egypt or led us into the land of Canaan, in which we will prosper if we honor father and mother. No, we have to take this in a general sense, that God would give happiness and well-being to anyone in his own country who honors father and mother. We also observe that countries and governments, yes, also families and estates, decline or survive so remarkably according to their obedi­ence or disobedience; and it has never happened otherwise than that he fares badly and dies an evil death who dishonors father and mother.

Therefore this fourth commandment cannot be eternal, that is, it cannot . . . be applied to us Gentiles in the sense that we will possess the land of Canaan and prosper in it. . . .

. . .

[1] The concept of natural law is deep-rooted in Luther’s thought. His essay of 1525, How Christians Should Regard Moses (LW 35, 155–174), had already employed the distinction made here between the natural-law elements and the historically conditioned elements in the Mosaic code. “We will regard Moses as a teacher,” Luther affirmed, “but we will not regard him as our lawgiver—unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law” (LW 35, 165). He took the same tack in his pamphlet Against the Heavenly Prophets, published in the same year: “Where then the Mosaic law and the natural law are one, there the law remains . . .” (LW 40, 97). For the rest, the Mosaic code is merely the Sachsenspiegel of the Jews—their ancient equivalent of the social and economic laws obtaining in Luther’s own sixteenth-century Saxony. See also the references to natural law in Luther’s treatises Warning to His Dear German People and Against the Antinomians in the present volume. For brief studies from among the voluminous modern literature on the question, see John T. McNeill, “Natural Law in the Thought of Luther,” Church History, X (1941), 211–227, and Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther’s Doc­trine of the Two Kingdoms, trans. Karl H. Hertz (“Facet Books, Social Ethics Series,” No. 14; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966).

“Against the Antinomians,” Excerpts

By Martin Luther 


[Luther, Martin. “Against the Antinomians.” 1539. In Luther’s Works. Volume 47: Christian in Society IV. Edited by Franklin Sherman. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1971. Pages 109–115.]  All footnotes are taken from this edition.

Excerpts from Luthers’ Works copyright © Fortress Press admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress. Complete volumes of the series may be purchased at


[This is a letter from Luther to Dr. Caspar Güttel, who like Luther was originally an Augustinian monk who became a Lutheran pastor. Luther introduces the letter by explaining that he writes to clarify his teaching against the claims of those, especially John Agricola, who said that Luther’s position required Christians “to expel the law of God or the Ten Commandments from the church. . . .” He asks Dr. Güttel to publish it as much as possible. –Site Editor]

[Introduction omitted] 

It is most surprising to me that anyone can claim that I reject the law or the Ten Commandments, since there is available, in more than one edition, my exposition of the Ten Commandments, which furthermore are daily preached and practiced in our churches. (I am not even mentioning the Confession and the Apology and our other books). Furthermore, the commandments are sung in two versions, as well as painted, printed, carved, and recited by the children morning, noon, and night.[1] I know of no manner in which we do not use them, unless it be that we un­fortunately do not practice and paint them with our deeds and our life as we should. I myself, as old and as learned as I am, recite the commandments daily word for word like a child. So if anyone perchance gained some other impression from my writings and yet saw and perceived that I stressed the catechism so greatly, he might in all fairness have addressed me and said, “Dear Dr. Luther, how is it that you emphasize the Ten Commandments so much, though your teaching is that they are to be discarded?” That is what they should have done, and not worked secretly be­hind my back and waited for my death, after which they could make of me what they would.[2] Ah well, let them be forgiven who cease doing this. 

To be sure, I did teach, and still teach, that sinners shall be stirred to repentance through the preaching or the contemplation of the passion of Christ, so that they might see the enormity of God's wrath over sin, and learn that there is no other remedy for this than the death of God’s Son. This doctrine is not mine, but St. Bernard’s.[3] What am I saying? St. Bernard’s? It is the message of all of Christendom, of all the prophets and apostles. But how can you deduce from this that the law is to be cast aside? I cannot find such a deduction in my logic textbook. I should like to see or hear the master who could demonstrate it. 

When Isaiah 53 [:8] declares that God has “stricken him for the transgression of my people,” tell me, my dear fellow, does this proclamation of Christ's suffering and of his being stricken for our sin imply that the law is cast away? What does this expression, “for the transgression of my people,” mean? Does it not mean “be­cause my people sinned against my law and did not keep my law”? Or does anyone imagine that there can be sin where there is no law? Whoever abolishes the law must simultaneously abolish sin. If he permits sin to stand, he must most certainly permit the law to stand; for according to Romans 5 [:13], where there is no law there is no sin. And if there is no sin, then Christ is nothing. Why should he die if there were no sin or law for which he must die? It is apparent from this that the devil's purpose in this fanaticism is not to remove the law but to remove Christ, the fulfiller of the law. 

For he is well aware that Christ can quickly and readily be removed, but that the law is written in the depth of the heart and cannot be erased. This is clearly seen in the psalms of lamentation. For here the dear saints are unable to bear the wrath of God. This is nothing but the law’s perceptible preaching in man’s con­science. The devil knows very well too that it is impossible to remove the law from the heart. In Romans 2 [:14–15] St. Paul testifies that the Gentiles who did not receive the law from Moses and thus have no law are nevertheless a law to themselves, being obliged to witness that what the law requires is written in their hearts, etc. But the devil devotes himself to making men secure, teaching them to heed neither law nor sin, so that if sometime they are suddenly overtaken by death or by a bad conscience, they have grown so accustomed to nothing but sweet security that they sink helplessly into hell. For they have learned to perceive nothing in Christ but sweet security. Therefore such terror must be a sure sign that Christ (whom they understand as sheer sweetness) has re­jected and forsaken them. That is what the devil strives for, and that is what he would like to see. 

[Some text omitted] 

Dear God, should it be unbearable that the holy church con­fesses itself a sinner, believes in the forgiveness of sins, and asks for remission of sin in the Lord’s Prayer? How can one know what sin is without the law and conscience? And how will we learn what Christ is, what he did for us, if we do not know what the law is that he fulfilled for us and what sin is, for which he made satisfaction? And even if we did not require the law for ourselves, or if we could tear it out of our hearts (which is impossible), we would have to preach it for Christ’s sake, as is done and as has to be done, so that we might know what he did and what he suffered for us. For who could know what and why Christ suffered for us without knowing what sin or law is? Therefore the law must be preached wherever Christ is to be preached, even if the word “law” is not mentioned, so that the conscience is nevertheless frightened by the law when it hears that Christ had to fulfill the law for us at so great a price. Why, then, should one wish to abolish the law, which cannot be abolished, yes, which is only intensified by such an at­tempt? For the law terrifies me more when I hear that Christ, the Son of God, had to fulfill it for me than it would were it preached to me without the mention of Christ and of such great torment suffered by God’s Son, but were accompanied only by threats. For in the Son of God I behold the wrath of God in action, while the law of God shows it to me with words and with lesser deeds. 

[Some text omitted] 

They [the antinomians, the Anabaptists] have devised for themselves a new method whereby one is to preach grace first and then the revelation of wrath. The word “law” is not to be heard or spoken. This is a nice little toy[4] from which they derive much pleasure. They claim they can fit the entire Scripture into this pattern and thus they become the light of the world. That is the meaning they foist on St. Paul in Romans 1 [:18]. But they fail to see that he teaches just the opposite. First he calls attention to the wrath of God from heaven and makes all the world sinners and guilty before God; then, after they have be­come sinners, he teaches them how to obtain mercy and be justi­fied. That is what the first three chapters powerfully and clearly demonstrate. It is also indicative of a particular blindness and stu­pidity when they claim that the revelation of God’s wrath is some­thing different from the law. This is, of course, impossible, for the manifestation of wrath is the law when it is acknowledged and felt, just as St. Paul says, “The law brings wrath” [Rom. 4:15]. So haven’t they fixed things smartly when they abolish the law and yet teach it by proclaiming the revelation of wrath? But they reverse the order of things and teach the law after they teach the gospel, and wrath after grace. I can indeed see some of the shameful errors the devil has in mind with this little toy; but I cannot enlarge on these at present. Moreover, this is unnecessary, because I hope that they will cease. 

It also reflected extraordinary arrogance and presumption that they wanted to unearth something novel and uncommon, so that people would say, “I really believe that he is a great man, a second Paul.” Why should those in Wittenberg[5] have a monopoly on wisdom? I, too, have a brain, etc. Yes, of course you have a brain, but one that is bent on its own honor and that exposes itself to ridicule with its wisdom. For they want to do away with the law and yet teach wrath, which is the function of the law alone. Thus they merely discard the few letters that compose the word “law,” meanwhile affirming the wrath of God, which is indicated and understood by these letters. It is only that they reverse the order fixed by St. Paul and try to place the last first. Isn’t this a fine piece of work, before which all the world should stand in amazement? But let this suffice for the time being; for I hope that since Master Eisleben is changing his mind and recanting, the others who de­rived their views from him will also desist. May God help them to that end. Amen. 

[The rest of the letter is omitted] 

[1] Between 1520 and 1529 Luther published a number of studies of the Ten Commandments which later served as a basis for his treatment of them in the Large Catechism  and Small Catechism of 1529. His Treatise on Good Works of 1520 (LW 44, 15–114) also follows the structure of the Decalogue. The two sung versions mentioned here are no doubt Luther’s two hymns based on the Ten Commandments: “These Are the Holy Ten Commands” (1524), LW 53, 278–279; and “Man, Wouldst Thou Live All Blissfully” (1524), LW 53, 281. 

[2] A charge that had been leveled at Agricola by his opponents in the con­troversy; see above, p. 108. Already in the summer of 1538 Luther spoke of the Antinomians as a “new sect” and discussed them in the same context as he does here: “I have survived three terrible storms: Münzer, the Sacramentarians, and the Anabaptists. When these were quieted others arose.” WA, TR 4, 30–32. 

[3] Bernard of Clairvaux (ca. 1091–1153). Luther felt that Bernard, although he misinterpreted the Christian faith on some matters, was essentially in agree­ment with him in the doctrine of justification. Cf. John M. Headley, Luther’s View of Church History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), pp. 101–103.

[4] Katzenstühlchen, a toy chair for dolls. 

[5] Although Agricola was at this time resident in Wittenberg, Luther here still identifies him with Eisleben, where his teachings had gained considerable currency; cf. Luther’s comment above, p. 108.