Of the false repentance of the Papists.
Impossible was it for them to teach correctly concerning repentance, because they did not perceive the true sins; for, as already said, they formed improper conceptions in reference to hereditary sin, asserting that the natural powers of man remained whole and uncorrupted, that reason is able to teach correctly, that the will can act according to it, and that God will certainly grant his grace, if a person does as much as lies in his power, according to his freewill.
From this it must follow, that they repented only of actual sins; such as evil, voluntary thoughts, (for evil feelings, lust, irritations, were not sins,) evil words, evil works, which the free will could easily have avoided.
And they allege that in this repentance there are three parts:– contrition, confession, and satisfaction or expiation; with this consolation and promise, that if a person truly repent, confess, and make satisfaction, he has merited remission by these acts, and made compensation for his sins in the sight of God. Thus they directed the people in repentance, to a reliance on their own works. Hence originated this declaration on the pulpit,– when the common absolution was declared to the people:– "Prolong, Lord God, my days, till I repent of my sins and amend my life."
Here nothing was said in reference to Christ, and nothing was mentioned concerning faith, but they hoped to overcome and exterminate their sins in the sight of God, by their own works. With this view we also became priests and monks, so that we ourselves might resist our sins.
This method was also adopted in confession, inasmuch as no one could think of all his sins, (especially of all that were committed during the whole year,) they subjoined this idle fallacy: "If the sins which have escaped the memory, afterwards recur unto the mind, they must be repented of and confessed." In the mean time they were submitted to the grace of God.
Moreover, since no one knew the extent or degree of contrition, requisite in the sight of God, they gave this consolation: "Whoever cannot have contrition, should have attrition;" which we may term a half, or a commencement of contrition, for they did not understand either of these themselves, and even now know as little what they imply as I do. Such attrition, then, was accounted contrition, in coming to confession.
And when it so happened, that one said he could not have contrition, or sorrow for his sins, as might happen in profligate affection, or revenge, &c., they asked whether he did not wish, or freely desire, that he might have contrition? He then said, yes; for who would say no in this case? would the devil himself? Then they received this contrition, and remitted his sins on account of this his good work. Hence they alleged the example of St. Bernard.
Here we see how men, guided by blind reason, grope in divine things, and seek consolation in their own works according to their fancies, without being able to think of Christ or faith. When we view these things attentively, such contrition is only affected, and devised by man's own powers, without faith, without a knowledge of Christ; and in this contrition the poor sinner, when thinking of lust or revenge, would at times rather have laughed than mourned, excepting those who were really smitten by the law, or vainly afflicted by the devil with pensive minds; otherwise this contrition was really nothing but hypocrisy, and it did not mortify the lust of sin. For they were compelled to affect contrition, but if it had been left to their own choice, they would rather have sinned more.
This was the course pursued in confession: each one was compelled to enumerate all his sins,– which is a thing impossible,– this was a severe embarrassment; but those sins which had escaped his memory were remitted unto him so far, that if they recurred to him, he must still confess them. In this way he could never know when he had confessed sufficiently, or when his confession should once terminate; he was nevertheless referred to his own works, and thus consoled, namely, that the more completely he confessed, and the more he became ashamed, and the more he thus debased himself before the priests, the sooner and the better he made satisfaction for sins, and that such humility certainly merits an impartation of God's grace.
Here there was neither faith nor Christ; the virtue of absolution was not explained to him, but his consolation consisted in the enumeration of sins and in self-abasement. But the torture, fraud, and idolatry, resulting from this confession, cannot be related.
Satisfaction or expiation was far more perplexing; for no person could know how much he should do for one sin alone, much less for all. Here they resorted to an artifice, namely, by imposing a small satisfaction which could be easily observed, as five Paternosters, one day's fasting, &c.; other things, which they said were required in repentance, they referred to purgatory.
This was also productive of great distress; for some thought that they never should be liberated from purgatory, because, according to the ancient canons, a repentance of seven years was assigned for one mortal sin. Still our dependance rested on our work of satisfaction; and if the satisfaction could have been complete, the dependance would have rested wholly upon it, and neither faith nor Christ would have been necessary,– but this was impossible. And if one had thus exercised penance a hundred years, he still could not have known when he would have effected a perfect and final penitence. This is to repent perpetually, yet never arrive at repentance.
Here then, the holy See of Rome came to the assistance of the miserable church, and devised indulgences, in which the Pope remitted and arrested the satisfaction or expiation, first for one year, for seven years, a hundred years, &c., and distributed them among the cardinals and bishops, so that one could grant indulgence for a hundred years, another for a hundred days. But the power of arresting the total satisfaction, he reserved to himself.
Now, when by this pecuniary profits began to increase, and the sale of bulls became profitable, he devised the "golden year," which he wished to celebrate at Rome. This he called a remission of all crimes and punishments. Thither the people flocked; for every one ardently desired to be relieved of his oppressive and intolerable burden. This was finding and bringing to light the treasures of the earth. Immediately the Pope proceeded further, and multiplied golden years, one upon another; but the more money he swallowed, the wider his throat became.
He therefore, afterwards sent out, through the agency of his legates, into all lands, until all churches and houses were filled with golden years. Finally, he rushed into purgatory among the dead also, first by instituting masses and vigils, afterwards with indulgences and golden years; and at last souls became so cheap, that he liberated one for a groat.
Still all this availed nothing. For the Pope, though he taught the people to depend and rely on these indulgences, still rendered it doubtful again; for he asserted in his bulls, that whoever wished to be a partaker of indulgences or golden years, should have attained contrition, made confession, and contributed money. For, as we have already heard, their contrition and confession are doubtful and hypocritical. For no one knew which souls might be in purgatory; and of those in it, no one knew which had repented and confessed correctly. Thus he took the beloved money, and in the mean time consoled them by his power and indulgence, and still referred them again to their uncertain works.
Now, where there were some, who did not conceive themselves guilty of these actual sins in thoughts, words, and actions, as was the case with me and my fellows in monasteries and convents, and with the monks and priests, who, by fasting, prayer, watching, holding of masses, rough clothing, hard couches, &c., strove against evil thoughts, and with earnestness and fervency desired to be holy; still the hereditary, innate evil, sometimes without our being conscious of it, (as St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and others confess,) exercised its nature; yet we contrived to hold, as we taught, that we were so holy,– so void of sin, and full of good works,– that we even imparted and sold to others our superfluous good works, as contributing to their salvation. This is indeed true, and there are seals, letters, and examples to this effect, at hand.
These had no need of repentance. For, why should there be contrition in them, since they did not consent to evil thoughts? What would they confess, since they avoided words? For what purpose would they make satisfaction, since they were innocent of the deed, so that they could even sell their supererogatory righteousness to other poor sinners? The Pharisees and Scribes also in the time of Christ were saints like these.
Here the fiery angel, St. John, appears, who is the true preacher of repentance, and with one word, as with a clap of thunder, prostrates both together, (the buyers and venders of works,) saying: "Repent," Matt. 3, 8. The former think, "we have surely repented," the latter, "we need no repentance." But John says, "Both of you need repentance, for your penitence is false; and they are false saints, and both you and they need remission of sins, since neither you nor they yet know what real sin is, much less, that you should have repented and avoided it. Neither you nor they are good; you are full of unbelief, indiscretion, and ignorance concerning God and his will; for here he is present, of whose fulness we must all receive, and grace for grace, John 1, 16; and no man can be justified in the sight of God without him. Therefore, if you wish to repent, repent truly; your repentance avails nothing. And you hypocrites, you who need no repentance, you generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" &c. Matt. 3, 7.
In like manner St. Paul also preaches, Rom. 3, 10, 11, 12, saying: "There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And Acts, 17, 30: "But now God commandeth all men every where to repent." All men, says he,– no one excepted, who is human. This repentance enables us to perceive our sins, to perceive that in us, who are all in a state of perdition, there is nothing good, and that we must become new and different persons entirely.
This repentance is not partial and imperfect like that in which actual sins are deplored, nor is it uncertain like that, for it does not dispute which are sins, or which are not sins; but it confounds all together, and says, that in us, all is sinful and intrinsically corrupt. Why should we long seek to make divisions and distinctions? For this reason also the contrition here is not uncertain. For nothing here remains in which we might perceive something good to compensate our sins, but an entire despondency of hope in all that we are, think, say, or do.
In this manner then it is also impossible for the confession to be false, doubtful, or partial. For whoever confesses that all within him is intrinsically sinful, comprehends all sins, excludes none, and forgets none. Thus also the expiation or satisfaction can not be doubtful; for it is not our uncertain, sinful works, but the suffering and blood of the innocent Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world, that make this satisfaction.
Concerning this repentance John preached, and afterwards Christ in the Gospel, and we also. With this repentance we shall subvert the Pope and all that is based on the good works of men. For all that is called good works or law is built on a rotten, vain foundation, when at the same time there are no good works present, but only evil works. And no one keeps the law, as Christ, John 7, 19, says, but all have transgressed. This fabric is, therefore, nothing but falsehood and hypocrisy, even in its most holy and beautiful features.
And this repentance continues with Christians till death; for it strives with the sins remaining in the flesh during the whole course of life, as Paul, Rom. 7, 23, testifies, that he struggles with the law in his members, &c.; and this he does not by his own strength, but through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which follow after the remission of sins. These gifts purify and expel the remaining sins daily, and labor to make the person upright, pure, and holy.
Concerning this, neither pope, theologians, jurists, nor any other class of men know any thing from their own reason, but it is a doctrine from heaven, revealed through the Gospel, and must be called heresy by the ungodly.
If, moreover, certain factious persons should rise up, as there may perhaps be some already present, and as at the time of the sedition among the peasants, men came before my own eyes, maintaining that all those who once had received the Spirit or remission of sins, or had obtained faith, if they afterwards committed sins, still however remained in faith, and that such sins do not injure them; and thus exclaiming: "Do whatever you will, it does you no injury, faith exterminates all sins," &c. And who add: "If any one, after having received faith and the Spirit, sins, he did not truly have the Spirit and faith." Many insane persons like these have I seen and heard, and I fear that such a demon still exists in some.
It is, for this reason, necessary to know and to teach that if holy people, who still have and feel hereditary sin, and daily repent of, and strive against it, at some time fall into open sins,– like David who fell into adultery, murder, and blasphemy,– faith and the Holy Spirit were not present at the time. For in the presence of the Holy Spirit sin cannot rule, prevail, or be perpetrated, but is repressed and restrained from accomplishing its purposes. If it, however, accomplishes these purposes, faith and the Holy Spirit are not present at the time; for it is as St. John, 1 John 3, 9, says: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, and he cannot sin." And yet it is also true, as St. John further writes, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us," 1 John 1, 10.