THE SMALCALD ARTICLES.
PREFACE OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER.
Last year pope Paul III. proclaimed a council, which was to be assembled about Pentecost at Mantua. Soon afterwards he transferred the appointed meeting from the city of Mantua to some other place; and it is not yet known where he intends to assemble it. We also had reason to hope that we should be summoned to the council, or to fear that, if not summoned, we might be condemned unheard. I was, therefore, required to collect and transcribe the articles of our doctrine, in order that it might appear if the council should take place, what we might be able to concede to the Papists, and what points we were determined to maintain.
I have, accordingly, written these articles, and communicated them to our adherents, by whom they have been received and approved with great unanimity. It was also resolved that these articles should be publicly laid before the council,– if indeed the Pope and the Papists would hold a council, without false pretences and deceptive arts, in a lawful and Christian manner,– and that these should exhibit the confession of our faith.
But since the Roman court or conclave dreads a free and Christian council so very much, and so shamefully shuns the light, that even the Papists themselves have entirely lost the hope, not only of its ever assembling a Christian council, but even of its allowing or enduring any thing of the kind; many Papists even are justly offended, support this indifference of the Pope with reluctance, and naturally infer that he would rather see the destruction of Christianity itself, and the perdition of all souls, than the smallest reformation of his own errors, or those of his friends, or the prescription of any bounds to his tyranny. For this reason I have been the more desirous to publish these articles, that if I should die before a council shall be held,– an event which I truly expect, since those who fear and shun the light have labored so much in postponing and preventing the council,– posterity may have my testimony and confession, and may add this to that confession which I formerly published, to which I have constantly to this day adhered, and to which, by the grace of God, I will ever adhere.
What then shall I say? How shall I begin my complaint? I am still living, writing, holding deliberations, and reading public lectures daily; and yet these malignant men, not only among our adversaries, but even false brethren who pretend to agree with us, dare openly to turn my own writings and my own doctrine against me, whilst I am living, and whilst I see and hear them, although they know that I teach far differently. They wish to decorate their own venom with my labors, to deceive and entice wretched mortals under my name. What then, gracious God, will be done after my death?
I ought, indeed, to reply to all their charges, while I am yet living. But how can I alone close all the mouths of Satan?– especially of those, who, full of poison, do not wish to attend to or to hear what we have written, but are altogether engrossed by one purpose– that of perverting and corrupting our words at every point. To these, therefore, let Satan reply, and finally, the wrath of God, as they deserve. I often recall to mind the excellent Gerson, who doubted whether any thing of public utility ought to be written or published. If we refrain from writing, many souls will be neglected, which might have been rescued; but if we write, immediately the devil is at hand with lips of bitterness and abuse, infecting and poisoning every thing, and defeating the salutary object of the writing. It is manifest, however, what advantage they derive from these malignant representations. For since they have thus assailed us with false charges, and endeavored by means of these misrepresentations to retain the less informed among them, God has the more advanced his work, diminished their numbers and increased ours, and has thus confounded and still confounds them in consequence of their falsehoods.
I will relate an instance of this. There was a certain Doctor here at Wittemburg, sent from France, who publicly assured us, that the French monarch had been fully persuaded that there was no church, no magistracy, no wedlock among us, but that we all lived promiscuously, each according to his inclination. Tell me now, with what countenance will they look upon us at the tribunal of Christ, in the last judgment?– these defamers who have, by their virulent writings, disseminated charges so false, not only in France, but in other kingdoms? Christ the Lord and Judge of us all, knows that these men are uttering falsehoods, and that they always have been speaking falsely. His decision they will be compelled to hear in their turn. May God convert those who can be changed; may they repent; but others he will overwhelm with woe eternal.
To return to the subject: I could wish that a free and Christian council might at some time be assembled, that we might provide for many exigencies, and for the wants of many. Not that we need a council: for our churches, by the grace of God, through their purity of doctrine, by the correct use of the sacraments, and by their knowledge of the various relations of life and of good works, have been so much enlightened and confirmed, that we have no need of a council, nor can we hope or expect any improvement in these respects from a council. But in various bishoprics we behold so many parishes entirely destitute and deserted, that the heart of a good man must be almost crushed with grief. And yet neither the bishops nor the prebendaries consider how those wretched mortals live or die; yet Christ has died for them also, though these poor men cannot hear him speaking as a true shepherd with his sheep. And this causes me very seriously to fear that Christ himself will convene a council of angels against Germany, by whom we may be utterly destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrah, since we so rashly mock him with the name and pretence of a council.
Besides these ecclesiastical matters so highly important, great abuses might also be corrected in our political condition; such as discords of the princes and estates of the empire. Usury and avarice have invaded us like a flood, and they are defended under the form of law. Insolence, immorality, pride, luxury and extravagance in dress, excess, gaming, ostentation, a host of vices and crimes, the wickedness and contumacy of subjects, servants, and laborers, the enormous prices demanded by mechanics, hirelings, and countrymen, (and who can tell all?) have spread to such an extent, that they could not be reformed by ten councils and twenty diets.
If these abuses in church and state, which are perpetrated against God, should be discussed in a council, there would be abundant subjects for deliberation; nor would there by any necessity for jesting and idle consultations about the long gown, the various modes of razure and tonsure, broad belts and girdles, mitres, caps, cowls, staves, and similar vanities of the bishops and cardinals. If we had sufficiently pondered the will and the command of God, in relation to the regulation of ecclesiastical and civil affairs, abundant time and opportunity would afterwards have been left for the reformation of diet and of dress, of wax tapers, razures, and cells. But because we swallow camels, and at the same time strain out gnats,– neglect the beam, and search for the mote,– we may do without a council.
I have, therefore, written but few articles. For we have already enough of the commands of God in the church, in the state, and in our families, which we shall never be able to observe completely. What benefit, then, can result from so great a number of decrees, traditions, and laws of a council, when the principal duties which God enjoins upon us, will not be regarded nor observed? Just as if God were forced to yield to our ridiculous fantasies, and to suffer, in the mean time, his holy commands to be trodden under foot. But our sins overburden us, nor do they permit God to be gracious, because we will not repent, but defend every kind of abomination.
O Christ Jesus, our Lord! Do thou thyself convene a council, and there preside. Deliver us by thy glorious presence. We have nothing to hope from the Pope and the bishops: they do not regard thee. Do thou, therefore, assist us, who are miserable and poor, who groan for thee, and seek thee from the heart, according to the grace which thou hast given to us, through the influence of the Holy Spirit who lives and reigns with thee and with the Father, blessed forever. Amen.