Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECOND PART.: TITLE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE SECT OF THE CATABAPTISTS. - Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli
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SECOND PART.: TITLE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE SECT OF THE CATABAPTISTS. - Huldrych Zwingli, Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli 
Selected Works of Huldrich Zwingli, (1484-1531) The Reformer of German Switzerland, translated for the First Time from the Originals, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1901).
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This part is to overthrow the foundations of your superstition; although you have never published them, yet hardly any of your people exist who have not a copy of these well founded laws, as you call them. Why, pray, do you not publish what are so divine and so salutary? But counsels evilly conceived fear the light, and are terrified at the judgment of learned and pious men. For this reason you do not publish the dogmas, articles, principles of your superstition. I therefore shall expose them to the world, translated faithfully and literally into Latin. As in the first part, your position shall come first, then the refutation.
TITLE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE SECT OF THE CATABAPTISTS.
Articles which we have drawn up and to which we agree, viz.: Baptism, abstention, breaking of bread, avoidance of abominable pastors in the church, [of love], sword and [of wrong] oath.
To this article I say the same as the apostle in Col. ii. 20: If ye be dead with Christ from the elements of the world, how is it that you set forth decrees or dogmas as though you were in the world? But I know what you will say: These are not human dogmas, articles, principles, but divine oracles. To which I reply: Why then do you say you have drawn them up and agreed to them? If they are divine, why do you call them the articles of your conspiracy? Why do you smear the mouth of the divine word with your human ordure? If not [divine], why do you impose new decrees upon the necks of your brethren? You would therefore rule in the Lord’s stead, secretly lead into captivity, and place a check on brethren’s liberty. For however you turn you need no new articles; divine providence does not need your consent, which is nothing else than conspiracy. But thus heavenly wisdom orders all things. As often as we apply to you the term “sect,” because you have withdrawn from the churches that confess and embrace Christ, you at once reply that you cherish no sect. And now you yourselves produce this beautiful offspring of yours. Is not he a heretic who has conspired unto particular articles, though you with a more respectable nomenclature denominate it an agreement? But now I turn to the overthrow of the foundations of your articles, so that the world may see that what you affirm to be divine is fanatical, foolish, bold, impudent. This is not too severe.
Catabaptists. First learn of baptism. Baptism should be administered to all who have been taught penitence and change of life, and who believe really that their sins are done away with through Christ, and in general who wish to walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and who wish to be buried with himself into death that they may rise again with him. So we administer it to all who demand it and require it of us themselves after this manner. By this all baptism of infants is excluded—that chief abomination of the Roman pontiff. For this article we have the testimony and support of Scripture; we have also the custom of the apostles, which we shall preserve in simplicity and also in firmness. For we have been made sure.
Reply. Behold, good reader, in how many ways these jugglers impose upon the judgment of the simple. For, first, who does not know that baptism should be administered to all in Christ, both penitents and those confessing that remission of sins is found? There is no contest here, but whether it may be given to those alone and not to their infant children. Second, they conceal justification by works, and though they admit remission of sins through Christ here, they clearly deny it elsewhere. For they who trust in works make Christ of no effect. For if justification is by the works of the law, Christ has died in vain. Third, they yet do not conceal it so thoroughly as to betray their opinion by no sign. For when they say that remitted are the sins of all who wish to walk in the resurrection of Christ and to be buried with him in death, they elevate free will, and next to that justification by works. For if it is in our choice or power to walk in the resurrection of Christ, or to be buried with him in death, it is open for any one to be a Christian and a man of perfect excellence. Then Christ spoke falsely the words: No one can come to me except the Father who sent me draw him. Finally here is discovered their chiefest evil: When they refuse an oath to the magistrate who asks it, they plead this reason: According to the word of Christ a man cannot change a hair of his head to make it shine white or be dim with blackness. But here they say: They who wish to walk according to him, and then: Who themselves demand of us; after, of course, they have promised that they will walk according to the resurrection of Christ. Will he then who makes this promise be able to walk according to the stipulation or not? If so, why then will he not swear to do this or that when he is able? If not, you in like manner ought not to demand that he promise to walk according to Christ lest he become a liar, as you forbid him to swear lest he become a perjurer. Fourth, where in the Scripture do you read that baptism is to be given none except to him who can make a confession and demand baptism? Of yourselves do you assert this, for circumcision was most often given to those who could neither make confession nor demand. But you reject the whole Old Testament. This is what you clearly betray in the former confutation. This point ought to have been treated by me, but it has fallen out. It therefore comes in properly here when you say: There is no need for me to seek baptism in the Old Testament. By which do you not despise the Old Testament? And yet Christ submitted himself and his teaching to it, and the apostles used no other Scripture, indeed they could not, since until after the beginning of their preaching there was no Scripture as yet other than that drawn from [the Old Testament]. Here therefore your error, in which you do not consider the analogy of the sacrament as does the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. x. and Col. iii., so that we ought not to neglect his example—your error, I say, causes you to deny that in all Scripture the sign of the covenant is given to any except to one who makes confession and demand according to your way of thinking. But is not this deciding dogmas and ordinances? Fifth, you say: We have the testimony and support of Scripture for this article. Who lies? to use a German taunt. Produce that Scripture testimony of yours, and all strife will be laid. Sixth, where do you find this custom of the apostles to baptize no one who had not made this confession of yours and forthwith demanded baptism? Seventh, they say: Which we simply and at the same time firmly will preserve. For we have been made sure. Why do they promise to do what is not in their power? But if they refer to baptism, i. e., that they will baptize according to this rite, again they dogmatize, i. e., make decrees. This they themselves recognize, for they add: For we have been made sure. If they could show from Scripture the firmness of these ordinances, they would doubtless adduce it. But since they cannot, they have recourse to revelation and the confirmation of the Spirit. We are made sure, they say—himself said it. Here we ought not to omit in passing the fact that this has caused their error about the resurrection—they do not see that Paul in Rom. vi. 4 uses an argument from the external sign in order to exhort the more ardently to the imitation of Christ. But wherever they find the word baptism, even though the discussion is not about the sacrament, the truth striving to the contrary, they twist it to some perversion.
Catabaptists. Second. This is our opinion regarding abstention or excommunication: All ought to be excommunicated who after they have given themselves to the Lord that they may walk in his precepts, and who have been baptized into the one body of Christ and are called brothers or sisters, yet either slip or fall into sin and imprudently are thrown headlong. Men of this sort ought to be admonished twice in private; the third time they should be corrected publicly before the church according to the precept of Christ. But this ought to be done according to the ordinance and command of the divine Spirit before the breaking of bread, so that all who break and eat one bread and drink from one cup may be together in unison in the same love.
Reply. If I am silent as to this law I shall seem to approve it, but if I touch on certain things I shall appear captious. Since then it is all so crude that it smells of nothing but a three days’ theologian, I will myself suffer that in this place ignorance be called simplicity, and will note in a few words a few things which ought not to be winked at. They err then in this when they say: The third time they ought to be corrected publicly before the assemblage. For the third time they should be admonished by the church, not corrected. Then if they hear not the church as it warns they should be expelled. Second, they err again when they say this should be before the breaking of bread, unless you understand by this the denunciation customary among the ancients, which only forbade to the excommunicated who had before been cast out the breaking of bread with them. Excommunication did not take place then unless the occasion demanded it, but access was denied the excommunicate to the feast of the church. This I say because it is the Catabaptists’ opinion that they should refuse to celebrate the communion unless those who are to do it first confess or bear witness that they are about to pronounce excommunication or banishment [from the communion]. I do not think this is according to the custom of the apostles, who seem to have celebrated the supper of the Lord without interdict of this sort. But where one had been convicted of a great crime he was already banned. And I think it sprung from that usage that before the Lord’s Supper the excommunicate and banned were publicly interdicted. I do not think it came from the institution of Christ that some ancients and some moderns had and have the custom of thus warning: Let no homicide, usurer, adulterer, drunkard, etc., approach. For if an adulterer or drunkard, or one addicted to any other crime, defile the church he ought to be warned according to the command of Christ, and if he refuse to confess after the testimony of witnesses before the church he ought to be shunned or to be excluded from the church, but so only if contumacious. But if only rumor travels around (it is sometimes mendacious), or he who is under suspicion can rightly ward it off, so that he appears to carry himself honestly, then he ought not rashly to be excommunicated, unless the thing is absolutely certain for which he is excommunicated. This I say not of myself, but after comparing carefully and weighing the words of Jesus on this subject. For when he says to Peter that one is to be forgiven seventy-seven times, and in another place orders the tares to be permitted to grow until harvest, he evidently shows that there are some things at which fraternal love may wink. But when, on the other hand, he commands to expel straightway after the reproof of the church has been despised he surely means in those matters which are manifest and may defile the church. For there are some, sad to say, too ready on one side or the other. Some who think that nothing reaches to the point of requiring dismission, perhaps because they labor under the same or an equal disease; there are others who, if some passion persuades them, at once cry out: Why is he not excommunicated? Moderation therefore in this matter with the greatest diligence (which is to be sought from the Lord) is to be observed here. But what reason is there why the Catabaptists should say aught to us about excommunication when they have not considered the judgment of, or how they ought to judge, the murder that took place in St. Gall, when a Catabaptist murdered a Catabaptist and a brother a brother?
Catabaptists. Third. In the breaking of bread we thus agree and unitedly determine that they who wish to break one bread in commemoration of the broken body of Christ, and to drink of one cup in commemoration of his shed blood, shall first come together into one body of Christ, that is the church of God, in which Christ is the head. And this is particularly through baptism. For, as the divine Paul teaches, we cannot be at the same time participants of the Lord’s table and the demons’, nor can we be participants at the same time of the Lord’s cup and the devils’. I. e., all who have communion with the dead works of the shades have no communion with those who are called from this world to God. All who are settled in evil have no part with the good. Therefore it ought to folow that they who have not the calling of their God to one faith, to one baptism, to one spirit, to one body with all the sons of God, they cannot unite in one bread. But doubtless this must be done if one wish to break bread according to the precept of Christ.
Reply. Hither, doubtless, all this superstition tends, that the untaught people, that rises to every novelty, be led away into catabaptism and to an evil church. You admit no one to the Lord’s Supper unless he have first united by baptism into the one body of Christ. So by baptism as by a cement each one is united to this body. Why then do you strive so mightily that no one be baptized unless he first believe and confess with his own mouth? See how consistent you are! But you would not speak here of the church’s baptism, but of heretical baptism, i. e., your sect’s, and this, as it is born outside the church, is justly called pseudo- or catabaptism (some prefer “anabaptism”). Since then you do not recognize rebaptism or contrabaptism, though nevertheless against the standing custom of Christ’s church and against the divine law, by your baptism you crucify Christ again (for as he was once dead and once was raised from the dead, so he desires to have once baptized him who loves Christ); you do not dare to call your rebaptism catabaptism, but you call “baptism” that which is rebaptism. And while your words appear as though you were unwilling to admit any one to the table of the Lord unless he has been baptized, what you mean really is that no one in your evil church should hope to be a participant at the table of the Lord unless he has been rebaptized. This is what you mean, I say. Behold the tricks of the impostors, my reader. They talk simply about baptism, but will not be understood about simple but about double baptism. To this the confirmation of their law bears witness when they add: For, as the divine Paul teaches, we cannot at the same time participate at the Lord’s table and at demons’. By which they mean only that initiates who were baptized in youth belong to the demons, though they beautifully cover up this error so as not to be compelled to answer a new question which is beyond them, i. e., whether the baptism which we as children received is not sufficient? For they were vanquished by us when they at length declared this baptism to be from the Roman pontiff, and so from a demon. Nevertheless they carry around a long document in their church, in which they show from the decrees of the pontiffs that infant baptism was begun under popish rule—wicked men that they are, since I showed them before that in Origen’s time, who lived about 150 years after Christ’s ascension, baptism was in common use, and afterwards in Augustine’s time, who flourished about 400 years after. For both testify that infant baptism had remained to their own times from the custom of the apostles. But in those times the name of pope, and also monarchy or tyranny, had not come into the churches. And I refuted their statement (that you may lose nothing of our side, reader,) that the baptism of the pope is not Christ’s, but a demon’s, in the following way: If baptism were of the pope alone, I would not object to their calling the pope’s baptism either “not Christ’s” or a demon’s. But the baptism of Christ is not the pope’s, even though the pope were the archdemon himself and used Christ’s baptism, for when the devil used the prophet’s word in the temptation of Christ, the prophet’s word did not become the devil’s; and again, when the demons cried out: “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God,” so salutary a confession was no less salutary because a demon made it; so when the pope baptized not in his own name, but in that of the Father and Son and Holy Ghost, it could in no way be vitiated so as not to be the baptism of Christ’s church. In the second place Christ himself said: “He that is not against us is with us.” The pope therefore has this much of good, that he baptizes in no other name than that in which we were baptized; in this he is with us as was he [with Christ] who expelled a demon by the power of Christ’s name, although he neither followed nor cherished Christ. Finally the apostles have left us in the matter of matrimony a fine example, both in this matter and in others which pertain to disputes about externals. For as some had married among the Gentiles before the apostles had carried to them the salutary teaching of the gospel, so they [the apostles] left those marriages intact. This is clear from the testimony of Paul in 1 Cor. vii. 13, where he commanded the faithful wife to dwell with the unbelieving husband, provided she did what was pleasing to him. This is nothing but the confirmation of the marriage laws which each nation had, even of those marriages entered upon in idolatry. Equally therefore we may not repudiate a baptism which is not only not founded upon the pope’s invention or authority, but depends upon the authority of Christ himself and the apostles. For the popes baptized in no other name than that of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. But in whose name do they suppose marriages among idolaters were made? Yet the apostles left these marriages whole and intact, no matter what the laws and gods under which they were undertaken. The more therefore will baptism be untouched by us when it is given in that name in which we give it, even though the pope have administered it. Then they offered as objection too hatefully the matters of salt, butter, saliva, mud and that class of things, nay, even the prayers made over infants, on the ground that neither John nor the apostles are said to have begun or celebrated baptism with prayer. To which I replied, first as to ceremonial: Christ restored some blind men to sight by the medium of touch or of mud others by the words “Receive thy sight” alone, and they saw no less distinctly who regained sight by the medium of touch or mud than they who did by the words alone. But we care nothing for those externals if the church orders them to be abolished, and it has been brought about that it forthwith gave the order, we who preside over the church not being ignorant that in the beginnings of the church there was need of these things, though not so much was attributed to them as in our times, whence we cut them off without difficulty. As to the prayers which they attempted also to tear away, I replied: The Lord Jesus himself prayed over the infants brought to him. What madness is it then to be unwilling that we pray over infants! I had the best of it in this part, the Catabaptists in the other. All this, I say, they know and conceal in their false church, or rather their conspiracy. And so, to return from my digression, since they know from these reasons and this basis of Scripture that it is not the pope’s baptism, but Christ’s, in which we are baptized, and yet they contemn it, it is clear that they act by no right or reason, but in violence and fury—by which they call, though not truly yet plausibly, their own rebaptism baptism—so as to be able to draw the hearts of the untaught to a rebaptism.
Finally, lest by their words it may be manifest whither they tend, they bring finally an exposition of this their baptism and separation, i. e., they say: All who have communion with the dead works of the shades have no communion with those who are called from the world to God. You will consider diligently all this, reader, and I am sure you will discover by what wiles and stratagems they allure to their conspriacy untaught men. Do you not see that in this exposition they wish to seem to intend only that they who most impudently sin ought not to attend the supper of the Lord? But while you see this most clearly, do they not do this same thing under the action of the law of excommunication or banning that immediately precedes? Therefore whither reaches the treatment of one and the same cause under two constitutions? You infer therefore with no trouble that by this principle they wish—no matter what string of words they put together—that he who would come with them to the table of the Lord must also be rebaptized in their catabaptism, and that they who were baptized as infants these men consider to be of the devil’s table. This is therefore the sense of their exposition—men who have gone over to the church of their rebellion and conspiracy belong to those who have been called of God from the world, but they who will not with them betray the church of Christ belong to those who communicate with dead works. For their words and daily abuse testify to this. For when they see marriages or public feasts celebrated among us they straightway cry out: They are Gentiles, and are of the world, not of the church. And they accept as satisfactory neither that Christ and the apostles appeared at a marriage nor that the tribes of Israel celebrated joyously three times a year, nor that the Lord’s Supper would have perpetually remained a friendly feast if the Corinthians had not abused it—or indeed anything else. You see how on the one side what unjust judges they are, in that as soon as they see those things done among us which Christ himself did not abhor, they traduce, curse and condemn. And on the other hand, how sincerely they act when they think of themselves so finely that they boast that they are the people who have been called to God from the world. As if indeed lewdness, adultery, murder, hatred, envy, arrogance, hypocrisy—in which these people excel—all mortals were not worldly. I am not speaking of the immoderate expense, voluptuousness and wantonness of marriages and feasts, but I am so far from condemning joy in moderation that I think he who takes it away from the pious will have to restore it with interest. In a word, by this law they mean that no one shall approach their supper unless he has been rebaptized, unless he has been called to God from the world, i. e., unless he is of the church and heresy of the Catabaptists. For whatever they do or say, a conspiracy it is, according to the word of the prophet in Is. viii., and a most wretched pretence. For what iniquity is equal to his who prefers himself to others on account of his innocence and who winks at no slip of his brother’s, when he ought to forgive seventy and seven times, even if he were really most innocent who so acts? But what do I? They were not of us, therefore they have gone away from us.
Catabaptists. Fourth. We thus decide about the revolt, separation and avoidance, which ought to be manifested as to that evil planted by the devil—that we have no commerce with those nor agree with them in the communication of their abominations, i. e., inasmuch as all who have not yet yielded in obedience to faith, and have not yet given their name to the Lord as wishing to do his will, are exceedingly abominable in the sight of God, therefore nothing is done by them that is not abominable. Now in the world and in all creation there is nothing else but good and evil, faithful and unfaithful, darkness and light, worldly and those out of the world, the temple of the Lord and idols, Christ and Belial, and no one of these can have part with the other. Known to us also is the precept of the Lord in which he orders us to separate from evil, for then he will be our God and we shall be his sons and daughters. Hence he commanded us to go forth from Babylon and the Egyptian land lest we share their evils and penalties which the Lord is going to bring upon them. From all of which we ought to learn that what is not united to our God and Christ is nothing but an abomination which we should shun. Here we understand are all the popish and secundopopish works and the contentions of idolatry, processions to churches, homes of feastings, states and alliances of unbelief and many like things. They are held by the world in esteem, yet nevertheless they fight and lead directly against the precept of Christ according to the measure of wickedness that is in the world. We ought to be alien and separate from all of these; they are pure abominations, which make us hateful to Christ, who has freed us from servitude to the flesh and made us fit for the service of God through the spirit of God which he has given us. By the strength of this constitution there fall away from us the devilish arms of violence, such as swords and other arms and things of this character, and all use of them for either friend or enemy by reason of this word of Christ: Ye must not resist evil.
Reply. What they mean by so confused a statement, which is so torn and patched that it contains nothing sound and fresh, you would hardly divine if they had not said in the title of the work that they dealt with the avoidance of abominable pastors in the church. First, they have so heaped together those statements of nothing in the world but good and evil, Christ and Belial, and the other matters these divine men have piled up together, that they would be very fine, and would give a reason for not assembling in our churches. You must not suppose this is horror of popish pastors. It is against us they rail in this fashion. For they meet with the popish and do not shun their meetings. We who stand by the gospel are assailed here. The reason is that we alone show up and shun catabaptism and their wholesale sedition. By the papists we are called heretics, by the catabaptists secundopapists, because we preserve in the church infant baptism and some other things which they will have nothing of. So are we exercised in the Lord’s glory that we may bring to him a victory the more excellent the more numerous those are by whom we are assailed. I will show in a few words the deceit they conceal in the words of this article. What they allege from Scripture about separation is not said in the sense to which they wrest it. For otherwise we should be compelled to retire not only from the world, as Paul says, but also from the church. For there is nothing human so holy and blameless that it does not fail in some part. We ought therefore first to be separated from ourselves, of which Christ also speaks. Who hates his own life in this world, he says, saves it for life eternal. This separation results when we daily set forth a desire for betterment, and with our might exhort the brethren to this by example and prayer. But according to this we do not seek to be separate from those who have infirmities in common with us. The thing itself warns us, if only we be truly pious and cherish God, how far in each case we must bear. Nay, we should hear piety alone in this matter of condemning or seceding, so that establishing another law is neither possible nor due. Second, we are separated from those who are not weak, but malign, a thing that both piety and love will teach. For Christ himself also taught that the contumacious and impudently wicked man ought to be shunned only when he had reached in obstinacy the point of not respecting the church. But I know whither tends this supercilious avoidance. As soon as they have allured one to their faction, above all they forbid him to go for a month at least, if they cannot get it for all time or for longer, to any assemblage where one teaches who is opposed to their sect. And this order is at the beginning strongly suspected by those who are not yet wholly demented. Indeed, many who return to a good mind testify to this. For they immediately think of the apostles’: “Prove all things.” In order that by the figure of anticipating arguments they may cut off consideration of this among foolish men, they show great diligence in inculcating separation. They therefore condemn conventions, even those in which for the most honorable purposes the city holds assembly, for there are always found men who arraign the audacity of the men. And it is strange that they have omitted here what elsewhere they have urged as a prime objection. In the assemblies of the city [they allege] murders often take place—as if this did not happen more frequently in the market place and the country. According to that we must not assemble in the country or the market place. They condemn also the processions to the churches; they do this with such a form of words as might seem to apply to those votive processions which we formerly engaged in to the image at Lauretum, Baden, Oetingen and elsewhere, while really they condemn the processions to the churches appointed for certain days. These grieve them, for they prefer those where many meet in some wood by night rather than by day, when the way home has to be felt out through the dense darkness by the more comely girls and matrons, and they consummate spiritual marriages with carnal copulation; or where two or three meet at the house of a man who is a little better off, and eat and chat, lead astray the women, and in a word do many things you would hardly dare imagine. By this hunting they find much greater booty than if their auditors should hear in the assemblage of the churches what is against their doctrines. For who will protect the foolish girls and women and countrymen and simpletons from wolves of this sort when they never openly appear, nor after the manner of the apostles go to the synagogues first and disclose the sources of their doctrines in the Scriptures.* But for some months they will waste the time with some worthless idler and contaminate the whole family not only with error, but with harlotry also, and then appear in some spot. And as soon as they are asked to give the reason for their doctrine they fly away and leave the featherless chick to the hawk. Thus they are at variance with both the word and institution of Christ, who both said: “In secret have I said nothing,” and commanded that what they heard in the ear they should preach upon the housetop. Now see these circumcised! Having gained permission of some house owner they ascend the roof, and there caw out that they are now fulfilling what Christ said: preach upon the housetop, etc. But when a traveler or policeman is seen at a distance they turn tail, as is recorded in the fable of the little fox. Now they condemn states also, not seeing that Paul preserved himself from violence by this one means. Is it not clear now that they have come to the point of obscuring all things, of dissolving all friendship and all union? Who ever forbade one to be a citizen? These learned men have spoken of alliances of unfaithfulness in place of alliances of the unfaithful after the Hebrew style. Alliances then are to be given up, unless we are not ready to make shipwreck by their baptism. Do you see whither they tend? For they add that they are sheer abominations which make us hateful to Christ, who has freed us from the servitude to the flesh, etc. What is this servitude of which they speak? Of course it is obedience to the Christian church, assemblage in all honesty at public meetings and in private interests of brotherhood for the sake of order and quiet, where obligations that are lawfully undertaken and cannot be left undischarged without injury and similar observances are preserved. Freedom from these and all obligations, I say, these pious interpreters in this matter assert in somewhat obscure terms at present they have received from Christ, but they will preach this openly as soon as they have gained a church upon the strength of which they suppose they can rely. So that new tragedies are to be looked for by us. I do not greatly condemn that carrying of arms which some nations have always done as a custom* —such as the German and Swiss—but I detest murder. This, however, does not always come through the sword, but sometimes by spear or rock. Therefore you will have mountains and forests removed, for out of these weapons are obtained. One man dies from the seed of a raisin, another from a goat hair in a glass of milk. I myself saw a man among my people of the Toggenburg who died from the sting of a single bee. Are then grapes, goats and bees to be done away with? But I know whither this also points. The power of every magistracy is particularly hateful to them, and they are not content with what the apostle commands: Fear not authority, but do what is right and lawful. Not applicable to the magistracy is the saying of Christ: Resist not evil, nor that other; you ought not to rule. This has reference to apostles and bishops and each private individual, for authority is of God. It belongs to those to fear legitimate authority who seek the confusion of all things. Hence they snarl out I don’t know what foolish statements all the time about laying down arms. Not that I either approve or assail this custom of carrying arms. But I do condemn the disposition toward slaughter beyond all mortals so thoroughly that nothing do I hate more.* I, too, teach that arms are to be laid aside, but I teach that the sword is to be drawn by which they may be struck who have done injury, those be relieved who have suffered, and those praised who have done their work well.
Catabaptists. Fifth. We thus determine about pastors of the church of God, that there be some one pastor of a flock according to the order of Paul in all things, who shall have good testimony from those who are outside the faith. Let it be his duty to read, warn, teach, instruct, exhort, correct or communicate in the church, and to preside well over all the brethren and sisters, as well in prayer as in breaking of bread, and in all things pertaining to the body of Christ to watch that it may be supported and increased, that the name of God be cherished through us and be praised and the mouth shut to blasphemy. But support ought to be supplied him from the church which elects him, if he lack. For he who serves the gospel should live by the gospel, as the Lord ordained. But if a pastor have done aught worthy of blame or correction, action should not be taken against him unless by the testimony of two or three witnesses. When they sin they should be publicly reproved, that the others may fear. But if a pastor be either driven out or be led by the cross to the Lord another should succeed him at once, so that the people and flock of God be not scattered, but receive consolation and be preserved by exhortation.
Reply. We have seen in a former paragraph how perplexingly and confusingly, captiously and obscurely they treated of separation from abominations, for their cause had little justice in it. Here we see how clear they are when they deal with their church (it is wonderful, the effrontery with which they call it a church) and their pastors. There they were after this one thing—to show their treachery legitimate, both because of the morals of men and the bishops, and they were torn by conflicting emotions, and, as is said, held the wolf by the ears. For if they extravagantly blamed the morals of the faithful they would incur the charge of evil speaking and malevolence, but if they thought moderately well of them, those whom they had brought over to themselves would not be sufficiently aroused to their secession. So since they dared not speak freely, both because of fear and caution as well as because of the injustice of their cause and malice, they concluded to speak obscurely and suspiciously, so that none attacking in open contest might easily catch the oily and chameleon-like adversary. For when you were going to say: Why do you encourage secession from the churches of the faithful, they would be ready to reply that they taught only separation from the evil, and that legitimately. When you objected that you do not denounce separation from the wicked, but that they seem to speak of separation from those whose life is wholly endurable, they could reply by heaping up, in dramatic forestalling of objections, what they can in no way correctly defend—the world, those out of the world, good and evil, God and the devil, Christ and Belial, etc. By this you could be led to reason thus: It is true what they say; all things known are either divine or worldly, and so if you found aught worldly in yourself you would condemn yourself, even if you should have commerce with worldly matters, and so being aroused would go over to the betrayers, not reflecting that when you had gone over to them you would at once find human misery there, too, just as much as among those who as citizens do as the law directs, meet in assembly, attend marriages and public feasts, bear arms and do the other things which those men blame as the very worst possible. Nay, you would find worse misery, for they are steeped in abominable crimes—to use their own vocabulary. They render his own to none, they defile wives, fail to judge parricide, take away the magistracy, eliminate obedience. But I return to the proposition. When in the former paragraph, I say, they encouraged defection, they purposely said everything in obscure terms, chiefly for the reasons I have assigned. But how plain and clear are they when they speak of the pastor of their own church! They concede, then, under this rule the support to the pastor of a heretical church which they deny to the bishop of the Christian church. Where now are those words: “They eat at the table of Jezebel; they themselves devour the homes of widows,” though at that time none of us had more than seventy gold pieces, and we all said that it is much better to live from those goods which were first among the churches, or from the tithes or returns that might be collected, than, leaving those to I know not whom, weigh down the churches by a new begging of support. But thanks be to God the leaders* have thoroughly disclosed themselves here. Now they mark out support for the bishop of their own church. Where, pray, will they get it? Do you not cry out that you are more than sufficiently burdened, and probably with justice, under the innumerable contributions, taxes, giving and other exactions? But this is sweet—what they add in the marking out of support: If a pastor need aught! As if all those leaders were not most lost vagrants, who either save their soul with their feet when they owe anything or are so slothful and idle that they will not provide support by their hands. What then do you suppose they lack? A part of support? They who are so slothful and lazy that when you have supplied all support they are hardly able to endure the labor of living. The atrabilious men! It is bile, and not the spirit, for which they sell themselves. Do we not know that it is from bile and an evil admixture that the crazy commit suicide? And are we ignorant of those atrabilious fellows who labor with their own impatience, and shall we trust their lies about the spirit? I know that all is not borne along of its own will, but is governed and disposed by the providence of God, but at the same time I see also that by his providence these monsters are led like wild boars into our liquid pools to prove us, so that it may appear whether we are faithful or not. That they have sewed together in this article of theirs a patchwork from many passages of Scripture—this I do not think needs exposition.
Catabaptists. Sixth. We determine or decide about the sword as follows: The sword is an ordinance of God outside of the perfection of Christ, by which the evil man is punished and slain and the good man defended. In the law the sword is ordained against the evil for punishment and death, and for this the magistracy of the world is constituted. But in the perfection of Christ we use only excommunication, for the admonishing and exclusion of the sinner, for the destruction of the flesh alone, as admonishment and warning that he sin no more. Here we are asked by many who do not understand the will of Christ toward us: Can a Christian use, or ought he to use, the sword against evil for the defense of the good or from love? This reply is therefore revealed to us unanimously: Christ teaches us to learn from himself. But he is mild and gentle of heart, and we shall find rest to our souls. So Christ said to the woman taken in adultery, not that she should be stoned according to the law (and yet he had said: As my Father hath commanded me, so I speak), but he spoke to her with commiseration and indulgence and warning not to sin again, and said: Go and sin no more. We must in the same way observe this according to the rule of ex-communication.
Reply. I will not interpret the whole of this paragraph in its prolixity at once, but divide it into parts, and confute it as briefly as possible. Therefore when they say that the sword is an ordinance of God outside the perfection of Christ, etc., I would know to what they refer the perfection of Christ, to the head or the body, i. e., do they mean to say: Christ himself is so perfect that he needs no sword (i. e., the magistracy,) to chastise or punish himself, or do they mean that Christians need no sword or magistracy? If the first, I assert that the Lord of lords and King of kings is so far from needing magistracy that all magistrates draw their authority down from heaven through him. If the second, I strive with all my powers against the proposition that Christians need no magistracy. For I grant this, that it is easy for them to say that a real Christian needs no magistracy, for of faith he omits none of those things that ought to be done and does none of the deeds that are not right. But it is our misfortune that among men we do not find so absolute perfection, and may not hope to find that all who confess Christ are wholly happy, as long as we bear about this domicile of the body. Therefore the saying: The sword is an ordinance of God outside of the perfection of Christ is true in this sense—wherever the members of Christ do not arrive at the measure of the perfection of the head there is need for the sword. But they mean something else entirely, i. e., that the heretical church of the rebaptized needs no sword, for it is within the perfection of Christ. For the foolish men assume what the monks used to assume, viz., that they are in a state of perfection, although they do not use those words. For when they separate from the world, crying to brethren of the same kidney, “Go ye out from them,” do they do anything but guard themselves from being defiled by some filth from us? Afterwards when they say: But in the perfection of Christ we use excommunication only, etc., you see how they assert that they have perfection within their church when they say: We use. These most seditious men therefore would take away the sword so that they may the more freely throw all into confusion. There is no need for you to say that there are so many impious that there is no danger of taking away the sword by their preaching. For they do not go to the impious. But when they see those who have embraced the gospel—even now so great a number that if they should undertake to do what those do who defend the pope they might hope to come off superior—if they could draw these to their faction, all magistracy and obligation will be abolished. Well known is the cry of that Catabaptist when he returned to Christ: If we had been as superior to you as you were to us, you would have seen whether we had swords and oath or not. And when they would free us from all fear, and promise that all will come out as we desire it, whither, pray, do they look, if not to the multitude, for when they have gained this they will sail into port? They consequently desire to cajole those who have received the gospel to lay aside the sword. For among them the authority of the word is valid. If you repeat six hundred times the words of Christ to others, the tyrants and the impious popes, they are not all disturbed. In the perfection of Christ, viz., in their evil church, they would have the sword removed, so that they might more freely associate with harlots, defile matrons, seduce with their blandiloquence the women, confuse all settled conditions, nay, overthrow cities and men’s dwelling places. For thus a little band of robbers will be able to compel the making common the goods of those who are unwilling to put them to common use. So that the more the sword ought to be preserved even on their own account, since they assail with so many stratagems the public peace, the more they deny that it can be employed among Christians. When therefore they lead us to Christ, who offered himself as an example to us of gentleness and humility, they wish to appear to have done right; indeed they would in our judgment also have done right if faith were with them. For if it were, they would continue to be mild and of humble spirit, even though none followed them, but now since there is nothing bitterer or more harsh [than they], it becomes evident that gentleness is taught by them just as we have heard that temperance was taught once by a most eager glutton. For when any edible was brought in of which he was particularly fond, he used to warn his table-companions not to swallow it hurriedly and hastily, but quietly to dwell upon it and to masticate it for a long time, and so increase the pleasure by lengthening it, in order that he might gorge himself the more abundantly. So since there is nothing harsher than these (for what age has ever seen such evil speaking?) they refer others to Christ to learn gentleness, while they themselves go as far from his example as possible. Then they adduce the example of Christ when he dealt with the woman adulterer, i. e., he did not hand her over to be stoned, but regarded her with compassion, and said: Go and sin no more. Indeed they write all this charmingly, so that you may the more easily understand that those spirits are even now propitious to adulterers. But look here, you slothful and over-sensitive fellows, have you not read that Christ gave all sorts of precedents in accordance with the diversity of occasions? How often do you read the most cruel things? Here then learn to recognize a divine and punishing justice. How often, on the contrary, do you read the most gentle? There recognize pity. Then in a word learn this, that he whose first coming had nothing harsh in it, with that same one there is also the most complete justice, but since in that first coming his purpose was not to judge or condemn, but to save, he preserved the limits of his mission. Unless you show me that somewhere during that advent he assumed the authority of a judge, you will never move me by that example [to believe] that the magistracy is not lawful for a Christian. This you cannot do, for he fled when once they wished to make him king. But now that that mission has been completed, and he has sat down at the right hand of God, see whether or not he has destroyed cruel murderers and given his vineyard to other workers. It is no strange thing that so many sects are born daily; it is wonderful that more are not produced, especially when we have so wise interpreters of Scripture that they do not yet discriminate between Christ’s omnipotence, providence and divinity, by which he ever governs all, and his mission which he performed here. For when they behold that which he did in accordance with his mission here immediately they found upon those laws. Here he did not take upon himself the functions of a judge, for he did not come for that. Let no one therefore be judge. By no means. For that is to confound divine and human law.
Catabaptists. Secondly, the question is asked about the sword, whether a Christian may pronounce or give judgment in secular matters, between force and force, strife and strife, in which the unfaithful differ. To which we reply: Christ would not decide between brethren who quarreled about a bequest, but drove them away. Consequently we must do likewise.
Reply. I think it is clear enough why Christ put away this case; he had not come to prepare a kingdom for himself in this world, but that he who was Lord of all might subject himself to all. And I assert that the words of the Saviour prove this. For who, said he, made me a judge and a divider over you? Behold how he rejected the office of a judge! For although Christ was lord of all, yet in the dispensation of his humanity he never proclaimed himself king. When then he denies that he is a judge, he denies that this case concerns him; but meanwhile, when the occasion offers, does he not discuss the rendering to each of his own?—something that he almost never omits. If ever a reason is given for discussing necessary matters, he always passes from the gross to the spiritual. But here in passing by this he openly teaches that there was some judge to whom they could refer the case, but Christ was not he, so he made no decision. Therefore we see the office of judge rather confirmed than done away, even among the devout. So Paul’s admonition to bear injury rather than litigate with a brother does not involve that a Christian may not be a judge; it urges us not to be litigious. So also Christ warned against lawsuits because of the danger, since it often occurred in fact that he who hoped to return from the court a winner was thrown into prison till he could pay the whole debt. But this is excessively Christian when they say: In the lawsuits which the unbelieving engage in—meaning by the unbelieving all who are not of their heretical church. For they assert that a Christian may not exercise the office of judge in external matters—yet this is a divine matter if rightly performed. While they arrogate to themselves the judgment of the inner man (for they call all unbelieving who of a whole heart cherish the true God and the one Jesus Christ, provided these do not follow their erring flock). And they do this openly. For often two of them pass by good and devout men and one of them, the other being left to go on, stops to chat with our people; then the one who has gone on, turning about, cries out to the other: Brother, what are you doing among the unbelievers? Go away from them! Gentle men, indeed, who occasion some damage as often as opportunity permits! Which class seems to you, reader, to be the gentler and more humble—they who think nothing but violence and injury or those who overcome all audacity by sweetness?
Catabaptists. Third, about the sword it is asked whether a Christian ought to hold office when it is appointed to him. We reply that Christ was about to be made king, yet he fled and did not look back, according to the ordinance of his Father. So ought we to do, i. e., follow him, and we shall not walk in the darkness. For he said also: He that would follow me must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He even interdicted the power of the sword, and thus denounced it: The kings of the Gentiles rule, but ye are not such. So Paul says: Whom God foreknew he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. Peter also said that he had suffered, not ruled, and left us an example that we might follow in his footsteps.
Reply. That Christ would have been king if he had not fled has been discussed above. For he came not to be tended and ministered to as tyrants are, but to minister; not to give the whole world for the redemption of his own skin, as you Catabaptists do, betraying all your brethren when peril threatens, but to give his life for all mankind. He came for this, I say. Yet he never forbade a Christian and one worthy of empire to become a king even. “Who would follow me must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”—this was not said by him to indicate that no one could take office because he did not. For many kings have despised themselves and followed him, though retaining their royal authority until the end. If Saul had done this he would not have rendered the mountains of Gilboa illustrious by his calamity. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise authority over them, but ye are not so,” was not said to interdict from the magistracy. We ought to consider the occasion by which he was led to express this sentiment. The apostles had been contending about the leadership. Let us then recognize that it was said to them. For as he had come not to rule, but to redeem, so also he sent the disciples: As the Father, he said, hath sent me, so I also send you, i. e., to preach, not to rule. So since the apostles acted in Christ’s place, they ought to restrain their desires to rule after the pattern of their archetype Christ. He commanded them therefore not to rule; nay, to each private individual he implied that he should not put himself forward. I will prove this by the testimony of the apostles themselves. Peter ordered slaves to obey their masters, not only good and humane ones, but even the perverted. Behold how he opposes the perverse to good and humane! He means by the good those who were faithful; by the perverse, not the harsh and unkind, but those not in the faith. Therefore there were faithful masters. Peter also baptized Cornelius the centurion. The high functionary of the Ethiopian Candace was baptized by Philip. But if, according to your opinion, a Christian may not exercise the magistracy, and penitence and confession of faith are required before being baptized, then Peter and Philip did wrong in baptizing these before they had resigned office, or a Gentile who has been placed in office may also be baptized and received into the church. But in Paul we find mention of a Christian Quaestor and faithful master. For in writing to the Ephesians he says: Slaves who have faithful masters. And to the powerful of the Colossians he writes that they should act justly to the slaves whom they possess. I pass by Sergius Paulus. Now neither Peter nor Paul in writing to magistrates and masters discourage them from mastership. But when they write to the bishops, how often, pray, do they advise not to compass lordship in their duty, i. e., in the inheritance of the Lord, not to circumvent the brethren or throw a snare or be violent or the like! Clear, therefore, is the word of Christ: Ye are not such. Even the apostles understood it only as directed to themselves. What these cite from Paul respecting conformity to the image of Christ applies equally to kings and beggars; nay, they are more conformed to the image of the Son of God who in the height of power place themselves among the lowest, as did the Son of God, than we who creep upon the ground. Peter, they say, asserted that he had suffered, not ruled. He did that for which he was sent, as has been said often enough.
Catabaptists. Finally we learn that a Christian may not be a magistrate from what follows. The magistracy is a carnal office, a Christian is spiritual. Magistrates’ home and dwelling are corporeal in this world, all Christians’ are in heaven. The first are citizens of this world, Christians of heaven. The arms of the former are carnal and against the flesh; of the latter, spiritual and against the machinations of the devil. Earthly magistrates employ brass and iron, but Christians put on the armor of God—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God. In short, just as our head is disposed toward us, so ought all the members of the body in their entirety to be disposed through him, that there be no strife in the body to destroy it. For every kingdom divided against itself perishes. Since therefore Christ is as he is described, the members must necessarily be such that the body may remain sound and whole, to its own preservation and upbuilding.
Reply. You stupid seducers, for what more appropriate words can I apply to them? The magistrates’ office is carnal, say they. They might say at least that their power is directed toward the carnal and external. For are those things carnal that are mentioned in Ex. xviii. 21: Provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, who hate covetousness. Therefore a judge ought above all men to be rightly affected to all and unwavering, giving no decision in partiality or hatred or fear or violence. But who can better do this than a most devout person? But because he has to do with those who do whatever they please, according to the impulse of the flesh, does not make him less spiritual than those who think themselves so mightily so. It actually occurs that a father has to judge his son, as occurred to Saul, Brutus, Manlius and others. In such cases what are we to think a judge has most need of? Firmness, surely. But the flesh does not supply that, but either desire for glory or contention, and then it is not firmness, but persistency—such as that livid kind of yours—or from love of righteousness, which can be from God alone. A judge of this sort is more spiritual than those gentle little fellows who preach to us a kind of womanish gentleness, especially since there is so much evil among mortals. A judge of this sort is of more advantage to the glory of God and the advancement of the public peace than the whole Catabaptist heresy, though it should include its thousands of thousands. Consequently a judge or magistrate ought particularly to be a Christian and a spiritually-minded man. So God himself deigned to call them by his own name Elohim, because they should be most like God as high priests of righteousness, equity and firmness. “Their home” (i. e., judges’) “and habitation are corporeal and in this world; Christians’ are in heaven.” As if those words sounded to us of heaven! Where are you, pray, when you say these things? In the world, I think! So you, too, are in this world. If then a Christian may not be a magistrate because his habitation is in this world, then you are not Christians, for you are in the world. But how is a Christian’s habitation in heaven? In that he lives there in contemplation and moves thither in possession and in fruition, no doubt.* Therefore a judge, since he is ever engaged in contemplation of God, since he is every moment considering the safety of the people under him and the rendering of exact justice to each, is he not in heaven, so far as contemplation is concerned, rather than all the Catabaptists, who, if they honored God, would not engage in counsels so foolish and audacious. Finally, a judge who fears God will ascend after this life unto him whose name and office he bears here, when those seducers will all be sunk in the depth of their own evil baptism. Here meanwhile, magistrates and judges, be ye mindful of your duties, for not otherwise is horror of you conceived than because those who render right to every one are so rare among you, especially in this time when all abounds in violence and cruelty. But I have not time to pursue this here. After this manner I reply to their grandiloquent words—the citizenship of these is in this world, of Christians, in heaven. For the Catabaptists thus far have no citizenship here, no church in which they may live and watch, as a bishop and pastor should, but they are like wolves that lie in wait in the forests, that seize the prey and flee, that burn and then escape. The arms of these are carnal and against the flesh, they say, but Christians’ are spiritual and against the forts of the devil. They do not need me as a teacher here, for we see clearly enough that their wars are not against the flesh, for in all they yield to it. So earthly magistrates, they say, are armed with brass and iron; Catabaptists with hypocrisy and evil speaking, lies, injury, discord, faithlessness, disaster and the word of the devil—to give them altogether the gifts that are theirs in place of what they claim for themselves. “We ought in all to imitate Christ”—who denies it? But what prevents a pious judge from being, through the goodness and grace of God, as like Christ as is a Catabaptist? Rather, as I have said, he is the more able as he is the more like him, since when he was placed aloft he thought of humble things. But the Catabaptist ever assumes the highest in his own impudence. And the kingdom of Christ is not divided when a Christian exercises the magistracy; it is built up and united. This is clear from one example of Scripture, many times repeated, where cohorts of slaves are said to have embraced the faith of their masters. And it has been repeated by many cities in these times of ours, for as soon as the gospel began to be preached they gave opportunity to hear it to the people entrusted to them by the Lord, just as when faithful Jehosaphat ordered the law to be expounded by the priests and Levites, supported by several cohorts, throughout all his dominions. They opened a door by public command to the gospel and its ministers. And they have shut the door upon the wolves and false apostles, whether they have proceeded from the court of the pope or from the dens and caves of the Catabaptists. By this deed, glory to God, great growth of the gospel has at once been seen. But, as I have said, among the Christians they keep agitating these perverse teachings about not exercising the magistracy or taking the oath, so that if possible they may sow their errors without punishment or fear.
Catabaptists. Seventh. We thus decide and determine concerning the oath: 1. An oath is a confirmation among those who litigate or make promises. And the law directs, 2, that it be done by the name of God alone truly, and not falsely. But Christ, who teaches the perfection of the law, forbids all oaths, whether true or false, whether by heaven or earth or Jerusalem or oneself. And this for the reason which he adds, saying, 3: For ye cannot make one hair white or black. So notice! All swearing is prohibited because we are unable to perform any of those things we promise with an oath, for the very least of our possessions we cannot change. But some do not believe the simple precepts of God, saying, 4: Since God swore to Abraham by himself who was God, at the time when he promised to be kind to him and to be his God, if only he kept his precepts, why may I not also swear when I make a promise to any one? We reply: Hear what Scripture says—when God wished to offer a promise to his heirs, with surety that his counsel would not change, he interposed an oath, that we might hope Listen to the import of this Scripture: God has the power of taking an oath, which he prohibits to you, for to him all things are possible. God gave an oath to Abraham, says Scripture, to show that his counsel would not change, that is, since no one could resist his power, so it was necessary that he should preserve his oath. But we cannot, as was shown above by the word of Christ, keep an oath or do what we have sworn to do, so we ought not to swear. Again some say that it is in the Old Testament, not in the New, that we are forbidden to swear by God; in the New it is forbidden to swear by heaven or earth or Jerusalem. To which we reply: Hear the Scripture, 5: Who sweareth by the temple or heaven sweareth by the throne of God and by him who sitteth therein. You see how to swear by heaven is forbidden, for it is the throne of God; how much more serious to swear by God himself! O blind and foolish, which is the greater, the throne or he that sitteth thereon? Some even dare say: If it is wrong to swear even when the Lord’s name is used to support the truth, then Peter and Paul sinned, for they swore. To this we reply, 6: Peter and Paul only testify to this, that by God himself a promise was made to Abraham by an oath, but they themselves make no promises, as the examples clearly reveal. For testifying and swearing are entirely distinct. When an oath is taken something is promised for the future. 7. To Abraham when an old man Christ was promised, whom we received after a long interval. But when one testifies he testifies to something present, whether it is true and good or not. Just as Simeon said to Mary about Christ and testified: Lo, this one is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign to be spoken against. After this manner Christ taught us when he said: Let your speech be yea, yea, and nay, nay, for whatsoever is added to this is of evil. Christ warns us thus: Your speech ought to be yea, yea, that we may not understand him as permitting an oath. Christ is simply yea and nay. And all who seek him simply shall find him the Amen.
Reply. So far you have discussed what you decided about the oath. I will then reply to each error in order by its number, to avoid eternal repetition of your remarks. 1. Who, pray, has given you this definition of an oath? You have indeed touched on the practice but the essential nature of an oath you either do not know or maliciously pass by. You tell only what an oath we use, but what it is or how taken you say nothing of. If you should tell this frankly, an oath would cause no great dread in men, but this would not suit your designs, for you wish to destroy the magistracy and the power of which it consists. Take away the oath and you have dissolved all order. The burgomaster summons a senator who does not obey. You say: Let him have the policeman arrest him. How will he obey? The burgomaster sees a Catabaptist inciting the people to rebellion, and, wishing to see that no evil befalls the state, he orders him not to teach in secret (for they who are on the side of the gospel in sincerity easily overcome him when he teaches openly). Or he forbids him to teach publicly or privately, and orders the Catabaptist to be arrested when he despises every order. But the policeman does not obey. Who will arrest [the Catabaptist]—the burgomaster? But the other is stronger. You see, good reader, all order is overthrown when the oath is done away. Still, if the Scriptures required this, I would not oppose, for he by whose providence all is governed will never fail the house of Israel. But he wills not this confusion. Give up the oath in any state then according to the Catabaptists’ desire, and at once the magistracy is removed and all things follow as they would have them. Good gods! What a confusion and upturning of everything! For no one is so destitute of all wisdom in an emergency as this class of men. They would have everything rectified by their shouts, just like that physician, or rather quack, who runs to his single cureall for every sickness. But, to come to the point, an oath is an appeal to God in deciding or vouching for something. This is not our definition, but his through whom we swear. Ex. xxii. 10 thus commands: If a man deliver unto his neighbor an ass or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep, and it die or be hurt or driven away by robbers, no one seeing it, then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he with whom it was left hath not put his hand to his neighbor’s goods, and the owner of the beast shall accept the oath, and he with whom it was left shall not restore aught. Here you see an oath is an appeal to God, for it says: An oath of the Lord (or of God), for the word is יהוה, [Yahweh.] But this appeal is nothing but a vowing of himself to the extreme punishment of the divine wrath if he is wrong. For since he calls as witness him, of whom alone he confesses himself to be a worshiper, and [of him] who can by no means be deceived, though man may, he bears witness under penalty of losing him whom alone he worships and who alone knows the hearts of men, that he is not deceiving and will not deceive. This authority of Exodus deals with the deciding [judicial] character of the oath. In Gen. xxi. 23 we have the words of Abimelech to Abraham, as follows: Therefore swear unto me by God that thou wilt not harm me nor my posterity, etc. And afterward Abraham says: I will swear; and again: There they both sware. Here again we have an attestation by God to do something. For Abraham swore to do no harm, which oath he kept. This, I say, is an oath when you define it. The Catabaptists call it a “decision,” and omit the appeal to God, that the simple may not reason thus among themselves. How is it that God is not to be invoked when the safety of a neighbor is in danger? An oath is therefore a divine thing, a sacred anchor to which we flee when human wisdom can go no farther. For who knows what is in man except God alone? He therefore betrays him who swears falsely by him. For a man is believed for the faith and religious trust which he has in God to have spoken [truly] and to be ready to fulfill. And it is through him that he deceives. For the benefit, then, of one’s neighbor an oath is commanded by God. And since the whole law and the prophets hang upon these two commands: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, then the oath itself is an appeal to God, whom you uniquely love and serve, and is for the advantage of the neighbor. Who then will dare against all the authority of Scripture to deprive the people of God of the oath? God cannot be offended by an oath, for he is called as a witness, so that if we are not believed yet we may be believed, since we will on no account betray him. For all will be praised who shall swear by him. And the neighbor also will not be hurt, for the oath is given for his advantage, that he may either know that to be true which he did not know, or may be sure that what he deprecates will not be done by his neighbor or what he asks will be granted. So far from a devout man not being able to take an oath, he will be impious who refuses when a matter worthy this attestation demands.
But the whole source of the error arises from their not seeing the opinion of Christ in Matt. v. 33; indeed they do not know the very words. For the German word “schwören,” to which they suppose the Greek ἐπιορκεῖν, the Latin “jurare” is similar, has another signification than what they suppose. For when we say in German “Der schwört,” i. e., he swears, it is uncertain whether a formal oath is referred to or whether one is just swearing off-hand. The signification of this word is twofold. The Latin “jurare” is always used in a good sense, i. e., for asking a sacred obligation. But “dejerare” is used for swearing, either truly or falsely, outside of sacred obligations, which we might translate into German by a new word, “zuschwören,” equivalent to the Greek word ἐπιορκεῖν. So the Latin has three words, “jurare,” “dejerare” and “perjerare;” the first means a sacred obligation, the second to swear off-hand to anything either falsely or truly, the third to swear falsely. Christ would not forbid us to swear [“jurare”], but to swear lightly or off-hand [“dejerare”]. But as these men do not, or will not, see this (I have often set it forth to them), they willingly and wittingly stumble. But to show this is the sense of Christ’s words I will examine the words themselves, as follows: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old, Thou shalt not ἐπιορκεῖν, i. e., “dejerare,” or swear lightly. Our translation has it, “Thou shalt not commit perjury,” which is not wholly bad. For the word “perjerare,” though never used in a good sense, does not always indicate the violation or transgression or pretended fulfilment of an oath, but sometimes it means “dejerare,” when “dejerare” is used in a bad sense. For “dejerare” is sometimes used in a good sense, as I have sometimes observed. While therefore the words of Christ are: It was said by them of old, Thou shalt not commit perjury, you will nowhere find among the Hebrews this interdict of perjury, nor among the Greeks. But you will find in Ex. xx. 7: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God “temere,” which our translator translates “in vain.” You will find, Lev. xix. 12: Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, where the Greek interprets: οὑκ ὁμεῖσϑε τῷ ὁνόματί μου επ’ ἀδίκῳ, i. e., Ye shalt not swear by my name to that which is wicked or false. The Latin translates: Non perjurabis in nomine meo. You see how elegantly the divine Jerome has used here the word perjurare for falsely “dejerare,” not for violating an oath. It was therefore forbidden by them of old (2) to take the name of God rashly, i. e., as it is expounded in the passage from Leviticus—not to swear to a falsehood. So in them this opinion rose out of this understanding—if the name of God were taken to that which was true no harm was done even though this was in ordinary and daily discourse, but that it was not permitted to apply it either as “adjurare” or “dejerare” to a light, vain, false, fictitious or lying matter. This opinion it was that Christ combatted, thinking that they ought not “dejerare” either to the true or false in ordinary discourse; everything was to be said and done so truly that if one said ναὶ, that is, Yea, the neighbor should know that what the other had said was true, or if he said Nay, the neighbor should know that for truth. About the official oath nothing is said here. For the passage runs: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old, Thou shalt not forswear thyself. Where is this said? Why, where the discussion is not about perjury, but of “dejerare.” There it was permitted to take the name of God in asseveration of the truth. There follows: Thou shalt pay thy vows. Whither does this point? If the discussion is of official oath, where then does the former passage, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, hold in this sense: Thou shalt not fail thy oath? It is clear therefore that he speaks about those oaths in which people undertook off-hand to do something, just as if he had said: All that thou hast sworn to do must be done correctly and lawfully, in order that by this he might deter from rash vows and swearing, on the ground that there was danger that the Lord would require it if you undertook anything lightly. Then he follows with: But I say to you, swear not at all. But of what swearing does he speak? Why, of that which was lawful for the ancients when he wished to call upon the name of God for some matter true and important. For we ought not in a matter true and important adjure, dejure or promise anything of our own private authority. Here no mention occurs of the oath required by public authority. What follows establishes this. He says: Neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne, nor by earth, for it is his footstool, nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king, nor by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. These examples show that Christ did not refer to the oath [required by magistrates]. For which of the Hebrews ever took [such] an oath by heaven, earth, Jerusalem or his head? On the other hand, who does not swear off-hand by these? One man promises something by the cross of Christ, another asseverates by heaven and earth. This then is what Christ forbade. To this he directs the wind-up of his whole discourse. Let your speech be such that yea means yea, and nay, nay. There you have it. He does not speak about our oath; he does not touch upon the forum or court or magistracy, but upon daily conversation in our familiar intercourse.
Perhaps I seem to some to argue for this opinion tamely. But if they weigh as often as I have done the passages from Exodus xx. and Leviticus xix, in the Hebrew, the Greek and the Latin, I know they will think as I do. You see now whether enough can be said against the Catabaptists, since they have not considered the double sense of the word, but have made a misunderstanding the basis of their error.
(3) Nor is this a good reason for refusing to make oath, that we cannot change a hair, for if it were legitimate we might not reply with even a yea to our neighbor. I have answered yea to many who asked me whether I were going to lead an army against the Catabaptists, yet at no moment was I secure from him who knocks equally at all doors. Still I was right. Yet I was uncertain that I should live, much more write, but no one will accuse me of falsehood. A brother promises another to be on hand to-morrow. But because, taken down with fever, he does not come, he is not accused of falsehood, nor does any one blame him, for God gives him the excuse of necessity. So also when he is summoned to an enquiry by the magistrate under oath, his reply is not such that the power of almighty God cannot rightly exempt him. For when Abraham swore to Abimelech himself, did he not swear to do something? Why then did he do it? Especially when the Catabaptists declare that he could not do anything, and assert that Christ meant that? Under the law, they say, it was permitted to make oath. But Abraham made this reply on oath 430 years before, and he was not under the law, but under faith. For the apostle makes him our father by faith. It is clear then that Christ spoke against that insanity under which many swear of their own motion so frivolously and promise something as of their own authority, or swear not to do what they could not avoid. They also call to witness for any sort of thing, not only the names of heaven and earth, but also of the living God, thus bringing contumely upon God to their own evil.
(4) When they seek to weaken that example of God swearing to Abraham himself, do they not weaken themselves? How often have they said in the foregoing that we are to do what we see that Christ did? But they add, this is possible to God—to do what he promised—but not to us. Must not the same be said of Christ? So I say: Christ could love his enemies, I cannot. So I must not. You see, good reader, that although they try and move many things, yet in all it is shown that they have laid the foundations of their error in some marked arrogance or malice or at least ignorance, as in this case. For in their persuasive discourse from the words: “For thou art not able to change one hair,” they infer that by this Christ would take away the solemn obligation known as an oath.
(5) They reason from the less to the greater: If one may not swear by the throne, how much less by God himself who sitteth upon it? Not inaptly do they infer, if they speak of perjury or of swearing lightly. For if God forbids swearing lightly by his throne because it is his, how much less should we swear lightly by him? But if they speak of the obligation [of the oath], they infer wrongly that if we may not assume an obligation by his throne we may not by himself. An oath is not legitimately taken and as it ought to be, “any created thing,” but “by God” himself. An oath is a religious matter; he who makes oath binds himself to the sum of religion; in religion the chief thing is adoration. Just as it would be illegitimate to infer: The throne is not to be adored, therefore God is not. So it is no less illegitimate: By the throne oath is not to be taken, therefore not by him who sits upon it.
(6) When they speak of the testimonies of Peter and Paul, they do not know of what they chatter. They have not yet learned that the word “testify” is in most elegant use among the Hebrews for proclaiming a thing boldly and constantly. That one may give testimony is clear from 1 Tim. v. 19: Against an elder receive not an accusation but before two or three witnesses. I ask first whether the apostle speaks here of Christian witnesses or the unbelieving? If of the unbelieving, then every moment bishop and church are in danger. For the more holy and innocent one is, the more do the perfidious assail him; and Paul seems to have ill advised for the church and the bishop when he has given the unbelieving the opportunity to testify. But if he speaks of witnesses within the church, it results that a Christian may give testimony. My second question then is—were they who gave testimony sworn or not? If unsworn, again the bishop is in peril, for there are many false brethren, many who the more vigilantly the bishop watches, the more hostilely aim at his deposition. In short, it is the fact in human affairs that there are few whom you can believe unsworn; indeed they say that among the Romans in reality Cato was the only one whom they could believe without an oath. In fact it is not very likely that within the church witnesses were ever received without oath, for under the spirit and prudence that was powerful with them they easily saw that if men unsworn were accustomed to speak against the bishop, daily empty accusations and movements would be aroused against the bishop. If you had weighed this testimony a little more carefully, ye immersers not only of bodies, but of souls, you would not teach that an oath may not be taken. But what good do I hope from you? For whatever you assert you affirm willingly and wittingly against the Scripture.
(7) When an oath is taken, they say, something future is promised. But what is promised for the future when he with whom his neighbor’s ass has been left swears that he has not put his hand to his neighbor’s goods? See how learned and prudently you dispose your trifles. At first an oath was a decision only between litigants; now it is only a promise. What is this but babbling forth whatever comes into your head? When any one testifies, they say, he testifies regarding the present, whether it is true and good, just as Simeon testified: Lo, this one is placed for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, etc. What if the apostles testified regarding a past event—the crucified Christ—throughout the world? And ye shall be my witnesses, not only in Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth. The apostles testified therefore to a past event. Also Simeon testified to the future when he said that Christ was to be a sign to be spoken against. I myself now testify to you of the future, and faithful is the word, i. e., it is sure. I testify to you, whether you accept the monitor or not, that the time will come when they who are now led astray by you will recover their sight and will be aroused against you like shepherds against a wolf or a mad dog. Do not I also now testify? Why do you not insert in those laws of yours something of your sweet attestation? That you may not be ignorant of this, reader, listen to this: At Appenzell they use the following tricks: Some Catabaptist throws himself down just as though he were an epileptic; as long as he can he holds his breath and pretends to be in ecstasy. Those who have seen it say he presents a horrible appearance. Finally, like one waking up, he begins to testify about what he has heard and seen while in ecstasy. They have all seen especially that Zwingli is in error about catabaptism, and this opinion one pronounces gently and another violently. They saw that the day of judgment was at hand two years ago, and that catabaptism was a righteous and holy thing, and all that kind of foolishness. You must not suppose that these tricks are concocted by their common people; the leaders are the authors, as you may know from the following example: At S. Gall there was a Catabaptist girl of about 12 years or a little more. She was the daughter of a right thinking man, as they say. He was preparing one day to carry some provisions (he is a provider of grain) when his daughter warned him to remain at home, for he would see something wonderful. A little after she fell down in the way I described above. And when she was waking up she babbled out those empty ravings of theirs. You see how she knew when she was going to fall. Why did she not fall down at once when she saw her father leaving? Why, she had not been taught all she should say when coming to consciousness, nor been told of all that there was need of in accomplishing the affair. Every now and then they use these tricks still at Abtzell. And they call it an attestation, though it applies to things past and future, so that those vain seducers of old women cannot say that when any one testifies, it is of the present. Oh, how sweetly and gently do they arrange everything. Ye gods and goddesses above, below and in between, be propitious to them!
(8) They rightly tell us that Christ taught that our speech should be ever yea or nay, yet they do not seem clearly to understand it, or if they understand they do not act upon it. For though in many places they have said yea, it has never been yea. When those leaders are banished against whom I write especially, and are asked for an oath, they will not take oath, but say that through the faith which they have in God they know they will never return, and yet having been seen returned, they say the Father led me back through his will. I know very well that it is the father of lies that brings them back; they pretend to know it is the heavenly Father. This is worth telling: When that George (whom they all call a second Paul) of the house of Jacob [Blaurock] was cudgeled with rods among us even to the infernal gate, and was asked by the senate’s officer to take oath and lift his hands [in affirmation], at first he refused, as he had often done before and had persisted in doing. Indeed, he had always acted as if he would rather die than take an oath. The official of the senate then ordered him to lift his hands and make oath at once when put to the question, “or do you, policeman,” said he, “lead him back to prison.” But now, persuaded by rods, this George of the house of Jacob raised his hands to heaven and followed the magistrate in the reading of the oath. So here you have the question confronting you, Catabaptists, whether that Paul of yours did or did not transgress the law. The law forbids to swear; he swore, so he transgressed the law. Hence this knot: You would be separated from the world, from lies, from those who walk not according to the resurrection of Christ but in dead works. How then is it that you have not excommunicated that apostate? Your yea is not yea with you, nor your nay, nay, but the contrary. Your yea is nay, and your nay, yea. You follow neither Christ nor your ordinances.
(9) Be these things said about oaths which they would abrogate from human affairs only for the sake of sedition and tumult? For in promising to the untaught the liberty of the flesh, which neither Christ nor the apostles preached, they use these arts of rebaptizing, separating and refusing an oath. Meanwhile they do not consider what Paul says, Heb. vi. 16: An oath is confirmation and the end of all strife. In saying this it is clear that the divine apostle said not of those who are not within the church, “an oath among them confirms or decides everything,” but of those who are not without the church. Among these therefore he declares that all is confirmed or decided by an oath. Nor do they consider, as I have warned them, what was said above about witnesses testifying about a bishop, nor this, that neither Christ nor the apostles ever taught that the statement that every word stands or falls by the utterance of two or three witnesses had been made void, as is easily seen by Matt. xviii. 16 and Heb. x. 28. From these they might have learned that an oath was never abolished, although they had no word but: Render to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s and to God what is his. So they are told to render to Cæsar what is his. But they owe the oath. Therefore Christ orders it to be given.
But before we leave this a warning ought to be given the tyrants of this world, who though they falsely boast in the name of Christ yet do all to beat down his gospel, that they must not suppose that by this defense of the oath, which I have furnished, an opportunity is given for finding a defense of their own cruelty, because nothing has been said thus far of the atrocity of abusing an oath. To give in brief the sum of my opinion, I myself do not think an oath ought to be demanded, or can be demanded, without disturbing conscience, except when either all human attestation fails or the safety of a neighor is gravely imperilled, and then only in case that in no oath that we take is the name of God blasphemed. This opinion of mine you will easily extract from what has been said. I think that those trifles of the Catabaptists have been quite thoroughly refuted. Now I go to other matters.
[* ]The authorities, with Zwingli’s assent, first forced these oppressed people into holding secret meetings, if they met at all, and now Zwingli taunts them for their secrecy! Alas.
[* ]In Switzerland it was the custom to carry side arms in the senate, courts, popular assembly, and even at baptisms. (Edd. Zwingli’s Works.)
[* ]He refers here to his antipathy to the foreign military service of the Swiss, which he assailed and condemned. (Edd. Zwingli’s Works.)
[* ]Zwingli calls them Coryphaei, the name given to the leaders of the chorus in the Greek drama.
[* ]I. e., transfers his real possessions and interests thither.