Smalcald Articles: Issues for a true council

ConcordiaDr Martin Luther writes in the Introduction to his Smalcald Articles in 1537 and I quote according to Kolb & Wengert, 299,10-13:
I would indeed very much like to see a true council, in order to assist with a variety of matters and to aid many people. Not that we need it, for through God’s grace our churches are now enlightened and supplied with the pure Word and right use of the sacraments, an understanding of the various walks of life, and true works. Therefore we do not ask for a council for our sakes. In such matters, we cannot hope for or expect any improvement from the council. Rather, we see in bishoprics everywhere so many parishes empty and deserted12 that our hearts are ready to break. And yet, neither bishops nor cathedral canons ask how the poor people live or die—people for whom Christ died. And should not these people hear this same Christ speak to them as the true shepherd with his sheep?13 It horrifies and frightens me that Christ might cause a council of angels to descend upon Germany and totally destroy us all, like Sodom and Gomorrah, because we mock him so blasphemously with the council.14
In addition to such necessary concerns of the church, there are also countless important matters in worldly affairs that need improvement. There is disunity among the princes and the estates. Greed and usury have burst in like a great flood and have attained a semblance of legality. Wantonness, lewdness, extravagant dress, gluttony, gambling, conspicuous consumption with all kinds of vice and wickedness, disobedience—of subjects, servants, laborers—extortion by all the artisans and the peasants15 (who can list everything?) have so gained the upper hand that a person could not set things right again with ten councils and twenty imperial diets. If participants in the council were to deal with the chief concerns in the spiritual and secular estates that are opposed to God, then their hands would be so full that they would forget all about the child’s games and fool’s play of long robes, great tonsures,16 broad cinctures, bishop’s and cardinal’s hats, crosiers, and similar clowning around. If we had already been following God’s command and precept in the spiritual and secular estates, then we would have found the spare time to reform food, vestments, tonsures, and chasubles. But if we swallow such camels and strain out gnats or let logs stand and dispute about specks,17 then we might just as well be satisfied with such a council.

12 In 1538 it was reported in Wittenberg that there were some six hundred vacant parishes in the bishopric of Würzburg (WATR 4, no. 4002; LW 54:308).
13 John 10:3*. SA III, 12, 2.
14 The Latin translation: “pretext of a council.” For the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, see Genesis 19.
15 LC, “Ten Commandments,” 226 and 235.
16 The distinctive haircut worn by medieval monks.
17 Matthew 23:24* and 7:3–5*.
Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord : The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (299). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Bookmark the permalink.

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