The silver bells of St. Cyriacus

The Benedictine abbey Wimmelburg – just north of Lutherstadt Eisleben and south of Mansfeld – founded just after the turn of the 1st Millennium was dedicated to the legendary martyr St. Cyriacus, who is one of the 14 Holy Helpers. Traditionally he is venerated as a patron saint against evil Spirits and supposedly healed those possessed by demons. That is why this site was frequented by pilgrims even in Luther´s time – especially those suffering from epilepsy. It is said, that the hillsides were populated by campers and salvation seekers.

Luther first knew about this abbey, because his father operated 2 smelters in the valley of the “Böse Sieben”. They were called “Lutherhalden im Goldgrund” (1508-9). However, later he fought the abuse of the silver bells of St.Cyriacus („Cyriacusglöcklein“) in his sermons as no good and devilry. Whereas in early days the abbey was strictly adherent to the reforms of Hirsau, superstition, exorbitance and secularization took over. The abbey fell into serious disrepute – also because the monks plainly misused the gullibility of pilgrims, collecting money from the visitors before ringing the illustrious bells – very much like the wholesale business with indulgences. As you can see from the videos – this malpractice still goes on in catholic areas. The bells have the dates 2018 etc. imprinted on them.

These bells are not really made of silver as that doesn´t have a good ring to it. However in German we talk of a “silvery sound” of a bell – which is clear and with a high pitch, but also indicating small hand-bells, which were rung by monks begging for alms.

In 1525 the abbey was sacked by peasants on riot, but the buildings were only largely destroyed in a big fire in the winter of 1680. During this fire the bells melted only to be replaced a short while later, which bears the handwritten date 1680 and has a diameter of 760mm. Just the severely damaged church walls were spared in this fire to remain standing even just so. Since reformation times it was now a humble Lutheran parish church. Instead of propaganda of proposed healing by the ringing of silver bells, the newfound gospel was proclaimed as saving message from the pulpit, which featured an original illustration of the reformer Martin Luther – as bearer of truly good tidings.

In the Smalcald Articles he words the first and foremost article of the true faith first positively:

That Jesus Christour God and Lorddied for our sinsand was raised again for our justificationRom. 4:25.

And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the worldJohn 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us allIs. 53:6.

Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freelyand without their own works or meritsby His gracethrough the redemption that is in Christ Jesusin His bloodRom. 3:23f

Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28For we conclude that a man is justified by faithwithout the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26That He might be justand the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ.

Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heavengiven among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12And with His stripes we are healedIs. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

Smalcald Articles II,1

And then also negatively in opposition to abuse and idolotary as in the veneration and invocation of saints:

The invocation of saints is also one of the abuses of Antichrist conflicting with the chief article, and destroys the knowledge of Christ. Neither is it commanded nor counseled, nor has it any example [or testimony] in Scripture, and even though it were a precious thing, as it is not [while, on the contrary, it is a most harmful thing], in Christ we have everything a thousandfold better [and surer, so that we are not in need of calling upon the saints].

And although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ Himself also does), as also do the saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, yet it does not follow thence that we should invoke and adore the angels and saints, and fast, hold festivals, celebrate Mass in their honor, make offerings, and establish churches, altars, divine worship, and in still other ways serve them, and regard them as helpers in need [as patrons and intercessors], and divide among them all kinds of help, and ascribe to each one a particular form of assistance, as the Papists teach and do. For this is idolatry, and such honor belongs alone to God.

For as a Christian and saint upon earth you can pray for me, not only in one, but in many necessities. But for this reason I am not obliged to adore and invoke you, and celebrate festivals, fast, make oblations, hold masses for your honor [and worship], and put my faith in you for my salvation. I can in other ways indeed honor, love, and thank you in Christ. If now such idolatrous honor were withdrawn from angels and departed saints, the remaining honor would be without harm and would quickly be forgotten. For when advantage and assistance, both bodily and spiritual, are no more to be expected, the saints will not be troubled [the worship of the saints will soon vanish], neither in their graves nor in heaven. For without a reward or out of pure love no one will much remember, or esteem, or honor them [bestow on them divine honor].

Smalcald Articles II,2: Invocation of Saints

Together with the Augsburg Confession we and all faithful Christians believe and confess concerning the Worship of Saints positively:

that the memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling, as the Emperor may follow the example of David in making war to drive away the Turk from his country. For both are kings. But the Scripture teaches not the invocation of saints or to ask help of saints, since it sets before us the one Christ as the Mediator, Propitiation, High Priest, and Intercessor. He is to be prayed to, and has promised that He will hear our prayer; and this worship He approves above all, to wit, that in all afflictions He be called upon, 1 John 2:14] If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, etc.

Augsburg Confession XXI

And in the Apology of this Confession and against the roman catholic Confutation we emphasize with the faithful Church in this matter, that they have it wrong and that we do indeed honor the saints, because

our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men, Matt. 25:21, The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which everyone should imitate according to his calling. These true honors the adversaries do not require. They dispute only concerning invocation, which, even though it would have no danger, nevertheless is not necessary…

Again, the adversaries not only require invocation in the worship of the saints, but also apply the merits of the saints to others, and make of the saints not only intercessors, but also propitiators. This is in no way to be endured. For here the honor belonging only to Christ is altogether transferred to the saints. For they make them mediators and propitiators, and although they make a distinction between mediators of intercession and mediators [the Mediator] of redemption, yet they plainly make of the saints mediators of redemption. But even that they are mediators of intercession they declare without the testimony of Scripture, which, be it said ever so reverently, nevertheless obscures Christ’s office, and transfers the confidence of mercy due Christ to the saints. For men imagine that Christ is more severe and the saints more easily appeased, and they trust rather to the mercy of the saints than to the mercy of Christ, and fleeing from Christ [as from a tyrant], they seek the saints. Thus, they actually make of them mediators of redemption. Therefore, we shall show that they truly make of the saints, not only intercessors, but propitiators, i.e., mediators of redemption. Here we do not as yet recite the abuses of the common people [how manifest idolatry is practiced at pilgrimages]. We are still speaking of the opinions of the Doctors. As regards the rest, even the inexperienced [common people] can judge.

In a propitiator these two things concur. In the first place, there ought to be a word of God from which we may certainly know that God wishes to pity, and hearken to, those calling upon Him through this propitiator. There is such a promise concerning Christ, John 16:23: Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Concerning the saints there is no such promise. Therefore, consciences cannot be firmly confident that by the invocation of saints we are heard. This invocation, therefore, is not made from faith. Then we have also the command to call upon Christ, according to Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor, etc., which certainly is said also to us. And Isaiah says, 11:10: In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign to the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek. And Ps. 45:12: Even the rich among the people shall entreat Thy favor. And Ps. 72:11,15: Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him. And shortly after: Prayer also shall be made for Him continually. And in John 5:23 Christ says: That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. And Paul, 2 Thess. 2:16-17, says, praying: Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, … comfort your hearts and stablish you. (All these passages refer to Christ.] But concerning the invocation of saints, what commandment, what example can the adversaries produce from the Scriptures? 

The second matter in a propitiator is, that his merits have been presented as those which make satisfaction for others, which are bestowed by divine imputation on others, in order that through these, just as by their own merits, they may be accounted righteous. As when any friend pays a debt for a friend, the debtor is freed by the merit of another, as though it were by his own. Thus, the merits of Christ are bestowed upon us, in order that, when we believe in Him, we may be accounted righteous by our confidence in Christ’s merits as though we had merits of our own.

And from both, namely, from the promise and the bestowment of merits, confidence in mercy arises [upon both parts must a Christian prayer be founded]. Such confidence in the divine promise, and likewise in the merits of Christ, ought to be brought forward when we pray. For we ought to be truly confident, both that for Christ’s sake we are heard, and that by His merits we have a reconciled Father.

… Since, therefore, the adversaries teach us to place confidence in the invocation of saints, although they have neither the Word of God nor the example of Scripture [of the Old or of the New Testament]; since they apply the merits of the saints on behalf of others, not otherwise than they apply the merits of Christ, and transfer the honor belonging only to Christ to the saints, we can receive neither their opinions concerning the worship of the saints, nor the practice of invocation. For we know that confidence is to be placed in the intercession of Christ, because this alone has God’s promise. We know that the merits of Christ alone are a propitiation for us. On account of the merits of Christ we are accounted righteous when we believe in Him, as the text says, Rom. 9:33 (cf. 1 Pet. 2:6 and Is. 28:16): Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be confounded…

Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXI

Together with the Church we laud and praise our one and only God, whom we love, trust and fear above all else that he has surrounded us with a cloud of witnesses and has made us a member of the Holy Christian church of forgiven sinners and holy saints singing out the blessed message of God´s grace and mercy into the world – like all bells should too – not just the silver ones of St. Cyriacus:

1 Saints, see the cloud of witnesses surround us;
Their lives of faith encourage and astound us.
Hear how the Master praised their faith so fervent:
“Well done, My servant!”

2 These saints of old received God’s commendation;
They lived as pilgrim-heirs of His salvation.
Through faith they conquered flame and sword and gallows,
God’s name to hallow.

3 They call to us, “Your timid footsteps lengthen;
Throw off sin’s weight, your halting weakness strengthen.
We kept the faith, we shed our blood, were martyred;
Our lives we bartered.”

4 Come, let us fix our sight on Christ who suffered,
He faced the cross, His sinless life He offered;
He scorned the shame, He died, our death enduring,
Our hope securing.

5 Lord, give us faith to walk where You are sending,
On paths unmarked, eyes blind as to their ending;
Not knowing where we go, but that You lead us—
With grace precede us.

6 You, Jesus, You alone deserve all glory!
Our lives unfold, embraced within Your story;
Past, present, future—You, the same forever—
You fail us never!

Stephen P. Starke

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Gedankensplitter, Hymns, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Saints of the church, Travels and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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