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Respecting The Reformation Of The Christian Estate
(Part I)

     Now though I am too lowly to submit articles that could serve for the
reformation of these fearful evils, I will yet sing out my fool's song, and
will show, as well as my wit will allow, what might and should be done by the
temporal authorities or by a general council.

     1. Princes, nobles, and cities should promptly forbid their subjects
to pay the annates to Rome and should even abolish them altogether. For the
Pope has broken the compact, and turned the annates into robbery for the harm
and shame of the German nation; he gives them to his friends; he sells them
for large sums of money and founds benefices on them. Therefore he has
forfeited his right to them, and deserves punishment. In this way the temporal
power should protect the innocent and prevent wrong-doing, as we are taught
by St. Paul (Rom. xiii.) and by St. Peter (1 Peter ii.) and even by the canon
law (16. q. 7. de Filiis). That is why we say to the Pope and his followers,
Tu ora! "Thou shalt pray"; to the Emperor and his followers, Tu protege! "Thou
shalt protect"; to the commons, Tu labora! "Thou shalt work." Not that each
man should not pray, protect, and work; for if a man fulfils his duty, that
is prayer, protection, and work; but every man must have his proper task.

     2. Since by means of those Romish tricks, commendams, coadjutors,
reservations, expectations, pope's months, incorporations, unions, Palls,
rules of chancellery, and other such knaveries, the Pope takes unlawful
possession of all German foundations, to give and sell them to strangers at
Rome, that profit Germany in no way, so that the incumbents are robbed of
their rights, and the bishops are made mere ciphers and anointed idols; and
thus, besides natural justice and reason, the Pope's own canon law is
violated; and things have come to such a pass that prebends and benefices
are sold at Rome to vulgar, ignorant asses and knaves, out of sheer greed,
while pious learned men have no profit by their merit and skill, whereby
the unfortunate German people must needs lack good, learned prelates and
suffer ruin-on account of these evils the Christian nobility should rise up
against the Pope as a common enemy and destroyer of Christianity, for the sake
of the salvation of the poor souls that such tyranny must ruin. They should
ordain, order, and decree that henceforth no benefice shall be drawn away to
Rome, and that no benefice shall be claimed there in any fashion whatsoever;
and after having once got these benefices out of the hands of Romish tyranny,
they must be kept from them, and their lawful incumbents must be reinstated
in them to administer them as best they may within the German nation. And if
a courtling came from Rome, he should receive the strict command to withdraw,
or to leap into the Rhine, or whatever river be nearest, and to administer
a cold bath to the Interdict, seal and letters and all. Thus those at Rome
would learn that we Germans are not to remain drunken fools forever, but that
we, too, are become Christians, and that as such we will no longer suffer this
shameful mockery of Christ's holy name, that serves as a cloak for such
knavery and destruction of souls, and that we shall respect God and the glory
of God more than the power of men.

     3. It should be decreed by an imperial law that no episcopal cloak and
no confirmation of any appointment shall for the future be obtained from Rome.
The order of the most holy and renowned Nicene Council must again be restored,
namely that a bishop must be confirmed by the two nearest bilhops or by the
archbishop. If the Pope cancels the decrees of these and all other councils,
what is the good of councils at all? Who has given him the right thus to
despise councils and to cancel them? If this is allowed, we had better abolish
all bishops, archbishops and primates, and make simple rectors of all of them,
so that they would have the Pope alone over them as is indeed the case now; he
deprives bishops, archbishops, and primates of all the authority of their
office, taking everything to himself, and leaving them only the name and the
empty title; more than this, by his exemption he has withdrawn convents,
abbots, and prelates from the ordinary authority of the bishops, so that there
remains no order in Christendom. The necessary result of this must be, and has
been, laxity in punishing and such a liberty to do evil in all the world that
I very much fear one might call the Pope "the man of sin" (2 Thess. ii. 3).
Who but the Pope is to blame for this absence of all order, of all punishment,
of all government, of all discipline, in Christendom? By his own arbitrary
power he ties the hands of all his prelates, and takes from them their rods,
while all their subjects have their hands unloosed, and obtain licence by gift
or purchase.

     But, that he have no cause for complaint, as being deprived of his
authority, it should be decreed that in cases where the primates and
archbishops are unable to settle the matter, or where there is a dispute
among them, the matters shall then be submitted to the Pope, but not every
little matter, as was done formerly, and was ordered by the most renowned
Nicene Council. His Holiness must not be troubled with small matters, that
can be settled without his help; so that he may have leisure to devote himself
to his prayers and study and to his care of all Christendom, as he professes
to do, as indeed the Apostles did, saying, "It is not reason that we should
leave the word of God, and serve tables.... But we will give ourselves
continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts vi. 2, 4). But
now we see at Rome nothing but contempt of the Gospel and of prayer, and the
service of tables, that is the service of the goods of this world; and the
government of the Pope agrees with the government of the Apostles as well as
Lucifer with Christ, hell with heaven, night with day; and yet he calls
himself Christ's vicar and the successor of the Apostles.

     4. Let it be decreed that no temporal matter shall be submitted to Rome,
but all shall be left to the jurisdiction of the temporal authorities. This
is part of their own canon law, though they do not obey it. For this should
be the Pope's office: that he, the most learned in the Scriptures and the
most holy, not in name only, but in fact, should rule in matters concerning
the faith and the holy life of Christians; he should make primates and
bishops attend to this, and should work and take thought with them to this
end, as St. Paul teaches (1 Cor. vi.), severely upbraiding those that occupy
themselves with the things of this world. For all countries suffer unbearable
damage by this practice of settling such matters at Rome, since it involves
great expense; and besides this, the judges at Rome, not knowing the manners,
laws, and customs of other countries, frequently pervert the matter according
to their own laws and their own opinions, thus causing injustice to all
parties. Besides this, we should prohibit in all foundations the grievous
extortion of the ecclesiastical judges; they should only be allowed to
consider matters concerning faith and good morals; but matters concerning
money, property, life, and honour should be left to temporal judges.
Therefore, the temporal authorities should not permit excommunication or
expulsion except in matters of faith and righteous living. It is only
reasonable that spiritual authorities should have power in spiritual matters;
spiritual matters, however, are not money or matters relating to the body,
but faith and good works.

     Still we might allow matters respecting benefices or prebends to be
treated before bishops, archbishops, and primates. Therefore when it is
necessary to decide quarrels and strifes let the Primate of Germany hold a
general consistory, with assessors and chancellors, who would have the control
over the signaturas gratiae and justitiae [18] and to whom matters arising in
Germany might be submitted by appeal. The officers of such court should be
paid out of the annates, or in some other way, and should not have to draw
their salaries, as at Rome, from chance presents and offerings, whereby they
grow accustomed to sell justice and injustice, as they must needs do at Rome,
where the Pope gives them no salary, but allows them to fatten themselves on
presents; for at Rome no one heeds what is right or what is wrong, but only
what is money and what is not money. They might be paid out of the annates, or
by some other means devised by men of higher understanding and of more
experience in these things than I have. I am content with making these
suggestions and giving some materials for consideration to those who may be
able and willing to help the German nation to become a free people of
Christians, after this wretched, heathen, unchristian misrule of the Pope.

[18: At the time when the above was written the function of the
signatura gratiae was to superintend the conferring of grants, concessions,
favours, etc., whilst the signatura justitiae embraced the general
administration of ecclesiastical matters.]

     5. Henceforth no reservations shall be valid, and no benefices shall be
appropriated by Rome, whether the incumbent die there, or there be a dispute,
or the incumbent be a servant of the Pope or of a cardinal; and all courtiers
shall be strictly prohibited and prevented from causing a dispute about any
benefice, so as to cite the pious priests, to trouble them, and to drive them
to pay compensation. And if in consequence of this there comes an interdict
from Rome, let it be despised, just as if a thief were to excommunicate any
man because he would not allow him to steal in peace. Nay, they should be
punished most severely for making such a blasphemous use of excommunication
and of the name of God, to support their robberies, and for wishing by their
false threats to drive us to suffer and approve this blasphemy of God's name
and this abuse of Christian authority, and thus to become sharers before God
in their wrong-doing, whereas it is our duty before God to punish it, as St.
Paul (Rom. i.) upbraids the Romans for not only doing wrong, but allowing
wrong to be done. But above all that lying mental reservation (pectoralis
reservatio) is unbearable, by which Christendom is so openly mocked and
insulted, in that its head notoriously deals with lies, and impudently cheats
and fools every man for the sake of accursed wealth.

     6. The cases reserved [19] (casus reservati) should be abolished, by which
not only are the people cheated out of much money, but besides many poor
consciences are confused and led into error by the ruthless tyrants, to the
intolerable harm of their faith in God, especially those foolish and childish
cases that are made important by the bull In Coena Domini, [20] and which do
not deserve the name of daily sins, not to mention those great cases for which
the Pope gives no absolution, such as preventing a pilgrim from going to Rome,
furnishing the Turks with arms, or forging the Pope's letters. They only fool
us with these gross, mad, and clumsy matters: Sodom and Gomorrah, and all sins
that are committed and that can be committed against God's commandments, are
not reserved cases; but what God never commanded and they themselves have
invented - these must be made reserved cases, solely in order that none may be
prevented from bringing money to Rome, that they may live in their lust
without fear of the Turk, and may keep the world in their bondage by their
wicked useless bulls and briefs.

[19: "Reserved cases" refer to those great sins for which the Pope or
the bishops only could give absolution.]

[20: The celebrated papal bull known under the name of In Coena
Domini, containing anathemas and excommunications against all those who
dissented in any way from the Roman Catholic creed, used until the year 1770
to be read publicly at Rome on Maundy Thursday.]

     Now all priests ought to know, or rather it should be a public ordinance,
that no secret sin constitutes a reserved case, if there be no public
accusation; and that every priest has power to absolve from all sin, whatever
its name, if it be secret, and that no abbot, bishop, or pope has power to
reserve any such case; and, lastly, that if they do this, it is null and void,
and they should, moreover, be punished as interfering without authority in
God's judgment and confusing and troubling without cause our poor witless
consciences. But in respect to any great open sin, directly contrary to God's
commandments, there is some reason for a "reserved case"; but there should not
be too many, nor should they be reserved arbitrarily without due cause. For
God has not ordained tyrants, but shepherds, in His Church, as St. Peter says
(1 Peter v. 2).

     7. The Roman See must abolish the papal offices, and diminish that crowd
of crawling vermin at Rome, so that the Pope's servants may be supported out
of the Pope's own pocket, and that his court may cease to surpass all royal
courts in its pomp and extravagance; seeing that all this pomp has not only
been of no service to the Christian faith, but has also kept them from study
and prayer, so that they themselves know hardly anything concerning matters of
faith, as they proved clumsily enough at the last Roman Council, [21] where,
among many childishly trifling matters, they decided "that the soul is
immortal," and that a priest is bound to pray once every month on pain of
losing his benefice. [22] How are men to rule Christendom and to decide matters
of faith who, callous and blinded by their greed, wealth, and worldly pomp,
have only just decided that the soul is immortal? It is no slight shame to all
Christendom that they should deal thus scandalously with the faith at Rome. If
they had less wealth and lived in less pomp, they might be better able to
study and pray that they might become able and worthy to treat matters of
belief, as they were once, when they were content to be bishops, and not kings
of kings.

[21: The council alluded to above was held at Rome from 1512 to

[22: Luther's objection is not, of course, to the recognition of the
immortality of the soul; what he objects to is (1) that it was thought
necessary for a council to decree that the soul is immortal, and (2) that this
question was put on a level with trivial matters of discipline.]

     8. The terrible oaths must be abolished which bishops are forced, without
any right, to swear to the Pope, by which they are bound like servants, and
which are arbitrarily and foolishly decreed in the absurd and shallow chapter
Significasti. [23] Is it not enough that they oppress us in goods, body, and
soul by all their mad laws, by which they have weakened faith and destroyed
Christianity; but must they now take possession of the very persons of
bishops, with their offices and functions, and also claim the investiture [24]
which used formerly to be the right of the German emperors, and is still the
right of the King in France and other kingdoms? This matter caused many wars
and disputes with the emperors until the popes impudently took the power by
force, since which time they have retained it, just as if it were only right
for the Germans, above all Christians on earth, to be the fools of the Pope
and the Holy See, and to do and suffer what no one beside would suffer or do.
Seeing then that this is mere arbitrary power, robbery, and a hindrance to the
exercise of the bishop's ordinary power, and to the injury of poor souls,
therefore it is the duty of the Emperor and his nobles to prevent and punish
this tyranny.

[23: The above is the title of a chapter in the Corpus Juris

[24: The right of investiture was the subject of the dispute between
Gregory VII. and Henry IV., which led to the Emperor's submission at Canossa.]

     9. The Pope should have no power over the Emperor, except to anoint and
crown him at the altar, as a bishop crowns a king; nor should that devilish
pomp be allowed that the Emperor should kiss the Pope's feet or sit at his
feet, or, as it is said, hold his stirrup or the reins of his mule, when he
mounts to ride; much less should he pay homage to the Pope, or swear
allegiance, as is impudently demanded by the popes, as if they had a right to
it. The chapter Solite, [25] in which the papal authority is exalted above the
imperial, is not worth a farthing, and so of all those that depend on it or
fear it; for it does nothing but pervert God's holy words from their true
meaning, according to their own imaginations, as I have proved in a Latin

[25: The chapter Solite is also contained in the Corpus Juris

     All these excessive, over-presumptuous, and most wicked claims of the
Pope are the invention of the devil, with the object of bringing in antichrist
in due course and of raising the Pope above God, as indeed many have done and
are now doing. It is not meet that the Pope should exalt himself above
temporal authority, except in spiritual matters, such as preaching and
absolution; in other matters he should be subject to it, according to the
teaching of St. Paul (Rom. xiii.) and St. Peter (I Peter iii.), as I have said
above. He is not the vicar of Christ in heaven, but only of Christ upon earth.
For Christ in heaven, in the form of a ruler, requires no vicar, but there
sits, sees, does, knows, and commands all things. But He requires him "in the
form of a servant" to represent Him as He walked upon earth, working,
preaching, suffering, and dying. But they reverse this: they take from Christ
His power as a heavenly Ruler, and give it to the Pope, and allow "the form of
a servant" to be entirely forgotten (Phil. ii. 7). He should properly be
called the counter-Christ, whom the Scriptures call antichrist; for his whole
existence, work, and proceedings are directed against Christ, to ruin and
destroy the existence and will of Christ.

     It is also absurd and puerile for the Pope to boast for such blind,
foolish reasons, in his decretal Pastoralis, that he is the rightful heir to
the empire, if the throne be vacant. Who gave it to him? Did Christ do so when
He said, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, but ye shall
not do so" (Luke xxii. 25, 26)? Did St. Peter bequeath it to him? It disgusts
me that we have to read and teach such impudent, clumsy, foolish lies in the
canon law, and, moreover, to take them for Christian doctrine, while in
reality they are mere devilish lies. Of this kind also is the unheard-of lie
touching the "donation of Constantine." [26] It must have been a plague sent by
God that induced so many wise people to accept such lies, though they are so
gross and clumsy that one would think a drunken boor could lie more skilfully.
How could preaching, prayer, study, and the care of the poor consist with the
government of the empire? These are the true offices of the Pope, which Christ
imposed with such insistence that He forbade them to take either coat or scrip
(Matt. x. 10), for he that has to govern a single house can hardly perform
these duties. Yet the Pope wishes to rule an empire and to remain a pope. This
is the invention of the knaves that would fain become lords of the world in
the Pope's name, and set up again the old Roman empire, as it was formerly, by
means of the Pope and name of Christ, in its former condition.

[26: In order to legalize the secular power of the Pope, the fiction
was invented during the latter part of the eighth century, that Constantine
the Great had made over to the popes the dominion over Rome and over the whole
of Italy.]

     10. The Pope must withdraw his hand from the dish, and on no pretence
assume royal authority over Naples and Sicily. He has no more right to them
than I, and yet claims to be the lord-their liege lord. They have been taken
by force and robbery, like almost all his other possessions. Therefore the
Emperor should grant him no such fief, nor any longer allow him those he has,
but direct him instead to his Bibles and Prayer-books, so that he may leave
the government of countries and peoples to the temporal power, especially of
those that no one has given him. Let him rather preach and pray! The same
should be done with Bologna, Imola, Vicenza, Ravenna, and whatever the Pope
has taken by force and holds without right in the Ancontine territory, in the
Romagna, and other parts of Italy, interfering in their affairs against all
the commandments of Christ and St. Paul. For St. Paul says "that he that would
be one of the soldiers of heaven must not entangle himself in the affairs of
this life" (2 Tim. ii. 4). Now the Pope should be the head and the leader of
the soldiers of heaven, and yet he engages more in worldly matters than any
king or emperor. He should be relieved of his worldly cares and allowed to
attend to his duties as a soldier of heaven. Christ also, whose vicar he
claims to be, would have nothing to do with the things of this world, and even
asked one that desired of Him a judgment concerning his brother, "Who made Me
a judge over you?" (St. Luke xii. 14). But the Pope interferes in these
matters unasked, and concerns himself with all matters, as though he were a
god, until he himself has forgotten what this Christ is whose vicar he
professes to be.

     11. The custom of kissing the Pope's feet must cease. It is an
unchristian, or rather an anti-Christian, example that a poor sinful man
should suffer his feet to be kissed by one who is a hundred times better than
he. If it is done in honour of his power, why does he not do it to others in
honour of their holiness? Compare them together: Christ and the Pope. Christ
washed His disciples' feet and dried them, and the disciples never washed His.
The Pope, pretending to be higher than Christ, inverts this, and considers it
a great favour to let us kiss his feet; whereas, if any one wished to do so,
he ought to do his utmost to prevent him, as St. Paul and Barnabas would not
suffer themselves to be worshipped as gods by the men at Lystra, saying, "We
also are men of like passions with you" (Acts xiv. 14 seq.). But our
flatterers have brought things to such a pitch that they have set up an idol
for us, until no one regards God with such fear or honours Him with such marks
of reverence as he does the Pope. This they can suffer, but not that the
Pope's glory should be diminished a single hair's-breadth. Now if they were
Christians and preferred God's honour to their own, the Pope would never be
pleased to have God's honour despised and his own exalted, nor would he allow
any to honour him until he found that God's honour was again exalted above his

     It is of a piece with this revolting pride that the Pope is not satisfied
with riding on horseback or in a carriage, but though he be hale and strong,
is carried by men, like an idol in unheard-of pomp. My friend, how does this
Lucifer-like pride agree with the example of Christ, who went on foot, as did
also all His Apostles? Where has there been a king who has ridden in such
worldly pomp as he does, who professes to be the head of all whose duty it is
to despise and flee from all worldly pomp-I mean, of all Christians? Not that
this need concern us for his own sake, but that we have good reason to fear
God's wrath, if we flatter such pride and do not show our discontent. It is
enough that the Pope should be so mad and foolish; but it is too much that we
should sanction and approve it.

     For what Christian heart can be pleased at seeing the Pope when he
communicates, sit still like a gracious lord and have the Sacrament handed to
him on a golden reed by a cardinal bending on his knees before him? Just as if
the Holy Sacrament were not worthy that a pope, a poor miserable sinner,
should stand to do honour to his God, although all other Christians, who are
much more holy than the Most Holy Father, receive it with all reverence! Could
we be surprised if God visited us all with a plague for that we suffer such
dishonour to be done to God by our prelates, and approve it, becoming partners
of the Pope's damnable pride by our silence or flattery? It is the same when
he carries the Sacrament in procession. He must be carried, but the Sacrament
stands before him like a cup of wine on a table. In short, at Rome Christ is
nothing, the Pope is everything; yet they urge us and threaten us, to make us
suffer and approve and honour this anti-Christian scandal, contrary to God and
all Christian doctrine. Now may God so help a free council that it may teach
the Pope that he too is a man, not above God, as he makes himself out to be.

     12. Pilgrimages to Rome must be abolished, or at least no one must be
allowed to go from his own wish or his own piety, unless his priest, his town
magistrate, or his lord has found that there is sufficient reason for his
pilgrimage. This I say, not because pilgrimages are bad in themselves, but
because at the present time they lead to mischief; for at Rome a pilgrim sees
no good examples, but only offence. They themselves have made a proverb, "The
nearer to Rome, the farther from Christ," and accordingly men bring home
contempt of God and of God's commandments. It is said, "The first time one
goes to Rome, he goes to seek a rogue; the second time he finds him; the third
time he brings him home with him." But now they have become so skilful that
they can do their three journeys in one, and they have, in fact, brought home
from Rome this saying: "It were better never to have seen or heard of Rome."

     And even if this were not so, there is something of more importance to be
considered; namely, that simple men are thus led into a false delusion and a
wrong understanding of God's commandments. For they think that these
pilgrimages are precious and good works; but this is not true. It is but a
little good work, often a bad, misleading work, for God has not commanded it.
But He has commanded that each man should care for his wife and children and
whatever concerns the married state, and should, besides, serve and help his
neighbour. Now it often happens that one goes on a pilgrimage to Rome, spends
fifty or one hundred guilders more or less, which no one has commanded him,
while his wife and children, or those dearest to him, are left at home in want
and misery; and yet he thinks, poor foolish man, to atone for this
disobedience and contempt of God's commandments by his self-willed pilgrimage,
while he is in truth misled by idle curiosity or the wiles of the devil. This
the popes have encouraged with their false and foolish invention of Golden
Years, [27] by which they have incited the people, have torn them away from
God's commandments and turned them to their own delusive proceedings, and set
up the very thing that they ought to have forbidden. But it brought them money
and strengthened their false authority, and therefore it was allowed to
continue, though against God's will and the salvation of souls.

[27: The Jubilees, during which plenary indulgences were granted to
those who visited the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, were
originally celebrated every hundred years and subsequently every twenty-five
years. Those who were unable to go to Rome in person could obtain the plenary
indulgences by paying the expenses of the journey to Rome into the papal

     That this false, misleading belief on the part of simple Christians may
be destroyed, and a true opinion of good works may again be introduced, all
pilgrimages should be done away with. For there is no good in them, no
commandment, but countless causes of sin and of contempt of God's
commandments. These pilgrimages are the reason for there being so many
beggars, who commit numberless villainies, learn to beg without need and get
accustomed to it. Hence arises a vagabond life, besides other miseries which I
cannot dwell on now. If any one wishes to go on a pilgrimage or to make a vow
for a pilgrimage, he should first inform his priest or the temporal
authorities of the reason, and if it should turn out that he wishes to do it
for the sake of good works, let this vow and work be just trampled upon by the
priest or the temporal authority as an infernal delusion, and let them tell
him to spend his money and the labour a pilgrimage would cost on God's
commandments and on a thousandfold better work, namely, on his family and his
poor neighbours. But if he does it out of curiosity, to see cities and
countries, he may be allowed to do so. If he have vowed it in sickness, let
such vows be prohibited, and let God's commandments be insisted upon in
contrast to them; so that a man may be content with what he vowed in baptism,
namely, to keep God's commandments. Yet for this once he may be suffered, for
a quiet conscience' sake, to keep his silly vow. No one is content to walk on
the broad high-road of God's commandments; every one makes for himself new
roads and new vows, as if he had kept all God's commandments.

     13. Now we come to the great crowd that promises much and performs
little. Be not angry, my good sirs; I mean well. I have to tell you this
bitter and sweet truth: Let no more mendicant monasteries be built! God help
us! there are too many as it is. Would to God they were all abolished, or at
least made over to two or three orders! It has never done good, it will never
do good, to go wandering about over the country. Therefore my advice is that
ten, or as many as may be required, be put together and made into one, which
one, sufficiently provided for, need not beg. Oh! it is of much more
importance to consider what is necessary for the salvation of the common
people, than what St. Francis, or St. Dominic, or St. Augustine, [28] or any
other man, laid down, especially since things have not turned out as they
expected. They should also be relieved from preaching and confession, unless
specially required to do so by bishops, priests, the congregation, or other
authority. For their preaching and confession has led toGnought but mere
hatred and envy between priests and monks, to the great offence and hindrance
of the people, so that it well deserves to be put a stop to, since its place
may very well be dispensed with. It does not look at all improbable that the
Holy Roman See had its own reasons for encouraging all this crowd of monks:
the Pope perhaps feared that priests and bishops, growing weary of his
tyranny, might become too strong for him, and begin a reformation unendurable
to his Holiness.

[28: The above-mentioned saints were the patrons of the well-known
mendicant orders: Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustines.]

     Besides this, one should also do away with the sections and the divisions
in the same order which, caused for little reason and kept up for less, oppose
each other with unspeakable hatred and malice, the result being that the
Christian faith, which is very well able to stand without their divisions, is
lost on both sides, and that a true Christian life is sought and judged only
by outward rules, works, and practices, from which arise only hypocrisy and
the destruction of souls, as every one can see for himself. Moreover, the Pope
should be forbidden to institute or to confirm the institution of such new
orders; nay, he should be commanded to abolish several and to lessen their
number. For the faith of Christ, which alone is the important matter, and can
stand without any particular order, incurs no little danger lest men should be
led away by these diverse works and manners rather to live for such works and
practices than to care for faith; and unless there are wise prelates in the
monasteries, who preach and urge faith rather than the rule of the order, it
is inevitable that the order should be injurious and misleading to simple
souls, who have regard to works alone.

     Now, in our own time all the prelates are dead that had faith and founded
orders, just as it was in old days with the children of Israel: when their
fathers were dead, that had seen God's works and miracles, their children, out
of ignorance of God's work and of faith, soon began to set up idolatry and
their own human works. In the same way, alas! these orders, not understanding
God's works and faith, grievously labour and torment themselves by their own
laws and practices, and yet never arrive at a true understanding of a
spiritual and good life, as was foretold by the Apostle, saying of them,
"Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof, . . . ever
learning, and never able to come to the knowledge" of what a true spiritual
life is (2 Tim. iii. 2-7). Better to have no convents which are governed by a
spiritual prelate, having no understanding of Christian faith to govern them;
for such a prelate cannot but rule with injury and harm, and the greater the
apparent holiness of his life in external works, the greater the harm.

     It would be, I think, necessary, especially in these perilous times, that
foundations and convents should again be organised as they were in the time of
the Apostles and a long time after, namely when they were all free for every
man to remain there as long as he wished. For what were they but Christian
schools, in which the Scriptures and Christian life were taught, and where
folk were trained to govern and to preach? as we read that St. Agnes went to
school, and as we see even now in some nunneries, as at Quedlinburg and other
places. Truly all foundations and convents ought to be free in this way: that
they may serve God of a free will, and not as slaves. But now they have been
bound round with vows and turned into eternal prisons, so that these vows are
regarded even more than the vows of baptism. But what fruit has come of this
we daily see, hear, read, and learn more and more.

     I dare say that this my counsel will be thought very foolish, but I care
not for this. I advise what I think best, reject it who will. I know how these
vows are kept, especially that of chastity, which is so general in all these
convents. [29] and yet was not ordered by Christ, and it is given to
comparatively few to be able to keep it, as He says, and St. Paul also (Col.
ii. 20). I wish all to be helped, and that Christian souls should not be held
in bondage, through customs and laws invented by men.