Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions
XIII. The Majoristic Controversy.
142. Early Origin of This Error.
Though not personally mentioned and attacked by the opponents of Majorism, Melanchthon must be regarded as the real father also of this controversy. He was the first to introduce and to cultivate the phrase: “Good works are necessary to salvation.” In his Loci of 1535 he taught that, in the article of justification, good works are the causa sine qua non and are necessary to salvation, ad vitam aeternam, ad salutem. (Herzog, R. E., 1903, 12, 519; Galle,Melanchthon, 345. 134.)
Melanchthon defined: “Causa sine qua non works nothing, nor is it a constituent part but merely something without which the effect does not occur, or by which, if it were not present, the working cause would be hindered because it was not added. Causa sine qua non nihil agit, nec est pars constituens, sed tantum est quiddam, sine quo non fit effectus, seu quo, si non adesset, impediretur agens, ideo quia illud non accessisset."(Preger 1, 356.) According to Melanchthon, therefore, justification cannot occur without the presence of good works. He explained: “Et tamen bona opera ita necessaria sunt ad vitam aeternam, quia sequi reconciliationem necessario debent. Nevertheless good works are necessary to eternal life, inasmuch as they must necessarily follow reconciliation.” (C.R. 21, 429. 775.) According to the context in which it is found, this statement includes that good works are necessary also to justification; for Melanchthon, too, correctly held “that the adoption to eternal life or the gift of eternal life was connected with justification, that is, the reconciliation imparted to faith.” (453.)
At Wittenberg Melanchthon’s efforts to introduce the new formula met with energetic opposition, especially on the part of Cordatus and Amsdorf. The formula: “Bona opera non quidem esse causam efficientem salutis, sed tamen causam sine qua non-Good works are indeed not the efficient cause of salvation, but nevertheless an indispensable cause” a necessary antecedent, was launched in a lecture delivered July 24, 1536, by a devoted pupil of Melanchthon, Caspar Cruciger, Sr. [born at Leipzig, January 1, 1504; professor in Wittenberg; assisted Luther in translating the Bible and in taking down his lectures and sermons; present at colloquies in Marburg 1529, in Wittenberg 1536, in Smalcald 1537, in Worms and Hagenau 1540 in Regensburg 1541, in Augsburg 1548; died November 16, 1548 . According to Ratzeberger, Cruciger had dictated: “Bona opera requiri ad salutem tamquam causam sine qua non.” Cordatus reports Cruciger’s dictation as follows: “Tantum Christus est causa propter quem; interim tamen verum est, homines agere aliquid oportere; oportere nos habere contritionem et debere Verbo erigere conscientiam, ut fidem concipiamus, ut nostra contritio et noster conatus sunt causae iustificationis sine quibus non-our contrition and our endeavor are causes of justification without which it does not take place.” (3, 350.)
Cordatus immediately attacked the new formula as false. “I know,” said he, “that this duality of causes cannot stand with the simple article of justification.” (3, 350.) He demanded a public retraction from Cruciger. Before long Amsdorf also entered the fray. September 14, 1536, he wrote to Luther about the new-fangled teaching of Melanchthon, “that works are necessary to eternal life.” (3, 162; Luther, St. L. 21b, 4104.) Pressed by Cordatus, Cruciger finally admitted that Melanchthon was back of the phrases he had dictated. He declared that he was the pupil of Mr. Philip; that the entire dictation was Mr. Philip’s; that by him he had been led into this matter; and that he did not know how it happened. “Se esse D. Philippi discipulum, et dictata omnia esse D. Philippi, se ab eo in illam rem traductum, et nescire quomodo.” (C.R. 3, 162.)
That Melanchthon had been making efforts to introduce the new phrases in Wittenberg appears from the passage in his Loci of 1535 quoted above, and especially from his letters of the two following years. November 5, 1536, he wrote to Veit Dietrich: “Cordatus incites the city, its neighborhood, and even the Court against me because in the explanation of the controversy on justification I have said that new obedience is necessary to salvation, novam obedientiam necessariam esse ad salutem.” (185. 179.) May 16, 1537, Veit Dietrich wrote to Forester:“Our Cordatus, driven, I know not,by what furies,writes against Philip and Cruciger as against heretics, and is determined to force Cruciger to retract because he has said that good works are necessary to salvation … This matter worries Philip very much, and if certain malicious men do not control themselves, he threatens to leave.” (372.) As for Melanchthon, he made no efforts to shirk the responsibility for Cruciger’s dictation. “Libenter totam rem in me transfero-I cheerfully transfer the entire affair to myself” he wrote April 15, 1537. Yet he was worried much more than his words seem to indicate. (342.)
Complaints against the innovations of Melanchthon and Cruciger were also lodged with Luther by Cordatus, Amsdorf, and Stiefel. Cordatus reports Luther as saying after the matter had been related to him, October 24 1536: “This is the very theology of Erasmus, nor can anything be more opposed to our doctrine. Haec est ipsissima theologia Erasmi, neque potest quidquam nostrae doctrinae esse magis adversum.” To say that new obedience is the “causa sine qua non- sine qua non contingit vita aeterna,“Luther declared, was tantamount to treading Christ and His blood under our feet. “Cruciger autem haec, quae publice dictavit, publice revocabit.What he has publicly dictated, Cruciger shall publicly retract.” (Kolde, Analecta, 266.)
According to Ratzeberger, Luther immediately warned and censured Cruciger “in severe terms.” (C.R. 4, 1038.) Flacius reports that Luther had publicly declared more than five times: “Propositionem: Bona opera esse necessaria ad salutem, volumus damnatam, abrogatam, ex ecclesiis et scholis nostris penitus explosam.” (Schluesselburg 7, 567.) After his return from Smalcald, where he had expressed grave fears as to the future doctrinal soundness of his Wittenberg colleagues,Luther, in a public disputation on June 1, 1537 “exploded and condemned” the teaching that good works are necessary to salvation, or necessary to salvation as a causa sine qua non. (Lehre u.Wehre 1908, 65.) Both parties were present at the disputation,Cordatus as well as Melanchthon and Cruciger. In a letter to Veit Dietrich, June 27, 1537, Cruciger reports: Luther maintained that new obedience is an “effect necessarily following justification,” but he rejected the statement: “New obedience is necessary to salvation, necessariam ad salutem.” He adds: “Male hoc habuit nostrum [Melanchthon], sed noluit eam rem porro agitare.Melanchthon was displeased with this, but he did not wish to agitate the matter any further.” (C. R. 3, 385.) After the disputation Cruciger was handed an anonymous note, saying that his “Treatise on Timothy” was now branded as “heretical, sacrilegious, impious, and blasphemous (haeretica, sacrilega, impia et blasphema),” and unless he retracted, he would have to be regarded as a Papist, a teacher and servant of Satan and not of Christ, and that his dictations would be published. (387.) In a letter to Dietrich, Cruciger remarks that Luther had disapproved of this anonymous writing, but he adds: “I can’t see why he [Luther] gives so much encouragement to Cordatus.” (385.)
In private, Luther repeatedly discussed this matter also with Melanchthon. This appears from their Disputation of 1536 on the question: “Whether this proposition is true: The righteousness of works is necessary to salvation."(E. 58, 353.) In a letter to Dietrich of June 22, 1537,Melanchthon, in substance, refers as follows to his discussions with Luther: I am desirous of maintaining the unity of the Wittenberg Academy; in this matter I also employ some art; nor does Luther seem to be inimical; yesterday he spoke to me in a very kind manner on the questions raised by Quadratus [Cordatus]. What a spectacle if the Lutherans would oppose each other as the Cadmean brethren! I will therefore modify whatever I can. Yet I desire a more thorough exposition of the doctrines of predestination, of the consent of the will, of the necessity of our obedience, and of the sin unto death. (C.R. 3, 383.)
A number of private letters written by Melanchthon during and immediately after his conflict with Cordatus, however, reveal much animosity, not only against Cordatus, but against Luther as well. Nor do those written after Luther’s disputation, June 1, 1537, indicate that he was then fully cured of his error. (357. 392. 407.) Moreover, in his Loci of 1538 we read: “Et tamen haec nova spiritualis obedientia (nova spiritualitas) necessaria est ad vitam aeternam. And nevertheless this new spiritual obedience is necessary to eternal life.” (21, 429.) Evidently, then, Melanchthon did not grasp the matter, and was not convinced of the incorrectness of his phraseology. Yet he made it a point to avoid and eliminate from his publications the obnoxious formula: “Bona opera necessaria esse ad salutem.“At any rate, his essay on Justification and Good Works, of October 1537, as well as subsequent publications of his, do not contain it. In the Loci of 1538, just referred to, he replaced the words bona opera by the phrase obedientia haec nova spiritualis,-indeed, a purely verbal rather than a doctrinal change.Nor did it reappear even in the Variata of 1540. In 1541, at Regensburg, Melanchthon consented to the formula “that we are justified by a living and efficacious faith-iustificari per fidem vivam et efficacem.” But when Luther deleted the words “et efficacem, and efficacious,” Melanchthon acquiesced. (4, 499.) In the Loci of 1543 he expunged the appendix “ad salutem, to salvation.” At the same time, however, he retained the error in a more disguised form, viz., that good works are necessary to retain faith. For among the reasons why good works are necessary he here enumerates also “the necessity of retaining the faith, since the Holy Spirit is expelled and grieved when sins against the conscience are admitted.” (21, 775.)
143. Formula Renewed-Abandoned.
Under the duress of the Augsburg Interim, Melanchthon relapsed into his old error. July 6, 1548, he (together with Caspar Cruciger, John Pfeffinger, Daniel Gresser, George Major, and John Foerster) agreed to the statement:“For this proposition is certainly true that no one can be saved without love and good works. Yet we are not justified by love and good works, but by grace for Christ’s sake.” (7, 22.) In the Leipzig Interim, adopted several months later, the false teaching concerning the necessity of good works to salvation was fully restored, as appears from the quotations from this document cited in the chapter on the Adiaphoristic Controversy. According to the Formula of Concord this renewal of the obnoxious formula at the time of the Interim furnished the direct occasion for the Majoristic Controversy. For here we read: “The aforesaid modes of speech and false expressions [concerning the necessity of good works to salvation] were renewed by the Interim just at a time when there was special need of a clear, correct confession against all sorts of corruptions and adulterations of the article of justification.” (947, 29.) However, when the controversy on good works began, and George Major zealously championed the restored formula, Melanchthon, probably mindful of his former troubles in this matter, signally failed to support and endorse his friend and colleague.Moreover, he now advised Major and others to abstain from using the phrase: Good works are necessary to salvation, “because,” said he, “this appendix [to salvation, ad salutem] is interpreted as merit, and obscures the doctrine of grace.”
In an opinion of December, 1553, Melanchthon explains:“New obedience is necessary; … but when it is said: New obedience is necessary to salvation, the Papists understand that good works merit salvation. This proposition is false, therefore I relinquish this mode of speech.” (C.R. 8, 194.) January 13, 1555, he wrote to the Senate of Nordhausen that their ministers “should not preach,defend, and dispute the proposition [Good works are necessary to salvation], because it would immediately be interpreted to mean that good works merit salvation-weil doch alsbald diese Deutung angehaengt wird, als sollten gute Werke Verdienst sein der Seligkeit.” (410.) September 5, 1556, he said in his letter to Flacius: “I have always admonished George [Major] not only to explain his sentence (which he did), but to abandon that form of speech.And he promised that he would not use it.What more can I ask? The same I did with others.” (842.)
In the Frankfurt Recess of 1558, written by Melanchthon and signed by the Lutheran princes, we read: “Although therefore this proposition,．New obedience is necessary (Nova obedientia est necessaria, nova obedientia est debitum),‘must be retained, we nevertheless do not wish to attach these words, ．ad salutem, to salvation,’ because this appendix is interpreted as referring to merit and obscures the doctrine of grace, for this remains true that man is justified before God and is an heir of eternal salvation by grace, for the sake of the Lord Christ, by faith in Him only.” (9, 497. 405.) In an opinion written November 13, 1559, Melanchthon (together with Paul Eber, Pfeffinger, and U. Salmut) again declared: “I say clearly that I do not employ the phrase, ．Good works are necessary to salvation.' “(969.) In his Responsiones ad Articulos Bavaricos of 1559 he wrote: “Ego non utor his verbis: Bona opera sunt necessaria ad salutem, quia hoc additione ．ad salutem' intelligitur meritum. I do not use these words: Good works are necessary to salvation, because by the addition ．to salvation' a merit is understood.” In his lectures, too, Melanchthon frequently rejected the appendix (to salvation), and warned his pupils not to use the phrase. (4, 543; Lehre und Wehre 1908, 78.)
Thus Melanchthon, time and again, disowned the proposition which he himself had first introduced. Nowhere, however, did he reject it or advise against its use because it was inherently erroneous and false as such but always merely because it was subject to abuse and misapprehension,-a qualified rejection which self-evidently could not and did not satisfy his opponents. In an opinion, dated March 4, 1558, Melanchthon refuses to reject flatly the controverted formula, and endeavors to show that it is not in disagreement with the mode of speech employed in the Bible.We read: “Illyricus and his compeers are not satisfied when we say that the appendix [to salvation] is to be omitted on account of the false interpretation given it, but demand that we simply declare the proposition, ．Good works are necessary to salvation,' to be wrong. Against this it must be considered what also Paul has said, Rom. 10: Confession is made to salvation (Confessio fit ad salutem), which Wigand maliciously alters thus: Confession is made concerning salvation (Confessio fit de salute). Again, 2 Cor. 7: ．For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation,' Likewise Phil. 2: ．Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.' Nor do these words sound any differently: ．Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved,‘Acts 2, 21. But, they say, one must understand these expressions correctly! That is what we say, too. This disputation however,would be ended if we agreed to eliminate the appendix and rack our brains no further-dass wir den Anhang ausschliessen und nicht weiter gruebelten.” (9, 474.)
144.Major Champions Error.
The immediate cause of the public controversy concerning the question whether good works are necessary to salvation was George Major, a devoted pupil and adherent ofMelanchthon and a most active member of the Wittenberg faculty [Major was born April 25 1502; 1529 Rector of the school in Magdeburg; 1536 Superintendent in Eisleben; soon after, preacher and professor in Wittenberg; 1544 Rector of the University ofWittenberg; in 1548, at Celle, he, too, submitted to the demands of Maurice, in the Leipzig Interim he merely objected to the insertion of Extreme Unction; 1552 Superintendent in Eisleben; professor in Wittenberg from 1553 until his death in 1574 .
“That Dr. Pommer [Bugenhagen] and Dr. Major have Caused Offense and Confusion. Nicholas Amsdorf, Exul Christi.Magdeburg, 1551,"-such was the title of a publication which appeared immediately prior to Major’s appointment as Superintendent in Eisleben. In it Bugenhagen (who died 1558) and Major (of course, Melanchthon could and should have been included) were denounced for their connection with the Leipzig Interim.Major in particular, was censured for having, in the Interim, omitted the word sola, “alone,” in the phrase “sola fide justificamur, we are justified by faith alone,” and for having emphasized instead that Christian virtues and good works are meritorious and necessary to salvation.When, as a result of this publication the preachers of Eisleben and Mansfeld refused to recognize Major as their superior the latter promised to justify himself publicly. He endeavored to do so in his Answer published 1552 at Wittenberg, after he had already been dismissed by Count Albrecht as Superintendent of Eisleben. The Answer was entitled: Auf des ehrenwuerdigen Herrn Niclas von Amsdorfs Schrift, so jetzund neulich mense Novembri 1551 wider Dr. Major oeffendtlich im Druck ausgegangen. Antwort Georg Majors. In it Major disclaimed responsibility for the Interim (although he had been present at Celle, where it had been framed), and declared that he had never doubted the “sola fide, by faith alone.““But,” continued Major, “I do confess that I have hitherto taught and still teach, and henceforth will teach all my life: that good works are necessary to salvation. And I declare publicly and with clear and plain words that no one is saved by evil works, and also that no one is saved without good works. Furthermore I say, let him who teach- es otherwise, even though an angel from heaven, be accursed (der sei verflucht)!” Again: “Therefore it is impossible for a man to be saved without good works.” Major explained that good works are necessary to salvation, not because they effect or merit forgiveness of sins, justification, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life (for these gifts are merited alone by the death of our only Mediator and Savior Jesus Christ, and can be received only by faith), “but nevertheless good works must be present, not as a merit, but as due obedience toward God.” (Schlb. 7, 30.)
In his defiant attitude Major was immediately and firmly opposed by Amsdorf, Flacius, Gallus, and others. Amsdorf published his “Brief Instruction Concerning Dr. Major’s Answer, that he is not innocent, as he boasts. Ein kurzer Unterricht auf Dr.Majoris Antwort, dass er nicht unschuldig sei,wie er sich ruehmet,” 1552.Major’s declaration and anathema are here met by Amsdorf as follows: “First of all, I would like to know against whom Dr.George Major is writing when he says:Nobody merits heaven by evil works. Has even the angry and impetuous Amsdorf ever taught and written thus? …We know well, praise God, and confess that a Christian should and must do good works.Nobody disputes and speaks concerning that; nor has anybody doubted this. On the contrary, we speak and dispute concerning this, whether a Christian earns salvation by the good works which he should and must do … For we all say and confess that after his renewal and new birth a Christian should love and fear God and do all manner of good works, but not that he may be saved, for he is saved already by faith (aber nicht darum, dass er selig werde, denn er ist schon durch den Glauben selig). This is the true prophetic and apostolic doctrine, and whoever teaches otherwise is already accursed and damned. I, therefore, Nicholas von Amsdorf, declare: Whoever teaches and preaches these words as they read (Good works are necessary to salvation), is a Pelagian, a mameluke, and a denier of Christ, and he has the same spirit which prompted Drs. Mensing and Witzel to write against Dr. Luther, of blessed memory, that good works are necessary to salvation.” (Schlb. 7, 210.)
Another attack was entitled: “Against the Evangelist of the Holy Gown, Dr. Miser Major. Wider den Evangelisten des heiligen Chorrocks, Dr. Geitz Major,” 1552.Here Flacius-for he was the author of this publication- maintained that neither justification, nor salvation, nor the preservation of the state of grace is to be based on good works. He objected to Major’s propositions because they actually made good works the antecedent and cause of salvation and robbed Christians of their comfort.He declared:“When we say: That is necessary for this work or matter, it means just as much as if we said: It is a cause, or, by this or that work one effects this or that.“As to the practical consequences of Major’s propositions, Flacius remarks: “If therefore good works are necessary to salvation, and if it is impossible for any one to be saved without them, then tell us, Dr.Major, how can a man be saved who all his life till his last breath has led a sinful life, but now when about to die, desires to apprehend Christ (as is the case with many on their death-bed or on the gallows)? How will Major comfort such a poor sinner?” The poor sinner, Flacius continues, would declare: “Major, the great theologian, writes and teaches as most certain that no one can be saved without good works, and that good works are absolutely necessary (ganz notwendig) to salvation; therefore I am damned, for I have heretofore never done any good works.” “Furthermore Major will also have to state and determine the least number of ounces or pounds of good works one is required to have to obtain salvation.” (Preger 1, 363f.)
In his “Explanation and Answer to the New Subtle Corruption of the Gospel of Christ-Erklaerung und Antwort auf die neue subtile Verfaelschung des Evangelii Christi,” 1554 Nicholas Gallus maintained that, if the righteousness presented by Christ alone is the cause of our justification and salvation, then good works can only be the fruits of it. In a similar way Schnepf, Chemnitz, and others declared themselves against Majorism. (Schlb. 7, 55. 62. 205. 534. 572; C.R. 9, 475, Seeberg, Dogg. 4, 486.)
Major answered his opponents in his book of 1553 entitled, “A Sermon on the Conversion to God of St. Paul and All God-fearing Men.” In it he most emphatically denied that he had ever taught that good works are necessary in order to earn salvation, and explained more fully “whether, in what way, which, and why good works are nevertheless necessary to salvation.” Here he also admits: “This proposition would be dangerous and dark if I had said without any distinction and explanation: Good works are necessary to salvation. For thus one might easily be led to believe that we are saved by good works without faith, or also by the merit of good works, not by faith alone.““We are not just and saved by renewal, and because the fulfilment of the Law is begun in us, as the Interim teaches, but in this life we always remain just and saved by faith alone.” (Preger 1, 364ff.)
Major explains: “When I say: The new obedience or good works which follow faith are necessary to salva- tion, this is not to be understood in the sense that one must earn salvation by good works, or that they constitute, or could effect or impart the righteousness by which a man may stand before the judgment-seat of God, but that good works are effects and fruits of true faith, which are to follow it [faith] and are wrought by Christ in believers. For whoever believes and is just, he, at the risk of losing his righteousness and salvation, is in duty bound and obliged to begin to obey God as his Father, to do that which is good, and to avoid evil.” (370.)
Major furthermore modified his statement by explaining: Good works are necessary to salvation, not in order to obtain but to retain, salvation. “In order to retain salvation and not to lose it again,” he said, “they are necessary to such an extent that, if you fail to do them, it is a sure indication that your faith is dead and false, a painted faith, an opinion existing only in your imagination.“The reason, said Major (Menius, too, later on expressed his agreement in this point with Major), why he had urged his proposition concerning the necessity of good works to salvation, was the fact that the greater number also of those who claim to be good evangelical Christians “imagine that they believe, and imagine and fabricate a faith which may exist without good works, though this is just as impossible as that the sun should not emit brightness and splendor.” (Tschackert 515; Frank 2, 162. 373.)
Reducing his teaching to a number of syllogisms, Major argued, in substance, as follows: Eternal life is given to none but the regenerate; regeneration, however, is new obedience and good works in the believers and the beginning of eternal life: hence the new life, which consists in good works, is necessary to believers for salvation.Again:No one is saved unless he confesses with his mouth the faith of his heart in Christ and remains steadfast in such faith,Rom. 10, 9. 10;Matt. 22, 13; hence the works of confessing and persevering faith are necessary to salvation as fruits of faith, in order that salvation, obtained by faith, may not be lost by denial and apostasy. (Frank 2, 162.) Again: The thing without which salvation cannot be preserved is necessary to salvation; without obedience toward God salvation, received by grace through faith, cannot be preserved; hence obedience toward God is necessary in order that by it salvation, received by grace, may be preserved and may not be lost by disobedience. At the conclusion of his “Sermon on Paul’s Conversion,“Major also repeated his anathema against all those who teach otherwise, and added:“Hiewider moegen nun Amseln [Amsdorf] oder Drosseln singen und schreien,Haehne [Gallus] kraehen oder gatzen [gakkern], verloffene und unbekannte Wenden und Walen [Flacius] laestern, die Schrift verwenden, verkehren, kalumniieren, schreiben und malen,wie sie wollen, so bin ich doch gewiss, dass diese Lehre, so in diesem Sermon steht die rechte goettliche Wahrheit ist,wider welche auch alle hoellischen Pforten nichts Bestaendiges oder Gruendliches koennen aufbringen, wie boese sie sich auch machen.” (Preger 1, 371. 380.)
Schluesselburg charges Major also with confounding justification with sanctification. In proof of this he quotes the following from Major’s remarks on Rom. 8: “Salvation or justification is twofold: one in this life and the other in eternal life. The salvification in this life consists, first, in the remission of sins and in the imputation of righteousness; secondly, in the gift and renewing of the Holy Spirit and in the hope of eternal life bestowed freely for the sake of Christ. This salvification and justification is only begun [in this life] and imperfect; for in those who are saved and justified by faith there still remains sin, the depravity of nature, there remain also the terrors of sin and of the Law, the bite of the old Serpent, and death, together with all miseries that flesh is heir to. Thus by faith and the Holy Ghost we, indeed, begin to be justified, sanctified, and saved, but we are not yet perfectly justified, sanctified, and saved. It remains, therefore, that we become perfectly just and saved. Sic per fidem et Spiritum Sanctum coepimus quidem iustificari, sanctificari, et salvari, nondum tamen perfecte iusti et salvi sumus.Reliquum igitur est, ut perfecte iusti et salvi fiamus.” (7, 348.)
146. Menius Sides with Major.
Prominent among the theologians who were in essential agreement with Major was Justus Menius. He was born 1499; became Superintendent in Gotha 1546; was favorably disposed toward the Leipzig Interim; resigned his position in Gotha 1557; removed to Leipzig, where he published his polemical writings against Flacius; died August 11, 1558. In 1554 he was entangled in the Majoristic controversy. In this year Amsdorf demanded that Menius, who, together with himself, Schnepf, and Stolz, had been appointed visitors of Thuringia, declare himself against the Adiaphorists, and, in particular, reject the books of Major, and his doctrine that good works are necessary to salvation. Menius declined, because, he said, he had not read these books. As a result Menius was charged with being a secret adherent of Majorism.
In 1556, however, Menius himself proved by his publications that this suspicion was not altogether unwarranted. For in his Preparation for a Blessed Death and in a Sermon on Salvation, published in that year, Menius taught that the beginning of the new life in believers is “necessary to salvation” (Tschackert, 517; Herzog, R. 12, 89.) This caused Flacius to remark in his book, Concerning the Unity of Those who in the Past Years have Fought for and against the Adiaphora, 1556: “Major and Menius, in their printed books, are again reviving the error that good works are necessary to salvation, wherefore it is to be feared that the latter misfortune will be worse than the former.” (Preger 1, 382.) Soon after, Menius was suspended from office and required to clear himself before the Synod in Eisenach, 1556. Here he subscribed seven propositions in which the doctrine that good works are necessary to salvation, or to retain salvation, was rejected.
The seven Eisenach propositions, signed by Menius, read as follows: “1. Although this proposition, Good works are necessary to salvation,may be tolerated in the doctrine of the Law abstractly and ideally (in doctrina legis abstractive et de idea tolerari potest), nevertheless there are many weighty reasons why it should be avoided and shunned no less than the other: Christ is a creature. 2. In the forum of justification and salvation this proposition, Good works are necessary to salvation, is not at all to be tolerated. 3. In the forum of new obedience, after reconciliation, good works are not at all necessary to salvation but for other causes. 4.Faith alone justifies and saves in the beginning, middle, and end. 5. Good works are not necessary to retain salvation (ad retinendam salutem). 6. Justification and salvation are synonyms and equipollent or convertible terms, and neither can nor must be separated in any way (nec ulla ratione distrahi aut possunt aut debent). 7.May therefore the papistical buskin be banished from our church on account of its manifold offenses and innumerable dissensions and other causes of which the apostles speak Acts 15.” (Preger 1, 383.)
In his subscription to these theses Menius declared: “I, Justus Menius, testify by my present signature that this confession is true and orthodox, and that, according to the gift given me by God, I have heretofore by word and writing publicly defended it, and shall continue to defend it.” In this subscription Menius also promised to correct the offensive expressions in his Sermon on Salvation. However, dissatisfied with the intolerable situation thus created, he resigned, and soon after became Superintendent in Leipzig. In three violently polemical books, published there in 1557 and 1558, he freely vented his long pent-up feelings of anger and animosity, especially against Flacius. (384f.)
In these publications, Menius denied that he had ever used the proposition of Major. However, he not only refused to reject it, but defended the same error, though in somewhat different terms. He merely replaced the phrase “good works” by “new life,” “new righteousness,““new obedience,” and affirmed “that it is necessary to our salvation that such be wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.” He wrote: The Holy Spirit renews those who have become children of God by faith in Christ, and that this is performed in them “this, I say, they need for their salvation-sei ihnen zur Seligkeit vonnoeten.” (Frank 2, 223.) Again:“He [the Holy Spirit] begins righteousness and life in the believers, which beginning is in this life (as long as we dwell on earth in this sinful flesh) very weak and imperfect, but nevertheless necessary to salvation, and will be perfect after the resurrection, that we may walk in it before God eternally and be saved."(222.) Works, said Menius,must not be introduced into the article of justification, reconciliation, and redemption; but when dealing with the article of sanctification,“then it is correct to say: Sanctification, or renewal of the Holy Spirit, is necessary to salvation.” (Preger 1, 388.)
With respect to the proposition, Good works are necessary to salvation,Menius stated that he could not simply condemn it as altogether false and heretical. Moreover, he argued: “If it is correct to say: Sanctification, or renewal by the Holy Spirit, is necessary to salvation, then it cannot be false to say: Good works are necessary to salvation, since it is certain and cannot be gainsaid that sanctification and renewal do not and cannot exist without good works.” (386.) Indeed, he himself maintained that “good works are necessary to salvation in order that we may not lose it again.” (387. 391.) At the same time Menius, as stated above, claimed that he had never employed Major’s proposition, and counseled others to abstain from its use in order to avoid misinterpretation. The same advice he gave with respect to his own formula that new obedience is necessary to salvation. (Frank 2, 165. 223.)
Menius also confounded justification and sanctification. He wrote: “By faith in Christ alone we become just before God and are saved. Why? Because by faith one receives first, forgiveness of sins and the righteousness or obedience of Christ, with which He fulfilled the Law for us; thereupon, one also receives the Holy Spirit, who effects and fulfils in us the righteousness required by the Law, here in this life imperfectly and perfectly in the life to come.” (Preger 1, 387.) At the synod of Eisenach, 1556, the theologians accordingly declared: “Although it is true that grace and the gift through grace cannot be separated, but are always together, nevertheless the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a piece or part, much less a co-cause of justification and salvation, but an appendix, a consequence, and an additional gift of grace.-Wiewohl es wahr ist, dass gratia und donum per gratiam nicht koennen getrennt werden, sondern allezeit beieinander sind, so ist doch die Gabe des Heiligen Geistes nicht ein Stueck oder Teil, viel weniger eine Mitursache der Justifikation und Salvation, sondern ist ein Anhang, Folge und Zugab be der Gnade.” (Seeberg 4, 487.)
147.Attitude of Anti-Majorists.
With the exception of Menius and other adherents in Electoral Saxony, Major was firmly opposed by Lutheran ministers and theologians everywhere. Even when he was still their superintendent, the ministers of Mansfeld took issue with him; and after he was dismissed by Count Albrecht, they drafted an Opinion, in which they declared that Major’s proposition obscures the doctrine of God’s grace and Christ’s merit. Also the clergy of Luebeck, Hamburg, Lueneburg, and Magdeburg united in an Opinion, in which they rejected Major’s proposition. Chief among the theologians who opposed him were, as stated, Amsdorf, Flacius, Wigand, Gallus,Moerlin and Chemnitz. In their publications they unanimously denounced the proposition that good works are necessary to salvation, and its equivalents, as dangerous, godless, blasphemous, and popish. Yet before the controversy they themselves had not all nor always been consistent and correct in their terminology.
The Formula of Concord says: “Before this controversy quite a few pure teachers employed such and similar expressions [that faith is preserved by good works, etc.] in the exposition of the Holy Scriptures, in no way, however, intending thereby to confirm the above-mentioned errors of the Papists.” (949, 36.) Concerning the word “faith,” 1549, Flacius, for example had said that our effort to obey God might be called a “causa sine qua non, or something which serves salvation.” His words are: “Atque hinc apparet, quatenus nostrum studium obediendi Deo dici possit causa sine qua non, seu uJperetikovn ti, id est, quiddam subserviens ad salutem.” But when his attention was called to this passage, he first eliminated the causa sine qua non and substituted ad vitam aeternam for ad salutem, and afterwards changed this phrase into ad veram pietatem. (Frank 2, 218. 169.) However, as soon as the controversy began, the Lutherans, notably Flacius, clearly saw the utter falsity of Major’s statements.
Flacius wrote: “Salvation is forgiveness of sins, as Paul testifies,Rom.4, and David,Ps. 32:．Blessed are they whose sins are forgiven.’ ．Thy faith hath made thee whole.‘Matt. 9;Mark 5. 10, Luke 7. 8. 18. Jesus saves sinners and the lost.Matt. 1, 18; 1 Tim. 1. Since, now, salvation and forgiveness of sins are one and the same thing, consider, dear Christian, what kind of doctrine this is: No one has received forgiveness of sins without good works; it is impossible for any one to receive forgiveness of sins or to be saved without good works; good works are necessary to forgiveness of sins.” (Preger 1, 375.) Again: “Young children and those who are converted in their last hour (who certainly constitute the greater part),must confess that they neither possess, nor will possess, any good works, for they die forthwith. Indeed, St. Bernard also wrote when on his deathbed: Perdite vixi-I have led a wicked life! And what is still more, all Christians, when in their dying moments, they are striving with sins,must say: ．All our good works are like filthy rags; in my life there is nothing good;’ and, as David says, Ps. 51: ．Before Thee I am nothing but sin,' as Dr. Luther explains it.” (376.) Again: “We are concerned about this, that poor and afflicted consciences may have a firm and certain consolation against sin, death, devil, and hell, and thus be saved. For if a condition or appendix concerning our good works and worthiness is required as necessary to salvation, then, as Dr. Major frequently discusses this matter very excellently, it is impossible to have a firm and solid consolation.” (376.)
Flacius showed that Major’s proposition taken as it reads, can be interpreted only in a papistical sense, and that no amount of explanations is able to cure it of its ingrained falsity. Major, said he, must choose between his proposition or the interpretations which he places upon it; for the former does not admit of the latter.He added that a proposition which is in constant need of explanations in order not to be misunderstood is not adapted for religious instruction. From the fact, says Flacius, that the justified are obliged to obey the Law, it follows indeed that good works are necessary, but not that they are necessary to salvation (as Major and Menius inferred). “From the premises [that Christians are in duty bound to obey the Law and to render the new obedience] it merely follows that this obedience is necessary; but nothing is here said of salvation.” (392.) Flacius showed that Major’s proposition, even with the proviso that each and every merit of works was to be excluded, remained objectionable. The words “necessary to, necessaria ad,” always, he insisted, designate something that precedes, moves, works, effects. The proposition: Justification, salvation, and faith are necessary to good works, cannot be reversed, because good works are not antecedents, but consequents of justification, salvation, and faith.
For the same reason Flacius objected to the phrase that good works are necessary as causa sine qua non. “Dear Dr. G.” (Major), says he, “ask the highly learned Greek philosophers for a little information as to what they say de causa sine qua non, w.n oujk a[neu. Ask I say, the learned and the unlearned, ask philosophy, reason, and common languages, whether it is not true that it [causa sine qua non] must precede.” (377.) No one, said he would understand the propositions of Major and Menius correctly. Illustrating this point Flacius wrote: “Can one become a carpenter without the house which he builds afterwards? Can one make a wagon or ship without driving or sailing? I say, yes! Or,dear Doctor, are we accustomed to say: Driving and sailing is necessary to the wagon and ship respectively, and it is impossible for a wagon or ship to be made without driving or sailing? I hear: No!” (375.) “Nobody says: Fruits and leaves are necessary to the tree; wine and grapes are necessary to the vineyard; or dwelling is necessary to a house; driving and sailing, to a wagon and ship; riding is necessary to a horse; but thus they speak:Wagons and horses are necessary to riding, a ship is necessary to sailing.” (391.)
The charge that Major’s proposition robbed Christians of their assurance of salvation was urged also by Nicholas Gallus. He says: It is giving with one hand and taking again with the other when Major adds [to his proposition concerning the necessity of good works to salvation] that our conscience is not to look upon our works, but on Christ alone. (Frank 2, 224.) The same point was stressed in the Opinion of the ministers of Luebeck, Hamburg, Lueneburg, and Magdeburg, published by Flacius and Gallus in 1553. (220.) The Hamburg theologians declared: “This appendix [necessary to salvation, ad salutem] indicates a cause and a merit.“They added that in this sense also the phrase was generally understood by the Papists. (Planck,Geschichte des prot. Lehrbegriffes 5, 505. 497.) Gallus also explained that it was papistical to infer: By sins we lose salvation, hence it is retained by good works; or, Sins condemn, hence good works save. (Frank 2, 171.) Hesshusius wrote to Wigand: “I regard Eber’s assertion that good works are necessary to justification because they must be present, as false and detrimental. For Paul expressly excludes good works from the justification of a sinner before God, not only when considered a merit cause, glory, dignity, price, object or trust, and medium of application, etc., but also as to the necessity of their presence (verum etiam quoad necessitatem praesentiae). If it is necessary that good works be present with him who is to be justified, then Paul errs when he declares that a man is justified without the works of the Law.” (172.)
Regarding this point, that good works are necessary to justification in so far as they must be present, the Majorists appealed to Luther, who, however, had merely stated that faith is never alone, though it alone justifies. His axiom was: “Faith alone justifies, but it is not alone-Fides sola iustificat, sed non est sola.” According to Luther good works, wherever they are found, are present in virtue of faith; where they are not present, they are absent because faith is lacking; nor can they preserve the faith by which alone they are produced.At the Altenburg Colloquy (1568 to 1569) the theologians of Electoral Saxony insisted that, since true faith does not and cannot exist in those who persevere in sins against their conscience, good works must not be altogether and absolutely excluded from justification, at least their necessity and presence must not be regarded as unnecessary. (189.) The theologians of Ducal Saxony, however, denied “that in the article and act of justification our good works are necessary by necessity of presence. Sed impugnamus istam propositionem, in articulo et actu iustificationis bona nostra opera necessaria esse necessitate praesentiae.” “On the other hand, however, they, too, were solicitous to affirm the impossibility of faith’s coexisting with an evil purpose to sin against God in one and the same mind at the same time.” (237; Gieseler 3, 2, 251.) In the Apology of the Book of Concord the Lutheran theologians declared: “The proposition (Justification of faith requires the presence of good works) was rejected [in the Formula of Concord] because it cannot be understood otherwise than of the cause of justification. For whatever is present in justification as necessary in such a manner that without its presence justification can neither be nor occur, that must indeed be understood as being a cause of justification itself.” (238)
148.Major’s Concessions Not Satisfactory.
In order to put an end to the controversy, Major offered a concession in his “Confession concerning the Article of Justification, that is, concerning the doctrine that by faith alone, without any merit, for the sake of Christ, a man has forgiveness of sins, and is just before God and an heir of eternal salvation,” 1558. Here he states that he had not used the controverted formula for several years and, in order not to give further cause for public contention, he promised “not to employ the words, ．Good works are necessary to salvation,' any more, on account of the false interpretations placed upon it.” (Preger 1, 396.) In making this concession, however,Major did not at all intend to retract his teaching or to condemn his proposition as false.He promised to abstain from its use, not because he was now convinced of his error and viewed his propositions as false and incorrect as such, but merely because it was ambiguous and liable to abuse, and because he wished to end the conflict. (Frank 2, 166f. 223.)
Nor did Major later on ever admit that he had erred in the matter. In an oration delivered 1567 he boasted of his intimate relation and doctrinal agreement with Luther and Melanchthon, adding: “Neither did I ever deviate, nor, God assisting me, shall I ever deviate, from the truth once acknowledged. Nec discessi umquam nec Deo iuvante discedam ab agnita semel veritate.” He had never thought or taught, said he, that good works are a cause of justification. And concerning the proposition, “Good works are necessary to salvation,” he had expressly declared that he intended to abstain from its use “because it had offended some on account of its ambiguity, cum propter ambiguitatem offenderit aliquos.” He continued: “The facts show that we [the professors of Wittenberg University] are and have remained guardians of that doctrine which Luther and Melanchthon … delivered to us, in whose writings from the time of the [Augsburg] Confession there is neither a dissonance nor a discrepancy, either among themselves or from the foundation, nor anything obscure or perplexing.” (Frank 2, 224. 167.)
Also in his Testament (Testamentum Doctoris Georgii Majoris), published 1570, Major emphatically denied that he had ever harbored or taught any false views concerning justification, salvation, and good works. Of his own accord he had also abandoned the phrases: “Good works are necessary to salvation; it is impossible to be saved without good works; no one has ever been saved without good works-Bona opera sunt necessaria ad salutem; impossibile est, sine bonis operibus salvum fieri; nemo umquam sine bonis operibus salvatus est.“He had done this in order to obviate the misapprehension as though he taught that good works are a cause of salvation which contribute to merit and effect salvation. According to this Testament, he desired his doctrines and writings to be judged. In future he would not dispute with anybody about these phrases. (168.) Thus in his Testament, too, Major withdrew his statements not because they were simply false, but only because they had been interpreted to mean that good works are the efficient cause of justification and salvation. And while Major in later writings did eliminate the appendix “ad salutem, to salvation,” or “ad vitam aeternam, to eternal life,“he retained, and continued to teach, essentially the same error in another garb, namely, that good works are necessary in order to retain faith. Enumerating, in his Explanation of the Letter to the Galatians, of 1560, the purposes on account of which good works ought to be rendered, he mentions as the “first, in order to retain faith, the Holy Spirit, the grace bestowed, and a good conscience.” (218.)
Thus Major was willing to abandon as dangerous and ambiguous, and to abstain from the use of the formula, “Good works are necessary to salvation,” but refused to reject it as false and to make a public admission and confession of his error. This, however, was precisely what his opponents demanded; for they were convinced that they could be satisfied with nothing less. As a result the controversy continued till Major’s death, in 1574. The Jena professors, notably Flacius, have been charged with prolonging the controversy from motives of personal revenge. (Schaff, 276.) No doubt, the Wittenbergers had gone to the very limit of rousing the animosity and resentment of Flacius (who himself, indeed, was not blameless in the language used against his opponents) .Major had depicted Flacius as a most base and wicked man, as a cunning and sly adventurer; as a tyrant, who, after having suppressed the Wittenbergers, would, as a pope, lord it over all Germany; as an Antinomian and a despiser of all good works, etc. (Preger 1 397.) In the address of October 18, 1567 already referred to,Major said: “There was in this school [Wittenberg] a vagabond of uncertain origin, fatherland, religion, and faith who called himself Flacius Illyricus….He was the first one to spew out against this school, against its principal Doctors, against the churches of these_ee ______________the princes themselves, the poison which he had brewed and imbibed some time ago, and, having gnawed and consumed with the bite of a serpent the womb of his mother, to destroy the harmony of these churches, at first by spreading his dreams, fables, and gossip but now also by calumnies and manifest lies.” (Frank 2, 217.) Melanchthon, too, had repeatedly written in a similar vein. In an Opinion of his, dated March 4, 1558, we read: “Even if they [Flacius and his adherents] condemn and banish me, I am well satisfied; for I do not desire to associate with them, because I well know that the said Illyricus with his adherents does not seek the honor of God, but publicly opposes the truth, and as yet has never declared himself concerning the entire sum of Christian doctrine.” (C.R. 9, 463. 476. 311.) In an Opinion of March 9, 1559, Melanchthon even insinuated that Flacius denied the Trinity. (763.) Before this, August, 1549, he had written to Fabricius: “The Slavic runagate (Slavus drapevth”) received many benefits from our Academy and from me. But we have nursed a serpent in our bosom. He deserves to be branded on his forehead as the Macedonian king did with a soldier: ．Ungrateful stranger, xevno” ajcavristo”.' Nor do I believe that the source of his hatred is any other than that the place of Cruciger was not given to him. But I omit these disagreeable narrations.” (7, 449. 478ff.) This personal abuse, however, was not the reason why Flacius persisted in his opposition despite the concessions made by Major and Menius,-concessions with which even such moderate men as Martin Chemnitz were not satisfied.
Flacius continued his opposition because he could not do otherwise without sacrificing his own principles, compromising the truth, and jeopardizing the doctrine of justification.He did not yield because he was satisfied with nothing less than a complete victory of the divine truth and an unqualified retraction of error. The truly objective manner in which he dealt with this matter appears from his Strictures on the Testament ofDr.Major (Censura de Testamento D. Majoris). Here we read, in substance: In his TestamentMajor covers his error with the same sophism which he employed in his former writings. For he says that he ascribes the entire efficient cause, merit, and price of our justification and salvation to Christ alone, and therefore excludes and removes all our works and virtues. This he has set forth more fully and more clearly in his previous writings, saying that the proposition, “Good works are necessary to salvation,” can be understood in a double sense; viz., that they are necessary to salvation as a certain merit, price, or efficient cause of justification or salvation (as the Papists understand and teach it), or that they are necessary to salvation as a certain debt or an indispensable cause (causa sine qua non), or a cause without which it is impossible for the effect of salvation to follow or for any one to obtain it. He now confesses this same opinion. He does not expressly eliminate “the indispensable cause, or the obligation without the fulfilment of which it is impossible for any one to be preserved, as he asserted repeatedly before this, from which it appears that he adheres to his old error. Et non diserte tollit causam sine qua non seu debitum, sine cuius persolutione sit impossibile quemquam servari, quod toties antea asseruit; facile patet, eum pristinum illum suum errorem retinere.” (Schlb. 7, 266; Preger 1, 398.) Flacius demanded an unqualified rejection of the statement,“Good works are necessary to salvation”-a demand with which Major as well as Melanchthon refused to comply. (C.R. 9, 474f.)
The Formula of Concord, however, sanctioned the attitude of Flacius. It flatly rejected the false and dubious formulas ofMelanchthon,Major, and Menius concerning the necessity of good works to salvation, and fully restored Luther’s doctrine. Luther’s words concerning “good works” are quoted as follows: “We concede indeed that instruction should be given also concerning love and good works, yet in such a way that this be done when and where it is necessary, namely,when otherwise and outside of this matter of justification we have to do with works. But here the chief matter dealt with is the question not whether we should also do good works and exercise love, but by what means we can be justified before God and saved. And here we answer with St. Paul: that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by the deeds of the Law or by love.Not that we hereby entirely reject works and love, as the adversaries falsely slander and accuse us, but that we do not allow ourselves to be led away, as Satan desires, from the chief matter, with which we have to do here, to another and foreign affair, which does not at all belong to this matter. Therefore, whereas and as long as we are occupied with this article of justification, we reject and condemn works, since this article is so constituted that it can admit of no disputation or treatment whatever regarding works. Therefore in this matter we cut short all Law and works of the Law.” (925, 29.)
The Formula of Concord rejects the Majoristic formula, not because it is ambiguous, but because it is false. Concerning ambiguous phrases it declares: “To avoid strife about words, aequivocationes vocabulorum, i.e., words and expressions which are applied and used in various meanings, should be carefully and distinctly explained.” (875, 51.) An ambiguous phrase or statement need not be condemned, because it may be made immune from error and misapprehension by a careful explanation. The statement,“Good works are necessary to salvation,” however, does not admit of such treatment. It is inherently false and cannot be cured by any amount of explanation or interpretation. Because of this inherent falsity it must be rejected as such. Logically and grammatically the phrase, “Good works are necessary to salvation,” reverses the correct theological order, by placing works before faith and sanctification before justification. It turns things topsy-turvy. It makes the effect the cause; the consequent, the antecedent, and vice versa.
Not personal animosity, but this fundamental falsity of the Majoristic formula was, in the last analysis, the reason why the explanations and concessions made by Major and Menius did not and could not satisfy their opponents. They maintained, as explained above, that the words “necessary to” always imply “something that precedes, moves, effects, works,” and that, accordingly, the obnoxious propositions ofMajor “place good works before the remission of sins and before salvation.” (Preger 1, 377.) Even Planck admits that only force could make the proposition,“Good works are necessary to salvation,” say, “Good works must follow faith and justification.” “According to the usage of every language,” says he,“a phrase saying that one thing is necessary to another designates a causal connection. Whoever dreamt of asserting that heat is necessary to make it day, because it is a necessary effect of the rays of the sun, by the spreading of which it becomes day.” (4, 542. 485.) Without compromising the truth and jeopardizing the doctrine of justification, therefore, the Lutherans were able to regard as satisfactory only a clear and unequivocal rejection of Majorism as it is found in the Formula of Concord.
149.Absurd Proposition of Amsdorf.
Nicholas Amsdorf, the intimate and trusted friend of Luther, was among the most zealous of the opponents of Majorism. He was born December 3, 1483; professor in Wittenberg; 1521 in Worms with Luther; superintendent in Magdeburg; 1542 bishop at Naumburg; banished by Maurice in 1547, he removed to Magdeburg; soon after professor and superintendent in Jena; opposed the Interimists, Adiaphorists, Osiandrists, Majorists, Synergists, Sacramentarians, Anabaptists, and Schwenckfeldians; died at Eisenach May 14 1565.Regarding the bold statements ofMajor as a blow at the very heart of true Lutheranism, Amsdorf antagonized his teaching as a “most pernicious error,” and denounced Major as a Pelagian and a double Papist. But, alas, the momentum of his uncontrolled zeal carried him a step too far-over the precipice.He declared that good works are detrimental and injurious to salvation, bona opera perniciosa (noxia) esse ad salutem. He defended his paradoxical statement in a publication of 1559 against Menius, with whose subscription to the Eisenach propositions, referred to above, he was not satisfied; chiefly because Menius said there that he had taught and defended them also in the past. The flagrant blunder of Amsdorf was all the more offensive because it appeared on the title of his tract, reading as follows: “Dass diese Propositio: ．Gute Werke sind zur Seligkeit schaedlich,' eine rechte, wahre christliche Propositio sei, durch die heiligen Paulum und Lutherum gelehrt und gepredigt. Niclas von Amsdorf, 1559. That this proposition,． Good works are injurious to salvation,' is a correct, true, Christian proposition taught and preached by Sts. Paul and Luther.” (Frank 2, 228.)
Luther, to whose writings Amsdorf appealed, had spoken very guardedly and correctly in this matter. He had declared: Good works are detrimental to the righteousness of faith, “if one presumes to be justified by them, si quis per ea praesumat iustificari.” Wherever Luther speaks of the injuriousness of good works, it is always sub specie iustificationis, that is to say, viewing good works as entering the article of justification, or the forgiveness of sins. (Weimar 7, 59; 10, 3, 373. 374. 387; E. 16, 465. 484; Tschackert, 516.) What vitiated the proposition as found in Amsdorf’s tract was the fact that he had omitted the modification added by Luther. Amsdorf made a flat statement of what Luther had asserted, not flatly, nude et simpliciter, but with a limitation, secundum quid.
Self-evidently the venerable Amsdorf, too, who from the very beginning of the Reformation had set an example in preaching as well as in living a truly Christian life, did not in the least intend to minimize, or discourage the doing of, good works by his offensive phrase, but merely to eliminate good works from the article of justification. As a matter of fact, his extravagant statement, when taken as it reads, flatly contradicted his own clear teaching. In 1552 he had declared against Major, as recorded above: “Who has ever taught or said that one should or need not do good works?” “For we all say and confess that after his renewal and new birth a Christian should love and fear God and do all manner of good works,” etc.What Amsdorf wished to emphasize was not that good works are dangerous in themselves and as such, but in the article of salvation. For this reason he added: “ad salutem, to salvation.” By this appendix he meant to emphasize that good works are dangerous when introduced as a factor in justification and trusted in for one’s salvation.
Melanchthon refers to the proposition of Amsdorf as “filthy speech, unflaetige Rede.” In 1557, at Worms, he wrote: “Now Amsdorf writes: Good works are detrimental to salvation…. The Antinomians and their like must avoid the filthy speech, ．Good works are detrimental to salvation.' " (C. R. 9, 405ff.) Though unanimously rejecting his blundering proposition,Amsdorf’s colleagues treated the venerable veteran of Lutheranism with consideration and moderation. No one, says Frank, disputed the statement in the sense in which Amsdorf took it, and its form was so apparently false that it could but be generally disapproved. (2, 176.) The result was that the paradox assertion remained without any special historical consequences.
True, Major endeavored to foist Amsdorf’s teaching also on Flacius.He wrote: Flacius “endeavors with all his powers to subvert this proposition, that good works are necessary to those who are to be saved; and tries to establish the opposite blasphemy, that good works are dangerous to those who are to be saved, and that they area hindrance to eternal salvation-evertere summis viribus hanc propositionem conatur: bona opera salvandis esse necessaria. Ac contra stabilire oppositam blasphemiam studet: Bona opera salvandis periculosa sunt et aeternae saluti officiunt.“Major continues: “Let pious minds permit Flacius and his compeers, at their own risk, to prostitute their eternal salvation to the devils, and by their execrations and anathemas to sacrifice themselves to the devil and his angels.” (Frank 2, 221.) This, however, was slander pure and simple, for Flacius was among the first publicly to disown Amsdorf when he made his extravagant statement against Menius. (Preger 1, 392. 384.)
The Formula of Concord most emphatically rejects the error of Amsdorf (the bare statement that good works are injurious to salvation) “as offensive and detrimental to Christian discipline.” And justly so; for the question was not what Amsdorf meant to say: but what he really did say. The Formula adds: “For especially in these last times it is no less, needful to admonish men to Christian discipline and good works, and remind them how necessary it is that they exercise themselves in good works as a declaration of their faith and gratitude to God, than that works be not mingled in the article of justification; because men may be damned by an Epicurean delusion concerning faith, as well as by papistic and Pharisaical confidence in their own works and merits.” (801, 18.)
150. Other Points of Dispute.
Is it correct to say: God requires good works, or, Good works are necessary, and, Christians are obliged or in duty bound to do good works (bona opera sunt necessaria et debita) ? This q uestion, too, was a point of dispute in the Majoristic controversy. Originally the controversy concerning these terms and phrases was a mere logomachy, which, however, later on (when, after the error lurking in the absolute rejection of them had been pointed out, the phrases were still flatly condemned), developed into a violent controversy. The Formula of Concord explains:“It has also been argued by some that good works are not necessary (noetig), but are voluntary (freiwillig), because they are not extorted by fear and the penalty of the Law, but are to be done from a voluntary spirit and a joyful heart. Over against this the other side contended that good works are necessary. This controversy was originally occasioned by the words necessitas and libertas [“notwendig” und “frei”], that is, necessary and free, because especially the word necessitas, necessary, signifies not only the eternal, immutable order according to which all men are obliged and in duty bound to obey God, but sometimes also a coercion, by which the Law forces men to good works. But afterwards there was a disputation not only concerning the words, but the doctrine itself was attacked in the most violent manner, and it was contended that the new obedience in the regenerate is not necessary because of the above-mentioned divine order.” (939, 4f.)
From the very beginning of the Reformation the Romanists had slandered Luther also by maintaining that he condemned good works and simply denied their necessity. A similar charge was made by the Majorists against their opponents generally. And Melanchthon’s writings, too, frequently create the same impression.But it was an inference of their own. They argued: If good works are not necessary to salvation, they cannot be necessary at all.Wigand wrote: “It is a most malicious and insidious trait in the new teachers [the Majorists] that they, in order to gloss over their case, cry out with the Papists that the controversy is whether good works are necessary. But this is not in dispute, for no Christian ever denied it. Good works are necessary; that is certainly true. But the conflict arises from the appendix attached to it, and the patch pasted to it, viz., ．to salvation.' And here all God-fearing men say that it is a detrimental, offensive, damnable, papistic appendix.” (Planck 4, 498. 544.)
It is true, however, that the Antinomians (who will be dealt with more extensively in a following chapter) as well as several other opponents of the Majorists were unwilling to allow the statement,“Good works are necessary.” Falsely interpreting the proposition as necessarily implying, not merely moral obligation, but also compulsion and coercion, they rejected it as unevangelical and semipopish. The word “must” is here not in place, they protested.Agricola, as well as the later Antinomians (Poach and Otto), rejected the expressions “necessarium, necessary” and “duty, debitum,” when employed in connection with good works. January 13, 1555, Melanchthon wrote: “Some object to the words, ．Good works are necessary,' or, ．One must do good works.' They object to the two words necessitas and debitum. And the Court-preacher [Agricola] at that time juggled with the word must: ．das Muss ist versalzen.' He understood necessarium and debitum as meaning, coerced by fear of punishment, extortum coactione (extorted by coercion), and spoke high-sounding words, such as, how good works came without the Law. Yet the first meaning of necessarium and debitum is not extortum coactione,but the eternal and immutable order of divine wisdom; and the Lord Christ and Paul themselves employ these words necessarium and debitum.” In December, 1557, he wrote: “They [the Antinomians] object to the proposition: ．New obedience is necessary;' again: ．New obedience is a debt (debitum).' And now Amsdorf writes: ．Good works are detrimental to salvation,' and it was Eisleben’s [Agricola’s] slogan: ．Das Muss ist versalzen.' In Nordhausen some one has publicly announced a disputation which contains the proposition: ．Summa ars Chriatianorum est nescire legem. The highest art of a Christian is not to know the Law.' " March 4, 1558: “Some, for instance, Amsdorf and Gallus, object to the word debitum.” (C.R. 8, 411. 194. 842; 9, 405. 474.)
Andrew Musculus, professor in Frankfurt on the Oder, is reported to have said in a sermon, 1558: “They are all the devil’s own who teach:．New obedience is necessary (nova obedientia est necessaria)'; the word ．must (necessary)' does not belong here.．Good works are necessary to salvation,' and, ．Good works are necessary, but not to salvation'-these are both of a cloth-das sind zwei Hosen aus einem Tuch.” (Meusel, Handlexikon 4, 710; Gieseler 3, 2, 216.)
Over against this extreme position, Melanchthon, Flacius, Wigand, Moerlin, and others held that it was entirely correct to say that good works are necessary. In the Opinion of November 13, 1559, referred to above, Melanchthon, after stating that he does not employ the phrase,“Good works are necessary to salvation,“continues as follows: “But I do affirm that these propositions are true, and that one may properly and without sophistry say, ．The new obedience or good works are necessary,‘because obedience is due to God and because it is necessary that, after the Holy Spirit has been received, regeneration or conversion be followed by motions corresponding to the Holy Spirit … And the words ．duty’ and ．necessity' signify the order of God’s wisdom and justice; they do not signify an obedience which is compelled or extorted by fear.” (C.R. 9, 969.) The Frankfurt Rezess of 1558 [Rezess, Rueckzug, Vergleich = Agreement], written by Melanchthon and signed by the Lutheran princes, declared:“These propositions, ．Nova obedientia est necessaria, nova obedientia est debitum,New obedience is necessary, is a debt,' shall not be rejected.” The Rezess explained: “It is certainly a divine, immovable truth that new obedience is necessary in those who are justified; and these words are to be retained in their true meaning. ．Necessary' signifies divine order. New obedience is necessary and is a debt for the very reason that it is an immutable divine order that the rational creature obeys God.” (C.R. 9, 496. 498.)
In a similar way this matter was explained by Flacius and other theologians. They all maintained that it is correct to say, Good works are necessary. Even Amsdorf wrote 1552 in his Brief Instruction against Major: “For we all say and confess that a Christian after his renewal and new birth should and must (soll und muss) love and fear God and do all manner of good works, but not in order to be saved thereby, for he is saved already by faith.” (Schlb. 7, 210.) This view,which was also plainly taught in the Augsburg Confession, prevailed and received the sanction of our Church in Article IV of the Formula of Concord.When a Christian spontaneously and by the free impulse of his own faith does (and would do, even if there were no law at all) what, according to the holy will of God, revealed in the Ten Commandments, he is obliged and in duty bound to do-such works, and such only, are, according to the Formula ofConcord, truly good works,works pleasing to God. It was the doctrine of Luther, who had written, e. g., in his Church Postil of 1521:“No, dear man, you [cannot earn heaven by your good works, but you] must have heaven and already be saved before you do good works.Works do not merit heaven, but, on the contrary, heaven, imparted by pure grace, does good works spontaneouslv, seeking no merit, but only the welfare of the neighbor and the glory of God. Nein, lieber Mensch, du musst den Himmel haben und schon selig sein, ehe du gute Werke tust. Die Werke verdienen nicht den Himmel, sondern wiederum [umgekehrt], der Himmel, aus lauter Gnaden gegeben, tut die guten Werke dahin, ohne Gesuch des Verdienstes, nur dem Naechsten zu Nutz und Gott zu Ehren.” (E. 7, 174.) Again, in De Servio Arbitrio of 1525: “The children of God do good entirely voluntarily, seeking no reward, but only the glory and will of God, ready to do the good even if, assuming the impossible, there were neither heaven nor hell. Filii autem Dei gratuita voluntate faciunt bonum, nullum praemium quaerentes, sed solam gloriam et voluntatem Dei, parati bonum facere, si per impossibile neque regnum neque infernus esset.” (E. v. a. 7, 234.)