More Treasure from Johann Gerhard Now in English: The Church
I’m very pleased and happy to report that the project to put Johann Gerhard’s huge Theological Topics into English, his Loci Theologici, is going well and we have released yet another volume, this time the volume on The Church, in all its nearly 900 glorious pages. Throughout this volume, Gerhard is engaging the claims and arguments of the Roman Catholic apologist and polemicist, Bellarmine, who declared that there are a number of key signs that the Roman Catholic Church is the one, true church, to the exclusion of any and all others. I have an excerpt to share with you, provided by the volumes managing editor, Dr. Benjamin Mayes, who continues to do a stellar job editing, revising and improving upon the translation by Dr. Richard Dinda. The excerpt follows my little promotional video and a list of Gerhard’s other works we provide.
Concordia Publishing House offers a number of Gerhard’s writings, in addition to the Loci.
An Explanation of the Sunday and Festival Gospel Lessons: Part I Sermons that address the first half of the church year – Advent through the Feast of Pentecost. Translated from the first part of Postilla, das ist, Erklaerung der Sonntaeglichen und Fuhrnehmsten Fest-Evangelien das gantze Jahr (1613).
Comprehensive Explanation of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Begun the same year he started work on his renowned dogmatics, the Loci Theologi, Johann Gerhard’s Ausƒürliche schmriƒtmäßige Erklärung, is a masterpiece in its own right. In 67 chapters (31 for Baptism and 36 for the Lord’s Supper).
Meditations on Divine Mercy: This book is a translation of Gerhard’s Exercitium Pietatis Quotidianum, a book of 45 prayers that Gerhard wrote prior to 1612. Now newly translated from the German, Meditations on Divine Mercy is available for English readers to enjoy and appreciate. A chapter on the purpose and benefits of prayer is also included as well as an explanation of the aspects of daily meditation. Exercitium Pietatis Quotidianum
Sacred Meditations. This was the most popular of Gerhard’s devotional works. These 51 meditations by Gerhard are among the most profound devotional material ever produced within the Church, leading the reader through most of the articles of Christian doctrine.
This largest work, the Loci Theologici, was translated by Richard Dinda through the 1960s-1990s, and was purchased by Concordia Publishing House in 2002. It is being thoroughly edited and revised by Dr. Benjamin Mayes. The Theological Commonplaces series is the first-ever English translation of Johann Gerhard’s monumental Loci Theologici. Gerhard was the premier Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century. Combining his profound understanding of evangelical Lutheran theology with a broad interest in ethics and culture, he produced significant works on biblical, doctrinal, pastoral, and devotional theology. Gerhard interacts with the writings of the church fathers, Luther and his contemporaries, and the Catholic and Calvinist theologians of his day. His Loci are regarded as the standard compendium of Lutheran orthodoxy, with topics ranging from the proper understanding and interpretation of Scripture to eschatology.
Bellarmine’s arguments in favor of that consensus.
§ 204. To prove that agreement in doctrine with the ancient church is a mark of the church, Bellarmine sets forth two fundamental points:
(I) The true church is called apostolic, according to Tertullian (De praescript.), not only because of the succession of bishops from the apostles but also because of a kinship of doctrine, namely, because it retains the doctrine that the apostles handed down. And it is certain that in its first five hundred years the ancient church was the true church and thus had held on to the apostolic doctrine. (II) Emperor Theodosius is praised by Sozomen (Hist., bk. 7, ch. 12) because he said to the heretics of his time: “Let us examine your doctrine according to their writings. If it is agrees with them, let it be kept. If not, let it be rejected.”
We respond. (1) Agreement in doctrine with the church that was at the time of Tertullian and Theodosius is a mark of the church in no other way except insofar as that doctrine agrees with apostolic doctrine and that church with the apostolic church exactly and accurately. You see, there is only one norm and rule according to which every doctrine must be examined, namely, the voice of Christ and the apostles sounding forth in Scripture.
(2) We can learn whether and to what extent the church at the time of Tertullian and Theodosius retained apostolic doctrine only from the apostolic documents, because they set forth the doctrine of the apostles exactly.
(3) Tertullian is correct in asserting that the church is called apostolic not so much because of a personal and local succession as because of a kinship of doctrine. From this, however, one cannot infer that local succession and kinship of doctrine with the apostolic doctrine always walk together at equal pace and are inseparably joined together. After all, there are many churches in which a local succession once flourished which today lack the purity of apostolic doctrine. We can even prove this about the Roman church on the basis of the writings of the apostles.
(4) It is indeed certain that the ancient church in the first five hundred years was the true church and retained apostolic doctrine. Meanwhile, no one can deny that the straw of human traditions and opinions began to be mixed with apostolic doctrine, as can be shown from the writings of the fathers. (About this, see the Centuriae hist. Magdeburgensis, ch. de inclinatione doctrinae.) Hegesippus (as found in Eusebius, bk. 3, ch. 29) says: “While the apostles were still alive, the church was a virgin. After their death, however, she was astonishingly corrupted by false and lying doctrine, and, as for the rest, with a bare head (as they say), dared to set herself against the pure word of truth.” Chrysostom (on 1 Corinthians, homily 36) compares the church of his time to a woman who perished after the first flowering of her virginity. Jerome (De vita Malchi) speaks as follows: “I intended to write from the coming of the Savior to our age, that is, from the apostles to the dregs of our time, how and through whom Christ’s church was born and grew to adulthood by persecutions, was crowned with martyrs, and, after it reached Christian princes, became greater in power and riches but lesser in virtues.” Augustine (Letter 119 ad Januar.) complains about the heap of traditions and observances. Yet all of these lived during the first five hundred years. And furthermore, while the apostles were still living, the Antichrist began to work the mystery of iniquity [2 Thess. 2:7] and the false prophets began to sow their false dogmas. Hence one can learn only from the writings of the apostles what doctrine is truly divine and apostolic. Therefore we must always go back to the “Ancient of Days” [cf. Dan. 7:9, 22].
(5) Theodosius acted correctly in ordering that heretical doctrine recently brought into the church be examined according to the writings of the predecessors, because the article on the Trinity, about which there was a question at that time, was explained correctly in those writings of the ancients. From this, however, one cannot infer that the writings of the fathers are per se and simply the norm and rule of doctrine in all things, because the fathers subject their own writings to the canonical authority of Scripture. Not only do they allow, but they even order, that everything they teach be proved and examined on the basis of Scripture. Thus they acknowledge that Scripture is the universal, primary, and principal norm; whatever does not agree with it cannot be acknowledged as divine but is a fiction humanly devised by whomever it is advanced. Therefore, though we do not disapprove of the counsel of Theodosius (or, rather, of Sisinnius, who supplied it to Theodosius), yet we prefer the counsel of Constantine the Great at the Council of Nicaea, as reported in Theodoret, bk. 1, ch. 7: “Here are the evangelical and apostolic books and the utterances of the ancient prophets. They teach us clearly what we must think about divine matters. Thus let us get rid of our discord and take the solution of our questions from divinely inspired statements.”
(6) By no means do we reject the testimonies of those fathers who wrote during the first five hundred years. Yet we weigh them on the basis of Scripture and evaluate them all according to that norm alone.
The fathers themselves require this. Against “the argument that some of the fathers taught that people before the flood did not eat the fruit of trees nor meats,” Justin (Quaest. ad orthodox., q. 119, p. 365) sets forth the fact that the apostle—whom he calls “the father of fathers and teacher of godliness”—taught something else. Basil, De Sp. s., ch. 19: “What our fathers said we also say, that the glory is common to the Father and to the Son. But it is not enough for us that this is a tradition of the fathers, for they also followed the authority of Scripture.” Dionysius of Alexandria (in Eusebius, bk. 7, ch. 23) says about Nepos: “Among many others I esteem and love Nepos, but actually, we should love and prefer truth more than everyone. We should praise and approve someone without envy, if anything is said correctly. We should discuss and discern it, if anything is said unsoundly.” Jerome, Letter ad Minerium: “It is my intent to read the ancients, to test everything they wrote, to keep those things that are good, and not to depart from the faith of the catholic church.” Letter ad Theoph.: “I know that I regard the apostles differently than all other writers. The former always speak the truth; the latter, as men, err in some things.” He writes similar things also in his commentaries on Psalm 86, on Isaiah 19, on Ezekiel 36, on Micah 2, on Zephaniah 2, etc. When Augustine (Letter 19 ad Hieronymum) was being pressed by the authorities of eight ancient fathers in the controversy on the pretence of Peter, he appeals to the apostle Paul and says:
From all these writers of literature who believe otherwise I appeal to the apostle himself. May all those who think differently forgive me, but I believe so great an apostle more, etc. I have learned to defer this fear and honor to those books of Scripture alone that are now called canonical; I believe most firmly that no author of them made any mistake in writing. I read others in such a way that, regardless of how much they shine in holiness and doctrine, I do not think that they are true because they believe that way, but because they could persuade me either through those canonical writers or by probable reason that it does not differ from the truth. And I do not think that you, my brother, believe anything different. Certainly, I say, I do not think that you want your books to be read as those of the prophets or apostles, about whose writings it is wicked to doubt that they lack all errors.
Letter 48: “Do not be willing to gather false accusations against the divine testimonies from the writings of bishops, because this kind of literature must be distinguished from the authority of the canon. For they are not so read as though testimony were taken from them in such a way that it would not be right to believe in any other way—lest perchance they believed otherwise than the truth demands.” Letter 111: “Nor do we consider the disputations of anyone at all, even of catholic and praiseworthy men, as we do the canonical Scriptures: that, if the honor due to those men is to be preserved, we would not be permitted to disapprove of and reject anything in their writings, even if we have found that they believed otherwise than the truth holds.” De bapt. cont. Donat., bk. 2, ch. 3:
Who does not know that the holy, canonical Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments is contained within its own limits and is placed so far ahead of all the later letters of bishops that one can have absolutely no doubt about it, nor can one debate whether what has been written in it is true and correct? But we are allowed to censure bishops’ letters, which were written after the canon was confirmed or are being written, through the wiser discourse of someone with greater experience in this subject, and through the graver authority of other bishops and the prudence of teachers, and through councils, if anything in them has accidentally deviated from the truth.
Contra Faustum, bk. 11, ch. 5:
In the works of later writers, which are contained in innumerable books but are by no means the equivalent of the canonical excellence of the Holy Scriptures—even in whichever of them the same truth is found, yet their authority is far different. Therefore if some things in them are deemed to differ from what is true because they are not being understood as they were spoken, nevertheless the reader or listener has free judgment either to approve of what pleased him or to reject what offended him, etc.
Contra Crescon., bk. 2, ch. 31: “We do no wrong to Cyprian when we distinguish any writings of his from the canonical authority of the divine Scriptures. It is not without cause that the ecclesiastical canon has been established with such wholesome vigilance. To it belong certain books of the prophets and apostles, books that we dare not judge at all and according to which we pass judgment about the other writings of both the faithful and the faithless.” Elsewhere he says:
Let us use that liberty to which the Lord has called us. Of those men to whose praises we cannot attain, to whose many books we do not compare our writings, whose abilities we love, in whose speech we delight, at whose charity we marvel, whose martyrdom we venerate—of those men we must not accept as canonical anything that they understood differently. And we are doing them no wrong when we distinguish any of their sayings or writings from the canonical authority of the divine Scriptures.
We could cite many more statements like this from Augustine.
In fact, the Papists themselves admit that the writings of the fathers are not the first and immovable norm of heavenly doctrine. The statements of Augustine we have just given are cited in [Ius canonicum,] dist. 9, c. noli, c. neque, c. ego solis, c. quis nesciat, c. negare. Thomas, [ST,] part 1, q. 1, art. 8: “Sacred doctrine uses the authorities of canonical Scripture properly in arguing from necessity. It uses the authorities of other teachers of the church not as if arguing from things proper but as with probability. For our faith relies upon the revelation given to the prophets and apostles who wrote the canonical books, but not upon the revelation made to other teachers, if there was any such thing.” Gabriel Biel, Can. missae, lect. 41: “The authority of the holy fathers compels no one to assent to their statements unless it is founded on Holy Scripture or is based on divine revelation.” Roffensis, Confut. prooem. Luth., § et nos: “We, too, do not deny that the fathers erred at different times, for they were men even as we.” Cajetan, preface to his commentary on Genesis: “If ever there has occurred a suitable sense of the text, even though it be foreign to the flood of teachers, let the reader show himself as a fair censor. No one should despise him because he differs from the ancient teachers. God has not bound the exposition of Scripture to the minds of the ancient teachers; otherwise our hope of explaining Scripture would be removed except in transferring, as they say, from the book into the notebook [de libro in quinternum].” Erasmus, Annot. N. T., Matthew 2, p. 13: “Christ alone is called the truth; He alone was free of every error. The divine Spirit also was present with Cyprian, as is probable; yet the orthodox must reject some of what he wrote. He was also with Jerome, but some of what he said is rejected, and he himself recanted some of his own statements.” On Matthew 11, p. 41: “I know that Jerome, Augustine, and many others along with them interpret this differently. But one may somewhere dissent from the most excellent authors, seeing that they were not only men but even allowed themselves at times to abuse the testimonies of Scripture in their figurative language.” On Luke 22, p. 157: “There are those who instantly take it as an insult if anyone differs from the accepted authors, though not even the latter demand so much honor. In fact, it is more insulting, I believe, if anyone tries to defend against the truth those who, in the manner of men, have slipped somewhere.” Villavincencio, De rat. stud. theol., bk. 4, ch. 6: “It is clear that all the fathers, however outstanding in innocence of life and in learning they may have been, made mistakes in speaking and writing.” Melchior Canus, Loc. comm., bk. 11, ch. 6: “Not everything that the great authors wrote is perfect everywhere, for at times they slip, as that one says, and fall under the burden. They indulge the pleasure of their own abilities, and sometimes they even indulge the common crowd.” Ambrosius Catherinus, Contra Cajet.: “That man certainly does not please Augustine whom Augustine pleases so immoderately that he is unwilling to say that Augustine ever wandered from the truth.” Pererius, on Genesis, bk. 3, ch. 1, q. 5: “Irenaeus declares that what he teaches about paradise he learned from the presbyters of Asia, who were disciples of the apostles, but what then? Must whatever those presbyters told him be considered as a certain and undoubted dogma of doctrine? Is it not certain, according to that same Irenaeus, that those very presbyters taught some things that were false and contrary to Holy Writ?” The theologians of the academy at Douai (in their Censura Bertrami that they put into the Index expurgator.) openly admit that they “in other ancient catholic writers besides Bertramus endure very many errors, diminish and excuse them, think up some fiction and deny them, and attach a convenient meaning to them when they are set forth against them in debates.” Baronius, Annal., anno 34, vol. 1, § 213: “In the interpretation of Scripture the Catholic church does not always nor in all things follow the most holy fathers whom we deservedly call ‘doctors of the church’ because of their lofty erudition, no matter how clear it is that they were endowed with the grace of the Holy Spirit more than all other men.” Gregorius de Valentia (Annal.,p. 18) admits that “the writings of the fathers are, in their own way, weapons common to both sides.” Salmeron (on the Epistle to the Romans, disp. 6, shortly before the end) says:
In reading the fathers, it seems to me that we must preserve the judgment of Quintilian, who writes as follows: “Let not the reader be immediately persuaded that all the things that the great authors said are surely perfect. At times they slip and yield to the burden and indulge the pleasure of their own abilities. They are the greatest, but they are men. And it occurs to readers that they think that whatever they discover in them is a law of speaking, so that the worse things should be imitated, for this is easier. Also, they think they are quite like the great if they achieve the faults of the great.” This he says prudently and acutely.
Bellarmine, De concil., bk. 2, ch. 12: “The writings of the fathers are not rules, nor do they have the authority to bind.” De verb. Dei, bk. 3, ch. 10: “Who denies that the fathers were richly endowed with the gift of interpreting, and yet even the greatest of them slipped?” And yet if the fathers sometimes slip and err, how will we be able to accept their writings as a norm of doctrine?