A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: The Papacy

This is part 6 of 6 in the series A Laymen's Commentary on the Smalcald Articles

Part II, Article IV: Of the Papacy.

1] That the Pope is not, according to divine law or according to the Word of God the head of all Christendom (for this [name] belongs to One only, whose name is Jesus Christ), but is only the bishop and pastor of the Church at Rome, and of those who voluntarily or through a human creature (that is, a political magistrate) have attached themselves to him, to be Christians, not under him as a lord, but with him as brethren [colleagues] and comrades, as the ancient councils and the age of St. Cyprian show.

2] But to-day none of the bishops dare to address the Pope as brother as was done at that time [in the age of Cyprian]; but they must call him most gracious lord, even though they be kings or emperors. This [Such arrogance] we will not, cannot, must not take upon our conscience [with a good conscience approve]. Let him, however, who will do it, do so without us [at his own risk].

The term pope comes from the Greek and Latin for father.  It is the honorary title given to the bishop of Rome.  This bishop, as we will see more exhaustively in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, claims all authority over the church by divine right.

However, the pope is not the head of the church.  He is not the Vicar of Christ. The pope has no divine right. Rather Christ is and remains the only head of the church (Colossians 1:15-23).

The pope is, at best, a presiding bishop appointed by human right. In the early church the pope was recognized as the first among equals in terms of the five patriarchates (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem).  At the time of the Ecumenical Councils and St. Cyprian (200-258) the church recognized the pope as the bishop of Rome, who was a brother bishop, and nothing more.

In the days of Luther though, the pope had taken both temporal and spiritual power.  He claimed to be the head of the church and forcing all to bow before him.  This included even the Emperor.

3] Hence it follows that all things which the Pope, from a power so false, mischievous, blasphemous, and arrogant, has done and undertaken. have been and still are purely diabolical affairs and transactions (with the exception of such things as pertain to the secular government, where God often permits much good to be effected for a people, even through a tyrant and [faithless] scoundrel) for the ruin of the entire holy [catholic or] Christian Church (so far as it is in his power) and for the destruction of the first and chief article concerning the redemption made through Jesus Christ.

4] For all his bulls and books are extant, in which he roars like a lion (as the angel in Rev. 12 depicts him, [crying out] that no Christian can be saved unless he obeys him and is subject to him in all things that he wishes, that he says, and that he does. All of which amounts to nothing less than saying: Although you believe in Christ, and have in Him [alone] everything that is necessary to salvation, yet it is nothing and all in vain unless you regard [have and worship] me as your god, and be subject and obedient to me. And yet it is manifest that the holy Church has been without the Pope for at least more than five hundred years, and that even to the present day the churches of the Greeks and of many other languages neither have been nor are yet under the Pope. 5] Besides, as often remarked, it is a human figment which is not commanded, and is unnecessary and useless; for the holy Christian [or catholic] Church can exist very well without such a head, and it would certainly have remained better [purer, and its career would have been more prosperous] if such a head had not been raised up by the devil. 6] And the Papacy is also of no use in the Church, because it exercises no Christian office; and therefore it is necessary for the Church to continue and to exist without the Pope.

The papacy over the years had developed into a massively abusive position.  All authority in the western church flowed from him. It got so bad that the pope claimed that all those not subject to the pope were not saved.  To quote Unam Sanctam written by Pope Boniface VIII on November 18, 1302:

“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

Salvation is no longer found in Christ but rather in obedience to the pope.  The pope cared nothing for the church but only for his own power. Thus he set out to ruin the true church, those true believers in the catholic chruch, who could unseat him from his place of power due to their true belief in Christ.  Through this work, the pope is the devil’s agent here on earth.  Doing Satan’s work of taking our eyes off of Christ (Revelation 12).

However, even with all the bold claims of the papacy it is clear that the church exists without him as it does in the Eastern churches.  The papacy has no official office in the church as the office of the pope is entirely a man made affair.  Thus the Church can exist just fine with no pope.

7] And supposing that the Pope would yield this point, so as not to be supreme by divine right or from God’s command, but that we must have [there must be elected] a [certain] head, to whom all the rest adhere [as their support] in order that the [concord and] unity of Christians may be preserved against sects and heretics, and that such a head were chosen by men, and that it were placed within the choice and power of men to change or remove this head, just as the Council of Constance adopted nearly this course with reference to the Popes, deposing three and electing a fourth; supposing, I say, that the Pope and See at Rome would yield and accept this (which, nevertheless, is impossible; for thus he would have to suffer his entire realm and estate to be overthrown and destroyed, with all his rights and books, a thing which, to speak in few words, he cannot do), nevertheless, even in this way Christianity would not be helped, but many more sects would arise than before.

8] For since men would have to be subject to this head, not from God’s command, but from their personal good pleasure, it would easily and in a short time be despised, and at last retain no member; neither would it have to be forever confined to Rome or any other place, but it might be wherever and in whatever church God would grant a man fit for the [taking upon him such a great] office. Oh, the complicated and confused state of affairs [perplexity] that would result!

9] Therefore the Church can never be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops equal in office (although they be unequal in gifts), be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, Sacraments, prayer, and works of love, etc., as St. Jerome writes that the priests at Alexandria together and in common governed the churches, as did also the apostles, and afterwards all bishops throughout all Christendom, until the Pope raised his head above all.

Suppose for instance the pope were to give up his office and only rule by human right. Assume that he could be ruled by human institutions. This had happened at the Council of Constance (1414-1418).  At that council the schism that had erupted in the church by using the pope as a political tool ended as the three popes that existed were deposed, Gregory XII at Rome, Benedict XIII at Avignon and John XIII.  They unseated all three and elected a fourth Martin V. Clearly the “divine” office of the pope could be overseen by humans.

However setting that example aside, suppose for the sake of argument that the pope was only the head by human right.  Even if this were accomplished the power of the papacy would be broken and many sects would arise even if the pope were doing his job of seeing to the health of the church.  After all the pope would only be the pope at peoples whim and pleasure.  Thus one could appoint their own pope if they did not agree and further fracture the church.  We can see this today with the proliferation of denominations and sects.

It is clear that the church is best governed when subject to her true head, Christ.  All bishops should be equal in office and rule in common. This is the way the apostles and early church was ruled.  In their days the church was one with the need for a presiding bishop.

10] This teaching shows forcefully that the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. 11] This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God as Paul says, 2 Thess. 2:4. Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this, but they allow whoever wishes to believe in Christ, and take bodily tribute and obedience from Christians.

12] The Pope, however, prohibits this faith, saying that to be saved a person must obey him. This we are unwilling to do, even though on this account we must die in God s name. 13] This all proceeds from the fact that the Pope has wished to be called the supreme head of the Christian Church by divine right. Accordingly he had to make himself equal and superior to Christ, and had to cause himself to be proclaimed the head and then the lord of the Church, and finally of the whole world, and simply God on earth, until he has dared to issue commands even to the angels in heaven. 14] And when we distinguish the Pope’s teaching from, or measure and hold it against, Holy Scripture, it is found [it appears plainly] that the Pope’s teaching, where it is best, has been taken from the imperial and heathen law, and treats of political matters and decisions or rights, as the Decretals show; furthermore, it teaches of ceremonies concerning churches, garments, food, persons and [similar] puerile, theatrical and comical things without measure, but in all these things nothing at all of Christ, faith, and the commandments of God. Lastly, it is nothing else than the devil himself, because above and against God he urges [and disseminates] his [papal] falsehoods concerning masses, purgatory, the monastic life, one’s own works and [fictitious] divine worship (for this is the very Papacy [upon each of which the Papacy is altogether founded and is standing]), and condemns, murders and tortures all Christians who do not exalt and honor these abominations [of the Pope] above all things. Therefore, just as little as we can worship the devil himself as Lord and God, we can endure his apostle, the Pope, or Antichrist, in his rule as head or lord. For to lie and to kill, and to destroy body and soul eternally, that is wherein his papal government really consists, as I have very clearly shown in many books.

Even more so the pope has shown himself to be the antichrist (1 John 2:18-27, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).  The antichrist is one in the church who claims the authority of God and hides Christ.  The pope is the ultimate expression of this, but truly any one in the church who would do this is also antichrist.  Thus vision casting leaders, modern prophets, or other minipopes also fall into the category of antichrist.  If any pastor points you to any other Gospel than what was delivered from the apostles, they are themselves antichrist (Galatians 1:6-10). God save us from such preachers!

The papacy at the time and Luther, and now, is the pinnacle of this form.  The pope bans true faith, saying that by his power and authority one is saved.  Just read the current Roman Catholic catechism to find this out. The pope may have a kinder face in Francis (though it is really a velvet gauntlet) but it is still the papacy.  He still denies the Gospel and Christ His proper place.  He even dares to change the Scriptures!

Thus the pope is an agent of Satan.  Putting forth all sorts of works and heresies to promote and prop up his power on earth.  We cannot as Christians endure the pope, who is the apostle of Satan, or any of his minions or spawn.

15] In these four articles they will have enough to condemn in the Council. For they cannot and will not concede us even the least point in one of these articles. Of this we should be certain, and animate ourselves with [be forewarned and made firm in] the hope that Christ, our Lord, has attacked His adversary, and he will press the attack home [pursue and destroy him] both by His Spirit and coming. Amen.

16] For in the Council we will stand not before the Emperor or the political magistrate, as at Augsburg (where the Emperor published a most gracious edict, and caused matters to be heard kindly [and dispassionately]), but [we will appear] before the Pope and devil himself, who intends to listen to nothing, but merely [when the case has been publicly announced] to condemn, to murder and to force us to idolatry. Therefore we ought not here to kiss his feet, or to say: “Thou art my gracious lord”, but as the angel in Zechariah 3:2 said to Satan: The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan.

These previous four articles: Justification, Mass, Cloisters, and Papacy contain the bulk of what is contested between Rome and the Lutherans.  If a council was called Luther is convinced (and rightfully so) that it will be so tied up with just these articles that nothing else would get done.  The Lutherans at least can give up nothing on any of these articles as they all touch the chief article of Justification. There is no negotiating on these points.

Furthermore the council that is being called will not be like Augsburg where the Emperor had given his protection and called for cooler heads.  This council was already known to be one that was going to stomp out the Reformation. Thus to appear at the council would be to do so only to make a good confession in front of the devil himself.  Namely pointing out the devil for what he is in the hopes that some might listen (Zechariah 3).

1. A mighty Fortress is our God,
A trusty Shield and Weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The old evil Foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal.

2. With might of ours can naught be done,
Soon were our loss effected;
But for us fights the Valiant One,
Whom God Himself elected.
Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God;
He holds the field forever.

3. Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

4. The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom our remaineth.

(LSB 656)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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