A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: Human Traditions

This is part 21 of 21 in the series A Laymen's Commentary on the Smalcald Articles

Part III, Article XV. Of Human Traditions.

1] The declaration of the Papists that human traditions serve for the remission of sins, or merit salvation, is [altogether] unchristian and condemned, as Christ says Matt. 15:9: In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 2] Again, Titus 1:14: That turn from the truth. Again, when they declare that it is a mortal sin if one breaks these ordinances [does not keep these statutes], this, too, is not right.

The papists claim that human traditions merit forgiveness before God.  That the various fabricated ordinances by the pope and bishops are efficacious.  That it is a sin not to do them. All such ordinances should and must be rejected as they infringe the Chief Article. This does not mean that man-made traditions are bad, but rather that they are not justifying and should not take the place of things ordained by God (Matthew 15, Titus 1) .

3] These are the articles on which I must stand, and, God willing, shall stand even to my death; and I do not know how to change or to yield anything in them. If any one wishes to yield anything, let him do it at the peril of his conscience.

4] Lastly, there still remains the Pope’s bag of impostures concerning foolish and childish articles, as, the dedication of churches, the baptism of bells, the baptism of the altarstone, and the inviting of sponsors to these rites, who would make donations towards them. Such baptizing is a reproach and mockery of Holy Baptism, hence should not be tolerated. 5] Furthermore, concerning the consecration of wax-tapers, palm-branches, cakes, oats, [herbs,] spices, etc., which indeed, cannot be called consecrations, but are sheer mockery and fraud. And such deceptions there are without number, which we commend for adoration to their god and to themselves, until they weary of it. We will [ought to] have nothing to do with them.

1] Dr. Martin Luther subscribed.

2] Dr. Justus Jonas, Rector, subscribed with his own hand.

3] Dr. John Bugenhagen, Pomeranus, subscribed.

4] Dr. Caspar Creutziger subscribed.

5] Niclas Ambsdorf of Magdeburg subscribed.

6] George Spalatin of Altenburg subscribed.

7] I, Philip Melanchthon, also regard [approve] the above articles as right and Christian. But regarding the Pope I hold that, if he would allow the Gospel, his superiority over the bishops which he has otherwise, is conceded to him by human right also by us, for the sake of peace and general unity of those Christians who are also under him, and may be under him hereafter.

8] John Agricola of Eisleben subscribed.

9] Gabriel Didymus subscribed.

10] I, Dr. Urban Rhegius, Superintendent of the churches in the Duchy of Lueneburg, subscribe in my own name and in the name of my brethren, and of the Church of Hannover.

11] I, Stephen Agricola, Minister at Hof, subscribe.

12] Also I, John Draconites, Professor and Minister at Marburg, subscribe.

13] I, Conrad Figenbotz, for the glory of God subscribe that I have thus believed, and am still preaching and firmly believing as above.

14] I, Andrew Osiander of Nuernberg, subscribe.

15] I, Magister Veit Dieterich, Minister at Nuernberg, subscribe.

16] I, Erhard Schnepf, Preacher at Stuttgart, subscribe.

17] Conrad Oetinger, Preacher of Duke Ulrich at Pforzheim.

18] Simon Schnevveis, Pastor of the Church at Crailsheim.

19] I, John Schlainhauffen, Pastor of the Church at Koethen, subscribe.

20] The Reverend Magister George Helt of Forchheim.

21] The Reverend Magister Adam of Fulda, Preacher in Hesse.

22] The Reverend Magister Anthony Corvinus, Preacher in Hesse.

23] I, Doctor John Bugenhagen, Pomeranus, again subscribe in the name of Magister John Brentz, as on departing from Smalcald he directed me orally and by a letter, which I have shown to those brethren who have subscribed.

24] I, Dionysius Melander, subscribe to the Confession, the Apology, and the Concordia on the subject of the Eucharist.

25] Paul Rhodius, Superintendent of Stettin.

26] Gerard Oeniken, Superintendent of the Church at Minden.

27] I, Brixius Northanus, Minister of the Church of Christ which is at Soest, subscribe to the Articles of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, and confess that hitherto I have thus believed and taught, and by the Spirit of Christ I shall continue thus to believe and teach.

28] Michael Coelius, Preacher at Mansfeld, subscribed.

29] The Reverend Magister Peter Geltner, Preacher at Frankfort, subscribed.

30] Wendal Faber, Pastor of Seeburg in Mansfeld.

31] I, John Aepinus, subscribe.

32] Likewise, I, John Amsterdam of Bremen.

33] I, Frederick Myconius, Pastor of the Church at Gotha in Thuringia, subscribe in my own name and in that of Justus Menius of Eisenach

34] I, Doctor John Lang, Preacher of the Church at Erfurt, subscribe with my own hand in my own name, and in that of my other coworkers in the Gospel, namely:

35] The Reverend Licentiate Ludwig Platz of Melsungen.

36] The Reverend Magister Sigismund Kirchner.

37] The Reverend Wolfgang Kismetter.

38] The Reverend Melchior Weitmann.

39] The Reverend John Tall.

40] The Reverend John Kilian.

41] The Reverend Nicholas Faber.

42] The Reverend Andrew Menser.

43] And I, Egidius Mechler, have subscribed with my own hand.

Luther has pretty much run out steam at this point.  This is his confession of faith and he knows of no other way to make it.  The other things he mentions are also condemned for all the reasons previously stated.

Note that all who subscribed do so without reservation except for Philip Melancthon.  Melancthon’s conditional subscription is of note as it shows his concern for unity, even at the price of doctrine.  To be honest his conditional subscription would be fine for us too. We would gladly accept the pope as a temporal head of the church if pure doctrine, practice, and the Gospel could be maintained. He would only be the temporal head of the church by common human consent. However as Luther rightly points out the papists will never give in on the point about Justification.  Melanchton’s qualified subscription is also interesting as he is the one who writes the Treatise on Power and Primacy of the Pope which is an even more rigorous rebuke of the papacy than what is found in the Smalcald Articles, and which we will look at next.

1 One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure
Teach me highly to regard.
All else, though it first give pleasure,
Is a yoke that presses hard!
Beneath it the heart is still fretting and striving,
No true, lasting happiness ever deriving.
This one thing is needful; all others are vain–
I count all but loss that I Christ may obtain!

2 How were Mary’s thoughts devoted
Her eternal joy to find
As intent each word she noted
At her Savior’s feet reclined!
How kindled her heart, how devout was its feeling
While hearing the lessons that Christ was revealing!
All earthly concerns she forgot for her Lord
And found her contentment in hearing His Word.

3 Wisdom’s highest, noblest treasure,
Jesus, is revealed in You.
Let me find in You my pleasure,
And my wayward will subdue,
Humility there and simplicity reigning.
In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training.
If I learn from Jesus this knowledge divine,
The blessing of heavenly wisdom is mine.

4 Nothing have I, Christ, to offer,
You alone, my highest good.
Nothing have I, Lord, to proffer
But Your crimson-colored blood.
Your death on the cross has death wholly defeated
And thereby my righteousness fully completed;
Salvation’s white raiments I there did obtain,
And in them in glory with You I shall reign.

5 Therefore You alone, my Savior,
Shall be all in all to me;
Search my heart and my behavior,
Root out all hypocrisy.
Through all my life’s pilgrimage, guard and uphold me,
In loving forgiveness, O Jesus, enfold me.
This one thing is needful; all others are vain–
I count all but loss that I Christ may obtain!

(LSB 536)

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