A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: Chapters and Cloisters

Part II, Article III: Of Chapters and Cloisters.

1] That chapters and cloisters [colleges of canons and communistic dwellings], which were formerly founded with the good intention [of our forefathers] to educate learned men and chaste [and modest] women, ought again to be turned to such use, in order that pastors, preachers, and other ministers of the churches may be had, and likewise other necessary persons [fitted] for [the political administration of] the secular government [or for the commonwealth] in cities and countries, and well-educated, maidens for mothers and housekeepers, etc.

2] If they will not serve this purpose, it is better that they be abandoned or razed, rather than [continued and], with their blasphemous services invented by men, regarded as something better than the ordinary Christian life and the offices and callings ordained by God. For all this also is contrary to the first chief article concerning the redemption made through Jesus Christ. Add to this that (like all other human inventions) these have neither been commanded; they are needless and useless, and, besides, afford occasion for dangerous and vain labor [dangerous annoyances and fruitless worship], such services as the prophets call Aven, i.e., pain and labor.

From a wide historical point of view, monasteries have been a major boon both for the church and the world.  They served as the premier site of education and learning for both men and women in the middle ages.  Without them, the Dark Ages would have been far darker than they really were.  None of the treasures of the Christian Church through the ages, much less the treasures of Western civilization would have survived without the many faithful monks that preserved that knowledge through the collapse of the Roman Empire.

However for all the great good that monks and nuns have done, the cloisters also were a hotbed of great evil. This was due to the false belief that by entering the monasteries you were doing a better work for God than ordinary Christians.  These extraordinary works earned your way to heaven, as well as gave the delusion that others could pay to earn heaven via the prayers of monks. By the time of Luther more was done in monasteries for the sake mammon and empty works of piety than in honest love for the neighbor (Isaiah 29:13-24).

As a result of this corruption Luther, and the other reformers (most notably Philip Melanchthon), took what was good out of the monastery and brought it into the public sphere.  The Lutherans built and maintained elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and seminaries.  They sought to educate all men, in every station and situation in life.  From the poor milkmaid carrying for her children to the most esteemed prince who oversaw the realm, all were to be brought up in the Word of God and prayer.

Education of both men and women is a crucial part of the propagation of the faith and the formation of good citizens.  After all, a well educated Christian mother will bring the benefits of her education to her husband and children as she sees to the home front.  A well educated Christian prince will see to the care and protection of his citizens without succumbing to the corruption that power brings. For Lutherans then education is part and parcel of our vocation as Christians, for true education must be suffused with Scripture bringing the whole life into conformity with God’s will and purpose.  It equips us to serve God and our neighbor with our best and highest abilities.

1 O God, my faithful God,
True fountain ever flowing,
Without whom nothing is,
All perfect gifts bestowing:
Give me a healthy frame,
And may I have within
A conscience free from blame,
A soul unstained by sin.

2 Grant me the strength to do
With ready heart and willing
Whatever You command,
My calling here fulfilling;
That I do what I should
While trusting You to bless
The outcome for my good,
For You must give success.

3 Keep me from saying words
That later need recalling;
Guard me lest idle speech
May from my lips be falling;
But when within my place
I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace
Lest I offend the weak.

4 Lord, let me win my foes
With kindly words and actions,
And let me find good friends
For counsel and correction.
Help me, as You have taught,
To love both great and small
And by Your Spirit’s might
To live in peace with all.

5 Let me depart this life
Confiding in my Savior;
By grace receive my soul
That it may live forever;
And let my body have
A quiet resting place
Within a Christian grave;
And let it sleep in peace.

6 And on that final day
When all the dead are waking,
Stretch out Your mighty hand,
My deathly slumber breaking.
Then let me hear Your voice,
Redeem this earthly frame,
And bid me to rejoice
With those who love Your name.

(LSB 696)

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