A Laymen’s Commentary on the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope: A Contrast Between Christ and the Pope

32] Accordingly, that Christ in His passion is crowned with thorns and led forth to be derided in royal purple, this signified that in the future, after His spiritual kingdom was despised, i.e., the Gospel was suppressed, another kingdom of a worldly kind would be set up [in its place] with the pretext of ecclesiastical power. 33] Therefore the Constitution of Boniface VIII and the chapter Omnes, Dist. 22, and similar opinions which contend that the Pope is by divine right the ruler of the kingdoms of the world, are [utterly] false and godless. 34] From this persuasion horrible darkness has been brought into the Church, and after that also great commotions have arisen in Europe. For the ministry of the Gospel was neglected, the knowledge of faith and the spiritual kingdom became extinct, Christian righteousness was supposed to be that external government which the Pope had established.

35] Next, the Popes began to seize upon kingdoms for themselves; they transferred kingdoms, they vexed with unjust excommunications and wars the kings of almost all nations in Europe, but especially the German emperors, sometimes for the purpose of occupying cities of Italy, at other times for the purpose of reducing to subjection the bishops of Germany, and wresting from the emperors the conferring of episcopates. Yea, in the Clementines it is even written: When the empire is vacant, the Pope is the legitimate successor.

36] Thus the Pope has not only usurped dominion, contrary to Christ’s command, but has also tyrannically exalted himself above all kings. And in this matter the deed itself is not to be reprehended as much as it is to be detested, that he assigns as a pretext the authority of Christ; that he transfers the keys to a worldly government; that he binds salvation to these godless and execrable opinions, when he says it is necessary to salvation for men to believe that this dominion belongs to him by divine right.

37] Since these great errors obscure [the doctrine of] faith and [of] the kingdom of Christ, they are in no way to be concealed. For the result shows that they have been great pests to the Church.

This is a continuation of the preceding section even though it has a new heading. Here Melancthon points to the example of Christ, to show the contrast between Him and the Pope. Christ says His kingdom is not of this world, yet the pope claims temporal powers. The pope is so focused on temporal things that he neglects and abandons the spiritual (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Timothy 4). As attested to by history, the pope gradually assumed more and more power. He eventually waged wars against kings and claiming all authority extended from him. This was all against Christ’s command.

The pope claims that he has the authority of Christ, that the Keys belong to the pope’s temporal government, and that you must believe these things to be saved. This all goes against the theology taught in Scripture regarding faith and the two kingdoms that God rules in. The contrast between the rule of Christ and the pope could not be more stark. Christ comes with mercy and meekness, the pope with the law and power. Christ has a higher kingdom and purpose, the pope a baser kingdom and purpose. Christ’s authority is to forgive, the pope uses Christ’s authority for shameful power.

While the pope today may not have the temporal authority he used to wield he still conducts the same abuses. His temporal realm and power are more important than correcting abuses in the Church. He cares more about earthly affairs than the spiritual condition of the people theoretically under his authority.

38] In the third place, this must be added: Even though the bishop of Rome had the primacy and superiority by divine right, nevertheless obedience would not be due those pontiffs who defend godless services, idolatry, and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel. Nay; such pontiffs and such a government ought to be held accursed, as Paul clearly teaches, Gal. 1:8: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. And in Acts 5:29: We ought to obey God rather than men. Likewise the canons also clearly teach that a heretical Pope is not to be obeyed.

Even if the pope was the head by divine right, which he is not, we would not have to follow him if he was doing things contrary to Scripture (Galatians 1). We have examples of this with regards to an office actually instituted by God, that of the high priest.  According to the Levitical code the High Priest was such by divine right (Leviticus 8). Yet, both Jeremiah and the Apostles (to name a few) disobeyed and dissented from the High Priest when he was heretical (Jeremiah 26, Acts 4-5). It is clear that we are under no obligation to obey heretics in the church but rather we should and must dissent.

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