The judgment of a most reverend and learned man from beyond the seas concerning a threefold order of bishops with a declaration of certain other weighty points concerning the discipline and government of the Church,
THREE KINDS OF EPISCOPAL OFFICE
We must distinguish three kinds of episcopal office: in the first place one granted by God, in the second place a human one and in the third place a satanic episcopal office.
THE OFFICE OF BISHOP INSTITUTED BY GOD
The office of bishop given by God or instituted according to the law of God means nothing other than the true office of those who, by another, special, name are called pastors and who (as the apostle says) are appointed by the Holy Ghost as bishops to feed the church of the Lord (Τὸ ἅγιον ἔθετο ἐπισκόπους ποιμαίνειν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ ). And both of these are special names in the New Testament whereby they are distinguished by Paul from the apostles, prophets and evangelists (which offices were of a temporary nature) and from the deacons. For at the same time they were also everywhere called elders and Paul also refers to his own apostleship as a ministry (deaconship; διακονίαν). They were, however called bishops with a view to the souls which were entrusted to them as the true watchmen and overseers.
These now worked, either each one separately, if for instance a church possessed only one pastor or with more of them together if the church had more than one. And the community of office in which they were united together with their elders (whom Paul called governments—κυβερνήσεις) was also called by that other general name: the assembly of elders (πρεσβυτερίου). It was their task to devote themselves to preaching and prayer, now in public, now in private houses, and in general to govern the church, as appears from many passages of Scripture. That these were also subject to the temporal authorities of the apostles, but also from plain statements made by Paul.
THE BISHOP THAT IS OF MAN
The human office of bishop, that is to say the office introduced into the church on the basis of purely human insight in conflict with the explicit Word of God is a power attributed to one particular pastor over his companions in the ministry, which however is hedged about by fixed regulations or rules drawn up in order to prevent tyranny. Those who held this episcopal office were called bishops with a view to their fellow elders and to all ministers since they were appointed as one might say overseers over these ministers. That the introduction of this office was not based on the Word of God, appears from the fact that the New Testament does not contain a single word which might refer in the slightest degree to any such thing. For although there is no doubt that all ought to be done in an orderly manner in the house of the Lord, and that for this reason in all the assemblies someone presided (who, it appears, was called Angel by John in his Revelation, but Ruler, or Guide [Proestota, προεστῶτα] by Justin), yet this person, apart from the fact that he was the first to act as leader in the church assembly, possessed no power at all over his companions in the ministry and occupied no higher function than they. Therefore, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, as Jerome observes, calls the entire assembly of the elder rulers (or, guides, ἡγουμένους), without by this designating any particular person. Peter usually acted as such in the community of the apostles (certainly a man of great authority among the apostles who, for the rest, were equal, and yet one of their assembly) when he, sent with John by his fellows in the ministry to Samaria gave an account of his conduct in the assembly before those of the circumcision. If, however, such an episcopal power of one man over the others had existed at that time as it did later, then the apostles would certainly have either already written their title above the letters which they set here and there, while especially Paul in his letter to the Philippians mentions the elders and deacons in the plural, or, at least they would have been mentioned in some way. Since this is not the case, it is clear that there were no rulers (ἡγουμένους) among them who ranked higher than their companions and fellow bishops but that the churches were governed by their elders who possessed equal authority among their fellow-elders, while only he had precedence over the others for whose piety and authority the community had the highest regard.
Epiphanius, when writing against the Arians, defends an opposing view, namely that the human episcopal office was instituted by God, and he advances three proofs in support of his contrary opinion, two which he says to be from the Word of God and a third from the history of those times. His first passage is in 1 Tim. 5:1: “do not rebuke an older man,” Πρεσβυτέρῳ μὴ ἐπιπλήξῃς. He takes this to mean that Timothy possessed a certain authority, that is to say a certain power over the other pastors of the church of Ephesus. But now it must nonetheless be remarked against him (with all respect for the great man) that by an elder, that is to say an older man, someone is understood here who is fairly advanced in age, not someone who holds the office of pastor, teacher or elder; this appears very clearly from the contrast with “the young men,” τῶν νεωτέρων. Another passage in the epistle by the same apostle is chapter 5 verse 19. Paul (says Epiphanius) did not say to just any elder: “never admit any charge against an bishop” but to Timothy who was a bishop: “never admit any charge against an elder”. He wishes to deduce from this that the elders were subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop as their judges and therefor their superior.
But in this he commits two errors. For, in the first place, Timothy was not a bishop of the Ephesians. And this inaccuracy can easily be refuted on the basis of the story itself. For it cannot be disputed that Timothy was Paul’s companion and had thus not been chosen as bishop of a particular place, and that he was sent, now here and now there in order to found churches, in brief that he was an evangelist and not the bishop of a particular flock. “I asked you” (says the apostle) “to remain in Ephesus when I was going to Macedonia”. What purpose did this serve? Surely that he might care for the church which the apostle had founded until he should be recalled. This occurs in the second epistle: “Do your best to come to me soon”. For after all would the apostle really have deprived the Ephesians of their bishop without at least having asked their church first? Or he would certainly, when he finally departed for Jerusalem, never to return to Ephesus, have restored Timothy to his function amongst them, or the Ephesians would have desired him back from the apostle when the latter reminded them of the great dangers which threatened them; or, if another had been chosen in his place he would have addressed him in particular in the exalted speech which he made. But we read only that he summoned the elders and reminded them of their communal task. But no one will be surprised that when the evangelist Timothy, a man of so many and such great merits, remained in Ephesus, everything was governed by him as by someone higher in rank than the other elders and who had been appointed there for a time by the authority of the apostle.
But still, let us go along with Epiphanius a part of the way and concede that those tasks were the duty of the ruler (or, guide, τῷ ἡγουμένῳ). For this reason, however, we do indeed deny that Timothy, if he had not been an evangelist, would have acquired any power at all over the elders of Ephesus. For Paul himself makes it plain enough, that the laying on of hands took place in the name of the company of the elders and not on the authority of someone superior to them. Now the arguments of the same Epiphanius are these: the bishops (he says) beget the fathers of the church, the elders, however, the sons, evidently because the bishops ordained the elders and not the elders the bishops. But what is this but an argument from what still remains to be proved? For one can and indeed must oppose to this that the bishops have taken that right upon themselves in conflict with the Word of God and that that rule has no foundation which is attributed to the apostles in this matter. In the second place: since the principal foundation of ecclesiastical offices lies in election which was dependent only on the votes of the assembly but not upon the laying on of hands—whereby the bishops were certainly not elected but only, once elected, confirmed in the possession of their ministry—we would do better to say with the apostle that the fathers are created by the Holy Spirit through the votes of their own sons, than by the bishops. His third argument, an attempt to evade the text Phil. 1:1 quoted from Paul, says that in the early church it was not possible to appoint bishops everywhere from the very beginning, as appears from the election of the deacons. But what has this to do with it? And who could really be convinced by Epiphanius that the lack of suitable people was the only reason why there was no more than one bishop in all the churches? And not only Jerome but Epiphanius himself, in his book against the Meletians, states this only of the church in Alexandria: Alexandria never had two bishops as had the other cities (οὐ γάρ ποτε ἡ Ἀλεξανδρεία δύο ἐπισκόπους ἔσχεν, ὡς αἱ ἄλλαι πόλεις). One is left to find out for oneself why the Alexandrians did this and why they did not rather follow the examples of the other churches.
Finally, the fact that this office of bishop, the holder of which was the only one in his diocese, not to be the first among the equals among his fellow-elders but was superior to them in rank, is not founded on the Word of God but upon custom, as had already been observed for a long time by many others, is also proved by Jerome among the fathers. He writes for instance to Evagrius: “The apostle teaches plainly the elders and bishops are the same. Would you like an authoritative statement? Hear then as proof Phil. 1:1: Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. That later, however, one man was chosen to be set above the others was done as a cure for schisms lest any individual drawing people to him should split the church. For in Alexandria too from the time of the evangelist Mark to the time of the bishops Heraclas and Dionysius, one person, whom they had always chosen from their midst and elevated to a higher rank, was called bishop by the elders.” The same author writes of the epistle to Titus: “An Elder is the same as a bishop and before, at the instigation of the devil, rivalry broke out in religion and it was said among the peoples: I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollo, I belong to Cephas, the churches were governed by the common advice of the elders. However, after everyone came to think that those he had baptized belonged to him and not to Christ, it was decided throughout the whole world that one chosen from the ranks of the elders should be placed above the others and to him should be entrusted the entire care of the church so that the seeds of schism should be taken away. Therefore, just as the elders know that they are subordinate to the bishop appointed as their superior on the basis of the custom of the church so must the bishops also know that they are raised above the elders more through custom than through any real disposition on the part of the Lord.”
But Augustine too says in his nineteenth letter [written to Jerome]: according to the appellations which have already become common in the usage of the church, the office of bishop is greater than the assembly of the elders. Chrysostom too, writing on 1 Tim. 3, says that the bishops differ from the elders only through their ordination, that is (as Theophylact states more plainly) only through the solemn act of consecration. Theodoret writes of the same passage: “In former times the same people were called elders and bishops”. However, his addition, that those who are now called bishops were then named apostles, as though the thing itself already existed then but had only acquired another name, and his attempt to prove this by the fact that Paul called Epaphroditus the apostle of the Philippians, is of no significance. For the names which he gives in addition: fellow-worker and fellow fighter (συνέργουυ καὶ συστρατιώτου), show that he was not a bishop who held this sort of episcopal office, certainly not someone who was bound to a city, let alone a diocese, but an evangelist, one of those who were used by the apostles to be sent hither and thither as the Holy Ghost should indicate.
The Council of Nicea too, in discussing the degrees of episcopal office, advances the ancient customs (τα ἀρχαῖα ἔθη). We shall return to these presently. The fact, however, that Cyprian in several passages calls the bishops the successors of the apostles whose authority, thought of thus, is of a divine and exalted nature, as though they had received their episcopal office in the church on the basis of God’s command as once the apostles had done, is in conflict with the actual position: for whereas a bishop was always appointed to a particular region, the apostles on the contrary carried out their office throughout the entire world, though not in any disorderly fashion but as was revealed to them by the Spirit. If this idea is correct, however, there must have been more than on bishop at the same time in the Church of Rome itself, namely Peter and Paul, but this was afterwards held to be a peculiar case. And indeed it is not possible for more than one person to be the leader in one and the same assembly at the same time. The fact that in Acts 1:20 the name bishop is used for the apostolic office has nothing to do with the matter, unless one wishes to argue for the same reason that the apostles were also deacon, since Paul calls his apostolic office a deaconship (διακονίαν).
But the idea which Jerome seems to have held, namely that this episcopal office had its origin in the period in which schisms arose in the church, must also be examined. That this was not so, may be deduced from Paul himself, who openly wrote to the Corinthians on this matter and not only made no mention of this curative measure but who also, just as though he foresaw just such an event in the future, added the name of Sothenes at the head of his letter in order to make it clear how greatly such a primacy was to be avoided in the assemblies of the church. For the apostles themselves, of whom we know for certain that they were not alone the first in order but were also highest in rank immediately after Christ, exercised their office in common. For this reason the same Paul did not wish to excommunicate a person who had sinned against morality solely on his own apostolic authority but only on that of the entire company of the elders, and Peter did not hesitate to call himself a fellow elder.
On the contrary, far from this episcopal office being a suitable means of preventing schism, no matter in the church caused such bitter controversy than precisely this supreme authority. This now would never have happened if every form of precedence above companions in the ministry had been avoided or, better still, if it had never been introduced by man. Since matters are so, we conclude that the human episcopal office as a question not of order but of precedence, was introduced by men, as Jerome says with reference to Tit. 1 on the understanding that he himself is of the opinion that, in order that the discord might be extirpated root and branch, the care of the community gradually passed to one man. And what he says in the same passage, namely that this decision was taken throughout the entire world, may be interpreted in no other sense than as referring to a custom which crept in gradually and unnoticed. Concerning this sort of episcopal office must be assumed what is taught concerning the authority of the bishops (προεστώτων) or, as Justin says, of the leaders, in Ignatius and other ancient writers in the period in which the satanic episcopal office had not yet made its appearance.
THE SATANIC EPISCOPAL OFFICE
We shall now proceed to describe the satanic office of bishop in such a way that, just as the episcopal office instituted by God gradually degenerated into the human which we have dealt with in the second part, so also that satanic kind with which we are nowadays confronted, proceeded from the acceptance of the human office of bishop. The clearest and most indisputable proofs (ἀναμφισβήτη τα τεκμήρια) of this horrible and intolerable corruption consist in the fact that some of these sort of bishops have cut themselves off so completely from the assemblies of the elders that they no longer have anything in common with the elders. Others have even abolished the elders’ assemblies entirely so that they have taken over from the church its entire government, especially the rights of election, deposition and excommunication and have reserved them for themselves and I cannot say what manner of officials. In this way they are not only the superiors but as it were the supreme controllers of the clergy, and this in conflict with the explicit prohibition of Peter etc. It also appears from the fact that, contrary to the explicit command of Christ, they have forced their way into temporal governments and they desire not only to participate in affairs concerning the life of this world (τοῖς βιωτικοῖς) and of the state but to occupy positions of leadership, in conflict with the explicit prohibition of Paul (2 Tim. 2 and 1 Cor. 6) and even with the example of Christ himself (Lk. 12:14). It appears from this that they recklessly and completely shamelessly dissipate in worldly ostentation those goods destined for the use of the church. It appears from the fact that they have linked the Holy Spirit with particular places and persons, as though the bishop of a more renowned place were equipped above the others with the necessary gifts or as though he, who is most capable at this moment should always continue to be so in the future. Finally it appears in the fact that they, since they make distinctions among themselves with thrones and ranks, after the example of the Roman empire, show that resemblance to the beast (witness also pope Anacletus in his second letter) which is described in Revelation 17.
This false office of bishop, which they call hierarchy and which finally ended in the primacy of the Antichrist, was predicted by the apostle in Acts 20:29 and in 3 Jn. 9; it is clear that Satan at this time had already begun to lay the foundations of his kingdom. From the history of the Council of Nicea, however, (which, for the rest, is rightly accepted everywhere on matters of doctrine) it is certain how horrible the discord among the bishops was at that time already concerning the delimitation of their regions. Instead of removing the causes of this they declared the metropolitans and patriarchs to be ancient customs (ἀρχαῖα ἔθη) and so paved the way for the terrible Roman papacy which was then already emerging and laid the foundations for that harlot seated upon seven hills. Yet far be it from anybody to decide upon these things, no matter what support they may find in ancient and celebrated authors, without listening first to those divine and apostolic writings which, as no man of good sense can doubt, ought to be the yardstick by which the synods themselves ought also to be judged.
But what is the use of refuting that similarity between the Levitical and the Christian priesthood which has also been advanced by some other writers in proof of that satanic oligarchy (ὀλιγαρχίᾳ) and in the end also tyranny? It is indisputable that the high priest was a model of Christ himself and, if we have made a place for bishops then they will have to display his likeness. It follows from this that, since there is no one above Christ, there are so many images of Christ as there are bishops. Yet the contrary is true: not one bishop displayed a resemblance to Christ since they are not bishops of the Catholic church but merely heads of their own churches. Indeed, they are not even heads, since the bishops are subject to the archbishops and metropolitans and these again to the patriarchs, who in their turn are subject to the pope, which naturally means not to the image of Christ but to his anti-type. For since he, our only head, ascended into heaven for whom, since he lives eternally, we have no need at all to seek a successor, who can fail to see that the assemblies of the elders take the place of the priests of the law, in which capacity they, as we have said, were instituted according to the law of God and that the deacons correspond to the Levites?
Since in every church pastors and ministers are appointed and the power of all the ministers in the church is considered like and equal, it is asked whether the office of bishop is necessary in the church to ensure, as circumstances demand, that the ministers are summoned to the assembly, admitted to the ministry and dismissed from their function on lawful grounds; or else, whether all ministers possessed of an equal power and not subject to the authority of whoever possesses the right of patronage and also of the people be allowed to elect those men who are reliable in matters of doctrine, admonish them and dismiss them from their function.
Two motives may lead us to retain such an episcopal office. One of the refractory behavior of the people who can be contained scarcely or not at all unless bridled by the authority of such bishops who travel from one church to another to visit them. The second arises from the laws of the kingdom which are accepted through long custom and deeply rooted habit, namely that so often as in the public assemblies of the kingdom matters are dealt with which concern the well being of the common wealth, nothing can be decided without the bishops since they constitute the third order and estate of the kingdom and it would be very dangerous for the commonwealth to change this or to abolish it altogether.
Since the satanic office of bishop of which the Roman Antichrist is the head, has destroyed the church and with it all Christian kingdoms, the first care of the devout rulers must be to abolish it without delay, if they have the restoration of the church and their own interests at heart. The human office of bishop, however, which, contrary to God’s word penetrated the church when satan gradually strove to attain greater power, could indeed be tolerated provided only that the old, pure rules, instituted for the prevention of oligarchy, should again be enforced. But apart from the fact that this, in view of the changed circumstances in the world, would cost an infinite deal of trouble, the experience of so many centuries also shows that, unless this institution too is eradicated root and branch, the same fruits flourish anew. Finally, since the Lord so often resolved this dispute among his disciples concerning precedence in such a way as to abolish it completely; since we must seek the norm both for the doctrine and for the order (εὐταξίας) of the church precisely in the apostolic writings and it is also established that the churches certainly flourished in the period in which that entire power of one man over the others did not yet exist but that, as it increased little by little, all was gradually undermined; since finally the remains of this oligarchy where it has not been eradicated root and branch clearly hamper the work of God, we find that this human invention must also be done away with once and for all and that the churches will only be well provided for when they are renewed in accordance with the writings of the apostles.
This renewal, it appears to us, must lie in first the entire kingdom being divided into regions and these again into urban and rural parishes, in pastors being appointed in the largest and most favorably situated towns after having been proposed in a lawful manner by their assembly of elders to his Christian majesty the king, or approved by his representatives and finally being accepted by their own people over whom they have to be appointed after the preceding promulgation: equally that in every parish capable helpers should be appointed to assist the pastor to keep a watch themselves and also to rid the community of less important offences, referring the more serious to the assembly of the elders; further, that in the most suitable places assemblies of elders shall be set up, comprising the pastors of both urban and rural parishes and a sufficient number of people, highly regarded for the piety and integrity who, as we have said, are lawfully chosen to meet together at an appointed time and place and to take decisions on the church matters covered by their authority in accordance with the regulations promulgated first in the general synod and subsequently ratified by his majesty the king. In this assembly let him be chosen by general agreement as first in order, not as superior in power, who is regarded as the most suitable, and this without being tied to any particular place and only for a certain time. After this has lapsed, either another may be chosen or the same person is retained for a time in his function by virtue of a new agreement in the assembly. This must be his task: to report to the assembly common affairs, to ask their opinion and to pronounce judgment according as the assembly of the elders decides, without however any power over his fellows being granted him. Rather should he make himself subordinate to them in all things so that if necessary his own conduct may be open to their judgment. In this assembly let only decisions be taken concerning matters of conscience and that in keeping with the pure Word of God and the order of the Church which is derived from it according to the sacred laws, without encroaching in the slightest upon the authority of the civil magistrates.
All this depends on his majesty the king and the lawful authority appointed by him maintaining this good order and also punishing riotous persons and those who disturb the peace. If, however, it is expected that this sudden abolishing of these two sorts of bishop will give rise to fresh unrest, then his majesty the king, nonetheless, although we cannot see how the bishops in all conscience can claim power over the church or even how they can call themselves bishops and yet live like worldly rulers, for the sake of preserving the general peace, may leave the present bishops to enjoy their incomes for as long as they live on one condition: that they do not stand in the way of the setting up of a better church order and that no one is elected to succeed them after their death.
So far as the obduracy of the people is concerned, this will be far better able to be kept in the rein than by the authority of these so-called bishops, namely by the preaching of the divine Word, by ecclesiastical discipline and by the authority if the regional powers to act against those who persist in disturbing the public order both in the church and in the state. The churches may be supervised easily and regularly without great expense and without any episcopal ostentation by delegates of the various assemblies of elders under the authority of his majesty king and this will not even always be necessary provided the assemblies of the elders perform their task in the proper manner. The sitting of the bishops in the general estates of the kingdom is plainly an abuse and in conflict with the Word of God, indeed it even seems to us that this ought to be completely abolished. For the ordering of purely civil affairs is not part of the office of bishop. Since, however, in such gatherings, matters are often discussed relating either to the establishment or preservation of the position and order of the churches which the godly authorities ought to maintain and not overthrow, as we are taught by the example of the holy kings, it would be very advisable if, whenever a meeting of the kingdom is proclaimed, this should first be made known to those who are at this time elders, so that they maybe also be present, representing their elders’ assemblies, not however to sit as judges, but only to deal on church matters with the estates of the kingdom in accordance with the powers given to them by their elder assemblies, except when, in exceptional cases, it shall please the estates to ask the will of the Lord in other matters too.
If, however, his majesty the king considers it useful to consult one of the pastors or elders because he is held in high esteem for his wisdom and experience, there is nothing against asking his assistance, provided that he is consulted not in his capacity of pastor or leader but as a citizen. It would also be wrong to remove ministers, and to a much lesser degree elders or deacons who for the rest are laymen, from that rank which they occupy as citizens in the commonwealth or in the assemblies on account of their ecclesiastical office. But his majesty the king and the other rulers and nobles must take great care not to turn their pastors into court officials to the great detriment of the church, as is taught by the example of Eusebius of Nicomedia at the court of Constantine. So far as the right of patronage is concerned it is our opinion that it may be tolerated so that no one may complain that he has been deprived of it, but only on certain conditions, namely that he who has been chosen with the entire agreement of the assembly of elders should be presented to the king or to his representatives by the person possessing the right of patronage. After obtaining the royal approval he can then accept his office.
After the reformation of the religion it has become the custom that the bishops, and as many ministers, pastors and elders as the bishops appointed should meet in one place together with the principal barons and nobles who profess the true religion in order to examine doctrine and morals. Now, however, that the ruler is an ardent supporter of the true religion, the question arises whether such a meeting may be summoned without the command or permission of the ruler, in other words whether it is permissible for the nobles and for others zealous in the cause of religion and for the elders who among us are chosen annually from the people and from the nobility itself to attend such a gathering without the order of the king and whether this serves any purpose. The question is legitimate since some think that a meeting of nobles and laypeople is not necessary under custom but without any definite rule during the reign of a king who was an enemy of religion, whereby such assemblies might possess more authority, and since moreover people realized the danger that the nobles, meeting so frequently and in such great numbers without the king’s permission, might discuss other subjects than those dealing with religion. Others, however, are of the opinion that these assemblies are in no way to be rejected or, to put it another way, they consider this sort of assembly to be very necessary, since those nobles who are very zealous in the cause of religion and try to further it are present in the assembly as companions (παραστάται) and helpers to the ministers in order to bear testimony of their life, of the morals of the people and of other related subjects. Otherwise it might happen later, if a less pious ruler were to reign, that the ministers would neither be able to meet together in safety nor to have their decrees carried out without the permission and help of the nobles.
Synods are necessary in the church for many reasons, both to preserve agreement and, in common consultation, to seek remedies for common ills which may occur and also to take care of those who are unwilling to submit to the judgment of their own elder assemblies and who feel that they have been dealt with unjustly. But these synods of an entire people or of a single region, of a province or of a diocese (as they have come to be called after the description of the Roman provinces) are split up into several assemblies of elders. The setting up of provincial synods is necessary for several reasons. It seems to us, however, that unless there is some urgent reason, they would do better to meet once every six months rather than once every quarter, so as not to waste an unnecessary amount of time travelling to and fro. In order to avoid partisanship, it would be better not to meet every time in the same place in a province, but, wherever a half-yearly synod is dissolved, to decide by general vote on the location of the next synod. It is important that these synods should always be attended by two members from each assembly of elders in the province, chosen by unanimous agreement and accredited with certain powers, namely a pastor and an elder or deacon.
We shall not discuss now who shall sit in the prominent place or in the rear, but let everyone sit where-ever he happens to be without quarrelling, and let a person state his opinion according to where he is sitting. He however, who at the first session, at the opening of which the local pastor acts as president, shall be chosen for this office by general consent, shall ask for opinions and guide the entire discussion. This function will end at the same time as the synod. Only those points of dispute will be brought to the notice of the synod which are of a spiritual nature and which concern the province where the synod is assembled and which must be decided there with appeal to God’s Word and to the provisions of the law without any market hullaballoo. If, however, a serious difference occurs in a provincial synod, in which someone feels obliged to complain of an injustice done to him, then he can lay his complaint before a general synod (when it has been decided to summon a second synod). Since, however, all ecclesiastical laws must first be ratified by the king’s Christian majesty, it follows that the synods may only be summoned on his on his order and mandate. After this however there is no need to ask the king’s mandate once again once the regulation concerning the appointed times of the ordinary synods has been ratified by his majesty the king. If, however, a justifiable suspicion arises that such assemblies are discussing matters other than the purely ecclesiastical, his majesty will be entitled to send someone of his own choice as a delegate to grace the meetings of the synods with his presence. He will not, however, be present as a judge unless something occurs which renders intervention in the name of the civil authorities necessary.
A general national synod ought to be summoned only for important reasons. Since these may occur at any time, it follows that they ought by no means to be decided on beforehand. However, whenever it is felt that something of such great importance has occurred in a province, touching either the doctrine or the government of the church, on which only a unanimous decision can be given, then that province must ensure that it is brought to the attention of the other provinces in their half yearly synods. By general consent or by a majority of votes let his majesty the king be approached in order, at the request of the churches, to decide on the time and place for the holding of a general synod, without hindrance or delay (for what ought to be more dear to the heart of a godly ruler than the peace of churches?) according to the request that the churches have deemed necessary. It seems to us, however, that in a general synod the same order can be observed as at the provincial synods, either in the presence of his majesty the kind himself, just as the Roman emperors were present at a number of general synods, or before some honorable lords representing the authorities of the common wealth. Finally, whatever is approved in such a synod by general agreement shall, after the example of these same pious emperors, be expressly ratified by the authority of his majesty the king.
By whom must such church assemblies be summoned, by the king or by the bishops, and on what matter can they legislate?
The first part of this question has already been answered. Concerning the second part we reply as follows. Firstly: to make laws concerning matters of conscience is not permitted even to the angels but the church ought to keep to what the Lord has laid down since we can expect no new revelation since the whole of God’s counsel pertaining to our salvation has been revealed most perfectly and completely. So far as discipline or order (εὐταξίαν) is concerned it is our opinion that we ought to derive the essential guidelines from the Word of God and observe them inviolably as the second component of Christian doctrine. But two more things remain concerning which laws may and should be made in the church. Firstly, since not everything has been set down explicitly in so many words in the prophetic and apostolic writings, it forms part of the synod’s task in case of differences touching both doctrine and the essentials of church discipline, to sum up their decisions in simple and clear articles having the force of rules, as has become customary in both the ecumenical and particular synods in combatting the blasphemies of heretics and the insolence (ἀτακτων) of the disturbers of public order. Since many questions arise in the assemblies of the elders, particularly when dealing with marriages, insofar as possible fixed laws ought admittedly not to be made anew but tracked down and established by comparison of the Holy Scriptures in order to decide as they prescribe. In such a case, that is at least if the work is done as it should be, nothing is either added to or subtracted from the Word of God; what is involved is much rather an interpretation of and a token of obedience to the Word of God. When, furthermore, even though the content both of the doctrine and of the church discipline remains inviolate and unchanged, a change in the form of church order is nonetheless necessary (for the situation of persons and places does not always remain the same) just as we see that the love feasts of the apostles have been done away with and the regulations concerning blood and things strangled have become antiquated, then the governors of the church must also ensure that in so far as possible all are made aware where and when anything of this nature ought to be done in the church, on the understanding, however, that the doctrine itself (in which we include the institution of the sacraments) is preserved in all its purity as laid down by God. Furthermore care must be taken that in drawing up laws of this kind nothing improper or useless is decreed and much less that nothing is retained on the basis of ancient custom that is already tainted by the superstition or that might give rise to superstition. Finally, in all this, the greatest simplicity must be observed that the church may not be burdened by a large number of rules. In order to avoid contradictions, however, it is necessary that these canons (as they were called of old) should be drawn up in general synods since at any given period too circumstances maybe differ among one and the same people. But everything that is decided in that synod should be promulgated with the ratification of his majesty the king as guardian and protector of the churches after God, as we read that it was done by the pious emperors and kings.
Ought the papists to be excommunicated in the same manner as apostates or must they receive a lighter punishment?
We do not see in what the weapon of excommunication can be against people who admittedly were enrolled in the church by a baptism which of itself is not vain, but who were never admitted to the communion of the pure church. Indeed it sees to us that the doors are always open to them so that they may hear the Word of God and that we ought to set ourselves to draw them there, “that they may come to know the truth,” says the apostle, “and may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). But if it is judged that a person openly persists in his sin, then in our opinion this must be left entirely to the Christian magistrate. We feel, however, that it behoves the Christian magistrate, in matters of religion, to act with the greatest moderation in dealing with their subjects, excepting only deliberate blasphemers and those who persist in disturbing the peace.
For what reason may a person be excommunicated? If, for example, someone has killed a person and asserts that he did it from necessity or in self-defense (and therefore is also ready to submit to a juridical examination without as yet having been accused by the king or by a relative of the victim) may the church then investigate the killing, whether it was done of malice aforethought or by accident or out of necessity and must she compel the murderer to show his repentance and to do public penance in the church in sackcloth and ashes or, should he refuse, punish him by excommunication or interdiction?
No one who earnestly repents may be excommunicated, rather ought the person excommunicated to be received again upon showing repentance. There must also indeed be a very grave reason for excommunication. The most serious remedies may be used only to combat the most serious ills. However, those for whom this remedy is considered necessary, either to act as an example to others on account of the extent of their crime or because they have not yet shown any sign of repentance, may, after investigation, be excluded from the table of the Lord (such people were formerly called “the excluded”). However, concerning the question which has been put: if the magistrate, having been reminded of their task, turns a blind eye to such crimes and a person is nonetheless accused probably with good reason, it is permissible in our opinion to summon him to the assembly of elders and there, as the case requires, to exhort him to confess his crime. If he denies it, however, he must be left to the judgment of God and the assembly of elders must cease to proceed with the interrogation of witnesses.
Seeing that in former times rulers and many others gave great sums to bishops, monasteries and similar persons and institutions under the name of “alms”, and since such great wealth seems to be of more harm than use to the bishops, and monasteries are useless to church and state, the question arises of what must be done with such goods which were once destined for the church. Since the tithes are sufficient for the bishops and ministers to live fittingly and honestly: whether the king, with the permission of the estates of the kingdom, may confiscate the rest and use it freely for his own benefit or for the general welfare and this especially when such goods are not composed solely of tithes but also of possessions in the city or the country. Since this question appears to be of a civil rather than an ecclesiastical nature, I had decided not to bother you with it. However, since various devout and learned people amongst us are of the opinion that these goods, which were once intended for pious ends, may not be diverted to worldly uses, even if these are in the general interest, I felt that in writing to you I could not pass over this subject either in silence.
So far as the church possessions are concerned we think that in the first place strict care should be taken that no one taints himself with handling church goods. For if the Lord has already avenged with extraordinary severity a similar despoiling of sacred property among the idolaters, what judgment are we to expect against them who have robbed even the churches and who have desecrated that which was consecrated to his service! Furthermore it is certain that this leads to the blaspheming of his divine name and of his holy gospel, since the appearance is aroused that the papacy was done away with, not out of any zeal for the truth but in order to lay hands on the church’s possessions and as though the old thieves have merely made way for new. Just as formerly, however, the church was overwhelmed with wealth, now it is to be feared that she will be destroyed by poverty since at the present time most kings and princes are no less penny-pinching and niggardly in their case of the true minister than former rulers were spendthrift. It seems necessary to us, therefore, to follow a middle course in this matter.
This, however, can best be regulated in our opinion if all churches estimate what is necessary for normal expenses and also reserve something for the many extraordinary outgoings which cannot be calculated with certainty. Since the church now shares in God’s superabundant blessing, this estimate must not be sparing or niggardly but generous and bountiful. The number of parishes and pastors must thus be so calculated as to be amply sufficient for the people and everyone must be allocated a proper stipend. The elders appointed to assist the ministers must also be adequately provided for so that they can carry out their duties conveniently. It would also be unjust to allow the widows and children of deceased pastors to suffer want. Not least important is the role assigned in the church to the schools and academies, seeing that they are her training grounds. Provision must also be made for almshouses, hospitals and hostels. Also to be taken into account are the buildings for the public worship, that they are kept in good repair and new ones built where necessary. Finally since (as I have already said) the churches are well provided, it should be decided what amount will be paid into the church coffers annually so as to have sufficient funds to hand in times of crisis such as war or famine.
Where all this is collected in a total amount in good faith and broadly calculated it will be taken care of every year by good and capable administrators who will be able to conduct the collection in an orderly fashion and without being hindered by quarrels. If a surplus in discovered this must not be mixed up with the other revenues (for these are of a different character though not always acquired by the most fitting means by avaricious priests), but kept in a separate coffer. Nonetheless it is in our opinion permissible to use and expend this money in the case of a state of national emergency, especially if this aid lightens the burden on the people.