Apology XXVII, 24-33, Of Monastic Vows (continued)


Thursday, Week 29

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It is necessary first of all to believe that you cannot have the remission of sins unless by God’s indulgence. Secondly, that you can have no good work whatever, unless He has given also this. Lastly, that you can merit eternal life by no works, unless this also is given freely.” ~ St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon on the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I.1.

Apology XXVII, 24-33, Of Monastic Vows (continued)

24] But look at the impudence of the adversaries! They not only teach that these observances are justifying services, but they add that these services are more perfect, i.e., meriting more the remission of sins and justification, than do other kinds of life [that they are states of perfection, i.e., holier and higher states than the rest, such as marriage, rulership]. And here many false and pernicious opinions concur. They imagine that they [are the most holy people who] observe [not only] precepts and [but also] counsels [that is, the superior counsels, which Scripture issues concerning exalted gifts, not by way of command, but of advice]. Afterwards these liberal men, since they dream that they have the merits of supererogation, sell these 25] to others. All these things are full of pharisaic vanity. For it is the height of impiety to hold that they satisfy the Decalog in such a way that merits remain, while such precepts as these are accusing all the saints: Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart, Deut. 6:5. Likewise: Thou shalt not covet, Rom. 7:7. [For as the First Commandment of God (Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind) is higher than a man upon earth can comprehend, as it is the highest theology, from which all the prophets and all the apostles have drawn as from a spring their best and highest doctrines; yea, as it is such an exalted commandment, according to which alone all divine service, all honor to God, every offering, all thanksgiving in heaven and upon earth, must be regulated and judged, so that all divine service, high and precious and holy though it appear, if it be not in accordance with this commandment, is nothing but husks and shells without a kernel, yea, nothing but filth and abomination before God; which exalted commandment no saint whatever has perfectly fulfilled, so that even Noah and Abraham, David, Peter and Paul acknowledged themselves imperfect and sinners: it is an unheard-of, pharisaic, yea, an actually diabolical pride for a sordid Barefooted monk or any similar godless hypocrite to say, yea, preach and teach, that he has observed and fulfilled the holy high commandment so perfectly, and according to the demands and will of God has done so many good works, that merit even superabounds to him. Yea, dear hypocrites, if the holy Ten Commandments and the exalted First Commandment of God were fulfilled as easily as the bread and remnants are put into the sack! They are shameless hypocrites with whom the world is plagued in this last time.] The prophet says, Ps. 116:11: All men are liars, i.e., not thinking aright concerning God, not fearing God sufficiently, not believing Him sufficiently. Therefore the monks falsely boast that in the observance of a monastic life the commandments are fulfilled, and more is done than what is commanded [that their good works and several hundred-weights of superfluous, superabundant holiness remain in store for them].

26] Again, this also is false, namely, that monastic observances are works of the counsels of the Gospel. For the Gospel does not advise concerning distinctions of clothing and meats and the renunciation of property. These are human traditions, concerning all of which it has been said, 1 Cor. 8:8: Meat commendeth us not to God. Therefore they are neither justifying services nor perfection; yea, when they are presented covered with these titles, they are mere doctrines of demons.

27] Virginity is recommended, but to those who have the gift, as has been said above. It is, however, a most pernicious error to hold that evangelical perfection lies in human traditions. For thus the monks even of the Mohammedans would be able to boast that they have evangelical perfection. Neither does it lie in the observance of other things which are called adiaphora, but because the kingdom of God is righteousness and life in hearts, Rom. 14:17, perfection is growth in the fear of God, and in confidence in the mercy promised in Christ, and in devotion to one’s calling; just as Paul also describes perfection 2 Cor. 3:18: We are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. He does not say: We are continually receiving another hood, or other sandals, or other girdles. It is deplorable that in the Church such pharisaic, yea, Mohammedan expressions should be read and heard as, that the perfection of the Gospel, of the kingdom of Christ, which is eternal life, should be placed in these foolish observances of vestments and of similar trifles.

28] Now hear our Areopagites [excellent teachers] as to what an unworthy declaration they have recorded in the Confutation. Thus they say: It has been expressly declared in the Holy Scriptures that the monastic life merits eternal life if maintained by a due observance, which by the grace of God any monk can maintain; and, indeed, Christ has promised this as much more abundant to those who have left home or brothers, etc., Matt. 19:29. 29] These are the words of the adversaries, in which it is first said most impudently that it is expressed in the Holy Scriptures that a monastic life merits eternal life. For where do the Holy Scriptures speak of a monastic life? Thus the adversaries plead their case, thus men of no account quote the Scriptures. Although no one is ignorant that the monastic life has recently been devised, nevertheless they cite the authority of Scripture, and say, too, that this their decree has been expressly declared in the Scriptures.

30] Besides, they dishonor Christ when they say that by monasticism men merit eternal life. God has ascribed not even to His Law the honor that it should merit eternal life, as He clearly says in Ezek. 20:25: I gave them also statutes that were not good, 31] and judgments whereby they should not live. In the first place, it is certain that a monastic life does not merit the remission of sins, but we obtain this by faith freely, as has been said above. 32] Secondly, for Christ’s sake, through mercy, eternal life is granted to those who by faith receive remission, and do not set their own merits against God’s judgment, as Bernard also says with very great force: It is necessary first of all to believe that you cannot have the remission of sins unless by God’s indulgence. Secondly, that you can have no good work whatever, unless He has given also this. Lastly, that you can merit eternal life by no works, unless this also is given freely. The rest that follows to the same effect we have above recited. Moreover, Bernard adds at the end: Let no one deceive himself, because if he will reflect well, he will undoubtedly find that with ten thousand he cannot meet Him [namely, God] who cometh against him with twenty thousand. 33] Since, however, we do not merit the remission of sins or eternal life by the works of the divine Law, but it is necessary to seek the mercy promised in Christ, much less is this honor of meriting the remission of sins or eternal life to be ascribed to monastic observances, since they are mere human traditions.

(…to be continued)


Today’s reader: Trent de Marest

Trent is a husband, a father, and a schoolteacher. He serves as vicar at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Baltimore, MD, under the Rev’d Fr Charles McClean. He and his wife Maritza are expecting the birth of their first child in early March.