Tuesday, Week 30
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Apology XXVII 58-69, Of Monastic Vows (fin)
58] Here they present an objection derived from the Law concerning the Nazarites, Num. 6:2f. But the Nazarites did not take upon themselves their vows with the opinions which, we have hitherto said, we censure in the vows of the monks. The rite of the Nazarites was an exercise [a bodily exercise with fasting and certain kinds of food] or declaration of faith before men, and did not merit the remission of sins before God, did not justify before God. [For they sought this elsewhere, namely, in the promise of the blessed Seed.] Again, just as circumcision or the slaying of victims would not be a service of God now, so the rite of the Nazarites ought not to be presented now as a service, but it ought to be judged simply as an adiaphoron. It is not right to compare monasticism, devised without God’s Word, as a service which should merit the remission of sins and justification, with the rite of the Nazarites, which had God’s Word, and was not taught for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins, but to be an outward exercise, just as other ceremonies of the Law. The same can be said concerning other ceremonies prescribed in the Law.
59] The Rechabites also are cited, who did not have any possessions, and did not drink wine, as Jeremiah 35:6f says. Yea, truly, the example of the Rechabites accords beautifully with our monks, whose monasteries excel the palaces of kings, and who live most sumptuously! And the Rechabites, in their poverty of all things, were nevertheless married. Our monks, although abounding in all voluptuousness, profess celibacy.
60] Besides, examples ought to be interpreted according to the rule, i.e., according to certain and clear passages of Scripture, not contrary to the rule, that is, contrary to the Scriptures. 61] It is very certain, however, that our observances do not merit the remission of sins or justification. Therefore, when the Rechabites are praised, it is necessary [it is certain] that these have observed their custom, not because they believed that by this they merited remission of sins, or that the work was itself a justifying service, or one on account of which they obtained eternal life, instead of, by God’s mercy, for the sake of the promised Seed. But because they had the command of their parents, their obedience is praised, concerning which there is the commandment of God: Honor thy father and mother.
62] Then, too, the custom had a particular purpose: Because they were foreigners, not Israelites, it is apparent that their father wished to distinguish them by certain marks from their countrymen, so that they might not relapse into the impiety of their countrymen. He wished by these marks to admonish them of the [fear of God, the] doctrine of faith and immortality. 63] Such an end is lawful. But for monasticism far different ends are taught. They feign that the works of monasticism are a service; they feign that they merit the remission of sins and justification. The example of the Rechabites is therefore unlike monasticism; to omit here other evils which inhere in monasticism at present.
64] They cite also from 1 Tim. 5:11ff concerning widows, who, as they served the Church, were supported at the public expense, where it is said: They will marry, having damnation, because 65] they have cast off their first faith. First, let us suppose that the Apostle is here speaking of vows [which, however, he is not doing]; still this passage will not favor monastic vows, which are made concerning godless services, and in this opinion, that they merit the remission of sins and justification. For Paul, with ringing voice, condemns all services, all laws, all works, if they are observed in order to merit the remission of sins, or that, on account of them, instead of through mercy on account of Christ, we obtain remission of sins. On this account the vows of widows, if there were any, must have been unlike monastic vows.
66] Besides, if the adversaries do not cease to misapply the passage to vows, the prohibition that no widow be selected who is less than sixty years, 1 Tim. 5:9, must be misapplied in the same way. Thus vows 67] made before this age will be of no account. But the Church did not yet know these vows. Therefore Paul condemns widows, not because they marry, for he commands the younger to marry; but because, when supported at the public expense, they became wanton, and thus cast off faith. He calls this first faith, clearly not in a monastic vow, but in Christianity (of their Baptism, their Christian duty, their Christianity]. And in this sense he understands faith in the same chapter, 5:8: If any one provide not for his own, and specialty for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith. 68] For he speaks otherwise of faith than the sophists. He does not ascribe faith to those who have mortal sin. He, accordingly, says that those cast off faith who do not care for their relatives. And in the same way he says that wanton women cast off faith.
69] We have recounted some of our reasons, and, in passing, have explained away the objections urged by the adversaries. And we have collected these matters, not only on account of the adversaries, but much more on account of godly minds, that they may have in view the reasons why they ought to disapprove of hypocrisy and fictitious monastic services, all of which indeed this one saying of Christ annuls, which reads, Matt. 15:9: In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Therefore the vows themselves and the observances of meats, lessons, chants, vestments, sandals, girdles, are useless services in God’s sight. And all godly minds should certainly know that the opinion is simply pharisaic and condemned that these observances merit the remission of sins; that on account of them we are accounted righteous; that on account of them, and not through mercy on account of Christ, we obtain eternal life. And the holy men who have lived in these kinds of life must necessarily have learned, confidence in such observance having been rejected, that they had the remission of sins freely; that for Christ’s sake through mercy they would obtain eternal life, and not for the sake of these services [therefore godly persons who were saved and continued to live in monastic life had finally come to this, namely, that they despaired of their monastic life, despised all their works as dung, condemned all their hypocritical service of God, and held fast to the promise of grace in Christ, as in the example of St. Bernard, saying, Perdite vixi, I have lived in a sinful way]; because God only approves services instituted by His Word, which services avail when used in faith.
(…to be continued)
Today’s reader: Matthew Carver
Matthew Carver lives in Nashville, Tenn., and works as a freelance artist and translator. His interests include languages, liturgy, hymnody, and church history. A selection of his work is viewable online on his blog, HYMNOGLYPT.