Church Fathers & Justification: Martin Chemnitz vs. Catholicism

Church Fathers & Justification: Martin Chemnitz vs. Catholicism August 25, 2017
Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586) was an eminent second-generation Lutheran theologian. 16th century anonymous portrait [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




This is one of a series of replies to the prominent 16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971; translated by Fred Kramer).


Chemnitz’s words will be in blue. The words of Church fathers will be in green.

* * * * *

A particular interest of mine, where Chemnitz is concerned, is how he utilizes the Church Fathers to bolster up his case for Lutheranism over against Catholicism (in other words, his “historical case”). As I have noted again and again, Lutheranism regards itself as a reform of the Christian (Catholic) Church. That is, it believes itself to be the true inheritor of the beliefs of the fathers and the early Church, or, if you will, a return to the state of affairs that obtained in those early days of Christianity (and believes [“Roman”] Catholicism to be a corruption and departure from same). This is what I have called “the Lutheran Myth of Origins,” because (I contend) it fails when stacked up against the facts of patristic history. Hence Chemnitz writes:

We have therefore the testimony of the ancient church . . . (p. 161)

And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church . . . Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church. (pp. 208-209)

[W]e love and value greatly the true and sound interpretations which agree with the rules which we have quoted from the fathers. (p. 211)

It is undeniably the truest of axioms that that alone is the true doctrine which the apostles transmitted and which the primitive church professed as received from the apostles. (p. 225)

These genuine, ancient, and true traditions of the apostles we embrace with deepest reverence. (p. 246)

We confess also that we disagree with those who invent opinions which have no testimony from any period in the church . . . We also hold that no dogma that is new in the churches and in conflict with all antiquity should be accepted. What could be more honorably said and thought concerning the consensus and the testimonies of antiquity? . . . we search out and quote the testimonies of the fathers . . . (p. 258)

Likewise, he frequently derides and mocks Catholic arguments from the Fathers:

[W]hen the papalists have transformed any statement of Scripture so that it agrees with their own corruptions, they search diligently in the writings of the fathers that they may scrape together from them a few statements which will in some way defend their purpose. (p. 212)

. . . how fraudulently the papalists quote and treat the testimonies of Scripture and of antiquity in order to establish and confirm their spurious traditions. (p. 226)

There is a very great difference between the primitive church, which was at the time of the apostles and of apostolic men testifying with regard to the books of Holy Scripture, and the papal church, which is foisting its fictions as apostolic traditions on us without proof. (p. 228)

[W]e say, and the obviousness of the matter confirms it, that there is a greater difference between the primitive apostolic church and the papal kingdom than there is between heaven and earth. Therefore they must prove that their church is apostolic before they can arrogate this privilege to themselves . . . (pp. 235-236)

If therefore someone asks with true and pious zeal what is the truly ancient and apostolic tradition, it is not necessary to invent fables about purgatory, holy water, and the like. (p. 240)

[T]he papalists, devoid of and convicted by the testimonies of Scripture, seek protection from the fathers. (p. 263)

[T]he papalists . . . bring forth certain statements from the fathers for the protection of their superstitions and somehow throw them together contrary to those things which are shown from the Scriptures . . . (p. 265)

. . . you may establish from this with what sincerity the papalists treat the testimonies of the fathers. (p. 266)

[B]y heaping up many dissimilar statements from the most ancient writings the papalists gain for their disputation a certain appearance and cloak, or rather a deceitful disguise. (p. 272)

[T]he papalists have and fight for so many such traditions for which they cannot even bring forth any testimonies from approved writings of the ancients, . . . (p. 299)

[C]ertain spurious additions have been interpolated in the writings of almost all the fathers under their names. And of all the writings it is from these that the papalists most willingly take their proofs. (p. 303)

Very well, then. With this general statement of his opinion (and that of confessional, orthodox Lutherans) about the Fathers in mind, what can Chemnitz offer us by way of patristic testimony for the soteriology of Lutheranism, with its novelties of imputed justification, faith alone (sola fide), assurance of one-time justification and salvation, and formal separation of justification and sanctification? If the testimony of the ancients is so compelling, overwhelming, and plain on the side of Lutheranism over against Catholicism, and the Fathers’ utterances simply teem with proto-Lutheran elements that cannot be squared with early or medieval or post-Tridentine Catholicism, then Chemnitz’s work ought to be quite easy and a “slam dunk” for his side, right? Surely he can fill not only a chapter in his book, but indeed, many volumes.

Yet, oddly and amazingly enough, when we look at what he can produce in his Volume I, we find about eight pages in one chapter, entitled “The Testimonies of the Ancients Concerning Justification” (pp. 505-513). In this chapter, he cites exactly seven Fathers: Basil, Origen, Hilary, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Pope Gregory the Great. But roughly three of these pages deal with the thought of Bernard and Anselm, who are not Fathers (Chemnitz was obviously trying to find early medieval support for his views, contra the Scholastics). Therefore, he gives us some five pages of this allegedly extraordinary patristic support for distinctively Lutheran soteriology, out of about 315 pages dealing with various soteriological issues.

One is virtually crushed beneath the ominous weight of such powerful, unanswerable historical testimony. Oh, but we mustn’t forget that Chemnitz has also provided us with eight pages dealing with St. Augustine’s view of free will (pp. 439-446). Okay, so that is roughly thirteen pages of patristic argument out of 350, or about 4% of his overall argument.

Can a Catholic apologist ever hope to recover from such a compelling presentation as this, of patristic theology? Shall we instantly convert to Lutheranism, in despair of our abysmally weak apologetic and the sublime power of Lutheran historical presentations? At least with the Bible and Tradition issue, Chemnitz mustered up a goodly number of patristic statements. Of course, he utterly failed to prove his case, and omitted tons of relevant related information, as I think I have shown in past installments, but he did manage to set forth an appearance of strength, if nothing else. But for soteriology, we get a failed “bunt” instead of a (disputed) infield single.

It reminds me of waiting to see Halley’s Comet in 1986 and being rewarded with a moderately bright star in the sky. This was Chemnitz’ chance to dazzle us with the vast superiority of Lutheranism when it comes to patristic evidences, and we get this little whimper of an “argument.” Not impressive . . . but also not surprising in the least, for anyone familiar with even the outlines of patristic theology.

Furthermore, even in his positive argument: dinky and insubstantial as it is, Chemnitz falls prey to the exact same logical shortcomings and “selective presentation” mentality that we saw when he dealt with Tradition. Indeed, this sort of “half-truth” / “present only what seems at first glance to agree with us” / special pleading approach characterizes much of the Protestant polemic / apologetic then and now, in dealing with the Church Fathers. I’ve shown this again and again in my own debates with Lutherans and other Protestants (oftentimes, Calvinists) on the topic of patristic beliefs.

The central question is whether Chemnitz can prove that the Fathers (and, remember, not just a few scattershot examples, but en masse) believed in Lutheran distinctives, such as those I listed above:

1) imputed justification

2) faith alone (sola fide)

3) assurance of one-time justification and salvation

4) formal separation of justification and sanctification

He simply has not done this. Rather, he gives us some quotations that, basically, assert a doctrine of sola gratia (“grace alone”): a thing concerning which a Catholic does not have the slightest disagreement with Lutherans. This is an often-seen tactic of Protestant contra-Catholic and anti-Catholic apologetics as well: present evidence regarding a thing which is falsely thought to be contrary and antithetical to Catholicism, and claim that this “proves” patristic affinity with some brand of Protestantism, and discord with Catholicism. It’s illusory and wrongheaded.

Once it is explained to the poor disputant and the reader, that Catholics agree with this thing that we supposedly disagree with, then the “case” adds up to nothing whatever. It falls flat, since it was based on the fallacy of the straw man. The supposed opposition didn’t exist in the first place. Nor can it address the relevant issues at hand: i.e., whether these Fathers can be produced as witnesses for an ancient existence of distinctive Lutheran soteriology.

Moreover, as in the Bible and Tradition issue, the Protestant apologist has the burden of considering the overall theology of any given Church Father. Not only do Chemnitz and others who attempt the same thing, fail to show that the Fathers hold to the four Lutheran distinctives above, and other related ones, but they quickly pass over or completely ignore other relevant beliefs that would indicate an express disagreement with Lutheran (or “mainstream” Protestant) soteriology. I can think of a dozen such tenets, right off the bat (let’s refer to them as “the dirty dozen”):

1) Infused, internal justification (as opposed to extrinsic, or external, or imputed)

2) Baptismal regeneration

3) Free will

4) The possibility of falling away from salvation (as opposed to “perseverance” or “eternal security”)

5) Merit

6) The sacrifice of the Mass

7) Penance

8) Purgatory

9) Prayers for the dead (presupposes purgatory)

10) Salvation as a process, not a one-time proclamation or declaration

11) Faith and works organically, formally united (as opposed to being formally separated)

12) Sanctification and justification organically, formally united (as opposed to being formally separated)

[Lutherans fully accept #2, and pretty much #3 and #4, though in a somewhat different sense than Catholics do, but disagree with the other nine. They agree that works are compulsory in the Christian life, yet separate them from justification per se, which is solely imputed]

I shall, then, make the same argument that I have used with regard to Bible and Tradition: if a Church Father believed in a binding Tradition or binding Church authority, or apostolic succession, or authoritative bishops and popes and councils, who authoritatively interpret Scripture and bind adherents to certain beliefs and forbid them to adopt others, then that Father did not believe in sola Scriptura, as understood by early Protestants and their true legatees in the present. This has been rather easy to demonstrate, and I have done so, with some twenty or more major Church Fathers.

Likewise, the same dynamic applies to the soteriological debate. If the four Lutheran distinctives cannot be shown to be part and parcel of a given Father’s beliefs, and if one or more of the “dirty dozen” beliefs can be shown to be present (especially one or more of the nine that Lutherans in particular reject), then we have a Father who did not believe in sola fide, or the overall Lutheran soteriological theology and belief-system (hence one who is objectively closer to Catholic soteriology than to Lutheran). Chemnitz merely showing that these Fathers accepted the centrality of Jesus’ work on the cross, Grace Alone, non-Pelagianism, etc., proves nothing regarding the disputes at hand, since Catholics fully agree with those things (as Trent itself makes abundantly clear).

Bottom line: Chemnitz’ and the Lutheran (and other Protestants’) case with regard to the Church Fathers supposedly agreeing more so with them than with Catholics, falls flat every time. It is terribly weak; virtually nonexistent. It’s pitiful and pathetic. I hate to appear so “uncharitable” or “triumphalistic” but I must describe the thing for what it is. I must yield to demonstrable historical fact. I didn’t make that what it is. If Lutherans want to make patristic support an indispensable plank in their contra-Catholic apologetic, and the case is consistently weak, then I think this is a huge problem for their position, and a thing to be grappled and dealt with by any self-confident Lutheran who sincerely believes his position to be not only the more biblical, but also more historically substantiated one.

Chemnitz starts with his general “catch-all” proposition:

In the writings of the fathers there are, indeed, found many dissimilar statements, because they use the word justify in a different sense. However, when they examine the emphasis of the words in the statements of Scripture closely, and especially when in trials and meditations they place themselves, as it were, before the tribunal of God, then they approve this our understanding, or rather the teaching of Scripture, in the most comforting statements, namely, that we are reconciled to God, receive forgiveness of sins, have an appeased and gracious God, are adopted as children, and are received to life eternal, not on account of our virtues or our good works, even when we are regenerated, but by the gratuitous mercy of God, on account of the satisfaction, merit, obedience, or righteousness of the Son of God, the Mediator, when we lay hold of the promise of the Gospel by faith. (p. 505)

He then provides his patristic “proofs”, starting with a “sermon on humility” from St. Basil the Great (no further documentation given):

Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, that Christ has been made by God for us righteousness, wisdom, justification, redemption. This is perfect and pure boasting in God, when one is not proud on account of his own righteousness but knows that he is indeed unworthy of the true righteousness and is justified solely by faith in Christ.

Okay. I have no source and hence no context to examine, so my response will have to be a highlighting of other statements of St. Basil that do not fit into Lutheran soteriology. I highly suspect that an interpretation of the above that considers immediate context and the overall soteriological beliefs of St. Basil, would yield a meaning not at all opposed to a Catholic understanding. What can we learn of St. Basil’s soteriology? We know that he accepted the notion and concept of penance:

The documents of the fourth and fifth centuries abound in references to the Church’s practice of remitting sins committed after baptism . . . In the east both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa give detailed accounts of the penitential system familiar to them. The former describes [Ep. 188] the length of penance imposed (from one to four years for bigamy or trigamy, ten years for abortion, eleven for murder, etc.) . . .

(J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 5th edition of 1978, 436)

Mere renouncement of sin is not sufficient for the salvation of penitents, but fruits worthy of penance are also required of them. (The Morals, 1, 3)

This belief is, of course, antithetical to Lutheranism. See, for example, Article XII of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession: Of Repentance / or, “Penitence” (1531):

They imagine that eternal punishments are commuted to the punishments of purgatory, and teach that a part of these is remitted by the power of the keys, and that a part is to be redeemed by means of satisfactions. They add further that satisfactions ought to be works of supererogation, and they make these consist of most foolish observances, such as pilgrimages, rosaries, or similar observances which do not have the command of God. (13-15)

* * *

And what that faith is which the Gospel proclaims can be better understood when it is set over against contrition and mortification. (58)

* * *

Our adversaries cry out that they are the Church, that they are following the consensus of the Church [what the Church catholic universal, holds]. . . . they have authors of a great name Scotus, Gabriel, and the like, and passages of the Fathers which are cited in a mutilated form in the decrees. (68)

St. Basil would not agree with Lutherans here, nor will other Fathers we shall later examine. Basil also believes in merit:

Again, what a want of sense does it show to distribute good and evil without regard to personal merit . . . Under the reign of necessity and of fatality there is no place for merit, the first condition of all righteous judgment. (Homily VI)

It is yours according to your merit to be “ever with the Lord,” and you expect to be caught up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and to be ever with the Lord.” (De Spiritu Sancto, Chapter 28)

God is the Creator of the universe, and the just Judge who rewards all the actions of life according to their merit. (Homily I)

He who would obey the gospel must first be purged of all defilement of the flesh and the spirit that so he may be acceptable to God in the good works of holiness. (The Morals, 2, 1).

Chemnitz shows that he correctly understands the Catholic (and patristic) conception of merit:

[T]hey say that the works of the regenerate receive and have the power and efficacy to merit remission of sins, adoption, salvation, and eternal life not of themselves but from Christ, in whom the regenerate are implanted, and from the Holy Spirit, through whose renewal they do these works. And truly, the worth of the works which are done in God is not to be despised but is very great if these works are left in their place and order. (p. 659)

But they object that man ought neither to trust in himself nor to glory in himself, but in the Lord. But how? Because, they say, we merit eternal life not through the working of free-will but through the powers given by God. (p. 657)

Yet he rejects the Catholic, patristic conception with a classic false dichotomy and example of typically Protestant “either/or” illogic:

The Scripture, however, wants the glory and dignity of meriting the remission of sins, adoption, and eternal life attributed to Christ the Mediator, not to the works of the regenerate . . . in order that all glorying about our works may be excluded (Rom. 3:27) and that he who boasts may boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31). (p. 659)

How great a wickedness and blasphemy it is, therefore, to take away from Christ the glory of the propitiation for sins, of salvation and eternal life, which is owed to the obedience and merit of Christ, and to transfer it to the merits of our works, or at least to divide it between the merit of Christ and our merits; as if it were not the greatest sacrilege and extreme idolatry to give the glory of Christ to another. (p. 657)

St. Basil the Great believed in purgatory:

I think that the noble athletes of God, who have wrestled all their lives with the invisible enemies, after they have escaped all of their persecutions and have come to the end of life, are examined by the prince of this world; and if they are found to have any wounds from their wrestling, any stains or effects of sin,they are detained. If, however they are found unwounded and without stain,they are, as unconquered, brought by Christ into their rest. (Homilies on the Psalms 7:2)

He regarded salvation as a process and a struggle, not a one-time declaration by God (imputed justification):

“Turn to your rest; for the Lord has been kind to you.” Eternal rest awaits those who have struggled through the present life observant of the laws, not as payment owed for their works, but bestowed as a gift of the munificent God on those who have hoped in him. (On Psalm 114, no. 5; from The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, p. 22; selected and translated by William A. Jurgens, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979)

Chemnitz offers the same passage, thinking it supports the Lutheran view, since it is non-Pelagian, even though Catholics also oppose Pelagianism. Note his version, though:

For an eternal rest awaits those who have rightly contended in this life; not on account of the merits of their works but from the grace of a most bountiful God, in which they have hoped. (p. 506)

In any event, in Lutheran thought, “rightly contend[ing]” or being “observant of the laws” (take your pick) have nothing directly to do with salvation (for the Lutheran, justification) but rather, with sanctification (which they formally separate from justification and therefore, salvation). Therefore, this statement of Basil backs up the Catholic view more so than the Lutheran, since sola gratia does not contradict our view, while striving and contending in terms of (formal, declared and imputed) justification / salvation does contradict theirs.

They, then, that were sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption, and preserve pure and undiminished the first fruits which they received of the Spirit, are they that shall hear the words “well done thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit. (De Spiritu Sancto, chapter 16)

Truly blessed is the soul, which by night and by day has no other anxiety than how, when the great day comes wherein all creation shall stand before the Judge and shall give an account for its deeds, she too may be able easily to get quit of the reckoning of life. 

For he who keeps that day and that hour ever before him, and is ever meditating upon the defence to be made before the tribunal where no excuses will avail, will sin not at all, or not seriously, for we begin to sin when there is a lack of the fear of God in us. When men have a clear apprehension of what is threatened them, the awe inherent in them will never allow them to fall into inconsiderate action or thought. Be mindful therefore of God. Keep the fear of Him in your heart, and enlist all men to join with you in your prayers, for great is the aid of them that are able to move God by their importunity. Never cease to do this. Even while we are living this life in the flesh, prayer will be a mighty helper to us, and when we are departing hence it will be a sufficient provision for us on the journey to the world to come. (Letter 174: To a Widow)

Chemnitz’s next “Proto-Lutheran witness” is Origen, “writing on Rom. 3” [and citing Galatians 6:14]:

“Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of Christ.” And he says: “You see that Paul does not glory on account of his own righteousness, purity, and wisdom nor because of his other virtues and deeds. But when was this? At the time when he was writing to the Galatians.” (pp. 505-506)

But when did Catholics ever say they were glorying in their own righteousness in the first place??!! It’s another example of a ridiculous straw man and false dichotomy: misrepresenting one’s opponent by asserting things that they never held. This hardly proves that Origen held to a soteriology closer to Lutheranism than to Catholicism. It’s embarrassing to have to point this out. Yet there is the quote, adduced as some sort of “evidence”. And, as always, many other of Origen’s soteriological views will clash with Lutheranism and harmonize perfectly with Catholicism (conveniently omitted by Chemnitz in his massive five-page survey of soteriological patristic beliefs). Some of Origen’s beliefs, of course (such as the non-eternality of hell), clash with Catholicism, too. Origen believes in penance:

Origen characterizes [Strom. 2, 13, 56-9] this public penance as ‘the hard and laborious remission of sins through penance when the sinner is not ashamed to reveal his sins to the priest of the Lord and ask for a cure’. . . . Origen supplies [De orat. 28, 8 f.] confirmatory evidence for the East, explaining that, under the guidance of the Holy spirit, the good bishop ‘forgives whatever sin God forgives, but reserves others which are uncurable’. (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 5th edition of 1978, 217)

He accepts the necessity of (grace-enabled) works, merit, and salvation as a process:

The Saviour also saying, “I say unto you, Resist not evil;” Matt. v. 39.

and, “Whoever shall be angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment;” and, “Whosoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart;” and in issuing certain other commands,—conveys no other meaning than this, that it is in our own power to observe what is commanded. And therefore we are rightly rendered liable to condemnation if we transgress those commandments which we are able to keep. And hence He Himself also declares: “Every one who hears my words, and doeth them, I will show to whom he is like: he is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock,” etc. So also the declaration: “Whoso heareth these things, and doeth them not, is like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand,” etc. Even the words addressed to those who are on His right hand, “Come unto Me, all ye blessed of My Father,” etc.; “for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink,” manifestly show that it depended upon themselves, that either these should be deserving of praise for doing what was commanded and receiving what was promised, or those deserving of censure who either heard or received the contrary, and to whom it was said, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” Let us observe also, that the Apostle Paul addresses us as having power over our own will, and as possessing in ourselves the causes either of our salvation or of our ruin: “Dost thou despise the riches of His goodness, and of His patience, and of His long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But, according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou art treasuring up for thyself wrath on the day of judgment and of the revelation of the just judgment of God, who will render to every one according to his work: to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and immortality, eternal life; while to those who are contentious, and believe not the truth, but who believe iniquity, anger, indignation, tribulation, and distress, on every soul of man that worketh evil, on the Jew first, and (afterwards) on the Greek; but glory, and honour, and peace to every one that doeth good, to the Jew first, and (afterwards) to the Greek.” You will find also innumerable other passages in holy Scripture, which manifestly show that we possess freedom of will. Otherwise there would be a contrariety in commandments being given us, by observing which we may be saved, or by transgressing which we may be condemned, if the power of keeping them were not implanted in us.
(De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 1, section 6; translated from the Latin of Rufinus; the version translated from Greek is also available on the same site)

Origen was a key figure in the development of the doctrine of purgatory, according to Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan:

The origins of the idea of purgatory may be traced to the widespread hope, expressed by Origen, that the power of the saving will of God extended beyond the limits of this earthly life, granting men a further opportunity for purification and eventual salvation even after death.

(The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [100-600], University of Chicago Press, 1971, 355)

Chemnitz next quotes St. Hilary of Poitiers, commenting on Psalm 51:

For these very works of righteousness would not suffice to merit perfect blessedness unless the mercy of God did not consider in this our will to righteousness the defects of human changes and impulses. Therefore, there is hope in the mercy of God forever and ever. (p. 506)

Yes of course; nothing here contradicts Catholic teaching. St. Hilary had the Catholic, biblical view of the organic connection of faith and works:

And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God

What is the meaning of such moderate praise? Believe in one God, and love Him with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy heart, and love thy neighbour as thyself; if this be the faith which makes man perfect for the Kingdom of God, why is not the Scribe already within, instead of not far from the Kingdom of Heaven? It is in another strain that He grants the Kingdom of Heaven to those who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the sick and the prisoner, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.; or rewards the poor in spirit, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Their gain is perfect, their possession complete, their inheritance of the kingdom prepared for them is secured. But was this young man’s confession short of theirs? His ideal of duty raises love of neighbour to the level of love of self; what more did he want to attain to the perfection of good conduct? To be occasionally charitable, and ready to help, is not perfect love; but perfect love has fulfilled the whole duty of charity, when a man leaves no debt to his neighbour unpaid, but gives him as much as he gives himself. But the Scribe was debarred from perfection, because he did not know the mystery which had been accomplished. He received, indeed, the praise of the Lord for his profession of faith, he heard the reply that he was not far from the kingdom, but he was not put in actual possession of the blessed hope. His course, though ignorant, was favourable; he put the love of God before all things, and charity towards his neighbour on a level with love of self. And when he ranked the love of God even higher than charity towards his neighbour, he broke through the law of burnt offerings and sacrifices; and that was not far from the mystery of the Gospel.
(On the Trinity, Book IX, chapter 25 [complete]; he also refers to the “the regeneration of baptism” in chapter 9, but Chemnitz and Lutherans agree with that)

St. Hilary believed in purgatory, according to the Schaff Church fathers set: “The Theology of St. Hilary of Poitiers”:

All therefore need to be purified after death, if they are to escape condemnation on the Day of Judgment. Even the Mother of our Lord needs the purification of pain; this is the sword which should pierce through her soul

All who are infected by sin, the heretic who has erred in ignorance among them, must pass through cleansing fires after death. Then comes the general Resurrection. To the good it brings the final change to perfect glory; the bad will rise only to return to their former place. The multitude of men will be judged, and after the education and purification of suffering to which, by God’s mercy, they have been submitted, will be accepted by Him.

St. Hilary believed in merit:

Election, therefore, is not a thing of haphazard judgment. It is a distinction made by selection based on merit. Blessed, then, is he whom God elects: blessed for the reason that he is worthy of election.  (On Psalm 64 [65], section 5, in Jurgens, ibid., Vol. 1, 1970, p. 386; 889a)
He also believed in the sacrifice of the mass:

Hilary, for example, describes [Tract. in ps. 68, 19] the Christian altar as ‘a table of sacrifice’ and speaks [Ib. 68, 26] . . . of the immolation of the paschal lamb made under the new law. (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 5th edition of 1978, 453)

Chemnitz cites St. Augustine several times. Elsewhere I have provided much evidence of his non-Protestant beliefs.

As I noted in my last installment (with documentation), Augustine believed in merit, penance, venial sins, infused justification, free will, prayers for the dead, purgatory, the sacrifice of the mass, and he denied faith alone and double predestination (i.e., he denied predestination to hell).

St. Ambrose is Chemnitz’ next witness of supposed great support of Lutheran soteriology in the Fathers:

We are not justified by works but by faith, because the infirmity of our flesh is an impediment to works; but the brightness of faith overshadows the error of works and merits forgiveness of our faults. (De Jacob et vita beata; p. 508)

But St. Ambrose believed in the sacrifice of the mass:

We who are priests imitate Him as best we can, offering sacrifice for the people . . . For even though Christ no longer seems to be offering sacrifice, nevertheless He Himself is offered in the world wherever Christ’s body is offered. Indeed He is shown to be offering in us, since it is His word which sanctifies the sacrifice which we offer. (Enarr. in ps. 38, 25; from Kelly, ibid., 453)

He accepted the validity of penance:

[W]e find Ambrose criticizing [De poen. I, 33-9] the severity of the Novatianists in refusing to remit post-baptismal sins. The Church’s power to do so, he contends, rests on precisely the same authority as its power to baptize. (Kelly, ibid., 437)

St. Ambrose closely connects faith and works:

Further, he bestows more on thee than thou on him, since he is thy debtor in regard to thy salvation. If thou clothe the naked, thou clothest thyself with righteousness; if thou bring the stranger under thy roof, if thou support the needy, he procures for thee the friendship of the saints and eternal habitations. That is no small recompense. Thou sowest earthly things and receivest heavenly. Dost thou wonder at the judgment of God in the case of holy Job? Wonder rather at his virtue, in that he could say: “I was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame. I was a father to the poor. Their shoulders were made warm with the skins of my lambs. The stranger dwelt not at my gates, but my door was open to every one that came.”

Clearly blessed is he from whose house a poor man has never gone with empty hand. Nor again is any one more blessed than he who is sensible of the needs of the poor, and the hardships of the weak and helpless. In the day of judgment he will receive salvation from the Lord, Whom he will have as his debtor for the mercy he has shown. (On the Duties of the ClergyBook I, 11, 39)

And surely this is but right. For in a contest there is much labour needed—and after the contest victory falls to some, to others disgrace. Is the palm ever given or the crown granted before the course is finished? Paul writes well; He says: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”

“In that day,” he says, He will give it—not here. Here he fought, in labours, in dangers, in shipwrecks, like a good wrestler; for he knew how that “through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God.” Therefore no one can receive a reward, unless he has striven lawfully; nor is the victory a glorious one, unless the contest also has been toilsome. (Ibid., I, 15, 58)

But the sacred Scriptures say that eternal life rests on a knowledge of divine things and on the fruit of good works. The Gospel bears witness to both these statements. (Ibid., II, 2, 5)

He held to the doctrine of purgatory and prayers for the dead:

[Ambrose] clearly stated that the prayers of the living could help to relieve the suffering of the dead, that suffrages could be of use in mitigating the penalties meted out in the other world. (Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, University of Chicago Press, 1984, 60)

Give perfect rest to thy servant Theodosius, that rest which thou hast prepared for thy saints… I have loved him, and therefore will I follow him into the land of the living; nor will I leave him until by tears and prayers I shall lead him wither his merits summon him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord. (Funeral Sermon of Theodosius 36-37)

St. Jerome is the next alleged proto-Lutheran:

Therefore we are righteous when we confess ourselves sinners and when our righteousness consists not in our own merit but in the mercy of God. (Dialogus contra Pelagianos, Book I; p. 508)

Yet he accepted the very “Catholic” and decidedly un-Lutheran doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass:

According to Jerome [Ep. 114, 2], the dignity of the eucharistic liturgy derives from its association with the passion; it is no empty memorial, for the victim of the Church’s daily sacrifice is the Saviour himself. [Ib. 21, 26] (Kelly, ibid., 453)

Jerome accepted penance also:

Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop and presbyter binds or looses not those who are innocent or guilty,but by reason of their office, when they have heard various kinds of sins, they know who is to be bound and who loosed.(Commentary on Matthew, 3:16, 19)

Philip Schaff describes Jerome as “Semi-Pelagian in anthropology, Romanizing in the doctrine of the church and tradition . . . a fanatical apologist of all monkish extravagancies.” (History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974, from the fifth edition of 1910, 987)

How about purgatory? Surely Jerome could see that as a false doctrine, right? Nope:

Just as we believe there are eternal torments for the devil and all the naysayers and impious persons who say in their heart: “There is not God.” So too, for sinners and impious persons who are, nevertheless, Christians, whose works are to be tried in the fire and purged, we think that the sentence of the Judge will be tempered and blended with clemency. (Commentary on Psalms 18, 66, 24)

Jerome exhibits a very Catholic general soteriology:

For it is not accordant with the righteousness of God to forget good works, and the fact that you have ministered and do minister to the Saints for His name’s sake, and to remember sins only. The Apostle James also, knowing that the baptized can be tempted, and fall of their own free choice, says: [4]”Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him.” And that we may not think that we are tempted by God, as we read in Genesis Abraham was, he adds: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempteth no man. But each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death.” God created us with free will, and we are not forced by necessity either to virtue or to vice. Otherwise, if there be necessity, there is no crown. As in good works it is God who brings them to perfection, for it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that pitieth and gives us help that we may be able to reach the goal. (Against Jovianianus, Book II, 3)

Pope Gregory the Great is the last Lutheran “witness”:

Therefore our righteous advocate defends us as righteous in the judgment, because we both know and accuse ourselves as unrighteous. Therefore let us trust not in our tears nor in our works but in the fact that we have an advocate. (p. 508; Homily 7 on Ezekiel)

Gregory, however, managed to believe in purgatory:

These suggestions about purgatorial fire, made tentatively and in passing, became “something that has to be believed [credendus]” in Gregory. Again, “it has to be believed [credendum est]” that the prayers of the faithful availed in obtaining release from purgatorial fire for those who had sinned “not out of malice but out of the error of ignorance.”

(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [100-600], University of Chicago Press, 1971, 355; citing Dialogues, 4, 39-40)

He also held to the sacrifice of the mass:

If guilty deeds are not beyond absolution even after death, the sacred offering of the saving Victim consistently aids souls even after death . . . (Pelikan, ibid., 356; from Dialogues 4, 55)

And so we see that in every case, the Church Father cited does not have a consistent theological view that is in accordance with Lutheranism or any form of Protestantism. They always exhibit Catholic beliefs.

Chemnitz in the next chapter continues to make digs at Catholic theology and Catholics. It seems inconceivable to him that they could simply have an honest disagreement in theology, without deliberately using “trickery”, etc.:

. . . craftiness with which the architects of these decrees have disguised the matter itself . . . (p. 515)

[I]t seemed most convenient to the council to cover up somehow the shameful character of the monastic opinion. (p. 516)

[T]hey have so deceitfully drawn up the chapters and canons of the decrees . . . (p. 516)

. . . a deceitful trick that with a sidelong thrust they charge our churches as if we excluded these things . . . (p. 516)

. . . deceitful tricks . . . (p. 517)

[T]hey wanted to deceive and bewitch the eyes of certain people. (p. 517)

. . . deceitful trick . . . (p. 517)

. . . the trick which the architects, or [Greek word] “wordsmiths”, of the decrees employed . . . (p. 518)


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