A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil of 152.
1. This Gospel harmonizes with the Epistle and speaks of the temporal coming of the heathen to Christ, by which their spiritual coming to Christ, mentioned in the Epistle, is signified and commenced. It is both a terrifying and consoling Gospel: terrifying to the great and wise, the self-satisfied and the mighty, because they all reject Christ; consoling to the humble and despised, because to them alone Christ is revealed.
I. THE HISTORY OR LESSON STORY.
2. The Evangelist first refers to Herod the king, in order to recall the prophecy of Jacob the patriarch, who said: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be." Gen_4:1-26; Gen_9:1-29; Gen_10:1-32 [Gen_49:10 - RPB]. From this prophecy is evident that Christ must come, when the kingdom or government of the Jews is taken from them, so that no other king or ruler from the house of Judah might sit on the throne. This was fulfilled now when Herod, who was not of the house of Judah, nor of Jewish descent but of Edom, hence a foreigner, was made king over the Jews by the Romans to the great dissatisfaction of the Jewish people. Hence for thirty years he warred with them before he finally silenced and subdued them.
3. Now when this foreigner had ruled over the Jews for thirty years, had taken possession of the government, and the Jews had acquiesced therein having no hopes of getting rid of him and thus the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled, then the time was at hand, then Christ came and was born under this first stranger and appeared according to the prophecy; as though he would say: The scepter has now departed from Judah, a stranger is ruling over my people; it is now time that I should appear and become king; the government now belongs to me.
4. These wise men are usually called the three Kings. As not much depends on this, we will grant this opinion to the simple minded people. However, it is not known whether there were two, three or more. But they certainly came from the rich country Arabia or Sheba, which is evident from their gifts viz. gold, frankincense and myrrh. All three of these are very precious in that country. It can certainly not be assumed that they had bought these elsewhere, for it is customary in these Eastern countries to do homage and make presents of the choice fruits and wealth of the country. just like Jacob commanded his sons to carry presents of the choice fruits of the land to Joseph in Egypt. Gen_43:1-34; Gen_11:1-32. Had these gifts of the wise men not been of their own country, why should they then have brought frankincense, myrrh and gold produced in the land of Judea, instead of silver and precious stones or fruits of some other country?
5. Therefore these gifts were not presented to Christ like artists paint the scenery that one offers gold, another frankincense and the third myrrh, but they presented the gifts in common as one man. And probably there were quite a number present, a few of them being the leaders, just as now a prince or a city sends a few brave men as messengers to the emperor with presents.
6. The Evangelist calls these men wise men which means in German weissager, i. e. (predictors, diviners); not in the same manner as the prophets predicted, but like those whom we call wise men and wise women, who can tell people all kinds of things; who know a great deal about the secret arts and follow adventures. The art of such people is called magic, which is sometimes accomplished by the black arts and the help of the devil, but not in all things as by the witches and sorcerers. For the wise men imitate the true prophets and prophesy like the true prophets, though not by the spirit of God. For this reason they sometimes happen to be correct as their work is not, like that of the witches, altogether the devil's work, but rather human reason aided by the devil.
7. Again, their miraculous deeds are not altogether done by the devil's cunning, like the doings of the witches, but by a combination of natural forces and the power of the devil. Hence a magician always imitates the real natural arts. For there are many hidden forces in nature, and he who knows how to apply them performs miracles in the eyes of those who know no better as, for instance, the alchemists make gold out of copper.
8. Of these secret forces of nature Solomon knew a great deal by the spirit of God, and made good use of this knowledge when he judged between the two women concerning the living and the dead child, 1 Kings 3, 25, discovering the real mother by appealing to the deepest feelings of nature. Again, Jacob also made use of this art when he used the peeled rods and the flocks brought forth speckled and spotted lambs, Gen_30:1-43; Gen_39:1-23.
9. This is a fine and a truly natural art by which is derived all that physicians and others know about the properties of herbs, plants, metals, stones etc. The Scriptures also recognize this art when they make comparisons of animals, stones, trees, plants etc. This art was especially practiced and studied among the Persians, Arabians and in other Eastern countries, was an honorable art and made wise people.
10. But later on swine and block-heads meddled with it, as usually happens with all arts and doctrines, and have gone far from the truth, have confounded this noble art with juggling and sorcery, and have tried to follow and master both. But when they could not do this, they relinquished the real art and became jugglers and conjurers, prophesying and doing miracles by the help of the devil, though sometimes through the forces of nature. For the devil has retained much of this art and at times uses it through the magicians. Thus the word magic has become disreputable, meaning nothing else now than foretelling and doing miraculous deeds through the evil spirit, though at times it is reliable and helps men because natural forces, which are always reliable, are coupled with it and used by evil spirit.
11. Hence these magi or wise men were not kings, but men learned and experienced in this natural art though without doubt they also practiced conjury. Even to this day men from these eastern countries are possessed of great and various magic powers and, when this real art ceased, being despised they brought forth sorcery and spread it throughout the world but prior to this they relied entirely on the course of the heavenly bodies. Thus presumptuous human reason has always mixed and disgraced that which was good by imitation and indiscretion, attempting to ape everything that it sees and bears. Hence false prophets imitate the true prophets, false work-righteous saints the true saints, and the falsely learned the truly learned. If we look at the world we will find, that the work of human reason is but aping to imitate the good, only perverts it and thus deceives itself and others.
12. These wise men, therefore, were nothing else than what the philosophers were in Greece and the priests in Egypt, and the learned among us in the universities. In short, they were the priests and learned in the rich country of Arabia; just as if learned men are priests from the universities were now sent to a prince with presents. For the universities also claim that they teach natural arts which they call philosophy while in reality they are teaching not only tomfoolery, but also poisonous error and idle dreams.
13. For the natural art, which was formerly called magic but now physiology, is to learn the forces and work of nature; as for example, that a deer with its breath through the nose will draw a snake from the crevice in the rocks, kill and eat it and then on account of the great heat of the poison pants for cooling streams as stated in Psa_42:1-11; Psa_1:1-6. Again, that a weasel will induce a snake to come out of its hiding place by wagging its tail before the opening to anger and excite the snake; and then lies in wait so that, when the snake looks up after its enemy the weasel fastens its teeth in the neck of the snake below the venomous fang and thus killing its enemy in its own house.
Such arts the wise men studied, and in them is concealed a great deal of wisdom concerning Christ as well as the conduct of men in life. But this art is not taught in the universities now. Hence even the peasants know more about it than our wise men or natural masters who are not wrongfully called natural fools, because in spite of so much labor and trouble they have only retrograded and are the devil's mockingbirds. If we would therefore truly interpret this Gospel we must say: The masters of nature from the East or the naturalists from Arabia have come.
14. Some are also surprised that they could come such long distance in so few days, for it is believed that they appeared the thirteenth day after Christ's birth, the geographers state that the capital city Sheba in Arabia is a sixty days journey from the Mediterranean sea, which is not much over three German (i. e. fifteen English) miles from Bethlehem. But questions of this kind do not trouble me very much, nor is it an article of faith to believe that they appeared the thirteenth day.
15. Neither is it necessary to hold that they came from the capital city Sheba, or from the remotest parts of the country. Perhaps they came from a place near the boundary of the country and thus they had sufficient time to come in the usual way of travel.
Mary being unclean had to remain at Bethlehem according to the law for six weeks, just like any other woman, and might thus have been found there even more than twenty or thirty days. However, I will not interpret like the common idea that they came in a miraculous manner; since no one needs to hold as an article of faith the question as to how they proceeded, and what they were accustomed to do in such matters. Whatever the Scriptures do not reveal we do not consider an article of faith.
16. Now the thought of the Evangelist is this: When Christ was born under Herod, the first foreign king, and the time of the prophecy was fulfilled, this wonderful sign occurred. He whom his own people and fellow citizens would neither seek nor acknowledge was sought by such strangers and foreigners for many days. To him whom the learned and the priests would not acknowledge and worship, came the wise men and astrologers. It was indeed a great shame for the whole Jewish land and people that Christ was born in their midst, and they should first become aware of it through these heathen people living so far away. At least in Jerusalem, the capitol city, they should have known about it. An earnest admonition to seek and to acknowledge Christ was given them. But their neck was an iron sinew and their brow brass as Isaiah says 48, 4.
"Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the East, and are come to worship him."
17. Text and circumstances demand that we speak further about the natural philosophers or masters of nature, because here the wise men knew by the star of the birth of a King as they declared. It must be observed that to every man is known a certain portion of the knowledge of nature. For instance, I know that a dog's tongue is good in healing wounds, that a cat will catch mice even when she is not hungry, that a hawk catches partridges etc. One individual may know more also than others about nature either by his own experience, or through instruction. God did not however reveal to us all the facts about nature, but only a small portion of them. Yet human reason is inquisitive and always wants to know more and more, and thus originated the study and investigation of nature.
18. But it is impossible that nature could be understood by human reason after the fall of Adam, in consequence of which it was perverted, any further than experience or divine illumination allows. However, restless human reason will not submit and be satisfied with this, desiring to know and see everything. For this reason it begins to speculate and to investigate farther than is permissible, and thus despises what experience or God has given it. And yet it never attains what it seeks after. All study and wisdom is but error and folly. This is the reason why men, despising or not being able to master this natural art, are divided into numerous sects. Some have written about the earth, others about water, some about this and others about that, so that there is no end to investigation and the making of books. Finally when they were tired of the study of the earth, they turned to the heavens in order to master also the nature of the heavens and the stars, with which no one could ever have any experience. Here they were entirely at liberty to dream, lie and deceive and to say about the innocent heavens whatever they pleased. It is a true saying that: Those who lie about distant countries lie as they please, because no one has had sufficient experience to contradict.
19. So also here, because no one can reach up into the heavens and testify from experience as to the truth or falsity of their teachings, they lie without fear. Hence they teach that whoever is born in this or that sign must become a gambler, whoever is born under this or that star will become rich or wise. Again, this one must be killed, or that one who builds, marries or makes a journey on this or that day must fare so or so. They say, it is the nature of the stars of heaven so to effect human beings that happen to be born at such a time. The Lord help us! Human reason in all sincerity has come to this, because these are all great and glaring lies, and captivating and unprofitable fables, in which reason in its blindness finds the greatest pleasure, as it delights not so much in the truth, as in fables and lies.
20. But finally the real champions appeared who, disdaining to deal with child's play like this, opened their eyes widely and began to investigate the whole world, whence it came and whither it was going; whether it had a beginning or existed from eternity and will continue to all eternity; whether there is a supreme Being who rules all things etc. Here appeared the great light of nature, the heathen master, the supreme master of all masters of nature, who now rules in Christ's stead in all the universities viz: the great famous Aristotle, who taught and still teaches them that a stone is heavy, that a feather is light, that water is wet and that fire is dry; again, as a special masterpiece that the earth is above and the heavens below, which he proves by the fact that the roots of trees and all kinds of plants are in the ground, and the limbs grow heavenward. Now that part which receives nourishment must always be above, and that part to which the nourishment goes, must always be below as we observe in a human being. Therefore man is a tree turned upside down. And thus when a feather flies upward it goes downward, and when a stone falls it rises upward.
21. Furthermore, when he speaks of the Supreme Being he concludes that the world existed from all eternity and will exist forever, and that all souls die together with the body. And the supreme being sits above the heavens, seeing nothing that occurs, but constantly turns as blind fortune is pictured, the heavens around once every day. In this way all things happen just as they do. His argument is this: Should the Supreme Being see all things, he would see much evil and wrong, and that would make him unhappy. In order to remain happy he must see nothing but himself, and consequently rule the world blindly, just like a mother cradles her child in the night.
22. This is the wisdom of the universities. Whoever knows or learns this will have a brown cap placed upon his head and be addressed: Worthy magister artium et philosophiae! i. e. worthy master of the arts and of philosophy. He who does not know this art, can never become a theologian nor understand the holy Scriptures; yes, he is considered a heretic and can never become a Christian. Tell me, what shall we call these people? They are neither wise men nor sorcerers nor jugglers, but are mad, frantic and senseless. Therefore consider whether Christ did not rightly chastise us in that we have despised the Gospel, being unthankful, in that he permitted us to become such disgraceful and vile dupes of the devil that we not only do not apprehend the fact, but even with great expense, trouble and labor seek after it as the greatest wisdom.
23. St. Paul prophesied all this saying: "Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Colossians 2, 8. Again: "0 Timothy, guard that which is committed unto thee, turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith." 1 Timothy 6, 20-21. Here the apostle surely condemns in plain words the teachings of the universities so emphatically that none can contradict him, and wills that everything that is not from Christ should be avoided. Surely every one must confess that Aristotle, the chief master of all the universities, teaches not only nothing about Christ, but even teaches such foolish things, as has been stated, that the apostle properly commands us to guard the doctrine committed unto us, calling the natural art of Aristotle unchristian, profane, meaningless babblings in opposition to Christ, knowledge falsely so-called. How could the apostle have explained it more plainly than by designating it thus? There is no greater glory than that of Aristotle in the universities, and yet it is but a false glory. For this art is nothing but an opposition that has arisen for the purpose of destroying Christ.
24. Therefore, my dear hearer, let natural art depart. If you do not know what powers the stars, stones, wood, animals or any creatures possess, after which knowledge the natural art strives, even doing its best, then be satisfied with that which your experience and common sense teach you. Nor does it matter much whether you know all this or not; it is enough for you to know that fire is hot and water cold and wet, that in summer time different work must be done than during the winter; to know how to attend to your farm, stock, home and children. This is enough for you as to natural art. Beyond this think only of how you can learn to know Christ. He will teach you to know yourself, who you are and what power lieth in you. In this way you will know God and yourself, which no master of the arts of nature ever learned as St. Paul says, 1Co_2:1-16; 1Co_8:1-13.
25. Coming back to the text you might say, Yes, but the Gospel says that these wise men learned from the stars the birth of a king, and therefore it proves that astrology is to be taught and known. God himself giving encouragement by causing a star to rise and thus teaching the wise men.
26. Answer: Keep to the example and learn as these wise men learned from the star, and then you will do right and not fall into error, for there is no doubt about it that the sun, moon and stars were created to be signs and to serve the earth with their light, as Moses says, Gen_1:1-31; Gen_14:1-24. When the sun rises, you learn that the day begins; when it sinks, that the day has ended; and when it stands in the meridian, that it is noon-day. Furthermore, it has been fixed as a sign and measure of time and of the hours in which to do your work. So also the moon and the stars at night. Again, you also need the sun as a guide in tilling your farm and in caring for your stock, its heat determining your work. Let it be sufficient to know this much about the sun and the heavens. Whatever more you desire to know, you do not need and is but idle curiosity for the most part, unreliable and inclined to error. For instance, when fools pretend to know how large the sun is, how far it is from the earth, what particular power it has over gold, and that one born in the sign of the sun will become wise, and more such tomfoolery, for which they can give no sure reason.
27. Furthermore, you should also know that when the sun loses its brightness it is surely a sign which forbodes disaster; and likewise when a comet appears. This is taught by experience; and Christ says, Luke 21, 25, that such signs will appear in the sun, moon and stars and will signify the final destruction of the world. Great storms, lightning, floods and fire in the air and on earth are also great signs. But how these things occur or what kind of natural forces there are in all of these signs, or what effect they mysteriously produce, about which the magicians enquire and juggle; all this is of no value to you nor necessary for you to know. It is enough that you behold in all of these signs the wrath of God, and amend your life. During these years there have also occurred many eclipses and many signs have been seen in many countries, presaging great disturbances. Thus the eclipse at the suffering of Christ signified the calamity which rests upon the Jews to this day. These are indeed certain signs for which purpose God created them, but those of which astrologers dream are unreliable.
28. Hence these wise men had nothing else in this star than a sign and only used it as such according to the decree of God. Therefore, astrologers and fortune tellers can not find encouragement for their false art in this Gospel. For though these wise men may also have been infatuated by this art, in this case they used this star only as a sign. They do not at all forfeit what Christ would be in the future, what should happen to him, do not concern themselves about it. They are satisfied that it was a sign of a great king, and only ask where he is to be found.
29. And in order that Christ might forever stop the mouth of such babblers, he created for his birth a special new star as yet unsullied by their babbling. Knowing that they might say that he was born under the power of this star, he meets them beforehand and says: This star is not like one of those about which you are speculating. If the future fate of all men rests in the stars, as you teach, then there can be no such power in this star, which is new and of a different nature than the other stars, of which you have hitherto not heard or known anything. Again, if none of the other stars had any power over Christ, having his own new star, it follows that they have no power over any human being, because Christ was in every respect a man like other men. Furthermore, if this new star had no power over other men, existing only for a short time, it certainly had also no power over Christ, as he is just like all other men. For this reason astrology is mere tomfoolery.
30. But how these wise men could see in this star a sign that unmistakably signified a new- born king, I do not know. Perhaps they read in their histories and chronicles that aforetime the birth of other kings had been signified in the heavens or through a star. For we find also in the histories of the Romans and the Greeks that the coming or birth of some great princes and extraordinary men had been foretold by miracles and signs in the air and in the heavens. These wise men also knew quite well that these Jews were the chosen people of God, who were and had been above all other people, especially favored of God. Therefore, as this was such a beautiful star, they certainly thought that God had given this people a new king. But the claim of some that these wise men knew the saying of Balaam: "There shall come forth a star out of Jacob," etc. (Num_24:1-25; Num_17:1-13), will avail nothing, as this speaks mainly of the spiritual coming of Christ, who is the star himself. But whoever is not satisfied with this may think as he pleases about it. Perhaps they knew all by divine Revelation 31. At first they did not consider this king to be God, but in the usual manner took him for a temporal king, just as the queen of Sheba considered Solomon a king, coming to him with presents from her country. For this reason they also come to Jerusalem, the capital city, hoping to find him in the king's palace and in splendor. For the star that they saw over the Jewish country when they were yet at home in Arabia, must have disappeared so that they did not see it again on their journey till they proceeded from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, as the Gospel states.
32. But when they say, We have seen his star, they do not yet think that Christ had created it, but that it was his star because it signified his birth, just as the astrologers today call each man's sign in which he was born his sign, not as though he had created it himself. For the glory of Christ's divinity remained unseen until his ascension, though glimpses were sometimes afforded.
33. So also when they worshipped him, they did it after the manner of those eastern countries, as the Scriptures state, not as though they considered them gods. The falling down before them and the homage given is called worship by the Scriptures and it is applied both to men and God, just as the words lord and king, yea, even the name of God are applied to man as when Jehovah said to Moses: "See, I have made thee as God to Pharaoh." Exo_7:1-25; Exo_1:1-22.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF HEROD TO THE ARRIVAL OF THE WISE MEN.
"And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."
34. Why are they troubled? Were not the Jews waiting for Christ who was promised them by God, as we have seen from Gen_49:1-33; Gen_10:1-32? Were not Simeon and Anna and many more pious people at Jerusalem at that time looking for Christ's coming and rejoicing in it? That Herod was troubled, there was good reason. He feared the loss of his kingdom because he well knew that he was a foreigner and merited the ill will of the Jews. He also knew that the Jews looked for the Christ who should deliver them as Moses had done. Troubled by his conscience, he feared an insurrection against him and that he be driven from his kingdom. On the other hand the Jews feared Herod and the Romans, believing that to have a new king would mean much bloodshed for them. They had before this, to their own great misfortune, revolted against the Romans and Herod, hence they were minded like the people of Israel in Egypt, who, when Moses was to lead them out and they were oppressed more than before, murmured against Moses. This was a sign of their weak faith, just as this fear of the Jews at Jerusalem indicates unbelief, and more trust in human than divine power.
35. However, the true believers were not frightened, but rather rejoiced. And when the Evangelist says that all Jerusalem was troubled together with Herod, he does not mean all the inhabitants and citizens of the city, but speaks after the manner of the Scriptures, viz., that when it mentions a city only and not its inhabitants also, it means not all who dwell in it but the majority of them. Thus it is often said in the book of Joshua that he destroyed this and that city, killing all the inhabitants and whatever lived in it, but meaning only the largest part and number of them.
"And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written through the prophet, and thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth a governor, who shall be shepherd of my people Israel."
36. Here we ask, why did not Christ lead these wise men to Bethlehem by the star instead of allowing his birth, which was now known, to be learned from the Scriptures? This was done that he might teach us to adhere to the Scriptures and not depend on our own wisdom nor the teaching of any man. The Scriptures have been given for a purpose. In them he desires to be found, and nowhere else. Whoever despises and rejects these shall and will never find him.
We have also heard, in Luk_2:1-52; Luk_12:1-59, that the angel also gave the shepherds a sign, but not to Mary nor to Joseph nor to any other men, no matter how pious they were, but gave to them only the swaddling clothes and the manger in which he was wrapped and laid; that is, the writings of the prophets and the law; in these he is wrapped, they contain him, they speak only of him and bear witness of him; they are his sure sign, as he says himself. "Ye search the Scriptures because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me." John 5, 39. And Paul says: "A righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." Romans 3, 21. Furthermore, we have also heard that Simeon and Anna represent the Scriptures, which manifest Christ and bear him in their arms. And according to Luke 16, 29-31, Abraham would not grant the request of Dives in hell that Lazarus be sent to his brothers, but points to tile Scriptures, saying: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. If they bear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead."
37. Against this divine doctrine our learned men have until now set up all kinds of means to learn the truth. We must speak of a few in order to guard ourselves against them. In the first place they have set up innumerable laws, statutes, articles and teachings invented by men, such as clerical canons, orders, regulations, etc.; all of which are without doubt not the swaddling clothes and the manger of Christ, neither do they represent Simeon nor Anna. St. Paul has earnestly warned us against such teachings and urged us to abide in the Word of God alone. For all human doctrines are dangerous and cause us to depart from the faith, just as Solomon was led astray by strange women, and as Paul says, Titus 1, 14, "That fables and commandments of men turn away from the truth."
38. If any one were to use human doctrines as he eats and drinks and wears clothing, they might be harmless. No one eats or drinks or clothes himself for the purpose of becoming holy and being saved thereby. Such an opinion or conviction would be base folly for anyone. His intention and desire to become holy rests upon this, that he strives firmly to believe in Christ and thus become holy and be saved. Such intention is correct and the desire good. Hence let him who fasts, labors, wears the garments of monks or priests, or keeps the rules of his order, consider this just as he considers eating and drinking, not as making him holy by doing it, or as making him unholy by omitting it. Let him know that he can become holy only through faith. Doing this he will be safe and human teachings will do him no more harm than eating and drinking or the wearing of clothing. But where are they that are doing this? Among a thousand there is scarcely one, for they usually all say: If I do not become holy and am not saved by such a life, order, regulations and work, what a fool I am to walk in them and observe them.
39. It is therefore not possible for human doctrines not to lead away from the truth, as Paul says. For one of two things must take place, viz.; They will either be despised and rejected when it is understood that they will not make us holy nor save us; or they will ensnare and deaden conscience and conviction if it is believed that they do make us holy and must therefore be kept. In this case faith is destroyed and the soul must perish. There is no help nor rescue. For true faith cannot exist nor can it tolerate that anyone should conscientiously hold something else to be necessary to become holy and be saved than faith in Christ alone. Therefore, whoever has this faith can not trust in human teachings, but observes them when and wherever he pleases, being lord over them. But he who follows human doctrines without having faith, can never apprehend faith, remains forever a slave of human commandments and will never do a really good work, as St. Paul says, Titus 1, 16. For this reason we must hold fast to the plain teaching of Scripture which presents Christ only, and that by faith in him we become true Christians and then freely do all kinds of good works to the good of our neighbor, as has often been said.
. In the second place they point us to tradition and the examples of the saints to strengthen and prove their manmade teachings. And this is very effective and leads many souls to destruction. It leads away from the Scriptures and faith in such a smooth unsuspecting manner that no one is aware of it. Thus they point to St. Benedict, Gregory, Bernard, Augustine, Francis, Dominic and many other saints, whom we all recognize as holy men and say that they observed such human ordinances and regulations and by virtue of them became holy men. Tell me how can the simple-minded Christian withstand such arguments and still keep the faith? It must be an apostolic or evangelical spirit that will here remain firm. Oh, how sure they are and how boldly they parade! When they produce such examples of holy men they think that they have kindled a great light.
41. Now, if I say to them, these holy men also ate, drank, slept and wore clothing, does it therefore follow that we should also establish an eat-order, drink-order, sleep-order and clothes-order? They will answer: 0, these holy fathers did not observe this, viz., eating and drinking, etc, to become pious and holy men, as they observed these other regulations which they believed to be good and holy institutions. Here I answer, if you say that these holy fathers become pious and holy through such human ordinances more than by eating and drinking, sleeping and wearing clothing, then you are quite mistaken. For God has wisely desisted from ever honoring one of these saints with a miracle on account of his good works, rather were they all full of the spirit and faith. You seem to care not for their spirit and faith, but instead cling to their external deeds only. A fool would do the same if he were to sleep all his life because he heard that St. Bernard also slept once, and were to hope thereby to become holy and be saved. Therefore these holy men are wronged if it is claimed that they observed these ordinances to become holy and be saved, and the people are deceived by the life and in the name of these saints.
42. But you may say: Yes, but they still kept them, did not reject them, nor consider them so important as you seem to teach. Answer: It is not for you or me to judge their hearts and intentions, but we say this, It is not impossible that they considered them of too great importance. If so, they as human beings, have erred concerning them. For everybody must confess that the saints have also erred and sinned. Therefore God demands that we look to his Word only, and not follow the example of the saints except as these agree with the word of God. But whenever they as human beings follow also their own inventions or human teachings, then we should do as the pious Shem and Japhet, who covered the wickedness of their father, and not like the impious Ham, who went around talking about it. Thus we should keep silent about the infirmities of the saints and not make them known that we may follow them only in their strength.
It is no wonder that these saints have stumbled and erred in these things. The knowledge of Christ and of faith is so above the natural man that only God's grace can work it in us. Flesh and blood can not reveal it unto us, but only the Father in heaven, as Christ says, Math. 16, 17. Even greater saints than Augustine, Benedict, Gregory and others like them have erred in these things. At the time of the apostles there were already such teachers, against whom St. Paul wrote all his epistles in order to keep the faith altogether free from works and human doctrines.
43. And that you may marvel still more, the whole Christian church in its early days, and at its best, erred in these things, only Peter, Paul and Barnabas standing firm and holding that neither law nor good works are profitable and necessary for salvation. St. Luke clearly states it in Act_15:1-41. There were great saints there, the apostles and their disciples who insisted and would have continued to insist that the law and good works were necessary for salvation, had not St. Paul and Peter declared against it. And even they themselves would not have known this had not God by miraculous signs from heaven confirmed them in their opinion that only faith is profitable and necessary for salvation, as we read, Acts 10, 43.
44. More than this, although St. Peter knew all this and helped to defend it, yet at Antioch he also erred and made improper use of his Christian liberty, and only St. Paul understood him, as he writes, Galatians 2, 11. Not as though St. Peter believed that he must keep the law, but that he did not at once make proper use of his Christian liberty, which he well understood thinking that he had to hesitate for the sake of others, This was wrong and was censured by Paul.
Therefore, it amounts to nothing whatever if those works of the saints are referred to which they did outside of the Scriptures. They are deceiving just as well and even more than the errors of heretics and false teachers, because real and true holiness adorns such infirmities altogether too much. God permits such things in order that he might hold us to his Word and doctrine without which there is neither life nor light, even if all the angels were to teach such things.
45. In the third place, they hold up to us the saints' interpretations of the Scriptures, and consider them a great light. They finally adhere to them and believe that in these interpretations they possess something that no one could reject, and claim again and again in order to keep us away from the pure Word that the Scriptures are obscure and make many heretics.
46. Is not this a masterpiece of blasphemy? But who guarantees them that the fathers are not also obscure? Or who will give us the guaranty that the fathers did not err in their interpretations? Indeed it is well known that they did often err, often contradicted themselves, often contradicted each other and very seldom were unanimous in their agreement. God permitted this to happen to make uncertain also the interpretations of the fathers and to warn us on all sides not to depart from the Scriptures. And yet we stumble here and do not permit ourselves to be guided by the Scriptures. Therefore we should know that it is not true when they say: The fathers give light to the obscure Scriptures. They are doing injustice to the fathers, and belie them. The work of the fathers was not to give light to the Scriptures with their comments, but rather to set forth the clear Scriptures and thus interpret Scripture by Scripture only without any additions of their own.
47. However, that heretics originated from the Scriptures, is true. From where else should they have come? There is no other book that teaches the Christian faith but the Scriptures. Therefore, as no one can become a Christian except by the Scriptures, so also can no one become a heretic but by the same Scriptures. Christ is indeed a sign spoken against and set for the falling and rising of many. Should we on that account reject him or set up another Christ by his side? You do not at the same time need wine and bread, but should we on that account quit tilling the farm and the vineyards or start others besides them? Satan is the enemy of the Scriptures and therefore he has decried and calumniated them by this clamor and blasphemy.
48. But what does this Gospel teach? In the first place, these wise men did not inquire after the chief priests and do not ask: Where is Annas or Caiaphas, or how did this or that man live? But they ask: Where is the newborn king of the Jews? Yes, Christ permits them, as a warning to us, to go astray and to seek him in Jerusalem in the holy city among the priests, the learned and the royalty. He is not found in the holy place nor in the holy customs. Nor did they receive as an answer any human opinions, but only what the Scriptures say about Christ, which alone are to be sought among the holy people and in holy places.
49. Sufficient examples are here given to show us that disregarding all human works, teachings, comments and life we should be mindful only of the clear Scriptures, and as to the life and teachings of the saints preserve the right not to rake or snatch up everything that they teach or live, but rather to sit in judgment on these things and accept with discretion only that which is compatible with the Scriptures. But what is their own, without Scripture proof, we should consider as human inventions and avoid, as St. Paul teaches: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5, 21. Moses has also indicated this, Levit. 11, 3, Deu_14:1-29; Deu_6:1-25, where he describes clean and unclean beasts, that all animals which are not cloven footed and ruminant are unclean. These are the men who are not cloven footed, who spend their lives carelessly, rake up whatever comes before them and follow it. But the clean animals are those men who by the spirit act with discretion in all external things and doctrines. Whatever they see harmonizing with the Scriptures they keep, but whatever is without Scriptural foundation and mere human inventions they dismiss, no matter how great and famous the saints who taught it may be. For no saint has been so perfect as to be free from flesh and blood, or the continued struggle with flesh and blood, so that it is scarcely possible that all their teachings and works were spiritually perfect and are to be accepted as examples. Human nature and reason often concurred in their work, and these are not to be trusted at all. Hence Moses commands us to be cloven footed and Paul to discern the spirits and not to accept all the works and doings of men.
50. Now in these three things, viz., human teachings, examples of the saints and the comments of the fathers, they think and many believe it that they are quite right, that no one dares to doubt or contradict them and that they rule here in perfect safety. They imagine that no one but they alone possess the holy Scriptures, which they have so beautifully summarized in these three vessels.
51. In addition they sink still deeper into the abyss of spiritual darkness when they claim that natural light or intellect and heathen philosophy are also safe means of discovering the truth. In this direction the universities have gone so far astray that they teach that no one can be a theologian, i. e. one of the best Christians without Aristotle. 0 blindness above all blindness!
It might be tolerated if they were to refer here to truths of nature as would call this natural philosophy, viz., that fire is hot, that three and five are eight, etc., which reason at once recognizes. But they soar high and invent idle dreams and useless thoughts about things that are vain and of which they know nothing; and it is grievous to think of their senseless, absurd studying. They go to so much expense and trouble that even Satan mocks at them, whereby God deservedly punishes them because they would not abide in the pure Word. For this reason they must devour the very pollution of hell and be lost.
52. They then meddled even with the work of the devil and followed the example of the souls or spirits appearing and praying for help and believed everything that these spirits said without fear or hesitation. Thus the mass, i. e. the Lord's Supper, has been so abused by saying mass for souls in purgatory and by the selling of indulgences, that the whole world by shedding tears of blood day and night could not bewail it sufficiently.
Thus the devil has permitted himself to be conjured and constrained to reveal the truth and has turned our faith and sacrament into play and mockery to his own liking. All this is the result and reward of our overcuriousness, which has not been satisfied with the Scriptures of God and has made our true and faithful God and Father a fool and clown, who pretends to teach us by his Word and yet does not care to teach us that which we ought and necessarily need to know. For this
reason he serves us right in permitting us to become the devil's pupils, inasmuch as we despised his school.
53. But you say: Should we then deny that wandering spirits go astray and seek for help? Answer: Let wander who will, you listen to what God commands. If you hold all these spirits in suspicion, you are not sinning; but if you hold some of them to be genuine and honest, you are already in danger of erring. And why? Because God does not want you to seek and learn the truth from the dead. He himself wants to be your living and all sufficient teacher. To his Word you should cling. He knows best what to tell you about the living and the dead, for he knows all things. But whatever he does not want to tell you, you should not desire to know, and give him the honor to believe that he knows what is not necessary, profitable nor good for you to know.
54. Therefore you should freely and unhesitatingly cast all such ghostly apparitions to the winds and not be afraid of them; they will then leave you in peace. And should it seem, that perhaps in your house you hear a hobgoblin or rumbling spirit, then make no ado about it, but be assured that it can not be a good spirit come from God. Make the sign of the cross and firmly hold to your faith. Has he been sent by God to chastise you, like Job, then be ready to endure it willingly, but should it be the spirit's own sport, then defy him by strong faith and joyfully depend on God's Word. Depend upon it he will not attack that.
However, I hold that none of these hobgoblins are ordained of God to molest us, but it is their own mischief to terrify the people, because they have no longer any power to harm. If they had any power to harm, they would surely not engage in much racketing, but do their evil work before you could be aware who had done it. But if a good spirit were to visit you, it would not occur with such noise and frivolity. Do this and manifest strong faith and you will find that such a spirit is not of God, and will cease its work. If you have not such faith, then he will have easy work, for then God's Word which alone he fears is not with you.
55. The words of the Scriptures upon which you should boldly rely are Luke 16, 29, where Abraham said to Dives in hell, who desired the departed Lazarus to be sent to his brothers living on earth, but Abraham refusing to do this, said: "They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them." From these words it is plain that God will not have us taught by the dead, but have us abide in his Word. Therefore, no matter how and where a spirit comes to you, do not ask whether he be good or evil, but bravely, quickly and defiantly cast into his teeth the words: "they have Moses and the prophets," and he will soon understand what you mean. Is it a good spirit, he will only love you the more for adhering so gladly and firmly to the Word of your God. Is it an evil spirit, as are all those that are noisy, he will soon bid you adieu.
Again, another word of God is spoken by Moses in Deu_18:1-22; Deu_11:1-32 : "When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through fire, one that useth divination, one that practiceth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer."
Here, you are told that it is an abomination in the sight of God to consult the dead or the spirits, and it is strictly forbidden. To this word of Moses Abraham looked when he did not permit Lazarus to come back to the earth. You can also use this passage against these spirits, saying: "Thou shalt not consult the dead, saith the Lord."
56. God has insisted on this so firmly, that there is no example recorded in the Scriptures, where the saints have ever consulted the dead about anything. And this is the third argument that you can use against these spirits: No one ever heard or read of an example in the Scriptures as to such spirits and their work, hence the whole must be condemned and avoided as of the devil.
57. From this we may easily learn, that the coming up of Samuel was an apparition, 1Sa_28:1-25; 1Sa_13:1-23, inasmuch as it is altogether contrary to this commandment of God. It is therefore not to be assumed that the real prophet Samuel came up by the power of the witch of En-dor. But that the Scriptures are silent on this point, not telling us whether it was the real or false Samuel, is because they demand of everybody to remember well that through Moses God forbade to consult the dead. And he never revokes his Word, as Job says and Balaam also, Num_23:1-30; Num_19:1-22. How can the witch have any power over the saints, who are resting in God's hands?
58. However, should it be said: In this way purgatory will also be denied, I will answer: You are not a heretic for disbelieving in purgatory, as there is nothing said about it in the Scriptures. And it is better not to believe that which is outside of the Scriptures, than to depart from that which is in the Scriptures. Let pope and Papists here rage as they please, who have made purgatory an article of faith because it has brought to them the wealth of the earth but also countless souls to hell, souls that depended and relied on good works for redemption from it. God gave no command concerning purgatory, but he did command us in no way to consult the dead nor to believe what they say. Consider God more truthful and trustworthy than all angels, to say nothing of the pope and the Papists who, as all their work is but lying and deceiving, awaken but little faith in purgatory. However, if you want to pray for the dead, I will not interfere. I am of the opinion that purgatory is not so general as they say, but that only a few souls will enter it. Still as I have said, it is without any danger to your soul if you do not believe in a purgatory. You are not called upon to believe more than what the Scriptures teach.
But should they advance also the sayings and comments of Gregory, Augustine and other saints concerning purgatory, then remember that I have already told you how far these saints are to be followed and believed. Who will assure us that they did not err and were not deceived here as in many other things.
59. Our faith must have a sure foundation, God's Word, and not the sand or bog of human custom and inventions. With this Isaiah also agrees when be says, 'And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter. Should not a people seek unto their God? On behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them etc." Isa_8:1-22; Isa_19:1-25; Isa_20:1-6. This is certainly a clear passage that urges and compels us to seek in God's law and testimony all that we want to know. And he who will not do this, shall be deprived of the morning light which no doubt means Christ and the truth itself. Note also that after Isaiah said we should seek unto God, so that no one might stare at the heavens and expect something extraordinary from God, he shows where and whence we should seek unto God, saying: To the law and to the testimony. He will not permit any seeking unto God in himself outside of the Scriptures, much less will he permit it in others.
60. Moses mentions many ways by which men seek knowledge. Deu_18:1-22; Deu_10:1-22; Deu_11:1-32 There are eight classes as follows. 1. The users of divination. They are those who reveal the future, like the astrologers and false prophets by inspiration of the devil. 2. Those that practice augury. They designate some days as lucky for making a journey, for building, for marrying, for wearing fine clothes, for battle and for all kinds of transactions. 3. The enchanters or rather diviners--I know no better name to call these, who conjure the devil by means of mirrors, pictures, sticks, words, glass, crystals, fingers, nails, circles, rods, etc., and expect in this way to discover hidden treasures, history and other things. 4. The sorcerers, or witches, the devil mongers who steal milk, make the weather, ride on goats, brooms and sails (mantles) shoot the people, cripple and torture and wither, slay infants in the cradle, bewitch certain members of the body, etc. 5. The charmers, who bless people and animals, bewitch snakes, bespeak steel and iron, bluster and see much, and can do wonders. 6. The consulters of familiar spirits, who have the devil in their ears and tell the people what they have lost, what they are doing or what they will do in the future, just as the gypsies do. 7. The wizards, who can change things into different forms so that something may look like a cow or an ox, which in reality is a human being, that can drive people to illicit love and intercourse, and more such works of the devil. 8. The necromancers, who are walking spirits.
61. Behold, Moses did not forget anything, stopping up every avenue where men seek to learn, outside of the Word of God. Thus he has often denounced self-conceit and human reason, especially Deu_12:1-32; Deu_8:1-20 : Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes. And Pro_3:1-35; Pro_5:1-23 : Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart and lean not upon thine own understanding. He does this that we might know that God wants us to follow neither our own reason nor that which is above reason, but only his Word, as Isaiah said above, not to seek unto the living nor the dead, but to seek unto God only in the law and testimony.
St. Peter also says in 2 Peter 1, 19 : "And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the day-star arise in your hearts." Does not St. Peter here agree nicely with Isaiah as to God's Word and the dawn of the morning? And when St. Peter says that the Word alone is a light that shines in a dark place, does he not clearly show that there is only darkness where God's Word is absent?
62. This digression was necessary in order to reply to the false teachers and doctrines of men, and to preserve the Scriptures in their purity. We now come back to our text and learn of these wise men to ask: "Where is the new born King of the Jews?" Let Herod consult the priests and scribes, we will only inquire after the new born King. Let the universities ask, Where is Aristotle? Where is the pope? What does human reason teach? What says St. Bernard, St. Gregory, the church councils and the learned doctors, etc., We ask, Where is Christ? We are not satisfied until we hear what the Scriptures say about him. We are not concerned as to how great and holy Jerusalem is, nor how great and mighty Rome may be. We seek neither Jerusalem nor Rome, but Christ the King in the Scriptures. If we have the Scriptures, we cast aside Herod, the priests and the scribes, Jerusalem and Rome, and search in them till we find Jesus.
63. However we learn here that the Scriptures and Christ have three kinds of disciples. The first are the priests and the scribes. They know and teach the Scriptures to all, but do not come to him. Is not this great hardness of heart and contempt on the part of the learned? They hear and see that great and honest men come from a far country to seek Christ, and they are told that a star in the heavens testified to his birth; in addition they themselves produce testimony from the Scriptures. Since they were the priests and most learned men they should have been the first, joyfully and eagerly to hurry to Bethlehem. Yes, if they had been told that Christ had been born in some Eastern country, they s