EXHORTATION TO THE CHRISTIANS IN LIVONIA CONCERNING PUBLIC WORSHIP AND UNITY
Vermahnung An Die Christen In Liefland Vom Aeuszerlichen Gottesdienst Und Eintracht
Melchior Hoffmann is the central figure in connection with this document.
He was a lay-preacher of great power, whole-souled in his allegiance to the Gospel, thoroughly in harmony with the Reformation, but a mystic and allegorist, — the last fostered by his many trying experiences. He was ripe to respond to the influences of the enthusiasts; but his devotion was unquestioned; he was utterly selfless.
He had been driven out of Wolmar late in 1524 and had gone to Dorpat.
There he assumed the work of an Evangelical pastor who, too, had been driven from his parish. Hoffmann was well received. His straightforward preaching drew the opposition of the Roman episcopal authorities, who strove to expel him from the city; but Hoffmann’s followers rose in his defense. This took the form of riotous excesses which culminated on January 10, 1525, in attacks on churches and cloisters in which altars, pictures, etc., were ruthlessly destroyed. As soon as this turbulent state of affairs had been calmed, the Evangelical Council determined to organize and harmonize external conditions in Evangelical circles, — conditions which in themselves presented a sad state of disharmony. Hoffmann’s commanding position made him the leading personality to be considered in making this reform effective; his co-operation at least was necessary. But the Council was not satisfied as to his theological fitness. In order to meet this requirement Hoffmann sought the recommendation of nearby men prominent in the Reformation Movement. After his first efforts had proven unsatisfactory, he went to Wittenberg, arriving in June, 1525, in order to obtain Luther’s assistance.
In response to this, Luther wrote the letter here translated. To it, Bugenhagen, who was well acquainted in Livonian circles, added a letter of his own; and Hoffman was permitted to add a “pastoral” letter to these two.
It is interesting to note how Luther entered this situation. His letter is not a commendation of Hoffmann but an exhortation to the clergy and people concerned, dealing with their worship practices. In it he exhorts them to a unity of purpose which is selfless and to a conformity of practice in church worship which makes unto the edification of the whole body.
Luther had expressed himself frequently in the past on these matters, and had clung faithfully to his ideal, which he was convinced was thoroughly the Christian teaching. But the results of this teaching had risen to vex him in scandalizing situations in more than one place.
Externalities in worship, — forms of worship, rites, ceremonies, the whole category, — were non-essentials. Freedom in such matters was more than a Christian privilege; it was a Christian right! One could take them, or leave them; adopt one thing now, change to another at will. Here could be one practice, there another. It is not the form that commends us to God.
But when this all is demonstrated in the life of the Church, when men begin to use their liberty and the wide variety of practice results when one personality asserts his right to do thus and so over against another’s opinion and his doing so and thus, — then the state of disorder and disunity which results is a cause of scandal and distress. Such a state of affairs existed in Livonia to an intense degree. Men failed the ideal; the ideal had not failed. The true objective had been displaced; mutual edification had been enshrouded by personal opinion and will.
Without retracting his former statement regarding the freedom of the Christian in externalities of worship, Luther attacked the problem with a further development of his original teaching. The ideal can meet the challenge of the practical. How? By the very fullness of the ideal!
He dismisses the question of control in these matters by Church and canon and points out the ill effect of such a law-controlled practice. The opposite state of affairs, — nothing ordained or established, — works out just as injuriously. But disunion in these practices is unchristian, because it confuses and unsettles the people whose edification must be considered.
Therefore he appeals, that each will surrender his own opinion gladly, freely, and seek a common ground of practice so that “the practice will be the same and uniform among you throughout your district.” “For even if the external uses and regulations are free and, taking faith into consideration, may with good conscience be changed at all places, at all hours, by all persons; still, taking love into consideration, you are not free to use such liberty, but are in duty bound to consider how matters may be made bearable and better for the common people.” Here is his bid for uniformity and its basis; but it is not to be accomplished unless the people be first instructed not to regard these matters as required commands. “One is to tell them that it is only done in this fashion in order that they may be edified thereby and preserved in orderly practice, so that the unity of the Christian people may be made stable by means of such external things, which, indeed, in themselves are not necessary.” “Therefore make and hold Mass; sing and read uniformly, according to a common use, the same in one place as in another; because you see that the people so desire and need it, so that they are not disturbed on account of you but are the rather edified.”
This all is quite a different story from Luther’s previous free attitude, — Luther advising a “common use,” a common practice everywhere! It is not his “churchly” feel that inspires this, but his recognition of the age-old fact, that such a situation can be mended only in one practical way, but the method can be, must be, inspired and controlled by the ideal, the spiritual.
The text of the letter, and of the Bugenhagen and Hoffmann letters also, will be found in Weimar 18:412, 417ff. See this Introduction, also Weimar 19:47, for further historical references.
Erlangen 53:315ff Walch 10:286ff Enders 5:198 De Wette 3:3 Realencyc . 38:222 for an excellent biography of Hoffmann.
PAUL ZELLER STRODACH
Vermahnung An Die Christen In Liefland Vom Aeuszerlichen Gottesdienst Und Eintracht
17 JUNI, EXHORTATION TO THE CHRISTIANS IN LIVONIA CONCERNING PUBLIC WORSHIP AND UNITY
JUNE 17, To all beloved Christians in Livonia, together with their pastors and preachers, grace and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should thank God, the Father of all mercy, greatly and at all times, on account of you, dear Sirs and Friends, who, according to the unsearchable riches of His grace, has brought you to the treasure of His Word, in which you possess the knowledge of His dear Son, which is a sure pledge of your life and salvation which awaits you in heaven and is prepared for all who persevere faithfully in true faith and fervent love unto the end. Even as we hope and pray that the merciful Father will preserve you and us, and perfect us in one mind, according to the likeness of His dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
However I have heard through credible witnesses how faction and disunion have arisen among you also, in this way, that some of your preachers do not teach or act concordantly but according to whatever each one thinks is the best-according to his own judgment and will. And I do not want to believe evil about this, because we must remember that it will not be any better with us than it was with the Corinthians and other Christians at the time of St. Paul, when divisions and dissension arose among Christ’s people. Even as St. Paul, himself, acknowledges and says, 1 Corinthians 11:19, “There must be divisions and sects, so that those who are approved become known.” For Satan is not satisfied with being the prince and god of the world, he also wants to be supreme among the children of God, Job 1:9, and “goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8.
Thence arise the complaint and differences among the people, so that one says: “Hardly anyone knows what he should espouse or with whom he should side;” and this notwithstanding, all still want instruction given and maintained everywhere according to one method and in one manner. For which reason the Councils were held in times gone by and a variety of orders and canons were established, so that one could force and keep the whole group of people to one common observance, as a result of which nothing but burdens to the soul and dangerous offenses to the faith resulted, so that there is great danger on both sides and need of good spiritual teachers who are able to conduct themselves in this matter with wisdom and discretion and to direct the people.
For if one espouses and ordains a universal custom or use, then one centers one’s effort in that and makes out of it a necessary law which is in opposition to the freedom of the faith. But if one ordains and establishes nothing, then one is likely to act rashly and make as many factions as there are heads, a situation which fights against Christian simplicity and unity about which St. Paul and St. Peter teach so frequently. But one must speak about such things in the best way one can, even if matters do not work out the way we speak and teach.
And first of all I hope that the teaching concerning faith, love and crossbearing, and the summary or principal things in the faith and knowledge of Christ are still pure and undamaged among you, so that you know what things you should hold in your consciences in your relation to God. And certainly this simplicity of the teaching will not remain unassailed by Satan; indeed he seeks to slip in by means of external divisions in the matter of ceremonies, and bring about factions both in spirit and in faith, which is just his style, and certainly has been experienced heretofore in so many heresies.
Therefore in the manner in which St. Paul treated his factions, we also will deal with ours. He could not check these with force; nor did he want to coerce them by means of commands; but entreated them with friendly exhortations. For he who will not give up such a matter willingly when exhorted to, will be far less willing to give it up when commanded. But he says in Philippians 2:1,2,3,4: “Is there now among you exhortation in Christ, is there comfort of love, is there fellowship of the Spirit, is there fervent love and mercy, then fulfill my joy, so that ye be of one mind, have the same love, be of one accord and one mind, do nothing through faction or through vainglory but through humbleness. Let each one amongst you consider the other higher than himself, and let not each one look upon his own but on the things of the other.” Then add thereto the example of Christ: how He made Himself the servant of everyone, in order to be obedient to the Father.
Accordingly then, in the first place, I exhort your preachers with the same words of St. Paul, that they would regard all the good which we possess in Christ, the comfort, exhortation, Spirit, love and mercy, and in addition the example of Christ, and conduct themselves only to His honor and praise; that they be and remain single-minded, and of one mind and spirit, and recognize the crafty inroad of the devil through vainglory, which is especially dangerous and attacks those chiefly who possess the Office of the Word, which they cannot administer well unless each one despises himself the most and considers himself the lowest but holds the others as the highest, as Christ teaches in the Gospel, — Luke 14:8, “to seat oneself in the lowest place among the guests at the wedding.”
Now even if the external regulations in the services, — -such as masses, singing, reading, baptizing, — o not add any’-thing to salvation, nevertheless, it is unchristian to be disunited over such things and thereby confuse and unsettle the common people, and not the rather to consider the edification of the people to be more important than our own thought and opinion. Therefore I pray all of you, my dear Sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision as to how you can unitedly regard these external matters, so that the practice will be the same and uniform among you throughout your district and not so divergent and disordered, — a different thing being done here and a different thing being done there, thereby displeasing and confusing the people and making them unhappy.
For, as has been said, even if the external uses and regulations are free and, taking the faith into consideration, may with good conscience be changed at all places, at all hours, by all persons; stilt, taking love into consideration, you are not free to use such liberty, but are in duty bound to consider how matters may be made bearable and better for the common people; as St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done orderly and honorably among you.” And 1 Corinthians 6:12, “I have power over all things, but all thing do not profit.” And <4610801 1 Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” And also how he speaks of those who have the knowledge of the faith and of liberty, and yet do not know how they should possess this knowledge, because they do not use it to the edification of the people, but to the praise of their own opinion.
Now when your people are offended in that you practice so many different customs and rites and are disturbed thereby, it does not help you any when you are wont to assert: “Yea, the external thing is free; here in my own place I am going to do as pleases me.” But you are in duty bound to consider what the effect will be on others and to keep such freedom of faith in the conscience before God, and yet, at the same time, keep it captive for service unto the neighbor’s good and edification, just as Paul says in Romans 15:2, “Let each one conduct himself amongst us in this way, that he please his neighbor unto his good, unto edification.” For we should not please ourselves, since Christ also did not please Himself, but us all.
Still in addition to this, the preacher must, none the less, be watchful and admonish the people and instruct them diligently so that they do not accept such common uses as required commands, as though it had to be just so, or as though God would not have it any other way; but that one tell them that it is only done in this fashion in order that they may be edified thereby and preserved in orderly practice, so that the unity of the Christian people may be made stable by means of such external things, which, indeed in themselves, are not necessary. For since ceremonies or usages are not a necessity, as far as conscience or salvation is concerned, and yet are useful and necessary to govern the people outwardly, one should not force them further than this, or permit them to be established further than that they serve to maintain unity and peace among the people. For faith makes peace and unity between God and men.
This is said to the preachers in order that they regard love and their obligation toward the people, and do not employ faith’s liberty but love’s servitude or submission toward the people, but keep faith’s freedom toward God.
Therefore make and hold mass, sing and read uniformly, according to a common use, the same in one place as in another; because you see that the people so desire it and need it, so that they are not disturbed on account of you but are the rather edified. For you are here for their edification, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23. Authority has been given to us, not for destruction, but for improvement. If you do not need such unity, thank God for that; but the people need it. But what are you other than the servant of the people, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:24. “We are not lords of your faith, but your servants for the sake of Jesus Christ.” Corinthians 4:5.
Again, I also beseech the people to accustom themselves to these matters and not to be astonished if factions and divisions, uses or teachings make a rupture. For who is able to fight the devil with his own [weapons]? One must remember that tares always grow amidst the good seed, the truth of which fact is shown in every field of God’s work and confirmed in the Gospel of Christ, Matthew 13:25. Again, on every threshing-floor there cannot be only dean corn, but there must be also the hulls and the straw.
And St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:20, “In a house there are not only vessels of honor but also vessels of dishonor.” Out of some one eats and drinks, with others one carries and deans out the rubbish and filth.
Therefore there must also be factions and discordant spirits among the Christians, who pervert faith and love and bewilder the people. Now should a servant become disturbed over the fact that all the cups in the house are not silver and should find some common vessels for ordinary necessities and could not endure such a discovery, what would you make of such a thing? Who can keep house without common vessels?
The same thing is true in Christendom. There are not merely honorable vessels there, but we must suffer the dishonorable vessels also to remain among us, as St. Paul says, 1 Corinthians 11:19, “There must be factions.” And indeed fight here in this you are to realize, my dear Friends, that God has given you the true Word and knowledge of Christ when you discover factions and disunion among you. For when you were papistic Satan certainly left you in peace, and if you still had nothing but false teachers he would not assault you very much with discord and faction. But now that the true seed of God’s Word is with you, he cannot leave it alone; he must sow his seed there also, even as he does this to us by means of the fanatics. And God tests you thereby to discover whether you want to stand firm.
Nevertheless, both you and your preachers should use all diligence to the end that everything go harmoniously and unitedly and such work of the devil be opposed and checked. For the reason why God destined the devil to do such things is that we may have cause to exercise ourselves in unity and through that those who are tested may become known. For even if we apply the greatest diligence to this matter, nevertheless factions and disunion will remain. Thus, too, St. Paul, when he says, 2 Timothy 2:20, “Now if someone cleanse himself from such people, he will be a sanctified vessel to honor, useful to the householder, and prepared for all good work.”
This sincere exhortation of mine, my dear Friends, receive kindly, and add thereto, as much as you are able, that you do as exhorted. This is both profitable and needful as far as you are concerned, and to the honor and praise of God who has called you to His light. But may our Lord Jesus Christ, who has begun His work in you, increase the same with grace, and fulfill it to the day of His glorious return, so that you, together with us, may go to meet Him with joy and remain with Him eternally. Amen. Pray for us.
At Wittenberg on the Saturday after Trinity Sunday in the year 1529.