Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524) on God’s eternal predestination

Image

Towards the end of the Middle Ages there was what one may describe as a Neo-Augustinian renaissance which included a number of outstanding theologians such as Gregory of Rimini. This increased interest in Augustine’s writings to a large extent set the table for the Protestant Reformation, specifically with regard to the doctrine of predestination. Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524) was Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order in Germany and a very influential mentor of the young monk Martin Luther. Von Staupitz, however, later had to release Luther from the Augustinian Order (perhaps you’ve seen the 2003 film Luther – I remember the scene where Luther is released by Von Staupitz distinctly – see picture below) to preserve the good name of the Order with Rome.

Image

Though Von Staupitz never joined the Reformation and remained a Catholic both in disposition as well as in doctrine in a number of areas, he nonetheless still adhered to a number of Protestant-leaning doctrines, one of which was his view of predestination. He came to be associated with the “Lutheran heretics” as a result of it, and in 1559 Pope Paul IV put Von Staupitz’s works on the Index of Prohibited Books.

Below are a few excerpts from his work Eternal Predestination and its Execution in Time:

“In order that the whole plan of creation should not be frustrated, there has been ordained preservation by divine power for nature and for free will the grace of the divine Incarnation; and thus natural life is upheld by preservation, a morally good life is sustained by grace, and both by God Himself. Accordingly, before the creation of the world it was determined that no one would be able to do morally good works without the grace of Christ.

Because mercy and justice contribute equally to the praise of the Almighty it has been decreed that some should be elected and predestined to conformation with the image of the Son of God and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who do not have faith are judged already.

This [election] is the first grace which precedes nature and works. No one elicits or merits this grace, nor is this grace due to merits foreknown by God, nor to good use of reason in the future foreseen by God, nor to merits already performed. Rather, the sole source of this grace is the most kind and generous will of God.

Once this first grace is given, other graces follow one by one without fail, and Christ is put under obligation to save the elect. That is exactly what He said to Zacchaeus, ‘It is necessary that I stay in thy house,’ implying that even this Israelite, this son of Abraham, was elected according to promise. Necessity in the same sense of the word led to Christ’s passion, crucifixion, and death for sinners…

Paul, illustrious doctor of the Church, tongue of Christ, and the most direct disciple of the most Holy Trinity said: ‘Those whom He predestined He Himself also called.’ He did not say, ‘He had them called,’ Many are called by the ‘light that has arisen over us,’ others by the law, by prophets, by gifts, by tribulations, by Apostles or preachers of the faith. But not all are elected. However, those who are freely predestined are called without fail in their lifetime unto faith by God’s powerful will. For indeed this is not done by Moses nor by the prophets nor by the Apostles, but by God Himself Who speaks to the heart.

Concerning this call the Son said, ‘No one comes to Me unless the Heavenly Father draws him,’ Paul also preached this in an excellent manner: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’ For indeed he who plants is nothing, nor he who waters, but He who gives the growth, that is God, is all.

Provided the exterior call is efficacious, then you could certainly say that all who are called [i.e efficaciously] will doubtless be justified. For just as God is committed to call all who are predestined, so He is committed to justify all who are called. This is not a natural obligation but an obligation of grace which the Apostle fully appreciates when he says, ‘He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?’

For just as the knowledge of natural things flows from the knowledge of the first principle, so also each individual grace flows from the grace of predestination. In this and through this, as I have indicated above, Christ has been made the servant of our salvation and ‘has come into the world not to be ministered to but to minister and to give His life as a ransom for many’.”

– Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524), Eternal Predestination and its Execution in Time, chapters IV & V

Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415): Christ alone is the head of the church

Image

Tomorrow is Reformation Day, in which we commemorate the traditional start of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. However, it is crucial to note that there were forerunners of the Reformation in the late Middle Ages who to an extent laid a foundation from which the 16th Reformation built on. While there are quite a number of these forerunners, the two most well-known are John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus of Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic).

Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) would end up being burned at the stake for his ideas, which countered the ecclesiology and sacramentology (among other theological issues) of the Roman Church. Hus took up many of Wycliffe’s ideas and in the excerpt below, from his work De Ecclesia (On the Church) argues that Christ (and not the Pope) is the true and only head of the Church. The final condemnation of Hus on 6 July 1415 was based primarily on propositions derived from the aforementioned work. The same morning that Hus was burned at the stake a copy of this work was symbolically destroyed by fire. Martin Luther would later say of Hus, specifically in light of his opposition to the authority of extrascriptural canon law: “I have taught and held all the teachings of Jan Hus, but thus far did not know it. Johann von Staupitz [I’ll get to this guy in my next post] has taught it in the same unintentional way. In short we are all Hussites and did not know it. Even Paul and Augustine…”

The excerpt below is quite long (read it with patience) – it is the entire chapter 7 of Hus’ De Ecclesia:

CHAPTER VII

THE ROMAN PONTIFF AND THE CARDINALS NOT THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH

It has been said that Christ is the sole Head of the holy universal church and all the predestinate, past and future, are his mystical body and every one of them members of that body. It remains now briefly to examine whether the Roman church is that holy universal church, the bride of Christ. This seems to be the case because the holy catholic apostolic church is one, and this is none other than the Roman church. What seemed a matter of question is therefore true. The first part of the statement appears from Pope Boniface’s bull: “By the urgency of faith we are compelled to believe and hold that the holy catholic apostolic church is one.” Likewise, the second statement appears from the same decretal, which says: “Of the one and only church there is one body, one head, and not two heads like a monster, namely, Christ and Christ’s vicar, Peter, and Peter’s successors, even as, when the Lord said to Peter himself, ‘Feed my sheep,’ he spoke in a general sense, not of individuals, of these or those sheep. It is plain that he regarded all the sheep as committed to him. Therefore, if the Greeks and others say that they were not committed to Peter and his successors, they thereby confess that it is not necessary to be of Christ’s sheep; for did not the Lord say, in John: ‘They shall become one fold and one shepherd’?” Is it not evident, therefore, that the holy Roman church is that holy universal church, because all are Christ’s sheep, and the one fold is of one shepherd? This is the meaning of the aforesaid decretal of Boniface, which closes with these words: “Further we declare, say and determine that to be subject to the Roman pontiff is for every human being altogether necessary for salvation”—subesse Romano pontifici omni humanæ creaturæ . . . omnino esse de necessitate salutis. If, therefore, every man is of necessity subjected by this declaration to the Roman pontiff, the aforesaid proposition will follow as true, and, on the other hand, the proposition that the Roman church is the church, whose head is the pope and whose body the cardinals, and these together constitute that church. But that church is not the holy catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, what seemed a matter of doubt is false. The first proposition is made out by the statements of certain doctors—among the statements being that the pope is the head of the Roman church and the body is the college of cardinals. The second is manifest from the fact that the pope with the cardinals is not the totality of all the elect.

For the understanding of this subject the notable passage of the Gospel must be meditated upon, namely, Matt. 16:16-19: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In this passage are designated Christ’s church, its faith, the foundation, and the authority. In these words Christ’s church is designated, “I will build my church”; in these Peter’s faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”; in these the foundation, “on this rock I will build”; and in these the authority, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” These four are to be touched upon briefly, namely, the church, faith, the foundation, the church’s power.

As for the first point, in view of the things set forth above the proposition is to be laid down that, if we put aside the church, nominally so called and as she is generally esteemed to be, then the church is said to be threefold. In one sense it is the congregation or company of the faithful in respect to what is for a time or in respect to present righteousness alone, and in this sense the reprobate are of the church for the time in which they are in grace. But this church is not Christ’s mystical body nor the holy catholic church nor any part of it. In the second sense the church is taken to be the admixture of the predestinate and the reprobate while they are in grace in respect to present righteousness. And this church is in part but not in whole identical with God’s holy church. And this church is called mixed in character—grain and chaff, wheat and tares—the kingdom of heaven like unto a net cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind and the kingdom of heaven like unto ten virgins, of whom five were foolish and five wise, as was said above. This church, Tychonius falsely called the bipartite body of the Lord, as appears in de doct. Christi, 3:32 [Nic. Fathers, 2:569]. For the reprobate are not the body of the Lord or any part of it.

In the third sense the church is taken for the company of the predestinate, whether they are in grace in respect to present righteousness or not. In this sense the church is an article of faith, about which the apostle was speaking when he said, Eph. 5:26: “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, cleansing it by the washing of water in the word of life, that he might present it to himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it might be holy and without spot.”

This church the Saviour calls his church in the Gospel quoted, when he said: “On this rock I will build my church.” And that he means this church is plain from the words which follow: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” For seeing that Christ is the rock of that church and also the foundation on whom she is builded in respect to predestination, she cannot finally be overthrown by the gates of hell, that is, by the power and the assaults of tyrants who persecute her or the assaults of wicked spirits. For mightier is Christ the king of heaven, the bridegroom of the church, than the prince of this world. Therefore, in order to show his power and foreknowledge and the predestination wherewith he builds, protects, foreknows, and predestinates his church, and to give persevering hope to his church, he added: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here Lyra says: “From this it appears that the church is not composed of men by virtue of any power of ecclesiastical and secular dignity, because there are many princes and high priests and others of lower degree who have been found apostates from the faith.” This comment has its proof, in part, in the case of Judas Iscariot, both apostle and bishop, who was present when Christ said: “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But he himself was not built upon the rock in respect of predestination and therefore the gates of hell prevailed against him.

From the aforesaid words of Christ it is evident that the church is taken to mean all, in a special sense, who after his resurrection were to be built upon him and in him by faith and perfecting grace. For Christ commended Peter, who bore [represented] the person of the universal church and confessed his faith in the words: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Christ said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah.” This commendation befits Peter and the whole church, which from the beginning was blessed in the way, by confessing humbly, obediently, heartily, and constantly that Christ is the Son of the living God. This faith in regard to that most hidden article, the flesh—that is, the wisdom of the world—does not reveal; nor does blood reveal it, that is, pure philosophical science—but alone God, the Father. And because the confession was so clear and positive, the Rock—Petra—said to Peter—the rock: “And I say unto thee that thou art Peter,” that is, the confessor of the true Rock—Petra—who is Christ, and “on this Rock,” which thou hast confessed—that is, upon me—“I will build” by strong faith and perfecting grace “my church”—that is, the company of the predestinate who, the probation being over, are appointed to glory. Wherefore, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Up to this point it has been deduced from the Saviour’s words that there is (1) one church—namely, from the very word “church”; (2) that it is Christ’s church—from the word “my”; (3) that it is holy—from the words, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The conclusion, therefore, is that there is one holy church of Christ, which in Greek is katholike and in Latin universalis. She is also called apostolic, apostolike, because she was established by the words and deeds of the apostles and founded upon the Rock, Christ, as Jerome says in the Prologue to his Commentary on the Apocalypse.

Hence I lay it down that it is to be called the holy Roman church, for the Decretum, Dist. 21 [Friedberg, 1:70], says that “although there is only one bridal couch of the universal catholic church of Christ throughout the world, nevertheless the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church is by the decisions of no synods set above the other churches.” This it proves by the passage already cited, Matt. 16—namely: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” And a little later it calls this church “the Roman church, the primal seat of the apostle, which has neither spot nor wrinkle.” This church, however, cannot be understood to mean the pope with his cardinals and his household, for they alike come and go. Therefore, the Gloss on this text has this to say: “The argument is, that wherever the good are, there is the Roman church.” And so the Decretum, 24:1 [Friedberg 1:970]: a recta is to be understood. Where the canon on the Roman church speaks in this way: “This is the holy and apostolic mother church of all the churches of Christ, which by God’s omnipotent grace is proved never to have erred from the path of apostolic tradition, nor has ever been corrupted by or succumbed to heretical novelties.” This, it must here be noted, cannot be understood of any pope or the members of his household, on which point the Gloss also says: “I ask, therefore, of which church do you understand that it cannot err?” But it is certain that the pope can err. See Decretum, Anastasius, 19, and Si papa, 40 [Friedberg, 1:64, 146]. Therefore, neither the pope himself nor his family is that church of which it is here said, she cannot err. Hence the Gloss says: “The company of the faithful itself is called this church.” So also is to be understood St. Jerome’s statement, Dist. 25:1,Hæc est fides [Friedberg 1:970]: “The Roman church is holy, which always has remained thoroughly unspotted, will in the future by the Lord’s providence and the blessed Apostle Peter’s care remain without any dent from heretics and abide unmoved and unmovable for all time.” Here no pope with his college of cardinals can be understood. For often these are as soiled with wicked, deceitful depravity and sin, as at the time of pope Joanna, the Englishwoman, who was called Agnes. How, therefore, did that Roman church—that Agnes, pope Joanna with college—remain always unspotted, seeing she bore? And the same is true of other popes who were heretics and deposed on account of their manifold enormities.

Since, therefore, according to the Decretals, the Roman church has the primacy and the dignity, so far as God is concerned, over all other churches, it is evident that she is the whole militant church, which God loves more than any of its parts. And so it is evidently of faith that not that college [of the cardinals] but the whole mother dispersed among all peoples and tongues is that holy Roman church of which the laws [the canon law] accord in speaking with the holy doctors. Hence, in order to impress upon us this judgment by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, the hymn is ordained for the church, “The holy church throughout the world doth acknowledge thee.” And in the canon of the mass, first and chiefly, we offer prayer for the holy catholic church, that God would condescend to give her peace, to keep her, and to grant her unity in all the world. Hence prayer is undoubtedly offered for the principal—principalissima—militant church, which, I lay down, is the Roman church. And truly among its parts, when we compare in the matter of greatness, the pope and his college are in dignity its chief part, so long as they follow Christ closely and, putting away the pomp and ambition of the primacy, serve their mother diligently and humbly. For in doing the opposite they are turned into the desolation of abomination—into a college at direct variance with the humble college of the apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is to be noted that the Roman church was properly called a company of Christ’s faithful, living under the obedience of the Roman bishop, just as the Antiochian church was called the company of Christ’s faithful, under the bishop of Antioch. The same also was true of the faithful in Alexandria and Constantinople. And in this way Peter, Christ’s apostle and Roman bishop, speaks of the church when, addressing the faithful in Christ in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, he says: “The church which is gathered together1in Babylon saluteth you,” I Peter 5:13. Is not the church here taken to mean the faithful of Christ who were at Rome with St. Peter? After the same manner also, the apostle designated particular churches when he wrote from Corinth to the Romans, “all the churches of Christ salute you,” and a little further on: “I, Tertius, salute you, who wrote the epistle in the Lord. Gaius my host and the whole church saluteth you.” Romans 16:16, 23. Here the whole church is taken for all Christ’s faithful, who with Paul were waging warfare in Corinth. Likewise we have the words: “To the church of God which is in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus,” I Cor. 1:2, and “Paul and Sylvanus and Timotheus to the church of the Thessalonians,” I Thess. 1:2. We have the same often in other places, so that those are properly called particular churches which separately are parts of the universal church, which is the church of Jesus Christ.

But the Christian church had its beginning in Judea and was first called the church of Jerusalem, as it is said: “In that day there arose a great persecution in the church which was in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” Acts 8:1. The second church was the Antiochian, in which Peter, the apostle, resided, and there, for the first time, the name Christian was employed. Hence, the faithful were first called disciples and brethren, and later Christians, for we read: “The apostles and brethren which were in Judea,” and at the close of the chapter it is stated how Barnabas led Paul to Antioch and they were together for a whole year in the church and taught great multitudes, so that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch,” Acts 11:1, 26.

In the second sense, the Roman church is taken to mean any pope together with any cardinals, wherever they may happen to reside, whether their lives are good or evil. And in the third sense, it is taken for the pope. These two last senses are wrested by scholars. For there is no good reason for calling the Roman church our mother either (1) on account of its pride or (2) on account of the emperor’s element goodness in endowing the church or on account of the pope’s haughtiness and self-assertion because of imperial rule drawn from the pope’s primacy or dominion, (3) or, again, is this a good reason that men should believe that it is incumbent upon every Christian to have recourse to the pope and that it is of necessity for salvation to recognize him as the head and as the most holy father, but for other reasons than this. For since the term Roman church was established aside from any foundation in sacred Scripture, it is enough to give a probable reason. For the holy church of Christ flourished first in Jerusalem during the days of the apostles, who companied with Christ, and afterwards in Antioch at the time of Peter’s incumbence as bishop—cathedrationis—and afterwards in Rome at the time of the preaching and martyrdom of Peter and Paul. And so is to be understood the Saviour’s saying, Matt. 12:28, “Finally is the kingdom of God come unto you,” and also Luke 17:21, 37, “The kingdom of God is within you . . . for where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.” For, although the Christian church began in Judea and Christ suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem, nevertheless with reason Christ’s church is called the Roman church in view of a certain pre-eminence and for three causes: (1) Christ knew that the peoples under the Roman empire would be brought in in the place of the unbelieving Jews, as the apostle says, Romans 11:2, 12. (2) A larger multitude of martyrs triumphed there than in any other city, for so, where a man is born from the womb and triumphs gloriously, from that place he takes his name. Inasmuch, therefore, as holy church, so far as many of its parts go, was born in Rome, having been gathered out of the womb of the synagogue, and there triumphed, growing among the nations, so it was thought proper that she should take her name from the metropolitan city which is Rome. Hence Dist. 22 [Friedberg, 1:74] runs: “She is called most holy, because Peter and Paul on the same day and at one and the same time consecrated the whole Roman church and exalted her above all other cities in the whole world by their presence and by their glorious triumph.” (3) Not the locality or the antiquity, but the formulated faith establishes the church of Christ, for, both as regards personalities and time, Christ’s church had existed before in its earlier seats. And in this sense it is said: “The Lord did not choose people on account of the place, but the place on account of the people,” II Macc. 5:19. For this cause, I believe it is permitted to name Christ’s church from any locality which the righteous faithful inhabit, just as Christ was called the Nazarene on account of his conception which occurred in Nazareth, and as he may be called a Bethlehemite from the place of his nativity, and a Capernaumite from Capernaum where he worked miracles, and a Jerusalemite from his most glorious passion in Jerusalem.

In view of these things it is plain what ought to be said with regard to the doubtful statement made at the beginning of this chapter. For it should be granted that the Roman church is the holy mother, the catholic church, the bride of Christ. To the argument in favor of the opposite, by which it is argued that the Roman church is the church of which the pope is the head and the cardinals the body—this is said by way of concession and by defining the church in the second way, that is, as the pope—whoever he may be—in conjunction with the cardinals—whoever they may be and wheresoever they may live. But it is denied that this church is the holy, catholic and apostolic church. And so both parts of the argument are granted, but the conclusion is denied. But if this be said, namely, “I lay down that the pope is holy together with all the twelve cardinals living with him,” this being laid down and admitted as highly possible, it follows that the pope himself in conjunction with the cardinals is the holy, catholic and apostolic church. This conclusion is denied, but it follows well that a holy pope in conjunction with holy cardinals are a holy church which is a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic church. Therefore Christ’s faithful must hold firmly as a matter of faith to the first conclusion and not to the second; for the first is confirmed by Christ’s words: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But the second is a matter of doubt to me and to every other pilgrim, unless a divine revelation makes it plain. Hence neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church, and his predestinate are the body and each one is a member, because his bride is one person with Jesus Christ.

John Calvin (1509-1564) on science and the liberal arts

Image

The conviction that God is Lord over all of life prompted Reformed Christians to active involvement in every area of the wider culture. In this regard, John Calvin (1509-1564) reflects upon the significance of science and the liberal arts:

“…in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver. How, then, can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skilful description of nature, were blind? Shall we deny the possession of intellect to those who drew up rules for discourse, and taught us to speak in accordance with reason? Shall we say that those who, by the cultivation of the medical art, expended their industry in our behalf were only raving? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we deem them to be the dreams of madmen? Nay, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods. Therefore, since it is manifest that men whom the Scriptures term carnal, are so acute and clear-sighted in the investigation of inferior things, their example should teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, notwithstanding of its having been despoiled of the true good.

 Moreover, let us not forget that there are most excellent blessings which the Divine Spirit dispenses to whom he will for the common benefit of mankind. For if the skill and knowledge required for the construction of the Tabernacle behaved to be imparted to Bezaleel and Aholiab, by the Spirit of God (Exod. 31:2; 35:30), it is not strange that the knowledge of those things which are of the highest excellence in human life is said to be communicated to us by the Spirit. Nor is there any ground for asking what concourse the Spirit can have with the ungodly, who are altogether alienated from God? For what is said as to the Spirit dwelling in believers only, is to be understood of the Spirit of holiness by which we are consecrated to God as temples. Notwithstanding of this, He fills, moves, and invigorates all things by the virtue of the Spirit, and that according to the peculiar nature which each class of beings has received by the Law of Creation. But if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth. Lest any one, however, should imagine a man to be very happy merely because, with reference to the elements of this world, he has been endued with great talents for the investigation of truth, we ought to add, that the whole power of intellect thus bestowed is, in the sight of God, fleeting and vain whenever it is not based on a solid foundation of truth.”

– John Calvin (1509-1564), Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.ii.15-16

William Gurnall (1617-1679): Sincerity, the key to standing firm against the reproaches of men

Image

 

“Sincerity supports and comforts the soul under reproaches from men. These are no petty trials; they are reckoned among the saints’ martyrdoms, Heb. 11:36, called there ‘cruel mockings,’ yea, not unworthy to be recorded among the sufferings of Christ. The matchless patience and magnanimity of his spirit appeared not only in enduring the cross, but in ‘despising the shame,’ which the foul tongues of his bloody enemies loaded him unmercifully with. Man’s aspiring mind can least brook shame. Credit and applause is the great idol of men that stand at the upper end of the world for parts or place. Give but this, and what will not men do or suffer? One wiser than the rest could see this proud humour in Diogenes, that endured to stand naked, embracing a heap of snow, while he had spectators about him to admire his patience, as they thought it, and therefore was asked, ‘whether he would do thus, if he had none to see him?’ The hypocrite is the greatest credit-monger in the world; it is all he lives on almost, what the breath of men’s praise sends him in; when that fails, his heart faints; but when it turns to scorn and reproaches, then he dies, and needs must, becuase he has no credit with God while he is scorned by man; whereas sincerity bears up the soul against the wind of man’s vain breath, because it hath conscience, and God himself, to be his compurgator, to whom he dare appeal from man’s bar. O how sweetly do a good conscience, and the Spirit of God witnessing with it, feast the Christian at such a time! and no matter for the hail of man’s reproaches that rattle without, while the Christian is so merry within doors.”

– William Gurnall (1617-1679), The Christian in Complete Armour, 1:395

John Flavel (c. 1627-1691) on the Incarnation of Christ

Image

“For the sun to fall from its sphere, and be degraded into a wandering atom; for an angel to be turned out of heaven, and be converted into a silly fly or worm, had been no such great abasement; for they were but creatures before, and so they would abide still, though in an inferior order or species of creatures. The distance betwixt the highest and lowest species of creatures, is but a finite distance. The angel and the worm dwell not so far apart. But for the infinite glorious Creator of all things, to become a creature, is a mystery exceeding all human understanding. The distance between God and the highest order of creatures, is an infinite distance.”

– John Flavel (c. 1627-1691), The Fountain of Life Opened Up, Sermon 18: The Necessity of Christ’s Humiliation

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) on God’s omnipotence and inability to sin

Image

 

The excerpt below includes Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-1274) discussion of the question: “can God sin?” At first sight, it might seem that the suggestion that “God cannot sin” amounts to a denial of his omnipotence. However, Thomas argues that sin is a defect, and is therefore inconsistent with the idea of God as a perfect Being. God cannot sin, because it is not in his nature to be deficient:

“It is commonly said that God is almighty. Yet it seems difficult to understand the reason for this, on account of the doubt about what is meant when it is said that ‘God can do everything’… If it is said that God is omnipotent because he can do everything possible to his power, the understanding of omnipotence is circular, doing nothing more than saying that God is omnipotent because he can do everything that he can do… To sin is to fall short of a perfect action. Hence to be able to sin is to be able to be deficient in relation to an action, which cannot be reconciled with omnipotence. It is because God is omnipotent that he cannot sin… Anything that implies a contradiction does not relate to the omnipotence of God.”

– Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 25, aa. 3-4

Leo the Great (c. 400-461) on the priesthood of all believers

Image

 

Writing at the middle of the 5th century, Leo I (c. 400-461) affirms that all Christian believers are sharers in the priestly office of Christ, anticipating aspects of the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers:

“The sign of the cross makes all those who are born again in Christ kings, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them all as priests. As a result, apart from the particular service of our ministry, all spiritual and rational Christians are recognized as members of this royal people and sharers in the priestly office [of Christ]. What is there that is royal for a soul as to govern body in obedience to God? And what is there that is as priestly as to dedicate a pure conscience to the Lord, and to offer the unstained offerings of devotion (immaculatas pietatis hostias) on the altar of the heart?”

– Leo the Great (c. 400-461), Sermo 95, de natali ipsius