Book: THE OBEDIENCE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN & How Christian Rulers Ought to Govern

THEIR absolution also justifieth no man from sin. “For with the heart do men believe to be justified withal,” saith Paul, Romans 10; that is, through faith and believing the promises are we justified, as I have sufficiently proved in other places with the scripture. “Faith” (saith Paul in the same place) “cometh by hearing,” that is to say, by hearing the preacher that is sent from God, and preacheth God’s promises. Now, when thou absolvest in Latin, the unlearned heareth not: for, “How,” saith Paul, Corinthians “when thou blessest in an unknown tongue, shall the unlearned say Amen unto thy thanksgiving? for he wotteth not what thou sayest.”

So likewise the lay wotteth [knows] not whether thou loose or bind, or whether thou bless or curse. In like manner is it if the lay understand Latin, or though the priest absolve in English: for in his absolution he rehearseth no promise of God; but speaketh his own words, saying, ‘I, by the authority of Peter and Paul, absolve or loose thee from all thy sins.’ Thou sayest so, which art but a lying man; and never more than now, verily.

Thou sayest, ‘I forgive thee thy sins;’ and the scripture, John 1, That Christ only forgiveth, and “taketh away the sins of the world.” And Paul and Peter, and all the apostles, preach that all is forgiven in Christ, and for Christ’s sake. God’s word only looseth; and thou in preaching that mightest loose also, and else not.

Whosoever hath [ears] let him hear, and let him that hath eyes see. If any man love to be blind, his blindness on his own head, and not on mine.

They allege for themselves the saying of Christ to Peter, Matthew 16, “Whatsoever thou bindest on earth, it shall be bound; and whatsoever thou loosest,” and so forth. ‘Lo, say they, whatsoever we bind, and whatsoever we loose, here is nothing excepted.’ And another text say they of Christ, in the last of Matthew: “All power is given to me,” saith Christ, “in heaven and in earth: go therefore and preach,” etc. Preaching leaveth the pope out; and saith, ‘Lo, all power is given me in heaven and in earth;’ and thereupon taketh upon him temporal power above king and emperor, and maketh laws and bindeth them. And like power taketh he over God’s laws, and dispenseth with them at his lust [desire], making no sin of that which God maketh sin, and maketh sin where God maketh none: yea, and wipeth out God’s laws clean, and maketh at his pleasure; and with him is lawful what he lusteth [desires]. He bindeth where God looseth, and looseth where God bindeth. He blesseth where God curseth, and curseth where God blesseth, He taketh authority also to bind and loose in purgatory. That permit I unto him; for it is a creature of his own making. He also bindeth the angels: for we read of popes that have commanded the angels to fet [fetch] divers out of purgatory. Howbeit I am not yet certified whether they obeyed or no.

Understand therefore that to bind and to loose is to preach the law of God and the gospel or promises; as thou mayest see in the third chapter of the second epistle to the Corinthians, where Paul calleth the preaching of the law the ministration of death and damnation, and the preaching of the promises the ministering of the Spirit and of righteousness. For when the law is preached, all men are found sinners, and therefore damned: and when the gospel and glad tidings are preached, then are all, that repent and believe, found righteous in Christ, And so expound it all the old doctors.

Saint Hierome saith upon this text, “Whatsoever thou bindest,” ‘The bishops and priests, (saith he,) for lack of understanding, take a little presumption of the Pharisees upon them; and think that they have authority to bind innocents, and to loose the wicked:’ which thing our pope and bishops do. For they say the curse is to be feared, be it right or wrong.

Though thou have not deserved, yet if the pope curse thee, thou art in peril of thy soul, as they lie: yea, and though he be never so wrongfully cursed, he must be fain to buy absolution. But Saint Hierome saith, ‘As the priest of the old law made the lepers clean or unclean, so bindeth and unbindeth the priest of the new law.’ The priest there made no man a leper, neither cleansed any man, but God; and the priest judged only, by Moses’ law, who was clean and who was unclean, when they were brought unto him.

So here we have the law of God to judge what is sin and what is not, and who is bound and who is not. Moreover, if any man have sinned, yet if he repent and believe the promise, we are sure by God’s word, that he is loosed and forgiven in Christ. Other authority than thiswise to preach, have the priests not. Christ’s apostles had no other themselves, as it appeareth throughout all the new Testament: therefore it is manifest that they have not.

St Paul saith, 1 Corinthians “When we say all things are under Christ, he is to be excepted that put all under him.”

God the Father is not under Christ, but above Christ, and Christ’s head.

Christ saith, John “I have not spoken of mine own head, but my Father, which sent me, gave a commandment what I should say and what I should speak. Whatsoever I speak therefore, even as my Father bade me so I speak.”

If Christ had a law what he should do, how happeneth it that the pope so runneth at large, lawless? Though that all power were given unto Christ in heaven and in earth, yet had he no power over his Father, nor yet to reign temporally over temporal princes, but a commandment to obey them. How hath the pope then such temporal authority over king and emperor? How hath he authority above God’s laws, and to command the angels, the saints, and God himself?

Christ’s authority, which he gave to his disciples, was to preach the law, and to bring sinners to repentance, and then to preach unto them the promises, which the Father had made unto all men for his sake. And the same to preach only, sent he his apostles. As a king sendeth forth his judges, and giveth them his authority, saying, ‘What ye do, that do I; I give you my full power:’ yet meaneth he not, by that full power, that they should destroy any town or city, or oppress any man, or do what they list, or should reign over the lords and dukes of his realm, and over his own self; but giveth them a law with them, and authority to bind and loose, as far forth as the law stretcheth and maketh mention: that is, to punish the evil that do wrong, and to avenge the poor that suffer wrong. And so far as the law stretcheth, will the king defend his judge against all men. And as the temporal judges bind and loose temporally, so do the priests spiritually, and no other ways. Howbeit, by falsehood and subtlety the pope reigneth under Christ, as cardinals and bishops do under kings, lawless.

The pope (say they) absolveth or looseth a poena et culpa; that is, from the fault or trespass, and from the rain due unto the trespass. God, if a man repent, forgiveth the offense only, and not the pain also, say they, save turneth the everlasting pain unto a temporal pain; and appointeth seven years in purgatory for every deadly sin. But the pope for money forgiveth both, and hath more power than God, and is more merciful than God. ‘This do I,’ saith the pope, ‘ of my full power, and of the treasure of the church; of descryings of martyrs, confessors, and merits of Christ.’

First, the merits of the saints did not save themselves, but were saved by Christ’s merits only. Secondarily, God hath promised Christ’s merits unto all that repent; so that whosoever repenteth, is immediately heir of all Christ’s merits, and beloved of God as Christ is. How then came this foul monster to be lord over Christ’s merits, so that he hath power to sell that which God giveth freely?

O dreamers! yea, O devils, and O venomous scorpions, what poison have ye in your tails! O pestilent leaven, that so turneth the sweet bread of Christ’s doctrine into the bitterness of gall!

The friars run in the same spirit, and teach, saying, ‘Do good deeds, and redeem the pains that abide [await] you in purgatory; yea, give us somewhat to do good works for you.’ And thus is sin become the profitablest merchandise in the world. O the cruel wrath of God upon us, because we love not the truth!

For this is the damnation and judgment of God, to send a false prophet unto him that will not hear the truth. “I know you,” saith Christ, ( John 5) “that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him shall ye receive.”

Thus doth God avenge himself on the malicious hearts which have no love to his truth.

All the promises of God have they either wiped clean out, or thus leavened them with open lies, to stablish their confession withal. And, to keep us from [the] knowledge of the truth, they do all thing in Latin. They pray in Latin, they christen in Latin, they bless in Latin, they give absolution in Latin; only curse they in the English tongue. Wherein they take upon them greater authority than ever God gave them. For in their curses (as they call them) with book, bell, and candle, they command God and Christ, and the angels, and all saints, to curse them: ‘Curse them God (say they), Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; curse them Virgin Mary,’ etc. O ye abominable! who gave you authority to command God to curse? God commandeth you to bless, and ye command him to curse! “Bless them that persecute you: bless, but curse not,” saith St Paul, Romans 12. What tyranny will these not use over men, which presume and take upon them to be lords over God, and to command him? If God shall curse any man, who shall bless and make him better? No man can amend himself, except God pour his Spirit unto him. Have we not a commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? 

How can I love him, and curse him also? James saith, “It is not possible that blessing and cursing should come both out of one mouth.” Christ commandeth, Matthew 5, saying, “Love your enemies.Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you. Pray for them that do you wrong and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your heavenly Father.”

In the marches of Wales it is the manner, if any man have an ox or a cow stolen, he cometh to the curate, and desireth him to curse the stealer; and he commandeth the parish to give him, every man, God’s curse and his: ‘God’s curse and mine have he,’ saith every man in the parish. O merciful God! what is blasphemy, if this be not blasphemy, and shaming of the doctrine of Christ?

Understand therefore, the power of excommunication is this: if any man sin openly, and amendeth not when he is warned, then ought he to be rebuked openly before all the parish. And the priest ought to prove by the scripture, that all such have no part with Christ. For Christ serveth not, but for them that love the law of God, and consent that it is good, holy, and righteous; and repent, sorrowing and mourning for power and strength to fulfill it.

And all the parish ought to be warned to avoid the company of all such, and to take them as heathen people. This is not done that he should perish; but to save him, to make him ashamed, and to kill the lusts [desires] of the flesh, that the spirit might come unto the knowledge of truth. And we ought to pity him, and to have compassion on him, and with all diligence to pray unto God for him, to give him grace to repent and to come to the right way again; and not to use such tyranny over God and man, commanding God to curse. And if he repent, we ought with all mercy to receive him in again.

This mayest thou see Matthew 18, and 1 Corinthians 5, and Corinthians 2.