But if he abandon and forsake the name of a Christian, and give up his profession, then we are willing with patience to suffer his tyranny, insolence, and usurped power; we are content to let him go like the heathen, or Jews, or Turks, and so commit our cause to God. Our dealing and proceeding against the pope is altogether excommunication, which is simply the public declaration that a person is disobedient to Christ’s word. Now we affirm in public, that the pope and his retinue believe not; therefore we conclude that he shall not be saved, but be damned. What is this, but to excommunicate him? Briefly, to put Christ’s word in execution, and to accomplish and execute his command, this is excommunication. I will proceed with excommunication after this manner, first, when I myself have admonished an obstinate sinner, then I will send unto him two persons, as two chaplains, or two of the aldermen of the town, two churchwardens, or two honest men of the assembly; if then he will not be reformed, but still runs on in stubbornness, and persists in his sinfullife, I will declare him openly to the church in this manner: Lovingfriends, I declare unto you, that N.N . has been admonished, first by myself in private; afterwards also by two chaplains; thirdly, by two aldermen, or two churchwardens., as it may be, yet he will not desist from his sinfulkind of life; wherefore, I earnestly desire you to assist, and advise you to kneel down with me, and let us pray against him, and deliver him over the to the devil, etc.
Again, we have less excommunication now, for as much as in some sort we are all subject to blaspheming alike, and therewith are stained; so that we are afraid to pull out the mote we see in our neighbor’s eye, lest we be hit in the teeth with the beam that appears in our own.
But the chief cause why excommunication is fallen, is that the number of upright and true Christians in every place is very small; for, if from our hearts we loved and practiced true and upright godliness and God’s Word, as we all ought, then we should regard the command of Christ our blessedSaviorfar above all the wealth, welfare, or favor of this temporal life. For this command of Christ, touching the admonishing and warning a sinningbrother, is even as necessary as this: ‘Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commitadultery, not steal’, etc., seeing that when, either out of fear or for some other worldly respect, thou omittest this admonition, there depends thereon, not thy neighbor’s body and goods, but the salvation of his soul. Take heed, I shy, that in any case thou contemn not the excommunication of the true Church; a contempt certainly involving the true displeasure of God; for Christ says: ‘Verily I say unto you, what ye bind on earth, shall be also bound in heaven’, etc. The pope, however, in his tyranny, abuses the power of excommunication. If a poor man, at a certain appointed day, cannot make payment of the taxation the pope imposes upon him, he is excommunicated; and in the same way he thunders his bulls and his excommunications against us, because we avow the all-savingdoctrine of the Gospel; yet our SaviorChristcomforts us, saying: ‘Happy are ye when men revile and persecute you for my sake, and speak all manner of evil against you’, etc. And again: ‘They will excommunicate you, or put you out of the, synagogue.’
Most assuredly the pope’s bull is not Christ’s excommunication, by reason it is not done or taken in hand according to Christ’s institution; it is of no value in heaven, but to him, who thus abuses it against Christ’s command, it brings most sure and certain destruction, for it is a sin wherewith God’s name is blasphemed. Like as this external and visible excommunication is used against those only that live in publicsins, even so the hidden and invisible excommunication, which is not of men, or done by men visibly, but is of God himself, and done by him only, often excludes from the kingdom of Christ, invisibly, persons whom we take to be fair, upright, good, and honestChristians. For God judges not according to outward works or kind of life, as men do, but views the heart; he judges hypocrites whom the Church can neither judge nor punish; the Church judges not what is hidden and invisible.
All are not stained so grossly with open offenses, that we can tax them in public, as were fitting, with any one particular sin and transgression. For although many covetous persons, adulterers, etc., are among us;, yet they proceed so craftily, and in such sort act their sins, that we cannot detect them. Yet although such be with us in the church, among the Christianassembly, hear sermons and God’s Word, and, with upright and godly Christians, receive the holy sacrament, yet, de facto , they are excommunicated by God, by reason they live in sin against their own consciences, and amend not their lives. Such sinners may deceive men, but they cannot deceiveGod; he at the day of judgment will cause his angels to gather all offenders together, and will cast them into unquenchablefire. Christ says: ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained.’
And ‘If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee, and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more’, etc.; and ‘If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church. But if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican.’ And St. Paul: ‘If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one, eat not, etc.: put away from you that wicked person.’ Also: ‘If there come any to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not unto your house, neither bid him Godspeed; for he that biddeth him Godspeed, is partaker of his evildeeds.’
These, and such like sentences, are the unchangeable will, decrees, and ordinances of the high Majesty of God; we have no power to alter or omit them, much less to abolish them; but, on the contrary, have earnest command, with true diligence to hold thereunto, disregarding the power or reputation of any person whatsoever. And although excommunication in Popedom has been and is shamefully abused, and made a mere torment, yet we must not suffer it to fall, but make right use of it, as Christ has commanded, to the raising of the Church, not to exercise tyranny, as the pope has done.