Archive E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Melanchthon on the Church and the Word (1)

A new week; time for a new series. This one, which will last for a while, will be on Melanchthon’s treatise De ecclesia et autoritate verbi dei (“On the Church and the Authority of the Word of God”), first published in 1539. My translation, which will be the first into English (I think? I could be wrong.), will come from the 1560 edition as printed in Corpus Reformatorum 23, pp. 595ff.

On the Church and the Authority of the Word of God

It is common for there to be arguments as to how much weight should be given to the judgments of the church, the decrees of councils, and the words of ecclesiastical writers. For, although we hold it to be a rule that we embrace the Word of God, nevertheless, because we seem to come across doubtful passages in the apostolic writings, some people argue that the judgments of the church should be followed rather than the writings of the apostles.

Next, they pretend that the authority of the church should be preferred to the Word of God, and that the church can change what has been handed on in the Word of God. For these opinions, they cite the following saying of Augustine:1 “I would not believe the gospel, unless the authority of the catholic church were moving me.” And so, under the false pretext of the name “church,” the pontiffs decree and command many things in keeping with their own lust against the Word of God, they confirm and establish impious doctrine and impious modes of worship, and even now the name of “church” alone deters very many men away from the true teaching of the gospel that we profess. It is therefore necessary for men to be correctly instructed about the authority of the church.2  

  1. A passage (from Against the Epistle of Manichaeus Called Fundamental 5.6) that continues to be misused from Melanchthon’s day all the way up to the present hour.
  2. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.