Straight From The Horse’s Mouth

This oft repeated idiom correctly points out that you are most likely to get the truth – or at least a more accurate version of the event in question – if your information comes from a direct source. In the arena of racetracks, jockeys, and large wagers, it doesn’t get much more direct than the horse himself! In the province of Protestant theology and belief, direct sources would be men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich (Huldrych) Zwingli, John Wesley, and the like – the fathers of the Protestant Reformation.

Many modern-day Protestants are reluctant, perhaps understandably, to listen to what Catholics have to say when it comes to the proper understanding of the Christian faith. That’s why I would like to share a bit of insider information with you before we place our bets. I’ve got some direct sources for you; in fact, I got this straight from the horse’s mouth!

The following quotes come directly from the fathers of the Protestant Reformation. These quotes reveal their theological positions on a variety of Christian beliefs. Today, many of these historic and orthodox Christian beliefs are assumed to be Catholic beliefs only – beliefs which the father’s of the Protestant Reformation presumably would not have shared.

Keep in mind that these are but a small selection of their quotes relating to various topics. For the sake of brevity I’ve made just a few short selections for each category; but there is far more that we could look at, both on these topics and a variety of others as well. As it turns out, the father’s of the Protestant Reformation were remarkably “catholic”1 in their beliefs!

But hey, don’t take my word for it – here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth!

The Eucharist

“I am not satisfied with the view of those who, while acknowledging that we have some kind of communion with Christ, only make us partakers of the Spirit, omitting all mention of flesh and blood. As if it were said to no purpose at all, that his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed; that we have no life unless we eat that flesh and drink that blood; and so forth. Nay, the very flesh in which he resides he makes vivifying to us, that by partaking of it we may feed for immortality…by this food believers are reared to eternal life.” John Calvin2

“We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it.” John Calvin3

“Let every one, therefore, who has either any desire to please God, or any love of his own soul, obey God, and consult the good of his own soul, by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s day service. And for several centuries they received it almost every day: Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside. Accordingly, those that joined in the prayers of the faithful never failed to partake of the blessed sacrament. What opinion they had of any who turned his back upon it, we may learn from that ancient canon: “‘f any believer join in the prayers of the faithful, and go away without receiving the Lord’s Supper, let him be excommunicated, as bringing confusion into the church of God.'”  John Wesley4

“Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present. Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.” Martin Luther5

“For this is…how it was accepted in the true, ancient Christian church of fifteen hundred years ago…When you receive the bread from the altar,…you are receiving the entire body of the Lord;”  Martin Luther6

Martin Luther in particular was an outspoken advocate of the historic and orthodox Christian position regarding the Eucharist. These quotes represent but a small fragment of all that he had to say on the matter. Notice how he frequently appeals to the apostolic fathers and the “true” ancient Christian Church of fifteen hundred years ago. How is it that modern Christians have departed not only from historic position of the apostolic fathers and early Church, but even from the position of the fathers of the Reformation some mere 500 years ago?

The Virgin Mary

  • The Veneration of Mary

“[She] is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.” Martin Luther7

“It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.” John Calvin8

“The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow.” Ulrich Zwingli9

  • The Immaculate Conception

“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” Martin Luther10

  • Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

“Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity…When Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her…This babble…is without justification…he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom.” Martin Luther11

“The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband…No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words…as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called ‘first-born’; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin…What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us…No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.” John Calvin12

“I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil . . . I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity.” Ulrich Zwingli13

“I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” Ulrich Zwingli14  *Note: Zwingli used Exodus 4:22 to defend the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Christians everywhere and in every time – up to and including the father’s of the Protestant Reformation – have always held to the historic and orthodox teachings of the Christian faith in regards to the Virgin Mary. How is it that so many present-day Christians have strayed so far from these beliefs and are often openly critical of Christians who still honor Mary and hold to these historic and orthodox positions?

The Necessity of Baptism for Salvation

“Baptism is the initiatory sign by which we are admitted to the fellowship of the Church, that being ingrafted into Christ we may be accounted children of God.” John Calvin15

“They who regard baptism as nothing but a token and a mark by which we confess our religion before men… have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to recieve baptism with this promise: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved.'” John Calvin16

“Therefore, expressed in the simplest form, the power, the effect, the benefit, the fruit and the purpose of baptism is to save. No one is baptized that he may become a prince, but, as the words declare [of Mark 16:16], that he may be saved. But to be saved, we know very well, is to be delivered from sin, death, and Satan, and to enter Christ’s kingdom and live forever with him…Through the Word, baptism receives the power to become the washing of regeneration, as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3:5…Faith clings to the water and believes it to be baptism which effects pure salvation and life…When sin and conscience oppress us…you may say: It is a fact that I am baptized, but, being baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and obtain eternal life for both soul and body…Hence, no greater jewel can adorn our body or soul than baptism; for through it perfect holiness and salvation become accessible to us…”  Martin Luther17

  • Infant Baptism

“The children of Christians are no less sons of God than the parents, just as in the Old Testament. Hence, since they are sons of God, who will forbid this baptism? Circumcision among the ancients…was the same as baptism with us.” Ulrich Zwingli18

“Little children…are free in every way, secure and saved solely through the glory of their baptism…Through the prayer of the believing church which presents it,…the infant is changed, cleansed, and renewed by inpoured faith. Nor should I doubt that even a godless adult could be changed, in any of the sacraments, if the same church prayed for and presented him, as we read of the paralytic in the Gospel, who was healed through the faith of others (Mark 2:3-12). I should be ready to admit that in this sense the sacraments of the New Law are efficacious in conferring grace, not only to those who do not, but even to those who do most obstinately present an obstacle.”  Martin Luther19

“If reason is listened to, it will undoubtedly appear that baptism is properly administered to infants as a thing due to them. The Lord did not anciently bestow circumcision upon them without making them partakers of all the things signified by circumcision. He would have deluded his people with mere imposture, had he quieted them with fallacious symbols: the very idea is shocking. He distinctly declares that the circumcision of the infant will be instead of a seal of the promise of the covenant. But if the covenant remains firm and fixed, it is no less applicable to the children of Christians in the present day, than to the children of the Jews under the Old Testament. Now, if they are partakers of the thing signified, how can they be denied the sign? If they obtain the reality, how can they be refused the figure? The external sign is so united in the sacrament with the word, that it cannot be separated from it; but if they can be separated, to which of the two shall we attach the greater value?” John Calvin20

You can read Calvin’s complete argument for paedobaptism (infant baptism) directly from his Institutes of Christian Religion here: Paedobaptism. It’s Accordance With The Institution Of Christ, And The Nature Of The Sign

Christians, including the father’s of the Protestant Reformation, have always held that baptism is the normative means of salvation and entrance into the Church in accordance with the teaching of the Scriptures and the unanimous witness of the apostolic fathers. Christians, including the father’s of the Protestant Reformation, have also always practiced infant baptism21.  How is it that so many modern Christians reject both the teaching of the ancient Church, and the teaching of the father’s of the Protestant Reformation, and consider baptism to be only for adults, entirely optional, and merely symbolic?

So, there you have it; straight from the horse’s mouth as it were.

I will end with a final quote from Martin Luther found in a letter which he wrote to two pastors regarding the practice of re-baptism. In the letter he acknowledges many common beliefs shared by both Catholics and Protestants, even acknowledging, “So we are all still under the papacy and therefrom have received our Christian treasures.”

He writes,  “We on our part confess that there is much that is Christian and good under the papacy; indeed everything that is Christian and good is to be found there and has come to us from this source. For instance we confess that in the papal church there are the true holy Scriptures, true baptism, the true sacrament of the altar, the true keys to the forgiveness of sins, the true office of the ministry, the true catechism in the form of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the articles of the creed . . . I speak of what the pope and we have in common . . . I contend that in the papacy there is true Christianity, even the right kind of Christianity and many great and devoted saints. . . . The Christendom that now is under the papacy is truly the body of Christ and a member of it. If it is his body, then it has the true spirit, gospel, faith, baptism, sacrament, keys, the office of the ministry, prayer, holy Scripture, and everything that pertains to Christendom. So we are all still under the papacy and therefrom have received our Christian treasures. . . . We do not rave as do the rebellious spirits, so as to reject everything that is found in the papal church. For then we would cast out even Christendom from the temple of God, and all that it contained of Christ.”22

Sadly, in the centuries since the Protestant Reformation, it seems as if too many of these common Christian beliefs have been lost. Too many Christians today have cut themselves free from both historic Christianity and the Christianity of the Reformers. They find themselves set adrift in a sea of their own opinion and speculation, their own limited abilities as bible scholars and theologians, their own mistaken views and misunderstandings about the historical and cultural context of an ancient near-eastern world, a world that existed some two millennia in the past.

May I suggest something? Forget the televangelists of our modern day. Disregard the critical biblical scholars and the bestselling authors of our time. Don’t get your information from modern experts on Luther or Calvin – read Luther and Calvin for yourself. Get your information straight from the horse’s mouth.

And if you’re feeling especially adventurous? Go back even further. Read about Polycarp who was a disciple of the beloved apostle John. The Martyrdom of Polycarp was written by Polycarp’s disciple Irenaeus, who went on to write Against Heresies circa 175-185 AD. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John. If you want to know what early Christian’s believed, taught, and practiced, it doesn’t get much earlier than that! Here’s a link to his work so that you can read it for yourself: Against Heresies

My advice to you? Skip the so called reformers who arrived on the scene some 1,500 years after the fact. Read the apostolic fathers – get it straight from the horse’s mouth!

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  1. universal -according to the whole 

  2. Institutes of Christian Religion Book IV 17 

  3. Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper, 17 

  4. Sermon 101 The Duty of Constant Communion Text from the 1872 Edition 

  5. Luther’s Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391 

  6. Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament, September 1544; LW, Vol. XXXVIII, 291-292 

  7. Sermon, Christmas, 1531 

  8. Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348 

  9. Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 427-428 

  10. Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527 

  11. Luther’s Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) & Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955, v.45:206,212-3 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew 1523 

  12. Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, sec. 39 (Geneva, 1562), vol. 1 / From Calvin’s Commentaries, tr. William Pringle, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, p107; on Matthew 1:25 

  13. G. R. Potter, Zwingli, London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976, pp.76 / The Perpetual Virginity of Mary . . ., Sep. 17, 1522 

  14. Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424 

  15. Institutes of Christian Religion Book IV, 15:1 

  16. Institutes of Christian Religion Book IV, 15 Scripture cited Mark 16:16 

  17. Large Catechism 1529 From edition by Augsburg Publishing House (Minneapolis), 1935, sections 223-224, 230, pages 162, 165 

  18. A Refutation 1527 

  19. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520, from the translation of A.T.W. Steinhauser, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, rev. ed., 1970, 197 

  20. Institutes of Christian Religion Book IV, 16:5 

  21. Disagreements in the earliest Christian communities had nothing to do with whether infant baptism should be practiced, but rather with whether it should be given immediately after birth or whether parents should delay eight days in keeping with the Jewish ritual of circumcision. 

  22. Concerning Rebaptism: A Letter to Two Pastors, 1528, Luther’s Works [“LW”], Vol. 40, 225-262; translated by Conrad Bergendoff, pp. 231-232, 251, 256-257 

  2 comments for “Straight From The Horse’s Mouth

  1. brian p. boyce
    June 8, 2016 at 9:37 AM

    I enjoy your writing. You call it like it is, a apple a apple and so on.
    Is it possible that you could write on the sad truth, of how our separated brethren, keep separating themselves more and more each day , by their starting new churches at a rapid pace.
    One church as Christ says, not so with our protestant friends many churches..

    Thanks for your posts.

    • Adam N. Crawford
      June 8, 2016 at 1:29 PM

      Brian, thanks so much for the kind words. You may want to check out my post One in Christ as I touch on that very issue quite a bit in it. The division that we see within Christianity is certainly a great scandal to the rest of the world, and a reason for all of us to continually pray for, and work towards, a return to Christian unity!

I want to hear your thoughts! Go ahead and keep the conversation going, but please keep it at least PG and respectful.

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