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Protestants vs. Radicals – A Lutheran Defends the Rights of Rulers in Religious Matters

Johannes Brenz (1499-1570) was a Swabian follower of Luther and an important reformer in his own right. His An Answer to the Memorandum on Whether Secular Government Has the Right to Wield the Sword in Matters of Faith, reprinted below, attacked the anonymous pamphlet that contested the authority of temporal rulers in religious matters.

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An Answer to the Memorandum That Deals With This Question: Whether Secular Government Has the Right to Wield the Sword in Matters of Faith [by Johannes Brenz, 8 May 1530]

First, it is true that the New Testament speaks of two kingdoms on earth, namely a spiritual kingdom and a secular kingdom, etc.

Second, it is also true that each kingdom has its own distinct king, sceptre, goal, and purpose, as the memorandum says.

Third, it is also true that it is not appropriate for secular government to protect true faith by force or by force to drive out and punish false faith, etc.

But it is unacceptable that the author of the memorandum makes no distinction between true or false faith on the one hand and the works and deeds of true or false faith on the other. Indeed, he mixes the two things together and concludes that because secular government has no authority to punish false faith, it has no authority to prevent or to punish the works or external deeds of that false faith either. For this conclusion follows from his own words where he maintains that every secular government is bound in conscience to tolerate in its territory the public assembly of every sect or faith, whether true or false, and at the same time to guarantee peaceful conditions for them.

But there is a great difference between these two things, true or false faith on the one hand and public behaviour based on true or false faith on the other, and if we carefully distinguish between the two and keep them separate, it will be clear what secular government may with good conscience prevent or hinder.

First of all, faith, whether true or false, is located in the heart. And since secular government is neither master nor lord of the human heart or conscience, it is in no way appropriate for government to undertake to punish or forcibly to prevent unbelief in the heart or conscience, as is known from the works of all the jurists.

But then this same faith produces an external confession, which is done with the mouth. And this confession, as long as it remains personal and merely reveals and displays the heart and mind of a solitary individual, and as long as it is not used to teach others or cause them to band together, is not subject to the authority of secular government. On the contrary, like faith in the heart, personal confession with the mouth should also be free and secure from governmental authority. And both things are in fact matters of faith, which should not be subject to any worldly power. For even though confession with the mouth is an external, public act, it is nevertheless so integrated with the faith of the heart that both are counted as the same thing, and when one says that faith should be free, everyone understands this to include the confession of that same faith.

But when it does not remain a matter of faith in the heart and confession with the mouth but rather goes to the point that people band together, whether in public or in private, and establish and begin a new teaching office, then it begins to be appropriate for secular government to intervene in such actions, and, if the assembly and teaching office appear to be useful and peaceful, to promote them, or, if there be good grounds for judging them to be damaging and unpeaceful, to check them.

And this I shall prove with the help of God: first from the Old Testament, and second, after having shown that the Old Testament is useful to the New, out of the New Testament. Third, [I shall prove this] with the words and opinions of the author of the memorandum himself, and also with other demonstrable reasons based on common sense.

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