The sixth volume of Gerhard’s Loci Theologici, containing the commonplaces On the Ecclesiastical Ministry and On Political Magistracy, first appeared in print in 1619. The years leading up to 1619 were Gerhard’s first years as a professor of theology at Jena, yet he had been active in the pastoral ministry for ten years before he came to Jena in 1616. On June 5, 1606, he was called to be pastor and superintendent of Heldburg by Duke Johann Casimir of Coburg. Four years later, in December 1610, Gerhard had made his report of an inspection of the churches and schools of Heldburg and had come to conclusions about how they needed to be improved. Having successfully carried out this task, he was given the duty of conducting a general inspection of all of Johann Casimir’s lands in Thuringia and Franconia in 1613. By 1615, Gerhard had become general superintendent (the functional equivalent of a bishop) in Coburg and had written a church order, the “Church Order of Johann Casimir,” which was later published in 1626. This church order included chapters on many of the same topics that appeared in Gerhard’s commonplace On the Ecclesiastical Ministry, such as the call, examination, ordination, investiture, and pastoral duties. Of course, during his ministry he had already begun writing his Theological Commonplaces. A new volume of this grand work was published every few years, starting in 1610.
Aside from his pastoral work, Gerhard had dealt with the doctrine of the ministry in various disputations and shorter books prior to the appearance of his commonplace on the ministry. The centennial of the Reformation gave Gerhard the opportunity to reflect on the call and ministry of Martin Luther in several writings, just as he included a chapter on Luther’s call in his commonplace On the Ecclesiastical Ministry (§§ 118–26).
The first part of Gerhard’s commonplace On the Ecclesiastical Ministry (§§ 1–189) deals especially with the ministers: their necessity, call, ordination, transfer, removal, etc. The second part (§§ 190–375) deals especially with the work of the ministry: differing duties and rankings within the office, preaching, administering the Sacraments, administering church discipline, caring for the poor, as well as the payment and marriage of ministers.
Just as Gerhard usually begins his commonplaces with a discussion of terminology, so also here a few of his terms require explanation for the English-speaking reader. For Gerhard, “public ministry” is a general term not just for churchly service but also for political office. It is called “public” because it benefits the people or the public. Gerhard does not use “public ministry” as a synonym for the “ecclesiastical ministry” (§ 8). “Pastor” in Latin is usually the head minister of a congregation or cluster of congregations. Sometimes the word means “bishop.” But assistant ministers often had other names. Among German-speaking Lutherans, the terms used were often Pfarrer (literally, “parson”) for the head minister, and Prediger (“preacher”) or Diakonos (“deacon”) for an assistant minister. Another common word for a minister of the church is “presbyter,” which is often translated “elder” in English translations of the Bible. Gerhard uses the term to mean a minister who has pastoral care over a congregation but is not a supervisor of other ministers and congregations. An “elder” (Latin, senior) is a lay leader.
Two of Gerhard’s terms, however, are laden with ambiguity. Sometimes he uses the word “presbytery” (presbyterium) to mean the ministerium of the church, or a gathering of the church’s clergy (§ 156). But sometimes he uses it to mean a regional council consisting of ministers and lay leaders, a “consistory” (§ 87). The reader must be careful to see how Gerhard uses the term in each context.
The term doctor (“teacher”) is also somewhat ambiguous. In modern English the word “teacher” usually connotes a schoolteacher, especially at the pre-collegiate level. Gerhard does not deal with such teachers in this commonplace, and the term doctor does not refer specifically to them. He does speak about schools and schoolteachers in his church order, however, and there the main terms for a schoolteacher are praeceptor [“preceptor”] or docens [“docent”]; doctor is not used. Usually Gerhard uses the term doctor to mean simply “one who teaches,” and in the context of this commonplace it is usually the same as a “presbyter” (that is, a minister of the church). However, in chapter III, section XI, it means a “doctor,” one who has the academic degree of doctor of theology. The distinction is seen in § 138 (4), where Gerhard distinguishes the promotion of doctors, which includes the power to teach anywhere, from the call of pastors and “teachers” [doctores], whose call is to a certain place.
An important chapter of this commonplace deals with the call to the ecclesiastical ministry. Gerhard argues against the Anabaptists and Photinians that, according to Scripture, a legitimate call is necessary before one may carry out the pastoral functions of preaching and administering Sacraments (§§ 54ff.). The “Photinians” were seventeenth-century Unitarians, sometimes called “Socinians” after their leader Fausto Sozinni (1539–1604). By calling them “Photinians,” Gerhard and others were drawing attention to the similarity of their teaching with that of the ancient heretic Photinus (d. 376), who viewed Christ as a mere man and denied the personality of the Holy Spirit.
Two aspects of Gerhard’s doctrine of the call have drawn criticism and caution. First, Gerhard emphasizes that the call to the ministry is a call restricted to a certain place. By emphasizing the uniqueness of the apostolic office, he does not seem to make room for any office of missionary or evangelist in the present church (§ 220).
Second, Gerhard redefines the doctrine of the three estates (church, state, and household) in a way that led to secular state control of the church (the so-called landesherrliche Kirchenregiment). The differences between Gerhard and the first generation of reformers are subtle. When Luther speaks of the “three estates” or “three hierarchies,” he means the three divinely established areas of human responsibility. One of these estates is the church, in which one is either a preacher or a hearer, or assists the preachers in some way. The other two are the state and the household, where there are different positions. People can belong to multiple estates at the same time. For example, a man could be a husband and hold church office as well. Thus Luther’s doctrine of the three estates is a doctrine of social ethics. But sometimes Luther names more than three estates, and when he does so, he speaks of offices or positions of responsibility held by individuals, for example, the “estate of priests.” So for Luther “estate” sometimes means the institution or area of responsibility (e.g., the church) and sometimes it means the office or officials within that area of responsibility (e.g., the pastors). What remained true for Luther and the other reformers is that the church itself is made up, in essence, of hearers and preachers of God’s Word.
Gerhard, on the other hand, takes the three estates and uses them not just as areas of social ethics, but as parts of the church. Instead of dividing the church just into preachers and hearers, Gerhard adds rulers (§§ 2, 85). Gerhard’s argument is based on the Old Testament, where kings were established by God to guard the people and protect the temple and true worship of God. Despite the fact that kings and rulers played no role in the call process in the New Testament, the secular magistrate was due a role now that he had become Christian (§ 86). This mixing of church and state had tragic consequences after Gerhard’s time. Princes converted to other confessions and forced their churches to come along. When pastors preached against the vices of rulers, they could be dismissed from their church and sent into exile.
But is Gerhard to blame? Gerhard’s position on church governance is usually described as Protestant “episcopalism,” a manner of church government in which the secular ruler takes the place of the bishop and so governs the church. Yet this description is a simplification. Although his modification of the doctrine of the three estates did legitimize the authority of the secular ruler within the church, Gerhard intended to argue instead for a church governance balanced between the Christian magistrate, the clergy, and the laity. He argues for a consistorial church government, in which the clergy and lay representatives or “elders” exercised church discipline, served as a court of appeals, made call assignments, etc., on a regional basis (§ 87). Yet in reality, the secular ruler often appointed both the lay and the pastoral representatives to such consistories, and thus the laity’s voice in particular was suppressed by the voice of the secular rulers.
Is Gerhard to blame? Actually, Gerhard’s position on church government was an attempt to limit the influence of the secular rulers. Gerhard faced politicians who claimed the right to rule the church and remove ministers who displeased them at will. This claim was based on the legal transferal of episcopal rights from Roman Catholic bishops to the princes of the Augsburg Confession in the Treaty of Passau in 1552 (§ 108). Lutheran rulers had become emergency bishops. Against absolutist claims, Gerhard emphasized the rights of the whole church, since the church is more than just the secular ruler (§§ 174, 369).
Along with the call, Gerhard also deals at length with ordination in this commonplace. Here he sometimes distinguishes ordination from the ceremony of the imposition of hands, but not always. On one side, Gerhard states that ordination was used by the Lord Jesus to put the apostles into office, though without the imposition of hands (§ 141), and it was used by Paul to put Timothy into the ministry (§ 62). In fact, Gerhard says, the imposition of hands bestows gifts of the Holy Spirit (§ 143) and commits the ministry to a man (§§ 62, 68). In these statements, Gerhard is considering ordination as part of the call process. On the other side, Gerhard denies that there is any divine command to use ordination, denies that the spiritual gifts given through the imposition of hands are necessary for the performance of pastoral functions, and denies that ordination is a sacrament in the strict sense (§ 139). In these statements, Gerhard is considering ordination as distinct from the call and emphasizing that it does not bestow a power to perform the ministry, as was claimed by his main opponent, the Jesuit Robert Bellarmine.
This first part of Gerhard’s commonplace On the Ecclesiastical Ministry ends, fittingly, with a consideration of the people affected by the ministry, or the object of the ministry: “the Lord’s flock, entrusted to the care and protection of shepherds” (§ 189). This consideration of God’s people will lead Gerhard in the second part of this commonplace to discuss the means by which the sheep are fed and guarded.
Benjamin T. G. Mayes
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Johann Gerhard, Locorum theologicorum . . . tomus sextus: In quo continentur haec capita: 26. De ministerio ecclesiastico, 27. De magistratu politico (Ienae: Typis & Sumptibus Tobiae Steinmanni, 1619).
Georg Berbig, D. Johann Gerhards Visitationswerk in Thüringen und Franken (Gotha: Th. Herm. Wechsung, 1896), 5.
His report of the visitation is printed in Berbig, D. Johann Gerhards Visitationswerk, 32–36.
Berbig, D. Johann Gerhards Visitationswerk, 5–6.
Martin Honecker, Cura religionis Magistratus Christiani: Studien zum Kirchenrecht im Luthertum des 17. Jahrhunderts, insbesondere bei Johann Gerhard, Jus Ecclesiasticum 7 (München: Claudius Verlag, 1968), 43; Ordnung Wie es in deß Durchleuchtigen Hochgebornen Fürsten und Herrn Herrn Johann Casimiri Herzogen zu Sachsen, Gülich, Cleve und Berg, Landgraven in Thüringen, Marggraven zu Meissen, Graven zu der Marck und Ravenßburgk, herrn zu Ravenstein etc. Fürstenthumb und Landen, Orts Francken und Thüringen, in den Kirchen, mit Lehr, Ceremonien, Visitationen und was solchen mehr anhängig, Dann im Fürstlichen Consistorio, mit denen verbotenen gradibus in Ehesachen und sonsten, auch im Fürstlichen Gymnasio, so wol Land: und Particular Schulen, gehalten werden solle (Coburgk: Forckel, 1626).
Disputatio Theologica. De Ministerio Ecclesiastico (Coburg: Bertsch, 1610); Aphorismi Succincti Et Selecti, In Viginti Tribus Capitibus, totius Theologiae nucleum continentes: Ad Usum Disputationum Scholasticarum (Jena: Steinmann, 1611); and Disputationum Bellarmino oppositarum Secunda Continens Controversiam De variis sacrorum librorum editionibus (Jena: Steinmann, 1618), a mistakenly titled collection of disputations that included one on the ministers of the church.
Beati Lutheri ad Ministerium & Reformationem legitima vocatio Vindicata (Jena: Steinmann, ); “Die Andere Evangelische Jubelpredigt/ Aus dem 14. Cap. der Offenbahrung Johannes,” in Drey Christliche Frewden- Lehr- und Lobpredigten/ In den angestelten Feyertagen des gehaltenen Jubelfests/ daran die Kirchen/ so von dem Römischen Bapstumb/ aus sonderbarer grosser Gnade des Allerhöchsten durch trewen Dienst des thewren hochbegabten Mans Gottes Doctoris Martini Lutheri zu der Apostolischen Klarheit und Warheit des heiligen evangelii kommen seynd/ ihre Danckopffer dem Könige aller Könige gebracht haben (Jena: Steinmann, 1618); “Oratio Jubilaea II,” in Jubilaea Academiae Jenensis Festivitas Celebrata Orationibus Quinque . . . anno à restitutâ Evangelii luce seculari publicè . . . habitae sunt (Jena: Steinmann, 1618), fols. 15–27;
An excellent overview of Gerhard’s position on these issues is given by Martti Vaahtoranta, Restauratio Imaginis Divinae: Die Vereinigung von Gott und Mensch, ihre Voraussetzungen und Implikationen bei Johann Gerhard (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft, 1998), 189–90, 193–99.
Ordnung, Wie es in deß Durchleuchtigen Hochgebornen Fürsten und Herrn Herrn Johann Casimiri . . . Fürstenthumb und Landen . . . in den Kirchen . . . und Particular Schulen, gehalten werden solle (Coburgk: Forckel, 1626), 2:338–39, 348–53.
See Klaus Detlev Schulz, Mission from the Cross: The Lutheran Theology of Mission (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), 264–68.
Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper (1528), LW 37:364–65; On the Councils and the Church (1539), AE 41:176–77; Circular Disputation on the Right of Resistance Against the Emperor (1539), WA 39/2:42; cf. FC SD XII 9.
SA III XI 1; SC Table of Duties; Paul Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther, trans. Robert C. Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 36–38; cf. SA Preface 10; Ap XXII 13.
SA III XII 2; Philip Melanchthon, The Chief Theological Topics: Loci Praecipui Theologi 1559, trans. J. A. O. Preus, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 241, 515.
Martin Honecker, Cura religionis Magistratus Christiani: Studien zum Kirchenrecht im Luthertum des 17. Jahrhunderts, insbesondere bei Johann Gerhard, Jus Ecclesiasticum 7 (Munich: Claudius, 1968), 76–78.
Honecker, Cura religionis, 137–38, 150.
Honecker, Cura religionis, 74–75, 141.
Martin Honecker, “Theologie unter der obrigkeitlichen Cura Religionis Christianae,” in Wissenschaftliche Theologie und Kirchenleitung: Beiträge zur Geschichte einer spannungsreichen Beziehung für Rolf Schäfer zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Ulrich Köpf (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 85–120, here at 103.
Herbert Immenkötter, “Augsburg, Peace of,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 91–93.
Honecker, “Theologie unter der obrigkeitlichen Cura Religionis Christianae,” 102; Johann Anselm Steiger, “Kirchenordnung, Visitation und Alltag: Johann Gerhard (1582–1637) als Visitator und kirchenordnender Theologe,” Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 55, no. 3 (2003): 227–52.