Chapter Fifteen: How Salutary It Is For All Men To Have The Kingdom of Christ Firmly Restored Among Them
For how many do we see even among those who wish to be considered especially learned and enthusiastic about the Kingdom of God who are either ashamed or irked to preach the gospel of this Kingdom to every creature and especially to those who are yet quite uninstructed, even though they are singularly committed to the trust of those very ones whose temporal things they gather; indeed, how many do you find who, however open and horrible a sacrilege it is, take the income of a number of parishes and yet do not render the ministry even to a single person either through helpers or by themselves. If in these splendid and well-attended places they have one or two, or a few more, sermons in a year, they think that they have discharged their duty admirably; they spend all the rest of their time in leisure, luxury, and worldly pomp.
Although these men were also obliged to be at the service of the elders and to help in the preservation and exercise of the discipline of Christ and the administration of the sacraments, it was their principal duty to keep a list of all of Christ’s needy in the churches, to be acquainted with the life and character of each, and to give to individuals from the common offerings of the faithful whatever would suffice for them to live properly and devoutly.
Christ’s churches must have their freedom so that each may define the content and method of presentation of sacred readings, interpretations of Scriptures, catechizing, administration of the sacraments, prayers and psalms, and similarly the public correction of sinners, imposition of penance, and reconciliation for those who have satisfied the churches by doing penance, all in such a way as each church judges to be of greatest profit for its people, so that as a result of these activities they may be moved to a true and living repentance, and strengthened and advanced in the faith of Christ.
And so it is anti-Christian to prescribe fasting for Christians as something per se necessary for salvation. For the Lord and the apostles, although they condemned making a ceremony out of fasting, nevertheless left its observance free for Christians; just as fasting cannot be piously accomplished unless it is undertaken with a willing spirit.
For we see very few people at daily religious gatherings, as those first Christians were accustomed to gather in the Temple. For some are impeded by the necessity of seeking their daily bread, others by religious indifference. Who, therefore, would not see how salutary it is for the people of Christ that there be one day in the week so consecrated to religious services that it should not be allowable to do anything else on that day except assemble in the congregation of worship, and there hear the word of God, pour out our prayers to God, confess the faith and render thanks to God, make sacred offerings, receive the divine sacraments, and thus with singular zeal glorify God and grow in the faith? For these are the works of Holy Days.
Now let us see how the discipline of ceremonies should be reformed in the churches. These, indeed, are the necessary and common ceremonies of all Christians: the blessing of places in which the Christian religion is publicly administered, the sanctifying of seasons, in which the people grow in the Lord and take time for religion; a certain regulation of the ministry of the word, the sacraments, discipline; sacred offerings, and their distribution to the Poor.
The discipline of penance properly pertains to those who have fallen into more serious sins. For as has been said above, the faithful ministers of Christ should not tolerate in the company of the Church, nor admit to the sacraments of Christ, those whom they cannot and should not acknowledge by their fruits, according to the precepts of the Lord, to be his true disciples and followers.
The discipline of life and manners consists in this, that not only the public ministers of the churches (though these principally), but even individual Christians should exercise care for their neighbours. By the authority and magisterium of our Lord Jesus Christ, each person should strengthen and advance his neighbours, wherever this is possible, and urge them to progress in the life of God, as his disciples, in his faith and knowledge. And if any fall into the error of doctrine or some vice of life or manners, whoever can with utmost zeal recall such persons from all false doctrine and depraved activity, both for the purity of Christian doctrine and the sedulous conformity of all life to the will of God.
Hence for the more reverent and salutary presentation of these sacraments to the faithful, it is clearly fitting that they should not be presented except when the whole church or the greater part of it is gathered together and irreligious and unworthy persons removed, so that all present, as they know that through communion with Christ they live and have every hope of eternal life, receive with hearts as eager as possible this communion of Christ offered to them in the Holy Supper. For those who do not seek to live and dwell in Christ the Lord nor for him to live and dwell in them (cf. John 15:4) ought not even to gaze upon these sacred mysteries but should be altogether excluded from the sacred assembly.
Both the synagogue and the early Church exhibited a singular concern for this kind of catechizing. Also, our Lord Jesus Christ took part in something of this sort when at twelve years of age he remained in Jerusalem without the knowledge of his parents. For so Luke writes of him: “They found him sitting in the Temple in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and his responses” (Luke 2:46-47). Jesus, therefore, then listened. To whom? Undoubtedly to the teachers, who were catechizing him and the other boys.
Here, however, it must be observed that it is not necessary for all elders to be trained in letters and languages, or even in the ability of public teaching. This office, although it is also that of elders, pertains especially to the one who holds the first place among the elders, to whom the name bishop is uniquely given. As proof that one is fit to preside over a church it is sufficient that he fulfills the ministry of Christ acceptably and faithfully, even if in a mediocre way, that he can teach others, and that he have spiritual prudence and zeal for governing the church, and that he is on his guard lest anyone falls from the grace he has received.
Whoever considers devoutly the texts which we have here proposed will readily understand the nature and makeup of the Kingdom of Christ as well as its properties, and will see what must be sought and forsaken by those who wish this Kingdom of Christ to be firmly restored among them.
Chapter Three: Some More Eminent Passages Of Holy Scripture Concerning The Kingdom Of Christ, In The Light Of Which What We Have Proposed Can Be Better Understood
It is the proper duty of the citizens of the Kingdom of Christ that they restore all the old ruins that have lain waste for many ages, i.e., that they lead many peoples who for generations have been deprived of any knowledge and love of God to faith in Christ and the development of righteousness.
Chapter Two: What The Kingdom Of Christ And The Kingdoms Of The World Have In Common And What They Do Not
For those over whom he truly reigns seek nothing for themselves, but only what is useful for others : they see to it that each one among them can do this job with complete serenity and diligence, keeping his place in the body of Christ; he does not cause disturbance by meddling, nor is he negligent through indolence or laziness.
Since this is the nature and purpose of any kingdom which can really be called a kingdom, let us consider that the kingdom about which we are reading is called the Kingdom of God. Whatever good properties exist in any human kingdom exist and are found in fuller perfection here, inasmuch as God is above all men, both in the wisdom of his governance and in the benevolence of his will for all mankind. Indeed, since God alone is good, wise, and powerful, only in his Kingdom can those things which ought to be done by royal rule be plainly perceived.