Conrad Cordatus and Solus Christus

Adding a “but” or “meanwhile” after “Christ alone” is dangerous – especially for listeners who are just beginning to grasp the foreign concepts of Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Solus Christus.

Cordatus was willing to allow that Cruciger meant well, and waited for a clearer explanation. The next words were more troubling, “Thus, our contrition and our effort are indispensable prerequisites (causa sine quibus non) of justification.” Still, Cordatus didn’t face the preacher immediately. He spent an entire evening discussing the matter with Melanchthon, who had written similar statements. He listened, and kept ruminating on these thoughts for almost a month. 

 

On 24 July, 1536, Conrad Cordatus heard a lecture that troubled him deeply. While commenting on the Gospel of John, the Lutheran preacher Caspar Cruciger said, “Christ alone is the meritorious cause; meanwhile, it is true, in a way, that man must be active in a manner; we must be contrite, and must rouse our conscience by means of the Word, in order that we might conceive faith.”[1]

Cordatus was leery of that language. Adding a “but” or “meanwhile” after “Christ alone” is dangerous – especially for listeners who are just beginning to grasp the foreign concepts of Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Solus Christus.

Cordatus was willing to allow that Cruciger meant well, and waited for a clearer explanation. The next words were more troubling, “Thus, our contrition and our effort are indispensable prerequisites (causa sine quibus non) of justification.”

Still, Cordatus didn’t face the preacher immediately. He spent an entire evening discussing the matter with Melanchthon, who had written similar statements. He listened, and kept ruminating on these thoughts for almost a month. On August 20, he decided to write Cruciger, asking him to put his heart at peace. When he didn’t receive a reply, he followed with a heated letter. Cruciger held his ground. Without contrition there can’t be faith, he said, nor consequently justification.

No Resting Place

For Cordatus, this was not a simple matter of expression. He had been imprisoned twice for preaching justification by grace alone through faith alone. The first time was in his thirties, during his first assignment as Roman Catholic priest in a parish in Hofen, in Lower Austria (about 200 miles west from his native Weissenkirchen).

He had been raised a critical thinker. His parents were Hussite sympathizers and his studies at the University of Vienna had put him in contact with open-minded teachers. By the time Luther’s works began circulating around Europe, Cordatus was ready to embrace them. Not all his parishioners, however, shared his enthusiasm, and the authorities placed him in jail.

In 1524, he was able to escape and flee to Wittenberg, where he lived as a poor refugee. Inspired by the progress of the Reformation in Germany, he decided to move back to Roman Catholic Habsburg lands, including Hungary, where the gospel was still unfamiliar. Once again, his activity caught the attention of the local authorities, who sent him back to prison. Nine months later, he gained the favor of a sympathetic guard who purposely left the cell unlocked, allowing Cordatus to escape again.

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