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Introduction: Wolfgang Musculus on Christian Righteousness, Oaths, and Usury

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Over the last few decades, a picture of the Reformation has been formed that stands in marked contrast to the received wisdom of the early twentieth century. A history of Christian doctrine that largely emphasizes the importance of the Reformation’s leading men, especially Martin Luther and John Calvin (and to a lesser extent Philip Melanchthon and Huldrych Zwingli), has been measured and found wanting. In its place an approach that emphasizes texts and contexts rather than archetypal paradigms has provided a more sensitive and nuanced perspective on the transition from the late-medieval to the early-modern period.
Commentary on
Psalm 15 (1551)
Wolfgang Musculus
Introduction by Jordan J. Ballor
Translation by Todd M. Rester
Journal of Markets & Morality
Volume 11, Number 2 (Fall 2008): 349–460
Copyright © 2008
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Introduction by Jordan J. Ballor
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Psalm 15 1
Appendix to Psalm 15: Concerning the Oath 31
Appendix to Psalm 15: Concerning Usury 59
Over the last few decades, a picture of the Reformation has been formed that
stands in marked contrast to the received wisdom of the early twentieth century.
A history of Christian doctrine that largely emphasizes the importance of the
Reformation’s leading men, especially Martin Luther and John Calvin (and to a
lesser extent Philip Melanchthon and Huldrych Zwingli), has been measured and
found wanting. In its place an approach that emphasizes texts and contexts rather
than archetypal paradigms has provided a more sensitive and nuanced perspective
on the transition from the late-medieval to the early-modern period.
The work of lesser-known figures has begun to emerge from the shadows cast
on the historical landscape by theologians such as Luther and Calvin. This is as
true for our understanding of controversial doctrines such as the Lord’s Supper and
justification as it is for the influence of the Reformation on political, economic,
and ethical thought. These minor characters of the Reformation have been found
to have made major and, heretofore largely unappreciated, contributions to the
developments of the Protestant Reformation and post-Reformation eras.
Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563), the sometime reformer of Augsburg and
Bern, is one such overlooked figure. In the Anglo-American world in particular,
the work of this second-generation reformer has suffered indefensible neglect. A
handful of unpublished dissertations, along with only two published monographs,
Wolfgang Musculus on Christian
Righteousness, Oaths, and Usury
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
comprise the English-language literature focused on Musculus in the last century.
The bibliographic situation on the Continent is rather better, however, and the
publication of an anthology commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of
Musculus’ birth stands as a major recent contribution to Musculus research.
Of special interest here is Wolfgang Musculus’ exegesis of Psalm 15, a text that
has been foundational for the development of theological reflection on Christian
righteousness and, in particular, on questions related to usury. Musculus wrote
a sizeable appendix on the issue of usury for his Psalms treatise and linked it,
along with another appendix on oaths, to his exegesis of Psalm 15. Musculus’
appendices on oaths and usury were first translated separately from the rest of
the Psalms commentary and appended to the English translation of his Common
Places in 1563. In this way, it functioned as practical moral treatises correspond-
ing to the larger doctrinal focus of the Loci communes.
Each of these appendices is important in its own way for the historical devel-
opment of political economy and social ethics in the Reformed tradition. They
stand as predecessors to the more developed moral casuistry of the later sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. Where the first and second generations of reformers
tended to address such social, political, and ethical questions in an ad hoc and
occasional manner, treatments became increasingly organized and structured in
the larger casuistical systems of writers such as William Perkins, William Ames,
and Richard Baxter.
Among the former are James T. Ford, “Wolfgang Musculus and the Struggle for
Confessional Hegemony in Reformation Augsburg, 1531–1548” (Ph.D. diss.:
University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2000); and Robert B. Ives, “The Theology of
Wolfgang Musculus, 1497–1563” (Ph.D. diss.: University of Manchester, 1965).
The latter are Craig S. Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century: The
Johannine Exegesis of Wolfgang Musculus (New York: Oxford University Press,
1997); and Paul Josiah Schwab, The Attitude of Wolfgang Musculus toward Religious
Tolerance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1933).
Rudolf Dellsperger, Rudolf Freudenberger, and Wolfgang Weber, eds. Wolfgang
Musculus (1497–1563) und die oberdeutsche Reformation (Berlin: Akademie Verlag,
Wolfgang Musculus, Common Places of the Christian Religion, trans. John Man
(London: Reginalde Wolfe, 1563).
William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience (London: John
Legat, 1606); William Ames, De conscientia et eius iure, vel casibus (Amsterdam:
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Musculus’ appendix on oaths takes up a question of relatively novel importance,
given the contemporary challenge of more radical strands of the Reformation to
such social conventions. To question the legitimacy of the oath was to challenge
the entire social and political structure of the day. Musculus takes his point of
departure on this question with the biblical text of Psalm 15:4, which reads in
part that the righteous person is one “who swears to his neighbor and does not
Psalm 15:5 informs the reader that another characteristic of a righteous person
is to be someone who “does not give his money for usury.” In his magisterial
study on the theory of usury, John T. Noonan observes, “At the same time, eco-
nomics, law, theology, and ethics are all, in measure, illuminated by the history
of a theory that involves them all.”
The complex issue of usury becomes, then,
a very useful device for coming to an understanding of how various interrelated
themes in intellectual history have been synthesized and applied. Even more,
when usury can be examined historically within an exegetical context the pos-
sibilities for fruitful analysis multiply. As David C. Steinmetz has noted, “The
history of biblical interpretation is not incidental to European cultural history
but central to it.”
I. Ianssonium, 1631). ET: idem, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof
(London: W. Christiaens, E. Griffin, J. Dawson, 1639); Richard Baxter, A Christian
Directory, or, A Summ of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience (London:
Robert White, 1673). See also Johann Alsted, Theologia casuum (Hannover: Conrad
Eifridum, 1621). For a massive corresponding effort among Lutherans, see Georg
Dedekenn, ed.,
Thesauri Consiliorum Et Decisionum Volumen I Ecclesiastica con-
tinens (Hamburg: Paul Lange, 1623); and Friedrich Balduin, Tractatus Luculentus,
Posthumus, Toti Reipublicæ Christianæ Utilissimus. De Materia rarissime antehac
enveleata, Casibus nimirum conscientiæ (Wittenberg: Paul Helwigius, 1628). This
transition in theological reflection on moral matters corresponds to the larger move-
ment from the early generations of the Reformation to the Reformed orthodox of
the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. See Richard A. Muller,
After Calvin:
Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2003), 9–10.
John T. Noonan Jr., The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1957), 2.
David C. Steinmetz, Luther in Context, 2d. ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
2002), 46.
Jordan J. Ballor
Musculus’ reflections on usury in Psalm 15 are significant because they
represent a stream of Protestant thought that largely has been ignored by eco-
nomic historians.
The preeminent significance of Calvin’s thought on usury
for the development of modern economics has been the subject of debate for
the last century, but efforts to correct, modify, or replace the Weber thesis have
tended to focus on antecedents to Calvin, whether they be Reformed (as in the
case of Heinrich Bullinger) or Roman Catholic (as in the case of the school of
In contrast to Reformed thinkers such as Calvin, Bullinger, and Bucer
who modified to a greater or lesser extent the received theological perspectives
on usury, Musculus represents the continuing vitality of a more restrictive, less
permissive approach to these questions.
While not often found worthy of independent study, there are two areas in
particular in which the work of Wolfgang Musculus has often been noticed by the
secondary scholarship. The first is in the complicated history of what has become
known as “covenant” or “federal” theology. In his Loci communes, initially pub-
lished in 1560, Wolfgang Musculus was perhaps the first reformer to grant the
topic of covenant a separate treatment within the context of a major systematic
contribution to sixteenth-century Reformed theology.
When nineteenth-century
Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons
(New York: Routledge, 2006); R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism:
A Historical Study (London: John Murray, 1960); and more recently Rosa-Maria
Gelpi and François Julien-Labruyère, The History of Consumer Credit: Doctrines
and Practices, trans. M. L. Gavin (London: Macmillan, 2000). For a study focusing
on Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, see Ernest Ramp, Das Zinsproblem. Eine historische
Untersuchung (Zurich: Zwingli-Verlag, 1949). For a study that surveys the opinion of
a variety of reformers and concludes that the disagreements are merely terminological
and superficial, see Eric Kerridge, Usury, Interest and the Reformation (Burlington,
Vt.: Ashgate, 2002).
On Bullinger, see J. Wayne Baker, “Heinrich Bullinger and the Idea of Usury,”
Sixteenth Century Journal 5, no. 1 (April 1974): 49–70. On the Salamancans in
particular, see Stephen J. Grabill, ed., Sourcebook in Late-Scholastic Monetary
Theory: The Contributions of Martin de Azpilcueta, Luis de Molina, S.J., and Juan
de Mariana, S.J. (Lanham, Md.: Lexington, 2007).
See Wolfgang Musculus, “De foedere ac testamento Dei,” in Loci communes in usus
sacrae Theologiae candidatorum parati (Basel: Johannes Herwagen, 1564), 141–46.
On Musculus’ Loci, see especially Herman J. Selderhuis, “Die Loci Communes des
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
writers proposed covenant as a seventeenth-century alternative to the perceived
central dogma of predestinarian Calvinistic theology, a discussion arose regard-
ing the predecessors to the developments in covenant thought from Zacharius
Ursinus (1534–1583) to Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669). These discussions
have taken some note of Musculus’ importance in the formation of covenantal
thinking in Reformed theology. A characteristic feature of Musculus’ treatment
of covenant in the Loci is his distinction between general and special covenants.
The significance of Musculus’ doctrinal formulation of a foedus generale, and
whether or not it is a forerunner of the so-called covenant of works, has been
a subject of some controversy in the secondary literature.
As we shall see,
Musculus’ covenantal thought provides an important interpretive context for
his discussion of oaths.
Wolfgang Musculus: Reformierte Dogmatik anno 1560,” in Wolfgang Musculus
(1497–1563) und die oberdeutsche Reformation, 311–30.
Heinrich Heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystik in der reformirten Kirche,
namentlich der Niederlande (Leiden: Brill, 1879), 208; Gottlob Schrenk, Gottesreich
und Bund im alteren Protestantismus, vornehmlich bei Johannes Coccejus. Zugleich
ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Pietismus und der heilsgeschichtlichen Theologie
(Gutersloh: Bertelsmann, 1923), 50; Karl Barth, Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, vol. 4, pt.
1 (Zurich: Evangelischer Verlag, 1953), 57. ET: idem, Church Dogmatics, Volume
4: The Doctrine of God, Part 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2004), 55; Holmes
Rolston III, John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession (Richmond: John Knox,
1972), 12; William K. B. Stoever, A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven: Covenant
Theology and Antinomianism in Early Massachusetts (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan
University Press, 1978), 215n 4; R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to
1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 39n 2; J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich
Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition (Athens: Ohio University
Press, 1980), 201; Robert Letham, “The Foedus Operum: Some Factors Accounting
for Its Development,” Sixteenth Century Journal 14, no. 4 (Winter 1983): 462–63;
Stephen Strehle, Calvinism, Federalism, and Scholasticism: A Study of the Reformed
Doctrine of Covenant (New York: Peter Lang, 1988), 157; David A. Weir, The
Origins of Federal Theology in Sixteenth-Century Reformation Thought (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 12; Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker,
Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition
(Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991), 140–41n 20; and Lyle D. Bierma, German
Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus
(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 62.
Jordan J. Ballor
A second major set of references to Musculus note his importance in the history
of biblical exegesis. Pierre Bayle called Musculus “one of the most celebrated
Divines of the sixteenth century,” but also opined that “if his works were of great
advantage to the Protestant party, as no doubt they were,” that by Bayle’s own
time “they were no longer so, for people have for a long time left off reading
Despite Bayle’s judgment, there is some evidence of Musculus’ ongoing
influence, not only through his Loci communes but also through his numerous
and massive biblical commentaries. A modern commentator has observed that
Musculus “in many ways set the sixteenth-century standard for thorough exege-
sis,” and this judgment is borne out by the appropriation of his work in following
Musculus is cited directly by writers as diverse as Jacob Arminius,
Peter Bulkeley, Edmund Calamy (the elder), Edward Fisher, Johann Gerhard,
Hugo Grotius, Michael Hawke, and Herman Witsius in the seventeenth century, as
well as Petrus Brouwer, John Gill, and Hermann Venema in the eighteenth.
Pierre Bayle, Dictionaire historique et critique, vol. 10, new ed. (Paris: Desoer, 1820),
s.v. “Musculus (Wolfgang),” 584; 588n F. ET: idem, A General Dictionary, Historical
and Critical, vol. 7, trans. John Peter Bernard, Thomas Birch, John Lockman, et al.
(London: James Bettenbam, 1738), s.v. “Musculus (Wolfgang),” 698; 700n F. For
biographical information, Bayle largely relies on Melchior Adam, Vitae Germanorum
Theologorum (Heidelberg: Geydes, 1620).
Mickey L. Mattox, Defender of the Most Holy Matriarchs: Martin Luthers
Interpretation of the Women of Genesis in the Ennarationes in Genesin, 1535–1545
(Leiden: Brill, 2003), 278. Farmer judges that Musculus “belongs among the elite
group of the premiere biblical scholars of the sixteenth century.” See Craig S. Farmer,
“Musculus, Wolfgang (1497–1563),” in Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters,
ed. Donald K. McKim (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007), 768.
Jacob Arminius, “Dissertation on the True and Genuine Sense of the Seventh Chapter
of the Epistle to the Romans,” in The Works of James Arminius, trans. James Nichols,
vol. 2., London ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 531, 574, 590, 627–29; Peter
Bulkeley, The Gospel-Covenant; or The Covenant of Grace Opened (London:
Benjamin Allen, 1646), 18; Edmund Calamy, The Godly Mans Ark, or, City of
Refuge in the Day of His Distresse (London: Jo. Hancock, 1657), Sermon I, Psalm
119: 92, pp. 4–5; Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity: Touching both the
Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace (London: G. Calvert, 1645), 6–7, 15,
16–17, 67, 121, 123; Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces: On the Nature
of God and on the Trinity, trans. Richard J. Dinda, ed. Benjamin T. G. Mayes (St.
Louis: Concordia, 2007), loc. 2, sec. 179, p. 174; Hugo Grotius, Ordinum Hollandia
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Musculus’ facility with the biblical languages, foundational for his exegetical
work, was achieved relatively late in life.
During his time spent as a Benedictine
in the Lixheim cloister in the area west of Strasbourg, Musculus became known
as “the Lutheran monk” for his advocacy of Protestant doctrine. It was after
his departure from the monastery in 1527 that Musculus came to Strasbourg,
eventually working as a clerk for Martin Bucer. Here, Musculus undertook the
study of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek while attending theological lectures given
by Bucer and Wolfgang Capito.
After a period as a preacher in neighboring
towns, Musculus was sent to the imperial city of Augsburg in 1531. He would
be a leading pastor in Augsburg for the next two decades, promoting the cause of
the Reformed faction in contest with the Lutheran and Roman Catholic parties.
In 1548, at the imposition of the Augsburg Interim, Musculus and his family
fled the city, eventually finding temporary refuge in Zurich. Musculus opted to
remain in Zurich until he was offered a position in Bern, but Craig S. Farmer
relates that during this period after his flight from Augsburg, “largely on the
basis of his reputation as a skilled commentator, Musculus received numerous
ac Westfrisiae Pietas (1613), trans. and ed. Edwin Rabbi (Leiden: Brill, 1995), sec.
133, p. 199; idem,
De imperio summarum potestatum circa sacra, vol. 1, trans. and
ed. Harm-Jan van Dam (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1.8.169; 10.27.511; Michael Hawke,
Killing Is Murder, and No Murder (London: Mich. Hawke, 1657), 28; Herman Witsius,
The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, trans. William Crookshank
(London: R. Baynes, 1822),;;; Petrus Brouwer,
De XXVste Psalm, in eene Doorgaande Verklaaring (Dordrecht: Pieter van Braam,
1769); 7n A; 77n A; John Gill,
Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity,
2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 2.5.637. Hermann Venema,
Commentarius ad
Psalmos CXI–CL, vol. 6 (Leeuwarden: H. A. de Chalmot, 1767), 278, 517.
The most thorough modern treatment of Musculus’ life is the portrait by Rudolf
Dellsperger, “Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563) Leben und Werk,” in Wolfgang
Musculus (1497–1563) und die oberdeutsche Reformation, 23–36. See also the sketch
in Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century, 6–8; and the treatment in
Ives, “The Theology of Wolfgang Musculus,” 3–106. See also Reinhard Bodenmann,
Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563), Destin d‘un Autodidacte Lorrain au Siècle des
Réformes (Geneva: Droz, 2000), which includes a critical edition and French trans-
lation of the major biographical document on Musculus from the sixteenth century,
Vita Wolfgangi Musculi written by his son Abraham Musculus.
See also, Bodenmann, Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563), 369–77.
Jordan J. Ballor
offers to assume teaching posts throughout Europe.
Musculus took up the
professorship in theology at the school in Bern in 1549, a position he held until
his death in 1563.
In addition to various tracts, sermons, catechisms, and treatises published
occasionally throughout his career, such as a polemical dispute regarding the
Mass with the Roman Catholic theologian Johannes Cochläus, Musculus produced
works of three major types: (1) editions and translations of Patristic texts, (2)
biblical commentaries, and (3) his Loci communes.
Of particular importance
here are Musculus’ biblical commentaries, which he began during his Augsburg
period with the publication of his commentary on Matthew in 1544.
the publication of his commentary on John in two parts (in 1545 and 1548),
Musculus produced a commentary on the Psalms in 1551.
For the remainder
of his life, Musculus would continue to work on biblical exegesis, publishing on
Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century, 4. See also, Bodenmann,
Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563), 393–403.
On the school in Bern, see Beat Immenhauser, “‘Hohe Schule’ oder Universität?
Zur Pfarrerausbildung in Bern im 16. Jahrhundert,” in Politics and Reformations:
Communities, Polities, Nations, and Empires, ed. Christopher Ocker, Michael Printy,
Peter Starenko, and Peter Wallace (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 143–78.
His response to an attack by Cochläus was published in Latin, Adversus libellum
Iohannis Cochlaei de Sacerdotio ac Sacrifico novae legis aeditum (Augsburg: Philipp
Ulhardt, 1544); and later in German, Auff das Büchlin Johannes Cochlei welches er
zur verthädigung Bäpstlichs Priesterthumbs vnnd Meβopffers im Jar 1544 (Augsburg:
Philipp Ulhardt, 1545). For more on Musculus and Cochläus, see Heribert Smolinsky,
“Wolfgang Musculus und die Römisch Kirche: der Streit mit Johannes Cochläus,”
in Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563) und die oberdeutsche Reformation, 173–87.
A thorough bibliography of various editions and translations of Musculus’ works
is available by Marc van Wijnkoop Lüthi, “Druckwerkeverzeichnis des Wolfgang
Musculus (1497–1563),” in
Wolfgang Musculus (1497–1563) und die oberdeutsche
Reformation, 351–414.
Wolfgang Musculus, In Evang. Matthaevm Commentarii (Basel: Johannes Herwagen,
For Musculus’ commentary on John, see Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth
Century. While in Augsburg, Musculus worked on his Psalms commentary, which was
published after he came to Bern as In Sacrosanctum Dauidis Psalterium Comentarij
(Basel: Johannes Herwagen, 1551).
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
the Decalogue (1553); Genesis (1554); Romans (1555); Isaiah (1557); 1 and 2
Corinthians (1559); Galatians and Ephesians (1561); and Philippians, Colossians,
1 and 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy (published posthumously in 1565).
The Psalms Commentary
Musculus’ commentary on the Psalms is his largest exegetical work, running to
roughly eleven hundred folio pages in the various editions (a count that does
not include the two appendices on oaths and usury). The commentary was one
of Musculus’ most popular, going through six Latin editions by the end of the
century along with another published in 1618. Portions of the commentary,
whether the exegesis of selected psalms or the appendices, were published in
German, Dutch, French, and English throughout the sixteenth century.
In 1646,
Edward Leigh would include Musculus, along with Heinrich Möller (Mollerus),
Simeon de Muis, and John Calvin, among his list of “the best Expositors on the
The commentary is dedicated to the Bernese authorities and follows Musculus’
regular exegetical pattern. Before each psalm, Musculus provides a brief argu-
mentum, or summary, of the text. He then produces the biblical text of the psalm,
See, for instance, Musculus, Den eersten Psalm Davids, seer fijn ende Christleick
wtgheleit (Emden: E. van der Erve/Gailliart, 1554); idem, Vom Woker (Rostock:
Ludwig Dietz, 1554); idem, Een claere ende Scriftelicke onderrichtinghe vanden
Eedt (n.p.: Martin Micron, 1555); idem, On the Lawful and Unlawful Usury Amongest
Christians (n.p.: ca. 1556); idem, Traicté de l’usure (n.p.: 1557); idem, An Exposition
of the 51 Psalmen by Musculus translated (London: 1586); idem, Von dem schan-
dlichen hochschaedlichen, von Gott verfluchten unnd verdampten, by heutiger Welt
aber hochgeehrtem, gemehrtem unnd allen Geytzhaelsen ausserwoehlten Schaetzlein
dem Wucher so welandt (Strasbourg: Jobins Erben, 1593).
Edward Leigh, A Treatise of Divinity (London: E. Griffin, 1646), 1.3.55. Leigh
also prefers Musculus on Matthew, John, and 2 Corinthians. Richard Bernard had
previously recommended the
Common Places and commentaries of Musculus. See
Richard Bernard, The Faithfull Shepheard (London: Arnold Harfield, 1607), 40. For
his part, Calvin acknowledges the value of Musculus’ Psalms commentary, noting
that Musculus “in the judgment of good men, has earned no small praise by his
diligence and industry in this walk.” See John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of
Psalms, vol. 1, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 25.
Jordan J. Ballor
broken up into shorter pericopes where he judges appropriate. The main body of
commentary itself consists of three parts: the reading (lectio); the explanation
(explanatio); and the observations (observatio).
The reading consists of Musculus’ exploration of alternative and variant tex-
tual readings, drawing on “Hebrew, Septuagint, Vulgate, and patristic renderings
of selected lemmata.
In the Psalms commentary, the reading for the entire
pericope is placed before the explanations and the observations. Musculus then
proceeds verse by verse, first giving the explanation for the verse, and, on that
basis, making his observations. In the observations, Musculus “discusses the
moral maxims that may be derived from the text.”
In this way, there is a meth-
odological progression from establishing the text in the reading, understanding
the text through the explanation, and finally applying the text in the observation.
It is with this structure in mind that Farmer judges Musculus’ commentaries to
be “dominated by tropological exposition.”
Psalm 15
One benefit of placing Musculus’ appendices on oaths and usury within the broader
exegetical context, specifically his comments on Psalm 15, is that it allows us to
better understand how doctrine emerges from and is shaped by exegesis. As we
have seen, Musculus’ exegetical method builds from text to application, from
the lectio, to the explanatio, to the observatio. In the decade prior to the publica-
tion of his Loci communes in 1560, Musculus was heavily engaged in writing
biblical commentaries, and we can see how this plays out in the composition of
his Common Places. These Loci communes function not only as common top-
ics, in the sense of the usual and standard issues to be discussed in a systematic
theological presentation, but also as Common Places in Scripture where these
discussions are rooted. Put quite starkly, Musculus’ doctrinal formulations cannot
This tripartite structure is standard for Musculus. In the Genesis commentary, Musculus
would add a fourth section, quaestio, to fill out his exegesis, but this category would
generally be omitted in later commentaries. See Farmer, The Gospel of John in the
Sixteenth Century, 200n 21.
Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century, 200n 21.
Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century, 50.
Farmer, The Gospel of John in the Sixteenth Century, 50.
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
be fully understood without engagement of the exegetical background within
which they were formed.
Psalm 15 presents just such a context for the questions regarding oaths and
usury. Controversy over oaths was a relatively new phenomenon in the sixteenth
century, but the discussion of usury, focused particularly on Psalm 15, goes back
to the earliest conversations in the church. As Noonan writes, “Both because it
admits no exceptions and because of its use by the first ecumenical council,” this
Psalm in particular “becomes the favorite early medieval biblical text against
Indeed, there is typically more than one scriptural text within a series
that function as seats of doctrine” (sedes doctrinae) for Reformed orthodox
theological constructions.
Sensitivity to this prevents the reader from making
greater claims about the theological tradition attached to a single biblical text
than is warranted.
Moreover, attention to the commentary on a biblical text allows us to more
carefully compare a text sui generis, placing a particular writer’s comments within
the broader history of exegesis. If we examine the position of John Calvin as
expressed in his Psalms commentary, for instance, to that of Wolfgang Musculus,
we see a marked contrast in both style and attitude. Where Musculus opposes
all forms of usury, Calvin briefly and handily dispenses with a straightforward
Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, 15. The popularity of this text and topic
continues into the early modern era. In addition to Musculus’ exegetical treatment,
see Urban Rhegius, Der XV. Psalm Dauids (Magdeburg: Michael Lotther, 1537);
and George Downame, Lectures on the XV. Psalme (London: Adam Islip, 1604).
See Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and
Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2003), 1.2.1.B.87. See also Richard A. Muller, After Calvin, 58–60;
and idem, The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological
Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 107.
Benjamin Nelson, for instance, focuses primarily on the exegesis of Deuteronomy
23:20–21, another important biblical text for theological reflection on usury, as the
basis for a grand narrative of the “transvaluation of values” from “brotherhood” to
“otherhood.” Without broader engagement with other scriptural texts, such as Psalm
15:5, as well as systematic and polemical treatises, valid comprehensive interpretations
of the doctrinal development of usury cannot be made. See Benjamin Nelson, The
Idea of Usury: From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood, 2d ed. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1969), 19.
Jordan J. Ballor
application of the Psalms text. Calvin contends that the prohibition against usury
was a ceremonial law pointing toward the principle of equity and only prohibited
usurious lending to the poor. We know, writes Calvin, “that generally it is not
the rich who are exhausted by their usury, but poor men, who ought rather to be
If only we would follow “the rule of equity,” says Calvin, “it would
not be necessary to enter into lengthened disputes concerning usury.”
It is this
“common principle of justice” that is operative for applying the Psalms text in the
Christian era. As Herman Selderhuis writes, “Calvin believes that receiving a gain
from charging interest is perfectly lawful when it does not injure anyone.”
The key context that the full exegesis of Psalm 15 provides is the interpretive
emphasis on Christian righteousness. Musculus makes a distinction between the
dispensations of the Old and New Testament, urging his reader to obedience by
asking rhetorically, “For which of the faithful is ignorant of the fact that a zeal
for piety and righteousness ought to be preeminent in us, who do not dwell in a
shadowy tabernacle and mount but in the kingdom of the Son of God, and we
who have been transported into that truth?”
Here, we have an emphasis com-
mon to Reformed commentators of the early modern era, a contrast between the
“shadows” of the Old Testament and the “light” of the New. This is a herme-
neutical theme that recurs throughout Musculus’ work and Reformed exegesis
more generally.
However, where Calvin argues that the prohibition of usury
was a part of the shadows of the law that passes away in the New Testament,
Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:213. For a brief comparison of the
exegetical method of Calvin and Musculus related to the formation of their respec
tive doctrinal systems, see Muller,
The Unaccommodated Calvin, 112–13. Calvin’s
commentary style, emphasizing
facilitas and brevitas, is exhibited in his treatment
of usury in this Psalm and belies the argument of Kerridge that Calvin was “forced
to resort to long-winded circumlocution” in defining usury. See Kerridge, Usury,
Interest and the Reformation, 30.
Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:214.
Herman J. Selderhuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker
Academic, 2007), 200.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 383 (5).
See the discussion “De discrimine veteris & novi Testamenti” in Musculus, Loci com-
munes, 146–47. See also Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics,
2.7.4.C.4. 493–97.
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Musculus uses the shift to argue from the lesser to the greater. Because usury
was prohibited among the Old Testament community, it ought to be despised
that much more among Christians.
This greater “zeal for piety and righteousness” among Christians is contrasted
not only with the situation of God’s people in the Old Testament, but also with
those who are not part of the covenant community. The contrast between a form
of civil or public good and Christian righteousness is manifest as Musculus
summarizes the Psalm’s import in verse 2:
the chief point that must be observed is that kind of righteousness that the
prophet prescribes to those who would remain inhabitants of the tabernacle
and holy mountain of God. He clearly requires that sort of righteousness from
those people that does not exist in the ceremonies and legal shadows only but
that embraces the whole life and also lives and breathes true honesty of soul
and charity toward one’s neighbor.
This distinction between types of good, reflected variously in ecclesiastical and
civil realms, becomes an important part of Musculus’ analysis of usury and the
relevance of its application in positive law.
The key distinction for Musculus between the realities of Christian righteous-
ness and civil morality are the conditions of the special covenant first explicitly
enjoined to Abraham: “Walk before me and be blameless.”
Farmer has noted
the tropological, or moral, emphasis of Musculus’ exegesis, and this point comes
through clearly where Musculus contends, “A true zeal for righteousness is not
[found] in a bare knowledge alone, but [f125] it is located in its practice. We do
not reject knowledge, but we require the sort that is living and effective. For a
pious person to know righteousness is not simply to know what it is but to press
it out into his deeds.”
In verse 3, Musculus notes that the Psalmist transitions from “a summary
of righteousness of words and deeds” to the examination of “certain kinds” of
righteousness, a move from the general to the particular. Thus, the concluding
verses concerning oaths and usury outline particular forms of righteousness.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 384 (6).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 385 (7).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 386 (8).
Jordan J. Ballor
One other item to note beyond the context of a distinction between Christian
and other forms of righteousness is Musculus’ definition of Christian social
responsibility. Musculus exhorts, “Let each person consider in what way he
may accomplish righteousness: first, toward persons in general; next, toward
those to whom he is especially connected.”
This approach is reflective of a
nascent appreciation of the complexity and diversity of social relations, what
would become a hallmark emphasis in Reformed ethical and political thought.
Musculus defines a neighbor as “someone who is bound to us at some point,
either by religion, by humanity, by blood, by affinity, by friendship, either in
familiar or civil society, or by proximity, or conjoined [to us] by some plight
of necessity. God mutually conjoined us in many degrees, so that there are also
many occasions for his hand of love and beneficence.”
This perspective has implications for Musculus’ political thought as expressed
in his explication of verse 4 dealing with the oath. Musculus’ view is part of a
strand of Reformed thinking that holds the role of the Christian magistrate as
critical to the imposition of discipline in the church. In concord with his emphasis
on the true zeal for righteousness working itself out in deeds, Musculus writes,
“the fear of God is not only in those things that immediately concern God (that
is, the first table of the Decalogue) but also in those things that pertain to one’s
The vertical aspect of the first-table commandments intersect with
the second-table commandments in the person of the Christian magistrate: “In
our time, we think that if a pious man and citizen of the kingdom of God should
keep good faith with his neighbor, whoever he may be, then how much more
should he keep good faith with his magistrate, and next how much more fully
besides that to the Lord God?”
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 386 (8).
Compare with Augustine, Teaching Christianity: De Doctrina Christiana, trans.
Edmund Hill, part 1, vol. 11, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the
Twenty-first Century (New York: New City Press, 1996), 1.28.29. 118: “All people
are to be loved equally; but since you cannot be of service to everyone, you have to
take greater care of those who are more closely joined to you by a turn, so to say,
of fortune’s wheel, whether by occasion of place or time, or any other such circum
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 402 (24).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 404 (26).
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
In his exegesis of verse 5, Musculus lays out in summary form the position
on usury that will be explicated more fully in the appendix. He finds that if
the loaning of money “if done rightly, it is a kind of true kindness. However,
if it should approach usury, then the kindness is perverted into viciousness.”
Musculus’ alignment with the older medieval rejection of usury is signified in
his formulation that “the farmer who commits his seed to the ground for inter-
est (usura) does not sin, however, whoever gives his money to his neighbor for
interest does sin.”
The Appendix on Oaths
As noted previously, of the two questions Musculus treats with extended treatises,
the problem of oaths represents a comparatively new issue for debate, at least
when contrasted to the centuries-long discussion over usury that had preceded
the sixteenth century.
The basic context that gives rise to discussion of the issue
in the early modern era is the challenge to the validity of the oath by various
parties of the so-called radical Reformation, movements dubbed “Anabaptist”
or “Catabaptist” by their adversaries. Musculus says of his treatment of the oath,
“This question would not be necessary if the Anabaptists in our time had not
thrown the consciences of many into confusion by that erroneous doctrine by
which they strive to destroy absolutely every oath from the public, as if [oaths]
were illicit.”
A representative statement of Anabaptist consensus appears in
the seventh point of the Schleitheim Articles of 1527: “All swearing has been
forbidden because we cannot fulfill what is promised in swearing.” Following this
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 405 (27).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 406 (28).
For a discussion of kinds of oaths in the seventeenth century, see Conal Condren,
Argument and Authority in Early Modern England: The Presupposition of Oaths
and Offices (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 233–53. See also
John Spurr, “A Profane History of Early Modern Oaths,” Transactions of the Royal
Historical Society, Sixth Series, 11 (2001): 37–63; and Helen Silving, “The Oath:
Yale Law Journal 68, no. 7 (June 1959): 1329–1390.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 410 (32).
Jordan J. Ballor
judgment, the article attempts to answer various challenges to this understanding
of “God’s simple command” contained in Matthew 5:33–37.
In a recent article examining three Reformation-era polemics against the
Anabaptist view, Farmer introduces the text that would be foundational for
Musculus’ later appendix on oaths. Farmer notes that Musculus’ Peaceful and
Christian Dialogue, first published in the vernacular German in 1533 in Augsburg,
was later modified from a dialogue “into an essay on the oath, which he included
in his Psalm Commentary of 1551.”
With the advent of the Reformation, radical
groups would raise new challenges to doctrines and practices, such as the oath,
that were accepted among Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Reformed alike.
In order to properly understand Musculus’ view of the oath, it is necessary to
place his opinion within the broader context of his theology, particularly with
regard to two related topics: covenants and vows.
Musculus’ mature statement on the topic of covenant appears in his Loci com-
munes, but the essential basis of this statement is present in his commentary on
Genesis. The focus of Musculus’ construal of the covenant is to place emphasis
on the divine initiative. In his locus De fœdere ac testamento Dei, Musculus calls
it entirely astounding that God in his infinite majesty, whose will and power is
most free, considers it worthy to bind and obligate himself to the rule of covenants
or pacts, out of neither necessity to act nor hope for any other advantage.
then does God deign to bind himself in this way? “So that through these two
immovable things,” writes Musculus, “promise and oath, because it is impossible
for God to lie, we might have a most strong refuge to which we might flee in all
temptations, and we might continuously seek to strengthen the keeping of our
hope to the end.”
It is purely for our benefit that God graciously makes clear his
Michael Sattler, “The Schleitheim Articles,” in The Radical Reformation, trans. and
ed. Michael G. Baylor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 178.
Craig S. Farmer, “Reformation-Era Polemics Against Anabaptist Oath Refusal,”
Mennonite Quarterly Review 81 (April 2007): 212. Musculus’ original work is
Ain frydsams unnd Christlichs Gesprech ains Evangelischen auff ainer und ains
Widerteüffers auff der andern seyten so sy des Aydschwürs halben mitainander thünd
(Augsburg: Philip Ulhardt, 1533).
Musculus, Loci communes, 142.
Musculus, Loci communes, 142: “… ut per duas res immobiles, promissionem ac
iusiurandum, quandoquidem impossibile est mentiri Deum, solatium habeamus
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
firm purposes in covenantal relationships. Musculus’ emphasis on the presence
of covenantal oaths helps distinguish a bare promise from a covenantal obliga-
tion. A covenant is identified by the presence not merely of promise but also by
the binding of oaths (iureiurandum). Covenants function as divine institutions
intended to provide comfort for God’s people.
Vows, conversely, are human institutions directed toward God. Where a cov-
enant is a promise from God combined with an oath, a vow is a human promise
“piously and righteously made to God.”
In some sense, then, covenants and vows
are reciprocal realities. The former are made from God to men, and the latter are
made from humans to God. This correspondence is critical in distinguishing a
vow (votum) from an oath (iureiurandum). The distinction is made clear in that
it is not “licit to vow, except to God alone. But we may swear to man, and bind
ourselves to him by an oath.”
The corresponding realities of covenants and vows
form the primarily vertical dimensions that orient the proper use of oaths.
Thus, where covenants and vows primarily concern the divine-human relation-
ship, oaths lend stability and certainty to human interrelations. Musculus observes,
“By taking an oath, those things that are doubtful and uncertain are confirmed.
Also, if something arises that is disputed, it is settled by the intervention of an
Musculus points not only to the observable benefits of oaths in society
but also to the scriptural affirmation of the practice. He writes, “Therefore, the
use of oath-taking has been commended not only in such a way by its quality but
also by the commandment of God, so that it is a fanatical person who wishes to
remove it as if he destroys a reprehensible thing from the community and [also]
removes it from calming human affairs.”
Musculus’ opposition to the Anabaptist rejection of oaths is in part, therefore,
based on suspicion that acceptance and implementation of the Anabaptist view
would radically upset the world order. After rehearsing the positive role that the
omnium fortissimum, ad quod in omnibus tentationibus confugiamus, speique nostrae
ad finem usque retinendae corroborationem quaeramus.”
Musculus, Loci communes, 568: “Propria tamen significatio vocis huius est, qua pro-
missionem significat, eamque non quamlibet, sed Deo religiose ac sanctè factam.”
Musculus, Loci communes, 571: “Vovere non licet nisi Deo soli : iurare verò pos-
sumus homini, illlique; nos iureiurando reddere obstrictos.”
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 410 (32).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 413 (35).
Jordan J. Ballor
legitimate oath plays in social life, Musculus asks rhetorically, “Who is the sort
of person who does not see that the advantage of an oath is so great that it cannot
be withdrawn from human affairs without great detriment?”
For Musculus, as
for many of the Reformers, the Anabaptist is just such a person.
The immediate scriptural occasion for the context, Psalm 15:4, affirms the use
of oaths. Indeed, as noted previously, this psalm describes the necessary “kind of
integrity from a citizen of the kingdom of God,” including that “he does not wish
to change what he vowed to his neighbor.”
Moving from the Old Testament
affirmation of oaths, Musculus engages the core argument from the command
of Christ that “you shall not swear at all.”
Musculus proceeds to examine the
circumstances within which an oath might be legitimate and illegitimate, and
concludes that Christ had only illegitimate oaths in view.
Indeed, Christ did not prohibit legitimate oaths, used in legal, economic,
or religious contexts, but simply “the usual ones used in conversation.”
interpretive move Musculus makes is thus from the approval given to oaths in
the Old Testament to a nuanced and careful clarification of what Christ’s appar-
ent blanket injunction against oath-swearing means in the New Testament. As
Farmer rightly notes, Musculus recognized the Anabaptist challenge on this
particular issue—the question of oath swearing—as fundamentally a herme
neutical challenge.”
The Appendix on Usury
In contrast with the question of oaths, in the sixteenth century there were long-
standing debates and doctrinal statements on the question of usury. Musculus
affirms what he believes to be the traditional definition of usury as “not only the
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 412 (34).
One place where the Reformed tradition explicitly identifies Anabaptism with anar-
chism comes in Article 36 of the Belgic Confession as modified in 1566. On the
revision of this article see, Nicholas H. Gootjes, The Belgic Confession: Its History
and Sources (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 127–31.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 404 (26).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 421 (43); 423 (45); 428 (50).
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 423 (45).
Farmer, “Reformation-Era Polemics Against Anabaptist Oath Refusal,” 213.
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
reception, but also the hope and expectation for something beyond your share,”
and, “in which more is received than what is given.”
Whereas the Anabaptist
challenge to the legitimacy of the oath is the immediate context for Musculus’
defense of the oath, the confessional strife among various Protestant factions on
the one hand, and Roman Catholics on the other, forms the proximate polemical
background for Musculus’ discussion of usury.
In 1515, at the instigation of Conrad Peutinger, the town clerk in Augsburg,
Johann Eck wrote a treatise defending the so-called triple contract, a business
agreement favored by banking houses such as the Fuggers that was designed to
insure a guaranteed rate of return (in this case 5 percent).
In that same year, Eck
travelled to Bologna to dispute the question at the university. Noonan writes that
Eck’s performance in this episode “is of great importance to the history of usury,
for he made the triple contract known both to all the learned world of Europe
and to the merchant bankers of his time.”
When Musculus’ position is compared with Reformed contemporaries, Martin
Bucer, John Calvin, and Heinrich Bullinger, the Augsburg preacher and Bernese
professor seems remarkably inflexible.
Perhaps his direct experiences with
the Fuggers and the poorer classes in Augsburg go some way in explaining his
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 440 (62).
On the triple contract, see Noonan, The Scholastic Idea of Usury, 202–29, espe-
cially pp. 208–12, which focuses on Eck and his treatise, Tractatus de contractu
quinque de centum (1515). For background on Eck’s defense, see Steven W. Rowan,
“Ulrich Zasius and John Eck: ‘Faith Need Not be Kept with an Enemy,’” Sixteenth
Century Journal 8, no. 2 (1977): 87–88. See also Heiko A. Oberman, Masters of
the Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 128–57. On the
Fuggers, see Richard Ehrenberg, Das Zeitalter der Fugger, 2 vols. (Jena: Gustav
Fischer, 1922); ET: idem, Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance: A Study
of the Fuggers and Their Connections, trans. H. M. Lucas (New York: Harcourt,
1928); and Götz von Pölnitz, Die Fugger, 6th ed. (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999).
On Augsburg and monopolistic firms, see Thomas A. Brady Jr., Turning Swiss:
Cities and Empire, 1450–1550 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985),
Noonan, The Scholastic Idea of Usury, 209.
Noonan writes that “in allowing profit on loans to wealthy merchants,” Calvin
“permits no more than Angelus, Biel, Summenhart, Cajetan, and Eck had permitted
in approving the triple contract.” See Noonan,
The Scholastic Idea of Usury, 367.
Jordan J. Ballor
trenchant criticisms of usury, including loans at interest to wealthy merchants.
As Brady writes, “Urban antimonopoly sentiment developed as a defense of old,
corporate, and collective values against the invasion of privileged wealth.”
It would be too facile, however, to simply point to the economic power of the
Fuggers, and the theological support lent to them by churchmen such as Johann
Eck, to explain Wolfgang Musculus’ seemingly singular rejection of usury as
“damnable and most foreign to a profession of Christian justice.”
Thus, in our
sensitivity to attend to nondogmatic causes for dogmatic constructions, we must
beware of downplaying the importance or denying the reality of key doctrinal
Indeed, Musculus’ opposition to usury is not as comprehensive as it might
appear upon first glance. Musculus recognizes that the righteousness that is
expected of the Christian is not the same as that which is required by the civil
magistrate, and so Musculus’ main concern is to address whether it is legitimate
for a Christian to engage in usury. His primary focus thus is not on whether
usury should be made illegal in all cases, for “civil laws do not forbid all things
which are illicit before God, and besides those things which they do not forbid
they also do not punish.”
Musculus uses this distinction to explain why it may
be acceptable in certain times and places for the civil magistrate to refrain from
banning all forms of usury, even if no form of usury could ever meet the higher
standard of Christian righteousness. He states quite plainly that “we are inquir-
Brady, Turning Swiss, 121.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 446 (68).
See Heiko A. Oberman, The Two Reformations, ed. Donald Weinstein (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2003), 65: “Only by entering into the social history of ideas,
combining in thick description the mud and the marketplace, the guildhall and the
council chamber, can we possibly overcome confessional triumphalism and pursue
the critical task of even-handed adjudication, considering the stake of all parties
in the unavoidable clash we call Reformation.” See also Richard A. Muller, After
Calvin, 44: “The point is not, of course, for intellectual history to be dissolved into
social history—rather, the issue is for the historian of ideas to recognize consistently
that the ideas belong to a particular historical context and that the context may be
defined socially or politically within a very narrow geographical or chronological
frame, just as it may be defined by a particular debate that was little informed or
influenced by immediate social issues.”
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 442 (64).
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
ing in this place about usury, whether or not it is lawful or unlawful, not before
the world, but before God: and thus the pretext of civil law and whatever sort
of human arrangement cannot have a place in this question.”
It is with this
pastoral rather than political or civil concern in mind that Musculus also avoids
the intricacies of medieval scholastic debates concerning legitimate interest.
This is not to say that Musculus ignores the patristic and medieval exegetical
and legal traditions but rather that the genre of this work is not scholastic in a
strict sense. We can see from his citations of standard sources in the history of
exegesis and Gratian’s Decretals, for instance, that Musculus’ argument was
formed in dialogue with a host of medieval antecedents.
Musculus’ argument against usury progresses through differentiation between
the parties involved with the usurer in the transaction. First, Musculus addresses
the impropriety of lending at guaranteed profit to the poor. Next, Musculus moves
on to question usurious lending to princes and merchants. Musculus concludes
by examining the issue of usurious lending to widows and orphans. Each of
these three classes of usury is to be rejected, although not always for precisely
the same reasons.
A great deal of his discussion is spent on the question of usurious lending to
the poor, which Musculus concludes is not only contrary to the justice of Christ
(i.e., charity), but also to the laws of nature. Lending at profit to the poor “is
In this, Musculus’ perspective is closer to that of Zwingli than to that of Bucer and
Calvin, who arguably had a greater focus on questions regarding the propriety of
civil laws regarding usury. Compare Ramp, Das Zinsproblem, 73–76. See also Baker,
“Heinrich Bullinger and the Idea of Usury,” 50: “If it had been possible, Zwingli
would have had no
Zins. Because that was not possible, because of the institution
of private property and the sinfulness of man, he tried to ameliorate the existing
Thus, Musculus writes, “To be sure, the scholastic decisions are no less complex
than the intricate nature of this sort of avarice, but I will by no means touch up on
that [topic], but rather I will simply mention those things that, it seems to me, must
be said without any sort of thorny debate.” See Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm
15,” 438 (60). See also Baker, “Heinrich Bullinger and the Idea of Usury,” 50: “When
the Protestant reformers considered the topic of usury, they dealt mainly with the
Biblical prohibitions and the sterility of money, ignoring the detailed analysis of
the scholastics.” For a discussion of the legitimate forms of interest allowed in the
medieval era, see Noonan,
The Scholastic Analysis of Usury, 100–132.
Jordan J. Ballor
not only condemned as inhuman by the laws of Christ but also by the laws of
nature. For it is plainly inhuman to pursue a profit from the sweat and calami-
ties of the poor.”
The entire discussion of usury is remarkably focused on the ethical implications
of the practice, in harmony with Musculus’ tropological exegetical emphasis.
Musculus identifies the root of usury as avarice or greed, “the pursuit of one’s
own advantage,” which is never an acceptable Christian purpose.
In this way,
Musculus is more concerned about the internal motivation behind usurious prac-
tice rather than adjudicating the question of any social or external benefit. As
he writes in the body text of the commentary on Psalm 15, “And this also must
not only be considered, what should be done as in what spirit it may be done.
In fact those things which have the appearance of good can be done in such a
way that they are evil not good.”
Musculus admits that money can be put into
use to produce wealth but contends that if this is done out of avarice, then the
results are morally disastrous:
Moreover, nowhere do I find that the Lord has promised that he wishes us to
preserve and nourish ourselves by usury in leisure and luxury. Therefore, rather
what it is to test the Lord is to live in leisure, to dedicate one’s children also to
leisure, and meanwhile to hope for that money from which the annual usury
is received, to be able to provide perpetually so that one may be a slave to not
only necessary enjoyments but also to luxuries and delicacies.
When abundance of wealth is added to someone whose focus is intemperately
directed at material and temporal goods, the works of charity are obfuscated.
Calvin appeals to a “common principle of justice” in making the same judgment.
See Calvin,
Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:213.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 454 (76).
Recall that Musculus’ definition of usury involves the “hope” or “expectation”
of gain. In focusing on the “spirit” in which things must be done to be righteous,
Musculus’ analysis shares features with the treatments of usury by other reform-
ers, even though in the end Musculus disagrees that there could ever be “innocent
and legitimate occasions for lending at interest.” See Norman Jones,
God and the
Moneylenders: Usury and Law in Early Modern England (Cambridge, Mass.: Basil
Blackwell, 1989), 19.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 455 (77).
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Interestingly enough, Musculus does not seem to base his arguments on the
impermissibility of usury on the classical argument that money is a nonfun-
gible and sterile measure. He acknowledges the productivity of money as it is
employed in various ways, but this reality does not excuse the vice of the usurer.
The Christian is called neither to lend at profit nor to lend at all but rather to lend
gratuitously to those from whom the prospect of repayment is slim, to those who
have never had the means to give a loan, to friends as well as enemies, and to
those from whom no gratitude or thanks can be expected.
Musculus’ restrictive approach to usury stands in more direct continuity
with the dominant medieval rejection of usury than do the approaches of many
of his reformed contemporaries. His position on usury is important, therefore,
not because Musculus represents a development of the inevitable march of
economic progress through history but because he shows that there was no
unanimous Protestant or reformed consensus on the question of usury in the
sixteenth century.
Indeed, the disputes that had arisen in the late medieval era between dis-
tinctively permissive and restrictive attitudes toward usury do not come over
into the Reformation along confessionally identifiable lines. The opinion of
Petrus Canisius, the Jesuit who came to Augsburg after Musculus’ departure,
is a good example of this. Canisius, unlike a number of his Roman Catholic
contemporaries, steadfastly opposed the validity of the triple contract.
Norman Jones summarizes aptly, “The coming Reformation did little to change
attitudes toward usury, and usury doctrines never became a partisan issue between
Protestants and Catholics.”
In the Reformation era, as in the later Middle Ages,
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 445 (67).
See Klaus Hansen, “Petrus Canisius’s Stand on Usury: An Example of Jesuit Tactics
in the German Counter Reformation,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 55, no. 2
(1964): 192–204. Hansen argues that Canisius’ opposition is due in large part to his
sensitivity to the particular social and economic environment in Augsburg. This would
in part explain the consistency between the attitudes of Musculus and Canisius on
usury, given that both were at different times concerned to advance their particular
confessional causes among the townspeople of Augsburg.
Jones, God and the Moneylenders, 19.
Jordan J. Ballor
there continued to be two basic positions on usury, and both sides continued to
enjoy vociferous support.
The appendices on usury and oaths provide us with a clear contrast in exegetical
result through the use of a consistent exegetical method. The injunctions of Christ
against usury and oaths in the New Testament seem at first glance to be equally
stringent. We are to loan without expecting anything in return just as we are not
to swear by anything. However, for Musculus’ exegetical process, the background
provided by the broader New Testament context and the received Old Testament
attitudes are determinative for his exegetical result. Where both usury and oaths
are apparently rejected by Christ in the New Testament, in the Old Testament
usury is prohibited while oaths are obligatory. These basic attitudes of approval
toward legitimate oaths and disapproval of lending at profit are also represented
in the medieval approaches to these questions.
In this psalm in particular, it is shown to be a positive mark of the righteous
to swear and be true to an oath but not to lend at usury. The interpretive method
employed by Musculus, which compares Christ’s injunctions against oaths
and usury to the broader biblical and traditional witnesses, is the same for both
questions. Musculus interprets Jesus’ proscriptions with this question in mind:
“How is it fitting that the justice of the law of Moses is more complete than the
gospel of Christ?”
The larger scriptural witness on the validity of oaths and
usury diverges in the Old Testament, however, approving the former but disap-
proving of the latter. It is this consistent hermeneutical approach that critically
determines Musculus’ exegetical and doctrinal result.
Musculus’ commentary on Psalm 15, including the appendices on oaths
and usury, has threefold significance. First, the commentary stands as a sig-
nificant example of the application of interpretive method in the history of
exegesis, as Musculus comes to two radically different conclusions about seem-
ingly equivalent prohibitions in the words of Christ, based in part upon their
respective approbation or proscription in the psalm. Second, Musculus’ psalm
See especially Jones, God and the Moneylenders, 19.
Musculus, “Commentary on Psalm 15,” 444 (66).
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Wolfgang Musculus
exegesis and appendices function as topical moral texts, forerunners of later and
more developed Protestant ethical thought and casuistry. Finally, Musculus’ treat-
ment of oaths and usury are representative of influential streams of Reformed
thought on social, political, legal, and ethical affairs that continued to be forma-
tive for the next two centuries.
Argument of the Psalm
In this psalm the prophet recites that whoever wishes to have fellowship with
God and to acquire an immovable residence in both His Church and kingdom,
it is necessary that they devote themselves to true and solid righteousness.
A Psalm of David
O Lord, who will abide in your tabernacle? Who will
dwell on your holy mountain?
Whoever walks blamelessly, does righteousness, and
speaks the truth in his heart.
Whoever does not slander with his tongue, whoever does
not cause evil for his neighbor and does not support a
reproach against his neighbor.
In whose eyes an abominable thing is despised, and who,
while fearing, glorifies the Lord. He swears to his
neighbor, and does not change.
Throughout this work, Musculus uses the Latin term Dominus in place of the tetra-
grammaton and to convey that our translation will utilize L
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Whoever does not give his money at usury and does not
accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these
things shall not be moved, [even] in eternity. [f123]
The Explanation
Whoever does not slander with his tongue. The Hebrew reads “who-
ever does not slander.”
The Greek reads “whoever does not distort with
his tongue.”
The Latin Vulgate reads “whoever does not deliver deceit in
his speech.” Jerome[’s Vulgate] reads “whoever is not easy in his own speech.”
The Chaldee reads “his tongue has not easily disparaged.” Felix reads, “His
tongue has not slandered.”
He swears to his neighbor. The Hebrew reads, “he swears to his own
Jerome reads, “He swears so that he may afflict himself,” The Chaldee
and several more recent [translations] also read in this way. The rest have no
O Lord, who will abide, etc. It appears that David, as both prophet
and king, when he brought the ark of the covenant to mount Zion and
composed this psalm in that place, (just as we read in 2 Samuel 6[:12–
23] and 1 Chronicles 16[:8–36]), exhorts and urges the people of God to the fear
of God and to a true zeal for real righteousness. [David] desired, if this were
pleasing to God, to establish [God’s] throne among them, in a certain place
(namely on Mt. Zion). [God] condescended to be worshiped and adored—some-
thing they would not want to lose, something in which they should dwell con-
wnwvl lgral
oj tou idolwson in glwosh
It is probable that Musculus is consulting a contemporary polyglot edition of the
Psalms. The Felix referenced above probably refers to Felix of Prato (Felix Pratensis,
d. 1539), a Jew who converted to Roman Catholicism, whose edition of the Psalms,
first published in 1515, was included in
Psalterium sextuplex: Hebraeum, cum tri-
bus Latinis, uidelicet, Diui Hieronymi, R.P. Sanctis Pagnini, & Felicis Pratensis :
Graecum, Septuaginta interpretum, cum Latina uulgata (Lyons: Sebastianus Gryphius,
[rhl [bvn
Verse 3
Verse 4
Verse 1
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
scientiously, dutifully, and justly.
Thus he prophesies in this way: “O L
, who
will abide in your tabernacle? etc.” In this verse, he employs an interrogatory
apostrophe to God, not saying simply, “Who will abide in the tabernacle of God?
Who will dwell on his holy mountain?” but “O Lord, who will abide in your
tabernacle? Who will dwell on your holy mountain?” So that, just as if God
personally, so to speak, should respond to his question and would accomplish
those things which follow, [and which] should be more reverently heard and
remembered, as they were set forth not by a human spirit but by a divine oracle.
Moreover, he says the same thing twice. Indeed he means the same thing by the
tabernacle of God as by his holy mount. He does this to stir up the souls of the
pious so that they may be admonished that they are to dwell not simply in
Jerusalem but in the tabernacle and on the holy mountain of God.
1. First, what he refers to in the clauses city of Zion, the holy taber-
nacle, and the mountain of God must be considered. This city was large
and robust when he acquired the fortifications and city by his zeal and
also had swept away the Jebusites. In fact, he does not boast of any of this, nor
does he commend to the people of the Lord the greatness and vigor of this city,
but, rather, he sings about the tabernacle and holy mountain of God so that he
may preach the grace of God and encourage that which must be preferred to the
vigor and greatness of this city.
2. Next, what also must be considered is that he assigns a tabernacle and
mountain for God on the earth. The Lord who fills heaven and earth does not
dwell in things made by hands, yet he desired that some place for the celebration
of his name should exist among his own people where his flock might be fed in
the fear and worship of God, where it might hear the law of its own God, where
it might be reminded of his kindnesses, where it might be established under
figures and shadows, where it might be unified in one body, and separated and
distinguished from the rest of all the nations of the earth. On account of this,
he promised a place for his own presence over the place of the atonement on
the ark. For this reason, because all things were customarily done in this place
under shadows and types, in order that they would not be despised, he called
it the house of God, the city of God, the dwelling place of God, the throne of
God, the temple of God, the tabernacle of God, the holy mountain of God, and
[similar things]. Indeed, just as customarily happens in the majority of cases
religiose, pie & iuste
Verse 1
Wolfgang Musculus
on account of the corrupted nature of our flesh, the fleshly Jews abused those
clauses thinking that they had God in a box, in a tabernacle, and in a temple.
As a result [they thought that] it could not happen that they would be imperiled
in any treaty
concerning the state of their own affairs, on account of the pres-
ence of their own God, even if they should live most shamefully and should be
a people without any faith, righteousness, and piety. See the history of when the
ark of God was carried to the camp against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4. For that
reason, the Prophets customarily cried out that God did not dwell in things made
by hands. See also Acts 7 where Stephen, with great confidence upbraided not
simply the coarse common people but those of the first rank—the Pharisees, the
scribes, the priests—and in their own council no less! Judge here what could be
opposed to those who shut Christ up in a stony sanctuary and those subscribing
to this rule: Bow the knee, in this place, O venerable stone, to Christ the host.
At any rate, they should hear the apostle saying in Hebrews 9[:24] that “Jesus
has not entered into that which has been made by hands, which are examples
of the actual things, but into heaven itself, so that he may now appear before
the face of God for us.” Concerning the Mouth Zion of God, see the [previous
commentary on] Psalm 2:6.
3. Third, it must be observed that God personally examines and speaks to those
who dwell within his tabernacle and on his mountain. [The prophet] signifies by
this examination that he magnifies the tabernacle of God and his holy mountain,
in order that he may entirely perceive that not just anyone dwells in it, but that
this grace [of dwelling in it] pertains to those who are deemed worthy by that
[grace]. Additionally, [the privilege of dwelling on it] is denied to the unworthy
in arca, in tabernaculo, in templo
ullo pacto
This quote, “Flecte genu, lapis hic venerabilis, hospite Christo.” loosely matches an
epigram in letter XXXII of Paulinus of Nola, in reference to pictures and inscrip
tions in the basilica he designed and had built, see
Migne’s Patrologia Latina (Paris,
1847), 61:332. The exact inscription as cited by Musculus can also be found, for
example, in Saint-Georges chapel at the cathedral Notre-Dame de Caudebec, see
Cochet’s Les eglises de l’arrondisement d’Yvetot, vol. 1 (Paris: Didron, 1852), 30.
A slightly different version is found in Maria Kerk in Utrecht: “Flecte genu, domus
haec venerabilis, hospite Christo,” see K. Sprunger,
Dutch Puritanism: A History of
English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 1982), 215–16.
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
and the impious. In any case, there is no reason to examine his method. Those
sorts [of questions] are trivial and also vulgar, concerning which no one exam-
ines these things who has mastered them. We are only examining the choice and
outstanding things and are not rashly touching upon all things.
4. Fourth, we might also consider that the text does not say, “O L
, who will
enter your tabernacle? Who will approach your holy mountain?” but, “Who will
abide in your tabernacle?” and, “Who will dwell on your holy mountain?” By
these words of dwelling and abiding he portrays the dwelling place as immovable.
The former [phrasing] is a once-and-a-while occasion and the latter [phrasing] is
such that once we have been admitted, we constantly remain and are preserved
[there]. The latter of the two is the only true state. Let us think, for instance,
about the Church and the reign of Christ, to whom we are yoked, how ought to
be done by us because it has been given [to us] to dwell on the holy mountain
of God and we should take care that we conduct ourselves lest at some point
we would be ejected. For which of the faithful is ignorant of the fact that a zeal
for piety and righteousness ought to be preeminent in us, who do not dwell in a
shadowy tabernacle and mount but in the kingdom of the Son of God, and we
who have been transported into that truth?
Whoever walks blamelessly, etc. A question quite necessarily set for-
ward requires a perspicuous and splendid response, especially because
the prophet treats the subject openly enough and covers it in a few words.
Moreover, he uses an arrangement and order in such a way that he may briefly
cover the whole thing first and then distribute it into parts. The chief point is
this: whoever walks blamelessly, that is, whoever lives and conducts themselves
blamelessly walking in integrity, embraces the deeds and words in themselves
throughout their whole life and conversation [f124]. (The distribution [of this
statement into its terms] follows.) He says, “Whoever walks blamelessly.” The
Hebrew reads:
~ywkt rlh
. Moreover,
signifies what is whole and perfect.
Thus we read Exodus, 12[:5] rbw ~ymt xX xnX wb, that is, a blameless, one-year
old male lamb. Moreover it is called a blameless lamb that does not have any
defect (Lev. 22[:19–21]). The majority of the interpreters of the Holy Scriptures
render blameless as simplicity. A translation that rightly squares with the expres-
sion ~ymt, if it is understood correctly, of course, so that the simple thing is the
same thing as bright, blameless, harmless. Its opposite is slyness, cleverness, and
the duplicity of a perverse heart. In that sense, the place ought to be understood
as, “He who walks simply, walks well.” Whoever abhors the knowledge of the
Verse 2
Wolfgang Musculus
Holy Scriptures abuses this expression, as if to walk simply is to walk ignorantly
without [any] knowledge of the divine truth and true piety.
And he accomplishes righteousness and speaks the truth in his own heart. In
these words that he spoke, “Whoever walks blamelessly” he divides [the matter]
by a brief distribution into words and deeds. For by deeds and words the behavior
of our whole life is evident. Moreover, it is to accomplish righteousness and to
strive for righteousness and uprightness. For here is set forth qdc or righteous-
ness, (which we Germans call frombkeit and the Latins call honesty) for which
reason they are called good men. He speaks the truth,” it says, “in his own
heart.” Here is the other part of the distribution concerning the righteousness of
words. To speak the truth from the heart, is nothing other than to speak in good
faith as well as candidly and sincerely from the heart which is to speak the truth.
Its opposite is to speak deceitfully and maliciously something other [than the
truth] and also to hide something other [than the truth] in one’s heart, concern-
ing which we have seen the same point previously made in [my commentary
on] Psalm 12. He complains that a craftiness and maliciousness of heart and of
speech prevailed everywhere among mortals in his own time.
Whoever walks blamelessly. (1) In this passage, the chief point that
must be observed is that kind of righteousness that the prophet prescribes
to those who would remain inhabitants of the tabernacle and holy moun-
tain of God. He clearly requires that sort of righteousness from those people that
does not exist in the ceremonies and legal shadows only but that embraces the
whole life and also lives and breathes true honesty of soul and charity toward
one’s neighbor. He understood that this is the character of the flesh that thinks
first of commending himself only to God without any indwelt reckoning of his
neighbor. (2) Next, that sort of person only studies the righteousness that is
situated in the external ceremonies and ecclesiastical rites, and may be exercised
in temples and shrines. Among the Jews, inasmuch as there was circumcision,
the sacrificing of sheep, not eating various things, washing in water by purging
the body but not the spirit, and whatever sort of other things pertain to the Jewish
rites, they were measuring true piety and righteousness before God in those sorts
of things. We see in the Scriptures that the prophets wrestled against such super-
stitions. Therefore it does not say, “whoever might be circumcised, whoever
might offer sheep in the tabernacle or in the temple, whoever might wash fre-
quently, whoever might not touch something polluted,” but rather, “whoever
walks blamelessly, does righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart etc.” He
Verse 2
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
certainly does not reject those things that the law commanded pertaining to
ceremonial things. Indeed on the contrary, he summons the people of God from
that opinion and Jewish superstition, by which they pledge themselves before
God to true piety and righteousness by the observing of the ceremonies; and he
exhorts them to a zeal for real righteousness, showing that a whole and just life
is required by God (Isa. 1[:16–19]; Jer. 7[:1–7]; Ps. 40[:3–11]; 50[:14, 23];
What will we say here concerning the superstition of the pseudo-Christians
who think that they worship and please God apart from a renovation of life and
a zeal for true righteousness, having sought it from ceremonies [and] not from
the word of God, but in fact from human contrivances? Let the impious persons
roar in the Gentile temples more than in the Christian ones. If you examine their
life—the carnal, the impudent, the fornicators, the simoniacs, the idolaters, [and
such sort]—they think that this roaring of theirs, together with the rest of their
hypocrisy and playacted scenes, is the worship of God. Indeed, they do not think
that the uneducated, common people think. They persuade themselves [of this]
so that they may hunt for the basest profit and look out for their own leisure and
belly. Next, it must be examined what he says, “Whoever walks in integrity.” If
you seek briefly how does the prophet require this from a citizen of the kingdom
of God? It is an easy case [to prove] that God delights in integrity of life and
is averse to malice and fraudulence. Thus, in Proverbs 11[:20] it says that the
extravagant in heart are an abomination to the Lord, and those who walk in integ-
rity are well-pleasing [to him]. He spoke to Abraham in this way, “Walk before
me and be blameless” [Gen. 17:1]. Moses says to the people of God, “You will
be blameless before the Lord your God” (Deut. 18[:3]). Thus men are declared
~ywmywbt that is, blameless such as Jacob, Job, and [the rest].
In short, the phrase (dictum) “whoever walks blamelessly” includes all things
in itself whether those things that must be done by God or by people. Everyone
should apply this rule just as if it were for one’s own situation. If you are a
minister of the word, see that you enjoy that gift blamelessly, not only teaching
those things that are true but also with a blameless heart toward God and human
beings, regarding neither your own glory nor your own convenience but rather
the glory of God and the salvation of mortals. The same [is true] if you have
been established as a magistrate, take heed that you judge justly and act with
a blameless heart. In such a manner, this must be pondered concerning every
particular thing. I speak concerning those who are God’s. In that state that is
against God, no one can walk blamelessly.
Wolfgang Musculus
And does righteousness and speaks the truth in his heart. (1) Here it must
be noted that the he divides the word walking, through which metaphor he
expresses the whole conduct of our life, into deeds and words. “And,” he says,
“does justice and speaks the truth in his heart.” Therefore we are admonished
to express our mind in integrity both in words and deeds so that we may not do
or say anything that is malicious or unjust. (2) It also must be observed how the
word walking is divided into deeds and words and how he divides the expression
blamelessness into righteousness and truth. He classifies it as righteousness in
deeds and truth in speech. Therefore, righteousness is the blamelessness of our
works and truth is the blamelessness of our words, and also because righteousness
is in the deeds so also truth is in the words. Third, he does not say, “and knows
righteousness,” but “and does righteousness.” It is easily learned what is right,
what is not right, what ought to be done, and what ought not to be done. A true
zeal for righteousness is not [found] in a bare knowledge alone, but [f125] it is
located in its practice. We do not reject knowledge, but we require the sort that
is living and effective. For a pious person to know righteousness is not simply to
know what it is but to press it out into his deeds. Moreover righteousness must
be done in such a way that chiefly and for each person what is one’s due may be
rendered. In general, let us owe nothing to anyone except that we should love
[them] mutually as [we love] ourselves (Rom. 13[:8]). Not only does the law
of the Old Testament require it, but the law of the New Testament also requires
Next, it is noted what pastors and teachers of Christ’s church owe; what, in
turn, believers [owe] to their own pastors and teachers; what a magistrate owes
to his subjects; on the other hand, what subjects owe to their magistrates; what
husbands owe to their wives; what parents owe to their children; what children
owe to their parents; what a master owes to his servant; what a servant owes to
his master; what citizens owe to [other] citizens; what neighbors owe to their
neighbors, etc. Let each person consider in what way he may accomplish righ-
teousness: first, toward persons in general;
next, toward those to whom he is
especially connected.
And he speaks the truth in his own heart.
In this instance, Musculus uses instrumentum in the legal sense of a deed, will, or
contract, just as modern English might speak of a will as a legal instrument.
quosuis in genere
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
And he speaks. (1) This present particle has not been placed here except for
a singular reason. Indeed, I do not say a large part, but in actuality the great-
est and most noteworthy part of human life contains the use of speech. From
whom it is taken away, what is their life but like some kind of speechless story
enveloped in the darkness of errors? The gift of speaking is an utterly excellent
thing; among all living things it is granted as a divine gift only to humans. From
which point also [scholars] judged that a certain thing is proper to a person, and
they defined a person as a bipedal animal that knows how to speak. The use of
speaking indeed extends broadly, indeed it can be confined to these terms: first
to serve the glory of God, next for human uses. It serves the glory of God in the
praising of his name and in the preaching of the truth and grace of his kingdom.
It serves human association, first, in order to reveal the necessary deliberations
of our hearts in words, by which things we indicate what is necessary for us,
whatever we may want, whatever we may seek, command, desire, and ask.
(2) Next, so that we may also look out for the advantages and the needs of our
neighbors. It may happen that while either we will teach the ignorant and lead
back the erring into the way, or we rebuke the delinquent, or praise those doing
well, or reconcile the enraged, or we console and rouse the sorrowful, and by
speaking we procure whatever other necessity that our neighbor requires. This
pre-eminent gift of God, necessary on so many accounts, without which no one
knows what is in a person, which is corrupted partly from the fickleness of the
human heart and partly from [the heart’s] malice and fraud, so that it is not contrary
to reason that this is an included part of doing righteousness. Therefore, we are
admonished that whoever desires to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, so that
they may think not only is this required from them in this way so that they may
have a rationale for their own deeds but so that also in their words they may be
found blameless and irreproachable.
The truth. (1) First, we should consider that he does not say, “and he speaks
loosely, ingeniously, wisely, elegantly, ornately, and magnificently,” but “and he
speaks the truth.” Therefore the truth is that which is required in someone’s words
who desires to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, in whatever way [the truth] is
brought forward in words, whether many or few, whether simple or ornate and
elegant: so that it may not happen that some rude and uneducated person who is
ignorant of language is excused. This is the nature and condition of the truth that
someone may rejoice in its simple perspicuity, even as it is honorably dressed just
like a chaste matron. [The truth] lacks the cosmetics and complexion of lies that
Wolfgang Musculus
are comparable to a brazen and lascivious harlot. Therefore, whoever requires
a laborious study of elegance in regard to the truth are excessively foppish and
equally appear to act like some husband who entreated his wife to mimic the
lascivious and shameful study of dressing herself, in that way we appear to delight
in harlots. (2) Next, let us also consider why the Holy Spirit requires truth in the
speech of the citizens of the kingdom of God. First, because truth is a certain
[kind of] divine thing, and God who is so truthful that he does not know how to
deceive, delights in the utmost in the truth and detests a lie as the invention of
the Devil and contrary to the truth. Next, because the use of speech (which we
cannot do without) depends upon the truth, it is perverted and corrupted when
it is severed from the truth, just as if you deprived the sun of its splendor, the
earth of its fertility, water of its wetness, stones of their hardness, and fire of
its heat. For just as each of God’s creatures has been given something so that
the utility of that [creature] is evident, likewise that something is necessary to
be present in each human work, (by which the work is what it is). It is evident,
whether you may call it right or whole in general, that without that something
the utility of those things cannot exist. It is just as if the foundation of a house
is not firm and the foundation does not rest in a settled way, so that the founda-
tion cannot sustain the mass of the shrines built [upon it], or likewise if the roof
may not be duly fit together with tiles, or if the beams and walls are not rightly
assembled and covered, or if a sword is not sharpened, but dull; not hardened,
but malleable.
Thus also is the condition of human speech, that depends upon
the truth, so that without it, not only is it useless but it is also rather harmful,
so that it is not without reason that [truth] is required from the pious. (3) Third,
it should not be ignored that it does not say, “And speaks the whole truth,” but
simply, “And speaks the truth.” It is not required from a citizen of the kingdom
of God that he should speak the whole truth, that is, whatever is true. First, for
instance, it is not [the case that] any one person knows the whole truth, but only
that God does. Moreover, how could anyone speak the truth that is unknown
to him? Next, nor is it evident that we should utter immediately whatever we
know is true. Furthermore, it must also appear to a good man that he should
either declare the truth or remain silent in such a way as he judges it profitable
for his neighbor. As a matter of fact, it is not the truth of our speech, but charity,
plumbeus lit. “leadened.” The contrast is between a sword comprised of hardened
and tempered steel versus malleable and brittle lead.
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
which is our whole rule and goal, not only in the things that we do but also in
the things we say. That is why even holy men sometimes concealed the truth
sometimes by being silent and other times by speaking. Like Joseph, when he
was falsely accused by the wife of his master Potiphar, he preferred to bear the
injury patiently than, by speaking the truth, to reveal the crime of his mistress
(Gen. 39[:1–19]). The Egyptian midwives did not sin when they did not reveal
to the tyrannical Pharaoh the truth about the Hebrew women that they certainly
knew but rather sheltered them with some kind of fabrication (Ex. 1[:15–21]).
Michal (1 Sam. 19[:11–17]) did not commit [a sin]; likewise neither did Jonathan
(1 Sam. 20[:5–34]) when they did not reveal the truth concerning David to the
impious Saul, although he was their father. Indeed, there are so many sorts of
these things in the Scriptures concerning this question, whether it is permissible
for a good man sometimes [f126] to say what is not true and concerning an
untruth. See our [commentary] on John 8[:44], where it says, “Because he is a
liar, and the father of such.”
In his own heart. (3) We observe here that he does not simply say, “And speaks
the truth,” but he adds, “in his own heart.” First, it can happen, that someone
may speak falsely what he yet thinks in his own heart is true. On the other hand,
[it can happen] that he may speak the truth with his mouth, what he yet thinks
in his heart is false. Thus he says rightly, “And he speaks the truth in his own
heart.” He does not say, “in his neighbors heart,” but “in his own heart.” He is
innocent who says what he says because he thinks in his own heart that it is true,
even if it may be false in the hearts of others, if only he does not act against the
rule of charity. He is false who speaks the truth with his mouth what he thinks
in his own heart is not true.
Next, it could happen that what is true, and what he knows to be true, someone
speaks from the mouth only and not from the heart: just as also it happens on the
contrary that what is false, and what he knows to be false, he mentions with his
mouth only and not from the heart. That which happens for good comes to pass
sometimes out of fear. It is like what happened to Peter when he said: “I have not
known the man,” because it was false, and he was speaking with his mouth and
not from the heart [Luke 22:57–60; John 18:15–17]. Likewise, in this passage
(locus) it is required from one who ought to be a citizen of the kingdom of God
that he speak not only from his mouth but also from his heart what he knows or
thinks is true so that he is a person [who] not only speaks true things but also is
a lover of and devotee to the truth and [is such a person], not only toward God
Wolfgang Musculus
but also toward his neighbor. As a matter of fact, because it concerns God, who
is the sort of person by whom [God] can be deceived? On the contrary, who else
[but God] is present for the use of our words who intimately knows all the secrets
of our hearts, even if we are entirely mute?
Whoever does not slander with his tongue, etc. The prophet, not
content with a summary of righteousness of words and deeds, descends
to examine certain kinds [of righteousness] that we will inspect in order.
Among all the vices of the tongue that are innumerable, he sets forth the worst
two, slander of course, and perjury, of which he will make mention in the fol-
lowing verse. He rejected slander in the previous place because it has a rather
broad domain, and also it is much less recognized how much sin it encompasses.
The Hebrew is lgral, which word means “to spy.” From which ~ylgrm are called
spies. Therefore, the prophet shows that he rejects the worst kind of persons that
thoroughly search for the secrets of a neighbor with flattering and fictitious words
and, in the manner of a spy, conveys something else with his tongue.
Nor does he cause evil for his neighbor. This pertains to the righteousness of
deeds and to an innocence of life. It is [the character] of a righteous and innocent
person not to wound his neighbor in any matter either by his words or deeds but
rather to conduct himself in such a way toward anyone with an eagerness for
charity so that he may desire not to trouble anyone knowingly. Thus, this particle
by which he says, “nor does he cause evil for his neighbor,” must be understood
so that to cause evil for his neighbor is the same thing as to trouble his neighbor
knowingly and willingly.
And he does not support a charge against his neighbor. This place is vari-
ously exposited on account of the Hebrew expression
, which sometimes
means to accept, other times to carry, and also quite frequently to suffer. Some
exposit [this place], “and he does not lay a charge against his neighbor,” [as
meaning that] he will not denigrate the reputation and name of his neighbor.
Others exposit [this place], “and he does not report a charge against his neigh-
bor,” that is, he does not commit something that his neighbor can change into
a charge [against] him. Others, exposit it (just as we translated [this place]) so
that it should be understood that it is not appropriate for a righteous man to lay
a charge against his own neighbor, that is, to allow some mark of ignominy to
be branded upon [his neighbor] in his presence. The Holy Spirit expels [such a
Et opprobrium non infert proximo suo
Verse 3
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
disposition] from a citizen of the kingdom of God so that he neither personally
slanders his neighbor nor suffers that it may be done in his presence by anyone,
but on the contrary, he defends his neighbor’s name with that zeal that he desires
his own name to be defended.
Whoever does not slander with his tongue. So that we may estimate the vice
of slander as exceedingly detestable, these [points] must be considered: (1) what
it is, (2) what is its origin, (3) what is its quality, (4) what are its circumstances,
and (5) how it is harmful.
(1) What It Is to Slander One’s Neighbor
To slander one’s neighbor is not simply to report what [the neighbor] either
says or does; (because sometimes not only is this permissible to do but also it
ought to be done either for their sake or for the public good), but it is to report
something maliciously, in the spirit of harming [one’s neighbor]. For this reason
also the prophet used the word lgr. Those who showed to the chief priest Eli the
wickedness of his sons were not slanderers, concerning which he said: “It is an
evil which I hear about you, [my] sons” (1 Sam 2[:23]). Joseph was not a slan-
derer when he accused his brothers before his father about the worst crime (Gen.
37[:2]). They were not slanderers who had written to Paul about the contentions
and harlotries of the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:5). Doeg, who denounced David and
Ahimelech before Saul, was a slanderer (1 Sam. 22[:9–10]). Those who said to
Saul, “David seeks evil against you,” were slanderers (1 Sam 24[:9]).
(2) Where Slander Takes Its Origin
A consideration of the origin of [slander] accomplishes the most toward
renouncing this vice. It does not exist from any other place than from Satan,
who in the beginning even slandered immediately in Eve’s presence, saying,
“By no means will you die, but God knows that in whatever day you should eat
[of the tree], your eyes will be opened by it, and you will be as gods, knowing
good and evil” (Gen 3[:4–5]). Again, he slandered the sons of God before God,
just as is well known in the history of Job, when it is written in chapter one that
he said to God, “Surely it cannot be that Job fears God for nothing? Haven’t
you personally fortified him by surrounding his house and all his wealth? You
have blessed the works of his hands and his possessions have increased upon the
earth. But extend your hand just a little, and touch all that he possesses, [and]
Wolfgang Musculus
he will have only appeared to have blessed you” [Job 1:9–11]. [All of] which
was nothing other than [saying], “Job does not worship you with a sincere soul,
but [only] on account of his own particular benefits. Touch his possessions and
you will see whether or not he has blessed you up to now [only] in appearance.”
On account of this malice of denouncing, Satan has this name in the Scriptures
[in which] he is called the Devil, that is, the denouncer and accuser (see Rev.
12[:9]). In the same way, therefore, he lies against those whom he has subject
to himself, and thus he slanders them too, even disturbing that wicked concord
of [those] brothers!
(3) What Sort of Vice Slander Is
1. First, for the most part, a denouncer is a liar. As a matter of fact, he either
reports something false, inventing what neither has been said nor done, or if he
reports something true, he reports some things that could favor [someone] by
its reporting, and he adds [something] of his own that would not favor the same
person. By that [addition] he constructs a calumny serious in its appearance
and resembling the truth. Or, he perverts the sense of the person’s words and
the reasons for their actions. In this way, Haman was inventing [things] against
the Jews, in the presence of Ahasuerus that were not true, and at the same time,
what was true, contaminating it so as to cause hatred. “There is a people,” he
was saying, “that are dispersed throughout all the provinces of [your] kingdom,
and are distinct from you both by using strange laws and ceremonies as well as
additionally despising the decrees of the king. And you know best what is not
expedient for your kingdom so that they may not grow proud through license.
If it pleases you, decree that they should perish” [Esther 3:8–9]. Thus, Ziba the
servant of his lord Mephibosheth reported falsely to David, inventing what was
not true (2 Sam. 16[:1–4]).
2. Second, a denouncer is malicious and unjust. For he reports not simply
what good things there are in [his neighbor] and what could be profitable to his
neighbor, but also those things that are bad and that are not for his neighbors
correction but for his detriment. His eye is malicious, not observing those things
that are good but only those that are evil. His ears are malicious, hearing only
bad things and deaf to the good things. His speech is malicious, reporting only
the bad things and being silent about the good things. These things are the nature
of a denouncer.
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
3. Third, he is also a counterfeit and a hypocrite, for he feigns either benevo-
lence or good faith toward the one to whom he denounces his neighbor or zeal
for either justice or piety. Meanwhile he excuses himself because he does not
wish ill in denouncing.
4. Fourth, he is also a secret ambusher, murdering in secret like a serpent
so that whoever is denounced may not know by whom he is denounced, and it
pertains to this point because he requires the confidence of silence in order that
he may not be revealed.
(4) The Circumstances Aggravating This Vice
1. First, for the most part, it does matter who the denouncer is—whether a
friend, a member of a household, a brother, a subordinate, a student, a servant—at
any rate, [such a person] sins more than if an acquaintance may be denounced
without any reason.
2. Second, it matters whom you denounce. If it is a public person, you sin
more than if it were a private person. If it is a whole family, state, or region, you
sin more immensely than if you denounce only one person.
3. Third, it considers the augmentation of sin, if you should slander a spouse,
a master, a magistrate, a prince, a friend, a brother, or a foreigner, for from this
cause there is more detriment to the one denounced.
4. Fourth, it also matters by which route you denounce a neighbor concerning
a matter, inasmuch by discerning either the neighbors goods, or reputation, or
friendship, or life.
5. Fifth, it must also be considered in what frame of mind you may denounce
[someone]. There are those who denounce out of a certain habit and thought-
lessness, not weighing beforehand what they say, and what disadvantage could
occur to the one they have denounced. Those sorts of people seem to sin more
mildly, although they cannot be excused. Let those sorts of people consider how
they are corrupted and perverse in this case, because they are not prone to such
a degree to report those things that are good as well as those things that are bad.
Others rail against their neighbor with an eagerness to gratify the one to whom
that person is reporting. The former sin more [whereas] the latter denounce their
neighbor to pursue their own certain advantage, e.g. just as Ziba, the servant
of Mephibosheth did. They are the worst kind, who machinate destruction for
their neighbor by slandering [him], even if no advantage for themselves could
be hoped from it.
Wolfgang Musculus
(5) How Harmful It Is
First, charity is wounded in the one who denounces. The norm of charity
is that what you do not wish to be done to you is not done to others. By this
[wounding of charity] this vice gains an evil conscience for that one toward the
one who has been denounced.
Next, charity is wounded in him to whom the neighbor is denounced. Charity
is thinking well of our neighbor, nor the suspicion of anything evil concerning
him. Through a denunciation charity is damaged.
Third, charity is undermined in the one who has been denounced. When
someone senses that he has been denounced, he is affected partly by his own
sinister suspicions, partly he understands that his friendship to whom he has been
denounced declines, and he studiously takes precaution regarding all the things
of that [one to whom he has been denounced]. In summary, [slander] is not an
evil equally harmful and insidious to Christian and brotherly charity, and this
vice of denunciation is most detestable as well. I pass it by in silence because it
lays in ambush of the life of good men so that it might be compared not without
justice even to a sword and to glowing coals.
He does not cause evil for his own neighbor.
1. The principal thing that must be considered is what evil is. The Manichees
dispute from where evil originates. We judge it more preferable [to consider]
what it is than from where it originates. There is nothing evil of all those things
that are made by God, which, as the Holy Scriptures holds, have been made
very well. Evil is whatever is deprived of some good and is not beneficial to our
neighbor whether it is inflicted upon his goods, or his name, or his body, or his
soul. Yet, it must be considered in this passage, in what frame of mind you may
inflict damage to your neighbor. That is to say, you would harm your neighbor
[impartially] in rather trivial things as well as in rather important, advantageous
things—that kind of harm is not foreign to the pious, but it is also not foreign
to God. Thus, insomuch as true charity impresses a zeal for kindness, so that
if it cannot be done otherwise, it may be beneficial to harm. Again, if with an
inimical mind, someone troubles his neighbor, even if it is beneficial for that
person, yet it must be said that in no less way it was badly done to [his neigh-
bor], because what he did, he did not do from an eagerness for beneficence but
from malfeasance. Namely, whoever afflicts Christians by the loss of corporeal
things, even up to that point that they do not hurt them, as they are also exceed-
ingly useful [to them]. In fact, for the beloved, God works all things for good.
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Actually those [who afflict Christians] are evildoers, not well-doers; even though
what they do from an eagerness for harming, by divine providence is rendered
harmless, indeed more correctly advantageous and useful. The same thing must
also be perceived concerning those who use the appearance of kindness for
harming, whether they do it by flattering, by eating and drinking, or by present-
ing monetary [gifts]. Therefore it is evil because it harms their neighbor, [f128]
or if it does not harm, yet it is inflicted to harm the soul. On the other hand, it is
not evil, that although it seems to harm, yet it neither harms nor [is intended to]
harm the soul but rather is discharged with a zeal for well-doing and a place for
kindnesses, or at this point at least is directed so that a place can be [made] for
true kindnesses. A parent, when chastening a son with a rod of discipline is not
doing evil. A teacher, when he instructs a student with a whipping does not do
evil. A magistrate, when he beats criminals does not do evil. A surgeon, when
he cauterizes and cuts, indeed even more when he amputates whole limbs of a
wounded body, does not do evil.
2. Next, the degrees of eagerness for doing evil to a neighbor also
must be considered. The first degree is to render evil for evil. The
world excuses even this kind of evildoing, like to like as they say.
Likewise, force is permitted to repel force. Indeed, we who follow Christ have
been constituted differently than this. Concerning [our constitution] see Matthew
5[:38–39], in which place it says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘eye for an
eye, tooth for a tooth.’ However, I say to you, do not wish to resist evil. But if
anyone should strike you on your right cheek, offer to him also the other,” and
Romans 12[:17], “Render to no one evil for evil.” The second degree of evil
doing is also to do evil to the undeserving and the guiltless either out of hatred
or hope of profit. This kind of malice is also worse than the prior, and is con-
demned not only by Christians but also by the world. The third degree is also
the highest—not only to do evil wrongly to the deserving, next also to the guilt-
less, but also to those deserving good, and to render evil for good. Anyone at
every point up to such a degree is evil, so that it may not be doubted that to do
evil to one’s own benefactors, this person actually will not refrain from any kind
of malice, because he has reached the perfection of malice. For this reason, at
this [very] point a citizen of the kingdom of God must strive against this [dispo-
sition], so that he would not even wrong an enemy as well as one who may
deserve it. If someone should have studiously shunned this degree of malice that
is inferior, he will also not ascend to the middle one or all the way to the highest
degrees of
Wolfgang Musculus
one, and in this way, he will also not desire to be troublesome to the undeserving,
still less to the well deserving. This is what is considered by Christ whose aim
it is to render his own [as] strangers to every pursuit of malice.
3. Third, because an eagerness for full piety and Christian righteousness is
not perfected in it (so that we may not do evil), but also requires the perfection
of beneficence, just as we expressly see in Matthew 5[:38–48] in such a way that
whoever does not do well to his neighbor when he is able is reckoned as having
done evil. It is permitted to discern that which against the wealthy banqueter
and those who do not feed upon Christ; it must be also considered what is good,
next what are the degrees of beneficence.
Good is what is contrary to evil, what clearly results in an advantage to our
neighbor. This also not only must be considered: what should be done as in
what spirit it may be done. In fact those things which have the appearance of
good can be done in such a way that they are evil, not good: on the other hand
those things you think are evil ought to be reckoned more truly good than evil.
Those things that Scripture teaches concerning good works must be understood
as concerning those things that are devoted to the needs and advantages of our
neighbors through a devotion to well-doing by a spirit of charity. Thus, Christ
says in Matthew 5[:16], “Let your light so shine before men that they should see
your good works and would glorify your father who is in heaven.” Here, they
cannot refer to ecclesiastical ceremonies, which can be done by evil men and
ridiculed [by them] also: nor are they such things in which can be observed the
spirit of our fathers and can be glorified by the world. Also, the Latins call some-
thing good that is useful and practical. Thus the apostle says in Galatians [6:10],
“and so while we have time, we should do good towards all, especially towards
the household of faith,” and in 1 Timothy [6:17–18], “Teach the wealthy in this
world that they should do good, and that their riches should be in good deeds,
they should be ready to give, freely sharing, etc.” The papacy misappropriates
good works to the cult of the dead saints, to images, to the buying of masses of
simoniacs, papal indulgences, and the fattening of the most impure fornicators
and hypocrites, etc. True beneficence consists in a spirit of charity and expresses
the paternal goodness of God on his children. Wherefore no one could be eager
for good works unless he previously is good. Thus Christ says in Matthew 12,
“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good,” etc.
Psalm 15
Commentary on Psalm 15 (1551)
Moreover there are also three degrees of beneficence. The first is to
do well to the well-deserving. This degree pertains to an owed grati-
tude. It is indeed the lesser degree—of such a kind that even to an
unbeliever it is wicked that someone should not compensate a well-deserving
person their remuneration. The second degree is to do well to those from whom
you are not called to any beneficence nor are they the kind from whom you could
hope for any sort of recompense and benefit. Concerning this degree of benefi-
cence, see Luke 14[:12–14]. The third degree is to do well even to the undeserv-
ing and to enemies. This position is the pinnacle of full and complete beneficence
(concerning which see Matthew 5[:43–47] and Romans 12[:9–21], and so this
place directs Christians to an eagerness of doing well because if someone should
obtained this highest degree, we would never do evil to the undeserving, still
less to a friend and to the well-deserving.
4. Fourth, let us also weigh that he says, “to his own neighbor,” and
let us also consider whom he calls our neighbor. A neighbor is someone
who is bound to us at some point, either by religion, humanity, blood,
affinity, friendship, either in familiar or civil society; or either by proximity, or
conjoined [to us] by some plight of necessity. God has mutually joined us together
in many degrees so that there are also many occasions for this hand of love and
beneficence. In Christ,