14.And when a man shall sanctify his house. A third kind of vows follows, viz., the consecration of houses and lands; under which head also an alternative is appointed, so that religion may not be despised, and still the just possessors should not be driven from their houses, or the lands be rendered useless from the want of cultivation. Those persons vowed their houses, who sought of God for themselves and families that they might inhabit them in health, and safety, and in general prosperity; and he who wished to obtain fertility for his fields, vowed one of ten or twenty acres. Undoubtedly superstitious prayers were sometimes mixed up with this exercise of piety, as if they might acquire favor for themselves by making a bargain with God. Still, inasmuch as the thing was not wrong in itself, God indulgently bore with the errors which could not be very easily corrected, lest, in His hatred of them, He might altogether abolish what was useful and laudable. Hence the redemption both of house and land was permitted. But if any one had committed fraud in selling a piece of land that was vowed, a heavier punishment is added, i.e., that he should go without it for ever. We shall speak more fully elsewhere of the year of jubilee. (320) At present this must be observed, that, lest the partition of land made by Joshua should ever be altered, since God had clearly shewn that it was done by His authority, God recalled each of the tribes every fiftieth year to their original share, and thus entirely restored the possessors whom poverty had driven out. In proportion, then, to the closeness or remoteness of that year, since possession would be so much the shorter or longer, land was cheap or dear. God does not here measure the fields by the pole or chain, but estimates them simply, as among a rude people, by the seed; viz., if a field in sowing takes a homer (321) of barley, it shall remain in the hands of its possessor if he pays fifty shekels of the sanctuary. We have elsewhere seen that these were double the ordinary shekel. But since vows were often made in the middle or towards the end of the jubilee, a distinction is stated; and God commands the priests to take the time into consideration, and the nearer the jubilee-year may be to diminish so much of the price. Where, however, a fraud had taken place, God would not have the honest purchaser ejected; but, when the jubilee was over, He assigned the field, which had been held for a time in sacrilege, to the priests for ever. Moses compares this consecration to an anathema, which the Hebrews call חרם, cherem, (322) a word whose radical meaning is destroying or abolishing; for which reason the Latins take a “devoted” thing in a bad sense, as what is destined to final destruction. The law is then extended to lands which had been sold, and which, in the year of jubilee, returned to their former owners; because the first allotment of the land was then wholly restored. For these fields God commands a price to be paid, upon a calculation of the time, so that only the produce and not the fee should be taken into account.
Now, since people have improperly and in foolish mimicry imitated the vows which God permitted to the Jews under the Law, so the Pope, in providing for their redemption, has dared in his diabolical arrogance to rival God. The titulus (323) is well-known in the Third Book of Decretals; “De voto, et ejus redemptione ;” wherein its concocter, whoever he was, has so sought to impose upon the world with his shameless nonsense, as not to hesitate to heap together directly contradictory sentences; and even if there were no contradictions there, still nothing is laid down except how votive pilgrimages are to be redeemed, which plainly appear from Christ’s declaration to be wrong since the preaching of the gospel. (John 4:21.) And assuredly it was a marvellous fascination of the devil, that what was said under the Law as to the payment of vows at Jerusalem, should be transferred to Christians, when Christ had pronounced that the time had come when the true worshippers without distinction of place should worship God everywhere in spirit and in truth. If the hired wranglers (324) of the Pope object that the same rule obtains in the redemption of vows, since a remedy or mitigation must not be denied, if any should be too burdensome or grievous, I answer, that men act wickedly, when they wrest to themselves what God has reserved for His own discretion; for neither under the Law of old was it allowable for a mortal man to alter a vow, unless by His permission. If again they object, that the judgment was given to the priests, here their folly is twice refuted; since they cannot shew that they have been appointed judges; nor can they escape from the accusation of temerity, since without any command they pronounce as to this redemption of vows, whereas the priests of old advanced nothing except from God’s mouth, and according to the fixed rule here laid down.
The exception as to the firstlings and the tithes sufficiently proves that some vows were illicit, and such as God repudiates; and therefore that they must not be made indiscriminately, for it would have been a mere work of supererogation to vow to God what He had already made His own; as we have shewn elsewhere, (325) where I have inserted this passage. With respect to what is said of the anathema, it must not be understood generally, since it was not lawful to subject a man to it, unless he were worthy of death. This, then, must be restricted to their enemies, whom they were otherwise at liberty to destroy; a notorious example of which was the city of Jericho, with its inhabitants and spoils. Now, since whatever was brought under this anathema was devoted and accursed, God would have it destroyed, nor does He allow of any compensation. Wherefore they anathematized their fields I do not understand, unless perhaps they wished to expiate some crime whereby pollution was contracted.