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§ 119. The Augsburg Confession.


I. Editions of the Augsb. Conf.: The best critical edition in the 26th vol. of the "Corpus Reformatorum," ed. Bretschneider und Bindseil (1858), 776 pages. It gives the Invariata and the Variata, in Latin and German, with critical apparatus, list of MSS. and early editions, and the preceding documents: viz., the Articles of Visitation, the Marburg, the Schwabach, and the Torgau Articles.

The Confession in Latin or German, or both, Is embodied in all the collections of Lutheran symbols by Rechenberg, Walch, Weber, Hase, Meyer, Francke, Müller.

Separate modem editions by Twesten, Tittmann, Weber, Wiggers, Förstemann, Harter, etc.

English translation, with Latin text, in Schaff, Creeds, III. 3–73; in English alone, in Henkel, Book of Concord, 1854, and Jacobs, Book of Concord, Philad., 1882. The first English translation was made by Richard Taverner, London, 1536, the last, on the basis of this, by Charles P. Krauth. (See B. M. Schmucker: English Translations of the Augsb. Conf., Philad., 1887, 34 pp.)

On the literature compare Köllner: Symbolik der Lutherischen Kirche, Hamburg, 1837, pp. 150–152, with a full history of the Conf., pp. 153–396.

II. Histories and monographs: the works of Chytraeus, Coelestin, Cyprian, Salig, Pfaff, Fickenscher, Forstemann, etc., quoted in § 117. Recent works: Köllner, 1837 (see above). Rudelbach: Die Augsb. Conf. nach den Quellen, Dresden, 1841. G. Plitt: Einleitung in die Augustana, Erlangen, 1867–68 2 Parts; Die Apologie der Augustana, Erl., 1873. W. J. Mann: A Plea for the Augsburg Confession, Philadelphia, 1856. Stuckenberg: The History of the Augsb. Confession, Philad., 1869. Zöckler: Die Augsb. Conf., Frkf. -a.-M., 1870. Vilmar: Die Augsb. Confession erklärt, Gütersloh, 1870. A brief account in Schaff: Creeds (4th ed. 1884), I. 225–242. On the Roman Catholic side see Janssen, III. 165–211, and L. Pastor: Die kirchlichen Reunionsbest-rebungen während der Regierung Karls V., Freiburg, 1879, 22 sqq.

III. On special points: Luther’s relation to the Augsb. Conf. is discussed by Rückert, Jena, 1854; Calinich, Leipz., 1861; Knaake, Berlin, 1863. The relation of the A. C. to the Marburg, Schwabach, and Torgau Articles is treated by Ed. Engelhardt in the "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.," 1865, pp. 515–529; and by Th. Brieger in "Kirchengesch. Studien," Leipzig, 1888, pp. 265–320.


The Augsburg Confession is the first and the most famous of evangelical confessions. It gave clear, full, systematic expression to the chief articles of faith for which Luther and his friends had been contending for thirteen years, since he raised his protest against the traffic in indulgences. By its intrinsic merits and historic connections, it has become the chief doctrinal standard of the Lutheran Church, which also bears the name of the "Church of the Augsburg Confession." It retains this position to this day, notwithstanding the theological and ecclesiastical dissensions in that communion. It furnished the keynote to similar public testimonies of faith, and strengthened the cause of the Reformation everywhere. It had a marked influence upon the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England.962962    See the proof in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, I. 624 sqq. In the final revision by the author, and with the necessary change in the tenth article, it has also been frequently adopted by Reformed divines and congregations. But it was never intended, least of all by Melanchthon, who mended it to the last moment and even after its adoption, as an infallible and ultimate standard, even of the Lutheran Church. It was at first modestly called an, "Apology," after the manner of the Christian Apologies in the ante-Nicene age, and meant to be simply a dispassionate statement in vindication of the Lutheran faith before the Roman Catholic world.

It is purely apologetic, and much more irenic than polemic. It aims to be, if possible, a Formula of Concord, instead of Discord. It is animated by a desire for reconciliation with Rome. Hence it is remarkably mild in tone, adheres closely to the historic faith, and avoids all that could justly offend the Catholics. It passes by, in silence, the supremacy of the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and practice, and some of the most objectionable features in the Roman system,—as indulgences, purgatory, and the papal primacy (which Melanchthon was willing to tolerate on an impossible condition). In short, it is the most churchly, the most catholic, the most conservative creed of Protestantism. It failed to conciliate Rome, but became the strongest bond of union among Lutherans.

The Confession is the ripe fruit of a gradual growth. It is based chiefly upon three previous confessional documents—the fifteen Articles of Marburg, Oct. 4, 1529, the seventeen Articles of Schwabach (a modification and expansion of the former by Luther, with the insertion of his view of the real presence), adopted by the Lutheran princes in a convent at Schwabach, near Nürnberg, Oct. 16, 1529, and several Articles of Torgau against certain abuses of the Roman Church, drawn up by Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, and Bugenhagen, by order of the Elector, at his residence in Torgau, March 20, 1530.963963    The Articuli Torgavienses were formerly confounded with the Articuli Suobacences till Förstemann discovered the former in the archives at Weimar (1833). The first two documents furnished the material for the first or positive part of the Augsburg Confession; the last, for its second or polemical part.

Melanchthon used this material in a free way, and made a new and far better work, which bears the stamp of his scholarship and moderation, his power of condensation, and felicity of expression. He began the preparation at Coburg, with the aid of Luther, in April, and finished it at Augsburg, June 24. He labored on it day and night, so that Luther had to warn him against over-exertion. "I command you," he wrote to him May 12, "and all your company that they compel you, under pain of excommunication, to take care of your poor body, and not to kill yourself from imaginary obedience to God. We serve God also by taking holiday and rest."

If we look at the contents, Luther is the primary, Melanchthon the secondary, author; but the form, the method, style, and temper are altogether Melanchthon’s. Nobody else could produce such a work. Luther would have made it more aggressive and polemic, but less effective for the occasion. He himself was conscious of the superior qualification of his friend for the task, and expressed his entire satisfaction with the execution. "It pleases me very well," he wrote of the Confession, "and I could not change or improve it; nor would it be becoming to do so, since I cannot tread so softly and gently."964964    "Denn ich so sanft und leise nicht treten kann." Letter to Elector John, May 15, 1530. In De Wette, IV. 17. He calls the Augustana die Leisetreterin, the softly stepping Confession. Letter to Jonas, July 2l, 1530. He would have made the tenth article on the real presence still stronger than it is; would have inserted his sola in the doctrine of justification by faith, as he did in his German Bible; and rejected purgatory, and the tyranny of popery, among the abuses in the second part. He would have changed the whole tone, and made the document a trumpet of war.

The Augsburg Confession proper (exclusive of preface and epilogue) consists of two parts,—one positive and dogmatic, the other negative and mildly polemic or rather apologetic. The first refers chiefly to doctrines, the second to ceremonies and institutions. The order of subjects is not strictly systematic, though considerably improved upon the arrangement of the Schwabach and Torgau Articles. In the manuscript copies and oldest editions, the articles are only numbered; the titles were subsequently added.

I. The first part presents in twenty-one articles—beginning with the Triune God, and ending with the worship of saints—a clear, calm, and condensed statement of the doctrines held by the evangelical Lutherans: (1) in common with the Roman Church; (2) in common with the Augustinian school in that church; (3) in opposition to Rome; and (4) in distinction from Zwinglians and Anabaptists.

(1) In theology and Christology, i.e., the doctrines of God’s unity and trinity (Art. I.), and of Christ’s divine-human personality (III.), the Confession strongly re-affirms the ancient catholic faith as laid down in the oecumenical creeds, and condemns (damnamus) the old and new forms of Unitarianism and Arianism as heresies.

(2) In anthropology, i.e., in the articles on the fall and original sin (II.), the slavery of the natural will and necessity of divine grace (XVIII.), the cause and nature of sin (XIX.), the Confession is substantially Augustinian, in opposition to the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies. The Donatists are also condemned (damnant, VIII.) for denying the objective virtue of the ministry and the sacraments, which Augustin defended against them.

(3) The general evangelical views more or less distinct from those of Rome appear in the articles on justification by faith (IV.), the Gospel ministry (V.), new obedience (VI.), the Church (VII., VIII.), repentance (XII.), ordination (XIV.), ecclesiastical rites (XV.), civil government (XVI.), good works (XIX.), the worship of saints, and the exclusive mediatorship of Christ (XX.).

These articles are so guardedly and skillfully worded as to disarm the papal opponents. Even the doctrine of justification by faith (Art. IV.), which Luther declared to be the article of the standing or falling church, is briefly and mildly stated, without the sola so strongly insisted on by Luther, and so objectionable to the Catholics, who charged him with willful perversion of the Scriptures, for inserting it in the Epistle to the Romans (3:28).965965    In a letter to Brenz, May, 1531 (Corp. Ref., II. 502), Melanchthon remarks that he did not speak more plainly on this point, "propter adversariorum calumnias." In the Apology of the Confession (Art. IV.), he is more explicit, and declares this doctrine incidentally to be "the chief point of Christian doctrine (praecipuus locus doctrinae Christianae) in this controversy." Müller, Symb. Bücher, p. 87. Döllinger charges Melanchthon, in his varying statements of this doctrine, with sophistry, Die Reformation, III. 279 sqq. The revisers of the Luther Bible retained the insertion allein in Rom. 3:28.

(4) The distinctively Lutheran views—mostly retained from prevailing catholic tradition, and differing in part from those of other Protestant churches—are contained in the articles on the sacraments (IX., X., XIII.), on confession and absolution (XI.), and the millennium (XVII.). The tenth article plainly asserts the doctrine of a real bodily presence and distribution of Christ in the eucharist to all communicants, and disapproves (improbant) of those who teach differently (the Zwinglians).966966    That the Zwinglians are meant by the secus docentes (in the German ed., Gegenlehr), must be inferred from the preceding Conference at Marburg, and the whole conduct of the Lutherans during the Diet. The omission of Zwingli’s name was due, probably, to respect for his friend the Landgrave of Hesse, one of the signers of the Confession. The Anabaptists are not only disapproved, but condemned (damnamus) as heretics three times: for their views on infant baptism and infant salvation (IX.),967967    "They condemn the Anabaptists, who disallow the baptism of children, and affirm that children are saved without baptism." The edition of 1540 adds after "sine baptismo" the words "et extra ecclesiam Christi." The Romish Confutation fully approves of the condemnation of the Anabaptists, and calls them "hominum genus seditiosissimum, procul a finibus Romani imperii eliminandum." Corp. Reform., XXVII. 105. Civil offices (XVI.), the millennium and final restoration (XVII.).

These anti-Zwinglian and anti-Baptist articles, however, have long since lost their force in the Lutheran Church. Melanchthon himself changed the wording of the tenth Article in the edition of 1540, and omitted the clause of disapproval. The damnation of unbaptized infants dying in infancy, which is indirectly indorsed by condemning the opposite, is a fossil relic of a barbarous orthodoxy, and was justly denied by the Baptists, as also by Zwingli and Bullinger, who on this point were ahead of their age. The first official deliverance against this dogma was raised by the Reformed Church of Scotland, in the Second Scotch Confession (1581), which condemns among the errors of "the Roman Antichrist" "his Cruel judgment against infants departing without the sacrament, and his absolute necessity of baptism."968968    Schaff, Creeds, i. 687, iii. 482.

The doctrine of the second advent and millennium (rejected in Art. XVII.), if we except the dreams of the radical wing of the Anabaptists, has found advocates among sound and orthodox Lutherans, especially of the school of Bengel, and must be regarded as an open question.

The last Article of the doctrinal part expresses the assurance that the Lutherans hold no doctrine which is contrary to the Scriptures, or to the Catholic or even the Roman Church, as far as known from the fathers, and differ from her only on certain traditions and ceremonies. Luther knew better, and so did the Romanists. Only Melanchthon, in his desire for union and peace, could have thus deceived himself; but he was undeceived before he left Augsburg, and in the Apology of the Confession be assumed a very different tone.

II. The second part of the Confession rejects, in seven articles, those abuses of Rome which were deemed most objectionable, and had been actually corrected in the Lutheran churches; namely, the withdrawal of the communion cup from the laity (I.), the celibacy of the clergy (II.), the sacrifice of the mass (III.), obligatory auricular confession (IV.), ceremonial feasts and fasts (V.), monastic vows (VI.), and the secular power of the bishops as far as it interferes with the purity and spirituality of the church (VII.). This last Article is virtually a protest against the principle of Erastianism or Caesaro-papacy, and would favor in its legitimate consequences a separation of church and state. "The ecclesiastical and civil powers," says the Confession, "are not to be confounded. The ecclesiastical power has its own commandment to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. Let it not by force enter into the office of another, let it not transfer worldly kingdoms," etc. And as to the civil power, it is occupied only with worldly matters, not with the gospel, and "defends not the minds, but the bodies and bodily things, against manifest injuries." This protest has been utterly disregarded by the Protestant rulers in Germany. The same Article favors the restoration of the episcopal jurisdiction with purely spiritual and ecclesiastical authority. This also was wholly disregarded by the signers, who were unwilling to give up their summepiscopate which they had claimed and exercised since 1526 with the consent of the Reformers.

The Confession concludes with these words: "Peter forbids bishops to be lords, and to be imperious over the churches (1 Pet. 5:3). Now, our meaning is not to take the rule from the bishops, but this one thing only is requested at their hands, that they would suffer the gospel to be purely taught, and that they would relax a few observances which cannot be held without sin. But if they will remit none, let them look how they will give account to God for this, that by their obstinacy they afford cause of division and schism."969969    It was Melanchthon’s wish (which Köllner chose as motto for his Symb. d. luth. Kirche): "Utinam utinam possim non quidem dominationem confirmare, sed administrationem restituere episcoporum. Video enim, qualem habituri simus ecclesiam, dissoluta πολιτεία ecclesiastica." Occasionally lonely voices are heard for the restoration of episcopacy in the Lutheran Church, but without effect. See F. Haupt, Der Episcopat der deutschen Reformation, oder Artikel 28 der Augsburg Conf., Frankf., 1866; Luther und der Episcopat, 1866. Thus the responsibility of schism in the Latin Church was thrown upon Rome. But even if Rome and the Diet had accepted the Augsburg Confession, the schism would still have occurred by the further progress of the Protestant spirit, which no power on earth, not even Luther and Melanchthon, could arrest.

The style of the Latin edition is such as may be expected from the rare classic culture and good taste of Melanchthon; while the order and arrangement might be considerably improved.

The diplomatic preface to the Emperor, from the pen of a lawyer, Chancellor Brück, is clumsy, tortuous, dragging, extremely obsequious, and has no other merit than to introduce the reader into the historical situation. The brief conclusion (Epilogus) is from the same source, and is followed by the signatures of seven princes and two magistrates. Several manuscript copies omit both preface and epilogue, as not properly belonging to the Confession.

Space forbids us to discuss the questions of the text, and the important variations of the Unaltered Confession of 1530, and the Altered Confession of 1540, which embodies the last improvements of its author, but has only a semi-official character and weight within the Lutheran Church.970970    See on these questions Schaff, Creeds, I. 237 sqq., and especially Köllner, Symbolik der luth. Kirche, p. 236 sqq. and 267 sqq.



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