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§ 47. Superseded Lutheran Symbols. The Saxon Confession. The Würtemberg Confession. 1551.


Heinrich Heppe: Die Bekenntniss-Schriften, der altprotestantischen Kirche Deutschlands, Cassel, 1855. This collection contains (besides the œcumenical Creeds, the Augsburg Confession of 1530, the Altered Augsburg Confession of 1540) the Confessio Saxonica, pp. 407–483, and the Confessio Würtembergica, pp. 491–554.

Phil. Melanchthonis Opera quæ supersunt omnia, or Corpus Reformatorum, ed. Bretschneider and Bindseil, Vol. XXVIII. (Brunsvigæ, 1860), pp. 329–568. This vol. contains the Latin and German texts of the Conf. Saxonica with critical Prolegomena.

The Book of Concord embraces all the Lutheran symbols which are still in force; but two other Confessions deserve mention for their historical importance, viz., the Saxon Confession and the Würtemberg Confession.

Both were written in 1551, twenty-one years after the Confession of Augsburg and twenty-six years before the Formula of Concord, in full agreement with the former as understood by its author, and without the distinctive and exclusive features of the latter. Both were intended (like the Articles of Smalcald) for the Roman Catholic Council, and, although they failed in accomplishing their direct object, they exhibit the doctrinal status of the Lutheran or the entire Evangelical Church of Germany at that period. It is this Protestantism which received 341legal toleration and recognition in the German Empire by the Treaty of Passau, 1552, and three years afterwards, without the restriction as to time, at the Diet of Augsburg.691691   Heppe, 1.c. p. xxix.: 'Der in der Conf. Saxonica und in der Conf. Würtembergica entfaltete Lehrbegriff der Augsburgischen Confession ist es, welcher i. J. 1555 zu kirchenstaatsrechtlicher Geltung kam. Dieses erhellt schon aus den Beschlüssen der im Mai 1554 zur Vorbereitung der Reichstagsverhandlungen gehaltenen evangelischen Conferenz, in dem die daselbst versammelten chursäschsischen, hessischen und strassburgischen Deputirten erklärten: Auf bevorstehendem Reichstage habe man als einziges Bekenntniss die Augsburgische Confession festzuhalten. Da aber die sächsische und die würtembergische Confession mit derselben durchaus übereinstimmten, so habe man entweder jene oder eine von diesen dem Kaiser zu übergeben.' But in the succeeding generation the exclusive and more energetic school of Lutheranism prevailed, and found its expression in the Formula of Concord, which superseded those interimistic Confessions.

1. The Saxon Confession (Confessio Saxonica) was drawn up by Melanchthon for the Council of Trent, which, after a brief transfer to Bologna by Paul III., in March, 1547, was again convened at Trent by Julius III., May 1, 1551. The German Emperor had previously (Feb. 13) invited the Protestant States to send delegates, promising them full protection, and his best endeavor to secure 'a Christian, useful reformation, and abrogation of improper doctrines and abuses.' Melanchthon expected nothing from a conference with Bishops and Cardinals, but considered it wise and politic to accept the Emperor's invitation, provided he would secure to the Protestant delegates a hearing before the Council. His advice was the best that could be given under the circumstances, and was accepted by Elector Maurice of Saxony.692692   See several letters from February to April, 1551, in the Corp. Reform. Vol. VII. (1840), especially pp. 736–739, where Melanchthon gives his views on the Council of Trent; and Schmidt, Melanchthon, pp. 534 sqq. He was requested to prepare a 'Repetition and Exposition of the Augsburg Confession,' usually called the 'Saxon Confession.'693693   It appeared first in Latin at Basle, 1552, under the title: 'Confessio Do | ctrinæ Saxonicarum | Ecclesiarum Synodo Tridentinæ ob | lata, A.D. 1551, in qua,' etc. The original MS., with the title 'Repetitio Confessionis Augustanæ: An. 1551, Witebergæ scripta,' etc., and with corrections from Melanchthon's own hand, is preserved in the library of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, to which Selnecker presented it in 1580. From this Heppe and Bindseil have derived their text; the latter with a critical apparatus from eight printed editions. It was translated into German by John Maetsperger, 1552, and by Georg Major, 1555. The Latin text was often republished separately at Leipzig, Wittenberg, Frankfort, etc., and in the Melanchthonian Corpora Doctrinæ; also in the Corpus et Syntagma Confessionum, Genev. 1612 and 1654, in the Sylloge Confessionum, Oxf. 1804 and 1827 (pp. 237–323); and more recently by H. Heppe, l.c., and by Bindseil, who gives also Major's German translation, in Corp. Reform. Vol. XXVIII. pp. 370 sqq. On the various editions, see Bindseil, pp. 347 sqq. To finish this 342work with more leisure, he went with his friend Camerarius to the Prince of Anhalt at Dessau.

The document is not merely a repetition of the Augsburg Confession, but an adaptation of it to the changed condition of affairs. In 1530 Melanchthon still hoped for a reunion with Rome, and wrote in an apologetic tone, avoiding all that might irritate the powerful enemy; now all hope of reunion had departed, and Protestantism had made a decided progress in ecclesiastical consolidation and independence. Although the Confession was composed after the defeat of the Protestant Princes by the Emperor, and in the midst of the Adiaphoristic troubles, it shows no disposition whatever to recede from the doctrinal positions taken at Augsburg; on the contrary, the errors and abuses of Rome, which made separation an imperative duty, are freely exposed and refuted. The Scriptures, as understood by the ancient Church in the œcumenical Creeds, are declared to be the only and unalterable foundation of the Evangelical faith.694694   Art I. De doctrina: 'Affirmamus clare coram Deo et universa Ecclesia in cælo et in terra, nos vera fide amplecti omnia Scripta Prophetarum et Apostolorum: et quidem in hac ipsa nativa sententia quæ expressa est in Symbolis, Apostolico, Nicæno et Athanasiano.' The distinctive Evangelic doctrines and usages in opposition to Rome are comprehended under the two articles of the Apostles' Creed: 'I believe the forgiveness of sins,' and 'one holy Catholic Church.' The former excludes human merit and justification by works; the latter the political and secular conceptions and corruptions of the Church, which is represented to be a spiritual though visible communion of believers in Christ. The controverted articles are considered in twenty-three sections, in the order of the Augsburg Confession, namely: Original Sin, Forgiveness and Justification, Free Will, Good Works, New Obedience, the Church, the Sacraments, Satisfaction, Marriage, Monastic Life, Invocation of Saints, Civil Magistrate. The Saxon Confession is signed, not by Princes, as the Augsburg Confession was, but, as Melanchthon suggested, only by theologians, viz., Bugenhagen, Pfeffinger, Camerarius, Major, Eber, Melanchthon, and the Superintendents of Electoral Saxony, who convened at Wittenberg, July 9, for the purpose, and unanimously adopted the work of their dear and venerable 'Preceptor,' as the clear expression of their own faith in full harmony with his Confession of 1530. It was a beautiful moment in Melanchthon's life, for which he 343felt very grateful to God.695695   See his letter to Prince George of Anhalt, July 11, 1551, Corp. Reform. Vol. VII. p. 806 sq., and the letter of Major to Jonas, July 14, ibid. p. 809. The danger was now much greater than in 1530, for the Elector Maurice was in league with the victorious Emperor. The theologians of Brandenburg, Ansbach, Baireuth, Mansfeld, Pomerania, Palatinate, Hesse, Würtemburg, and Strasburg likewise sent in their consent to this Confession.696696   See Heppe, 1.c. p. xxvii., and especially the Corpus et Syntagma Conf., which gives after the subscriptions the assenting judgments of the churches above mentioned.

The Council convened in May, 1551, was adjourned to October, and again to January next. Melanchthon was ordered to proceed to Trent, but to stop at Nuremberg for further instructions. While at Nuremberg, in January, 1552, he wrote a preface to Luther's Commentary on Genesis, and expressed himself very decidedly against the preceding acts of the Council.697697   Jan. 25, 1552, Corp. Reform. Vol. VII. pp. 918–927. In the mean time the Saxon and Würtemberg lay-embassadors received a hearing at Trent, not, indeed, before the whole Council in public session, but before a private congregation. They requested that the members of the Council be released of their oath of obedience to the Pope, and be free to decide the questions by the rule of the Scriptures alone. A few prelates were inclined to accede, but the majority would never have sacrificed the principle of tradition, nor reconsidered the decrees already adopted. The Saxon embassadors urged Melanchthon to proceed on his journey, but he delayed on account of the rumors of war. The treacherous Elector Maurice of Saxony cut the Gordian knot by making war upon his ally, the Emperor, in the spring, 1552, drove him from Innspruck, scared the fathers of Trent to their homes, and achieved, in the Treaty of Passau (Aug. 2, 1552), ratified at Augsburg (1555), the first victory for liberty of conscience to Protestants, to which the Emperor reluctantly yielded, and against which the Pope never ceases to protest.

II. The Würtemberg Confession (Confessio Würtembergica)698698   The full title, as given by Heppe and Bindseil, is 'Confes | sio Piæ Doctri | næ, quæ nomine illu | strissimi Principis ac Domini Chri | stophori Ducis Wirtembergen | sis et Teccensis, ac Comitis Montisbe | ligardi, per legatos ejus Die XXIIII. | mensis Januarij, Anno MDLII. Con | gregationi Tridentini Conci | lii proposita est.' It was first printed at Tübingen, 1551; then in 1556, 1559, 1561, etc. It is also embodied in the Opera Brentii, Tübingen, 1590, Tom. VIII. pp. 1–34, in Corpus et Syntagma Conf. (from a Frankfort ed. of 1561), and in Heppe, 1.c. pp. 491–554. It is frequently quoted in part under different heads, together with the Saxon Confession, in the Reformed Harmonia Confessionum, Genev. 1581. Comp. Pfaff, Acta et scripta publica Ecclesiæ Wirtembergicæ, Tüb. 1720; Salig, Historie der Augsb. Conf. Tom. I. pp. 673 sqq.; and Hartmann, Johannes Brentz. Leben und ausgewählte Schriften (Elberfeld, 1862), pp. 211–221. Was 344prepared for the same purpose, at the same time and in the same spirit, by Brentius, the Reformer of the Duchy of Würtemberg, in the name of his Prince, Duke Christopher, who likewise resolved to send delegates to the Council of Trent. For Brentius, like Melanchthon, had no confidence in this partial popish Council, but advised, nevertheless, compliance with the Emperor's request, since a refusal might be construed as disobedience and contempt, or as an act of cowardice. The Confession was approved by a commission of ten Swabian divines, and by the City of Strasburg. It was also approved at Wittenberg, as agreeing with Melanchthon's Confession. It was found best to send two Confessions, one representing the Evangelical Churches of the North, the other those of the South of Germany, to avoid the appearance of a conspiracy.

The Würtemberg Confession contains a preface of Duke Christopher, and restates, in thirty-five articles, the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession and other controverted points, for the purpose of showing that the Evangelical Churches agree with the pure doctrine of the apostles, and of the catholic and orthodox Church.699699   Prefat.: 'In nostris ecclesiis non nisi veræ apostolicæ, catholicæ, et orthodoxæ doctrinæ locum datum esse.' On the Lord's Supper this Confession goes a little beyond the Saxon; but there is no trace of the ubiquity of Christ's body, of which Brentius, ten years afterwards, became a zealous advocate.

Brentius was among the Würtemberg and Strasburg delegates to Trent, and actually arrived there, March 18, 1552, but only to return in April without accomplishing any thing.700700   See Sleidanus, De statu relig. et reipublicæ Carolo V. Cæsare commentar. Tom. III. pp. 317–333; Corp. Reform. Vol. XXVIII. p. 334, and Hartmann, 1.c. p. 215. The other theological delegates to Trent were Beurlin, Heerbrand, Vannius (Wanner), of Würtemberg, and Marbach and Sellius, of Strasburg. Sleidanus was one of the lay-delegates from Strasburg. It is very doubtful whether he and Melanchthon would have made a deep impression upon the Council, which was already committed to the cause of popery and had sanctioned some of its most obnoxious doctrines.


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