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).972
(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).973 The Anabaptists are not only disapproved, but condemned (damnamus) as heretics three times: for their views on infant baptism and infant salvation (IX.),974 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."975
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."976 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.977
§ 120. The Roman Confutation and the Protestant Apology. I. Corpus Reformatorum (Melanchthonis Opera), ed. by Bretschneider and Bindseil, vol. XXVII. (1859), 646 columns, and vol. XXVIII. 1–326. These volumes contain the Confutatio Confessionis Augustanae, and the two editions of Melanchthon’s Apologia Conf. Aug., in Latin and German, with Prolegomena and critical apparatus. The best and most complete edition. There are few separate editions of the Apology, but it Is incorporated in all editions of the Lutheran Symbols; see Lit. in § 119. The Latin text of the Confutatio was first published by A. Fabricius Leodius in Harmonia Confess. Augustanae, 1573; the German, by C. G. Müller, 1808, from a copy of the original in the archives of Mainz, which Weber had previously inspected (Krit. gesch. der Augsb. Conf., II. 439 sqq.).
II. K. Kieser (R. Cath.). Die Augsburger Confession und ihre Widerlegung, Regensburg, 1845. Hugo Lämmer: Die vor-tridentinisch-katholische Theologie des Reformations-Zeitalters, Berlin, 1858, pp. 33–46. By the same: De Confessonis Augustanae Confutatione Pontificia, in Neidner’s "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.," 1858. (Lämmer, a Lutheran, soon afterwards joined the Roman Church, and was ordained a priest, 1859, and appointed missionarius apostolicus, 1861.) G. Plitt (Luth.):Die Apologie der Augustana geschichtlich erklärt, Erlangen, 1873. Schaff: Creeds, etc., I. 243. The history and literature of the Apology are usually combined with that of the Confession, as in J. G. Walch, Feuerlin-Riederer, and Köllner.
The Roman "Catholic Confutation," so called, of the Augsburg Confession, was prepared in Augsburg by order of the Emperor Charles, by the most eminent Roman divines of Germany, and bitterest opponents of Luther, especially Drs. Eck, Faber, Cochlaeus, in Latin and German.978 The final revision, as translated into German, was publicly read before the Emperor and the Diet, in the chapel of the episcopal palace, Aug. 3, and adopted as the expression of the views of the majority.
The document follows the order of the Augsburg Confession. It approves eighteen doctrinal articles of the first part, either in full or with some restrictions and qualifications. Even the fourth article, on justification, escapes censure, and Pelagianism is strongly condemned.979 The tenth article, on the Lord’s Supper, is likewise approved as far as it goes, provided only that the presence of the whole Christ in either of the substances be admitted.980 But Article VII., on the Church, is rejected;981also Art. XX., on faith and good works, and Art. XXI., on the worship of saints.982
The second part of the Confession, on abuses, is wholly rejected; but at the close, the existence of various abuses, especially among the clergy, is acknowledged, and a reformation of discipline is promised and expected from a general council.983
The tone of the Confutation is moderate, owing to the express direction of the Emperor; but it makes no concession on the points under dispute. It abounds in biblical and patristic quotations crudely selected. As to talent and style, it is far inferior to the work of Melanchthon. The Roman Church was not yet prepared to cope with the Protestant divines.
The publication of the Confutation as well as the Confession was prohibited, and it did not appear in print till many years afterwards; but its chief contents became known from notes taken by hearers and from manuscript copies.
The Lutheran members of the Diet urged Melanchthon to prepare at once a Protestant refutation of the Roman refutation, and offered the first draught of it to the Diet, Sept. 22, through Chancellor Brück; but it was refused.
On the following day Melanchthon left Augsburg in company with the Elector of Saxony, re-wrote the Apology on the journey,984 and completed it leisurely at Wittenberg, with the help of a manuscript copy of the Confutation, in April, 1531.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession is a scholarly vindication of the Confession. It far excels the Confutation in theological and literary merit. It differs from the apologetic Confession by its polemic and protestant tone. It is written with equal learning and ability, but with less moderation and more boldness. It even uses some harsh terms against the papal opponents, and calls them liars and hypocrites (especially in the German edition). It is the most learned of the Lutheran symbols, and seven times larger than the Confession, but for this very reason not adapted to be a symbolical book. It contains many antiquated arguments, and errors in exegesis and patristic quotations. But in its day it greatly strengthened the confidence of scholars in the cause of Protestantism. Its chief and permanent value is historical, and consists in its being the oldest and most authentic interpretation of the Augsburg Confession, by the author himself.
The Apology, though not signed by the Lutheran princes at Augsburg, was recognized first in 1532, at a convent in Schweinfurt, as a public confession; it was signed by Lutheran divines at Smalcald, 1537; it was used at the religious conference at Worms, 1540, and embodied in the various editions of the Confession, and at last in the Book of Concord, 1580.
The text of the Apology has, like that of the Confession, gone through various transformations, which are used by Bossuet and other Romanists as proofs of the changeableness of Protestantism. The original draught made at Augsburg has no authority, as it was based on fragmentary notes of Camerarius and others who heard the Confutation read on the 3d of August.985 The first Latin edition was much enlarged and improved; the German translation was prepared by Justus Jonas, assisted by Melanchthon, but differs widely from the Latin.986 Both were published together with the Augsburg Confession in October, 1531. Changes were made in subsequent editions, both of the Latin original and the German translation, especially in the edition of 1540. Hence there is an Apologia invariata and an Apologia variata, as well as a Confessio invariata and a Confessio variata. The Book of Concord took both texts from the first edition.987
§ 121. The Tetrapolitan Confession. I. Editions. The Latin text was first printed at Strassburg (Argentoratum), a.d. 1531, Sept. (21 leaves); then in the Corpus et Syntagma Confess. (1612 and 1654); in Augusti’s Corpus libr. symb. (1827), p. 327 sqq.; and in Niemeyer’s Collect. Confess. (1840), p. 740–770; Comp. Proleg., p. LXXXIII.
The German text appeared first at Strassburg, Aug. 1531 (together with the Apology, 72 leaves); then again, 1579, ed. by John Sturm, but was suppressed by the magistrate, 1580; at Zweibrücken, 1604; in Beck’s Symbol. Bücher, vol. I., p. 401 sq.; in Böckel’s Bekenntniss-Schriften der evang. reform. Kirche (1847), p. 363 sq.
II. Gottl. Wernsdorff: Historia Confessionis Tetrapolitanae, Wittenb. 1694, ed. IV. 1721. Schelhorn: Amaenitates Litter., Tom. VI., Francf. 1727. J. H. FELS: Dissert. de varia Confess. Tetrapolitanae fortuna praesertim in civitate Lindaviensi, Götting. 1755. Planck: Geschichte des protest. Lehrbegriffs, vol. III., Part I. (second ed. 1796), pp. 68–94. J. W. Röhrich: Geschichte der evangel. Kirche des Elsasses. Strassburg, 1855, 3 vols. J. W. Baum: Capito und Butzer (Elberf. 1860), p. 466 sqq. and 595. Schaff: Creeds, I. 524–529.
The Tetrapolitan Confession, also called the Strassburg and the Swabian Confession, is the oldest confession of the Reformed Church in Germany, and represented the faith of four imperial cities, Strassburg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau, which at that time sympathized with Zwingli and the Swiss, rather than Luther, on the doctrine of the sacraments.
It was prepared in great haste, during the sessions of the Diet of Augsburg, by Bucer, with the aid of Capito and Hedio, in the name of those four cities (hence the name) which were excluded by the Lutherans from their political and theological conferences, and from the Protestant League. They would greatly have preferred to unite with them, and to sign the Augsburg Confession, with the exception of the tenth article on the eucharist, but were forbidden. The Landgrave Philip of Hesse was the only one who, from a broad, statesmanlike view of the critical situation, favored a solid union of the Protestants against the common foe, but in vain.
Hence, after the Lutherans had presented their Confession June 25, and Zwingli his own July 8, the four cities handed theirs, July 11, to the Emperor in German and Latin. It was received very ungraciously, and not allowed to be read before the Diet; but a confutation full of misrepresentations was prepared by Faber, Eck, and Cochlaeus, and read Oct. 24 (or 17). The Strassburg divines were not even favored with a copy of this confutation, but procured one secretly, and answered it by a "Vindication and Defense" in the autumn of 1531.
The Tetrapolitan Confession consists of twenty-three chapters, besides preface and conclusion. It is in doctrine and arrangement closely conformed to the Lutheran Confession, and breathes the same spirit of moderation, but is more distinctly Protestant. This appears at once in the first chapter (On the Matter of Preaching), in the declaration that nothing should be taught in the pulpit but what was either expressly contained in the Holy Scriptures, or fairly deduced therefrom. (The Lutheran Confession is silent on the supreme authority of the Scriptures.) The evangelical doctrine of justification is stated in the third and fourth chapters more clearly than by Melanchthon; namely, that we are justified not by works of our own, but solely by the grace of God and the merits of Christ, through a living faith, which is active in love, and productive of good works. Images are rejected in Chap. XXII.
The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Chap. XVIII.) is couched in dubious language, which was intended to comprehend in substance the Lutheran and the Zwinglian theories, and accords with the union tendency of Bucer. But it contains the germ of the Calvinistic view. In this ordinance, it is said, Christ offers to his followers, as truly now as at the institution, his very body and blood as spiritual food and drink, whereby their souls are nourished to everlasting life. Nothing is said of the oral manducation and the participation of unbelievers, which are the distinctive features of the Lutheran view. Bucer, who had attended the Conference at Marburg in 1529, labored with great zeal afterwards to bring about a doctrinal compromise between the contending theories, but without effect.
The Tetrapolitan Confession was soon superseded by the clearer and more logical confessions of the Calvinistic type. The four cities afterwards signed the Lutheran Confession to join the Smalcald League. But Bucer himself remained true to his union creed, and reconfessed it in his last will and testament (1548) and on his death-bed.
§ 122. Zwingli’s Confession to the Emperor Charles. Ad Carolum Boni. Imperatorem, Germaniae comitia Augustae celebrantem Fidei Huldrychi Zwinglii Ratio (Rechenschaft). Anno MDXXX. Mense Julio. Vincat veritas. In the same year a German translation appeared in Zürich, and in 1543 an English translation. See Niemeyer, Collect. Conf., p. XXVI. and 16 sqq. Böckel: Bekenntnissschriften der reform. Kirche, p. 40. sqq. Mörikofer: U. Zwingli, vol. II. p. 297 sqq. Christoffel: U. Z., vol. II. p. 237 sqq. Schaff: Creeds, I. 366 sqq.
Zwingli took advantage of the meeting of the Diet of Augsburg, to send a confession of his faith, addressed to the German Emperor, Charles V., shortly after the Lutheran princes had presented theirs. It is dated Zürich, July 3, 1530, and was delivered by his messenger at Augsburg on the 8th of the same month; but it shared the same fate as the "Tetrapolitan Confession." It was treated with contempt, and never laid before the Diet. Dr. Eck wrote in three days a refutation, charging Zwingli that for ten years he had labored to root out from the people of Switzerland all faith and all religion, and to stir them up against the magistrate; that he had caused greater devastation among them than the Turks, Tartars, and Huns; that he had turned the churches and convents founded by the Habsburgers (the Emperor’s ancestors) into temples of Venus and Bacchus; and that he now completed his criminal career by daring to appear before the Emperor with such an impudent piece of writing.
The Lutherans (with the exception of Philip of Hesse) were scarcely less indignant, and much more anxious to conciliate the Catholics than to appear in league with Zwinglians and Anabaptists. They felt especially offended that the Swiss Reformer took strong ground against the corporal presence, and incidentally alluded to them as persons who "were looking back to the flesh-pots of Egypt." Melanchthon judged him insane.
Zwingli, having had no time to consult with his confederates, offered the Confession in his own name, and submitted it to the judgment of the whole church of Christ, under the guidance of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
In the first sections he declares, as clearly as and even more explicitly than the Lutheran Confession, his faith in the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the Person of Christ, as laid down in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds (which are expressly named). He teaches the election by free grace, the sole and sufficient satisfaction by Christ, and justification by faith, in opposition to all human mediators and meritorious works. He distinguishes between the internal or invisible, and the external or visible, church. The former is the company of the elect believers and their children, and is the bride of Christ; the latter embraces all nominal Christians and their children, and is beautifully described in the parable of the ten virgins, of whom five were foolish. The word "church" may also designate a single congregation, as the church in Rome, in Augsburg, in Leyden. The true church can never err in the foundation of faith. Purgatory he rejects as an injurious fiction, which sets Christ’s merits at naught. On original sin, the salvation of unbaptized infants, and the sacraments, he departs much farther from the traditional theology than the Lutherans. He goes into a lengthy argument against the corporal presence in the eucharist. On the other hand, however, he protests against being confounded with the Anabaptists, and rejects their views on infant baptism, civil offices, the sleep of the soul, and universal salvation.
The document is frank and bold, yet dignified and courteous, and concludes thus: "Hinder not, ye children of men, the spread and growth of the Word of God. Ye can not forbid the grass to grow. Ye must see that this plant is richly blessed from heaven. Consider not your own wishes, but the demands of the age concerning the free course of the gospel. Take these words kindly, and show by your deeds that you are children of God."