Augsburg Confession

Were the Lutheran leaders still Catholic? That was the question behind the imperial summons. The evangelicals, or Lutherans, came to Augsburg to find a path forward within the Roman Catholic church. They left with a resolve to forge a new path.

Martin Luther the monk had nailed his list of 95 discussion points on the church door 13 years earlier. Luther had been ministering under a death sentence for almost nine years. Thus, when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V summoned the Lutherans in 1530 to submit their teachings for examination, Philip Melanchthon was the spokesman. He came prepared for a scholarly discussion, but the papal representative came with 404 challenges against the Lutherans, Four Hundred Four Articles for the Imperial Diet at Augsburg. The accusations coupled Lutheran teachings with a variety of other protestant teachings of the moment. Thus, Melanchthon and his team were saddled with non-orthodox statements such as “The opinion that there are just four Gospels and just four evangelists ought to be done away with. Brunfels.”

Melanchthon had planned to defend reforms such as allowing the laity to share the cup during communion and the use of the German language in worship. Instead, he felt compelled to prepare a detailed presentation of Lutheran teaching, twenty-one articles on doctrinal topics and seven articles on reform efforts. Pressed for time, Melanchthon combined earlier collaborative writings from Torgau, Schwabach, and Marburg. He expressed his intent using words directly from the imperial summons: “to hear, understand, and consider with love and graciousness everyone’s judgment, opinion, and beliefs among us, to unite the same in agreement on one Christian truth…so that all of us can accept and preserve a single, true religion. Inasmuch as we are all enlisted under one Christ, we are all to live together in one communion and in one church” (Preface). Charles V required a Latin copy of the Lutheran statement in addition to the German version. The Latin preface provides the title for the Lutheran confessions, twice utilizing the term “concord”: “Everything could be brought together and returned to one single truth and to Christian concord…. For just as we exist and fight under one Christ, so we may also be able to live in one Christian church in unity and concord” (Preface, emphasis added). Thus, the Book of Concord.

England’s King Henry VIII was invited to sign the Augsburg Confession in 1536, but he declined. In 1540 John Calvin signed a revised version of the Augsburg Confession, prepared by Philip Melanchthon. However, the last document in the Book of Concord leaned on the original, or Unaltered Augsburg Confession, from 1530.

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About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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