A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: God

Article I: Of God.

1] Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; 2] that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and 3] yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “person” 4] they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

The Augsburg Confession starts with the most fundamental question of faith: Who is God?  The answer given shows right off the bat that the Reformers were not departing from orthodoxy.  Rather they upheld the same faith that was confessed in the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.  As such they define God in the same way.  There is only one God and no other (Nehemiah 9).  Also there are three Persons in the Godhead (Matthew 28:16-20).  Thus we have the definition of the Trinity, One God yet Three Persons.  This is not person as we normally think of it but the Greek word Hypostasis which means concrete substantive being.  It is critical to recognize that person is distinct from essence, as else you will be confessing one of various Trinitarian heresies.  This is all best described in the Athanasian Creed.

With this confession the Reformers wish to show that they are in line with orthodox, catholic teaching.  That they hold to the three Ecumenical Creeds. They want to show that they are not schismatics but believe what the Church has always taught and held.

5] They condemn all heresies which have sprung up against this article, as the Manichaeans, who assumed two principles, one Good and the other Evil: also the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and all such. 6] They condemn also the Samosatenes, old and new, who, contending that there is but one Person, sophistically and impiously argue that the Word and the Holy Ghost are not distinct Persons, but that “Word” signifies a spoken word, and “Spirit” signifies motion created in things.

In its presentation the Augsburg Confession follows a thesis, anti-thesis approach.  This clarifies doctrine and makes it impossible to misinterpret.  It also makes it clear that the Lutheran Reformers want nothing to do with these heresies (Titus 3:1-11).  The heresies they condemn are as follows:

Manichaeans: Taught by Mani (216-276).  Gnostic Dualism, that there is a good power and an evil power and each were of equal strength.  Also taught that the spiritual was good and the material was evil.

Valentinians: Taught by Valentinus (100-180).  Form of gnosticism merged with Christianity. Included an unknowable godhead (the father), aeons (the son and spirit).  The gnostic gospels (i.e. Thomas, Judas, Mary Magdalene) come from this and other gnostic sects.

Arians: Taught by Arius (250-336). The son was the first creation and is not God.  Most prevalent of all early church heresies, almost consumed the entire church.  The modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, after a fashion, hold this.

Eunomians: Taught by Eunomius (393).  An extreme form of Arianism. Stated that the son is wholly different than the father.

Muslims: Taught by Mohammed (570-632). Denies the Trinity, says that Jesus is just a man and a prophet.

Samosatenes: Taught by Paul of Samosata (200-275).  The father is the only real god, the other persons are just names for things the father does.

There are so many such heresies against the Trinity that the Reformers only name a few. All such heresies are rightly and justly condemned by the Reformers.  The Confutation has no issue with Article I.  Which is good as it is exactly what the Three Ecumenical Creeds say.

1 We all believe in one true God,
Who created earth and heaven,
The Father, who to us in love
Has the right of children given.
He both soul and body feeds us;
All we need His hand provides us;
Through all snares and perils leads us,
Watching that no harm betide us.
He cares for us day and night;
All things are governed by His might.

2 We all believe in Jesus Christ,
His own Son, our Lord, possessing
An equal Godhead, throne, and might,
Source of ev’ry grace and blessing;
Born of Mary, virgin mother,
By the power of the Spirit,
Word made flesh, our elder brother;
That the lost might life inherit,
Was crucified for all our sin
And raised by God to life again.

3 We all confess the Holy Ghost,
Who, in highest heaven dwelling
With the Father and the Son,
Comforts us beyond all telling;
Who the Church, His own creation,
Keeps in unity of spirit.
Here forgiveness and salvation
Daily come through Jesus’ merit.
All flesh shall rise, and we shall be
In bliss with God eternally.

Amen, amen.

(LSB 954)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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