A Laymen’s Commentary on the Augsburg Confession: Preface

Note: This is the second series of posts providing commentary on the Book of Concord adapted from my Lutheran Essentials Class Notes.  I pray they are edifying and aid in the reading of the Book of Concord.  Scriptural citations are inspired by the Reader’s Edition to the Book of Concord.  The quotes from the Book of Concord are from the Book of Concord website.  You can find the first series on the Large Catechism here.

The Augsburg Confession

The Confession of Faith which was submitted to His Imperial Majesty Charles V at the Diet of Augsburg in the year 1530 by certain princes and cities

I will speak of thy testimonies before kings, and will not be put to shame.Psalm 119:46

Preface to the Emperor Charles V.

1] Most Invincible Emperor, Caesar Augustus, Most Clement Lord: Inasmuch as Your Imperial Majesty has summoned a Diet of the Empire here at Augsburg to deliberate concerning measures against the Turk, that most atrocious, hereditary, and ancient enemy of the Christian name and religion, in what way, namely, effectually to withstand his furor and assaults by strong and lasting military provision; 2] and then also concerning dissensions in the matter of our holy religion and Christian Faith, that in this matter of religion the opinions and judgments of the parties might be heard in each other’s presence; and considered and weighed 3] among ourselves in mutual charity, leniency, and kindness, in order that, after the removal and correction of such things as have been treated and understood in a different manner in the writings on either side, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian concord, 4] that for the future one pure and true religion may be embraced and maintained by us, that as we all are under one Christ and do battle under Him, so we may be able also to live in unity and concord in the one Christian Church.

The purpose of the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 was to talk about the Turk and the divisions in doctrine across the Empire.  The Turks, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, were at the doors of Vienna and had previously laid siege to the city in 1529 but failed to take it.  Charles V knew that he could not raise a cohesive army if the religious issues were not settled. Thus the calling of the Diet of Augsburg. The Lutheran princes understood this and frankly wanted to help both against the Turk and to strive for unity of doctrine.  They knew that unity in faith and politics was crucial to success against the Turks (Psalm 24).

And inasmuch as we, the undersigned Elector and 5] Princes, with others joined with us, have been called to the aforesaid Diet the same as the other Electors, Princes, and Estates, in obedient compliance with the Imperial mandate, we have promptly come to Augsburg, and—what we do not mean to say as boasting—we were among the first to be here.

6] Accordingly, since even here at Augsburg at the very beginning of the Diet, Your Imperial Majesty caused to be proposed to the Electors, Princes, and other Estates of the Empire, amongst other things, that the several Estates of the Empire, on the strength of the Imperial edict, should set forth and submit their opinions and judgments in the German and the Latin 7] language, and since on the ensuing Wednesday, answer was given to Your Imperial Majesty, after due deliberation, that we would submit the Articles of our Confession for our side on next Wednesday, therefore, in obedience to Your Imperial Majesty’s 8] wishes, we offer, in this matter of religion, the Confession of our preachers and of ourselves, showing what manner of doctrine from the Holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God has been up to this time set forth in our lands, dukedoms, dominions, and cities, and taught in our churches.

9] And if the other Electors, Princes, and Estates of the Empire will, according to the said Imperial proposition, present similar writings, to wit, in Latin and German, giving their opinions in this 10] matter of religion, we, with the Princes and friends aforesaid, here before Your Imperial Majesty, our most clement Lord are prepared to confer amicably concerning all possible ways and means, in order that we may come together, as far as this may be honorably done, and, the matter between us on both sides being peacefully discussed without offensive strife, the dissension, by God’s help, may be done away and brought back to one true accordant 11] religion; for as we all are under one Christ and do battle under Him, we ought to confess the one Christ, after the tenor of Your Imperial Majesty’s edict, and everything ought to be conducted according to the truth of God; and this it is what, with most fervent prayers, we entreat of God.

The Lutherans wanted to show that they were not being schismatic and were obeying the Emperor’s commands.  As such the Lutherans put together the Augsburg Confession as a confession of their faith, showing that they were catholic Christians.  This need for a clear confession was due to the accusations, especially by Johann Eck, that the Lutherans were just as bad as the Reformed and the Anabaptists.  Thus the Confession was prepared to both distance themselves from these schismatics as well as show where the Roman church had gone wrong.  While Lutheran theologians prepared the Augsburg Confession, it is the laymen that were presenting and subscribing to the Confession. These Lutheran princes are more than willing to debate and discuss resolution between Rome and the Lutherans.  This is because in order to do battle together they need to have unity of faith (Exodus 15:1-21).  Thus there is great care by the Reformers to preserve the faith and not be schismatic.

12] However, as regards the rest of the Electors, Princes, and Estates, who constitute the other part, if no progress should be made, nor some result be attained by this treatment of the cause of religion after the manner in which Your Imperial Majesty has wisely held that it should be dealt with and treated namely, by such mutual presentation of writings and calm conferring together among ourselves, 13] we at least leave with you a clear testimony, that we here in no wise are holding back from anything that could bring about Christian concord,—such as could be effected with God and a good conscience,—as 14] also Your Imperial Majesty and, next, the other Electors and Estates of the Empire, and all who are moved by sincere love and zeal for religion, and who will give an impartial hearing to this matter, will graciously deign to take notice and to understand this from this Confession of ours and of our associates.

To those who are not willing to be swayed by discussion and debate, the Augsburg Confession is at least a clear testimony about what the Lutherans believed in the face of false accusations.  No one could mistake what the Lutheran princes believed and what their clergy taught.  Thus all could see that what they held to was and remains the catholic faith, and that they were above reproach with respect to their fidelity to that faith.

15] Your Imperial Majesty also, not only once but often, graciously signified to the Electors Princes, and Estates of the Empire, and at the Diet of Spires held A.D. 1526, according to the form of Your Imperial instruction and commission given and prescribed, caused it to be stated and publicly proclaimed that 16] Your Majesty, in dealing with this matter of religion, for certain reasons which were alleged in Your Majesty’s name, was not willing to decide and could not determine anything, but that Your Majesty would diligently use Your Majesty’s office with the Roman Pontiff for the convening of a General Council. 17] The same matter was thus publicly set forth at greater length a year ago at the last Diet which met at Spires. 18] There Your Imperial Majesty, through His Highness Ferdinand, King of Bohemia and Hungary, our friend and clement Lord, as well as through the Orator and Imperial Commissioners caused this, among other things, to be submitted: that Your Imperial Majesty had taken notice of; and pondered, the resolution of Your Majesty’s Representative in the Empire, and of the President and Imperial Counselors, and the Legates from other Estates convened at Ratisbon, 19] concerning the calling of a Council, and that your Imperial Majesty also judged it to be expedient to convene a Council; and that Your Imperial Majesty did not doubt the Roman Pontiff could be induced to 20] hold a General Council, because the matters to be adjusted between Your Imperial Majesty and the Roman Pontiff were nearing agreement and Christian reconciliation; therefore Your Imperial Majesty himself signified that he would endeavor to secure the said Chief Pontiff’s consent for convening, together with your Imperial Majesty such General Council, to be published as soon as possible by letters that were to be sent out.

21] If the outcome, therefore, should be such that the differences between us and the other parties in the matter of religion should not be amicably and in charity settled, then here, before Your Imperial Majesty we make the offer in all obedience, in addition to what we have already done, that we will all appear and defend our cause in such a general, free Christian Council, for the convening of which there has always been accordant action and agreement of votes in all the Imperial Diets held during Your Majesty’s reign, on the part of the Electors, Princes, and other Estates of the Empire. 22] To the assembly of this General Council, and at the same time to Your Imperial Majesty, we have, even before this, in due manner and form of law, addressed ourselves and made appeal in this matter, by far the greatest and gravest. To this 23] appeal, both to Your Imperial Majesty and to a Council, we still adhere; neither do we intend nor would it be possible for us, to relinquish it by this or any other document, unless the matter between us and the other side, according to the tenor of the latest Imperial citation should be amicably and charitably settled, allayed, and brought to Christian concord; 24] and regarding this we even here solemnly and publicly testify.

Charles V had called for a General Council to settle things so that he could face the Turks with a unified Germany.  However, the Pope had delayed calling the council repeatedly.  Here the Reformers call yet again for a General Council.  This council would eventually be convened as the Council of Trent but would not take place until 1545, 15 years later.  Even then the Lutherans were not invited to defend their position.  The Reformers had always wanted to work within the system and reform the Church, even up to when they were forced out.  It was never the intention of the Lutheran princes or theologians to start a new Church.

After the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession the Emperor had his theologians prepare a response.  This response was read in public to the Lutheran princes but a physical copy was not given to them.  Fortunately several in their midst were good stenographers and took down word for word the response, known as the Confutation.  Against this Philip Melanchthon composed the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (apology meaning defense).  Here is his introduction to the Apology:

The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Philip Melanchthon Presents His Greeting to the Reader.

1] After the Confession of our princes had been publicly read, certain theologians and monks prepared a confutation of our writing; and when His Imperial Majesty had caused this also to be read in the assembly of the princes, he demanded of our princes that they should assent to this Confutation.

2] But as our princes had heard that many articles were disapproved, which they could not abandon without offense to conscience, they asked that a copy of the Confutation be furnished them, that they might be able both to see what the adversaries condemned, and to refute their arguments.

And, indeed, in a cause of such importance pertaining to religion and the instruction of consciences, they thought that the adversaries would produce their writing without any hesitation [, or even offer it to us].

But this our princes could not obtain, unless on the most perilous conditions, which it was impossible for them to accept.

3] Then, too, negotiations for peace were begun, in which it was apparent that our princes declined no burden, however grievous, that could be assumed without offense to conscience. 4] But the adversaries obstinately demanded this, namely, that we should approve certain manifest abuses and errors; and as we could not do this, His Imperial Majesty again demanded that our princes should assent to the Confutation. This our princes refused to do.

For in a matter pertaining to religion, how could they assent to a writing into which they had not looked, especially, as they had heard that some articles were condemned, in which it was impossible for them, without grievous sin, to approve the opinions of the adversaries?

5] They had, however, commanded me and some others to prepare an Apology of the Confession, in which the reasons why we could not receive the Confutation should be set forth to His Imperial Majesty, and the objections made by the adversaries should be refuted. 6] For during the reading some of us had taken down the chief points 7] of the topics and arguments. This Apology they finally [at last when they took their departure from Augsburg] offered to His Imperial Majesty, that he might know that we were hindered by the greatest and most important reasons from approving the Confutation. But His Imperial Majesty did not receive the offered writing.

8] Afterwards a certain decree was published, in which the adversaries boast that they have refuted our Confession from the Scriptures.

9] You have now, therefore, reader, our Apology, from which you will understand not only what the adversaries have judged (for we have reported in good faith), but also that they have condemned several articles contrary to the manifest Scripture of the Holy Ghost so far are they from overthrowing our propositions by means of the Scriptures.

10] Now, although originally we drew up the Apology by taking counsel with others, nevertheless, as it passed through the press, I have made some additions. Wherefore I give my name, so that no one can complain that the book has been published anonymously.

11] It has always been my custom in these controversies to retain, so far as I was at all able, the form of the customarily received doctrine, in order that at some time concord could be reached the more readily. Nor, indeed, am I now departing far from this custom, although I could justly lead away the men of this age still farther from the opinions of the adversaries.

12] But the adversaries are treating the case in such a way as to show that they are seeking neither truth nor concord, but to drain our blood.

13] And now I have written with the greatest moderation possible; and if any expression appears too severe, I must say here beforehand that I am contending with the theologians and monks who wrote the Confutation, and not with the Emperor or the princes, 14] whom I hold in due esteem. But I have recently seen the Confutation, and have noticed how cunningly and slanderously it was written, so that on some points it could deceive even the cautious.

15] Yet I have not discussed all their sophistries, for it would be an endless task; but I have comprised the chief arguments, that there might be among all nations a testimony concerning us that we hold the Gospel 16] of Christ correctly and in a pious way. Discord does not delight us, neither are we indifferent to our danger; for we readily understand the extent of it in such a bitterness of hatred wherewith we see that the adversaries have been inflamed. But we cannot abandon truth that is manifest and necessary to the Church.

Wherefore we believe that troubles and dangers for the glory of Christ and the good of the Church should be endured, and we are confident that this our fidelity to duty is approved of God, and we hope that the judgment of posterity concerning us will be more just.

17] For it is undeniable that many topics of Christian doctrine whose existence in the Church is of the greatest moment have been brought to view by our theologians and explained; in reference to which we are not disposed here to recount under what sort of opinions, and how dangerous, they formerly lay covered in the writings of the monks, canonists, and sophistical theologians. [This may have to be done later.]

18] We have the public testimonials of many good men, who give God thanks for this greatest blessing, namely, that concerning many necessary topics it has taught better things than are read everywhere in the books of our adversaries.

19] We shall commend our cause, therefore, to Christ, who some time will judge these controversies, and we beseech Him to look upon the afflicted and scattered churches, and to bring them back to godly and perpetual concord. [Therefore, if the known and clear truth is trodden under foot, we will resign this cause to God and Christ in heaven, who is the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows and of all the forsaken, who (as we certainly know) will judge and pass sentence upon this cause aright. Lord Jesus Christ it is Thy holy Gospel, it is Thy cause; look Thou upon the many troubled hearts and consciences, and maintain and strengthen in Thy truth Thy churches and little flocks, who suffer anxiety and distress from the devil. Confound all hypocrisy and lies, and grant peace and unity, so that Thy glory may advance, and Thy kingdom, strong against all the gates of hell, may continually grow and increase.]

In our commentary on the Augsburg Confession we will be referring to both the Confutation and the Apology where appropriate.  While we will not look at the Confutation in detail we will highlight specific passages of the Apology that deal with issues the Confutation raises and to further illuminate the text of the Augsburg Confession.  For a fuller presentation of the arguments we invite the reader to read both the full Confutation and Apology.  However in our commentary here we will only present the pieces of the Apology that give the sense of what Melancthon is arguing.  To this day the Apology of the Augsburg Confession remains unrefuted.

1 Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.

2 Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing your praise eternally.

3 O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

(LSB 655)

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