Augsburg Confession

In 1529 - 30 The Emperor, Charles V, finally made his way to Germany  having reconciled himself with Francis I of France, the Pope and seen the Turks turn back from the eastern borders. He now envisaged the completion of his work - the extirpation of Luther and Lutheranism decreed in the Edict of Worms. But even here he had a nagging doubt because the focal point for Protestantism was in Saxony. Anywhere else in his Empire it would have been much easier, even instant obedience. But  in Germany he had to consult the will of others and this caused him to call another Diet at Augsburg.

At Piacenza on 12 September 1529 Charles received three  burgesses from Germany - John Ehinger, Burgormaster of Memmingen; Michael Caden, Syndic of Nuremberg; and Alexis Frauentrat, Secretary to the margrave of Brandenburg. Their task was to inform the Emperor of developments in Germany since he left in 1521, and bring him up to date for the coming Diet at Augsburg. They were warned prior not to preach Protestantism to the Emperor, so it was with trepidation they related the events at the Diet of Speyers, the Edict of Toleration in 1526,and the Protestation against its virtual repeal by the Protestant Lords in 1529. Charles dismissed the ambassadors and said that he would intimate the Imperial will in writing. On 13 October he wrote of his determination to enforce the decision of the Diet of Worms and had written to the Duke of Saxony  commanding his obedience or he would be punished. The ambassadors were ordered to be arrested but before they were, Caden managed to write a note of what had happened and despatched it by trusted messenger to the Senate at Nuremberg. They were taken as prisoners by Charles V as he made his way to see the Pope in Bologna.


In Germany the news sent by Caden caused great consternation, amounting as it did  to a declaration of war. The Elector of Saxony and Philip of Hesse called a meeting of the Protestant princes at Schmalkald on 29 November 1529. The meeting was enlivened when the three ambassadors appeared, two had been released - Cader having escaped, and gave a full account of what had happened to them.

The need for unity was recognised right away but the meeting chose to debate the  religious issues first then the matter of defence. A change in the Lutheran stance to the eucharist had been made that affirmed that the  very body and blood  of Christ are present in the sacrament. This was an unacceptable change to some supporters of Zwingli. This meant that signature  would produce a league that was not only Protestant, but Lutheran. Division was inevitable and the Lutheran supporters were called to a further meeting in Nuremberg. The change in Luther`s stance was largely due to his abhorrence of war and the decay that inevitably followed. Philip of Hesse ( a Zwingli supporter) made the point that the difference in opinion over consubstantiation did not touch the foundations of Christianity or endanger  the salvation of the soul, and ought not to divide the Church of God.

In Italy Charles mulled over the options of the sword or a Council to resolve issues. In the event he favoured Council (Pope Clement not so) as it gave the opportunity to negotiate a compromise with the Protestants. That would, he thought, enable him to have the ongoing threat of Lutheranism on a leash to use when and if necessary against an ambitious Papacy. Charles issued a summons for the Diet of Augsburg to meet on 8 April  1530 for a decisive trial of strength. A vast crowd descended on Augsburg for the Diet and with it the opportunity for churches to be opened to spread the Reformed Word. A favourite hymn at this time was Luther`s  "A strong Tower is our God" while the Papists were astounded at the Lutherans and the extent of the support that was on display.

The Elector of Saxony discerned the need for some systematised, accurate  and authoritative statement of the Protestant doctrines to present to the Diet. Accordingly in March 1530 he ordered it drawn up and Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas and Pomeranus  jointly undertook the task. They produced seventeen articles which were delivered to the Elector at Torgau - hence the "Torgau Articles". They were subsequently remodelled by Melanchthon so that they might be read to the Diet. Notably he sought compromise and tried hard to narrow the differences as much as possible. Approving of the final draft, Luther  said

"it pleases me right well, and I know not how to better  or alter anything in it, and will not hazard the attempt.; for I cannot tread so softly  and gently."

It was on 15 June 1530 at about nine in the evening that Charles finally entered Augsburg in all his pomp and majesty. Luther meanwhile, stayed in Coburg Castle, calmly working on a translation of Aesops Fables and the works of the minor prophets. Many attempts were made to humble the Lutheran princes and the ministers, including an invitation to march in the Corpus Christi celebrations. But they declined, observing that the body of Christ was in the Sacrament, not to be worshipped but fed on faith. This upset the Papal legate and bruised the Emperor`s feelings but there was no alternative but to accept the slight since marching in such ceremonies was not a duty owed to him. They next sought to ban the Protestant preaching and sermons but agreed only to suspend them while the senate was in session. Finally the Diet met on 20 June preceded by a solemn mass - another attempt to humble the Lutheran princes. The Elector took counsel and fulfilled his duty carrying the sword of the Emperor before him, as if a civil ceremony, and stood upright  before the altar  when the host was elevated. This was followed by an over the top, harangue by the papal Nuncio  in which he urged

" Sharpen thy sword O magnanimous prince and smite these opposers [ of mother Church ] . Peace there will never be in Germnay  till this heresy  shall have been utterly extirpated."

The work load in the Diet fell on Melanchthon who was bowed down under the unending pressure of meetings, discussions, devising rebuttals , schemes and maintaining the momentum of the Protestant cause. In this Luther counselled him to have Faith,  that alone would see him through.

"If we fall, Christ falls with us - that is to say the Master of the world. I would rather fall with Christ than remain standing with Caesar."

On the morning of 23 June 1530 the Protestants princes met, and led by the Elector of Saxony signed the statement of Doctrine - their Confession of Faith. They further resolved to insist on its reading in the Diet since they anticipated hurdles would be strewn in their way by the papists. This began the next day with an attempt to filibuster - `to talk it out`, by the ramblings of the Papal Legate. But the Lords Insisted on reading the Confession, and a venue was appointed for the 25 June in the small Palatinate Chapel that could only hold about two hundred persons - an attempt to control publicity. Finally, and notably in the absence of Campeggio, the Papal Legate, (who was off preparing  a decree for Rome disapproving of the Diet hearing the religious question) the Protestants had their say.

Notably the final Declaration or Confession was again crafted by Melanchthon to avoid, so far as possible, confrontation with the papists and other sects. Criticisms were largely omitted so that the focus was clearly about the Protestant beliefs founded solely on the Word of God. It took two hours to present to a large assembly of the princes, nobles, and  representatives, so it seems, of the whole of Europe. It was a dramatic staging and a pivotal moment in the Reformation, yet was the forerunner for further refutation by the Papists, another response by the Protestants and the Emperor reaching for the sword. Luther died in 1546 before the Schmalkald War broke out in the following year.

The heads of the document were:

The Chief Articles of Faith

Original Sin
The Son of God
The Ministry
New Obedience
The Church
What the Church Is
The Lord's Supper
The Use of the Sacraments
Ecclesiastical Order
Ecclesiastical Usages
Civil Affairs
Christ's Return to Judgment
Free Will
The Cause of Sin
Good Works
The Worship of the Saints

Abuses Corrected

Both Kinds in the Sacrament
The Marriage of Priests
The Mass
Distinction of Foods
Monastic Vows
Ecclesiastical Power


Text of the Augsburg Confession: pdf file

 [Courtesy of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod  on their web site  ]

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