Augsburg Confession of Faith

Augsburg Confession of Faith
   The Augsburg Confession of Faith of 1530 was the first major Protestant creedal statement. It aimed to reconcile differences between reformers, and find common ground with Roman Catholics as well. At least that was the hope of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who came to Germany with the stated goal of resolving the Lutheran-Catholic split that had developed in the previous decade. At that time, Muslim Turkish forces still threatened central Europe, and Charles hoped to create a united Christian front.
   A more limited Protestant statement had been drafted in 1529, called the Schwabach Articles. It was designed as a common Protestant position around which a political union of German princes could be created. In the interim, Roman Catholic theologian John Eck had circulated a document accusing the Lutherans of more than 400 heretical positions, and a response was deemed necessary. At Augsburg, Philip Melancthon assumed the tasks of reconciling positions adopted by different reformers; affirming Protestant allegiance to the faith of the ancient church as articulated by the ecumenical councils of the fourth through seventh centuries; clarifying what was distinctive in
   Protestant beliefs (and hence Reformation demands); and mollifying Roman Catholics as much as possible. The text was prepared in Latin and German and was read before the imperial court on June 30.
   The confession opens with an affirmation of the Nicene Creed and a condemnation of the recognized heresies. An early paragraph strongly affirms justification by faith. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is supported, but not the sacrificial nature of the Mass. Toward the end, the document presents the Lutheran positions on clerical celibacy, giving the cup to the laity during the Eucharist, and the disregard of monastic vows. There is no mention of purgatory or the universal priesthood of believers. In effect, the confession separated Lutherans from both the Anabaptists and the followers of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich, Switzerland.
   There is no separate article on the authority of the Bible, but every Lutheran position is justified by biblical references. "Article 28 On Ecclesiastical Power" attacks the development of tradition beyond biblical sources.
   Following the reading of the Augsburg Confession, the emperor had Catholic authorities, including Eck, draw up a counterstatement, which was read on August 3, 1530. At that point, the emperor rejected the Protestant position. Though he ordered that the confession not be published, copies were already in circulation. In addition, Melancthon wrote a lengthy Apology answering the Roman Catholic attack on the confession. Charles gave the Protestants until February 1531 to return to the Catholic fold.
   The Augsburg Confession is still definitive to Lutherans and Lutheran churches worldwide. In 1580, the confession, Melancthon's Apology, and some subsequent doctrinal statements were gathered together with the ancient creeds of the Ecumenical Church into the Book of Concord, the ultimate statement of Lutheran belief. Today, Lutherans disagree on the literalness with which one must accept the Augsburg Confession and the Book of Concord.
   Further reading:
   ■ The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans. from German and Latin and ed. by Theodore G. Tappert in collaboration with Jaroslav Pelikan, Robert H. Fischer, and Arthur C. Piepkorn (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959) - one of several English editions available
   ■ Eric Gritschand and Robert Jenson, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976)
   ■ Wilhelm Maurer, Historical Commentary on the Augsburg Confession (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986)
   ■ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994)
   ■ David Scaer, Getting into the Story of Concord: A History of the Book of Concord (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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