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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

In the sense in which the author Melanchthon understood it


The

Confession is often represented as an attempt to minimise the differences between Lutherans and Romanists and exaggerate those between Lutherans and Zwinglians, and there are some grounds for the statement. Melanchthon had come back from the Diet of Speyer (1529) convinced that if the Lutherans had separated themselves more thoroughly from the cities of South Germany there would have been more chance of a working compromise, and it is only natural to expect that the idea should colour his sketch of the Lutheran position at Augsburg. Yet in the main the assertion is wrong. The distinctively Protestant conception of the spiritual priesthood of all believers inspires the whole document; and this can never be brought into real harmony with the Romanist position and claims. It is not difficult to state Romanist and Protestant doctrine in almost identical phrases, provided this one great dogmatic difference be for the moment set on one side. The conferences at Regensburg in 1541 (April 27-May 22) proved as much. No one will believe that Calvin would be inclined to minimise the differences between Protestants and Romanists, yet he voluntarily signed the Augsburg Confession, and did so, he says, in the sense in which the author (Melanchthon) understood it. This Augsburg Confession and Luther's Short Catechism are the symbolical books still in use in all Lutheran churches.

The _Augsburg Confession_ (_Confessio Augustana_) is divided into two parts, the

first expressing the views held by those who signed it, and the second stating the errors they protested against. The form and language alike show that the authors had no intention of framing an exhaustive syllabus of theological opinions or of imposing its articles as a changeless system of dogmatic truth. They simply meant to express what they united in believing. Such phrases as _our Churches teach_, _it is taught_, _such and such opinions are falsely attributed to us_, make that plain. In the first part the authors show how much they hold in common with the mediaeval Church; how they abide by the teaching of St. Augustine, the great theologian of the West; how they differ from more radical Protestants like the Zwinglians, and repudiate the teachings of the Anabaptists. The Lutheran doctrine of Justification by Faith is given very clearly and briefly in a section by itself, but it is continually referred to and shown to be the basis of many portions of their common system of belief. In the second part they state what things compel them to dissent from the views and practices of the mediaeval Church--the enforced celibacy of the clergy, the sacrificial character of the Mass, the necessity of auricular confession, monastic vows, and the confusion of spiritual and secular authority exhibited in the German episcopate.

The origin of the document was this. When the Emperor's proclamation summoning the Diet reached Saxony, Chancellor Gregory Brueck suggested that the Saxon theologians should prepare a statement of their opinions which might be presented to the Emperor if called for.(343) This was done. The theologians went to the Schwabach Articles, and Melanchthon revised them, restated them, and made them as inoffensive as he could. The document was meant to give the minimum for which the Protestants contended, and Melanchthon's conciliatory spirit shows itself throughout. It embalms at the same time some of Luther's trenchant phrases: "Christian perfection is this, to fear God sincerely; and again, to conceive great faith, and to trust assuredly that God is pacified towards us for Christ's sake; to ask, and certainly to look for, help from God in all our affairs according to our calling; and outwardly to do good works diligently, and to attend to our vocation. In these things doth true perfection and the true worship of God consist: it doth not consist in being unmarried, in going about begging, nor in wearing dirty clothes." His indifference to forms of Church government and his readiness to conserve the old appears in the sentence: "Now our meaning is not to have rule taken from the bishops; but this one thing only is requested at their hands, that they would suffer the gospel to be purely taught, and that they would relax a few observances, which cannot be observed without sin."


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