Augsburg Confession – Article 21 – Worship of the Saints

Article 21 (misprinted as 22) of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 20, click here.)

Regarding the worship of saints, this is what our men teach: We should remember the saints so that we strengthen our faith when we see how grace was given to them and how they were helped through faith. In addition, we may glean examples of good works from them, each one according to his calling, just as the Imperial Majesty1 may follow David’s example in a blessed and godly way in waging war against the Turks, since both men occupy the position of kingship, which fosters the defense and protection of their subjects. No proof can be found in Scripture, however, that we should call on the saints or look to them for help.2 For there is only a single conciliator and mediator placed between God and humans, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2), who is the only Savior, the only High Priest, mercy seat,3 and intercessor before God (Romans 8). And he alone has promised to hear and answer our prayers. That is also the best worship that can be rendered to God according to Scripture, that we seek out and call on this Jesus Christ from the heart in all needs and concerns: “If anyone sins, we have someone who is righteous who intercedes with God, namely Jesus, etc.” (1 John 2).4

This is basically the essence of the doctrine that is preached and taught in our churches for proper Christian instruction and comfort of consciences, and for the betterment of believers. So too, we would never have any desire to put our own souls and consciences into the worst and gravest danger before God by misusing the divine name or Word, nor to leave or bequeath to our children and descendants any other doctrine than what conforms to the pure divine Word and Christian truth. Since then this doctrine is clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and, in addition, is not contrary or opposed to that of ordinary Christian churches, yes, even of Roman churches, so far as can be determined from the writings of the Fathers, we accordingly hold that our opponents cannot disagree with us in the above-cited articles. Therefore those who take it upon themselves to remove, reject, and avoid our teachers as heretics without any firm basis in divine command or scripture are acting most unkind, harsh, and contrary to all Christian unity and love. For the dissension and strife is mostly over certain traditions and abuses. Now then, since nothing can be found lacking or unfounded in the chief articles, and this confession of ours is godly and Christian, the bishops should in all fairness demonstrate more leniency, even if there might be something lacking in tradition among us, although we hope to furnish firm grounds and reasons why certain traditions and abuses have been changed among us.5

(To continue to Article 22, click here.)

Notes

1 Namely, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the most prominent member in the audience when the Augsburg Confession was first delivered

2 Informed Roman Catholics will often defend their prayers to the departed saints by saying that they address the saints the same way that we address fellow believers when we ask them to pray for us. The response to this is threefold:

  1. We simply do not have any promise from God that the departed saints hear us or take an interest in our lives. In fact, in the passages of Scripture that might speak to such a relationship, the opposite impression is given (e.g. Isaiah 63:15,16, where two of the chief saints of the Old Testament are described as not knowing or acknowledging the living people of God, as opposed to God himself, who does know and care; and Luke 16:22-31, where the formerly rich man in hell is described as worrying about his relatives still living on earth, while Abraham and Lazarus in heaven are not so described).
  2. The way Roman Catholics address the saints is simply not the same way we address fellow believers when we ask them to pray for us. When we ask fellow believers to pray for us, we are not looking to them for help, but asking them to join us in seeking help from God alone in Jesus’ name. (That Roman Catholics are actually looking to those saints for help is indicated, among other things, by the fact that many of the departed saints are labeled as “the patron saint of [music, travelers, lost causes, a certain country, etc.].”) The Roman Catholics who pray to the saints often use their prayers to the saints as a substitute for calling on God, because they view the saints as more approachable than God (as Martin Luther viewed Mary when he was a monk). God invites, urges, and commands us to call on him in many places in Scripture, while there is not a single exhortation or command in Scripture to call on the departed saints.
  3. As Melanchthon brings out in the very next sentence, the Bible explicitly says there is only one mediator between God and humans – Jesus Christ.

3 “Mercy seat” (German: Gnadenstuhl) is one of the translations of the Hebrew word כפרת, also translated “propitiatory” or “atonement cover.” First mentioned in Exodus 25:17, it was an article of gold that sat atop the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:21) and covered over the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Thus the mercy seat stood between the Law of God and the presence of God himself, represented by the pillar of cloud that was situated as if enthroned on the mercy seat, above the Ark. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), blood would be sprinkled on the front of and before the mercy seat by the high priest, thus atoning for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). This was the imagery: As God looked down from the pillar of cloud upon his law which his people had continually and daily violated, instead of seeing his broken law, he would see the blood of a substitute on the mercy seat, more precious to him than the gold of the mercy seat itself, and thus his wrath would be appeased. Jesus is the ultimate mercy seat, since his blood actually atoned for all our sin once and for all (Hebrews 9:23-26; see also 1 Peter 1:18,19).

4 For proof passages in addition to those cited by Melanchthon, see e.g. Deuteronomy 32:7-9 (remembering the saints of old in a way that calls to mind God’s promises and their fulfillment); Psalm 50:14,15; Philippians 3:17 (following the godly example of the saints); Hebrews 13:7 (same); Revelation 19:10 (where an angel forbids John to worship him, calling himself “a fellow servant with [John]” and telling him to worship God alone).

5 An English translation of Cornelius Becker’s lyric paraphrase of the first 21 articles of the Augsburg Confession, penned in 1631, is available here. It can be sung to the following hymn tunes:

  • “To Shepherds as They Watched by Night” (Puer nobis nascitur)
  • “Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain” (Herr Jesu Christ, meins)
  • “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” (Erhalt uns, Herr)
  • “Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide” (Ach bleib bei uns)
  • “Lord Jesus Christ, Be Present Now” (Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend)
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