Luther Visualized 17 – Smalcald Articles

The Smalcald Articles

MS (employed in Lucas Cranach’s studio), The Eighteenth Figure, woodcut, 1534.

This figure was printed immediately above Revelation 13 in the first edition of Luther’s translation of the entire Bible (1534). That chapter first describes a seven-headed beast coming out of the sea, representing civil government in its antichristian aspect, and then a beast coming out of the earth with two horns like the Lamb but speaking like the Dragon, representing the Antichrist himself. About the second beast, the apostle John says, “He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast… And he performs great signs so that he even makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men” (Rev 13:12,13). Notice that the artist portrayed the beast out of the earth wearing a monk’s cowl and cloak, as Lucas Cranach had in the 1522 New Testament.

At first Martin Luther was befuddled and frustrated about the refusal of the pope and his legates to hear him out and to join him in reforming the church on the basis of clear testimonies of Holy Scripture. But as he continued to study Scripture, he gradually came to a realization of what or whom he was actually up against. This growing suspicion was confirmed for him when on October 10, 1520, he received the pope’s bull (official decree) threatening his excommunication if he did not retract his teachings. The next day he wrote to his friend Georg Spalatin, the elector’s court secretary: “I feel much more free now that I am made certain that the pope is the Antichrist.”

Luther most clearly articulated his views on the Antichrist in the articles of faith he prepared in 1536 in preparation for a council that Pope Paul III had convoked, to be held in Mantua, Italy, in May 1537. Elector John Frederick had asked Luther to compose the articles on the Lutherans’ behalf. He wanted Luther to distinguish between articles of faith in which they could not yield anything without committing treason against God and his Word and articles in which they could perhaps yield something for the sake of Christian love without violating God’s word. But he also asked Luther for a confession that was clearer than the Augsburg Confession with respect to the pope.

Luther finished the rough draft in December 1536 and submitted it to seven other theologians. With very few changes it was unanimously adopted (though Melanchthon gave it a somewhat qualified subscription), and the elector was also pleased with it. The council never took place during Luther’s lifetime, but the confession Luther composed still gained widespread acceptance among Lutheran theologians in the following years. It became known as the Smalcald Articles because it was circulated and read at Schmalkalden by the large number of theologians and scholars that assembled there in February 1537. Even though it was never officially discussed or accepted there due to Melanchthon’s intrigues and Luther’s illness, Johannes Bugenhagen did present it to them for their voluntary, personal subscription after official business had been concluded, and 44 men signed it in all. It received official confessional status when it was included in the Book of Concord of 1580. (You can read it online here.)

MS (employed in Cranach’s studio), The Twenty-First Figure, woodcut, 1534. This image is based on Revelation 17. The great prostitute of Babylon, representing the unfaithful element within the visible Christian church, sits upon the seven-headed, ten-horned beast (Rev 13:1-10). In her left hand she holds “a golden cup…full of abominations and the filth of her adulteries” (17:4). Note also the triple-tiered papal tiara on her head.

The Smalcald Articles stand out in at least three ways. First, Luther presents the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone as the core of Scripture from which all other scriptural doctrine emanates and radiates. Second, he also gave a clearer confession about the Lord’s Supper than even the Augsburg Confession did. And third, he also gave a clear confession about the bishop of Rome. He wrote:

[T]here stand all [the pope’s] bulls and books, in which he roars like a lion…that no Christian can be saved without being obedient and subject to him in all that he wishes, all that he says, all that he does. … All of this powerfully demonstrates that he is the true christ of the end times or Antichrist, who has opposed and exalted himself over Christ [cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4]. For he will not permit Christians to be saved apart from his power, even though his power is nothing, neither established nor commanded by God. … Finally, it is nothing but the devil himself at work when [the pope] pushes his lies about masses, purgatory, the monastic life, and human works and worship [cf. Mark 7:6-8] (which is in fact the essence of the papacy) over and against God, and condemns, kills, and harasses all Christians who do not exalt and honor this abomination of his above all things.

Lucas Cranach’s Studio, woodcut opposite Chapter 11 of Revelation in the September 1522 edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament (left) and the December 1522 edition (right). Note the difference between the beast’s crown in each.

Once Luther was convinced that the Roman papacy was the Antichrist, he wasted no time making it known in his writings and using the artist at his disposal, Lucas Cranach, to reinforce it visually. He had Cranach portray “the beast that comes up from the Abyss” with the triple-tiered papal tiara to accompany Revelation 11 in the first edition (September 1522) of his translation of the New Testament. Probably at the complaint of the Imperial Council of Regency (Reichsregiment), the papal tiara had to be replaced in the second edition (December 1522) by a simple crown.

MS (employed in Cranach’s studio), The Fifteenth Figure, woodcut, 1534. This image corresponds to Cranach’s images from 1522 above.

However, when Luther’s translation of the entire Bible was being prepared for publication in 1534, and the as-yet-unidentified MS from Cranach’s workshop was preparing woodcuts for it based in large part on Cranach’s previous woodcuts, the triple-tiered papal tiara was restored. (See image on the right.)

Christoph Walther, a proofreader and typesetter in Hans Lufft’s print shop in Wittenberg, confirmed that Luther wasn’t just responsible for the translation, but also for much of the artwork:

Luther himself dictated to some extent how the figures in the Wittenberg Bible were supposed to be depicted and portrayed, and demanded that the content of the text be portrayed and depicted in the simplest way, and he would not tolerate anything superfluous or useless that did not benefit the text getting smeared in with the rest.

Lucas Cranach’s Studio, woodcut opposite Chapter 17 of Revelation in the September 1522 edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament (left) and the December 1522 edition (right). Note the difference between the prostitute’s crown in each. These images were the basis for MS’s The Twenty-First Figure above.

Sources
Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, erster Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1825), pp. 238ff (no. 127), 419f (no. 204), 494f (no. 262)

Friedrich Bente, Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 109-138

Hans Lietzmann, Heinrich Bornkamm, et al., eds., Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955), pp. xxiv-xxvii

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 46-56

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 95-102,178-185

Stephan Füssel, Die Luther-Bibel von 1534: Ein kulturhistorische Einführung (Cologne: Taschen, 2012), pp. 43-44,61

The September (New) Testament (1522)

The December (New) Testament (1522)

Biblia / das ist / die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch: Das Newe Testament (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1534)

“Die Schmalkaldischen Artikel” in the Weimarer Ausgabe, vol. 50, pp. 160ff, esp. pp. 213ff

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A Prince’s Response to the Augsburg Interim

By Johann Friedrich the Elder (John Frederick I)
1548

UPDATE (12/8/15): The complete German original has also been included at the bottom in an attempt to counter its rare availability up to the present.

Translator’s Preface

On April 24, 1547, the Catholic princes of the Holy Roman Empire under Emperor Charles V decisively defeated the Schmalkaldic League of Lutheran princes under Elector Johann Friedrich I of Saxony and Landgrave Philip I of Hesse, at Mühlberg on the Elbe River. In the course of battle, Johann Friedrich and other Lutheran princes were captured by the Hungarian cavalry. This battle was part of a larger effort – agreed to by Charles V and Pope Paul III on June 26, 1546 – to compel the Protestants by force of arms to acknowledge the decrees of the Council of Trent, convened in 1545, and to return to the fold of the Roman Church.

Friedrich Bente reports:

The Elector [John Frederick I] himself was taken captive, treated as a rebel, and sentenced to death. The sentence was read to him while he was playing chess with his fellow-captive, Duke Ernest of Lueneberg. John Frederick answered, he did not believe that the Emperor would deal so severely with him; if, however, he were in earnest, they should let him know that he might order his affairs with his wife and children. He then calmly turned to the Duke, saying: “Let us continue the game; it’s your move.” (Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. [CPH, 2005], p. 220)

Johann Friedrich the Elder. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531.

Johann Friedrich the Elder. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1531.

But due to Emperor Charles’ threat to execute their beloved leader, the city of Wittenberg also signed a Capitulation to the Emperor on May 19. Johann Friedrich was compelled to resign his electoral dignity and the Electorate of Saxony was taken away from him and his heirs and given to his relative Maurice. In exchange, Johann Friedrich’s death sentence was changed to an indefinite prison sentence. Johann Friedrich talks more about the Capitulation in his Confession below.

But the conscientious Charles knew that mere governmental submission was not tantamount to submission to the Roman Church. The first step to reduce the Lutherans to obedience to the pope took place at the 1548 Diet of Augsburg, when Charles issued “The Declaration of the Roman Imperial Majesty as to How Affairs Will Proceed in the Holy Empire of the German Nation with Respect to Religion Until the Decision of the General Council,” or Augsburg Interim, on May 15. The decree became imperial law on June 30, though it proved impossible to enforce.

At some point in 1548, perhaps before the Augsburg Interim became imperial law, “special efforts were also made by the Emperor to induce John Frederick…to sanction the Interim” while he was in prison (Bente, p. 224).

That is where the Confession below comes in.

By 1557, several years after Johann Friedrich’s death in 1554, his written confession to the Emperor in response to the Interim had become more widely known. Nicolas von Amsdorf, in a preface to a book of Luther sermons on John 18-20 published in 1557, wrote of plans to have the Confession published (apparently together with the Luther sermons) and spoke very highly of it:

From [this confession] all pious and troubled hearts, which are assailed under the cross that they carry in any situations like those of [Johann Friedrich], should take a comforting example and illustration, so that they too confess their faith as joyfully and steadfastly as the praiseworthy elector of Christian memory did. He confessed his faith during his imprisonment dauntlessly, yet with the utmost patience and humility.

For he did not rant and rave, he did not disparage the Imperial Majesty or his counselors who urged him to accept the Interim, nor give them empty prattle. Instead, with due honor and reverence, he humbly and submissively requested, and yet at the same time announced, that he could not and would not accept such an Interim in good conscience, just as everyone will see and read in this confession of his. (source)

But in the preface to volume 28 of the Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works (1903), Otto Albrecht and Gustav Koffmane write, “We have not been acquainted with any editions of that ‘Confession’ of Johann Friedrich…from the year 1557. Nor have we come across any copy of the printing of [those Luther sermons on John 18-20 originally published in 1557] bound together with [it].” The most they can say is that a certain Dr. Knaake in Naumburg was in possession of a later edition of Johann Friedrich’s Confession, but they do not say anything more about the nature of that edition (source).

There is a fairly large excerpt from the Confession on pages 224-225 of Bente’s Historical Introductions cited above. One almost cannot read the excerpt without craving the entire document. Bente’s somewhat obscure citation for the excerpt is “Walther, 16”. This refers to pages 16-18 of the first part of C. F. W. Walther’s Der Concordienformel Kern und Stern (2nd ed., St. Louis: M. C. Barthel, 1877), which contains the historical background for the Formula of Concord. Walther’s citation there reads: “Rf. Unschuldige Nachrichten, 1702, p. 364, ff.”

The Unschuldige Nachrichten, or Innocent News, was published by Valentin Ernst Loescher, the great opponent of Pietism, in the first half of the 18th century. Thankfully, the Rare Books Room of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary had a copy of Loescher’s News for 1702, which I was able to locate this past summer.

There was one more problem though. Walther cited pages 364 and following, but those pages did not contain Johann Friedrich’s Confession. By checking the indexes, however, I found the entire confession reproduced on pages 393 and following under the title, “Churfürst Johann Friedrichs zu Sachsen Bekäntnüß auff das Interim” (translated below). The problem was that Walther’s excerpt began on page 394, which was misprinted as 364.

Loescher says that he is reproducing the Confession “ex MSTO,” short for “ex manuscripto” – “from the manuscript.” How he came to possess the manuscript is unclear, but it is known that he was a collector of rare books and manuscripts. For example, what is today termed Codex Solger 13, which contains a number of valuable, anonymous transcripts of Luther sermons, was once in Loescher’s possession (rf. here). And in fact, if I were into serious research and wanted to attempt to locate the manuscript Loescher once had, I would begin by searching the Solger collection in the Nuremberg City Library (Stadtbibliothek Nürnberg), since I know that at least some of Loescher’s collection ended up in Solger’s collection.

At any rate, we have no reason to doubt the authenticity of Loescher’s manuscript.

  1. Loescher was an earnest and honest confessional Lutheran Christian.
  2. The Confession’s content is in perfect agreement with the historical context delineated above.
  3. Its style and vocabulary is consistent with Johann Friedrich’s upbringing, and with similar writings of the same time period in general.

I am therefore happy to present to you, the reader, this profoundly beautiful confession of the once-powerful Lutheran Saxon prince, Johann Friedrich I. It is extremely difficult to imagine any politician writing something so full of biblical conviction today. The only negative of the Confession I can find is that in one spot it could give the impression of improper Church-State entanglement. (But one finds it difficult to fix blame for any such entanglement that may have existed in reality, if the Lutheran princes of the time were even half the kind of man this confession indicates Johann Friedrich was.)

May the triune God grant us all such a love for Divine Scripture, and for the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and the other Lutheran Confessions, which are squarely founded on it, and a conviction to match.

Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony’s Confession Against the Interim
From the manuscript

I listened obediently when I was told that the Roman Imperial and Royal Majesty1 and the electors, princes, and estates of the empire had resolved2 how affairs will proceed in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation with regard to the Christian religion until a council should be held, and that the Imperial Majesty earnestly desires of me that I too would consent to the just-mentioned resolution and subscribe to the same.

Now, I am able to recall that when the most highly esteemed Imperial Majesty drew up the Capitulation,3 at first he also included an article saying that I was to obligate myself to whatever what would be decided in a council or that I would accept whatever Your Majesty would decree in matters of faith and not be opposed to the same. But when it was humbly announced to Your Majesty that I could not make such an agreement for many fitting reasons having to do with my conscience, and that no threat to body or life would bring me to do so, Your Majesty commanded that the aforementioned article be stricken and did not pursue any further dealings with me with respect to religion, which I also thus received with humble thanksgiving. And after I was relieved of this burdening of my conscience, everything else in person and possession was humbly surrendered to Your Imperial Majesty’s supremely gracious will and pleasure that much more readily. And after the Capitulation was formalized in all good faith, no further demands were supposed to be made of me, but I was to be permitted to continue in the religion I had embraced and professed. But since the Roman Imperial Majesty is now once again desiring of me that I give my consent to the prepared Interim or legal proposal [Rathschlag], I therefore, in humility, cannot leave Your Majesty uninformed that I have been thoroughly taught and instructed by the servants of the Divine Word from youth onward, and by diligently searching the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures I have come to know – and with God’s help I attest that I maintain this in my conscience without any wavering – that the articles as comprised in the Augsburg Confession, and whatever is in the same vein, are the correct, true, Christian, pure doctrine and are confirmed and founded in the writings of the holy prophets and apostles, and in the writings of the teachers who have followed in their footsteps, to such a degree that nothing conclusive can be produced against them.

It is for this reason that formerly my gracious, dear lord father, of blessed memory,4 and others, out of good and sufficient intelligence and learning, also for their part made us adhere to this Confession many years ago through legitimate ways and means, until a free, Christian, and impartial council should reach a decision. And by God’s grace and mercy, my pious lord father and I have stood by this confession – he to his grave, and I to the present day. And also as part of our governance, before and after the Confession, we have had this doctrine taught and preached, and we have known no other way – even as I still know no other way – to have the eternal, imperishable truth of God announced and expounded to our subjects than in this way. Since then I am now firmly convinced of this in my conscience, I owe God this gratitude and obedience in response to this inexpressible grace which he has shown me, namely that I do not fall away from the truth I have come to know and have confessed, the truth of his almighty will, the will he has revealed to all the world through his Word – so great is my desire to inherit eternal salvation and to escape eternal damnation. For this is what it says in that comforting and terrifying passage of God’s Word: “Whoever confesses me before other people, him I will confess before my heavenly Father. But whoever disowns me before other people, him I will also disown before my heavenly Father” [Matthew 10:32-33]. But if I were to acknowledge and accept the Interim as something Christian and godly, then I would have to go against my conscience and deliberately and intentionally condemn and disown the Augsburg Confession and that which I have hitherto maintained and believed about the gospel of Jesus Christ in many chief articles of doctrine on which salvation depends, and I would have to approve with my mouth that which I considered in my heart and conscience to be completely and utterly contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures. Oh, God in heaven, that would be a misuse and horrible blaspheming of your holy name, and it would be like I was trying to deceive and mislead both you on high in your exalted majesty and my secular jurisdiction here below on earth with fancy words, for which I would have to pay dearly, and all too dearly, with my soul. For that is the true sin against the Holy Spirit, concerning which Christ makes clear that it shall never be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the next, that is, into eternity. Since then I am tied up and imprisoned in my conscience (according to my perception of its voice) and since I know better from the instruction of proven testimonies of Divine Scripture, I therefore ask in all submissiveness and humility, through the mercy of God which he has shown to the entire human race through the incarnation and death of his only and beloved Son, our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, that the Imperial Majesty would not be put out by me for not agreeing to the Interim and instead stubbornly persisting in the Augsburg Confession, and for setting everything else aside and considering only how I might partake of eternal joys after this life of misery and trouble.

For the Imperial Majesty seems to have the idea that what I really want has nothing to do with religion or faith, but with some hoped-for reputation and other temporal things along with it5 – as if anything, out all the temporal possessions available, could be more desirable to me than my freedom and, above all, the prospect of going with my heavy and enfeebled body to be with wife and child in peace and ease.6 These are thoughts of the heart, which no one can know but God himself. But I testify before the face of God, and wish to testify at the Last Judgment, when God will demand an account from me and all people as to how we have spent our lives here in thoughts, words, and actions, that I am seeking nothing in this matter except the glory of his omnipotence and how I might be received as a child and heir of eternal life. As far as external matters are concerned, I have always been eager to render humble obedience to the Imperial Majesty, as God knows, and I will continue to do that and to keep inviolable what I have promised, vowed, and sworn to the Imperial Majesty, with all the integrity of a prince. I pray that the almighty God would soften Your Majesty’s heart toward me, that I might one day obtain favor with respect to my protracted imprisonment and be paternally released from the same, lest I be allowed to be the first prince and blood relative of Your Majesty7 to spend his life in prison during the reign of Your Majesty: to whom I let myself be herewith commended in all humility.

Johann Friedrich the Elder

Endnotes

1 Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556

2 I.e., at the 1548 Diet of Augsburg

3 The Capitulation of Wittenberg is detailed in the preface above.

4 Johann the Steadfast (1468-1532) was Elector and Duke of Saxony from the death of his brother Friedrich the Wise in 1525 until his own death in 1532.

5 German: Denn daß / die mich belanget [sic] / in die Käyserliche Maj. gebildet / als solte es mir nicht umb die Religion oder Glauben / sondern umb eine verhoffte Reputation und andre zeitliche Dinge hiermit zu thun seyn:

6 Johann Friedrich and his wife, Sibylle of Cleves, had four sons. At the time this letter was written, the first, Johann Friedrich II, was 19 years old; the second, Johann Wilhelm, was 18; the third, Johann Ernst, had died in infancy; and the fourth, Johann Friedrich III, was 10. Thus he is probably referring to his wife and youngest son here, though he may be using “wife and child” as a more general expression for “wife and children”.

7 One of Johann Friedrich’s great-grandfathers – the father of his grandmother, Margaret of Austria – was Duke Ernst the Iron of Inner Austria (1377-1424), who was also a great-great-grandfather of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

German Original

Churfürst Johann Friedrichs zu Sachsen Bekäntnüß auff das Interim,
ex MSTO.

Ich habe unterthäniglichen angehöret / daß Römisch Käyserliche auch Königliche Majestät / desgleichen Chur-Fürsten / Fürsten und Stände des Reichs sich entschlossen / wie es im Heil. Reich Deutscher Nation / die Christliche Religion betreffend / biß auff ein Concilium gehalten werden solle / und daß die Käyserliche Majestät ernstlich an mich begehret / in gemeldten Beschluß auch zu willigen / und mich demselben zu unterschreiben.

Nun weiß ich mich zu erinnern / daß höchst gedachte Käyserliche Majestät in Auffrichtung der Capitulation anfänglich auch einen Articul hat setzen lassen / ich solte mich verpflichten / was in einem Concilio erkannt / oder Eur. Majestät in Glaubens-Sachen verordnen würden / das wolle ich annehmen / demselben nicht entgegen seyn; Als aber Ihrer Majestät in Unterthänigkeit vermeldet worden / daß ich aus vielen stattlichen Ursachen meines Gewissens halber solche Bewilligung nicht thun könte / und mich keine Gefahr meines Leibes und Lebens dahin bringen lassen würde; Derhalben Ihre Majestät gedachten Articul wieder aus zulöschen befohlen und fürtan wegen der Religion weiter Handlung mit mir nicht gepflogen / welches ich auch also mit unterthäniger Dancksagung angenommen / und nachdem ich diese Beschwerung meines Gewissens entladen / das übrige alles an Leib und Gut in Ihr. Käyserl. Majestät allergnädigsten Willen und Gefallen desto leichtlicher unterthäniglichen ergeben / und darauff die Capitulation vollzogen / in gäntzlichen Vertrauen / es solte forthin desgleichen an mich nicht gemuthet / sondern mir gelassen werden / bey der angenommenen und bekandten Religion zu verharren. Dieweil aber die Römische Käyserliche Majestät ietzo abermahls bey mir ernstlich suchen läst / daß ich zu dem gestalten Interim oder Rathschlag meine Verwilligung geben soll: So kan Ihrer Majestät ich in Unterthänigkeit unangezeigt nicht lassen / daß ich von den Dienern des Göttlichen Wortes von meiner Jugend auff dermassen unterrichtet und unterwiesen / auch durch fleißige Nachforschung der Prophetischen und Apostolischen Schrifften habe erkandt / und es / wie ich mit GOTT bezeuge / in meinem Gewissen ohn alles Wancken halte / daß die Articul / wie sie in der Augspurgischen Confeßion begriffen / und was daran hanget / die rechte wahre Christl. reine Lehre / und in den Schrifften der Heil. Propheten und Apostel und Lehrer / welche deren Fußtapffen nachgefolget / dermassen bestätiget und ergründet / daß darwider nichts schließlichs kan auffgebracht werden.

Darumb sich auch Weyland mein gnädiger lieber Herr Vater Gottseeligen Gedächtnüß / auch andere / aus guten satten Verstande und Wissenschaft derselbigen Confeßion vor vielen Jahren durch ordentliche Wege und Mittel biß auff Erkäntnüß eines freyen Christlichen und unparteyischen Concilii uns anhängig gemacht / dabey denn mein Gottseeliger Herr Vater biß in seine Gruben und ich / biß auff heutigen Tag durch GOttes Gnade und Barmhertzigkeit bestanden / und / auch bey unser Regierung vor und nach der Confeßion also haben lassen lehren und predigen / und anders nicht gewust / wie ich auch nicht anders weiß / denn daß wir damit unsern Unterthanen die ewige unvergängliche Warheit Gottes haben anzeigen und fürtragen lassen. Wann ich dann nun dessen in meinem Gewissen beständiglichen überzeiget / so bin ich GOTT gegen diese unaussprechliche Gnade / die Er mir erzeiget hat / diese Danckbarkeit und Gehorsam schuldig / daß ich von der erkandten und bekandten Wahrheit seines allmächtigen Willen / den Er durch sein Wort aller Welt offenbaret / nicht abfalle / so lieb mir ist die ewige Seeligkeit zu ererben / und das ewige Verdammnüß zu vermeiden. Denn also lautet es / das tröstliche und erschröckliche Wort Gottes: Wer mich bekennet für den Menschen / den will ich bekennen für meinem himmlischen Vater; Wer mich aber verläugnet für den Menschen / den will ich auch verläugnen für meinem himmlischen Vater. Aber wenn ich das Interim vor Christlich und Gottseelig erkennen und annehmen solte / so müste ich die Augspurgische Confeßion und was ich bißhero von dem Evangelio JESU Christi gehalten und geglaubet / in vielen trefflichen Articuln an denen die Seeligkeit gelegen / wider mein eigen Gewissen bedächtlich und vorsetzlich verdammen und verläugnen / und mit dem Munde das billigen / das ich in meinem Hertzen und Gewissen dafür hielte / daß es der heil. Göttlichen Schrifft gantz und gar zuwider wäre. Ey GOTT im Himmel das wolte deinen heiligen Nahmen gemißbraucht und grausamlich gelästert heissen / auch dafür zu achten seyn / daß ich dich droben in der hohen Majestät und meine Welt-Obrigkeit hunten auff Erden mit gefärbten Worten betrügen und umbführen wolte / welches ich doch in meiner Seelen theuer und allzutheuer würde bezahlen müssen. Denn das ist die rechte Sünde in den Heil. Geist / davon Christus deutet / daß sie weder in dieser / noch in jener Welt / das ist in Ewigkeit nimmermehr soll vergeben werden. So ich denn nun in meinem Gewissen / wie ich gehöret / verstrickt und gefangen bin / und eines bessern mit bewehrten Gezeugnüssen Göttlicher Schrifft berichtet werde; Alß bitte ich in aller Unterthänigkeit und Demuth / durch die Barmhertzigkeit Gottes / die Er durch die Menschwerdung und Sterben seines einigen und geliebten Sohnes / unsers Heylandes und Seeligmachers JESU Christi / dem gantzen menschlichen Geschlecht bewiesen hat / Käyserl. Majestät wollen es von mir zu Ungnaden nicht auffnehmen / daß ich in das Interim nicht bewillige / sondern bey der Augspurgischen Confeßion endlichen verharre / und alles andere hindan gesetzt / allein dahin sehe / wie ich nach diesen armseeligen und betrübten Leben der ewigen Freuden theilhafftig werden möge.

Denn daß / die mich belanget / in die Käyserliche Maj. gebildet / als solte es mir nicht umb die Religion oder Glauben / sondern umb eine verhoffte Reputation und andre zeitliche Dinge hiermit zu thun seyn: Gleich als ob mir unter allen zeitlichen Gütern etwas liebers seyn könte / denn meine Erledigung / und daß ich fürnehmlich meines schweren und unvermüglichen Leibes bey Weib und Kind in Ruhe und Gemach seyn könte. Solches sind Gedancken der Hertzen / welche niemand erkennen kan / denn GOtt selbst. Aber ich bezeuge für dem Angesicht GOttes / und will es bezeugen am jüngsten Gericht / wenn GOTT von mir und allen Menschen Rechenschafft wird fordern / wie wir unser Leben allhier mit Gedancken / Worten und Wercken haben zugebracht / daß ich hierinnen nichts anders suche / denn die Ehre seiner Allmächtigkeit / und wie ich möge auffgenommen werden zu einem Kinde und Erben des ewigen Lebens. Was äusserliche Sachen anbelangen / bin ich allzeit begierig gewesen / Käyserliche Mj. unterthänig Gehorsam zu leisten / das weiß GOtt / das will ich forthin auch thun / und was ich Käyserl. Majest. zugesaget / gelobet und geschworen / Fürstlich / auffrichtig / und unverbrüchlich halten. Der Allmächtige GOTT wolle Ihrer Majest. Hertz gegen mir erweichen / daß ich doch dermahleinst meiner langwierigen Gefängnüß halben Gnade erlangen / und derselben Väterlich erlediget werden möge / auff daß ich der erste Fürst und Bluts-Verwandte Ihrer Majestät nicht seyn dürffe / der sein Leben bey Ihrer Majest. gefänglichen zubringe: Deren thue ich mich hiermit in aller Unterthänigkeit befehlen.

Johann Friederich der Aeltere.

Amsdorf Preface from 1557

By Nikolaus von Amsdorf (1483-1565)

Translator’s Preface

In Friedrich Bente’s Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: CPH, 2005; also printed at the beginning of the Concordia Triglotta), he discusses the Majoristic Controversy in chapter 13. This controversy, which took place after Luther’s death, centered around the proposition that good works are necessary for salvation. In response to this erroneous proposition, Bente says that Nikolaus von Amsdorf, “the intimate and trusted friend of Luther,” reacted absurdly and that “the momentum of his uncontrolled zeal carried him a step too far—over the precipice. He declared that good works are detrimental and injurious to salvation” (p. 285).

But in supporting this accusation against Amsdorf, Bente only cites Amsdorf’s infamous 1559 publication, That the Proposition “Good Works Are Harmful to Salvation” Is a Correct, True, and Christian Proposition. But on the very next page (286) Bente writes:

Melanchthon refers to the proposition of Amsdorf as “filthy speech, unflaetige Rede.” In 1557, at Worms, he wrote: “Now Amsdorf writes: Good works are detrimental to salvation… The Antinomians and their like must avoid the filthy speech, ‘Good works are detrimental to salvation.'”

Bente does not explain how Melanchthon could react to Amsdorf’s proposition in 1557, when Amsdorf did not publish his infamous work until 1559.

The answer is below, translated from vol. 28 of the Weimar edition of Luther’s works (D. Martin Luthers Werke: kritische Gesammtausgabe [sic] [Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1903], p. 765-767). In 1557, the Erfurt pastor Andreas Poach was ready to have his first edition of Luther’s sermons on John 18-20 published in Jena, on the basis of Georg Rörer’s shorthand transcripts. Nikolaus von Amsdorf wrote the preface for that edition, in which, to our knowledge, he came out publicly with the proposition “that good works not only are not necessary for salvation, but are also harmful to salvation” for the first time.

Article IV of the Formula of Concord eventually dealt with both erroneous propositions (see Endnote 4 below).

For more on Poach’s first edition of Luther’s sermons on John 18-20, see here.

I was informed via email by the staff of Concordia Publishing House (CPH) that this preface is also included in vol. 69 of the American edition of Luther’s Works. (Volume 69 is one of the new volumes that CPH is publishing in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.) However, I do not own this volume, nor have I touched it, seen it, or consulted it. Any similarities between that translation and the one below are purely coincidental.

Though Amsdorf goes too far in this preface, he also has many fine things to say. His second to last paragraph and final two sentences are my prayer in providing this translation.

Preface by Amsdorf (1557)

To all pious Christians I, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, wish God’s grace, understanding, Spirit, and wisdom, so that they continually remain and persist in the pure doctrine of the holy gospel until their end. Amen.

Many beautiful and glorious sermons preached by the holy and cherished man Doctor Martin Luther of blessed memory on several chapters of the two Evangelists John and Matthew were taken down as Luther was speaking by the worthy and well educated Mr. Georg Rörer. Another man1 has put these on paper and dispatched them to press faithfully, diligently, and in the best possible way. Until now they have never been printed or published. They are not like the other writings which Luther himself produced and had published, but in these last and dangerous present times, when all sorts of error and heresies are once again being freshly stirred up and are appearing in abundance, they are still very necessary, beneficial, and comforting for guarding oneself and standing firmly against them.

Therefore the illustrious, highborn princes and lords, the brothers Lord Johann Friedrich, Lord Johann Wilhelm, and Lord Johann Friedrich the Younger, dukes of Saxony, landgraves in Thuringia, and margraves of Meissen, my gracious princes and lords, have decreed and commanded that these sermones or sermons be specially printed. (They have done this out of the their special desire and love for having the Holy Scriptures brought to light according to their pure, natural, and correct understanding.) For in these sermons many articles of our holy Christian faith are dealt with and explained according to the contents of the pure doctrine of the holy gospel.

Their Princely Graces likewise wanted to have the special confessiones, that is, the glorious and Christian confessions, both of their dear lord and father, the formerly most illustrious, highborn Elector of Saxony, Lord Johann Friedrich of Christian and praiseworthy memory, and of Doctor Martin2 printed and published along with the above-mentioned sermons, for compelling and weighty reasons.

From these confessions all pious and troubled hearts, which are assailed under the cross that they carry in any situations like those of these men, should take a comforting example and illustration, so that they too confess their faith as joyfully and steadfastly as the praiseworthy elector of Christian memory did. He confessed his faith during his imprisonment dauntlessly, yet with the utmost patience and humility.

For he did not rant and rave, he did not disparage the Imperial Majesty or his counselors who urged him to accept the Interim, nor give them empty prattle. Instead, with due honor and reverence, he humbly and submissively requested, and yet at the same time announced, that he could not and would not accept such an Interim in good conscience, just as everyone will see and read in this confession of his.3

Likewise everyone can also see and note from the confession of Dr. Martin Luther that he agrees with neither sects nor factions nor fanatics alike, but condemns and rejects them all, including those that have arisen after his Christian departure from this world, whoever they may be – Interimists, Adiaphorists, or Majorists. Therefore they are quite unjust and shameless in availing themselves of Dr. Martin and in crying out, writing, and boasting that Doctor Martin has taught and written just as they write and teach, even though the opposite is found in his books for all to see. To point out the one worst, most pressing, and most dangerous article: All those who teach and write that good works are necessary for salvation are going directly against Luther, yes, directly against themselves. For Luther of blessed and holy memory writes everywhere and especially on Galatians that good works not only are not necessary for salvation, but are also harmful to salvation. For this is what he says:

When one just considers the matter at its foundation and in the light, then it is certain and is found that such teaching and emphasizing of works as necessary for salvation does more and greater damage than any human reason could ever comprehend or understand. For in so doing not only is the knowledge of grace clouded, but Christ with all his benefits is ripped away and the entire gospel is turned upside down, as Paul here testifies.4

And they themselves also write and cry out that we obtain forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation by pure grace, without our works or merit, purely for free. Now if this, their own confession, is true, how then can our good works be necessary for salvation (which we have already obtained for free, by grace, before any good work, as they themselves confess)? This is contrary to their very own confession.

I therefore ask all Christians for the sake of God to read diligently and take to heart these sermons of Luther, along with the two confessions. Then they will experience and take away from them sure comfort, strength, and power, so that they will persist and remain in the pure doctrine of the gospel and will avoid and condemn all Adiaphoristic and Majoristic doctrines. This is now highly necessary at this time, for people are rashly wanting to hold a convention with the Zwinglians, with the idea that we should settle our differences, join forces, and reach an agreement with them. But to do this without harm to religion and our conscience is impossible. This is no more an option for us than is settling our differences or reaching an agreement with the papists or Adiaphorists.

Thus any conventions, colloquies, or conferences are vain and pointless, for there can be no agreement or unity in these matters. Rather, as soon as we undertake a negotiation or colloquy, the truth has already been suppressed and defeated. For the persuasibilia verba humanae sapientiae [persuasive words of human wisdom]5 (which are nothing more than words and ink) do not diminish in value but stay on top, so that they and their dreams win out in the end.

This is exactly what I have not only read in histories and chronicles, but also seen and experienced in our colloquies which I have attended. Therefore there is nothing better or safer than to remain with the pure word of God without any comment, interpretation, or exposition of human reason. This is what the holy man of God has offered and given us in these sermons and his other writings and also in this last confession of his. In this way we are sure and certain that we cannot go astray or be in error.

May God, the Father of all mercy, help us from heaven to this end, so that we ever remain with the pure Word without any gloss, exposition, or human interpretation.

For as soon as we depart from the Word and follow the Adiaphorists’ interpretation and exposition, we are already gone and eternally lost. For Christ does not want to be preached persuasibilibus verbis humanae sapientiae [with persuasive words of human wisdom], as Paul says. He does not want to have his Church built, planted, and watered by great scholars, but by fishermen and uneducated people who have a correct faith, no matter how lowly and despised they might be on earth.

Endnotes

1 Andreas Poach – trans.

2 The “special confessiones” referred to are the confession of Elector Johann Friedrich I against the Augsburg Interim of Emperor Charles V (1548) and the Brief Confession concerning the Holy Sacrament of Martin Luther (1544). – trans.

3 Amsdorf almost makes it sound as though this confession of the elector was going to be published with Luther’s sermons in the same volume, but that did not happen. It was published by Valentin Ernst Loescher “from the manuscript” (“ex M[anu]S[crip]TO”) in his Unschuldige Nachrichten von Alten und Neuen Theologischen Sachen, Büchern, Uhrkunden, Controversien, Veränderungen, Anmerckungen, Vorschlägen, u. d. g. zur Heil. Sonntags-Ubung, Verfertiget von Einigen Dienern des Göttlichen Wortes. Auff das Jahr 1702. Andere Aufflage. (Leipzig: Bei den Großischen Erben, Druckts Martin Fulde, 1705), p. 393-398. (Loescher was, among other things, a collector of rare books, codices, and manuscripts.) Bente quotes a good portion of the elector’s confession on p. 224-225 in the work cited in my Translator’s Preface above. Bente took the quote from C. F. W. Walther’s Der Concordienformel Kern und Stern (Heart and Soul of the Formula of Concord), who in turn took it from Loescher’s printing in the Unschuldige Nachrichten. However, Walther’s citation there – “S. 364ff” – is incorrect; it should read “S. 394ff”. It just so happens that p. 394 was misprinted as 364; the other page numbers were printed correctly. – trans.

4 This assertion by Amsdorf thus predates his infamous writing from 1559, “Daß die Propositio (Gute Werk sind zur Seligkeit schädlich) ein rechte wahre christliche Propositio sei” (“That the Proposition ‘Good Works Are Harmful to Salvation’ Is a Correct, True, and Christian Proposition”). Amsdorf could put on a show appealing to Luther’s Commentarius in Epistolam ad Galatas (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians); he is probably thinking of: “Cum igiturmea iustitia coram Deo mihi non prosit sed plus obsit…” (“Since therefore…my own righteousness before God does not help me, but hurts me much more…” (Johann Konrad Irmischer, D. Martini Luther Commentarium in Epistolam S. Pauli ad Galatas [Erlangen: Carl Heyder, 1843], 1:59). Amsdorf probably did not use the German translation of these lectures on Galatians by Justus Menius (his opponent at the time), which used to be the section that was cut out and printed in the Erlangen edition, 2nd ed., 20/II:145f, even though it is simply not a sermon; q. v. p. 156. – G. Koffmane.

Note that in the quote Koffmane cites Luther does not actually say flatly that good works are harmful to salvation, but that good works hurt us when we attempt to use them to earn righteousness before God or gain salvation from him. Even in the Luther quote Amsdorf cites, which is apparently an adaptation and not a quotation according to Koffmane, it is the teaching and emphasizing of good works as necessary for salvation that does the harm, not the good works themselves. Cf. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article IV, §37ff. – trans.

5 Rf. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5. – trans.