Luther Visualized 14 – Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession

Left: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Elector John the Steadfast of Saxony, oil on panel, c. 1533; housed in the National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen. Right: Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Philipp Melanchthon, oil on panel, 1532; housed in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

Around 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, 1530, Ferdinand, King of Hungary and Bohemia, and all the other electors, princes, and imperial estates assembled before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V “in the large downstairs room” or chapter hall of the episcopal palace in Augsburg, where the emperor was lodging for the duration of the diet he had convened that year. The Saxon chancellor Christian Beyer stepped forward with the German copy of the confession that Philipp Melanchthon (pictured above right) had prepared and that seven princes and representatives of two free imperial cities had signed. The chancellor read it “so clearly, distinctly, deliberately, and with a voice so very strong and rich that he could be clearly heard not only in that very large hall, but also in the courtyard below and the surrounding area.” It took him two hours to finish, and his copy and a Latin copy were then handed over to the emperor.

Because of how the Romanists received the confession, its presentation subsequently came to represent the birthday of the Lutheran Church and the official split from the Roman Catholic Church. Confessional Lutheran churches and church bodies still subscribe to its doctrine without qualification today. It covers a wide range of subjects from God to original sin to justification to the sacraments to free will to monastic vows. (You can read it online here.) Martin Luther, writing from the Coburg Fortress, where he stayed for the duration of the diet since he was still an outlaw, commented on an early draft of the confession, “It pleases me quite well and I know nothing to improve or change in it, nor would it work if I did, since I cannot step so gently and softly.”

The princes and representatives who signed the confession are as follows:

  • John, Duke of Saxony, Elector (pictured above left)
  • George, Margrave of Brandenburg
  • Ernest, Duke of Lueneberg
  • Philip, Landgrave of Hesse
  • John Frederick, Duke of Saxony (the son of Elector John; regarding the high esteem in which he held the confession, see here)
  • Francis, Duke of Lueneberg
  • Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt
  • The City of Nuremberg
  • The City of Reutlingen

Sources
Georg Coelestin, Historia Comitiorum Anno M. D. XXX. Augustae Celebratorum (Frankfurt an der Oder: Johannes Eichorn, 1577), fol. 141

Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, vierter Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1827), p. 17

Carolus Gottlieb Bretschneider, ed., Corpus Reformatorum, vol. 2 (Halle: C. A. Schwetschke and Son, 1835), cols. 139ff, esp. col. 142

Theodor Kolde, Historische Einleitung in die Symbolischen Bücher der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche (Gütersloh: Druck und Verlag von C. Bertelsmann, 1907), pp. xix-xx

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

Augusta iuxta figuram quam hisce temporibus habet delineata, woodcut, 1575 (coloring subsequent), based on Hans Rogel, Des Heiligen Römischen Reichs Statt Augspurg, woodcut, 1563

This famous bird’s-eye view woodcut of Augsburg by Hans Rogel was published in Georg Braun’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp: Aegidius Radeus, 1575). It is oriented with west on top. #105 marks the palace of the prince-bishop, where the Augsburg Confession was presented, just west of the Cathedral of Our Lady (#32). Only the tower from the original palace remains today, attached to a late-Baroque style building that now houses government offices for the district of Swabia. A single plaque on the outside of this building is the only tribute to the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. It reads:

Hier stand vordem die bischöfliche Pfalz in deren Kapitelsaal am 25. Juni 1530 die CONFESSIO AUGUSTANA verkündet wurde.

This is where the episcopal palace once stood, in whose chapter hall the AUGSBURG CONFESSION was delivered on June 25, 1530.

District Government of Swabia, Augsburg (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018). Note the small, gray, rectangular plaque near the bottom of the building.

The plaque commemorating the reading of the Augsburg Confession (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018).

Luther Visualized 4 – The 95 Theses

Luther Posts the Ninety-Five Theses on Indulgences

Anonymous, Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony’s Dream in Schweinitz on October 31, 1517, woodcut, 1717

This scene, itself a recasting of an earlier one from 1617, depicts a later tradition (dating to 1591), supposedly related thirdhand, that, on the night before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Elector Frederick the Wise had a dream which he related to his brother John the following morning. In the dream, a monk wrote something on the door of his Castle Church with a pen whose quill stretched all the way to Rome and threatened to knock the tiara from the pope’s head.

Source
Johann Georg Theodor Gräße, Der Sagenschatz des Königreichs Sachsen (Dresden: Verlag von G. Schönfeld’s Buchhandlung, 1855), pp. 29-32

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Church of the Foundation of All Saints (Castle Church), woodcut, 1509 (coloring subsequent)

On the evening of October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Or did he? Philipp Melanchthon was the first to report on the posting of the theses as we commonly depict it, but he was not in Wittenberg in 1517 and he didn’t report on the posting of the theses until after Luther’s death. The closest report we get that may have been recorded during Luther’s lifetime is a handwritten note by Georg Rörer in a 1540 copy of the New Testament that was also used by Luther for making translation revisions, but that note says that Luther posted his theses on October 31 on the doors of both churches in Wittenberg. Plus, Rörer later wrote another note that matched Melanchthon’s information, apparently after he had read Melanchthon’s account. We do know that Luther included a copy of the theses with a letter to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz on October 31, and that he himself reckoned the “treading underfoot” of indulgences from that day, but his own correspondence from 1518 strongly implies that he did not immediately make the theses public. Historian Martin Brecht suggests that Luther did not post the theses until perhaps the middle of November 1517. This woodcut of the Castle Church appeared in Das Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch of 1509, which depicted Elector Frederick the Wise’s extensive relic collection and was illustrated with numerous woodcuts by Lucas Cranach. In 1760 the Castle Church, including the wooden doors on which Luther had allegedly posted the theses, was destroyed by fire. In 1858 commemorative bronze doors inscribed with the original Latin theses were mounted where the old wooden doors stood.

Sources
Philipp Melanchthon’s preface to Tomus Secundus Omnium Operum Reverendi Domini Martini Lutheri, Doctoris Theologiae, etc. (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1546), par. 24 (third par. on the linked page)

Volker Leppin and Timothy J. Wengert, “Sources for and against the Posting of the Ninety-Five Theses,” Lutheran Quarterly, vol. 29 (Winter 2015), pp. 373-398

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 190-202