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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Luther Visualized 15 – Treasures of the Reformation

The Law and the Gospel

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on panel, after 1529; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

I am posting this out of order; it was originally intended to be the last post in this series. However, it is fitting to post it on this day commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

There are any number of treasures or hallmarks of the Reformation that could be highlighted on this day—the three solas, as just one example. But in 1549, three years after Luther’s death, when a young Martin Chemnitz accompanied his relative Georg Sabinus on a trip to Wittenberg and “in a letter written in Greek” asked Philipp Melanchthon “to show [him] a method of properly instituting and shaping the study of theology,” Melanchthon gave a response that bespoke Luther’s lasting influence on him. He “replied that the chief light and best method in theological study was to observe the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.”

If a person could only be given one piece of advice before opening and reading the Bible on his own, this would indeed be the best. There are two main teachings in the Bible, the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and how we should live. It shows us that we can never measure up to God on our own, and therefore it threatens, terrifies, and condemns us and thereby prepares us for the Gospel. The Gospel shows us our Savior Jesus and how he has lived and died for us. It showcases God’s gracious promises to us, and so it comforts, assures, and saves us. This distinction is the single greatest aid for reading and understanding the Bible. As the apostle John wrote, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And if there is one piece of artwork that correctly and beautifully captures that distinction, yes, encapsulates all of the Reformation’s and confessional Lutheranism’s theology, this painting by Cranach is it.

The left half of the painting depicts the Law. The defenseless sinner is driven by death and the devil towards eternal destruction in hell, having been judged guilty by Jesus, enthroned in heaven above as Judge of the world. The man was unable to keep God’s law and earn God’s favor because of original sin, inherited as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, portrayed in the background. In the foreground on the right, the chief prophet Moses, holding the two tables of God’s law, explains to the other Old Testament prophets that the Law can only condemn and hope must be sought elsewhere. The tree on the right is bare, representing how the Tree of Life is not accessible to fallen mankind by his own powers, or how fallen mankind is spiritually dead and can produce no good fruits (works pleasing to God).

The right half of the painting depicts the Gospel. Jesus is portrayed not as Judge of the world, but as the Savior of the world. John the Baptist points the defenseless sinner to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) through the atoning sacrifice of his life on behalf of sinners. Through this good news, the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, instills faith in the sinner’s heart, and thus the sinner receives the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice; the sinfulness of his heart is covered by Jesus’ blood. The rest of the panel depicts, for the most part, scenes from Jesus’ life. In the background, instead of judging from heaven, he comes down from heaven to share in our humanity and suffer our condemnation in our place (the incarnation in the womb of the virgin Mary). In the foreground, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is portrayed as the ultimate proof of his victory over death, the skeleton under his left foot, and the devil, the dragon under his right foot. In the upper right hand corner, Jesus ascends into heaven, the nail-marks in his feet still showing. The counterpart to the serpent’s tempting and mankind’s fall into sin in the left half is the prefiguring or foreshadowing of Jesus’ redeeming work through the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9) in the right half. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15). The tree in this panel is leafy, representing how the Tree of Life is accessible to fallen mankind through faith in Jesus, or how the one who believes in Jesus has spiritual life and produces good fruits.

What God does in his law demand
And none to him can render
Brings wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the law requires,
And lost is our condition.

Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;
Your death is now my life indeed,
For you have paid my ransom. – Paul Speratus, 1523

Today is an anniversary celebration like none other. Happy Reformation Day, dear readers!

Sources
August L. Graebner, “An Autobiography of Martin Kemnitz” in Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, October 1899), p. 480

Cranach Digital Archive here and here

Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1993), #390

Quote of the Week – Commands and Promises

Similar Paintings

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on oak panel, early 1530s; housed in the Scottish National Gallery

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) was a renowned artist and contemporary and sympathizer of Luther. This painting, clearly influenced by Cranach’s above, is usually titled An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments or even The Old and the New Law, but the painting itself clearly identifies its contrast between the law (lex) and grace (gratia). (The painting correctly shows that both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim grace in Christ.) On the left the two tables of the law are given from heaven to Moses. The law makes us conscious of our sin (peccatum; Romans 3:20; 7:7-13), inherited from Adam as a result of the fall into sin (Romans 5:12-19). The wages of sin is death (mors; Romans 6:23). Nevertheless our justification was foreshadowed (mysterium justificationis) through the bronze serpent erected on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9), and Isaiah the prophet (Esayas propheta) foretold of salvation through the coming Christ (“Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son [Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium]” – Isaiah 7:14).

At the center of the painting is man (homo). “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body subject to death [Miser ego homo, quis me eripiet ex hoc corpore morti obnoxio]?” – Romans 7:24.

On the right, John the Baptist (Ioannes Baptista) points sinful man to Jesus, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), who takes away the sin of the world (Ecce agnus ille Dei, qui tollit peccatum mundi – John 1:29). His coming down from heaven to take on human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary is the token of God’s grace. An angel announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the valley below. Jesus as the living bread who came down from heaven (John 6:51) on the right side is the antitype to the bread that was rained down from heaven on the Israelite camp in the wilderness, depicted on the left side (Psalm 78:23-25). As an adult, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he came to seek and to save what was lost and that he must suffer, die, and rise again in order to do so (Mark 8:31; Luke 19:10). His crucifixion is pictured as our justification or acquittal from sin (justificatio nostra) and his resurrection from the dead as our victory (victoria nostra) over death and the devil (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger, Middle Panel of the Epitaph Altar for John Frederick the Magnanimous in the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Weimar, oil on lindenwood panel, begun in 1552, completed in 1555

Duke John Frederick I of Saxony commissioned the work to the left a couple years before his death. Lucas Cranach himself died the following year, so the project was taken up and completed by his son. 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 4:16; and John 3:14,15 are printed on the pages of Martin Luther’s open Bible. John the Baptist points to Christ with his finger; Luther points to him with his gaze. Cranach the Elder painted himself in between the two, with Christ’s blood spilling onto his head. (He has made himself the counterpart to “the defenseless sinner” of his earlier painting.) His gaze is directed at the viewer, inviting him or her to worship Christ as Savior with him. The other unique detail is the angel flying in midair in the background over the shepherds, which has a double allusion. The first allusion is to the angel who announced the birth of Christ. This second allusion, indicated by the scroll he holds, is to Revelation 14:6,7. Johannes Bugenhagen, the pastor of the parish church in Wittenberg, preached on those verses for Luther’s funeral and identified Luther as the angel or messenger mentioned there. (Subsequent Lutheran preachers have also not shied away from that identification, though they also apply it to any Christian who faithfully proclaims the gospel.) The words printed on the victory banner borne by the lamb beneath the cross are those of John 1:29. The other details correspond exactly to Cranach’s earlier painting above.

Quote of the Week – Grace Means Unearned

The following is taken from Philipp Melanchthon’s Apology (or Defense) of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (Justification), verses 40 and 41:

Since then no one is able to keep God’s law by his own powers, and all are under sin and deserve to be condemned to eternal wrath and death, we are therefore unable to be freed from sin or to become upright in God’s sight through the law. Instead, forgiveness of sins and righteousness is promised through Christ, who has been given for us to pay for the sins of the world and who is the only Mediator and Redeemer. And this promise does not say that you have grace, salvation, etc. through Christ if you earn it. No, he offers forgiveness of sins purely out of grace, as Paul says, “If [forgiveness of sins] is by works, then it is not grace” [Romans 11:6]. And in another place: “This righteousness that avails before God is revealed apart from law” [Romans 3:21], that is, forgiveness of sins is offered for free.

Source
Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955), p. 167,168