Augsburg Confession – Article 28 – Episcopal Authority

Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 27, click here.)

About episcopal authority much has been written in the past, and in that wide-ranging array of writings one can find a number of authors who have improperly intermixed the authority of the bishops with the secular sword. This improper confusion has led to very great wars, insurrection, and rebellion, occasioned by the fact that the bishops, under the pretext of their authority given to them by Christ, have not only instituted new forms of worship and burdened consciences with the reservation of certain cases1 and with fierce bans, but have also presumed to set up and depose emperors and kings as they pleased. Learned and God-fearing people within Christendom have rebuked this outrage long ago. Accordingly, for the comfort of consciences, our men have been compelled to point out the distinction between the spiritual and secular authority, sword, and government, and they have taught that, because of God’s command, people should honor and respect the government and authority of both, with all devotion, as two supreme gifts of God on earth.

Now this is what our men teach: The power of the keys2 or the authority of the bishops is, according to the gospel, an authority and commission from God to preach the gospel, to forgive and to retain sin, and to administer and handle the sacraments. For Christ sent the apostles out with this commission in John 20: “Just as my Father has sent me, so too I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit; whosever sins you will remit, they shall be remitted for them, and whosever you will retain, they shall be retained for them.”3

Second page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

One uses and exercises this power of the keys or of the bishops only by teaching and preaching God’s word and by administering the sacraments to many or individual persons, according to one’s call. For through these activities, eternal things and goods are imparted, not physical ones, namely eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. There is no other way a person can obtain these goods except through the office of preaching and through the administration of the holy sacraments. For St. Paul says, “The gospel is a power of God to save all who believe in it.”4 Now since the authority of the church or bishops imparts eternal goods and is used and exercised only through the ministry of the Word, it does not anywhere hinder polity and the secular government at all. For secular government is occupied with much different matters than the gospel is. Secular power does not protect the soul; it protects body and property against external forces using the sword and physical penalties.5

Therefore the two governments, the spiritual and the secular, should not be intermixed and jumbled. For the spiritual authority has its commission to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments, and it should not meddle in some other task. It should not set up and depose kings, should not dissolve or undermine secular law and obedience to the authorities, should not make and compose laws for secular authority concerning secular affairs, just as Christ himself also said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and, “Who has appointed me to be a judge between you?”6 And St. Paul writes to the Philippians in Chapter 3: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” And in his Second Letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 10: “The weapons of our knighthood are not those of the flesh, but powerful for God to destroy the plots and every height that rises up against the knowledge of God.”

Third page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

In this fashion our men distinguish the duties of both governments and authorities and tell people to honor both as the highest gifts of God on earth.

But where the bishops have civil government and the sword, they do not have these as bishops by divine right, but it has been given by Roman emperors and kings by human, imperial right, for civil administration of their goods, and it has nothing to do with the ministry of the gospel.

Therefore the episcopal office, according to divine right, is preaching the gospel, forgiving sins, judging doctrine and rejecting doctrines that are contrary to the gospel, and excommunicating from Christian fellowship the godless people whose godless conduct is obvious, not with human authority, but only through God’s word. When this is the case, the parishioners and churches are duty-bound to obey the bishops, according to this saying of Christ in Luke 10: “Whoever listens to you, listens to me.” But where they teach, institute, or establish something contrary to the gospel, in that case we have God’s command not to obey them in Matthew 7: “Watch out for false prophets.” And St. Paul tells the Galatians in Chapter 1: “Even if we or an angel from heaven were to preach to you another gospel than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” And in the Second Letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 13: “We have no power against the truth, but for the truth.” Likewise: “According to the power that the Lord has given me to make better and not to ruin.” This is also what the religious law in Part 2, [Subject 2,] Question 7 commands in the chapter Sacerdotes [i.e. 8] and in the chapter Oves [i.e. 13].7 And St. Augustine writes in his epistle against Petilianus that people should not even follow the bishops who have been chosen in a regular and orderly way when they are in error or when they teach or establish something contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures.8

Fourth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

But the fact that the bishops have authority and jurisdiction in a number of affairs besides this, like marriage cases and tithing9—they have this by the power of human right. But where the ordinaries are negligent in that capacity, the princes are duty-bound in such cases to pass judgment for their subjects for the sake of peace, regardless of whether they want to or not, in order to prevent discord and great unrest in their countries.

Moreover, it is also disputed whether bishops have power to establish ceremonies in the churches, as well as regulations about food, festivals, and about different orders of ministers. For those who give this authority to the bishops cite this saying of Christ in John 16: “I have much more to say to you, but you cannot bear it now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” They also adduce the example of Acts in Chapter 15, where they forbade blood and strangled meat. They likewise cite that the Sabbath has been changed to Sunday contrary to the Ten Commandments, as they see it, and no example is hyped and cited so much as the changing of the Sabbath, and they thereby wish to preserve the great authority of the church, since it has dispensed with the Ten Commandments and altered something in them.

But this is what our men teach in this question: The bishops do not have power to institute and establish something contrary to the gospel, just as the citations above say and the religious laws teach throughout the Ninth Distinction.10 Now this is clearly contrary to God’s command and word, to make laws or commands with the intention of making satisfaction for sins and obtaining grace by keeping them. For the glory and merit of Christ is sullied when we attempt to earn grace with such regulations. It is also as clear as day that countless human statutes have gained ground in Christendom because of this intention, and in the meantime the doctrine of faith and the righteousness of faith have been completely suppressed. Each new day new festivals, new fasts have been commanded, new ceremonies and new ways to venerate the saints have been instituted in order to earn grace and every good things from God with such works.

Fifth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Likewise, those who establish human regulations also go against God’s command with them, since they put sin in foods, in observing days and similar things, and thus they burden Christendom with the bondage of the law, as though there had to be a form of worship among Christians for earning God’s grace that were just like the Levitical worship, and that God supposedly entrusted the apostles and bishops with establishing this form of worship, which is what some men write about it. It is also reasonable to believe that a number of bishops have been deceived by the example of the law of Moses. That is why such countless regulations have appeared, for example, that it is a mortal sin when someone does manual labor on a festival day, even if he is not giving offense to others; that it is a mortal sin when someone omits the canonical hours; that some foods defile the conscience; that fasting is a work through which someone can appease God; that the sin in a reserved case is not forgiven, unless the person first seeks out the one who has reserved the case, regardless of the fact that the religious laws do not speak of the reservation of guilt, but of the reservation of church penalties.

Where then do the bishops get the right and power to impose such statutes on Christendom for tying consciences up in knots? For in Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter forbids laying the yoke on the disciples’ necks. And St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they have been given the power to make better and not to ruin.11 Why then do they increase sins with such statutes?

We have clear passages of divine Scripture which forbid establishing such statutes in order to earn God’s grace with them, or as if they were necessary for salvation. Thus St. Paul says to the Colossians in Chapter 2: “So now let no one give you scruples over food or over drink or over appointed days, namely the festivals or new moons or Sabbaths, which are the shadow of the One who was to come, but the body itself is in Christ.” Likewise: “If then you have now died with Christ to the worldly regulations, when then do you let yourselves be taken captive by regulations, as if you were living? They say, ‘You should not touch this,’ ‘You should not eat or drink that,’ ‘You should not handle this,’ even though all of those things get used up, and these are human commands and teachings and have only a show of wisdom.” Likewise St. Paul in Titus 1 openly forbids people to pay attention to Jewish fables and human laws that reject the truth.

Sixth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Christ himself, in Matthew 15, says the same thing about those who drive people to human commands: “Let them go; they are blind guides of blind people.” And he rejects such worship and says, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted out.”

Now if the bishops have power to burden the churches with countless statutes and to tie consciences up in knots, why then does divine Scripture so often forbid the making and following of human statutes? Why does it call them devil’s doctrines?12 Did the Holy Spirit warn against all of this for no reason?

Therefore since such ordinances that have been established as necessary for appeasing God and meriting grace are contrary to the gospel, it is by no means proper for the bishops to compel such forms of worship. For in Christendom the doctrine of Christian liberty must be retained, namely that the servitude of the law is not necessary for justification, as St. Paul writes to the Galatians in Chapter 5: “So now remain in the liberty with which Christ has liberated us, and do not let yourselves be tied to the yoke of servitude once again.”13 For the chief article of the gospel must ever be preserved, that we obtain the grace of God through faith in Christ, apart from our merit, and do not earn it through worship instituted by humans.

What then should be our position on Sunday and other similar church ordinances and ceremonies? Our men give this answer: The bishops or parsons may make ordinances for the purpose of good order in the church, not for obtaining God’s grace, nor for making satisfaction for sin or binding consciences by making people think that they are necessary forms of worship and that they commit sin when they break them, even when no offense is given. Thus St. Paul prescribed for the Corinthians that their women should cover their heads in the assembly; likewise that the preachers in the assembly should not all speak at the same time, but in an orderly way, one after the other.14

It is fitting for a Christian assembly to keep such ordinances for the sake of love and peace, and to be obedient to the bishops and parsons in those cases and to keep those ordinances insofar as no one scandalizes anyone else, so that there may not be any confusion or disorderly conduct in the church. But they should be kept in such a way that consciences are not burdened because people consider such things to be necessary for salvation and they think that they are committing sin if they break them, even when no offense is given to others, just as no one today says that a woman is committing sin who goes out in public with a bare head, when no offense is given to the people.

Seventh page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

The ordinances of Sunday, the Easter celebration, Pentecost and similar celebrations and customs fall into this category. For those who think that the ordinance of Sunday as the Sabbath was established as something necessary are very much in error. For Holy Scripture has done away with the Sabbath and teaches that all the ceremonies of the old law can be discontinued now that the gospel has been revealed. And nevertheless, since it has been necessary to ordain a certain day so that the people know when they should come together, the Christian church has ordained Sunday for that purpose, and they were all the more pleased and eager to make this change in order that the people might have an example of Christian freedom. That way they would know that neither the keeping of the Sabbath nor of any other day was necessary.15

There are many improper disputations about the changing of the law, about the ceremonies of the New Testament, about the changing of the Sabbath, which have all arisen from the false and erroneous idea that people in Christendom must have a form of worship that conforms to the Levitical or Jewish worship, and that Christ has commissioned the apostles and bishops to come up with new ceremonies that are necessary for salvation. These errors have woven themselves into Christianity, since the righteousness of faith has not been clearly and purely taught and preached. Some men dispute about Sunday like this: People have to keep it, even if not by divine right, nevertheless essentially as if it were by divine right. They put forms and measures into place dictating how much work one may do on a festival. What else can such disputations be but snares for the conscience? For although they attempt to moderate and provide some balance for human ordinances, no proper balance or moderation can be found as long as the idea persists and remains that these statutes are necessary. And this idea has to remain when people know nothing of the righteousness of faith or of Christian freedom.

The apostles commanded that people should abstain from blood and strangled meat. But who keeps that now? Yet those who do not keep it are not committing any sin, for the apostles themselves also did not wish to burden consciences with such servitude, but forbade it for a time to prevent scandal. For in this regulation one must pay attention to the centerpiece of Christian doctrine, so that it is not nullified by this decree.

Eighth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Nearly none of the old canons are kept as they read.16 Many of their regulations continue to fall by the wayside every day, even among those who are the most diligent in observing such statutes. In this matter consciences cannot be counseled or helped unless this moderation is observed: We need to know how to keep such statutes in such a way that people do not regard them as necessary, and that even if such statutes fall out of use, it does no harm to consciences.

But the bishops would easily retain the obedience due them, if they did not insist on the observance of regulations that simply may not be observed without sin. But now they are doing just one thing and forbidding both forms of the Holy Sacrament; they likewise forbid marriage to the clergy; they admit no one until he has first taken an oath that he will not preach this doctrine of ours, even though it is without a doubt in harmony with the gospel. Our churches do not desire that the bishops restore peace and unity to the detriment of their honor and dignity, though it is the bishops’ duty to do even this in cases of necessity. This is all they are asking, that the bishops give up a few unreasonable burdens, which did not even used to exist in the church anyway and were adopted contrary to the practice of ordinary Christian churches. Perhaps there was some good reason for them at first, but they do not make sense in our times.17 It is also undeniable that some regulations have been adopted out of bad judgment. Therefore the bishops should be gracious enough to soften those regulations, since such a change will not do any harm to preserving the unity of Christian churches. For many regulations of human origin have fallen out of use all by themselves over time and are not necessary to keep, as even the papal laws testify. But if this can never be and they cannot be persuaded that human regulations that cannot be kept without sin should be moderated and done away with, then we must follow the apostle’s rule, which commands us to be more obedient to God than to humans.18

St. Peter forbids the bishops from exercising sovereign authority, as if they had the power to force the churches to do whatever they want.19 Now we are not occupied with planning how to take the bishops’ authority away from them, but we are asking and desiring that they would not force consciences to sin. But if they will not do this and despise this request, then they should remember that they will have to give an account to God for it,20 because by such stubbornness on their part they are giving occasion for division and schism, when they should in fact be duly helping to prevent it.

*****

Ninth page of Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

These are the chief articles that are considered to be disputable. For although we could have cited many more abuses and further injustice, to avoid prolixity and length21 we have only made mention of the chief ones, from which the others can easily be inferred. For in the past there have been many complaints over indulgences, over pilgrimages, over abuse of the ban. The parsons also had endless quarrels with the monks due to the hearing of confession, burials, sermons on special occasions, and countless other matters besides. We have passed over all of this as best we could and for the sake of forbearance, so that we might note the chief points in these matters that much better. It also should not be thought that anything was said or cited along the way in order to insult or express hatred for anyone. We have only related the points that we have considered necessary to cite and to mention, so that it could be seen from them that much better that nothing has been adopted by us, neither in doctrine nor in ceremonies, that goes against either the Holy Scriptures or ordinary Christian churches. For it has always been obvious and as clear as day that, with all diligence and with God’s help (not to speak boastfully), we have been on guard lest any new and godless doctrine weave its way into, spread, and prevail in our churches.

In keeping with the imperial summons, we have wished to deliver the above-cited articles as a token of our confession and of the doctrine of our men. And if anyone should discover that something is lacking in it, we stand ready to provide further information on the basis of Divine and Holy Scripture.

Your Imperial Majesty’s most submissive and obedient servants,
Johannes, Duke of Saxony, Elector
Georg, Margrave of Brandenburg
Ernst, Duke of Lüneburg
Philipp, Landgrave of Hesse
Hans [Johannes] Friedrich, Duke of Saxony
Franz, Duke of Lüneburg
Wolf[gang], Prince of Anhalt
Burgomaster and Council of Nuremberg
Burgomaster and Council of Reutlingen

(This concludes the Augsburg Confession.)

Notes

1 “The reservation of certain cases” is also simply called “reserved cases” for short. Reserved cases are those where a bishop, archbishop, or the pope reserves the right to absolve certain sins for himself. For instance, if an archbishop reserved absolution for himself in the case of a divorce committed by a king, that king’s priest or even the bishop of the diocese in which the king lived could not absolve him; only that archbishop could. Thus the king would have to first reconcile with the archbishop on the archbishop’s terms before receiving absolution. This practice not only further promoted work-righteousness, but also was little more than a show of power on the part of the church official involved.

2 Rf. Matthew 16:19; 18:15-18. Note that the second reference proves that in the first reference Jesus is not giving the power of the keys only to Peter, but to all who share Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. See also Article 11 and note 2 beneath it, and Article 14 and the notes beneath it.

3 The Latin version adds: “And in Mark 16: ‘Go, preach the gospel to every creature,’ etc.”

4 Rf. Romans 1:16. The Latin version adds: “And Psalm 118 [119] says, ‘Your utterance gives me life.’”

5 The Latin version adds: “The gospel protects souls against impious opinions, against the devil and eternal death.”

6 Rf. John 18:36; Luke 12:14

7 You can read Melanchthon’s references here (type 521 and 522, respectively, in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

8 Once again, Melanchthon slightly mis-cites his source here. The quote does not come from Augustine’s responses to the letters of Petilianus, a Donatist. (Rf. note 3 under Article 8 for more on the Donatists.) However, the quote does come from Augustine’s book On the Unity of the Church (Chapter 11, par. 28; original Latin on cols. 410-411 here), which he wrote against the Donatists as a whole. This paragraph would be a good one to include, at least in part, in an installation or ordination service. It very clearly delineates pastoral authority, and what is owed to pastors depending on how they exercise their authority.

9 The reference here is not to Christian giving, which is supposed to be voluntary (2 Corinthians 9:7). Melanchthon is talking about the mandatory tithing of the gross proceeds of all land parcels and farms.

10 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 9, Chapters 8ff here (type 87 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go).

11 Rf. 2 Corinthians 10:8

12 Rf. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

13 Read Romans 7:1-6 for another aspect of Christian liberty.

14 These examples are found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-6,16 (note that vs. 16 often gets mistranslated); 14:26-40.

15 Note the irony that Melanchthon clearly draws out here. Sunday was voluntarily established as the main day for worship precisely to demonstrate our Christian freedom and that we no longer had to worship on Saturday (Colossians 2:16,17). Since then, however, Sunday has turned into “the New Testament Sabbath” or “the Christian Sabbath” in the eyes of many (rf. the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21) and consciences have been unnecessarily burdened over the Sunday observance. (This unnecessary burdening of conscience was a main theme of the popular 1981 British film Chariots of Fire, which dramatized the refusal of Eric Liddell, a Scottish participant in the 1924 Olympic Games, to compete on Sunday.)

16 A couple examples from the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD) alone:

  • Canon 13: Lest too great a diversity of religious orders lead to grave confusion in the Church of God, we strictly forbid anyone in the future to found a new order, but whoever should wish to enter an order, let him choose one already approved.
  • Canon 16: [Clergymen] shall not attend the performances of mimics and buffoons, or theatrical representations. They shall not visit taverns except in case of necessity, namely, when on a journey. They are forbidden to play games of chance or be present at them. They must have a becoming crown and tonsure and apply themselves diligently to the study of the divine offices and other useful subjects. Their garments must be worn clasped at the top and neither too short nor too long. They are not to use red or green garments or curiously sewed together gloves, or beak-shaped shoes or gilded bridles, saddles, pectoral ornaments (for horses), spurs, or anything else indicative of superfluity.

17 We do well to follow Melanchthon’s lead in humility and not immediately assume that an ancient practice that has since fallen by the wayside was foolish or ridiculous. Unless it is clearly and directly contrary to the Scriptures, we do well to remember that we were not there when it was instituted.

18 Rf. Acts 5:29

19 Rf. 1 Peter 5:1-3

20 Rf. 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 13:17

21 This is a common joke which occurs often in the writings of German theologians. It also manifests itself in this form: “In sum…” followed by several more paragraphs, or even pages, of material. (Note, however, that it is definitely not a joke to them; they truly do not seem to understand the difference between prolixity and brevity.)

Augsburg Confession – Article 16 – Polity and Secular Government

Articles 13, 14, 15 & 16 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 15, click here.)

Regarding polity and secular government, we teach that every authority in the world and all duly organized governments and duly established laws are a good arrangement, created and instituted by God, and that Christians may without sin occupy positions of authority and serve as princes or judges, render verdicts and pass sentences according imperial and other prevailing laws, punish evildoers with the sword, wage just wars,1 serve as soldiers, buy and sell, take required oaths, possess property, get married, etc.

Here the Anabaptists are condemned, who teach that none of the things cited above is Christian.2

Also condemned are those who teach that it is Christian perfection to physically forsake house and home, wife and child, and to renounce the activities already touched upon,3 even though true perfection consists only of true fear of God and true faith in God. For the gospel does not teach an external, temporal existence and righteousness, but an internal, eternal existence and righteousness of the heart, and it does not overthrow secular government, polity, and marriage, but rather wants people to uphold all of these as true arrangements of God and to demonstrate Christian love and actual good works in these stations, each according to his calling.4 Therefore Christians are obligated to be submissive to the authorities and obedient to their commands and laws in everything that may be done without sin. For if the authority’s command may not be carried out without sinning, then we should be more obedient to God than to men (Acts 5).5

(To continue to Article 17, click here.)

Notes

1 The concept of a “just war” has been grappled with by Christians of every age. A list of the characteristics of a just war will generally follow these guidelines:

  • Waged by a legal authority
  • Waged for a just cause (e.g. in response to an unprovoked attack vs. mere aversion to another country and its policies)
  • Waged as a last resort
  • Waged with a reasonable probability of success
  • Waged with proportionate means
  • Waged with due regard for the innocent

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5 & 12.

3 Melanchthon is primarily referring to the monastic movement.

4 This article touches on the Christian doctrine of vocation, which Luther brought back to the fore – the fact that, when we are converted, Christ sanctifies whatever current callings we have and fills them with eternal purpose and turns them into opportunities for us to glorify him and to love and serve our neighbor. (An inherently sinful occupation, such as prostitution, would of course not qualify as a divine calling.) To summarize the practical value of this doctrine, sometimes an apocryphal Luther quote is cited: God doesn’t want a Christian shoemaker to stitch crosses on the shoes he makes so much as he wants him to make good, quality shoes.

4 For proof passages for this article, see e.g. Mark 12:17; Luke 3:14; John 19:11; Romans 13:1-5; 1 Corinthians 7:17,24; 10:31; Colossians 3:17; 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Luther Visualized 8 – The Diet at Worms

Luther’s Stand Before the Diet at Worms

Anton von Werner, Luther at the Diet at Worms, oil on canvas, 1877

This painting depicts Luther’s famous stand before the Holy Roman Emperor on April 18, 1521. The emperor, Charles V, sits beneath the curtained canopy, with bishops and cardinals surrounding him. The presiding official, Johann von der Eck, is holding a parchment in his right hand. Luther tells the assembly, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything…”

Sources
Weimarer Ausgabe 7:814ff, esp. p. 838

Luther’s Works 32:101ff

Some Diet at Worms Trivia

  1. Two contemporaries of Luther, Daniel Greser and Helius Eobanus Hessus, record that when Luther preached at the Augustinian church in Erfurt on his way to Worms, “the church was so full of people that the balcony groaned and everyone thought it was going to collapse, and so a few people also knocked the windows out and would have jumped out onto the churchyard if Luther had not reassured them and told them to stay put. He said the devil was up to his usual mischief and they should just stay put; nothing bad was going to happen.” He may have even addressed the devil himself: “I know your tricks, you bitter enemy!” The people did stay put, there was no accident, and Luther went on to deliver a beautiful gospel sermon (available in English in Luther’s Works 51:60ff).
  2. diet back then had nothing to do with food. In basic terms, a diet was a regular, representative imperial business meeting for the Holy Roman Empire. These meetings or assemblies were attended by the Holy Roman Emperor and the Imperial Estates of the empire. The Imperial Estates were divided into three chambers—the Council of Electors, the Council of Princes, and the Council of Free and Imperial Cities. These representatives would hold discussions and make decisions pertaining to the problems, reform, and maintenance of the empire.
  3. On the first day of Luther’s trial at Worms, April 17, he was much more subdued and seemed to be nervous. It seems that he was still hoping to get a fair hearing. He quickly realized, however, that as an excommunicated man he was only going to be asked to acknowledge his writings and to retract them. It was a deciding moment and Luther requested time for thought; he was granted one day. He was much more prepared, confident, and bold on the second day.
  4. Before Luther gave his famous summary speech concluding with “I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand,” etc. on the second day of his trial (April 18), he gave a much longer speech in which he classified his books into three categories, in order to show that they could not all be treated the same, even by his opponents. He actually gave this speech in German first, and then repeated it in Latin. He may have given his famous summary speech in both languages too. (This might account for the debate over whether or not he actually said the famous words, “Here I stand.”) By the time he was finished with all that talking at the end of the day’s proceedings, Luther was sweating heavily in the hot and overcrowded hall.
  5. Among those in attendance at the Diet at Worms was the somewhat famous Renaissance composer Ludwig Senfl, who eventually began a correspondence with Luther in 1530 and even sent him one of his motets. Scholars are divided, however, on whether Senfl became a Protestant.
  6. Even many Lutherans think that Luther exited the Diet at Worms in the metaphorical blaze of glory after his famous “Here I stand” speech. While the proceedings for that day (April 18) did conclude shortly after Luther’s remarks, there were more private negotiations between Luther and a specially formed commission of ten men on the days following. Since Luther refused to back down from his biblical position and no agreement could be reached, Johann von der Eck visited him for the last time on April 25, warned him that the emperor was going to take action against him, and told him he should return home within 21 days.
  7. The resulting Edict of Worms, issued on May 25 and backdated to May 8, was the fiercest edict ever issued by a German emperor. It said that Luther and his sympathizers could be arrested or killed, and that his followers should be driven from their homes and anyone who wished could appropriate their belongings.
  8. There have always been behind-closed-doors aspects of politics that will remain shrouded in mystery until Judgment Day: Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, Luther’s governing prince, requested that he be exempted from enforcing the Edict of Worms, and Emperor Charles V inexplicably granted his request.

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.