Augsburg Confession – Article 26 – The Distinction of Foods

Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 25, click here.)

Previously people have taught, preached, and written that observing the distinction of foods and similar traditions instituted by men helps people merit grace and make satisfaction for their sin.1 On this basis people have come up with new fasts, new ceremonies, new orders and the like every day and have urged them fiercely and powerfully, as if these things were necessary forms of worship through which people would merit grace if they kept them, and would commit grave sin if they did not. This has led to a lot of pernicious error in the church.

First, it has the effect of obscuring the grace of Christ and the doctrine of faith, which holds the gospel before us with great earnestness and powerfully urges people to esteem and cherish the merit of Christ and to know that faith in Christ should be set far and away beyond all works. That is why Saint Paul has fiercely attacked the Law of Moses and human traditions, so that we might learn that we do not become pious before God by our works, but only through faith in Christ, and that we obtain grace for Christ’s sake. This doctrine has almost been completely extinguished through the teaching that people can merit grace by observing appointed fasts, distinguishing between foods, dressing a certain way, etc.

Second, such traditions have also obscured God’s commands, for these traditions are set far above God’s commands. This is all that people think the Christian life consists of: If people observe these festivals, pray these prayers, observe these fasts, dress this way—that’s called a spiritual, Christian life. At the same time, other good works that are actually necessary are considered to be a worldly, unspiritual existence, namely those that each person is responsible for according to his vocation, such as the head of the household working to support his wife and children and to bring them up in the fear of God, the mother bearing children and attending to them, a prince or ruling body governing land and people, etc. These works that are commanded by God had to be a worldly and imperfect existence, while the traditions had to have the sparkling reputation, so that they alone were called holy, perfect works. Accordingly there was neither limit nor end of making such traditions.

Second page of Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Third, such traditions have turned into a heavy burdening of consciences. For it was impossible to keep all the traditions, and nevertheless the people were of the opinion that they were a necessary form of worship. And Gerson writes that many have fallen into despair over this; some have even killed themselves on account of the fact that they heard no comfort from the grace of Christ.2 For one can see how consciences are bewildered from the scholastics and theologians who have attempted to compile all the traditions, and those who have sought some balance to help those consciences have had to spend so much time on it that in the meantime all beneficial Christian doctrine about necessary matters, such as faith, comfort in difficult trials and the like, was smothered. Many pious, learned people in the past have also complained loudly about this, that such traditions cause a lot of strife in the church, and that pious people are hindered with them and cannot come to the proper knowledge of Christ. Gerson and several others have complained fiercely about this. Yes, it even displeased Augustine that consciences were burdened with so many traditions. That is why he gives instruction along with them, so that people do not regard them as necessary things.4

Our men have therefore not taught about these matters out of insolence or contempt for spiritual authority, but dire need has required them to give instruction about the above-cited errors, which have developed from a misunderstanding of traditions. For the gospel compels us that we should and must promote the doctrine of faith in the church, but this doctrine cannot be understood if people are under the false impression that they can merit grace through self-chosen works.

And so we teach in this regard that a person cannot merit grace or appease God or make satisfaction for sin by keeping said human traditions. And therefore they should not be made into necessary forms of worship. The reason for this is drawn from Scripture. In Matthew 15 Christ excuses the apostles when they had not kept the customary traditions, and he says in addition, “They honor me in vain with human rules.” Now if he calls this an act of worship done in vain, it must not be necessary. And shortly thereafter: “What goes into the mouth does not defile a person.” Likewise Paul says in Romans 14: “The kingdom of heaven does not consist in food or drink.” Colossians 2: “No one should judge you in food, drink, Sabbath, etc.” Peter says in Acts 15: “Why do you test God by imposing on the disciples’ necks the yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? No, we believe that we are saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the same way that they are.” There Peter forbids us from burdening consciences with more external ceremonies, whether they be of Moses or others. And in 1 Timothy 4 prohibitions like prohibiting food, marriage, etc. are called devil’s doctrine. For this is diametrically opposed to the gospel, when such works are instituted or performed in order to merit the forgiveness of sins, or the impression is given that no one can be a Christian without performing them.

Third page of Article 26 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

But as for the accusation that our teachers forbid mortification and discipline, like Jovinian did,5 much to the contrary can be found in their writings. For they have always taught about the holy cross that Christians are duty-bound to suffer, and this is real and serious, not invented, mortification. In addition, we also teach that everyone is duty-bound to keep himself in check with physical discipline, such as with fasting and other works, so that he does not give himself occasion to sin, not so that he can merit grace with such works.6 Such physical discipline should not just be urged on certain appointed days, but constantly. Christ speaks of this in Luke 21: “Guard yourselves, that your hearts do not become weighed down by dissipation.” Likewise: “The demons are not expelled except through fasting and prayer.”7 And Paul says that he mortified his body and brought it into obedience.8 He thereby indicates that mortification should serve not to merit grace but to keep the body prepared, so that it does not keep anyone from doing what has been entrusted to him according to his calling. And so we do not reject fasting itself, but the fact that it has been turned into a necessary act of worship on appointed days and with certain foods, with the result that it confuses consciences.

We on our part also retain many ceremonies and traditions, such as the order of the Mass and other songs, festivals, etc., which help to preserve good order in the church. But in addition, the people are instructed that such outward worship does not make one pious before God, and that it should be observed without burdening the conscience, so that if someone gives it up without giving offense, no sin is committed in doing so. The ancient Fathers also preserved this freedom in outward ceremonies. For in the East Easter was observed at a different time than in Rome.9 And when some wanted to treat this difference as a rupture in the church, they were admonished by others that it is not necessary to maintain unity in such customs. And Irenaeus has this to say: “Differences in fasting do not rupture the unity of the faith.”10 So too it is written in Distinction 12 that such differences in human ordinances are not contrary to the unity of Christendom.11 And the Tripartite History, in Book 9, compiles many dissimilar church customs and sets down a useful Christian saying, “The apostles’ intention was not to institute festivals, but to teach faith and love.”12

Notes

1 Thomas Aquinas had written in his famous Summa Theologiae (composed from 1265-1274), Part 2, Section 2, Question 147, Article 1 (e.g. in the bottom of the left column in the 1512 Haguenau edition published by Heinrich Gran):

The practice of fasting is adopted chiefly for three reasons: First, of course, in order to keep the longings of the flesh in check. … Secondly, it is adopted in order that the mind may be more readily elevated to the contemplation of the sublime. … Thirdly, in order to make satisfaction for sins.

2 Melanchthon is citing Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), a French scholar, educator, reformer, and poet. Gerson wished to banish scholastic subtleties from the studies of the University of Paris, and at the same time to put some evangelical warmth into them, giving them a more spiritual and practical focus. Scholars are unsure which of Gerson’s works Melanchthon is citing here.

3 Liber de vita spirituali animae (The Spiritual Life of the Soul), in Joannis Gersonii Doctoris Theologi & Cancellarii Parisiensis Opera Omnia, ed. Louis Ellies du Pin, vol. 3 (Antwerp, 1706), Reading 2 (cols. 16-17); Reading 4, Corollary 11 (cols. 44-45).

4 Augustine treated the subject of traditions especially brilliantly in two letters he wrote in reply to a certain Januarius (Letters 54 and 55). Here is an excerpt from the former:

I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a “light yoke” and an “easy burden,” as He declares in the Gospel: in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God’s ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established. There are other things, however, which are different in different places and countries: e.g., some fast on Saturday, others do not; some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered; in others it is only on Saturday and the Lord’s day, or it may be only on the Lord’s day. In regard to these and all other variable observances which may be met anywhere, one is at liberty to comply with them or not as he chooses; and there is no better rule for the wise and serious Christian in this matter, than to conform to the practice which he finds prevailing in the Church to which it may be his lot to come. For such a custom, if it is clearly not contrary to the faith nor to sound morality, is to be held as a thing indifferent, and ought to be observed for the sake of fellowship with those among whom we live. … I answer, therefore, that if the authority of Scripture has decided which of these methods is right, there is no room for doubting that we should do according to that which is written; and our discussion must be occupied with a question, not of duty, but of interpretation as to the meaning of the divine institution. In like manner, if the universal Church follows any one of these methods, there is no room for doubt as to our duty; for it would be the height of arrogant madness to discuss whether or not we should comply with it. But the question which you propose is not decided either by Scripture or by universal practice. It must therefore be referred to the third class—as pertaining, namely, to things which are different in different places and countries.

5 The ascetic Jovinian (d. c. 405) was much maligned, and his views exaggerated, by Jerome’s later invective in his two books Against Jovinian, written in 393. Jovinian did not so much oppose mortification and discipline, as he did the idea that such measures were meritorious or possessed a character of moral elevation. Melanchthon’s characterization of him here is based on Jerome’s.

6 Modern-day examples would include self-imposed or mutually arranged accountability measures with regard to internet usage, consumption of food or drink, recreational pastimes, etc.

7 Mark 9:29

8 1 Corinthians 9:27

9 In Asia Minor Easter was observed on the Jewish day of Passover (14 Nisan), but in Rome and the rest of the Christian world it was observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox (see Eusebius, Church HistoryBook 5, Chapter 23).

10 Quoted in Eusebius, Church HistoryBook 5, Chapter 24, par. 13.

11 See Gratian’s Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 12, Chapter 10 here (type 98 in the “Jump to page” field and click Go). The excerpt cited there was penned by Gregory the Great to Augustine of Canterbury (Bishop of the Angli from 597-604) and reads as follows:

Thy Fraternity [dignified way of addressing Augustine] knows the use of the Roman Church, in which thou hast been nurtured. But I approve of thy selecting carefully anything thou hast found that may be more pleasing to Almighty God, whether in the Roman Church or that of Gaul, or in any Church whatever, and introducing in the Church of the Angli, which is as yet new in the faith, by a special institution, what thou hast been able to collect from many Churches. For we ought not to love things for places, but places for things. Wherefore choose from each several Church such things as are pious, religious, and right, and, collecting them as it were into a bundle, plant them in the minds of the Angli for their use.

The entire letter is available in its entirety in English here. (To distinguish this Augustine from the more renowned Augustine of Hippo, some choose to pronounce the former AW-gus-teen and the latter u-GUS-tin.)

12 Rf. Note 13 under Article 24. Melanchthon’s reference (from Book 9, Chapter 38) can be viewed on folio 78b here. It is based on Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22.

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Augsburg Confession – Article 24 – The Mass

Article 24 (misprinted as 23) of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 23, click here.)

Our churches are charged with supposedly having abolished the Mass,1 but unjustly so. For it is obvious – and we may say this without boasting – that we observe the Mass with greater devotion and seriousness than our opponents do. The people are also frequently instructed with the utmost diligence about why the Holy Sacrament was instituted and how it should be used, namely so that terrified consciences may be comforted with it. In this way the people are drawn to Communion and the Mass. Along with that, instruction against other incorrect teachings about the Sacrament is also given. Nor has any noticeable change been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in several places German songs are sung in addition to Latin singing, for the teaching and training of the people. After all, this is the chief purpose that all ceremonies should serve, that the people learn from them what it is necessary for them to know about Christ.2

But since in times past the Mass has been abused in a number of different ways (a fact as clear as day), so that it was turned into a retail fair where people were buying and selling them and the majority of masses in all the churches were said for the sake of money,such abuse has been rebuked by learned and pious people more than once, even before our time.3 Now when our preachers preached about this and the priests were reminded of that terrible threat, which really should stir up every Christian, that whoever uses the Sacrament in an unworthy manner is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of Christ,4 such masses for sale and private masses, which had hitherto been said out of compulsion for the sake of money and prebends,5 consequently fell out of use in our churches.6

In addition, we also rebuke the appalling error that has been taught, that our Lord Christ has only made satisfaction for inherited sin through his death and that the Mass was instituted as a sacrifice for the other sins, thus turning the Mass into a sacrifice offered for both the living and the dead that is used to take away sin and appease God. This has furthermore led to people disputing whether a Mass said for many people merits as much as if a special one were said for each individual. This has resulted in the countless multitude of masses, with people using this work to try to obtain everything they need from God, while at the same time faith in Christ and true worship have been forgotten.

Second page of Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

Therefore instruction has been given about this, as necessity has unquestionably required, so that people may know the proper use of the Sacrament. We have taught them, first of all, that Scripture shows in many places that there is no other sacrifice for inherited sin and other sin besides the one and only death of Christ. For this is what stands written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Christ has sacrificed himself once and has thereby made satisfaction for all sin.7 It is quite an unheard-of innovation in church doctrine that Christ’s death was meant to make satisfaction only for inherited sin and not also for other sin besides. It is therefore to be hoped that one and all will understand that such an error is not rebuked unjustly.

Secondly, St. Paul teaches that we obtain grace before God through faith and not through works.8 This abuse of the Mass is obviously contrary to this, if people are imagining that they can obtain grace through this work. For it is well known that the Mass has been used for that purpose, to pay for sin and to obtain grace and every blessing from God, not just the priest for himself, but also for the whole world and for others, both living and dead.

Thirdly, the Holy Sacrament was instituted not to set up a sacrifice for sin – for the sacrifice has been made already – but so that our faith might be awakened through it and that consciences might be comforted when they perceive through the Sacrament that grace and forgiveness of sin is promised to them by Christ.9 This sacrament therefore requires faith, and without faith it is used in vain.10

Now since the Mass is not a sacrifice for others, living or dead, to take away their sin, but is meant to be a communion where the priest and others receive the Sacrament for themselves, this is the way in which we observe it: We hold Mass on holy days and other days when communicants are present, and all those who desire it are communed. In this way we retain the Mass in its proper use, the way it used to be held in the church, as one can prove from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and from the writings of many Fathers besides. For Chrysostom tells how the priest daily stands and summons some to Communion, while forbidding others to come forward.11 The ancient canons also indicate that one man officiated and communed the other priests and deacons. For this is how the words read in the Nicaean canon: The deacons should receive the Sacrament from the bishop or priest in an orderly way after the priests do.12

If then, in doing this, we have not undertaken any innovation that has not existed in the church of old, and if in the public ceremonies of the masses no noticeable change has been made except that the other unnecessary masses have fallen out of use, which were observed in addition to the parish Mass through an abuse somewhere along the line, it is therefore unjust that this way of holding Mass should be condemned as heretical and unchristian. For in the past, even in the large churches where there were many people, and even on the days where the people came together, Mass was not held every day. For Book 9 of the Tripartite History indicates that on Wednesday and Friday in Alexandria, Scripture was read and expounded and all other services were held without the Mass.13

(To continue to Article 25, click here.)

Notes

1 The term “the Mass” was and is sometimes used to refer to an entire service with Communion, but it is especially used to refer specifically to the rite of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, as it is in this article. The term comes from the Latin word missa, which was allegedly one of the concluding words of the ancient rite of the Sacrament: “Ite, missa est. [Go, the assembly is dismissed.]”

Melanchthon is referring to Dr. Johann Eck’s 404 Articles, a publication that lumped Luther together with Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Carlstadt, Pirkheimer, Hubmaier, and Denck, and charged them with every conceivable heresy. This publication had a significant influence on the final form of the Augsburg Confession. Depending on the edition and the numbering, the articles in which Eck dealt with alleged errors about the Mass began with either 269 or 270. You can read the original Latin here, a German translation here, and an English translation here.

2 1 Corinthians 14:26. The content of this paragraph in Latin is ordered differently and expanded upon:

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. For the Mass is retained among us and celebrated with the utmost reverence. And almost all of the usual ceremonies are preserved, except that here and there German songs are added to the Latin ones, which is done in order to teach the people. For that is what ceremonies are especially useful for—teaching the ignorant. Plus, Paul instructed that a language understood by the people should be used in church [1 Corinthians 14]. The people are accustomed to receiving the Sacrament together, as many as are fit for it; this also increases the reverence and piety of the public ceremonies. For none are admitted unless they have first been examined and heard. People are also reminded of the value and use of the Sacrament, how much comfort it affords to troubled consciences, in order that they may learn to trust in God and to expect and ask for everything good from God. This worship pleases God; using the Sacrament this way strengthens devotion to God. And so one cannot find masses among our adversaries that are conducted with greater piety than they are among us.

3 Such “learned and pious people” included Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361), Jean Charlier de Gerson (1363-1429), Nicolaus Cusanus (1401-1464), and Gabriel Biel (c. 1420-1495), among others; cf. Acts 8:20.

4 1 Corinthians 11:27

5 A prebend was the portion of the revenues of a cathedral formerly granted to a priest connected to a cathedral (serving under a bishop) as his stipend; cf. 1 Peter 5:2.

6 In the Latin version, a paragraph is added here:

Nor were the bishops ignorant of these abuses; if they had corrected them in time, there would be less dissension now. In the past, many vices were allowed to creep into the church through their negligence. Now, when it is too late, they are beginning to complain about the troubles in the church, even though this tumult had no source other than those very abuses, which were so obvious that they could not be tolerated any longer. Great dissensions have arisen over the Mass, over the Sacrament, perhaps as punishment for the way the world has been profaning masses for so long—a sacrilege that has been tolerated in the church for so many centuries by the very men who both could have and ought to have corrected it. For it is written in the Decalogue that the one who misuses the name of God will not go unpunished [Exodus 20:7]. And from the beginning of the world there does not seem to be any divine thing that has ever been exploited for gain the way the Mass has.

7 Hebrews 2:14-17; 7:27; 9:12,26,28; 10:12,14; see also 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2.

8 Romans 3:21-24; 4:4-8; Galatians 2:15,16; Ephesians 2:8,9

9 Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

10 The Latin version has a somewhat different train of thought here:

But Christ commands us to do this in memory of him. That is why the Mass was instituted, in order that faith in those who receive the Sacrament may recall the benefits it receives through Christ and may cheer up and console the troubled conscience. For to remember Christ means to remember his benefits and to sense that they are truly presented to us. Nor is it enough to recall the history, since the Jews and the impious are able to recall this too. This is therefore the purpose for which the Mass should be celebrated, that there the Sacrament might be distributed to those who are in need of consolation, just as Ambrose says, “Because I am always sinning, I should always be taking the medicine.”

Melanchthon is concisely paraphrasing paragraph 25 from De sacramentis, Book 5, Chapter 4 (original Latin in col. 452 here), the final two sentences of which read thus: “Whoever has a wound requires medicine. The wound is that we are subject to sin; the medicine is the heavenly and venerable Sacrament.” Ambrose’s authorship of this treatise continues to be debated.

11 Melanchthon is combining portions from two of Chrysostom’s homilies. In Homily 3 on Ephesians (delivered prior to 392 AD), Chrysostom says, “In vain is the daily sacrifice [θυσία], in vain do we stand at the altar; there is no one to partake” (original Greek in col. 29 here). In Homily 17 on Hebrews (many scholars think he delivered these in Constantinople, thus between 398 and 404), he says, “This is also why the priest calls out when it is time, summoning the holy, and through this call inspecting everyone for blemishes, in order to prevent anyone unprepared from approaching. … [W]ith a loud voice, with an awful cry, just like some herald raising his hand into the air, standing aloft, having been made visible to everyone, and after that awful silence shouting out his important message, the priest invites some, but wards off others, not doing this with his hand, but with his tongue more distinctly than with his hand” (original Greek in cols. 132,133 here). In both sermons – worthy of reading in their entirety – Chrysostom rebukes some of his members for sporadic Communion attendance, adding in the Ephesians sermon that many only come to Communion on Epiphany and during Lent. This is eerily similar to the present-day phenomenon of so-called Christmas and Easter Christians. He also rebukes his members who merely come out of “custom and form than [out of] consideration and understanding.”

12 Canon 18 of the First Council of Nicaea. The Latin version adds: “And Paul commands about Communion that some should wait for the others, so that there may be common participation.”

13 The Tripartite History of Cassiodorus (c. 485-c. 585) was his compilation of the church histories of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret. Melanchthon’s reference can be viewed on folio 79b here. However, the original chapter on which it is based (Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22) says that the Wednesday and Friday in question were only those of Holy Week. However, earlier in the same chapter Socrates also says that “almost all churches throughout the world” celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Saturday, but the churches in Alexandria and Rome had ceased to do so. (Presumably they still did so the following day.)

It is indisputable that the Lutheran Church in the United States and elsewhere today celebrates the Lord’s Supper less often than the Christians in earlier times did. This is due to primarily two factors. The first is the influence of Pietism. Pietism was a movement that both affected and infected Lutheranism beginning in the late 1600s, in response to what it perceived as a lifeless Christianity. To try to correct the error, Pietism created errors of its own. Instead of turning people outside of themselves to the means of grace, it turned people inside themselves to search and fix their own minds, hearts, and motives. Examining oneself before Communion ballooned from an important biblical requirement to an exacting and exhausting ritual. Regular communing was seen as a lifeless habit. It was better, the Pietists thought, to commune only a few times a year with the proper heart (which often ended up being a self-righteous heart) than it was to receive it every Sunday in a habitual way (a false dichotomy). Thus, the practice of every-Sunday Communion was in many cases virtually extinguished in favor of communing a handful of times a year. Pietism continued to have an influence on Lutheranism in America. However, especially in the last century or so, as Lutheran leaders and teachers in the United States have studied and taught the need for Communion, the blessings of Communion, and the Communion practice of the ancient Christians and Lutherans, this has had a trickle-down effect, so that the regularity of Communion has gone from a handful of times a year, to once a month, to twice a month (still a common practice in many American Lutheran churches), to the receiving of Communion on all Sundays and church festivals in some churches, as described by Melanchthon in this article.

The second factor is a more nuanced purpose of worship. In the past, worship was very rarely considered as a venue for evangelism, if at all. Evangelism almost always took place outside of worship. However, Lutherans have in many cases done their best to make their regular services another viable option for acquainting people with the gospel, without ignoring the fact that worship is primarily intended for believers (Matthew 18:19,20; Ephesians 5:19,20; Colossians 3:15,16; Hebrews 10:19-25). Where congregations make worship one of the avenues for evangelism, it makes sense that Communion would not be offered in every main service, in order to have some services that pose less stumbling blocks for visitors, since the Scriptures commend the practice of close Communion, i.e. Communion only for those united in the same faith (1 Corinthians 11:17-32; 1:10; 10:16-22; Romans 16:17).

Confessional Lutherans continue to wrestle with this tension—wanting to derive and receive all the benefits from corporate worship that Jesus wants them to have, while at the same time wanting also to attract others to those benefits, in a gentle and loving way.