Originally published at: https://bookofconcord.org/introductory-materials/historical-introductions/the-book-of-concord/
by F. Bente
I. The Book of Concord, or The Concordia.
1. General and Particular Symbols.
Book of Concord, or Concordia, is the title of the Lutheran corpus doctrinae, i. e., of the symbols recognized and published under that name by the Lutheran Church. The word symbol, sumbolon, is derived from the verb sumballein, to compare two things for the purpose of perceiving their relation and association. Sumbolon thus developed the meaning of tessara, or sign, token, badge, banner, watchword, parole, countersign, confession, creed. A Christian symbol, therefore, is a mark by which Christians are known. And since Christianity is essentially the belief in the truths of the Gospel, its symbol is of necessity a confession of Christian doctrine. The Church, accordingly, has from the beginning defined and regarded its symbols as a rule of faith or a rule of truth. Says Augustine: “Symbolum est regula fidei brevis et grandis: brevis numero verborum, grandis pondere sententi- arum. A symbol is a rule of faith, both brief and grand: brief, as to the number of words; grand, as to the weight of its thoughts.”
Cyprian was the first who applied the term symbol to the baptismal confession, because, he said, it distinguished the Christians from non-Christians. Already at the beginning of the fourth century the Apostles’ Creed was universally called symbol; and in the Middle Ages this name was applied also to the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds. In the “Introduction” to the Book of Concord the Lutheran confessors designate the Augsburg Confession as the “symbol of our faith,” and in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, as “our symbol of this time.”
Symbols may be divided into the following classes: 1. Ecumenical symbols, which, at least in the past, have been accepted by all Christendom, and are still formally acknowledged by most of the evangelical Churches; 2. particular symbols, adopted by the various denominations of divided Christendom; 3. private symbols, such as have been formulated and published by individuals, for example, Luther’s Confession of the Lord’s Supper of 1528. The publication of private confessions does not necessarily involve an impropriety; for according to Matt. 10, 32. 33 and 1 Pet. 3, 15 not only the Church as a whole, but individual Christians as well are privileged and in duty bound to confess the Christian truth over against its public assailants. Self- evidently, only such are symbols of particular churches as have been approved and adopted by them. The symbols of the Church, says the _Formula of Concord_, “should not be based on private writings, but on such books as have been composed, approved, and received in the name of the churches which pledge themselves to one doctrine and religion.” (CONC. TRIGL., 851, 2.)
Not being formally and explicitly adopted by all Christians, the specifically Lutheran confessions also are generally regarded as particular symbols. Inasmuch, however, as they are in complete agreement with Holy Scripture, and in this respect differ from all other particular symbols, the Lutheran confessions are truly ecumenical and catholic in character. They contain the truths believed universally by true Christians everywhere, explicitly by all consistent Christians, implicitly even by inconsistent and erring Christians. Christian truth, being one and the same the world over, is none other than that which is found in the Lutheran confessions.
2. The German Book of Concord.
The printing of the official German edition of the Book of Concord was begun in 1578, under the editorship of Jacob Andreae. The 25th of June, 1580, however, the fiftieth anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V, was chosen as the date for its official publication at Dresden and its promulgation to the general public. Following are the contents of one of the five Dresden folio copies which we have compared: 1. The title-page, concluding with the words, “Mit Churf. G. zu Sachsen Befreiung. Dresden MDLXXX.” 2. The preface, as adopted and signed by the estates at Jueterbock in 1579, which supplanted the explanation, originally planned, of the theologians against the various attacks made upon the Formula of Concord. 3. The three Ecumenical Symbols. 4. The Augsburg Confession of 1530. 5. The Apology of 1530. 6. The Smalcald Articles of 1537, with the appendix, “Concerning the Power and Supremacy of the Pope.” 7. Luther’s Small Catechism, omitting the “Booklets of Marriage and Baptism,” found in some copies. 8. Luther’s Large Catechism. 9. The Formula of Concord, with separate title-pages for the Epitome and the Solida Declaratio, both dated 1580. 10. The signatures of the theologians, etc., amounting to about 8,000. 11. The Catalogus Testimoniorum, with the superscription “Appendix” (found in some copies only). The Preface is followed by a Privilegium signed by Elector August and guaranteeing to Matthes Stoeckel and Gimel Bergen the sole right of publication, a document not found in the other copies we com- pared. The Formula of Concord is followed by a twelve-page index of the doctrines treated in the Book of Concord; and the list of signatures, by a page containing the trade-mark of the printer. The center of this page features a cut inscribed, “Matthes Stoeckel Gimel Bergen 1579.” The cut is headed by Ps. 9, 1. 2: “Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen und erzaehle all deine Wunder. Ich freue mich und bin froehlich in dir und lobe deinen Namen, du Allerhoechster. I thank the Lord with all my heart and proclaim all Thy wonders. I am glad and rejoice in Thee, and praise Thy name, Thou Most High.” Under the cut are the words: “Gedruckt zu Dresden durch Matthes Stoeckel. Anno 1580. Printed by Matthes Stoeckel, Dresden, 1580.”
In a letter dated November 7, 1580, Martin Chemnitz speaks of two Dresden folio editions of the German Book of Concord, while Feuerlinus, in 1752, counts seven Dresden editions. As a matter of fact, the Dresden folio copies differ from one another, both as to typography and contents. Following are the chief differences of the latter kind: 1. Only some copies have the liturgical Forms of Baptism and of Marriage appended to the Small Catechism. 2. The Catalogus is not entitled “Appendix” in all copies, because it was not regarded as a part of the confession proper. 3. In some copies the passage from the Augsburg Confession, quoted in Art. 2, 29 of the Solida Declaratio, is taken, not from the Mainz Manuscript, but from the quarto edition of 1531, which already contained some alterations. 4. Some copies are dated 1580, while others bear the date 1579 or 1581. Dr. Kolde gives it as his opinion that in spite of all these and other (chiefly typographical) differences they are nevertheless all copies of one and the same edition, with changes only in individual sheets. (_Historische Einleitung in die Symbolischen Buecher der ev.-luth. Kirche_, p. 70.) Dr. Tschackert inclines to the same view, saying: “Such copies of this edition as have been preserved exhibit, in places, typographical differences. This, according to Polycarp Leyser’s _Kurzer und gegruendeter Bericht_, Dresden, 1597 (Kolde, 70), is due to the fact that the manuscript was rushed through the press and sent in separate sheets to the interested estates, and that, while the forms were in press, changes were made on the basis of the criticisms sent in from time to time, yet not equally, so that some copies differ in certain sheets and insertions.” (_Die Entstehung der luth. und der ref. Kirchenlehre_, 1910, p. 621.)
However, while this hypothesis explains a number of the variations in the Dresden folio copies, it does not account for all of them, especially not for those of a typographical nature. In one of the five copies which we compared, the title-page, radically differing from the others, reads as follows: “Formula Concordiae. Das ist: Christliche, Heilsame, Reine Vergleichunge, in welcher die Goettliche Leer von den vornembsten Artikeln unserer wahrhafftigen Religion, aus heiliger Schrifft in kurtze bekanntnues oder Symbola und Leerhafte Schrifften, welche allbereit vor dieser zeit von den Kirchen Gottes Augspurgischer Confession, angenommen und approbiert, verfasset. Sampt bestendiger, in Gottes wort wolgegruendeter, richtiger, endlicher widerholung, erklerung und entscheidung doren Streit, welche unterter etlichen Theologen, so sich zu ermelter Confession bekant, fuerge- fallen. Alles nach inhalt der heiligen Schrifft, als der einigen Richtschnur der Goettlichen wahrheit, und nach anleitung obgemeldter in der Kirchen Gottes, approbierten Schrifften. Auff gnedigsten, gnedigen, auch guetigsten beuehl, verordnung und einwilligung nach beschriebener Christlichen Churfuersten, Fuersten und Stende des heiligen Roemischen Reichs Deutscher Nation, Augspurgischer Confession, derselben Landen, Kirchen, Schulen und Nachkommen zum trost und besten in Druck vorfertiget. M. D. LXXIX.” (“Formula of Concord, that is, Christian, wholesome, pure agreement, in which the divine doctrine of the chief articles of our true religion have been drawn up from the Holy Scripture in short confessions or symbols and doctrinal writings, which have already before this time been accepted and approved by the Churches of God of the _Augsburg Confession_, together with a firm, Scripturally well-founded, correct, final repetition, explanation and decision of those controversies which have arisen among some theologians who have subscribed to said Confession, all of which has been drawn up according to the contents of Holy Scripture, the sole norm of divine Truth, and according to the analogy of the above-named writings which have the approval of the Churches of God. Published by the most gracious, kind, and benevolent command, order, and assent of the subscribed Christian Electors, princes, and estates of the Holy Roman Empire, of the German nation, of the Augsburg Confession, for the comfort and benefit of said lands, churches, schools, and posterity. 1579.”)
Apart from the above title this copy differs from the others we examined in various ways, Everywhere (at four different places) it bears the date 1579, which, on the chief title-page, however, seems to have been entered in ink at a later date. Also the place of publication, evidently Dresden, is not indicated. Two variations are found in the Preface to the _Book of Concord_, one an omission, the other an addition. The signatures of the princes and estates to the Preface are omitted. Material and formal differences are found also on the pages containing the subscriptions of the theologians to the Formula of Concord; and the Catalogus is lacking entirely. The typography everywhere, especially in the portions printed in Roman type, exhibits many variations and divergences from our other four copies, which, in turn, are also characterized by numerous typographical ‘and other variations. The copy if which, above, we have given the contents is dated throughout 1580. Our third copy bears the same date, 1580, excepting on the title-page of the Solida Declaratio, which has 1579. In both of these copies the typography of the signatures to the Book of Concord is practically alike. In our fourth copy the date 1580 is found on the title-page of _The Concordia_, the Catalogus, and the appended Saxon Church Order, which covers 433 pages, while the title- pages of the Epitome and the Declaratio and the page carrying the printer’s imprint are all dated 1579. In this copy the typography of the signatures closely resembles that of the copy dated everywhere 1579. In our fifth Dresden folio copy, the title-page of the Book of Concord and the Catalogus are dated 1580, while the title-paves of the Epitome and Solida Declaratio are dated 1576. This is also the only copy in which the Catalogus is printed under the special heading “Appendix.”
In view of these facts, especially the variation of the Roman type in all copies, Kolde’s hypothesis will hardly be regarded as firmly established. Even if we eliminate the copy which is everywhere dated 1579, the variations in our four remaining Dresden folio copies cannot be explained satisfactorily without assuming either several editions or at least several different compositions for the same edition, or perhaps for the two editions mentioned by Chemnitz. Feuerlinus distinguishes seven Dresden editions of the _Book of Concord_ – one, printed for the greater part in 1578, the second, third, and fourth in 1580, the fifth in 1581, the sixth also in 1581, but in quarto, and the seventh in 1598, in folio. (_Bibliotheca Symbolica_, 1752, p. 9.) A copy like the one referred to above, which is everywhere dated 1579, does not seem to have come to the notice of Feuerlinus.
In the copy of the Tuebingen folio edition which is before us, the Index follows the Preface. The appendices of the Small Catechism are omitted, likewise the superscription Appendix of the Catalogus. Our copy of the Heidelberg folio edition of 1582 omits the Catalogus and adds the Apology of the _Book of Concord_ of 1583, as also the Refutation of the Bremen Pastors of the same year. A copy of the Magdeburg quarto edition lying before us has the year 1580 on the title-pages of the _Book of Concord_, the Epitome, the Declaratio, and the Catalogus. The Preface is followed by three pages, on which Joachim Frederick guarantees to “Thomas Frantzen Buchvorlegern” (Thomas Frantzen, publishers) the sole right of publication for a period of five years, and prohibits the introduction of other copies, excepting only those of the Dresden folio edition of 1580. Luther’s Booklets of Marriage and of Baptism are appended to the Small Catechism, and to the Large Catechism is added “Eine kurze Vermahnung zu der Beicht, A Brief Exhortation to Confession.” (None of the Dresden folio copies we compared contain these appendices, nor are they found in the Latin editions of 1580 and 1584.) The index is followed by a page of corrected misprints. The last page has the following imprint: “Gedruckt zu Magdeburg durch Johann Meiszner und Joachim Walden Erben, Anno 1580, Printed at Magdeburg by John Meissnei’s and Joachim Walden’s heirs. In the year 1580.”
3. The Latin Concordia.
Even before the close of 1580, Selneccer published a Latin Concordia containing a translation of the _Formula of Concord_ begun by Lucas Osiander in 1578 and completed by Jacob Heerbrand. It was a private undertaking and, owing to its numerous and partly offensive mistakes, found no recognition. Thus, for instance, the passage of the Tractatus, “De Potestate et Primatu Papae,” in 24: “Christ gives the highest and final judgment to the church,” was rendered as follows: “Et Christus summum et ultimum ferculum apponit ecclesiae.” (p. 317.) Besides, Selneecer had embodied in his Concordia the objectionable text of the _Augsburg Confession_ found in the octavo edition of 1531, which Melanchthon had altered extensively. The necessary revision of the Latin text was made at the convention in Quedlinburg during December, 1582, and January, 1583, Chemnitz giving material assistance. The revised edition, which constitutes the Latin textus receptus of the _Formula of Concord_, was published at Leipzig in 1584. Aside from many corrections, this edition contains the translation of the Formula of Concord as already corrected by Selneccer in 1582 for his special Latin-German edition, and afterwards thoroughly revised by Chemnitz. The texts of the _Augsburg Confession_ and the Apology follow the _editio princeps_ of 1531. The 8,000 signatures, embodied also in the Latin edition of 1580, were omitted, lest any one might complain that his name was appended to a book which he had neither seen nor approved. In keeping herewith, the words in the title of the Book of Concord: “_et nomina sua huio libro subscripserunt_ – and have subscribed their names to this book”, which Mueller retained in his edition, were eliminated. The title-page concludes as in the edition of 1580, the word “denuo” only being added and the date correspondingly changed. On the last two pages of this edition of 1584 Selneccer refers to the edition of 1580 as follows: “Antea publicatus est liber Christianae Concordiae, Latine, sed privato et festinato institute, Before this the _Book of Concord_ has been published in Latin, but as a private and hasty undertaking.” In the edition of 1584, the text of the Small Catechism is adorned with 23 Biblical illustrations.
Among the later noteworthy editions of the _Book of Concord_ are the following: Tuebingen, 1599; Leipzig, 1603, 1622; Stuttgart, 1660, 1681. Editions furnished with introductions or annotations or both: H. Piping, 1703; S. J. Baumgarten, 1747; J. W. Schoepff, Part I, 1826, Part II, 1827; F. A. Koethe, 1830; J. A. Detzer, 1830; F. W. Bodemann, 1843. In America the entire _Book of Concord_ was printed in German by H. Ludwig, of New York, in 1848, and by _The Concordia_ Publishing House of St. Louis, Mo., in 1880. In Leipzig, Latin editions appeared in the years 1602, 1606, 1612, 1618, 1626, 1654, 1669, 1677. Adam Rechenberg’s edition “with an appendix in three parts and new indices” (_cum appendice tripartite et novis indicibus_) saw five editions – 1678, 1698, 1712, 1725, 1742. We mention also the edition of Pfaffius, 1730; Tittmann, 1817; H. A. G. Meyer, 1830, containing a good preface; Karl Hase, in his editions of 1827, 1837, and 1845, was the first to number the paragraphs. Reineccius prepared a German-Latin edition in 1708. This was followed in 1750 by the German-Latin edition of Johann Georg Walch. Mueller’s well-known German-Latin Concordia saw eleven editions between 1847 and 1912. Since 1907 it appears with historical introductions by Th. Kolde.
4. English Translations.
All of the Lutheran symbols have been translated into the English language repeatedly. In 1536 Richard Tavener prepared the first translation of the _Augsburg Confession_. Cranmer published, in 1548, “A Short Instruction into the Christian Religion,” essentially a translation of the Ansbach-Nuernberg Sermons on the Catechism. In 1834 a translation of the German text of the _Augsburg Confession_ with “Preliminary Observations” was published at Newmarket, Va., by Charles Henkel, Prof. Schmidt of the Seminary at Columbus, O., assisting in this work. The Introduction to the Newmarket _Book of Concord_ assigns Henkel’s translation of the _Augsburg Confession_ to the year 1831. Our copy, however, which does not claim to be a second edition, is dated 1834. In his Popular Theology of 1834, S. S. Schmucker offered a translation of the Latin text, mutilated in the interest of his American Lutheranism. Hazelius followed him with a translation in 1841. In 1848, Ludwig, of New York, issued a translation of the German text of the Unaltered _Augsburg Confession_, as well as of the Introduction, prepared by C. H. Schott, together with the Ecumenical Symbols, also with introductions. The title-page of our copy lists the price of the book at 12 1/2 cents. C. P. Krauth’s translation of the _Augsburg Confession_ appeared in 1868. The first complete translation of the German text of the entire _Book of Concord_ was published in 1851 by the publishing house of Solomon D. Henkel & Bros., at Newmarket, Va. In this translation, however, greater stress was laid on literary style than upon an exact reproduction of the original. Ambrose and Socrates Henkel prepared the translation of the _Augsburg Confession_, the _Apology_, the _Smalcald Articles_, the Appendix, and the Articles of Visitation. The _Small Catechism_ was offered in the translation prepared by David Henkel in 1827. The _Large Catechism_ was translated by J. Stirewalt; the Epitome, by H. Wetzel; the Declaratio, by J. R. Moser. The second, improved edition of 1854, contained a translation of the _Augsburg Confession_ by C. Philip Krauth, the Apology was translated by W. P. Lehmann, the Smalcald Articles by W. M. Reynolds, the two Catechisms by J. Cr. Morris, and the _Formula of Concord_ together with the Catalogus by C. F. Schaeffer. In both editions the historical introductions present a reproduction of the material in J. T. Mueller’s __Book of Concord__.
In 1882 a new English translation of the entire _Book of Concord_, together with introductions and other confessional material, appeared in two volumes, edited by Dr. H. E. Jacobs. The first volume of this edition embraces the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church. It contains C. P. Krauth’s translation of the _Augsburg Confession_ as re- vised for Schaff’s _Creeds of Christendom_. Jacobs translated the Apology (from the Latin, with insertions, in brackets, of translations from the German text), the Smalcald Articles (from the German), the Tractatus (from the Latin), and the _Formula of Concord_. The translation of the _Small Catechism_ was prepared by a committee of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania. The _Large Catechism_ was done into English by A. Martin. A reprint of this edition appeared in 1911, entitled “People’s Edition,” in which the _Augsburg Confession_ is presented in a translation prepared by a committee of the General Council, the General Synod, the United Synod in the South, and the Ohio Synod. The second volume of Jacobs’s edition of the _Book of Concord_ embodies historical introductions to the Lutheran symbols, translations of the Marburg Articles, the Schwabach Articles, the Torgau Articles, the Altered _Augsburg Confession_ of 1540 and 1542, Zwingli’s Ratio Fidei, the Tetrapolitana, the Romish Confutatio, Melanchthon’s Opinion of 1530, Luther’s Sermon on the Descent into Hell of 1533, the Wittenberg Concordia, the Leipzig Interim, the Catalogus Testimoniorum, the Articles of Visitation, and the Decretum Upsaliense of 1593. The Principles of Faith and Church Polity of the General Council and an index complete this volume. A Norwegian and a Swedish translation of the _Book of Concord_ have also been published in America.
5. Corpora Doctrinae Supplanted by _Book of Concord_.
More than twenty different Lutheran collections of symbols or _corpora doctrinae_ (a term first employed by Melanchthon), most of them bulky, had appeared after the death of Luther and before the adoption of the _Formula of Concord_, by which quite a number of them were supplanted. From the signatures to its Preface it appears that the entire _Book of Concord_ was adopted by 3 electors, 20 princes, 24 counts, 4 barons, and 35 imperial cities. And the list of signatures appended to the _Formula of Concord_ contains about 8,000 names of theologians, preachers, and schoolteachers. About two-thirds of the German territories which professed adherence to the Augsburg Confession adopted and introduced the _Book of Concord_ as their _corpus doctrinae._ (Compare Historical Introduction to the _Formula of Concord_.)
Among the _corpora doctrinae_ which were gradually superseded by the _Book of Concord_ are the following: 1. Corpus Doctrinae Philippicum, or Misnicum, or Wittenbergense of 1560, containing, besides the three Ecumenical Symbols, the following works of Melanchthon: Variata, Apologia, Repetitio Augustanae Confessionis, Loci, Examen Ordinandorum of 1552, Responsio ad Articulos Bavaricae Inquisitionis, Refutatio Serveti. Melanchthon, shortly before his death, wrote the preface for the Latin as well as the German edition of this Corpus. 2. Corpus Doctrinae Pomeranicum of 1564, which adds Luther’s Catechisms, the Smalcald Articles, and three other works of Luther to the Corpus Doctrinae Philippicum, which had been adopted 1561. 3. Corpus Doctrinae Prutenicum, or Borussicum, of Prussia, 1567, containing the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, and Repetition of the Sum and Content of the True, Universal Christian Doctrine of the Church, written by Moerlin and Chemnitz. 4. Corpus Doctrinae Thuringicum in Ducal Saxony, of 1570, containing the three Eeumenical Symbols, Luther’s Catechisms, the Smalcald Articles, the Confession of the Landed Estates in Thuringia (drawn up by Justus Menius in 1549), and the Prince of Saxony’s Book of Confutation (Konfutationsbuch) of 1558. 5. Corpus Doctrinae Brandenburgicum of 1572, containing the _Augsburg Confession_ according to the Mainz Manuscript, Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation of the _Augsburg Confession_ drawn from the postils and doctrinal writings “of the faithful man of God Dr. Luther” by Andreas Musculus, and a Church Agenda. 6. Corpus Doctrinae Wilhelminum of Lueneburg, 1576, containing the three Ecumenical Symbols, the _Augsburg Confession_, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, Luther’s Catechisms, Formulae Caute Loquendi (Forms of Speaking Cautiously) by Dr. Urbanus Regius, and Formulae Recte Sentiendi de Praecipuis Horum Temporum Controversiis (Forms of Thinking Correctly concerning the Chief Controversies of These Times) by Martin Chemnitz. 7. Corpus Doctrinae Iulium of Duke Julius of Braunschweig- Wolfenbuettel, 1576, containing the documents of the Wilhelminum, with the sole addition of the _Short Report of Some Prominent Articles of Doctrine, from the Church Order of Duke Julius, of 1569. 8. The Hamburg Book of Confession of 1560, which was also adopted by Luebeek and Lueneburg, and contained a confession against the Interim, drawn up by Aepinus in 1548, and also four declarations concerning Adiaphorism, Osiandrism, Majorism, and the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, drawn up since 1549. 9. The _Confessional Book of Braunschweig_, adopted in 1563 and reaffirmed in 1570, containing, The “Braunschweig Church Order of 1528”, the _Unaltered Augsburg Confession_, the _Apology_ thereof, the _Smalcald Articles_, _Explanation_, etc., drawn up at Lueneburg in 1561 against the Crypto-Calvinists. 10. The Church Order of the city of Goettingen, 1568, containing the Church Order of Goettingen of 1531, _Luther’s Small Catechism_, the _Smalcald Articles_, the _Augsburg Confession_, and the _Apology_. (Tschackert, _l. c._, 613 f.; Feuerlinus, _1.c._, 1 f.)
6. Subscription to Confessions.
The position accorded the symbols in the Lutheran Church is clearly defined by the _Book of Concord_ itself. According to it Holy Scripture alone is to be regarded as the sole rule and norm by which absolutely all doctrines and teachers are to be judged. The object of the Augustana, as stated in its Preface, was to show “what manner of doctrine has been set forth, in our lands and churches, from the Holy Scripture and the pure Word of God.” And in its Conclusion the Lutheran confessors declare: “Nothing has been received on our part against, Scripture or the Church Catholic,” and “we are ready, God willing, to present ampler information according to the Scriptures.” “Iuxta Scripturam” – such are the closing words of the Augsburg Confession. The Lutheran Church knows of no other principle.
In the _Formula of Concord_ we read: “Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, [which are to show] in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.” (777, 2.) In the “Conclusion” of the _Catalog of Testimonies_ we read: “The true saving faith is to be founded upon no church-teachers, old or new, but only and alone upon God’s Word, which is comprised in the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles, as unquestionable witnesses of divine truth.” (1149.)
The Lutheran symbols, therefore, are not intended to supplant the Scriptures, nor do they do so. They do, however, set forth what has been at all times the unanimous understanding of the pure Christian doctrine adhered to by sincere and loyal Lutherans everywhere; and, at the same time, they show convincingly from the Scriptures that our forefathers did indeed manfully confess nothing but God’s eternal truth, which every Christian is in duty bound to, and consistently always will, believe, teach, and confess.
The manner also in which Lutherans pledge themselves confessionally appears from these symbols. The _Augsburg Confession_ was endorsed by the princes and estates as follows: “The above articles we desire to present in accordance with the edict of Your Imperial Majesty, in order to exhibit our Confession and let men see a summary of the doctrine of our teachers.” (95, 6.) In the preamble to the signatures of 1537 the Lutheran preachers unanimously confess: “We have reread the articles of the Confession presented to the Emperor in the Assembly at Augsburg, and by the favor of God all the preachers who have been present in this Assembly at Smalcald harmoniously declare that they believe and teach in their churches according to the articles of the Confession and Apology.” (529.) John Brenz declares that he had read and reread, time and again, the Confession, the Apology, etc., and judged “that all these agree with Holy Scripture, and with the belief of the true and genuine Catholic Church (haec omnia convenire cum Sacra Scriptura et cum sententia verae _kai gnehsiehs_ catholicae ecclesiae).” (529.) Another subscription-to the _Smalcald Articles_ – reads: “I, Conrad Figenbotz, for the glory of God subscribe that I have thus believed and am still preaching and firmly believing as above.” (503,13.) Brixius writes in a similar vein: “I. . . . subscribe to the Articles of the reverend Father Martin Luther, and confess that hitherto I have thus believed and taught, and by the Spirit of Christ I shall continue thus to believe and teach.” (503, 27.)
In the “Preface” to the _Thorough Declaration of the Formula of Concord_ the Lutheran confessors declare: “To this Christian Augsburg Confession, so thoroughly grounded in God’s Word, we herewith pledge ourselves again from our inmost hearts. We abide by its simple, clear, and unadulterated meaning as the words convey it, and regard the said Confession as a pure Christian symbol, with which at the present time true Christians ought to be found next to God’s Word. . . . We intend also, by the grace of the Almighty, faithfully to abide. until our end by this Christian Confession, mentioned several times, as it was delivered in the year 1530 to the Emperor Charles V; and it is our purpose, neither in this nor in any other writing, to recede in the least from that oft-cited Confession, nor to propose another or new confession.” (847, 4. 5.) Again: “We confess also the First, Unaltered _Augsburg Confession_ as our symbol for this time (not because it was composed by our theologians, but because it has been taken from God’s Word and is founded firmly and well therein), precisely in the form in which it was committed to writing in the year 1530, and presented to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg.” (851, 5.)
In like manner the remaining Lutheran symbols were adopted. (852. 777.) Other books, the _Formula of Concord_ declares, are accounted useful, “as far as (wofern, quatenus) they are consistent with” the Scriptures and the symbols. (855, 10.) The symbols, however, are accepted “that we may have a unanimously received, definite, common form of doctrine, which all our Evangelical churches together and in common confess, from and according to which, because (cum, weil) it has been derived from God’s Word, all other writings should be judged and adjusted, as to how far (wofern, quatenus) they are to be approved and accepted.” (855, 10.)
After its adoption by the Lutheran electors, princes, and estates, the _Formula of Concord_, and with it the entire _Book of Concord_, was, as stated, solemnly subscribed by about 8,000 theologians, pastors, and teachers, the pledge reading as follows: “Since now, in the sight of God and of all Christendom, we wish to testify to those now living and those who shall come after us that this declaration herewith presented concerning all the controverted articles aforementioned and explained, and no other, is our faith, doctrine, and confession, in which we are also willing, by God’s grace, to appear with intrepid hearts before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, and give an account of it; and that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it, but, by the help of God’s grace, intend to abide thereby: therefore, after mature deliberation, we have, in God’s fear and with the invocation of His name, attached our signatures with our own hands.” (1103,40.)
Furthermore, in the Preface to the _Book of Concord_ the princes and estates declare that many churches and schools had received the _Augsburg Confession_ “as a symbol of the present time in regard to the chief articles of faith, especially those involved in controversy with the Romanists and various corruptions of the heavenly doctrine.” (7-) They solemnly protest that it never entered their minds “either to introduce, furnish a cover for, and establish any false doctrine, or in the least even to recede from the Confession presented in the year 1530 at Augsburg.” (15.) They declare: “This Confession also, by the help of God, we will retain to our last breath, when we shall go forth from this life to the heavenly fatherland, to appear with joyful and undaunted mind and with a pure conscience before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (15.) “Therefore we also have determined not to depart even a finger’s breadth either from the subjects themselves or from the phrases which are found in them (_vel a rebus ipsis vel a phrasibus, quae in illa habentur, discedere_), but, the Spirit of the Lord aiding us, to persevere constantly, with the greatest harmony, in this godly agreement, and we intend to examine all controversies according to this true norm and declaration of the pure doctrine.” (23.)
7. Pledging of Ministers to the Confessions.
Such being the attitude of the Lutherans towards their symbols, and such their evaluation of pure doctrine, it was self-evident that the public teachers of their churches should be pledged to the confessions. In December, 1529, H. Winckel, of Goettingen, drew up a form in which the candidate for ordination declares: “I believe and hold also of the most sacred Sacrament . . . as one ought to believe concerning it according to the contents of the Bible, and as Doctor Martin Luther writes and confesses concerning it especially in his Confession” (of the Lord’s Supper, 1528). The Goettingen Church Order of 1530, however, did not as yet embody a vow of ordination. The first pledges to the symbols were demanded by the University of Wittenberg in 1533 from candidates for the degree of Doctor of Divinity. In 1535 this pledge was required also of the candidates for ordination. The oath provided that the candidate must faithfully teach the Gospel without corruption steadfastly defend the Ecumenical Symbols, remain in agreement with the _Augsburg Confession_, and before deciding difficult controversies consult older teachers of the Church of the _Augsburg Confession_. Even before 1549 the candidates for philosophical degrees were also pledged by oath to the _Augsburg Confession_.
In 1535, at the Diet of Smalcald, it was agreed that new members entering the Smalcald League should promise “to provide for such teaching and preaching as was in harmony with the Word of God and the pure teaching of our [Augsburg] Confession.” According to the Pomeranian Church Order, which Bugenhagen drew up in 1535, pastors were pledged to the _Augsburg Confession_ and the _Apology_ thereof. Capito, Bucer, and all others who took part in the Wittenberg Concord of 1536, promised, over their signatures, “to believe and to teach in all articles according to the Confession and the Apology.” (_Corpus Reformatorum_, opp. Melanthonis, 3, 76.) In 1540, at Goettingen, John Wigand promised to accept the _Augsburg Confession_ and its _Apology_, and to abide by them all his life. “And,” he continued, “if I should be found to do otherwise or be convicted of teaching and confessing contrary to such Confession and Apology, then let me, by this signature, be condemned and deposed from this divine ministry. This do I swear; so help me God.” Also at Goettingen, Veit Pfluimacher vowed, in 1541, that he would preach the Gospel in its truth and purity according to the _Augsburg Confession_ and the contents of the postils of Anton Corvinus. He added: “Should I be found to do otherwise and not living up to what has been set forth above, then shall I by such act have deposed myself from office. This do I swear; so help me God.”
In 1550 and 1552, Andrew Osiander attacked the oath of confession which was in vogue at Wittenberg, claiming it to be “an entanglement in oath-bound duties after the manner of the Papists.” “What else,” said he, “does this oath accomplish than to sever those who swear it from the Holy Scriptures and bind them to Philip’s doctrine? Parents may therefore well consider what they do by sending their sons to Wittenberg to become Masters and Doctors. Money is there taken from them, and they are made Masters and Doctors. But while the parents think that their son is an excellent man, well versed in the Scriptures and able to silence enthusiasts and heretics, he is, in reality, a poor captive, entangled and embarrassed by oath-bound duties. For he has abjured the Word of God and has taken an oath on Philip’s doctrine.” Replying to this fanatical charge in 1553, Melanchthon emphasized the fact that the doctrinal pledges demanded at Wittenberg had been introduced, chiefly by Luther, for the purpose of “maintaining the true doctrine.” “For,” said Melanchthon, “many enthusiasts were roaming about at that time, each, in turn, spreading new silly nonsense, e. g., the Anabaptists, Servetus, Campanus, Schwenckfeld, and others. And such tormenting spirits are not lacking at any time (_Et non desunt tales furiae ullo tempore_).” A doctrinal pledge, Melanchthon furthermore explained, was necessary “in order correctly to acknowledge God and call upon Him to preserve harmony in the Church and to bridle the audacity of such as invent new doctrines.” (C. B. 12, 5.)