Confessions, apologies, and diets
June 25 will be the anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. In 1530, in Augsburg, Germany, regional princes and dukes signed a document along with some theologians and biblical scholars that was presented to the Holy Roman Emperor. They were laying out ways in which they wanted to see change in the church, like worship services in the vernacular (not Latin).
Let me copy some of the editor’s introduction to The Augsburg Confession as found in The Book of Concord…
In 1521 the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, outlawed Martin Luther and his teaching at the imperial Diet of Worms and ordered the suppression of all attempts to reform the church in his lands according to Luther’s program for reformation. Throughout the 1520s princes and cities intent on introducing that program jockeyed for political position with imperial and Roman Catholic forces within the assemblies (diets) of the empire, at Nuremberg (1522, 1523) and Speyer (1526, 1529). As a result of the ambiguous edict of 1526 Diet of Speyer, where German princes promised to carry out the Edict of Worms according to their own consciences, Elector John of Saxony undertook a formal visitation of the parishes in his territory without permission from the local Roman Catholic bishop. I this connection Philip Melanchthon, aided by Martin Luther and John Bugenhagen, Wittenberg’s head pastor, published in 1528 doctrinal guidelines for Saxony’s pastors, entitled Instructions by the Visitors. At the diet in Speyer in 1529 Charles had corrected the ambiguity of the earlier edict directed against the spread of the Lutheran reform This elicited a formal appeal or “protestatio” (testimony or confession) from Luther’s princely supporters.
Charles wanted to marshal support for his war against Turkish imperial forces, which had laid siege to Vienna in 1529; he was in conflict with France, and he wanted to consolidate his own power within Germany at the expense of the relatively independent territorial princes. The emperor also was concerned about the life of the church and interested in promoting a moral and institutional reform. At the same time he despised the doctrinal reformation Luther had set in motion. Therefore, after negotiations with Pope Clement VII in Bologna in January 1530, he called for the Lutheran princes and cities to explain their religious program before an imperial diet, which he called for late spring in the city of Augsburg. In preparation for this diet Elector John of Saxony commissioned his theologians, led by Luther and Melanchthon, to prepare working papers on the issues that had led to reform in the Saxon and other territorial churches influenced by Luther’s teaching. The so-called Torgau Articles, named after the Saxon town where some work on them was completed, developed in a series of drafts and treated the subjects of human ordinances, marriage of priests, both kinds (bread and wine) in the Lord’s Supper, the sacrifice of the Mass, confession, ecclesiastical jurisdiction, ordination, monastic vows, invocation of saints, and use of the vernacular in worship.
Because he had been declared an outlaw by the emperor in 1521, Luther dared not travel to Augsburg, where he would certainly have been arrested and perhaps executed by Charles’s forces. Instead, Melanchthon headed the Saxon theologians who went to the diet. In Augsburg he was greeted by a new publication, edited by John Eck, professor at Ingolstadt, one of the brightest and best of Roman Catholic theologians in Germany at the time and a sworn enemy of the Wittenbergers. This assembly of Four Hundred Four Propositions presented citations from Luther, Melanchthon, and their colleagues mixed with a wide range of statements from others who were criticizing the church, including Antitrinitarians and Anabaptists as well as Ulrich Zwingli and others who shared his rejection of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. By grouping them together with the Wittenberg theologians, Eck gave the impression that the Saxon theology affirmed most heresies known to the church. Melanchthon recognized that the Lutherans would have to do more than address the issues of reform. […]
After several weeks of intensive of intense negotiations with representatives of the Roman Catholic princes and bishops as well as the emperor, seven Lutheran princes and two municipal governments subscribed Melanchthon’s “Confession” and presented it to the emperor and the assembled princes and representatives of imperial cities in the diet on 25 June 1530. Chancellor Christian Beyer of Elector John’s government read the German text to the diet, and his voice carried its words into the street outside. In accord with the imperial instructions, Melanchthon had also prepared a Latin version of the Confession that was handed over to Charles at the same time. (The Book of Concord, pp.27-28, Kolb and Wengert, eds.)
You can sense the tension that would have been surrounding the people and the time in which they lived, and the courage they must have had to muster to continue in their work. (For a dramatization of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, click here – a clip from the 2003 film, Luther.)
This kind of “confession” document is meant to lay out clearly what it is that a group of people believes – what makes them unique in their way of believing (so, you would see in the Augsburg Confession statements like “we believe that baptism is a means of grace where infants are welcomed into God’s family, not like the Anabaptists who require a testimony before baptism”). An “apology” to the confessional document was written – that is, a work to describe and defend the confession. The “diet” at Worms in 1521 was an imperial court, a trial.
All of this puts the church pretty close to the state, doesn’t it? We go to great lengths to make a clear distinction between church and state, especially in North America, but it’s always there. …perhaps not always church – it could be synagogue, mosque, temple, or what-have-you. But what we believe and value in life invariably enters in to how we want to have life together bound and free – and legislation (which is carried out by the state) is meant to bind and free with the laws and freedoms that are set in law.
I suppose this would always invite us in to conversation as to how much we want for faith – whatever faith we may confess – to inform our politics and government. I would say that it always does, for better and worse. My hope is that church community can be a voice that is free, and frees others, to speak words of truth, grace, and love – especially for those on the margins of society.