The Augsburg Confession of Faith by Philipp Schwartzerd

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Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

By 1530 Germany had become divided into Catholic and Lutheran states over which the Holy Roman Emperor exercised an ineffective rule. To promote imperial unity in the face of the Turkish military threat in Eastern Europe, the monarch asked the princes of the empire to meet. Because religious dissension impaired concerted military and political action, Charles V was eager to achieve a resolution. Concerned officials met in Augsburg, Bavaria.

Before receiving the imperial summons to Augsburg, the German Evangelicals had adopted the Schwabach Articles to express their understanding of the Christian faith, and they soon drafted the Torgau Articles, a list of complaints against practices of the papal church that they deemed abusive or corrupt. Philipp Melanchthon, a professor at the University of Wittenberg and close collaborator with Martin Luther, combined the two documents for presentation to the Imperial Diet on June 25, 1530. It thereafter became The Augsburg Confession of Faith.

To combat accusations of heresy, Melanchthon stressed the historical character of Lutheran beliefs by linking them to ancient creeds and writings of the church fathers, especially Saint Augustine. This reformer argued that nothing the Evangelicals affirmed conflicted with the teachings of Scripture and the faith of the ancient church.

The twenty-eight articles that make up The Augsburg Confession of Faith consist of twenty-one statements of doctrine and seven long declarations about abuses, together with demands for reforms. Although Melanchthon and his associates compiled the confession, Luther approved it as an accurate account of his doctrine. Luther could not attend the diet because he was under the ban of the empire and subject to arrest.

Public presentation of the Augsburg confession was the work of Christian Beyer, chancellor of Saxony in the employ of Prince-Elector John. Some time before the convocation, the Protestants had agreed to present a German rather than a Saxon front before the emperor, as the margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and the landgrave of Hesse joined with the city government of Nuremberg in endorsing the effort. Soon five other princes and municipal officials from Reutlingen also signed the confession.

Aligning the Evangelicals with historic orthodoxy, the confession begins by affirming a trinitarian view of God and scorns all who reject the doctrine of Original Sin. It emphatically declares the deity and humanity of Christ in the manner of ancient creeds, while asserting that Jesus died as a sacrifice for all sin, original and volitional.

Article 4 declares justification through faith alone in opposition to the common medieval belief in salvation by grace plus works of merit. This article is the cornerstone for the rest of the confession, for it specifies the arch distinctive in the Protestant understanding of salvation as an undeserved gift from God. That is, sinners cannot merit divine favor, but God requires perfect righteousness from them nevertheless. Justification sola fide (through faith alone) means that God confers on unworthy people who embrace Christ by faith the very righteousness he demands. In a transaction of imputation, the righteousness of Christ becomes the possession of believers as a gift of grace. Article 6 of the confession cites Saint Ambrose in support of this doctrine, thereby connecting it with ancient Catholic teachings.

Article 6 rebuts the charge that the Evangelicals’ doctrine of justification disparages good works by teaching that such deeds follow as fruits of justification. While such works contribute nothing to justification, they flow from it as necessary consequences. This conflicts with the Roman Catholic view that good works form faith and make it acceptable to God.

The Augsburg Confession of Faith is explicit in defining the church as the body of all true believers in Christ, the context within which the preaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the sacraments occur. This church does...

(The entire section is 1,197 words.)