Category Archives: Confessional Writings

Some Remarks on Lutheran Christology

By Piotr J. Malysz

The Person of Christ

Luther’s critique of the disastrous anthropological consequences of late medieval piety ultimately aims at the right view of God as Saviour, who exchanges his righteousness for his people’s sin.  Luther does not begin, like Anselm, with a theoretical consideration of why God should have become a human but proceeds instead from the reality, impact, and sacramental availability of redemption.  It is the self-authenticating validity of Christ’s work, with justified humans in turn justifying God (LW 26:233), that presupposes the personal union and the communication of properties between Christ’s divine and human natures.

Although Luther has been frequently charged with docetism or monophysitism, and although many of his successors were reluctant to embrace some of his christological insights, Luther does construct his Christology within a fundamentally Chalcedonian framework of Christ’s being one person in two natures.  In fact, he consistently maintains the soteriological focus of the Chalcedonian definition, which leads him where Chalcedon ultimately failed to go and where post-Chalcedonian reflection ventured only timidly.  Though the council carefully distinguished between hypostasis and natures, it failed, according to Robert Jenson, to determine what sort of ontological category ‘hypostasis’ was.  In light of what Chalcedon says about the natures, one may, in fact, conclude that “the ‘one hypostasis’ is nothing actual, and that the natures’ union has no material consequences for the state or activity of either nature.”[1]

Luther’s soteriological emphasis leads him to begin with the actuality of the communication of properties between the divine and human natures in Christ’s person.  Because there is life-giving exchange between CImagehrist and the sinner, there must also be an exchange of properties between Christ’s natures.  Luther firmly believes that nothing less will do if one wishes to do justice to the salvation which Christ accomplished for sin-bound and moribund humanity: “if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, his side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. … God in his own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance [ein ding] or one person with God” (LW 41:103-4).  This is a novel point of departure, in that Luther does not begin with the natures, carefully circumscribing them in separation from each other before bringing them together.  Moreover, Luther does not begin with an assertion that the properties of each nature are merely predicated of the other nature by virtue of the personal union.  The properties are actually shared and not only verbally ascribed to the other nature.  The communication is actual, because Christ is a single person, and it is Christ’s person, as both God and man, who is the agent behind all his works that the natures enable.  It is not the natures that do the doing; it is rather the single and actual person.  In his eucharistic confession against the Swiss, Luther defends this position: “[The Zwinglians] raise a hue and cry against us, saying that we mingle the two natures into one essence [ein wesen].  This is not true. We do not say that divinity is humanity, or that the divine nature is the human nature, which would be confusing the natures into one essence.”  That was actually the error of Schwenckfeld, who taught the complete absorption of Christ’s humanity by his divinity in the state of exaltation.  Luther continues: “Rather, we merge the two distinct natures into one single person, and say: God is man and man is God. … But if the works are divided and separated, the person will also have to be separated, since all the doing and suffering are not ascribed to natures but to persons. … Therefore we regard our Lord Christ as God and man in one person, ‘neither confusing the natures nor dividing the person’ (LW 37:212-3).

In line with the Chalcedonian tradition, Luther does conceptually distinguish between the two natures, designated by the abstract terms, divinity and humanity.  But he also realises that semantic logic, governing the use of these terms, may be as much an obstacle as it is helpful.  He writes: “reason wants to be clever here and not tolerate that God should die or have any human characteristics, even though it is used to believing like Nestorius, that Christ [only in a manner of speaking] is God.”  Luther turns against much of the medieval tradition with its merely notional understanding of the communicatio and asks: “Who knows how many Nestorians may still be in the papacy?” (LW 41:105).  Responding to the argument that the same thing cannot be predicated of both God and man, in the Disputatio de divinitate et humanitate Christi, Luther admits that it is true, but only in philosophy, where “there is no relation between the creature and the Creator, between the finite and the infinite.  But we not only establish a relation, but a union of the finite and the infinite” (WA 39II:112).  He attacks Aristotle for doing incalculable damage to theology.  As Anna Vind argues in her commentary on Luther’s statement, “Christ is … made sin for us metaphorically” (LW 32:200), metaphorical language, with its capacity to assign new meanings, offers to Luther a way of escaping the confines of semantic logic and achieving more clarity of expression.  But Luther breaks with the rhetorical principles dating back to Roman antiquity when he rejects that similarity be the basis of metaphor and when he claims that metaphor involves not merely verbal transfer but an actual translatio rerum.  This makes metaphorical speech closer to reality than non-metaphorical speech, crippled as the latter is by its internal logic.  It also makes metaphorical language the prerogative of God, who through his Word speaks (new and unexpected) reality into being: God became a human being, more than that, sin for us.

In addition to the salvific exchange between Christ and the sinner, Luther’s insistence on the reality of the communicatio idiomatum between Christ’s natures (considered not as rigid philosophical concepts but retrospectively through the work of the person) also enabled him to dismiss eucharistic transubstantiation as a constraining and unnecessary philosophical construct based on Aristotelian substance-metaphysics.  In The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther articulated his christological principle: “what is true in regard to Christ is also true in regard to the sacrament. In order for the divine nature to dwell in him bodily, it is not necessary for the human nature to be transubstantiated and the divine nature contained under the accidents of the human nature. Both natures are simply there in their entirety…  Even though philosophy cannot grasp this, faith grasps it nonetheless” (LW 36:35).  Luther applied the same principle in his polemic with Zwingli, this time arguing not for the real presence of the bread and the wine but of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament.

Dissolution

Luther and his followers faced a tremendous challenge when they began to spell out the metaphysical consequences of this realist view of the communicatio, given canonical form in Luther’s statement, “wherever you place God for me, you must also place the humanity for me” (LW 37:219; later cited in Formula concordiae SD VIII.84).  Things were exacerbated when the Lutherans began to construct their dogmatic systems and, in doing so, never quite allowed themselves to be influenced in their locus on God, which ordinarily preceded the locus on Christ, by Luther’s emphasis on redemption effected by the God-man Christ (one notable exception was the very first edition of Melanchthon’s Loci).  Instead, they resorted to standard metaphysical accounts, thus establishing the parameters for the discussion to follow by means of natural theology and treating divinity as an ontologically fixed category.  This posed tremendous problems when it came to divine attributes such as omnipotence and omnipresence.  While Luther allowed divine omnipotence to be qualified by the event of God’s death (which later, too, became subject to controversy), for his successors the impact of the hypostatic union on Christ’s divinity, absolutely immutable by definition, was out of the question.

What aroused heated debate, instead, was the precise character of the communication from the divine nature to the human, especially the presence of Christ’s body’s and the reality of Christ’s earthly life prior to the resurrection and ascension.  The Swabian theologian, Johannes Brenz, in his treatise De vera maiestate Domini nostri Iesu Christi (1564), argued that heaven was not a spatial realm but was rather the place of God, who is his own place and to whom everything else is present.  While this took care of the omnipresence of Christ’s exalted body, insofar as ubiquity meant being above every place, Brenz was less successful in accounting for how this body was therefore capable of being available in particular localities.  Chemnitz, on the other hand, in his work, The Two Natures in Christ (1570), made the divine will responsible for the communication of attributes from the divine to the human nature, which introduced a degree of insatiability and threatened the integrity of Christ’s person.  In a way, this was a return to a mere supposital understanding of the unio personalis, which Luther had sought to overcome in the scholastic theology he had inherited.[2]  But Chemnitz’s conception was, arguably, better suited to a realistic treatment of Christ’s earthly life.  The Formula of Concord presents an interesting combination of these two positions.  First, in keeping with Luther’s axiom, it affirms that Christ exercises his majesty “in, with and through” his human nature (SD VIII.66).  It then tries to make sense of it by applying it to Christ’s life on earth.  On the one hand, it states that Christ “possessed this majesty from his conception in the womb of his mother.”  He thus had, and never ceased to have, this majesty in consequence of the incarnation, even as he forever retains his human nature.  What, then, is one to make of the assertion that, when exalted, he “was installed into the full possession and use of his divine majesty according to his assumed human nature”?  This second statement – by trying to do justice to the servant-like character of Christ’s life – seems to imply that the majesty was Christ’s, according to his human nature, only after his exaltation. Further, even if one naturally maintains that Christ was already, in the incarnation, in full possession of the divine majesty, did he simply “keep it secret” or did he actually “empty” himself of it in an act of self-humiliation? (SD VIII.26).  That this was a real problem was evidenced by the controversy that erupted in the early seventeenth century between the theological faculties of Giessen and Tübingen.  The debated issue was whether, in the state of humiliation, Christ, according to his human nature, participated in the full exercise of the divine attributes and merely hid it, as the Tübingen scholars held; or whether, by assuming the form of a servant, he had surrendered the human nature’s share in the divine majesty altogether, which was the position of the Giessen faculty.  The decision rendered at the time (1624) came in favour of Giessen, presumably because of this position’s more historically, narratively dynamic character.  However, one wonders whether the view expressed by the Tübingeners was not more consistent with Luther’s christological principles.

Luther’s successors were fully aware of the radical nature of their Christology, especially vis-à-vis the scholastic tradition, with its carefully laid-out distinctions – although, because of their own metaphysical assumptions, they were also closer to it than they thought.  Luther might have regarded scholastic theology as too philosophical and too timid; his successors thought only that it was timid.  But this still led them to invest a considerable amount of effort into demonstrating that the communication of divine attributes to Christ’s human nature was, in fact, the teaching of the Bible and had also been taught by the ancient church.  The fruit of that effort was the Catalog of Testimonies – a collection of patristic citations, mostly from the Greek fathers – appended to the early editions of the Book of Concord.

 

Excerpted and abridged from: Piotr J. Malysz, “Luther and the Lutherans,” The Oxford Handbook to the Reception History of Christian Theology (Oxford: University Press, 2013), forthcoming.


[1] Robert W. Jenson, “Luther’s Contemporary Theological Significance,” Donald K. McKim (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (Cambridge: University Press, 2003), 274.

[2] Jörg Baur, “Ubiquität,” Oswald Bayer and Benjamin Gleede (eds.), Creator est Creatura: Luthers Christologie als Lehre von der Idiomenkommunikation (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007), 227-54

Theological Fragments: The satis est; enough is enough

“The satis est calls us, surely, to believe and confess that the gospel and the sacraments are indeed enough. No doubt the irony of it all is that that seems precisely the hardest thing for churches and theologians to agree on. But what can be done about that? If we have listened to Luther, and learned anything at all from the recovery of his theology, I expect we will just have to say, “nothing!” It is simply not a matter of attempting to repair the supposed inadequacy of the satis est by adding or subtracting this or that. It is not a matter of a list of “things,” doctrinally or otherwise. It is rather a matter of the specific activity of preaching the gospel–learning how to do that and sticking to it.”

–Gerhard Forde, “The Meaning of Satis Est,” A More Radical Gospel, pg 170

Lutheranism and Tradition

Reception of Doctrine as a Methodological Issue in Early Lutheranism

Piotr J. Malysz

(The following is an excerpt from a much larger article dealing with the question of doctrinal reception in Lutheranism.  The footnotes and some of the references have been omitted here.)

1. Practice and doctrine

In the writings of the sixteenth-century Lutherans, terms denoting reception appear in two sharply distinguished, though interrelated, senses: a passive and an active one.  In the first sense, they refer to the material dimension of reception, namely, that which is received.  In this sense, reception generally connotes restoration and is regarded in an overwhelmingly positive manner.  Although a further distinction is made here between the content of the faith and ecclesiastical practice, both are considered from the perspective of their point of origin: that which is eventually received is always evaluated in terms of what was first passed on.  Apostolic belief and practice, as expressed in the Scriptures, are uniformly privileged – but this is done in different ways.

Since much of the early Lutheran protest centred on practical abuses (indulgences, the trade in private masses, fasts, monastic vows, etc.), let us look at the reception of practice first.  For example, defending the Lutherans’ restoration of the Mass under both kinds to the laity, Melanchthon shows that that was what Paul received (accepisse) from Jesus and what he then passed on (Ap XXII.3).  Usually words such as command (mandatum) or testimony (testimonium) are employed to designate this material terminus a quo of reception.  The absence of explicit scriptural mandate does not necessarily disqualify a practice.  Apostolic practices did become more elaborate, while new practices were introduced, in the course of the church’s history.  Melanchthon is at pains to emphasise that the Lutherans “cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline by which it is profitable to educate and teach common folk and ignorant” (Ap VII/VIII.33).

It is at this point that doctrine is brought into the equation.  The Lutheran protest against practical abuses quickly escalated into full-fledged doctrinal controversy.  Practice, though distinct from doctrine, is never isolated from doctrine – practices can either promote the gospel or obscure it.  Therefore, what disqualifies a non-scriptural practice (e.g., masses for the dead) is when its attendant beliefs (purgatory) are, in the words of Luther, “against the chief article that Christ alone (and not human works) is to help souls.”  All this means that, while humans may, and indeed will need to, institute rites and practices (provided they do not obscure the gospel), no human may establish articles of faith, not even “on the basis of the holy Fathers’ works or words” if they lack scriptural support (Smalcald Articles II.II.12-13).  The content of the faith must remain invariant, the same at any point of its transmission as at the terminus a quo.

By the time of the Formula of Concord, this understanding of doctrine will become enshrined in the elevation of the scriptures to the status of “the only true guiding principle, according to which all teachers and teaching [and, by extension, practices] are to be judged and evaluated.”  Interestingly, other than this brief remark in the Formula’s preface, none of the Lutheran confessions devotes a separate article to Holy Scripture.  This will change within a generation.  Theologians, such as Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) in his monumental Loci communes theologici, will feel compelled to develop a complex doctrine of the perfection of Holy Writ, which, as “the Word of God … reduced to writing in accordance with his will” (Gerhard 1:502), must be both clear and exhaustive in all matters pertaining to salvation.  On the basis of Scripture’s perfection, Gerhard can then argue, on the one hand, for the necessary presence of vowel pointing in the original Hebrew text, and, on the other, against any “unwritten traditions,” by which he understands doctrines without scriptural mandate.

2. The process of transmission

Besides beliefs and practices, the Lutherans employed the term reception also to designate the transmission process.  In contrast to the material sense, the term’s emotive value in this second sense is highly ambiguous.  On the one hand, it was through the much-vilified Church of Rome that the Lutherans “received [haben wir freilich alles vom Bapst] … the true holy Scriptures, true baptism, the true sacrament of the altar, the true keys to the forgiveness of sins, the true office of the ministry, the true catechism in the form of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the articles of the creed,” as Luther admits in his treatise Concerning Rebaptism (1528), “indeed everything that is Christian and good is to be found [under the Papacy] and has come to us from this source” (LW 40:231-32).  On the other hand, these realities, the Lutherans insisted, had become obscured through numerous additional practices and opinions which the papal church had illicitly made into laws and articles of faith.  For this reason, Luther can also maintain, in Against Hanswurst (1541), that both the Papacy and the Lutheran churches derive from the ancient church, in that they both share the same true articles of faith and apostolic practices.  With this material aspect of reception in mind, he then adds: “we have received [empfangen] everything from the church before you (not from you),” and accuses the Papacy of perverting this common heritage and thus becoming an “erring, apostate, whorelike church” (LW 41:207).

The ambivalence with which the Lutherans viewed the transmission process was further complicated by the frequent attacks of their Papist opponents, who claimed that the Lutheran doctrines were innovations without precedent in the church’s teaching.  Faced with this charge, the Lutherans sought to establish their credentials as the true church by taking a more positive approach to the witness of the church’s tradition.  In the Bondage of the Will (1525), Luther declared emphatically, “The authority of the Fathers is of no consequence … for Christ is a higher authority than the Fathers” (LW 33:58, translation altered).  A decade later, in On the Councils and the Church (1539), he presents a more nuanced argument.  First of all, he emphasises that the fathers were all students of Scripture, and that no single father was able to exhaust the richness of the Scriptures and give an account of the entirety of Christian doctrine contained therein (although Augustine did come close).  In support Luther cites Augustine’s statement from De Trinitate that his writings are not to be regarded in the same manner as the Scriptures.  Second, the fathers frequently contradict each other and cannot, therefore, be appealed to without first and foremost being subjected to scriptural scrutiny.  In this connection, Luther claims that he actually knows the fathers better than his papal opponents who are “woefully at variance … with the will of the councils and the fathers” (LW 41:14).  He does admit that both the parties cull from the fathers’ writings what is convenient to them but maintains that, whereas the papists do so unscripturally to enhance papal power, the Lutherans use the fathers as that which they intended to be, namely, witnesses to the gospel, and in the way they intended to be used, that is, in conjunction with Scripture.  This becomes the general principle underlying the Lutheran approach to the fathers.  In On the Councils Luther points to Cyprian as an example of both scriptural and counter-scriptural teaching. Similarly, Melanchthon, even though he regards Augustine as the best of the fathers, can criticise Augustine for holding that faith is internal renovation rather than apprehension of Christ.  These criticisms appear not only in private correspondence (WA Br 6:99-100, cited together with Luther’s postscript) but also in Melanchthon’s Preface to the 1545 edition of Augustine’s De spiritu et littera (CR 5:803-10).

In addition, as early as the first edition of his Loci (1521), Melanchthon assumes, as a rule of thumb, that “the more recent an author is, the less Scriptural he is.”  He then explains, “Christian doctrine has degenerated into Scholastic trifling, and one does not know whether it is more godless than it is stupid” (19-20).  This loose observation was by mid-16th century developed, by Matthias Flacius (1520-75), into a historiographic methodology and eventually took shape in the form of the Magdeburg Centuries, a monumental but unfinished history of Christianity, documenting, century by century, the slow decline of the church before Luther’s protest.  This is not to imply that the Lutherans had nothing good to say about more recent theologians.  Luther’s attitude to Thomas Aquinas was by no means entirely negative (Janz 1989); and throughout his life he remained deeply appreciative of Bernard of Clairvaux, to whom he referred affectionately as “Pater Bernhardus” (LW 22:388; cf. Posset 1999: 59).

3. Reclaiming the church’s witness

But Luther and his colleagues came to believe that the fathers were useful not merely as an inventory of proof-texts, either illustrating the papacy’s apostasy, or indicating that the Lutheran doctrines were not new but rather the old doctrines brought back to light.  The fathers were also useful as examples of piety.  Towards this end, in 1544, the Lutherans published an edition of the medieval classic, Vitae patrum, but with parts extolling monastic life or contrary to the Lutheran emphasis on justification carefully expurgated.  For this edition Luther himself provided a preface (WA 54:109-111).

Last but not least, this appreciation – both externally necessitated and internally reclaimed – for the value of patristic witness was increased further by the rise of more radical church- and society- reforming programmes.  Of importance here are not only the theologies of the other magisterial reformers, but especially the programmes put forth by the Anabaptists and various anti-Trinitarian movements.  It was with those in mind that Luther observed: “heretics always like to boast of possessing Scripture” (LW 41:45).  And though his response to Karlstad’s and Zwingli’s views of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper was fundamentally scripture-based, he found it necessary also implicitly to invoke the church’s condemnation of Arius and Sabellius (Against the Heavenly Prophets, 1525; LW 40:197), as well as Nestorius (Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528; LW 37:212; cf. 41:105).  The Augsburg Confession is more explicit.  Besides Pelagianism, of which the Lutherans routinely accused their Roman adversaries (II), and Manichaeism, with which they were in turn charged by their papal opponents, it denounces the heresies of “the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and all others like them; also the Samosatenians, old and new” (I), Donatists (VIII), as well as the explicitly mentioned Anabaptists (V, IX).  In addition to rejecting all manners of heresy, Melanchthon invokes the magnus consensus of the church  and, referring to the substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood with the bread and the wine, goes on to state in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (X): “we defend the position received in the entire church [receptam in tota ecclesia].”

The Lutherans were, of course, not unaware of the danger.  Luther, for his part, warned against indiscriminate appeals to the church: “whenever the pope does not have the authority of the Scriptures on his side, he always uses this same argument against us: ‘The church’” (Lectures on Galatians, 1531; LW 26:15).  Although in the early days of his reformatorial career, Luther did several times appeal for vindication to a General Council, at the Leipzig debate with Johannes Eck (1519) he was cornered by his outspoken opponent into admitting that even councils could err.  He maintained this view for the rest of his life, which, as far as he was concerned, rendered the conciliar argument for a council’s canonical authority or hierarchical dignity (over against the pope’s) as ultimately of no consequence.  No council was authorised to make articles of faith anyway; those were established by Scripture alone.  Interesting in this light is, therefore, the mature Luther’s appeal to the fides catholica in his Disputatio de divinitate et humanitate Christi (1540/43; WA 39II:92-121).   In this polemic against Caspar von Schwenckfeld’s docetic monophysitism, Luther notes that Scripture does not always speak in the most fortuitous and helpful way.  As an example he cites the Johanine “The Word was made flesh.”  “In our judgment,” he comments, “it would have been better said, ‘The Word was incarnate,’ or ‘made fleshly.’”  He then goes on to insist that true understanding of Scripture lies not in the words, that is, in their sense necessitated by the grammar, but one must rather interpret the Scriptures “according to theology.”  Luther concludes the theses by asserting: “This is what it means to be a heretic: one who understands the Scriptures otherwise than the Holy Spirit demands.”  What he means by that is not some individual enlightenment but precisely the catholic faith which he invoked in the first thesis.

4. Developments

As can be seen, the process of doctrinal reception under the papacy was not a problem that the early Lutherans simply critiqued and then managed to overcome (as was their hope).  Rather, by the 1540s, their initial ambivalence had been transformed into a methodological problem internal to Lutheran theology – an insoluble tension between, on the one hand, the sufficiency and clarity of Holy Writ and, on the other, the continuing necessity of appealing to, and for this purpose also circumscribing, the catholic faith.  In his treatise, De Ecclesia et autoritate verbi Dei (1539/40; Romans 1992: 239-84), Melanchthon laid the groundwork for all subsequent attempts to overcome this tension.  He notes that the authority of the church extends only as far as teaching and admonishing.  And whenever it is invoked, “one must ask whether [the doctrine under consideration] was the consensus of the true church, agreeing with the Word of God.”  He spells out what he means by that when he puts forth the requirement that dogmas necessary for salvation must have been present in the teaching of the apostles.  Later doctrinal formulations must not only agree with this “divine voice” but also do so “simply and without sophistry.”  In closing Melanchthon reflects quite optimistically on the Lutherans’ own teaching: “it is beyond doubt that the kind of doctrine which we profess is truly the consensus of the catholic church of Christ, as the symbols, the saner synods, and the more learned fathers show.”  Melanchthon’s attempt was continued by his student Martin Chemnitz (1522-86) in his exhaustive Examination of the Council of Trent.  In this work Chemnitz develops a complex typology of ecclesiastical traditions.  He warns, on the one hand, against mistaking “antiquity of error and the multitude of the erring” for an indication of truth (1:219).  On the other hand, he appeals to “the consensus of the true, learned, and purer antiquity,” noting that “no dogma that is new in the churches and in conflict with all of antiquity should be accepted” (1:256-57).  All of these procedures are inevitably tainted with a degree of arbitrariness and circularity.  For this reason, the insistence of subsequent generations on the perfection of Scripture, and later on its inerrancy, can also be seen as an attempt to deal with the tension between Scripture and the growing role of the church’s tradition in its proper interpretation.  Especially in the face of attempts to treat the Bible as (also) a human document (nascent historical criticism), but also vis-à-vis those readings that saw the message of the Bible as from the beginning perverted by the institutional church (anti-Trinitarians) – tradition became increasingly indispensable.  To assert the Scriptures’ perfection and inerrancy was one method of coming to terms with that development, while remaining ostensibly faithful to scriptural sufficiency and clarity.  Still, in their flight from what would be seen as Catholicizing, the Lutherans ended up sharing their commitment to inerrancy with many of the groups which they wanted to place squarely in the heretical camp.

Copyright © 2009 by Piotr J. Malysz

A Lutheran Influence (Part 3)

Go to Part 2

III. Justification/Good Works and Eucharistic Presence: A Case Study

Justification/Good Works. Justification might rightly be characterised as the most important doctrine for Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. It was elevated to the status of (and still holds today for much of Lutheranism) the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls. In the Augsburg Confession, justification is treated in the fourth article:

Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by     their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor   and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight (Rom. 3-4).[1]

What needs to be highlighted in the AC’s teaching on justification is that human beings “cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works”. Instead, humankind is “freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith”. The stress of the AC is upon teaching that humans cannot earn salvation nor justify themselves in God’s eyes. It is only through faith (in the promises of God) that humans are justified on the basis of Christ’s justifying and salvific work.

In The Ten Articles (1536), which were penned shortly after the English delegates returned from Wittenberg and hence were influenced by The Wittenberg Articles, we read that justification “signifieth remission of our sins and our acceptation or reconciliation into the grace and favour of God…our perfect renovation in Christ.”[2] They proceed to state that sinners attain justification “by contrition and faith joined with charity…not as though our contrition or faith, or any works preceding thereof, can worthily merit or deserve to obtain said justification…” Instead, it is only the grace and mercy of the Father, promised to us for the sake of His Son, and the merits of his blood and passion, that are the only sufficient causes of our justification.[3]

Here we see the effects of the Wittenberg meetings upon the English doctrinal formulations as it is stressed that justification signifies the remission of sins and his or her acceptance and reconciliation into the grace and favour of God, or “our perfect renovation in Christ.” What is interesting is the stressed laid upon the role of good works in the life of a human being, both before and after justification, which is given much ink in The Ten Articles. It was stated that sinners attain justification by contrition and faith “joined with charity.” If this statement was left as it is, Lutherans probably would object, saying that our good works in no way contribute to our justification. But here we might see even more of the Lutheran influence as The Ten Articles precede to make the important caveat that works which precede our justification can in no way merit said justification. Instead, stress is laid upon the duty of the justified following his or her justification, stating that we must have good works of charity and obedience to God. Further, while the attainment of everlasting life is conjoined with justification “yet our good works be necessarily required to the attaining of everlasting life…”[4]

The Lutheran reformers were not blind to this vital, and possibly contentious, relationship between faith and good works, for they were “falsely accused of forbidding good works.”[5] They proceeded to confess that “our works cannot reconcile God or merit forgiveness of sins and grace…”,[6] hence dealing with the status of works prior to justification. But as the Ten Articles would later proceed to do, so to the framers of the AC treated of works subsequent to a sinner’s justification, stating “Our teachers teach in addition that it is necessary to do good works, not that we should trust to merit grace by them but because it is the will of God.”[7] While there is great consonance between the AC and The Ten Articles on both works prior and subsequent to justification, one could quibble that the traditionalist views of Henry still worked their influence in the statement of The Ten Articles due to the confession that our good works are “necessarily required to the attaining of everlasting life.”

According to Gerald Bray, The Ten Articles “remained part of the Church of England’s official statements until 1553, when they were superseded by The Forty-two Articles of Edward VI…”[8] In The Forty-Two Articles we find the articles treating of justification and good works separated. In Article 11, “Of the Justification of Man”, we read that “Justification by only faith in Jesus Christ, in that sense, as is declared in Homily of Justification, is a most certain and wholesome doctrine for Christian men.”[9] Apart from appealing to the Homily of Justification, these articles leave the source of justification simply to “only faith in Jesus Christ.” What The Forty-Two Articles do make explicit in Article 12 is the place of good works done before justification: “Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesu Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or…deserve grace of congruity…”[10] This is quite a bit more explicit and finds consonance with Article XX of the AC, where it stated that “whoever trusts that he merits grace by works despises the merit and grace of Christ and seeks a way to God without Christ, by human strength…”[11]

In 1563 & 1571, under the reign of Elizabeth I, The Thirty-Eight Articles and Thirty-Nine Articles respectively were issued. The wording of The Forty-Two Articles was replaced in 1563 with, “We are accounted righteous before God only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is explained in the Homily of Justification.”[12] Here justification is more fully explained than in The Forty-Two Articles, with stress laid upon the merit of Jesus Christ, by faith only and not by our own works or merits. This same wording and confession is replicated in The Thirty-Nine Articles.

The article on works before justification in The Forty-Two Articles becomes Article 13 in both the 38 and 39 Articles with virtually no change to the wording. What is added to The Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine Articles is a confession of “Good Works”, Article 12, and is consonant with the Lutheran reformers teaching on the same. Article 12 reads, “Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, in so much that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by the fruit.”[13] This same confession of the place of good works is found once again in Article 20 of the AC, where it reads, “…through faith the Holy Spirit is received, hearts are so renewed and endowed with new affections as to be able to bring forth good works.”[14]

In this first instance, regarding the articles of justification/good works, we can evidently see great consonance and a growing congruence between the confession of faith in The Augsburg Confession and documentary developments of The Church of England. While there might have a Henrician influence on the earlier documents, with vestiges of a semi-Pelagians “works righteousness”, later developments are much more consonant with the Lutheran insistence on justification being by grace alone through the merits of Jesus Christ and good works being necessary for the Christian life but not determinative of a person’s justification.

Eucharistic Presence. Contrary to the consonance witnessed between the AC and the documentary developments of the Church of England in regards to justification and good works, in the area of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist we find less congruence. The Augsburg Confession is quite straightforward in its confession regarding the Lord’s Supper, and simply states, “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord. They disapprove of those who teach otherwise.”[15] Luther was just as succinct in his own explanations of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, most notably in his Small Catechism where he writes, “Instituted by Christ himself, it is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, given to us Christians to eat and to drink.”[16]

Significantly, as a result of the meetings in Wittenberg in 1535, the English delegates were part of the formulation of The Wittenberg Articles, which, on the issue of the Lord’s Supper, read, “…we firmly believe and teach that in the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, Christ’s body and blood are truly, substantially and really present under the species of bread and wine, and that under the same species they are truly and bodily presented and distributed to all those who receive the sacrament.”[17] While these articles never attained official status for the Church of England, their wording did make its way into official texts.

For instance, in The Ten Articles of the same year (1536), we read, “…we will that all bishops and preachers shall instruct and teach our people…that they ought and must constantly believe, that under the form and figure of bread and wine, which we there presently do see and perceive by outward senses, is verily, substantially and really contained and comprehended the very selfsame body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ…and that under the same form and figure of bread and wine the very selfsame body and blood of Christ is corporally, really and in the very substance exhibited, distributed and received unto and of all them which receive the said sacrament…”[18] Much of the wording used here in The Ten Articles is verbatim from The Wittenberg Articles. By 1538, in The Thirteen Articles, nothing had changed as it reads, “Concerning the eucharist, we continue to believe and teach that in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, the body and blood of Christ are truly, substantially and really present under the forms of bread and wine. And that under these forms they are truly and really offered and administered to those who receive the sacrament, whether they be good or evil.”[19]

By the time we reach The Forty-Two Articles one can rightly judge that the language of Eucharistic presence has softened. Article 29, “Of the Lord’s Supper,” states, “Insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a communion of the body of Christ, likewise the cup of blessing is a communion of the blood of Christ.” While this might be a softening of earlier language and confession, what follows is quite explicitly a rejection of the previous “real presence” language of the 10 and 13 Articles: “Forasmuch as the truth of man’s nature requireth, that the body of one and selfsame man cannot be at one time in diverse places, but must needs be in one certain place; therefore the body of Christ cannot be present at one time in many and diverse places. And because, as Holy Scripture doth teach, Christ was taken up into heaven, and there shall continue until the end of the world, a faithful man ought not either to believe or openly to confess the real and bodily presence, as they term it, of Christ’s flesh and blood, in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”[20]

This quite explicit rejection of the bodily (corporeal) presence of Christ in the Sacrament was removed in both The Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine Articles, yet its sentiment remains in the Book of Common Prayer today.[21] Added to both The Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine Articles though, in absence of the deleted section quoted above, is the confession that “[t]he body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the supper only after an heavenly manner; and the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the supper is faith.”[22] Here we once again see a distancing from the earlier strong affirmation of the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist and an embracing of more Reformed, or Zwinglian, conception of Eucharistic presence compared to a Lutheran one.

One final aspect of the development of Eucharistic presence remains in the doctrinal development of the Church of England. It was quite explicitly stated in The Thirteen Articles that “…under these forms they are truly and really offered and administered to those who receive the sacrament, whether they be good or evil.” In other words, the belief of the communicant does not affect the presence of Christ in the Sacrament. But in The Thirty-Nine Articles, the following was added as Article 29, “Of the Wicked which do not eat the Body of Christ in the Use of the Lord’s Supper”: “The wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth, as St Augustine saith, the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.”[23] While such a teaching does not find explicit treatment in the Augsburg Confession, later Lutheranism would reject it in the Formula of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess that not only the genuine believers and those who are worthy but also the unworthy and the unbelievers receive the true body and blood of Christ; but if they are not converted and do not repent, they receive them not to life and salvation but to their judgment and condemnation.”[24] And so we see, contrary to the evidence displayed in regards to the articles of justification/good works, the article on Eucharistic presence represents a divergence in earlier agreements between the Lutherans/The Augsburg Confession and the documentary developments of The Church of England.

Overall, we have seen that either in official discussion (in 1535-36 in Wittenberg) or in documentary influence, the Church of England was heavily influenced in its reformation by the German Reformation. While some of this influence waned over time, as in the teaching on the Eucharist, some it remained and actually became more explicit, as in the doctrines of justification and good works. Other articles of faith deserve the same analysis as offered here (ecclesial authority, cult of the saints, images, etc.), and while this essay has been limited in scope it is the hope that it has at least displayed that further analysis is necessary and would bear fruit today in discussions between Lutherans and Anglicans.


[1] The Augsburg Confession, Article IV

[2] Documents of the English Reformation, ed by Gerald Bray, (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co Ltd: 1994), 170.

[3] Documents, 170.

[4] Documents, 170.

[5] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.1

[6] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.9

[7] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.27

[8] Documents, 162.

[9] Documents, 291.

[10] Documents, 292.

[11] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.10

[12] Documents, 291.

[13] Documents, 291-2.

[14] The Augsburg Confession, Article XX.29

[15] The Augsburg Confession, Article X

[16] Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, VI.2

[17] Documents, 137.

[18] Documents, 169.

[19] Documents, 192.

[20] Documents, 301-02.

[21] The Book of Common Prayer, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 262. “…and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places then one.”

[22] Documents, 302.

[23] Documents, 302-03.

[24] The Formula of Concord, VII.7

A Lutheran Influence (Part 2)

Go to Part 1

II. A documentary development of The Church of England

Contrary to what one might assume, given the isolation of the British Isles from the mainland continent of Europe, England was not isolated from the Continental Reformations. Also, the English Reformation was not simply a program of Royal Supremacy. Instead, the initiation and advance of Reformation ideas and convictions in England did not begin with, nor completely depend upon, royal actions.[1] Instead, the roots and groundwork were already in existence in England for the fostering of Reformation ideals and principles.

Hugh Latimer

Hugh Latimer

Possibly as a result of Lollard influence, there was an anticlerical flavour to the religious situation of England when the Reformation principles of the continent made their way across the channel. The clergy were already being accused of both economic and sexual aggrandizement.[2] In 1532, Hugh Latimer gained notoriety for preaching against veneration, adornment and lighting of images, the invocation of saints, and the doctrine of purgatory. In response, the prior of the Dominicans in Bristol was mobilized against Latimer, but he discovered that Latimer was more against the abuse of things than the things themselves.[3] If these instances of existing Reformation principles are at all indicative for the whole of the country, then England presented fertile ground for the planting of Lutheran seeds. This being the case, the writings of Martin Luther were still officially anathematised on 12 May 1521 and Cardinal Wolsey led a burning of his books in London. Ironically enough, by this time the first group of English Lutherans were already meeting at the White Horse Inn in Cambridge.[4]

An ‘indirect’ Lutheran influence upon the prayer life of the English people proved to be an appointee of Thomas Cromwell, William Marshall.  In 1534 He issued an English “Primer” which was heavily dependent upon the works of Luther, omitting the Litany of the Saints and the Dirge, containing no other prayers to the dead and an attack on the legends of the saints. In the same vein as Latimer, Marshall would reissue the “Primer” within a year, claiming that he did not think that the Virgin Mary and the saints shouldn’t be prayed to, but instead he was wary of abuses of such things. Accordingly, he restored the Litany and the Dirge.[5] This same principle was also to be discovered in September 1535, in a book that encouraged the taking away of images. This was a translation of Martin Bucer’s “Das Einigerlei Bild”, which was a key Reformation text in Strasbourg. And yet, once again, the tract did not encourage the abolishing of images, but in typical Lutheran fashion, it allowed that images were appropriate as long as they were not worshipped.[6]

Another major Lutheran influence upon the Church of England was the English-Lutheran Robert Barnes. In 1528, during a period of persecution under Henry VIII, Barnes fled to Germany for safe haven. While there, Barnes published a book of Lutheran theology in English, which made its way across the channel and into English hands. According to Carter Lindberg, it is telling for the climate of the English Church at the time, that Thomas More (a staunch Catholic and traditionalist) found not the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be most objectionable in Barnes’ book, rather the article that challenged the authority of the pope caused More the greatest consternation.[7]

At the Convocation of Parliament in 1536, Latimer was chosen to give the opening sermon which amounted to a litany of ‘Catholic’ offences. On the fourth sitting day the conservatives lodged their objections and just over a fortnight later Convocation agreed to a set of Articles aimed to put an end to diversity of opinion over doctrine and practice. These Ten Articles were the first official doctrinal formulation of the Church of England. They are significant for affirming only three of the traditional seven sacraments (baptism, penance and the Eucharist) and for a formulation of the doctrine of justification by faith, but also for allowing the veneration of images, the cult of the saints and intercessions for the dead.[8]

In 1537, the Bishops Book was compiled under pressure to authoritatively explain the teaching of The Ten Articles for preaching and catechising. Behind the drafting of this document fierce battles raged between radical and traditionalist bishops. In some ways The Bishops Book proved to be less open to reforming interests than The Ten Articles, speaking of seven instead of three sacraments and reaffirming traditional teaching on purgatory and prayers for the dead, but on the other hand it was more radical then The Ten Articles with regards to images, forbidding any bowing down to or worshipping of them.[9] It has been suggested that statements in both The Ten Articles and The Bishops Book portray the influence of Cranmer and his desire to include some “Lutheran tonic” to the traditional distillation. Cranmer did much to model Henrician formularies of faith on the German confessions and articles, including most importantly The Augsburg Confession and The Wittenberg Articles.[10]

 Probably the most significant Lutheran influence upon the development of Reformation doctrine in the Church of England came as a result of Henry’s excommunication by the pope in 1538. This action forced Henry’s hand politically, already at odds with both France and Spain, to engage in serious discussions with the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League.[11] In order officially to join the League, the princes (mostly Lutheran), required authorial subscription to The Augsburg Confession. This proved to be too high a price for Henry. It has been said that he might have been willing to sign the confession on condition of his first being admitted into the League. While no ‘official’ unity was reached between England and the German princes, the actual process of discussion and The Augsburg Confession proved to be highly influential on the development of The Thirteen Articles (1538), and the later Forty-Two Articles (1553) and Thirty-Nine Articles (1571).[12]

 Eventually the foreign threats of the French and Spanish died down and, as the negotiations with the Schmalkaldic drug on, Henry decided that it was time to focus on religious uniformity within his own borders. In an effort to stamp out non-conformity he issued the Act of The Six Articles, which took steps towards reaffirming Roman Catholic dogma.[13] As a result of this move–the ceasing of officials talks with the Lutherans–English Lutherans like Barnes become dispensable and he was consequently burnt at the stake with two other English Lutherans.[14]

During this same period, another voice of Reformation principles was making itself heard through the printing press. Along with his biblical translations, William Tyndale also made available to England the works of Luther, most notably his prefaces to biblical books. Since Luther was still anathematised in England, Tyndale published his prefaces without using Luther’s name. Ironically, Thomas More never realized the ruse and Luther’s prefaces were even included in the royally approved Matthew’s Bible.[15]

As we move to the reign of Edward VI we find that the official persecution of Protestants ceased. Under the guidance of the King’s uncle and Regent, Edward Seymour, Protestant moves were made such as repealing most of the treason and heresy laws, including The Six Articles.[16] It was also during this time that Bucer, recently exiled from Strasbourg for his refusal to be part of the Augsburg Interim (1548), arrived in England at the behest of Archbishop Cranmer and was appointed Regis Professor at Cambridge in 1549. Bucer exerted his theological leanings–notably a way between the Lutherans and Zwinglians–on the Book of Common Prayer.[17]

It was during this same period, the reign of Edward, that Cranmer exercised his greatest influence upon the religious situation in England. Probably the most note worthy example of the Archbishop’s sway was The Book of Common Prayers tone-setting-endeavour to avoid the extremes in both doctrine and liturgy. The revision of 1552 alleviated the ambiguities which had given the Catholic/traditionalist party concessions in the 1549 edition–most notably, the Eucharist was now formulated in more Zwinglian, memorial terms.[18] Lindberg notes that “[l]ikewise in 1553, Cranmer produced a statement of faith for the English church that represented a compromise between the Lutheran and Calvinist theologies. These Forty-Two Articles (1553) were the foundation for the later Thirty-Nine Articles that defined the Church of England under Elizabeth I, and continue to influence the Anglican Church today.”[19]

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

We now arrive at the reign of Elizabeth I (skipping over the reign of Mary due to the fact that no significant doctrinal statements were formulated or issued during her time in which neither The Augsburg Confession or the Lutherans had any (at least positive) influence). During her reign, Elizabeth stressed both theological and confessional unity in her dealings with the German princes. She is even said to have stated her acceptance The Augsburg Confession, although she never signed it herself.[20] Elizabeth’s main goal was moderation: a pursuit which she hoped would give England a certain amount of stability after the tumultuous and contradictory reigns of Edward and Mary. She strove to hold both Catholics and Protestants in check by fostering an “Anglican” settlement in both doctrine and practice. Lindberg makes the claim that under Elizabeth such things as Catholic vestments and liturgy were allowed in order to speak to the illiterate in an Anglican style of worship, while the literate Protestant group were able to hear Reformation principles in both sermons and prayers, all set within the framework of a Reformed theology motivated by The Thirty-Nine Articles.[21]

Significantly, in 1559 Parliament passed the ‘Act of Supremacy’ which recognized the monarch as head of the English of Church. Wisely and perceptively, discerning the tension caused by the title of “Head”, Elizabeth took the title “Supreme Governor” instead of “Supreme Head”. Four years later, at the second Parliament of 1563, the Act of Uniformity was reaffirmed and measures were passed to ensure its enforcement. It was at this time that The Forty-Two Articles were revised into The Thirty-Nine Articles. “The Articles were designed to accommodate the major evangelical theologies by denying transubstantiation on the one hand, while remaining open to the range of Lutheran and Calvinist interpretations.”[22] Under Elizabeth, the official liturgy and confession remained moderate. The aim of the endorsed liturgy and confession was to express reformed theology without alienating Catholics and traditionalists. Still, it can be discerned that both the Elizabethan liturgy and confession issue from a ‘third way’ associated with the likes of Bucer and Melanchthon.[23]

Go to Part 3


[1] Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1996), 309.

[2] Lindberg, 310-11.

[3] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1992), 379-81.

[4] Lindberg, 311.

[5] Duffy, 381-82.

[6] Duffy, 386.

[7] Lindberg, 312.

[8] Duffy, 389-92.

[9] Duffy, 400-01.

[10] Peter Newman Brooks, Cranmer in Context, (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1989), 27; Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1996), 161.

[11] Lindberg, 312; W. Ian P. Hazlett, The Reformation in Britain and Ireland: An Introduction, (London & New York: T & T Clark International, 2003), 41-42..

[12] Lindberg, 313.

[13] Lindberg, 313.

[14] Lindberg, 313.

[15] Lindberg, 314-15.

[16] Lindberg, 321.

[17] Lindberg, 321.

[18] Lindberg, 322.

[19] Lindberg, 322.

[20] Lindberg, 325.

[21] Lindberg, 326.

[22] Lindberg, 327.

[23] Hazlett, 61.

Theological Fragments: Robert Jenson on satis est

“”It is sufficient” not only specifies the demands which Lutherans must make on others, it also limits the demands which Lutherans can allow to be made on themselves. Most bluntly stated: if other parties can affirm the gospel is preached acceptably among us, and the sacraments celebrated acceptably, they have no right to demand further uniformities as conditions of communion. Indeed, Lutherans have generally regarded any tendency by another party to make further demands for uniformity as prima facie evidence that the gospel is not being preached rightly in that quarter.”

- Lutheranism, 177

Theological Fragments: Robert Jenson on a dogmatic proposal

“At the Diet of Augsburg and elsewhere, the Lutheran reformers and their followers proposed further dogma[i] to the church. Many, including groups that the reformers could not simply regard as  not-church, did not accept the offer. Thus the Lutheran confessions remain proposals of dogma. If the Lutheran proposals had been ecumenically accepted, there would be no Lutheranism. As it is, Lutheranism is a confessional movement within the church catholic that continues to offer to the whole church that proposal of dogma which received definitive documentary form in the Augsburg Confession and other writings collected in the Book of Concord.”[ii]


[i] “In the proper churchly sense, a dogma is merely a theological proposition addressed by the community to its members, rather than by members to the community” (“An Ecumenical Proposal of Dogma,” Lutheranism, 4).

[ii] Ibid, 5-6.

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