A Lutheran Influence (Part 1)

By Bryce P Wandrey

The effects of the Augsburg Confession on the doctrinal development of the Church of England, 1536-1559

Unlike most essays that discuss the history and development of the Reformation in the Church of England, this essay will focus more upon ‘official’ documents than upon major figures (i.e. Henry VIII, Cranmer, Cromwell, etc.). This is notably because the focus of this essay is the effect of a doctrinal document upon the doctrinal developments of another ecclesial communion – the effect of The Augsburg Confession of the German Reformation upon the doctrinal standards of the Church of England. The first two portions of this essay merely hope to trace the chronology of The Augsburg Confession and the English Church’s doctrinal pronouncements, acts and documents, highlighting any direct Lutheran influence, with a keen eye to the influence of The Augsburg Confession in particular. In the final section, the articles of faith concerning justification/good works and Eucharistic presence will be analysed in order to highlight the different effects that the Lutheran Reformation/The Augsburg Confession had upon the doctrinal developments of the Church of England.

I. A History of “The Augsburg Confession”

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

On 21 January 1530, Emperor Charles V declared that an Imperial Diet would convene at Augsburg on 8 April. The content of the proclamation was essentially two-fold in nature: first, reference was made to the importance of unity within the Empire in the face of the Turkish threats of invasion; secondly, the Emperor proceeded to declare that the diet would endeavour to discover what ought to be done about the division and separation in the Church caused by those who followed the teaching of Martin Luther.[1] The Emperor hoped that the Diet would assuage divisions, cease hostilities, surrender errors to Christ, “and to display diligence in hearing, understanding, and considering with love and kindness the opinions and views of everybody…” in order to hold together “one single and true religion”.[2]

It was finally on the 11 March that the proclamation reached Elector John of Saxony. As a supporter of the reform movement which was officially condemned by the Edict of Worms (1521), Elector John realised the precarious position that he was in. As a result of the proclamation, Chancellor Brueck advised Elector John to have “the opinion on which our party has hitherto stood and to which they have adhered…properly drawn up in writing…”[3] On 14 March, the Elector commissioned his theologians, Luther, Jonas, Bugenhagen and Melanchthon, to do just that: to prepare a document which treated especially the articles of faith which were causing division in the church, both in faith and in outward customs and ceremonies. The first results of these “confessional” efforts were presented at Torgau on 27 March by Melanchthon (these became known as The Torgau Articles and would be subsequently used by Melanchthon in the drafting of The Augsburg Confession[4]).

The documents presented at Torgau treated only of the “disputed” doctrines, including human doctrines and ordinances, communion under both kinds, the power of bishops, invocation of the saints, faith and works, and the office of the keys (the Papacy). The original intention of the Lutherans was to enter into discussion at Augsburg only about those doctrines which were under dispute.[5] For that reason, this original document (The Torgau Articles) was intended to be a defence of both Luther and his Elector.[6] From this meeting at Torgau the Elector and his theologians set out for Augsburg.[7]

Once they arrived in Augsburg, the plan to present only The Torgau Articles, and hence to present only a defence of disputed articles, changed. The Lutherans were greeted with Dr. John Eck’s Four Hundred and Four Articles in which Luther was lumped together with the likes of Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Carlstadt and others and charged with every conceivable heresy.[8] Commenting on this “new” situation with which the Lutherans were confronted, F. Bente writes, “These calumniations caused the Lutherans to remodel and expand the defense originally planned into a document which should not merely justify the changes made by them with regard to customs and ceremonies, but also present as fully as possible the doctrinal articles which they held over against ancient and modern heresies, falsely imputed to them.”[9]

Even in the face of Eck’s Four Hundred and Four Articles the reformers did not completely scrap their original plan (to merely defend the disputed doctrines and ceremonies) but instead expanded upon it. This was ultimately accomplished by the able hands of Philip Melanchthon who used The Torgau Articles along with The Marburg and Schwabach Articles as sources and models for the drafting of The Augsburg Confession.[10]

The Schwabach Articles. At the Imperial Diet in Speyer of April 1529, Emperor Charles V had insisted that the princely adherents to Luther’s reformation return to obedience under the papacy according to the Edict of Worms (1521). The edict forbade both Lutheran teaching and reform in the Holy Roman Empire. Landgrave Philip of Hesse, soon after the close of the Diet of Speyer, began to organize a defensive league against the anti-reformist intentions of the Emperor. Luther and Melanchthon were of the opinion that no league should be formed to defend the “reformation faith” which was not based upon a common confession of faith. As a result of this agenda, at meetings at Schwabach in October 1529 a set of seventeen articles of faith, drafted by the Wittenberg theologians, were presented. While the requirement of confessional unity proved to be the downfall of the proposed defensive league, the articles presented still proved valuable: they created a bond between the Brandenburg, Hessian and Saxon officials; they formed a basis for discussion between Saxon and Swiss theologians at Marburg; they were used by Elector John as he sought an understanding with the Emperor in the Spring of 1530; and they were used by Melanchthon in the drafting of The Augsburg Confession.[11]

The Marburg Articles. In the hope of creating another political alliance against the suppression of the “Reformation faith” as a result of the Edict of Worms (1521) and the Diet of Speyer (1529), Landgrave Philip of Hesse attempted to bring together the German Protestants and the Swiss Reformed. Accordingly, he invited representatives from both sides to his castle in Marburg in early October 1529. What proved to be most divisive at these meetings was the article of faith concerning the Lord’s Supper. In private discussions prior to the entire group coming together, Luther was paired with Oecolampadius while Melanchthon was paired with Zwingli. The participants agreed on fourteen articles which were prepared by Luther himself. But agreement eluded them on the Lord’s Supper.[12]

Even though Luther did not make the trip to Augsburg (he was still under exile and the ban from both the Emperor and Pope), he was not disconnected from the proceedings. Early on, shortly after the reformers had reached Augsburg and had been greeted with Eck’s Four Hundred and Four Articles, he was forwarded what Melanchthon had worked on up until that point (the Elector wanted to keep Luther intimately involved). Leif Grane remarks, “Luther looked over what was forwarded to him from Augsburg but disavowed any responsibility. Melanchthon was forced to continue on his own because Luther’s answer, which contained the well-known words about his own lack of ability to tread so ‘softly and lightly,’ was not particularly instructive.”[13] Melanchthon gave the AC “its form and its irenic note.” But this is no way meant that Luther disapproved of the content of the confession. On 11 May, Luther was sent another draft and approved of its content.[14] As Grane once more notes, “His [Luther’s] criticisms, however, had to do not so much with the contents, but with the lack of sharpness against the opponents. He also misses the treatment of some subjects, such as purgatory, indulgences, and papal authority.”[15]

Still, further developments to the confession were to take place before its presentation. On 15 June, a number of other estates were permitted to join the adherents. This meant that Melanchthon’s original preface, which contained a defence of the Saxon Electors, was no longer sufficient. Brueck supplied a new preface which was different in presentation to Melanchthon’s. “This confident tone which characterizes [Brueck’s] Preface recurs in the conclusion after Article 28. …Clearly, they believe it appropriate to let the confession stand as a simple, straight forward account of proclamation and church order in the signatories’ land and cities.” Every trace of Melanchthon’s earlier “anxious apologetic” in his Preface has “disappeared” in the final draft.[16]

On the last day of deliberation, 23 June, the Confession was signed. On 25 June, the meeting of the Diet of Augsburg, Chancellor Beyer read the Confession in German and both copies (the German and the Latin) were handed over. The Emperor kept the Latin version and gave the German over in order for it to be preserved in the Imperial Archives at Mainz.[17] On 26 June, Melanchthon sent a copy of the publicly read Confession to Luther who kept with his earlier praise and acceptance. Yet, he still had a little criticism to add. He wondered why the Confession should raise the question of how much should be yielded to the opponents, most notably to the Pope and his followers. Luther felt, on the contrary, that enough had already been yielded. Still, he would add, “…As I have always written – I am prepared to yield everything to them if we are but given the liberty to teach the Gospel.”[18] Luther did fully identify himself, and his theology, with the Confession. He commended Melanchthon for writing an excellent statement of faith.[19]

Go to Part 2


[1] Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb & James Nestingen, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 93.

[2] F. Bente, Historical Introduction to the Book of Concord, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967), 15.

[3] Bente, 15.

[4] Sources and Contexts, 93.

[5] Bente, 15.

[6] Bente, 16.

[7] Bente, 15.

[8] Bente, 16.

[9] Bente, 16.

[10] Bente, 17; Sources and Contexts, 83, 88.

[11] Sources and Contexts, 83.

[12] Sources and Contexts, 88.

[13] Leif Grane, The Augsburg Confession: A Commentary, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1987), 16.

[14] Bente, 18.

[15] Grane, 20-21.

[16] Grane, 18.

[17] Bente, 19.

[18] Bente, 19.

[19] Bente, 20.

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Luther: Baptismal Life (II)

“For this is the abundant grace of the New Testament and the surpassing mercy of the Heavenly Father that, through baptism and repentance, we begin to become godly and pure. God does not hold against us whatever sin is still to be driven out, because of the beginning that we have made in godliness and because of our steady battle against sin which we continue to expel. He chooses not to charge this sin against us, though, until we become perfectly pure, he might justly do so. For this reason, he has given us a bishop, namely Christ, who is without sin and who is to be our representative until we too become entirely pure like him [Heb. 7:26; Rom. 8:34]. Meanwhile, the righteousness of Christ must be our cover. His perfect godliness must be our shield and defense. For his sake, the sin that remains in those who believe in him, may not be charged against them, as St. Paul so masterfully describes it in Rom. 3[:24-26]” (“Defense and Explanation of All the Articles” (1521), LW 32, pg 28).

Luther: Faith and Baptism

“That is also the meaning of Christ’s saying in the last chapter of Mark [16:16], “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” He puts faith before baptism for where there is no faith, baptism does no good. As he himself afterwards says, “He who does not believe will be condemned,” even though he is baptized, for it is not baptism, but faith in baptism, that saves. For this reason, we read in Acts 8[:36f.] that St. Philip would not baptize the eunuch until he had asked him whether he believed. And we can see every day that wherever in the whole world baptism is administered, the question is put to the child, or the sponsors in his stead, whether he believes, and on the basis of this faith and confession, the sacrament of baptism is administered” (”Defense and Explanation of All the Articles” (1521), LW 32, pg 14).

Luther: Baptismal Life (I)

“Similarly, we too are not entirely cured by baptism or repentance, but a beginning is made in us and the bandage of the first grace binds our wounds so that our healing may proceed from day to day until we are cured. …The new leaven is the faith and grace of the Spirit. It does not leaven the whole lump at once but gently, and gradually, we become like this new leaven and eventually, a bread of God. This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed” (“Defense and Explanation of All the Articles (1521), LW 32, pg 24).

Luther: God’s Signs and Seals

In his Defense and Explanation of All the Articles, Luther writes, “When one deals with words and promises, one needs faith even between men here on earth. No business or community could last very long if no one were prepared to trust another’s word or signature. Now, as we can plainly see, God deals with us in no other way than by his holy word and sacraments, which are like signs or seals of his words. The very first thing necessary, then, is faith in these words and signs, for when God speaks and gives signs, man must firmly and wholeheartedly believe that what he says and signifies is true, so that we do not consider him a liar or juggler, but trust him to be faithful and true. This faith pleases God above all things and does him the highest honor because it believes him to be true and a righteous God. Therefore, he in turn considers this faith as godliness, good and sufficient unto salvation” (LW 32, pg 15).