Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions

IV. Melanchthon's Alterations of the Augsburg Confession

30. Changes Unwarranted.

Melanchthon continued uninterruptedly to polish and correct the Augsburg Confession till immediately before its presentation on June 25, 1530. While, indeed, he cannot be censured for doing this, it was, though originally not so intended by Melanchthon, an act of presumption to continue to alter the document after it had been adopted, signed, and publicly presented. Even the editio princeps of 1531 is no longer in literal agreement with the original manuscripts. For this reason the German text embodied in the Book of Concord is not the one contained in the editio princeps, but that of the Mainz Manuscript, which, as stated, was erroneously believed to be the identical German copy presented to the Emperor. The Latin text of the editio princeps, embodied in the Book of Concord, had likewise undergone some, though unessential, changes. These alterations became much more extensive in the Latin octavo edition of 1531 and in the German revision of 1533. The Variata of 1540 and 1542, however, capped the climax as far as changes are concerned, some of them being very questionable also doctrinally. In their “Approbation” of the Concordia- Germanico-Latina, edited by Reineecius, 1708, the Leipzig theologians remark pertinently: Melanchthon found it “impossible to leave a book as it once was.” Witness his Loci of 1521, which he remodeled three times - 1536, 1542, and 1548. However, the Looi were his own private work, while the Augustana was the property and confession of the Church.

Tschackert is right when he comments as follows: “To-day it is regarded as an almost incomprehensible trait of Melanchthon’s character, that immediately after the Diet and all his lifetime he regarded the Confession as a private production of his pen, and made changes in it as often as he had it printed, while he, more so than others, could but evaluate it as a state-paper of the Evangelical estates, which, having been read and delivered in solemn session, represented an important document of German history, both secular and ecclesiastical. In extenuation it is said that Melanchthon made these changes in pedagogical interests, namely, in order to clarifv terms or to explain them more definitely; furthermore, that for decades the Evangelical estates and theologians did not take offense at Melanchthon’s changes. Both may be true. But this does not change the fact that the chief editor of the Confession did not appreciate the world-historical significance of this statepaper of the Evangelical estates.” (L. c. 288.) Nor can it be denied that Melanchthon made these changes, not merely in pedagogical interests, but, at least a number of them, also in the interest of his deviating dogmatic views and in, deference to Philip of Hesse, who favored a union with the Swiss. Nor can Melanchthon be fully cleared of dissimulation in this matter. The revised Apology of 1540, for example, he openly designated on the titlepage as “diligently revised, diligenter recognita"; but in the case of the Augsburg Confession of 1540 and 1542 he in no way indicated that it was a changed and augmented edition. A” yet it has not been definitely ascertained when -and where the terms “Variata” and “Invariata” originated. At the princes' diet of Naumburg, in 1561, the Variata was designated as the “amended” edition. The Reuss Confession of 1567 contains the term “unaltered Augsburg Confession.” In its Epitome as well as in its Thorough Declaration the Formula of Concord speaks of “the First Unaltered Augsburg Confession . Augustana illa prima et non mutata Confessio.” (777, 4; 851, 5.) The Preface to the Formula of Concord repeatedly speaks of the Variata of 1540 as “the other edition of the Augsburg Confession - attera Augustaitae Confessionis editio.” (13 f.)

31. Detrimental Consequences of Alterations.

The changes made in the Augsburg Confession brought great distress, heavy cares, and bitter struggles upon the Lutheran Church, both from within and without. Church history records the manifold and sinister ways in which they were exploited by the Reformed as well as the Papists; especially by the latter (the Jesuits) at the religious colloquies, beginning 1540, until far into the time of the Thirty Years' War, in order to deprive the Lutherans of the blessings guaranteed by the religious Peace of Augsburg, 1555. (Salig, Gesch. d. A. K., 1, 770 ff.; Lehre und Wehre 1919, 218 ff.)

On Melanchthon’s alterations of the Augsburg Confession the Romanists, as the Preface to the Book of Concord explains, based the reproach and slander that the Lutherans themselves did not know “which is the true and genuine Augsburg Confession.” (15.) Decrying the Lutherans, they boldly declared “that not two preachers are found who agree in each and every article of the Augsburg Confession, but that they are rent asunder and separated from one another to such an extent that they themselves no longer know what is the Augsburg Confession and its proper sense.” (1095.) Inspite of the express declaration of the Lutherans at Naumburg, 1561, that they were minded to abide by the original Augsburg Confession as presented to Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, 1530, the Papists and the Reformed did not cease their calumniations, but continued to interpret their declarations to mean, “as though we the Lutherans] were so uncertain concerning our religion, and so often had transfused it from one formula to another, that it was no longer clear to us or our theologians what is the Confession once offered to the Emperor at Augsburg.” (11.)

As a result of the numerous and, in part, radical changes made by Melanchthon in the Augsburg Confession, the Reformed also, in the course of time more and more, laid claim to the Variata and appealed to it over against the loyal Lutherans. In particular, they regarded and interpreted the alteration which Melanchthon had made in Article X, Of the Lord’s Supper, as a correction of the original Augustana in deference to the views of Calvinism. Calvin declared that he (1539 at Strassburg) had signed the Augustana “in the sense in which its author [Melanchthon] explains it (sicut eam autor ipse interpretatur).” And whenever the Reformed, who were regarded as confessionally related to the Augsburg Confession (Confessioni Augustanae addicti), and as such shared in the blessings of the Peace of Augsburg (1555) and the Peace of Westphalia (1648), adopted, and appealed to the Augustana, they interpreted it according to the Variata.

Referring to this abuse on the part of the Reformed and Crypto- Calvinists, the Preface to the Book of Concord remarks: “To these disadvantages [the slanders of the Romanists] there is also added that, under the pretext of the Augsburg Confession [Variata of 1540 , the teaching conflicting with the institution of the Holy Supper of the body and blood of Christ and also other corruptions were introduced here and there into the churches and schools.” (11. 17.) Thus the changes made in the Augsburg Confession did much harm to the Lutheran cause. Melanchthon belongs to the class of ‘Men that have greatly benefited our Church, but have also seriously harmed it. “These fictions” of the adversaries, says the Preface to the Book of Concord concerning the slanders based on Melanchthon’s changes, “have deterred and alienated many good men from our churches, schools, doctrine, faith, and confession.” (11.)

32. Attitude toward Variata.

John Eck was the first who, in 1541, at the religious colloquy of Worms, publicly protested against the Variata. But since it was apparent that most of the changes were intended merely as reenforeements of the Lutheran position against the Papists, and Melanchthon also declared that he had made no changes in “the matter and substance or in the sense,” i. e., in the doctrine itself, the Lutherans at that time, as the Preface to the Book of Concord shows, attached no further importance to the matter. The freedom with which in those days formal alterations were made even in public documents, and the guilelessness with which such changes were received, appears, for example, from the translation of the Apology by Justus Jonas. However, not all Lutherans even at that time were able to view Melanchthon’s changes without apprehension and indifference. Among these was Elector John Frederick, who declared that he considered ‘the Augustana to be the confession of those who had signed it, and not the private property of Melanchthon.

In his admonition to Brueck of May 5, 1537, he says: “Thus Master Philip also is said to have arrogated to himself the privilege of changing in some points the Confession of Your Electoral Grace and the other princes and estates, made before His Imperial Majesty at Augsburg, to soften it and to print it elsewhere [a reprint of the changed Latin octavo edition of 1531 had been published 1535 at Augsburg and another at Hagenau] without the previous knowledge and approval of Your Electoral Grace and of the other estates, which, in the opinion of Your Electoral Grace, he should justly have refrained from, since the Confession belongs primarily to Your Electoral Grace and the other estates; and from it [the alterations made] Your Electoral Grace and the other related estates might be charged that they are not certain of their doctrine and are also unstable. Besides, it is giving an offense to the people.” (C.R. 3, 365.) Luther, too, is said to have remonstrated with Melanchthon for having altered the Confession. In his Introduction to the Augsburg Confession (Koenigsberg, 1577) Wigand reports: “I heard from Mr. George Rorarius that Dr. Luther said to Philip, ‘Philip, Philip, you are not doing right in changing Augustanam Confessionem so often; for it is not your, but the Church’s book."’ Yet it is improbable that this should have occurred between 1537 and 1542, for in 1540 the Variata followed, which was changed still more in 1542, without arousing any public protest whatever.

After Luther’s death, however, when Melanchthon’s doctrinal deviations became apparent, and the Melanchthonians and the loyal Lutherans became more and more opposed to one another, the Variata was rejected with increasing determination by the latter as the party- symbol of the Philippists. In 1560 Flacius asserted at Weimar that the Variata differed essentially from the Augustana. In the Reuss- Schoenburg Confession of 1567 the Variata was unqualifiedly condemned; for here we read: We confess “the old, true, unaltered Augsburg Confession, which later was changed, mutilated, misinterpreted, and falsified . . . by the Adiaphorists in many places both as regards the words and the substance (nach den Worten und sonst in den Haendeln), which thus became a buskin, Bundschuh, pantoffle, and a Polish boot, fitting both legs equally well [suiting Lutherans as well as Reformed], or a cloak and a changeling (Wechselbalg), by means of which adiaphorists, Sacramentarians, Antinomians, new teachers of works, and the like hide, adorn, defend, and establish their errors and falsifications under the cover and name of the Augsburg Confession, pretending to be likewise confessors of the Augsburg Confession, for the sole purpose of enjoying with us under its shadow, against rain and hail, the common peace of the Empire and selling, furthering, and spreading their errors under the semblance of friends so much the more easily and safely.” (Kolde, Einleitung, 30.) In a sermon delivered at Wittenberg, Jacob Andreae also opposed the Variata very zealously.

Thus the conditions without as well as within the Lutheran Church were such that a public declaration on the part of the genuine Lutherans as to their attitude toward the alterations of Melanchthon, notably in the Variata of 1540, became increasingly imperative. Especially the continued slanders, intrigues, and threats of the Papists necessitated such a declaration. As early as 1555, when the Peace of Augsburg was concluded, the Romanists attempted to limit its provisions to the adherents of the Augustana of 1530. At the religious colloquy of Worms, in 1557, the Jesuit Canisius, distinguishing between a pure and a falsified Augustana, demanded that the adherents of the latter be condemned, and excluded from the discussions.

33. Alterations in Editions of 1531, 1533, 1540.

As to the alterations themselves, the Latin text of the editio princeps of the Augsburg Confession of 1531 received the following additions: ^U 3 in Article 13, ^U 8 in Article 18, and ^U 26 in Article 26. Accordingly, these passages do not occur in the German text of the Book of Concord. Originally ^U 2 in the conclusion of Article 21 read: “Tota dissensio est de paucis quibusdam abusibus,” and ^U 3 in Article 24: “Nam ad hoe praeciptie opus est ceremonies, ut doceant imperitos.” The additions made to Articles 13 and 18 are also found in the German text of the editio princeps. (C.R. 26, 279. 564.)

In the “Approbation” of the Leipzig theologians mentioned above we read: The octavo edition of the Augustana and the Apology, printed 1531 by George Rauh, according to the unanimous testimony of our theologians, cannot be tolerated, “owing to the many additions and other changes originating from Philip Melanchthon. For if one compares the 20th Article of the Augsburg Confession as well as the last articles on the Abuses: ‘Of Monastic Vows’ and ‘Of Ecclesiastical Authority,’ it will readily be seen what great additions (laciniae) have been patched onto this Wittenberg octavo edition of 1531. The same thing has also been done with the Apology, especially in the article ‘Of Justification and Good Works,’ where often entire successive pages may be found which do not occur in the genuine copies. Furthermore, in the declaration regarding the article ‘Of the Lord’s Supper,’ where Paul’s words, that the bread is a communion of the body of Christ, etc., as well as the testimony of Theophylact concerning the presence of the body of Christ in the Supper have been omitted. Likewise in the defense of the articles ‘Of Repentance,’ ‘Of Confession and Satisfaction,’ ‘Of Human Traditions,’ ‘Of the Marriage of Priests,’ and ‘Of Ecclesiastical Power,’ where, again, entire pages have been added.” (L. c. 8, 13; C.R. 27,437.) In the German edition of the Augsburg Confession of 1533 it wai especially Articles 4, 5, 6, 12, 13, 15, and 20 that were remodeled. These alterations, however, involve no doctrinal changes, with the possible exception of Article 5, where the words “where and when He will” are expunged. (C.R. 26, 728.)

As to the Variata of 1540, however, the extent of the 21 doctrinal articles was here almost doubled, and quite a number of material alterations were made. Chief among the latter are the following: In Article 5 the words, “ubi et quando visum est Deo,” are omitted. In the 10th Article the rejection of the Reformed doctrine is deleted, and the following is substituted for the article proper: “De coena Domini docent, quod cum pane et vino vere exhibeantur corpus et sanguis Christi vescentibus in Coena Domini.” (C.R. 26, 357.) The following sentences have also given offense: “Et cum hoe modo consolamur nos promissione seu. Evangelio et erigimus nos fide, certo consequimur remissionem peccatorum, et simul datur nobis Spiritus Sanctus.” “Cum Evangelium audimus aut cogitamus aut sacraments tractamus et fide nos consolamur, simul est efficax Spiritus Sanctus.” (354.) For the words of the 18th Article: “sed haeo fit in cordibus, cum per Verbum Spiritus Sanctus concipitur,” the Variata substitutes: “Et Christus dicit: Sine me nihil potestis facere. Efficitur autem spiritualis iustitia in nobis, cum adiuvamur a Spiritu Sancto. Porro Spiritum Sanctum concipimus, cum Verbo Dei assentimur, ut nos fide in terroribus consolemur.” (362.) Toward the end of the same article we read: “Quamquam enim externa opera aliquo modo potest efficere humana natura per sese, . . . verum timorem, veram fiduciam, patientiam, castitatem non potest efficere, nisi Spiritus Sanctus gubernet et adiuvet corda nostra.” (363.) In the 19th Article the phrase “non adiuvante Deo” is erased, which, by the way, indicates that Melanchthon regarded these words as equivalent to those of the German text: “so Gott die Hand abgetan,” for else he would have weakened the text against his own interests. (363.) To the 20th Article Melanchthon added the sentence: “Debet autem ad haec dona [Dei] accedere exercitatio nostra, quae et conservat ea et meretur incrementum, iuxta illud: Habenti dabitur. Et Augustinus pracclare dixit: Dilectio meretur incrementum dilectionis, cum videlicet exercetur.” (371.)

34. Alterations Render Confession Ambiguous.

True, in making all these changes, Melanchthon did not introduce any direct heresy into the Variata. He did, however, in the interest of his irenic and unionistic policy and dogmatic vacillations, render ambiguous and weaken the clear sense of the Augstana. By his changes he opened the door and cleared the way, as it were, for his deviations in the direction of Synergism, Calvinism (Lord’s Supper), and Romanism (good works are necessary to salvation). Nor was Melanchthon a man who did not know what he was doing when he made alterations. Whenever he weakened and trimmed the doctrines he had once confessed, whether in his Loci or in the Augustana, he did so in order to satisfy definite interests of his own, interests selfevidently not subservient to, but conflicting with, the clear expression and bold confession of the old Lutheran truth.

Kolde, referring in particular to the changes made in the 10th Article, says: “It should never have been denied that these alterations involved real changes. The motives which actuated Melanchthon cannot be definitely ascertained, neither from his own expressions nor from contemporary remarks of his circle of acquaintances” [As late as 1575 Selneecer reports that Philip of Hesse had asked Melanchthon to erase the improbatio of the 10th Article, because then also the Swiss would accept the Augustana as their confession]. “A comparison with the Wittenberg Concord of May, 1536 (cum pane et vino vere et substantialiter adesse - that the body and blood [of Christ] are really and substantially present with the bread and wine, C.R. 3, 75) justifles the assumption that by using the form: cum pane et vino vere exhibeantur, he endeavored to take into account the existing agreement with the South Germans (Oberlaender). However, when, at the same time, he omits the words: vere et substantialiter adesse, and the improbatio, it cannot, in view of his gradually changed conception of the Lord’s Supper, be doubted that he sought to leave open for himself and others the possibility of associating also with the Swiss.” (25.)

An adequate answer to the question what prompted Melanchthon to make his alterations will embrace also the following points: 1. Melanchthon’s mania for changing and remodeling in general. 2. His desire, especially after the breach between the Lutherans and the Papists seemed incurable, to meet and satisfy the criticism that the Augustana was too mild, and to reenforce the Lutheran position over against the Papists. 3. Melanchthon’s doctrinal deviations, especially in Reformed and synergistic directions.

35. Variata Disowned by Lutheran Church.

It cannot be denied that during Luther’s life and for quite a time after his death the Variata was used by Lutherans without any public opposition and recognized as the Augsburg Confession. Martin Chemnitz, in his “Iudicium de Controversiis quibusdam circa quosdam Augustanae Confessionis Articulos - Decision concerning Certain Controversies about Some Articles of the Augsburg Confession,” printed 1597, says that the edition of 1540 was employed at the religious colloquies with the previous knowledge and approval of Luther; in fact, that it was drawn up especially for the Colloquy at Hagenau, which the opponents (Cochlaeus at Worms, Pighius at Regensburg) had taken amiss. “Graviter tulerant,” says Chemnitz, “multis articulis pleniori declarations plusculum lucis accessisse, unde videbant veras sententias magis illustrari et Thaidis Babyloniae turpitudinem manifestius denudare -They took it amiss that more light had been shed on many articles by a fuller explanation, whence they perceived the true statements to be more fully illustrated and the shame of the Babylonian Thais to be more fully disclosed.” (Mueller, Einleitung, 72.)

Furthermore, it is equally certain that, on the part of the Lutheran princes, the Variata was employed without any sinister intentions whatever, and without the slightest thought of deviating even in the least from the doctrine of the original Augustana, as has been falsely asserted by Heppe, Weber, and others. Wherever the Variata was adopted by Lutheran princes and theologians, it was never for the purpose of weakening the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession in any point. Moreover, the sole reason always was to accentuate and present more clearly the contrast between themselves and the Papists; and, generally speaking, the Variata did serve this purpose. True, Melanchthon at the same time, no doubt, planned to prepare the way for his doctrinal innovations; but wherever such was the case, he kept it strictly to himself.

The complete guilelessness and good faith in which the Lutheran princes and theologians employed the Variata, and permitted its use, appears from the Preface to the Book of Concord. For here they state: “Therefore we have decided in this writing to testify publicly, and to inform all, that we wished neither then nor now in any way to defend, or excuse, or to approve, as agreeing with the Gospel-doctrine, false and godless doctrines and opinions which may lie concealed under certain coverings of words [in the Variata]. We, indeed, never received the latter edition of 1540 in a sense differing in any part from the former which was presented [at Augsburg]. Neither do we judge that other useful writings of Dr. Philip Melanchthon, or of Brenz, Urban Regius, Pomeranus, etc., should be rejected and condemned, as far as, in all things, they agree with the norm which has been set forth in the Book of Concord.” (17.)

Accordingly, when the Variata was boldly exploited by the Romanists to circulate all manner of slanders about the Lutherans; when it also became increasinzlv evident that the Reformed and Crypto-Calvinists employed the Variata as a cover for their false doctrine of the Lord’s Supper; when, furthermore, within the Lutheran Church the suspicion gradually grew into conviction that Melanchthon, by his alterations, had indeed intended to foist doctrinal deviations upon the Lutheran Church; and when, finally, a close scrutiny of the Variata had unmistakably revealed the fact that it actually did deviate from the original document not only in extent, but also with regard to intent, not merely formally, but materially as well, - all loyal Lutheran princes and theologians regarded it as self-evident that they unanimously and solemnly declare their exclusive adherence to the Augsburg Confession as presented to Emperor Charles at Augsburg, and abandon the Variata without delay. At Naumburg, in 1561, the Lutheran princes, therefore, after some vacillation, declared that they would adhere to the original Augsburg Confession and its “genuine Christian declaration and norm,” the Smalcald Articles. Frederick III of the Palatinate alone withdrew, and before long joined the Calvinists by introducing the Heidelberg Catechism, thus revealing the spuriousness of his own Lutheranism.

It was due especially to the Crypto-Calvinists in Electoral Saxony and to the Corpus Doctrinae Philippicum that the Variata retained a temporary and local authority, until it was finally and generally disowned by the Lutheran Church and excluded from its symbols by the adoption of the Formula of Concord. For here our Church pledges adherence to “the First, Unaltered Auisburg Confession, delivered to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg in the year 1530, in the great Diet.” (777, 4; 847, 5; 851, 5.) And in the Preface to the Book of Concord the princes and estates declare: “Accordingly, in order that no persons may permit themselves to be disturbed by the charges of our adversaries spun out of their own minds, by which they boast that not even we are certain which is the true and genuine Augsburg Confession, but that both those who are now among the living and posterity may be clearly and firmly taught and informed what that godly Confession is which we and the churches and schools of our realms at all times professed and embraced, we emphatically testify that next to the pure and immutable truth of God’s Word we wish to embrace the first Augsburg Confession alone which was presented to the Emperor Charles V, in the year 1530, at the famous Diet of Augsburg, this alone (we say), and no other.” (15.) At the same time the princes furthermore protest that also the adoption of the Formula of Concord did not make any change in this respect. For doctrinally the Formula of Concord was not, nor was it intended to be, a “new or differeiat confession,” i. e., different from the one presented to Emperor Charles V. (20.)