Posts Tagged ‘Philip Melanchthon’

Intro: The Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of…Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Phillip Melanchthon. At its heart it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Signed by leaders of many German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530. A few weeks later Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). In 1580 the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

 The Augsburg Confession:  Article IV: Justification.

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).

The common understanding that the Lutheran Church began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door, is mistaken:

It was on this day, when the true and unadulterated Confession of the Catholic and Apostolic Faith was presented in Augsburg, that the Lutheran Church ‘began’. This was not declare independance  and begin a ‘new’ Church but the continuation of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” which proclaims justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, alone. Rev. Professor Hermann Sasse wrote it well: 

“Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times.” (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

The Fathers at Augsburg were not really trying to “change” or update the Church, or leave the Church, but change it back to the way it was according to the Gospel.  It was a conservative reformation. They did not want to start a new church, as did Calvin and Zwingli.  The orthodox confessional Church is catholic, literally, “according to the whole”, of the Bible, as when the faith was evangelically proclaimed and taught by the Church Fathers. It was a reformation not a revolution, yet this conservative reformation had revolutionary aspects for a tradition that confused itself as the truth, both Roman Catholic and Protestantism.

Even though historically significant as the posting of the 95 Theses was in Church history, Luther would later distance himself from some of his theses as being too papist.  It was in Augsburg that the Catholic Faith, reformed according to the Gospel and Justification was presented that the Lutheran Church continued.

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 For further reading on the Presentation




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Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518 he was appointed to teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther’s urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April of 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representative of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at that time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530, as the defining document of Lutheranism within Christendom. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  Philip Melanchthon also wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (synonym of “apology” is “defense”).  It is  the second document  in The Book of Concord .  Not so long after the Augsburg Confession was presented to His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Charles V in the meeting of the Diet, in the city of Augsburg June 30, the papal theologians wrote the Roman Confutation of the Confession which was read publicly on August 3rd in the same place as the Augsburg Confession.  By April or May of 1531, Melanchthon wrote the final draft of the Apology and it eventually was signed as a Confession of the Faith as well.

The longest single section in the Apology is Article IV:  Justification,  some 60 pages.  This was and is still the central issue both dividing the churches and  the one doctrine which unites the Church.

In our corner of the world, one of our weekly newspapers has directory for churches.  The local Roman Catholic congregation describes quite clearly their doctrine:

“Assisted by Divine Grace, we have both the ability and the responsibility to live moral lives, taking as our standard of behavior the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.”

In other words:  It’s  law alone with a little grace thrown in.  They have it “bass ackwards”!  And the Beatitudes are also Law?  The Law does not bless but accuses rightly of our sin.  The Lord blesses in the Beatitudes:  pure Gospel.  One of the summaries of the Biblical Doctrine of Justification is “sola gratia”, by grace alone.  But obviously the Roman doctrine says Jesus did not do a good enough job, in fact, you O man,you O woman,are still in the driver’s seat.   We are not assisted by divine grace, but saved by grace alone:

Ephesians 2:8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

One of the charges against the Reformers was that Justification was a heretical innovation.  The Book of Concord begins with the 3 Ecumenical/Universal Creeds of the Church to show that we are in apostolic succession of the pure saving doctrine from the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry:  The Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.   Before this becomes overly long, for instance, St. Augustine is very clear that it is by Jesus Christ ALONE, we are saved.  In his sermon on John 5: 1-8,  he points out that in the healing of the man was done amongst 5 porticos in the Temple and they represent the 5 Books of the Law. He preached:

Why, then, was the Law given? He goes on to say, “But the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” … The five porches are the Law. Why did not the five porches heal the sick? Because, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, surely righteousness should have been by the law.” Why, then, did the porches contain those whom they did not heal? Because “the Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (The Scripture passages are all from Romans)

Almighty God, we praise You for the service of Philipp Melanchthon to the one holy, catholic and apostolic church in the renewal of is life in fidelity to Your Word and promise.  Raise up in these gray and latter days faithful teachers and pastors, inspired by Your Spirit, whose voice will give strength to Your church and proclaim the ongoing reality of Your kingdom;  through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

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