Augsburg Confession

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The Augsburg Confession is a statement of the principal doctrines of the Lutheran Church, i.e., the Church founded by Martin Luther in 1521. The document was drawn up, with Luther's approval, by one of his colleagues, Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560), and was presented to the Diet, i.e., the parliament of the Holy Roman Empire, which met in the German city of Augsburg (in modern Bavaria) in 1530.

In 1530 the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in an attempt to resolve the religious differences which had led Luther to establish a Church outside, and in opposition to, the Roman Catholic Church, invited the members of the Imperial Diet to meet in Augsburg. In response to this invitation the Elector John of Saxony, one of the rulers sympathetic to the Lutheran Church, instructed Luther, Melanchthon, and a number of other Lutheran theologians, to draw up a statement of their principal beliefs to be presented to the Diet. The final version of the document was primarily the work of Melanchthon, not Luther, who, having been condemned as a heretic and an outlaw at the Diet of Worms in 1521, would have risked arrest and imprisonment had he travelled with his colleagues to Augsburg.

The Confession, signed by the Elector John of Saxony, the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, the Margrave George of Brandenburg, and other German rulers sympathetic to the Lutherans, was presented to the Diet, and in due course elicited a reply (the Pontifical Confutation of the Augsburg Confession) from the papal delegation. The Emperor urged the Lutherans to accept this document as an adequate response to the Confession, but they refused to do so, Melanchthon writing a closely argued defence (the Apology of the Augsburg Confession) of their original submission. At the same time the German rulers who supported the Lutherans, fearing the use of force against them by the Emperor, formed a defensive military alliance known as the Schmalkaldic League.

Efforts to resolve the issue of religious disagreement continued over the following decades, sometimes through dialogue (as at the Conference of Regensburg in 1540), sometimes through military means (as in the Schmalkaldic War of 1545-1546). Eventually, in 1555, with the Peace of Augsburg, the Emperor recognised the legitimacy of the Lutheran Church within the Empire when he accepted the principle cuius regio, eius religio ('Whose region, his religion') and acknowledged that each ruler had the right to determine the religion of his own state.

The Augsburg Confession itself, which was presented to the Diet in both Latin and German versions, consists of 28 articles. The first 21 set out the principal doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Some of these are doctrines which it shares with the Roman Catholic Church, such as the Doctrine of the Trinity (Article 1), and the belief that Jesus, as the Son of God, has both a divine and a human nature (Article III); others state more distinctively Lutheran doctrines, such as Article IV, that 'salvation depends on faith not works', Article VI, that 'good works are the fruits of faith and salvation, not a price paid for them', and Article XV that 'observance and ritual is not necessary for salvation'. The final seven articles (XXII-XXVIII) identify Roman Catholic practices which, in the Lutheran view, need correction, e.g., the practice in celebrating the Eucharist of offering communicants only the consecrated bread, and not both the bread and the wine (Article XXII); the requirement that priests remain celibate (Article XXIII); and the practice of fasting or observing other dietary restrictions as a means to salvation (Article XXVI).