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§ 68. The Tetrapolitan Confession.


I. Editions of the Confessio Tetrapolitana.

The Latin text was first printed at Strasburg (Argentorati), A.D. 1531, Sept. (21 leaves); then in the Corpus et Syntagma (1612 and 1654); in Augusti's Corpus libr. symb. (1827), pp. 327 sqq.; and in Niemeyer's Collect. Confess. (1840), pp. 740–770; comp. Proleg. p. lxxxiii.

The German text appeared first at Strasburg, Aug. 1531 (together with the Apology, 72 leaves); then again 1579, ed. by John Sturm, but suppressed by the magistrate, 1580; at Zweibrücken, 1604; in Beck's Symbol. Bücher, Vol. I. pp. 401 sqq.; in Böckel's Bekenntniss-Schriften, pp. 363 sqq.

II. History.

Gottl. Wernsdorff: Historia Confessionis Tetrapolitanæ. Wittenb. 1694, ed. iv. 1721.

J. H. Fels: Dissert. de varia Confess. Tetrapolitanæ fortuna præsertim in civitate Lindaviensi. Götting. 1755.

Planck: Geschichte des Protest. Lehrbegrifs, Vol. III. Part I. (second ed. 1796), pp. 68–94.

J. W. Röhrich: Geschichte der evangel. Kirche des Elsasses. Strassburg, 1855, 3 vols.

J. W. Baum: Capito und Butzer (Elberf. 1860), pp. 466 sqq. and 595.

H. Mallet, in Herzog's Encykl. Vol. XV. pp. 574–576.

Comp. also the literature on the Augsburg Diet and the Augsburg Confession, especially Salig and Förstemann, quoted in § 41, p. 225.


The mighty genius of Luther, aided by the learning of Melanchthon, controlled the German Reformation at first to the exclusion of every other influence; and if Lutheranism had not assumed a hostile and uncompromising attitude towards Zwinglianism, Calvinism, and the later theology of Melanchthon, it would probably have prevailed throughout the German empire, as the Reformed creed prevailed in all the Protestant cantons of Switzerland. But the bitter eucharistic controversies and the triumph of rigid Lutheranism in the Formula of Concord over Melanchthonianism drove some of the fairest portions of Germany, especially the Palatinate and Brandenburg, into the Reformed communion.

The German branch of the Reformed family grew up under the combined influences of Zwingli, Calvin, and Melanchthon. Zwingli's reformation extended to the southern portions of Germany bordering on Switzerland, especially the free imperial cities of Strasburg, Constance, Lindau, Memmingen, and Ulm. It is stated that the majority of the Protestant citizens of Augsburg during the Diet of 1530 sympathized with him rather than with Luther. Calvin spent nearly three years at Strasburg (1538–41), and exerted a great influence on scholars 525through his writings. Melanchthon (who was a native of the Palatinate), in his later period, emancipated himself gradually from the authority of Luther, and sympathized with Calvin in the sacramental question, while in the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human freedom he pursued an independent course. He trained the principal author of the Heidelberg Catechism (Ursinus), reorganized the University of Heidelberg (1557), which became the Wittenberg of the Reformed Church in Germany, and threw on several occasions the weight of his influence against the exclusive type of Lutheranism advocated by such men as Flacius, Heshusius, and Westphal. He impressed upon the German Reformed Church his mild, conciliatory spirit and tendency towards union, which, at a later period, prevailed also in a large part of the Lutheran Church. The German Reformed Church, then, occupies a mediating position between Calvinism and Lutheranism. It adopts substantially the Calvinistic creed, but without the doctrine of reprobation (which is left to private opinion), and without its strict discipline; while it shares with the Lutheran Church the German language, nationality, hymnology, and mystic type of piety.995995   Dr. Heppe, in his numerous and learned works on the history and theology of the German Reformation period, endeavors to identify the German Reformed Church with Melanchthonianism (which was only an element in it), and Melanchthonianism with original German Protestantism (which was prevailingly Lutheran in the strict sense of the term), thus overestimating the influence of Melanchthon and underrating the influence of Zwingli and Calvin. His books are very valuable, but one-sided, and must be supplemented by the writings of Alex. Schweizer (Die Centraldogmen) and others on the same subject. The great majority of German Reformed congregations have, since 1817, under the lead of the royal house of Prussia, been absorbed in what is called the Evangelical or United Evangelical Church. The aim of this union was originally to substitute one Church for two, but the result has been to add a third Church to the Lutheran and Reformed, since these still continue their separate existence in Germany and among the German emigrants in other countries.996996   The large German Protestant population of the United States is divided among Lutherans (the most numerous), German Reformed, and Evangelicals (or Unionists). A considerable number is connected with English denominations, especially the Methodists and Presbyterians.


Among the framers of the character of the Reformed Church in Germany, Martin Bucer (Butzer),997997   He wrote his name in German Butzer (i.e., Cleanser, from putzen, to cleanse), in Latin Bucerus, in Greek Βούκηρος. See Baum, l.c. p. 88. Wolfgang Fabricius Capito, and Caspar 526Hedio occupy the next place after Zwingli, Calvin, and Melanchthon. Bucer (1491–1551), the learned and devoted reformer of Strasburg, and a facile diplomatist, was a personal friend of Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin, and a mediator between the Swiss and the German Reformation, as also between Continental and Anglican Protestantism. He labored with indefatigable zeal for an evangelical union, and hoped to attain it by elastic compromise formulas (like the Wittenberg Concordia of 1536), which concealed the real difference, and in the end satisfied neither party. He drew up with Melanchthon the plan of a reformation in Cologne at the request of the archbishop. During the Interim troubles he accepted a call to England, aided Cranmer in his reforms, and died as Professor of Theology at Cambridge, universally lamented. In the reign of Bloody Mary he was formally condemned as a heretic, his bones were dug up and publicly burned (Feb. 6, 1556); but Elizabeth solemnly restored the 'blessed' memory of 'the dear martyrs Martin Bucer and Paul Fagius.' In attainments and fertility as a writer he was not surpassed in his age.998998   See a chronological list of his very numerous printed works in Baum, pp. 586 sqq. Baum says: 'An Fruchtbarkeit kommt ihm [Bucer] kaum Luther gleich, trots dem dass er bei weitem mehr als Luther, ja in seiner letzten Lebensperiode beinahe beständig, auf Reisen, Conventen, Reichstagen und Colloquien, in befreundeten Städten und Orten als Organisator der Kirchenreformation abwesend und in Anspruch genommen war. Mit einer beispiellosen Elasticität des Geistes angethan, mit einem fieberhaftigen Thätigkeitstriebe behaftet, schrieb er, vermöge des ungemeinen Reichthums seiner Kenntnisse mit solcher fabelhaften Leichtigkeit und Unleserlichkeit, dass nicht allein zu dem Meisten was von Anderen gelesen werden sollte, ein mit seiner die Worte blos andeutenden Schrift genau vertrauter Amanuensis nothwendig war, sondern dass er auch neben seinen Amtsgeschäften noch bei weitem mehr förderte als zwei der geübtesten Schreiber in’s Reine bringen konnten. Er hat umfangreiche Bücher auf seinen Reisen geschrieben.' His best amanuensis, Conrad Huber, began a complete edition of his works, of which the first volume only appeared at Basle, 1577 (959 pages, folio). It is called Tomus Anglicanus, because it contains mostly the books which Bucer wrote in England. Many of his MSS. are preserved in Strasburg and in England.


The oldest Confession of the Reformed Church in Germany is the Tetrapolitan Confession, also called the Strasburg and the Swabian Confession.999999   Confessio Tetrapolitana, C. Quatuor Civitatum, C. Argentinensis (Argentorati), C. Suevica, die Confession der vier Städte, das Vierstädte-Bekenntniss.

It was prepared in great haste, during the sessions of the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, by Bucer, with the aid of Capito and Hedio, in the 527name of the four imperial cities (hence the name) of Strasburg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau which, on account of their sympathy with Zwinglianism, were excluded by the Lutherans from their political and theological conferences, and from the Protestant League. They would greatly have preferred to unite with the Lutherans in a common confession; but at that time even Melanchthon was more anxious to conciliate the Papists than the Zwinglians and Anabaptists; and of the Lutheran princes the Landgrave Philip of Hesse was the only one who, from a broad, statesman-like view of the critical situation, favored a solid union of the Protestants against the common foe, but in vain. Hence after the Lutherans had presented their Confession, June 25, and Zwingli his own, July 8, the Four Cities handed theirs, July 11, to the Emperor, in German and Latin. It was not read before the Diet, but a Confutation full of misrepresentations was prepared by Faber and Cochläus, and read October 24 (or 17). The Strasburg divines were not even favored with a copy of this Confutation, but procured one secretly, and answered it by a 'Vindication and Defense' (as Melanchthon wrote his Apology of the Augsburg Confession during the Diet). The Confession and Apology, after being withheld for a year from print for the sake of peace, were officially published in both languages at Strasburg in the autumn of 1531.10001000   Under the title, 'Bekandtnuss der vier Frey und Reichstätt, Strassburg, Constantz, Memmingen und Lindaw, in deren sie keys-Majestat, uff dem Reichstag zu Augspurg im xxx. Jar gehalten, ires glaubens und fürhabens, der Religion halb, rechenschaft gethon haben.—Schriftliche Beschirmung und verthedigung derselbigen Bekandtnuss, gegen der Confutation und Widerlegung, so den gesandten der vier Stätten, uff bemeldtem Reichstage, offentlich fürgelesen, und hie getrewlich eingebracht ist.' At the end, 'Getruckt zu Strassburg durch Johann Schweintzer, uff den xxii. Augusti, MDXXXI.' Shortly after the appearance of the German original there appeared a Latin translation, which, however, did not contain the Apology. The title is as follows: 'Confessio Religionis Ckristianæ Sacratissimo Imperatori Carolo V. Augusto, in Comitiis Augustanis Anno MDXXX. per legatos Civitatum Argentorati, Constantiæ, Memmingæ, et Lindaviæ exhibita. Si quis voluerit voluntati ejus obtemperare, is cognoscet de doctrina utrum ex Deo sit an ego a me ipso loquar Joh. VII.' At the end, 'Argentorati Georgio Ulrichero Andlano Impressore Anno MDXXXI., mense Septemb.'—These titles are copied from Baum, l.c. p. 595. Comp. Niemeyer, Proleg. pp. lxxxiv. sq. A new German translation from the Latin is given in Walch's edition of Luther's Works, Vol. XX. pp. 1966–2008.

The Tetrapolitan Confession consists of twenty-three chapters, besides Preface and Conclusion. It is in doctrine and arrangement closely conformed to the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg, and breathes the same spirit of moderation. The Reformed element, however, appears in the first chapter (On the Matter of Preaching), in the 528declaration that nothing should be taught in the pulpit but what was either expressly contained in the Holy Scriptures or fairly deduced therefrom.10011001    'Mandavimus iis, qui concionandi apud nos munere fungebantur, ut nihil aliud quam quæ sacris literis aut continentur, aut certe nituntur, e suggestu docerent. Videbatur namque nobis haud indignum, eo in illo tanto discrimine confugere, quo confugerunt olim et semper, non solum sanctissimi Patres, Episcopi, et Principes, sed quilibet etiam privati, nempe ad authoritatem Scripturæ arcanæ. Ad quam nobiliores Thessalonicensium auditum Christi Evangelium explorasse, divus Lucas cum laude illorum memorat, in qua Paulus summo studio versari suum Timotheum voluit, sine cuius authoritate, nulli Pontifices suis decretis obedientiam, nulli patres suis scriptis fidem, nulli denique Principes suis legibus authoritatem unquam postularunt, ex qua demum ducendas sacras conciones, et magnum Sacri Imperii concilium Nurembergæ, anno Christi M.D.XXIII. celebratum sancivit. Si enim verum divus Paulus testatus est, per divinam Scripturam hominem Dei penitus absolvi, atque ad omne opus bonum instrui, nihil poterit is veritatis Christianæ, nihil doctrinæ salutaris desiderare, Scripturam qui consulere religiose studeat.' (The Lutheran Confession, probably from prudential and irenical considerations, is silent on the supreme authority of the Scriptures.) The evangelical doctrine of justification is stated in the third and fourth chapters more clearly than by Melanchthon, namely, that we are justified not by works of our own, but solely by the grace of God and the merits of Christ through a living faith, which is active in love and productive of good works. Images are rejected in Ch. XXII. The doctrine of the Lord's Supper (Ch. XVIII.) is couched in dubious language, which was intended to comprehend in substance the Lutheran and the Zwinglian theories, and contains the germ of the view afterwards more clearly and fully developed by Calvin. In this ordinance, it is said, Christ offers to his followers, as truly now as at the institution, his very body and blood as spiritual food and drink, whereby their souls are nourished to everlasting life.10021002    'De hoc venerando corporis et sanguinis Christi sacramento omnia, quæ de illo Evangelistæ, Paulus et sancti Patres scripta reliquerunt, nostri fide optima docent, commendant, inculcant. Indeque singulari studio hanc Christi in suos bonitatem, semper depredicant, qua is non minus hodie, quam in novissima illa cœna, omnibus qui inter illius discipulos ex animo nomen dederunt, cum hanc cœnam, ut ipse instituit repetunt, verum suum corpus, verumque suum sanguinem, vere edendum et bibendum, in cibum potumque animarum, quo illæ in æternam vitam alantur, dare per sacramenta dignatur, ut jam ipse in illis, et illi in ipso vivant et permaneant, in die novissimo, in novam et immortalem vitam per ipsum resuscitandi, juxta sua illa æternæ veritatis verba: "Accipite et manducate, hoc est corpus meum," etc. "Bibite ex eo omnes, hic calix est sanguis meus," etc. Præcipua vero diligentia populi animos, nostri ecclesiastæ ab omni tum contentione, tum supervacanea et curiosa disquisitione, ad illud revocant, quod solum prodest, solumque a Christo servatore nostro spectatum est, nempe ut ipso pasti, in ipso et per ipsum vivamus, vitam Deo placitam, sanctam, et ideo perennem quoque et beatam, simusque inter nos omnes unus panis, unum corpus, qui de uno pane in sacra cœna participamus. Quo sane factum est, ut divina sacramenta, sacrosancta Christi cœna, quam religiosissime, reverentiaque singulari apud nos et administrentur, et sumantur.' Ebrard (Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte, Vol. III. p. 93) says of Bucer, that he had the theological elements for a true doctrinal union of the Lutheran and Reformed views of the eucharist. 'In der richtigen exegetisehen Grundlage völlig mit Zwingli einig, brachte er das Element, welches auch in Zwingli keimartig vorhanden gewesen, aber in der Hitze des Streites ganz zurückgetreten war—die Lebensgemeinschaft oder unio mystica mit der Person Christi—im Sinne der Tetrapolitana (d.i. im Sinne der nachherigen calvinisch-melanchthonischen Lehre) zur Entwicklung.' Nothing 529is said of the oral manducation and the fruition of unbelievers, which are the distinctive features of the Lutheran view. Bucer, who had attended the Conference at Marburg in 1529, labored with great zeal afterwards to bring about a doctrinal compromise between the contending theories, but without effect.

We may regard the Strasburg Confession as the first attempt at an evangelical union symbol. But Bucer's love for union was an obstacle to the success of his confession, which never took deep root; for in the Reformed Churches it was soon superseded by the clearer and more logical confessions of the Calvinistic type, and the four cities afterwards signed the Lutheran Confession to join the Smalcald League. Bucer himself remained true to his creed, and reconfessed it in his last will and testament (1548), and on his death-bed.10031003   Baum, pp. 569, 572.

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