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§ 70. The Brandenburg Confessions.

(Confessiones Marchicæ.)


Hartknoch: Preussische Kirchenhistorie. Frankf. 1686.

Zorn: Historia derer zwischen den Lutherischen und Reformirten Theologis gehaltenen Colloquiorum. Hamburg, 1705.

D. H. Hering: Historische Nachricht von dem ersten Anfang der evang.-reformirten Kirche in Brandenburg und Preussen unter dem gottseligen Churfürsten Johann Sigismund, nebst den drei Bekenntniss-Schriften dieser Kirche. Halle, 1778. The same: Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte der evangel.-reform. Kirche in den Preuss. Brandenburg. Ländern. Berlin, 1787.

C. W. Hering: Geschichte der kirchlichen Unionsversuche seit der Reformation. Leipzig, 1836, 1837.

Beck: Symbol. Bücher der ev.-reform. Kirche, Vol. I. pp. 472 sqq.; Vol. II. pp. 110 sqq., 130 sqq.

Niemeyer: Collectio, Proleg. pp. lxxiv. sqq. and 642–689.

Böckel: Die Bekenntniss-Schriften, etc., pp. 425 sqq.

Möller: Joh. Sigismund's Uebertritt zum reform. Bekenntniss, in the Deutsche Zeitschrift. Berlin, 1858, pp. 189 sqq.

Alex. Schweizer: Die Protest. Centraldogmen, Vol. II. pp. 6 sqq., 525 sqq., 531 sqq.

Comp. Herzog's Encyklop. articles: Leipziger Colloquium, Vol. VIII. p. 286; Joh. Sigismund, Vol. XIV. p. 364; and Thorn (by Henke), Vol. XVI. p. 101.


Brandenburg, the central province of Prussia, with Berlin as its capital, ruled since 1415 by princes of the house of Hohenzollern, at 555first embraced the Lutheran Reformation, but at the beginning of the seventeenth century the Elector became Calvinistic, drawing with him a few influential ministers and congregations. This Reformed diaspora received an accession of about twenty thousand exiled Huguenots under the liberal policy of the great Elector Frederick William (1620–1688), the proper founder of the Prussian monarchy, who secured the legal recognition of the Reformed Church in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

There are three Reformed Confessions of Brandenburg—namely, the Confession of the Elector Sigismund (1614), the Leipzig Colloquy (1631), and the Declaration of Thorn (1645). They bear a moderately Calvinistic, we may say a Unionistic, type, and had a certain symbolical authority in Brandenburg till the introduction of the union of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in 1817. The great Elector mentions them together in 1664. The Canons of Dort were respectfully received but never adopted by the Brandenburg divines.


See the original German text in the collections of Beck, Niemeyer, Böckel, and also in Heppe's Bekenntniss-Schriften der reform. Kirchen Deutschlands, pp. 284–294.

John Sigismund (or Siegmund), Elector of Brandenburg (b. 1572, d. 1619) and ancestor of the royal line of Prussia, was brought up in the rigorous orthodoxy of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, and in his twenty-first year a solemn pledge was exacted from him by his father that he would always adhere to this creed (1593). But religious compulsion had on him an effect directly contrary to that contemplated (as is often the case with independent minds). His social relations with Holland, Cleves, and the Palatinate gave him a favorable impression of the doctrines and discipline of the Calvinistic Churches. In 1608 he succeeded to the throne. At Christmas, 1613, he publicly professed the Reformed faith by receiving the holy communion, according to the Reformed rite, in the Dome of Berlin, together with fifty-four others, including his brother John George, the Count of Nassau, Ernst Casimir, and the English embassador.

This act was the result of conscientious conviction.10521052   Some writers, including Voltaire, trace the change to political motives—viz., that Sigismund wished to secure the friendship of Holland and England—but without proof. On the contrary, it was bad policy, and in its immediate effect rendered the Elector very unpopular among his German fellow-sovereigns and his own people. 'Kein Wort,' says Böckel, p. 427, 'keine Handlung des Kurfürsten Johann Sigismund verräth, dass ihn irgend eine unreine Nebenabsicht geleitet habe.' See also Möller and Hollenberg, l.c. It was meant 556to be not so much a change of creed as a further progress in Protestantism, but it created a great sensation, and called forth violent protests from Lutheran princes and pulpits.10531053   See Hutter's Calvinista aulico-politicus. An edict forbidding public denunciations had little effect. A fanatical mob arose in rebellion against the Reformed preachers, and plundered their houses (1615). The great majority of the Elector's subjects and his own wife remained Lutherans.10541054   Dr. Tholuck (Geist der luther. Theologen Wittenbergs, p. 118, referring to Hartknoch's Preuss. Kirchenhistorie, p. 544) mentions the fact that Anna, the wife of Sigismund, in her will and testament ordered her chaplain in the funeral sermon to disown the Calvinistic (?) heresy that Christ's blood and death are merely a man's blood and death.

Nevertheless, his transition was of great prospective importance, for the house of Brandenburg was destined to become, by extraordinary talents and achievements, one of the leading dynasties of Europe, and to take the helm of the new Protestant German empire.

In May, 1614, Sigismund issued a personal confession of faith, which is called after him and also after his country. It was drawn up by himself, with the aid of Dr. Pelargus, General Superintendent at Frankfort-on-the-Oder. It is brief, moderate, conciliatory, and intended to be merely supplementary concerning the controverted articles. The Elector professes faith in the 'true, infallible, and saving Word of God, as the only rule of the pious which is perfect, sufficient for salvation, and abides forever.' Then he accepts, as agreeing with the Bible, the œcumenical creeds (namely, the Apostles', the Nicene, the Athanasian, also the doctrinal decisions of Ephesus, 431, and of Chalcedon, 451), and the Augsburg Confession of 1530, with the later improvements of Melanchthon.

In regard to the controverted articles, Sigismund rejects the Lutheran doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ's body, and exorcism in baptism as a superstitious ceremony, and the use of the wafer instead of the breaking of bread in the communion. He adopts the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments, and of an eternal and unconditional election of grace, yet with the declaration that God sincerely wished the salvation of all men, and was not the author of sin and damnation.


In conclusion the Elector expresses his wish and prayer that God may enlighten his faithful subjects with his truth, but disclaims all intention to coerce their conscience, since faith was the free gift of God (John vi. 29; 2 Thess. iii. 2; Phil. i. 29; Eph. iii. 8), and no one should presume to exercise dominion over men's religion (2 Cor. i. 24). He thus freely waived, in relation to his Lutheran subjects, the right of reformation, which was claimed and exercised by other Protestant princes, and established a basis for religious liberty and union.

This wise toleration was in advance of the age, and contrasts favorably with the opposite policy of the Elector Augustus of Saxony, who forced the Formula of Concord upon his people, and answered the Emperor Maximilian II., when he interceded for the release from prison of Peucer (Melanchthon's son-in-law): 'I want only such servants as believe and confess in religion neither more nor less than I myself believe and confess.'10551055   The Emperor replied: 'Das wage ich von meinen Dienern nicht zu fordern.' The same Elector Augustus said that 'if he had only one Calvinistic vein in his body, he wished the devil (sic!) would pull it out.' These times of terrorism over men's consciences are happily passed, and Sigismund's toleration has become the settled policy of his successors to this day.

The conduct of Luther and Zwingli at Marburg gave tone and character to all subsequent union conferences of the two confessions they represent. The Reformed, with a larger charity, were always willing to commune with Lutherans notwithstanding minor doctrinal differences; while the Lutherans, with a narrower conscience and a more compact system of theology, refused the hand of fellowship to the Reformed, and abhorred as a syncretistic heresy all union that was not based upon perfect agreement in dogma; yea, during the seventeenth century they would rather make common cause with Romanists than Calvinists, and went so far as to exclude the Calvinists from heaven.10561056   Dr. Hülsemann of Wittenberg traced the charitable hope of Calixtus that he would meet many Reformed in heaven to the inspiration of the devil ('spes dubio procul a diabolo inspirata'). Calixtus asked, Who inspired this opinion of Hülsemann? Leyser wrote a book to show that communion with Papists was preferable to communion with Calvinists. Another book of that age professed to prove that 'the damned Calvinistic heretics have six hundred and sixty-six theses in common with the Turks.' The French Reformed Synod of Charenton in 1631 sanctioned the admission of Lutheran sponsors in baptism on the ground of essential agreement of the Augsburg Confession with the Reformed doctrine. This resolution was pronounced 'atheistic' by Lutherans as well as Romanists. The spirit of Lutheran bigotry in that classical period of polemic confessionalism and exclusivism is well characterized and illustrated by Dr. Tholuck, in his Geist der luther. Theologen Wittenbergs im 17ten Jahrh. (1852), pp. 115, 169, 211, etc. Comp. also above, p. 346; Gieseler, Kirchengeschichte, Vol. III. Pt. II. (1853), p. 456; Hase, Kirchengesch. 9th ed. p. 510. 558Fortunately Calixtus and his school, who had the Melanchthonian spirit, formed an honorable exception, and the exception, after much misrepresentation and persecution, has become the rule in the Lutheran Church.


See the German text of the Colloquium Lipsiense in Niemeyer, pp. 653–668, and in Böckel, pp. 443–456.

In the midst of the fierce polemics between the Churches and the horrors of the Thirty-Years' War growing out of it, there arose from time to time a desire for union and peace, which was strengthened by the common danger. In 1629, Ferdinand II., a pupil of the Jesuits, issued an edict aiming at the destruction of Protestantism, which might have been accomplished had not Gustavus Adolphus soon afterwards appeared on German soil. It was during this period that the classical union sentence (often erroneously attributed to Augustine), 'In necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things charity,' was first uttered as a prophetic voice in the wilderness by a Lutheran divine of the school of Calixtus, and re-echoed in England by Richard Baxter.10571057   See Lücke's treatise, Ueber das Alter, den Verfasser, etc., des kirchlichen Friedensspruches, etc., Göttingen, 1850. He traces it to Rupertus Meldenius, the obscure author of Parænesis votiva pro pace ecclesiæ ad theologos Augustanæ Confessionis (before 1635), directed against the φιλοδοξία and φιλονεικία of the theologians, and commending humility and love of peace. Here the sentence occurs, 'Si nos servaremus in necessariis Unitatem, in non necessariis Libertatem, in utrisque Caritatem, optimo certe loco essent res nostræ.' A copy of the first edition of this book, though without date, is preserved in the City Library of Hamburg.

Under the operation of this feeling and the threatening pressure of Romanism, the Elector Christian William of Brandenburg, accompanied by his chaplain, John Bergius, and the Landgrave William of Hesse, with the theological Professor Crocius and Chaplain Theophilus Neuberger, met at Leipzig with the Elector George of Saxony and the Lutheran divines Matthias Hoë of Hoënegg, Polycarp Leyser, and Henry Höpfner, to confer in a private way about a friendly understanding between the two confessions, hoping to set a good example to other divines of Germany. The conference lasted from March 3 to 23, 1631, and each session continued three hours.


The Augsburg Confession of 1530, with Melanchthon's subsequent explanations, was made the basis of the proceedings, and was discussed article by article. They agreed essentially on all the doctrines except the omnipresence of Christ's human nature, the oral manducation of his body in the eucharist by worthy and unworthy communicants. The Reformed divines were willing, notwithstanding these differences, to treat the Lutherans as brethren, and to make common cause with them against the Papists. But the Lutherans were not prepared to do more than to take this proposal into serious consideration.

The question of election was then also taken up, although it is not expressly mentioned in the Augsburg Confession. They agreed that only a portion of the race was actually saved. The Reformed traced election to the absolute will of God, and reprobation to the unbelief of men; the Lutherans (adhering to the happy inconsistency of the Formula of Concord) brought in God's foreknowledge of the faith of the elect, but they derived faith itself entirely from God's free electing grace. The difference was therefore very immaterial, and simply a matter of logic.

In conclusion, the theologians declared that the conference was intended not to compromise the Churches and sovereigns, but only to find out whether and to what extent both parties agreed in the Twenty-eight Articles of the Augsburg Confession, and whether there was reason to hope for some nearer approach in the future, whereby the true Church might be strengthened against the Papists. In the mean time the proceedings of the conference were to be regarded as strictly private, and not to be published by either party without the consent of the other. The theologians of the two Churches were to show each other Christian love, praying that 'the God of truth and peace grant that we may be one in him, as he is one with the Son (John xvii. 21). Amen, Amen in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.'

The document is not signed by the princes who arranged the conference, but only by the theologians — namely, Drs. von Hoënegg, Leyser, Höpfner (Lutherans), and Bergius, Crocius, Neuberger (Reformed).10581058   The proceedings were published by Hoë of Hoënegg, and by Bergius, 1635. See literature in Niemeyer, Proleg. p. lxxix.


The proceedings were characterized by great theological ability and an excellent Christian temper, and showed a much closer harmony than was expected. They excited considerable sympathy among the Reformed at home and abroad. But the Lutheran members were severely taken to task for favoring syncretism, and in vindicating themselves they became more uncompromising against Calvinism than before. The conference was in advance of the spirit of the age, and left no permanent effect.


The official edition of the Acts: Acta Conventus Thoruniensis celebrati a. 1645, etc., Warsaw, 1646 (very incorrect). The Acts, with the two Protestant Confessions (which were excluded from the official Acts), in Calovius, Historia Syncretistica (1682), 1685, pp. 199–560. The Reformed Declaratio Thoruniensis, Latin, in Niemeyer (pp. 669–689); German, in Böckel (pp. 865–884).

The Colloquy of Thorn, in West Prussia (Colloquium Thoruniense), was likewise a well-meant but fruitless union conference in a time of sectarian intolerance and the suicidal folly of the Thirty-Years' War.

In this case the movement proceeded from the Roman Catholic king, Wladislaus IV., of Poland (1632–1648). In this country moderate Lutherans, Calvinists, and Moravians had formed a conservative union in the Consensus of Sendomir (1570), and a treaty of peace secured equal civil rights to Protestants and Romanists (Pax Dissidentium in 1573). But this peace was denounced by the Pope as a league of Christ with Belial, and undermined by the Jesuits, who obtained the control of the education of the Polish nobility, and are to a large extent responsible for the ultimate dismemberment and ruin of that unfortunate kingdom.

Wladislaus made a patriotic effort to heal the religious discords of his subjects, and invited Romanists and Dissenters (Protestants) to a charitable colloquy (colloquium caritativum, fraterna collatio) in the city of Thorn, which was then under the protection of the King of Poland (since 1454), and had embraced the Lutheran faith (1557). It began April 18, 1645, in the town-hall. There were three parties. The twenty-eight Roman deputies, including eight Jesuits, were determined to defeat the object of peace, and to prevent any concessions to Protestants. The Reformed had twenty-four delegates, chief among them the electoral chaplains John Bergius and Fr. Reichel, of Brandenburg, and the Moravian bishop Amos Comenius. The Lutheran 561deputation consisted of fifteen, afterwards of twenty-eight members; the most prominent were Calovius of Dantzic and Hülsemann of Wittenberg, the champions of the strictest orthodoxy, and George Calixtus of Helmstädt, the leader of a mild and comprehensive union theology.10591059   It took Calixtus nearly three weeks to travel from Helmstädt to Thorn. The sessions were private ('plebs penitus arcenda'). The king's chancellor, Prince George Ossolinski, presided.

The first business, called 'liquidatio,' was to be the preparation of a correct statement of the doctrinal system of each party. The Roman Catholic Confession, with a list of rejected misrepresentations, was ready early in September, and read in the second public session, Sept. 16. It was received among the official acts. On the same day the Reformed Confession was read, under the title Declaratio doctrinæ, ecclesiarum Reformatarum catholicæ. But the Romanists objected to the word 'catholic,' which they claimed as their monopoly, and to the antithetical part as being offensive to them, and excluded the document from the official acts. The Lutheran Confession was ready the 20th of September, but was even refused a public reading.10601060   The Latin text in Calovius's Hist. syncret. pp. 403–421; the German and Latin texts were separately issued at Leipzig, 1655, and at Dantzic, 1735. See also Scripta facientia ad Colloquium Thoruniense; accessit G. Calixti consideratio et ἐπίκρισις, Helmstädt, 1645, and Calixti Annotationes et animadversiones in Confessionem Reformatorum, Wolfenbüttel, 1655.

The Protestants sent a deputation to the king, who received them and their confessions with courtesy and kindness; but the Romanists demanded more alterations than the Protestants were willing to make, and used every effort to prevent the official publication of heresies. Unfortunately the dissensions among the Lutherans, and between them and the Reformed, strengthened the Romish party. The Colloquy closed Nov. 21, 'mutua valedictione et in fraterna caritate,' but without accomplishing its end. Calixtus says: 'The Colloquy was no colloquy at all, certainly no colloquium caritativum, but irritativum.' It left the three confessions where they were before, and added new fuel to the syncretistic controversy in Germany,10611061   Hence the distich on the Synod of Thorn:
    'Quid synodus? nodus: Patrum chorus integer? æger:

   Conventus? ventus: Gloria? stramen. Amen.'
Calovius and Hülsemann charged Calixtus with aiding the Calvinists in their confession. The city of Thorn, which spent 50,000 guilders for 562the conference, suffered much from the Thirty-Years' War, also by a plague, and became the scene of a dreadful massacre of Protestants, Dec. 7, 1724, stirred up by the Jesuits in revenge for an attack on their college.

The Declaration of Thorn10621062   The full title is 'Professio Doctrinæ Ecclesiarum Reformatarum in Regno Poloniæ, Magno Ducatu Lithuaniæ, annexisque Regni Provinciis, in Conventu Thoruniensi, Anni 1645, ad liquidationem Controversiarum maturandam, exhibita d. 1 Septembris.' First published at Berlin, 1646, under the title 'Scripta partis Reformatæ in Colloquio Thoruniensi,' etc. is one of the most careful statements of the Reformed Creed, and the only one among the three confessions of this Colloquy which acquired a practical importance by its adoption among the three Brandenburg Confessions. It is divided into a general part (generales professio) and a special declaration (specialis declaratio). The former acknowledges the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in the original Hebrew and Greek, as the only perfect rule of faith, containing all that is necessary for our salvation. It adopts, also, in a subordinate sense, as explanatory summaries of Scripture doctrine, the œcumenical Creeds, and doctrinal decisions of the ancient undivided Church in opposition to the trinitarian, christological, and Pelagian heresies.10631063   In the expression of agreement with the ancient Church the Declaration of Thorn is more explicit than any other Protestant confession, Lutheran or Calvinistic or Anglican. After saying that the summary of Scripture doctrine is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Words of Institution of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the Declaration proceeds:
   'Si quid vero, in hisce Doctrinæ Christianæ capitibus, dubitationis aut controversiæ de genuino eorum sensu exoriatur, profitemur porro, nos amplecti ceu interpretationem Scripturarum certam et indubitatam, Symbolum Nicænum et Constantinopolitanum, iisdem plane verbis, quibus in Synodi Tridentinæ Sessione tertia, tanquam Principium illud, in quo omnes, qui fidem Christi profitentur, necessario conveniunt, et Fundamentum firmum et unicum, contra quod portæ inferorum nunquam prævalebunt, proponitur.

   'Cui etiam consonare Symbolum, quod dicitur Athanasianum, agnoscimus: nec non Ephesinæ primæ, et Chalcedonensis Synodi Confessiones: quinetiam, quæ Quinta et Sexta Synodi, Nestorianorum et Eutychianorum reliquiis opposuere: quæque adversus Pelagianos olim Milevitana Synodus et Arausicana secunda ex Scripturis docuere. Quinimo, quicquid primitiva Ecclesia ab ipsis usque Apostolorum temporibus, unanimi deinceps et notorio consensu, tanquam Articulum fidei necessarium, credidit, docuit, idem nos quoque ex Scripturis credere et docere profitemur.

   'Hoc igitur Fidei nostræ professione, tanquam Christiani vere Catholici, ab omnibus veteribus et recentibus Hæresibus, quas prisca universalis Ecclesia unanimi consensu ex Scripturis rejecit atque damnavit, nos nostrasque Ecclesias segregamus.'
Finally, as regards the controversy with Rome, it accepts the Altered Augsburg Confession and the Consensus of Sendomir (1570) as correct statements of the Scripture doctrines, differing in form, but agreeing in essence.

The 'Special Declaration' states the several articles of the Reformed 563system, both in its agreement with, and in its departure from, the creeds of Romanists and Lutherans.

The document is signed by a number of noblemen and clergymen from Poland, Lithuania, and Brandenburg.

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