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§ 44. The Articles of Smalcald. A.D. 1537.


Carpzov: Isagoge in Libras Symbolicos, etc., 1675, pp. 767 sqq.

J. C. Bertram: Geschichte des symbol. Anhangs der Schmalk. Artikel. Altdorf, 1770.

M. Meurer: Der Tag zu Schmalkalden und die Schmalk. Artikel. Leipz. 1837.

Köllner: Symbolik (1837), I. pp. 439–472.

G. H. Klippel, in Herzog's Real-Encykl. Vol. XIII. (1860), pp. 600 sqq.

Ch. P. Krauth: The Conservative Reformation and its Theology, Phila. 1872, pp. 280–283.

F. Sander: Geschichtliche Einleitung zu den Schmalkaldischen Artikeln. In the Jahrbücher für Deutsche Theologie, Gotha, 1875, pp. 475–489.

The older literature, mostly doctrinal and polemical, is given by Fabricius, Walch, Baumgarten, Hase (Libri Symb. Proleg. cxl.), and Köllner.


Pope Paul III., yielding at last to the request of the German Emperor and the pressure of public opinion, convoked a general Council, to be opened May 23, 1537, at Mantua,475475   It did not convene, however, till 1545, in Trent, and then it turned out an exclusive Roman Catholic Council. and extended, through his legate, Peter Paul Vergerius (who subsequently became a Protestant), an invitation also to the Lutherans.476476   Vergerius had a fruitless interview with Luther in the electoral castle at Wittenberg, which was characteristic of both parties. The papal nuncio acted the proud prelate and shrewd Italian diplomatist; the Reformer, the plain, free-spoken German. Luther took the matter in good humor, sent for the barber, and put on his best dress to impress the nuncio with his youth and capacity for even greater mischief to the Pope than he had done already. He scorned his tempting offers, and told him frankly that he cared very little about his master and his Council at Mantua or elsewhere, but promised to attend it, and there to defend his heretical opinions against the whole world. Vergerius, in his report, speaks contemptuously of Luther's poor Latin, rude manners, obstinacy, and impudence; but some years afterwards he renounced Romanism, and became the Reformer of the Grisons in Eastern Switzerland. He died October 4, 1565, at Tübingen, where he spent his last years, without office, but in extensive literary activity and correspondence. See the monograph of Sixt: Petrus Paulus Vergerius, Braunschweig, 1855, pp. 35–45. Though by no means sanguine as to the result, Luther, by order of the Elector of Saxony (Dec. 11, 2541536), prepared a Creed as a basis of negotiations at the Council, submitted it to Amsdorf, Agricola, Spalatin, and Melanchthon for approval, and sent it to the Elector, Jan. 3, 1537.

Melanchthon, at the request of the convent assembled at Smalcald, prepared an Appendix on the power and primacy of the Pope, about which the Augsburg Confession and Apology are silent.


The Articles, including the Appendix, were laid before the convent of Lutheran Princes and theologians held in the town of Smalcald (Schmalkalden), in Thuringia, which lent its name to the political league of those Princes for mutual protection, and also to this new Creed.477477   'Schmalkaldische Artikel, Articuli Smalcaldici,' so called since 1553. The original title is: 'Artikel christlicher Lehre, so da hätten sollen aufs Concilium zu Mantua, oder wo es sonst worden wäre, überantwortet werden von unsers Theils wegen, und was wir annehmen oder nachgeben könnten oder nicht, durch D. Martin Luthern geschrieben, Anno 1537.' They were signed by the theologians (but not by the Princes) without being publicly discussed.478478   The Princes on that occasion required their theologians to sign also the Augsburg Confession and Apology, but they resolved to have nothing to do with the Pope's Council. The Appendix has thirty-two signatures, the Articles have forty-two, obtained partly at Smalcald and partly on the journey. The principal signers are Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, Spalatin, Bugenhagen, Amsdorf, Bucer, and Brentius. See Köllner, pp. 445 sqq., and Plitt, De auctoritate Articuloram Smalcaldicorum (Erlang. 1862), with the strictures of Heppe, Entstehung und Fortbildung des Lutherthums (Cassel, 1863), pp. 252 sqq.

Melanchthon signed the Articles with the following remarkable qualification: 'I, Philip Melanchthon, approve the foregoing Articles as pious and Christian. But in regard to the Pope, I hold that, if he would admit the Gospel, we might also permit him, for the sake of peace and the common concord of Christendom, to exercise, by human right, his present jurisdiction over the bishops, who are now or may hereafter be under his authority.'479479   ' De pontifice autem statuo, si evangelium admitteret (so er das Evangelium woltte zulassen), ei propter pacem et communem tranquillitatem Christianorum, qui iam sub ipso sunt et in posterum sub ipso erunt, superioritatem in episcopos, quam alioqui habet, jure humano etiam a nobis permitti.' Sander (p. 488) thinks that Melanchthon did not mean this authority to apply to Protestants. But this is inconsistent with the words 'etiam a nobis.'

This remarkable concession strongly contrasts with the uncompromising anti-popery spirit of the Articles, and exposed Melanchthon to much suspicion and abuse. It is self-contradictory and impracticable, since the Pope and his hierarchy will never allow the free preaching of the Gospel in the Protestant sense. But the author's motive 255was a noble desire for a more independent and dignified position of the Church. He feared—and not without good reason—a worse than papal tyranny from rapacious Protestant Princes, who now exercised the power of supreme bishops and little popes in their territories. He sincerely regretted the loss, not of the episcopal domination, but of the episcopal administration, as a check upon secular despotism.480480   ' Utinam, utinam'—he wrote to his friend, Joach. Camerarius, Aug. 31, 1530—'possim non quidem dominationem confirmare, sed administrationem restituere episcoporum. Video enim, qualem simus habituri Ecclesiam, dissoluta πολιτείᾳ ecclesiastica. Video postea multo intolerabiliorem futuram tyrannidem, quam antea unquam fuit' (Corp. Reform. Vol. II. p. 334. Comp. his letter of Sept. 4, 1530, to the same, p. 341). Köllner defends Melanchthon's course.


The Articles of Smalcald consist of three parts.

The first reaffirms, very briefly in four articles, the doctrines of the Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds, about which there was no dispute with the Papists. It corresponds to Articles I. and III. of the Augsburg Confession.

The second and principal part, concerning 'the office and work of Christ, or our redemption,' is polemical against the mass, purgatory, the invocation of saints, monasticism, and popery, which interfere and set aside the true doctrine of redemption. Justification by faith alone is emphasized as the chief article of faith, 'upon which depends all that we teach and do against the Pope, the devil, and all the world. We must, therefore, be entirely certain of this, and not doubt it, otherwise all will be lost, and the Pope, and the devil, and our opponents will prevail and obtain the victory.' The mass is denounced as 'the greatest and most horrible abomination,'481481   Luther calls it also 'the dragon's tail (Drachenschwanz), which has produced a multiplicity of abominations and idolatries' (multiplices abominationes et idololatrias. In German: viel Ungeziefers und Geschmeiss mancherlei Abgötterei), P. II Art. 2. He says that the mass will be the chief thing in the proposed Council, and will never be yielded by the Papists. Cardinal Campeius had told him at Augsburg he would rather be torn to pieces than allow the mass to be discontinued. So would he (Luther) rather be reduced to ashes than allow a performer of the mass to be equal to our Lord and Saviour. purgatory as a 'satanic delusion,' the Pope as 'the true Antichrist' predicted by Paul (2 Thess. ii. 4), because 'he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power.'

The third part treats, in fifteen articles, of sin, of the law, of repentance, of the sacraments, and other doctrines and ordinances, concerning 256which Protestants may dispute either among themselves or with 'learned and sensible men' (i.e., Catholics in the Council, but not with the Pope, who is said to have no conscience, and to care only about 'gold, honor, and power'). In the article on the Lord's Supper, transubstantiation is expressly excluded, but otherwise the Lutheran doctrine is asserted even in stronger terms than in the Augsburg Confession (viz. that 'the true body and blood of Christ are administered and received, not only by pious, but also by impious Christians.'482482   Heppe (l.c. p. 253 sq.) says that Luther in his first draft used simpler language, viz., that 'the body and blood of Christ are offered with the bread and with the wine;' but that Amsdorf insisted on a stronger, anti-Melanchthonian statement. Luther concludes with spicy remarks against the juggling tricks of the Pope.

The Appendix of Melanchthon is a theological masterpiece for his age, written in a calm, moderate, and scholarly tone; and refutes, from the Bible and from the history of the early Church, these three assumptions of the Pope, as 'false, impious, tyrannical, and pernicious in the extreme,' viz.: 1. That the Pope, as the Vicar of Christ, has by divine right supreme authority over the bishops and pastors of the whole Christian world; 2. That he has by divine right both swords, that is, the power to enthrone and dethrone kings, and to regulate civil affairs; 3. That Christians are bound to believe this at the risk of eternal salvation. He also shows from Scripture and from Jerome that the power and jurisdiction of bishops, as far as it differs from that of other ministers, is of human origin, and has been grossly abused in connection with the papal tyranny.


It is clear from this outline that the Articles of Smalcald mark a considerable advance in the final separation of the Lutheran body from the Church of Rome. Luther left Smalcald in bad health (he suffered much of the stone), with the prayer that God may fill his associates with hatred of the Pope, and wrote as his epitaph,

'Pestis eram vivus, moriens tua mors ero, Papa.'

The Articles themselves differ from the Augsburg Confession as much as Luther differs from Melanchthon. They are more fresh, vigorous, and original, but less cautions, wise, circumspect, and symmetrical. 257They are not defensive, but aggressive; not an overture of peace, but a declaration of war. They scorn all compromises, and made a reconciliation impossible. They were, therefore, poorly calculated to be a basis of negotiation at a general Council, and were, in fact, never used for that purpose. The Convent at Smalcald resolved not to send any delegates to the Council. But the Smalcald Articles define the position of Lutheranism towards the Papacy, and give the strongest expression to the doctrine of justification by faith. They accordingly took their place, together with the Appendix, among the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church, and were received into various Corpora Doctrinæ, and at last into the 'Book of Concord.'483483   Comp. Plitt and Heppe, above quoted (p. 254).

TEXT.484484    See the minor particulars in Bertram, l.c., and Köllner, pp. 454 sqq.

Luther prepared the Smalcald Articles at Wittenberg in the German language, and edited them, in 1538, with a preface and considerable changes and additions, but without the signatures, and without the Appendix of Melanchthon. In 1543 and 1545 he issued new editions with slight changes. The first draft, as copied by Spalatin, and signed at Smalcald, was published from the archives of Weimar in 1553, together with Luther's additions and Melanchthon's Appendix, and embodied in the 'Book of Concord.'485485   The original MS. of Luther, from which Spalatin made his copy before Luther added his changes, was discovered in the Palatinate Library at Heidelberg in 1817, and edited by Marheineke, with notes, Berlin, 1817.

The Latin text, as it appeared in the first edition of the 'Book of Concord,' was a poor translation, but was much improved in the edition of 1584.

Melanchthon wrote the Appendix at Smalcald in Latin, but a German translation by Dietrich was signed there, and passed, as the supposed original, into the works of Luther and the first edition of the 'Book of Concord' (1580). The corrected Latin edition of 1584 gave the Latin original, but as the work of all the theologians convened at Smalcald.486486   Under the title 'De Potestate et Primatu Papæ. Tractatus per Theologos Smalcaldiæ congregatos conscriptus.' This error prevailed nearly two hundred years, until the careful researches of Bertram dispelled it.


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