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§ 133. Calvin and the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon’s Position in the Second Eucharistic Controversy.

Comp. Henry, III. 335–339 and Beilage, pp. 102–110; the works on the Augsburg Confession, and the biographies of Melanchthon.

During the progress of this controversy both parties frequently appealed to the Augsburg Confession and to Melanchthon. They were both right and both wrong; for there are two editions of the Confession, representing the earlier and the later theories of its author on the Lord’s Supper. The original Augsburg Confession of 1530, in the tenth article, teaches Luther’s doctrine of the real presence so clearly and strongly that even the Roman opponents did not object to it.966966    The Catholica Refutatio Augustanae Confessionis of Drs. Eck, Faber, and Cochlaeus says: "Decimus articulus [of the Augsburg Confession] in verbis nihil offendit si modo credant [the Lutheran signers], sub qualibet specie integrum Christum esse." But from the time of the Wittenberg Concordia in 1536, or even earlier,967967    Comp. his letters to Schnepf, Agricola, and Brenz, from the years 1534 and 1535; Matthes, Leben Melanchthons, p. 349; C. Schmidt, Philipp Melanchthon, pp. 680 sqq. Melanchthon began to change his view on the real presence as well as his view on predestination and free-will; in the former he approached Calvin, in the latter he departed from him. He embodied the former change in the Altered Confession of 1540, without official authority, yet in good faith, as the author of the document, and in the conviction that he represented public sentiment, since Luther himself had moderated his opposition to the Swiss by assenting to the Wittenberg Concordia.968968    Luther did not object to the change. When he broke out more fiercely than ever against the Swiss, in his "Short Confession on the Holy Sacrament" (1544), Melanchthon, in a letter to Bullinger, called this book not unjustly "atrocissimum scriptum." See vol. VI. 654 sq. The altered edition was made the basis of negotiations with the Romanists at the Colloquies of Worms and Ratisbon in 1541, and at the later Colloquies in 1546 and 1557. It was printed (with the title and preface of the Invariata) in the first collection of the symbolical books of the Lutheran Church (Corpus Doctrinae Philippicum) in 1559; it was expressly approved by the Lutheran princes at the Convention of Naumburg in 1561, after Melanchthon’s death, as an improved modification and authentic interpretation of the Confession, and was adhered to by the Melanchthonians and the Reformed even after the adoption of the Book of Concord (1580).

The text in the two editions is as follows:—

Ed. 1530.

"De Coena Domini docent, quod corpus et sanguis Christi vere adsint [the German text adds: unter der Gestalt des Brots und Weins], et distribuantur vescentibus in Coena Domini, et improbant secus docentes." [In the German text: "Derhalben wird auch die Gegenlehre verworfen."]

Ed. 1540.

"De Coena Domini docent, quod cum pane et vino vere exhibeantur corpus et sanguis Christi vescentibus in Coena Domini."

Ed. 1530.

"Concerning the Lord’s Supper, they teach that the body find blood of Christ are truly present [under the form of bread and wine], and are distributed to those that eat in the Lord’s Supper. And they disapprove of those who teach otherwise." [In the German text: "Wherefore also the opposite doctrine is rejected."]

Ed. 1540.

"Concerning the Lord’s Supper, they teach that with bread and wine are truly exhibited the body and blood of Christ to those who eat in the Lord's Supper."

[Disapproval of dissenting views is omitted.]

It is to this revised edition of the document, and to its still living author, that Calvin confidently appealed.

"In regard to the Confession of Augsburg," he says in his Last Admonition to Westphal, "my answer is, that, as it was published at Ratisbon (1541), it does not contain a word contrary to our doctrine.969969    "De Confessione Augustana sic respondeo, verbulum in ea, qualis Ratisponae edita fuit, non exstare doctrinae nostrae contrarium." Opera, IX. 148. Comp. his letter to Schalling at Ratisbon, March, 1557, quoted on p. 377, note (Opera, XVI. 430). If there is any ambiguity in its meaning, there cannot be a more competent interpreter than its author, to whom, as his due, all pious and learned men will readily pay this honor. To him I boldly appeal; and thus Westphal with his vile garrulity lies prostrate .... If Joachim wishes once for all to rid himself of all trouble and put an end to controversy, let him extract one word in his favor from Philip’s lips. The means of access are open, and the journey is not so very laborious, to visit one of whose consent he boasts so loftily, and with whom he may thus have familiar intercourse. If I shall be found to have used Philip’s name rashly, there is no stamp of ignominy to which I am not willing to submit.

"The passage which Westphal quotes, it is not mine to refute, nor do I regard what, during the first conflict, before the matter was clearly and lucidly explained, the importunity of some may have extorted from one who was then too backward in giving a denial. It were too harsh to lay it down as a law on literary men, that after they have given a specimen of their talent and learning, they are never after to go beyond it in the course of their lives. Assuredly, whosoever shall say that Philip has added nothing by the labor of forty years, does great wrong to him individually, and to the whole Church.

"The only thing I said, and, if need be, a hundred times repeat, is, that in this matter Philip can no more be torn from me than he can from his own bowels.970970    "Solum quod dixi et quidem centies si opus sit, confirmo, non magis a me Philippum quam a propriis visceribus in hac causa posse divelli." Opera, IX. 149. But although fearing the thunder which threatened to burst from violent men (those who know the boisterous blasts of Luther understand what I mean), he did not always speak out openly as I could have wished, there is no reason why Westphal, while pretending differently, should indirectly charge him with having begun to incline to us only after Luther was dead. For when more than seventeen years ago we conferred together on this point of doctrine, at our first meeting, not a syllable required to be changed.971971    He refers to their meeting at Frankfurt, which took place in 1539, seven years before Luther’s death and five years before his last book against the Sacramentarians. See above, § 90, pp. 388 sq. Nor should I omit to mention Gaspar Cruciger, who, from his excellent talents and learning, stood, next after Philip, highest in Luther’s estimation, and far beyond all others. He so cordially embraced what Westphal now impugns, that nothing can be imagined more perfectly accordant than our opinions. But if there is still any doubt as to Philip, do I not make a sufficient offer when I wait silent and confident for his answer, assured that it will make manifest the dishonesty which has falsely sheltered itself under the venerable name of that most excellent man?"

Calvin urged Melanchthon repeatedly to declare openly his view on the points in controversy. In a letter of March 5, 1555, after thanking him for his approval of the condemnation of Servetus, he says: "About ’the bread-worship’ (peri; th'" ajrtolatreiva"), your most intimate opinion has long since been known to me, which you do not even dissemble in your letter. But your too great slowness displeases me, by which the madness of those whom you see rushing on to the destruction of the Church, is not only kept up, but from day to day increased." Melanchthon answered, May 12, 1555:

I have determined to reply simply and without ambiguity, and I judge that I owe that work to God and the Church, nor at the age to which I have arrived, do I fear either exile or other dangers." On August 23 of the same year, Calvin expressed his gratification with this answer and wrote: "I entreat you to discharge, as soon as you can, the debt which you acknowledge you owe to God and the Church." He adds with undue severity: "If this warning, like a cock crowing rather late and out of season, do not awaken you, all will cry out with justice that you are a sluggard. Farewell, most distinguished sir, whom I venerate from the heart." In another letter of Aug. 3, 1557, he complains of the silence of three years and apologizes for the severity of his last letter, but urges him again to come out, like a man, and to refute the charge of slavish timidity. "I do not think," he says, "you need to be reminded by many words, how necessary it is for you to hasten to wipe out this blot from your character." He proposes that Melanchthon should induce the Lutheran princes to convene a peaceful conference of both parties at Strassburg, or Tübingen, or Heidelberg, or Frankfurt, and attend the conference in person with some pious, upright, and moderate men. "If you class me," he concludes, "in the number of such men, no necessity, however pressing, will prevent me from putting up this as my chief vow, that before the Lord gather us into his heavenly kingdom I may yet be permitted to enjoy on earth, a most delightful interview with you, and feel some alleviation of my grief by deploring along with you the evils which we cannot remedy." In his last extant letter to Melanchthon, dated Nov. 19, 1558, Calvin alludes once more to the eucharistic controversy, but in a very gentle spirit, assuring him that he will never allow anything to alienate his mind "from that holy friendship and respect which I have vowed to you .... Whatever may happen, let us cultivate with sincerity a fraternal affection towards each other, the ties of which no wiles of Satan shall ever burst asunder."

Melanchthon would have done better for his own fame if, instead of approving the execution of Servetus, he had openly supported Calvin in the conflict with Westphal. But he was weary of the rabies theologorum, and declined to take an active part in the bitter strife on "bread-worship," as he called the notion of those who were not contented with the presence of the body of Christ in the sacramental use, but insisted upon its presence in and under the bread. He knew what kind of men he had to deal with. He knew that the court of Saxony, from a sense of honor, would not allow an open departure from Luther’s doctrine. Prudence, timidity, and respect for the memory of Luther were the mingled motives of his silence. He was aware of his natural weakness, and confessed in a letter to Christopher von Carlowitz, in 1548: "I am, perhaps, by nature of a somewhat servile disposition, and I have before endured an altogether unseemly servitude; as Luther more frequently obeyed his temperament, in which was no little contentiousness, than he regarded his own dignity and the common good."

But in his private correspondence he did not conceal his real sentiments, his disapproval of "bread-worship" and of the doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ’s body. His last utterance on the subject was in answer to the request of Elector Frederick III. of the Palatinate, who tried to conciliate the parties in the fierce eucharistic controversy at Heidelberg. Melanchthon warned against scholastic subtleties and commended moderation, peace, biblical simplicity, and the use of Paul’s words that "the bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ " (1 Cor. 10:16), not "changed into," nor the "substantial," nor the "true" body. He gave this counsel on the first of November, 1559. A few months afterwards he died (April 17, 1560).

The result was that the Elector deposed the leaders of both parties, Heshusius and Klebitz, called distinguished foreign divines to the University, and entrusted Zacharias Ursinus (a pupil of Melanchthon) and Caspar Olevianus (a pupil of Calvin) with the task of composing the Heidelberg or Palatinate Catechism, which was published Jan. 19, 1563. It became the principal symbolical book of the German and Dutch branches of the Reformed Church. It gives clear and strong expression to the Calvinistic-Melanchthonian theory of the spiritual real presence, and teaches the doctrine of election, but without a word on reprobation and preterition. In both respects it is the best expression of the genius and final doctrinal position of Melanchthon, who was himself a native of the Palatinate.


Letter to Calvin, Oct. 14, 1554. Melanchthon approves of the execution of Servetus and continues: "Quod in proximis literas me hortaris, ut reprimam ineruditos clamores illorum, qui renovant certamen peri; ajrtolatreiva" scito, quosdam praecipue odio mei eam disputationem movere, ut habeant plausibilem causam ad me opprimendum." He expresses the hope to discuss this subject with him once more before his death. (Mel’s Opera in the Corp. Reform. VIII. 362 sq.)

To Hardenberg, pastor in Bremen, who was persecuted for resisting the doctrine of ubiquity, he wrote, May 9, 1557 (ibid. IX. 154) Crescit, ut vides, non modo certamen, sed etiam rabies in scriptoribus, qui ajrtolatreivan stabiliunt."

Letter to Mordeisen, counsellor of the Elector of Saxony, Nov. 15, 1557 (ibid. IX. 374): "Si mihi concedetis, ut in alia loco vivam, respondebo illis indoctis sycophantis et vere et graviter, et dicam utilia ecclesiae."

One of his last utterances is reported by Peucer, his son-in-law, "ex arcanis sermonibus Dom. Philippi," in an autograph of Jan. 3, 1561 (vol. IX. 1088–1090). Here Melanchthon asserts the real presence, but declines to describe the mode, and rejects the ubiquity of Christ’s body. He also admits the figurative sense of the words of institution, which Luther so persistently denied. "Consideranda est," he says, "interpretatio verborum Christi, quae ab aliis kata; to; rJhtovn, ab aliis kata; trovpon accipiuntur. Nec sunt plures interpretationes quam duae. Posterior Pauli est sine omni dubio, qui vocat koivwvian corporis panem, et aperte testatur, oujk ejxistavnai th'" fuvsew" ta; oJrwvmena suvmbola. Ergo Necesse Est Admitti trovpon. Cum hac consentit vetustas Graeca et Latina. Graeci suvmbola ajntivtupa, Latini ’signa’ et ’figuras’ vocant res externas et in usu corpus et sanguinem, ut discernant hunc sacrum et mysticum cibum a profano, et admoneant Ecclesiam de re signata, quae vere exhibetur et applicatur credentibus, et dicunt esse symbola tou' o[ntw" swvmato", contra Entychem, ut sciat Ecclesia, non esse inania symbola aut notas tantum professionis, sed symbola rerum praesentium Christi vere praesentis et efficacis et impertientis atque applicantis credentibus promissa beneficia."

From Melanchthon’s Judicium de controversia coenae Domini ad illustr. Principem ac D. D. Fridericum, Comitem Palatinum Rheni, Electorem, dated Nov. 1, 1559 (IX. 960 sqq.): "Non difficile, sed periculosum est respondere. Dicam tamen, quae nunc de controversia illius loci monere possum: et oro Filium Dei, ut et consilia et eventus gubernet. Non dubium est de controversia Coenae igentia certamina et bella in toto orbe terrarun secutura esse: quia mundus dat poenas idololatriae, et aliorum peccatorum. Ideo petamus, ut Filius Dei nos doceat et gubernet. Cum autem ubique multi sint infirmi, et nondum instituti in doctrina Ecclesia, imo confirmati in erroribus: necesse est initio habere rationem infirmorum.

"Probo igitur consilium Illustrissimi Electoris, quod rixantibus utrinque mandavit silentium ne distractio fiat in tenera Ecclesia, et infirmi turbentur in illo loco, et vicinia: et optarim rixatores in utraque parte abesse. Secundo, remotis contentiosis, prodest reliquos de una forma verborum convenire. Et in hac controversia optimum esset retinere verba Pauli: ’Panis quem frangimus, koinwniva ejsti; tou' swvmato".’ Et copiose de fructu coenae dicendum est, ut invitentur homines ad amorem hujus pignoris, et crebrum usum. Et vocabulum koinwvnia declarandum est.

"Non Dicit [Paulus], mutari naturam panis, at Papistae dicunt: non dicit, ut Bremenses, panem esse substantiale corpus Christi. Non dicit, ut Heshusius, panem esse verum corpus Christi: sed esse koinwnivan, id est, hoc, quo fit consociatio cum corpore Christi: quae fit in usu, et quidem non sine cogitatione, ut cum mures panem rodunt ....

"Sed hanc veram et simplicem doctrinam de fructu, nominant quidam cothurnos: et postulant dici, an sit corpus in pane, aut speciebus panis?  Quasi vero Sacramentum propter panem et illam Papisticam adorationem institutum sit. Postea fingunt, quomodo includant pani: alii conversionem, alii transubstantiationem, alii ubiquitatem excogitarunt. Haec portentosa omnia ignota sunt eruditae vetustati ....

"Ac maneo in hac sententia: Contentiones utrinque prohibendas esse, et forma verborum una et simili utendum esse. Si quibus haec non placent, nec volunt ad communionem accedere, his permittatur, ut suo judicio utantur, modo non fiant distractiones in populo.

"Oro autem filium Dei, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum sedentem ad dextram aeterni patris, et colligentem aeternam Ecclesiam voce Evangelii, ut nos doceat, gubernet, et protegat. Opta etiam, ut aliquando in pia Synodo de omnibus contraversiis harum temporum deliberetur."

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