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—1530— Luther and the Augsburg Confession


In observation of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation,
we are presenting a brief survey of the life of Martin Luther. The series continues
with major events in the life of the Reformer that took place after 1517.

The birthday of the Lutheran Church is often placed on June 25, 1530, the date the Augsburg Confession was read before the emperor at the Diet of Augsburg.

By this time Luther was no longer a lone voice crying out to be given a fair hearing, as he had been nine years earlier in Worms. There he had been condemned, and he and anyone supporting him were declared by the emperor to be outlaws. This ban was never enforced because the emperor was distracted by wars with France and even with the pope, as well as by uprisings within Germany by both the knights and the peasants. The Turks also were a severe threat from the east. Plainly, the support of all the Germans, and especially of Luther’s prince, the Elector of Saxony, was desperately needed. Thus, the Lutheran movement, under the protecting hand of Providence, grew largely undisturbed by government interference.

But in 1530, the emperor was ready to address the religious divisions in his realm directly, and he summoned theologians to a “diet,” or meeting, that summer in Augsburg. A Lutheran delegation, headed by Philip Melanchthon, proceeded to Augsburg. There Melanchthon busied himself with writing a document expressing the faith of the Lutherans to present to the emperor. That document, the Augsburg Confession, did several things. It showed that the Lutheran churches continued to teach what the church had always taught. It condemned false teachings being taught by other dissenting groups of that time. It showed where the Roman Catholic Church had wandered into error. It did all this with clear and gentle language. And it was backed by Scripture. It clearly showed what was Lutheran and what was not. It remains the fundamental confession of Lutheranism to this day.

It did not, however, succeed in its immediate purpose. The emperor gave them until April 15 to fall in line
with Rome.

Luther, however, was not at Augsburg. He was still under the ban and could not safely leave Saxony. An attempt was made to have him stay in the free city of Nuremburg, but the city officials there did not wish to anger the emperor and so refused to invite him. He was forced to remain at Coburg Castle, 150 miles from the diet.

What did Luther do while sidelined away from the main action? In a letter to Melanchthon, he explained, “We shall make a Zion out of this Sinai and construct here three huts: one for the Psalter, one for the Prophets, and one for Aesop,” and that is what he did. He dictated a commentary on the first twenty-five Psalms; he continued his work of translating the Old Testament, finishing all but Ezekiel; and he translated thirteen of Aesop’s fables, adapting them for children.

He also wrote a famous letter to his four-year-old son, Hans, to encourage him in his studies. In it he describes a wonderful garden with fruit trees, and ponies, and playing children. When asked, the owner of the garden said that these were children who “like to pray, study, and be good.” And as for Hans? “If he likes to pray, study, and be good, he too may enter the garden” and ride the pretty ponies.

While at Coburg Castle, Luther deeply grieved the loss of his father, though rejoicing that he had “lived until now so that he could see the light of truth.”

But always his attention was directed toward the great work at Augsburg. Through a constant stream of letters of encouragement and advice, he helped to make this a confession that will last for the ages.

Norman Greve is pastor of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iron River, Michigan.