Vrsachen so die Chur vnd Fürsten : auch Stende vnd Stedte, der Bekentnis, warhafftiger, Göttlicher, vnd Euangelischer Lahr, allen Königen, Hoheiten, vnd Potentaten der Christenheit, durch jr schreiben, zu erkennen gegeben, darümb sie Bapst Pauli, des namens des dritten, ausgeschrieben Concilium, das er auff den drey vnd zwentsigsten tag maij, schirftkünsstig, gegen Mantua angersatzt, billich vordechtig, auch zu gemeiner Christlichen Einigkeit, nicht dienstlich achten vnd halten.
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Quarto A-C4 D2 E4 (E4 blank) First Edition This copy is disbound, sand sewn. Council of Mantua (1537)
BM, Germ. Books 353. Kuczynski 2671
Melanchthon, the Quiet Reformer
Clyde Leonard Manschreck
Abingdon Press, 1958 –
POPE PAUL III WAS FAR FROM FEVERISH IN HIS DESIRE FOR a general council, but for political and economic reasons just two years after he ascended the papal chair he an nounced that he would convene a council in May of 1537 at Mantua.
The evangelicals had long pleaded for an impartial council, but in the pope’s summons they were prejudged as “heretics.” Realizing, however, that they would have to say why they would not attend such a council, the Protestants called for an assembly of all the Lutheran estates at Smalcald, February 7, to decide on a common course.
Luther was asked to formulate a statement expressing the evangeli cals’ attitude. Instead of revising the Augsburg Confession, he prepared new articles. When the Confession was written in 1530, a faint hope still lingered that the churches might become reconciled. Melanchthon, there fore, had emphasized agreement and had underplayed the points of dis sension. As the years passed, the Roman Catholics took advantage of Melanchthon’s “light-stepping” to pervert the underlying evangelical point of view.
By 1537 the irreconcilable differences between the two divisions of Christendom had become evident. Instead of making an indirect claim for toleration Luther felt impelled to show “open and uncompromising hostility to the hopelessly corrupt papacy.” By arraigning the Roman church for the errors in which it had become hardened, Luther drew a sharp line between Catholicism and Protestantism. In doing so, he had the sanction of his colleagues. Before the new articles were sent to the
Elector they were approved by Melanchthon, Jonas, Cruciger, and Bugenhagen, as well as Amsdorf, Agricola, and Spalatin who had been summoned to Wittenberg.
By January 3, the Smalcald Articles, as they came to be called, were on their way to the Elector for perusal. Convinced of their truthfulness and basic agreement with the Augsburg Confession, he openly declared he would confess them in council and before the whole world, and would petition God to keep him, his relatives, and his subjects from vacillation. The Smalcald credo was almost a declaration of war on the papacy. Part I stated the evangelical belief about the Trinity and the Incarna tion. Part II discussed redemption through Christ, and the abuses which originated through relics, pilgrimages, and like works. Part III set forth some doctrines the evangelicals were still willing to discuss. Actually, these were quite a few, but the antipapal note throughout the articles was unmistakable, for Luther spoke of the pope as Antichrist.
Toward the end of January, 1537, the Elector, Melanchthon, Luther, Spalatin, and Bugenhagen mounted horses and wagons bound for Smal cald. Forty theologians and almost as many civil rulers converged on the city. When the cold wintry blasts proved too much for Luther’s health, the Elector loaned him his personal wagon for the return home. As he went through the city gate, he shouted to Melanchthon,
“May God fill you with hate for the Pope!”
The brunt of the situation fell on Melanchthon, for in attendance at the meeting were Vorst, the papal nuncio, and Held, the vice-chancellor to the Emperor. As at so many previous meetings, there were threats and talk of war. And as usual there were long, protocol-filled deliberations which consumed time and energy. It is not clear why the princes hesitated to accept Luther’s articles, but they did delay, and even asked Melanchthon to discover what articles of faith the evangelicals would sustain at all hazards. Melanchthon complained that attempts to compromise would lead to apprehension and disharmony.
When Luther’s articles were laid before the theologians, they signed, because they recognized the document as a powerful statement of their convictions. The princes, however, needed something else to present at Mantua, since it was generally conceded that the Protestants should not attend a council where they would be considered heretics. When Melanchthon subscribed to Luther’s articles, he added:
I, Philip Melanchthon, regard the foregoing articles as right and Christian. But of the Pope I hold that if he will permit the Gospel, the government of the bishops which he now has from others, may be jure humano also conceded to him by us, for the sake of peace and the common tranquillity of those Christians, who are or may hereafter be under him.
This willingness to accept the pope’s control of bishops rested not simply on a desire for peace. Melanchthon saw in the human control of the pope a realistic solution to a situation which was neither black nor white. H e carefully qualified his statement so as to safeguard the gospel, which for him meant justification by faith. In the tractate which he penned a few days later, he did not hesitate to excoriate the papacy for its cor ruptness and to demonstrate that its claims to divine sanction were un bridled pretensions. Melanchthon knew that no one, be he pope or Luther, is absolutely right, that no human system is final or without flaws, that limited human beings always devise relative goods….
While still at Smalcald, Melanchthon, at the request of the princes, composed one of the sternest and ablest apologies for rejecting the papacy that has ever come out of Protestantism. With characteristic skill he refuted the papal claim of supremacy and asserted the right of churches everywhere “to ordain for themselves pastors and other church officers.” He forcefully brought out the grounds on which the proposed council had been refused. Using Luke 22 :25, John 20 :21, Gal. 2 :7 ff., I Cor. 3 :6, and similar passages, Melanchthon showed that Scripture does not place the pope by divine right above other pastors, and that some doctrines the evangelicals were still willing to discuss. Actually, these were quite a few, but the antipapal note throughout the articles was unmistakable, for Luther spoke of the pope as Antichrist.8
Melanchthon composed the essay in Latin and Veit Dietrich made the German translation that was signed by thirty-four ministers and theologians. It was just what the princes needed to accompany their rejection of the proposed general council. In the recess statement the princes expressly mentioned and approved the Augsburg Confession and the Apology and this new writing which was called the Appendix on the Papacy. The essay thus received an immediately symbolical authority among the evangelicals. For many years it superseded Luther’s articles which were privately published by Luther in 1538, 1543, and 1545. By the time of the Book of Concord in 1580, Luther’s Smalcald Articles and Melanchthon’s essay had acquired solid symbolic authority.
After composing several other items for the princes on how to handle miscellaneous religious problems, and after requesting the princes to use the papal church and school properties which they had confiscated for Protestant religion and education, Melanchthon departed for home. He was worried about Luther’s health, wondering if Dr. Sturz of Erfurt had helped the pain of the stone, wondering if the prayers he so earnestly offered had been answered. At Weimar he rejoiced to see Luther, who had recovered considerably, and the two rode together to Wittenberg. He wrote to Agricola:
I was seized by a peculiar sorrow when I saw Luther’s danger. I was moved to itby the loss of the Church, but also by my love for this man, and my admiration of his distinguished and heroic virtues. I could not but be greatly troubled at the danger of such a man. Therefore, I heartily thank God and our Lord Jesus Christ, that he has looked upon our tears and sighs, and has restored Luther to health.
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