The Lutheran Confessions
What is the Book of Concord?
The Book of Concord is a collection of theological document written between 1529 and 1577. It also contains the three ecumenical creeds approved by the ancient church. These documents were constructed and assembled to give a public exposition of the Christian faith as understood by Lutherans. Hence these documents are an in-depth exploration of the Reformation theses of "faith alone", "scripture alone", "grace alone" and ultimately "Christ alone".
The Apostle's Creed was commonly believed in Midevil times to have been written by the Apostles. It is now known to have come from what is now France, but is strongly descended from the ancient baptismal creed of the Roman church. The early church often used baptismal creeds as teaching instruments for new converts.
The Nicene Creed was formulated by the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. as a result of the heresy of Arius. Arius, operating under the influence of Neoplatonism, had put forward the teaching that Jesus was not God nor man, but a sort of middle creature. In response the church met in council and drafted this creed to state the full divinity of Jesus. One additon to the creed is known as the filioque or the phrase stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This phrase was instrumental in the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church around the year 1000.
Lutherans included these three creeds as a statement that they desired to be faithful to the ancient teachings of the Church and especially to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As such Lutherans demonstrate their understanding is not a new and novel development but rather a continuation of that which is descended from the Apostles and first believers in Jesus.
The Augsburg Confession
Often considered the heart and soul of the Book of Concord, this document was the first formal presentation of the faith from a Lutheran perspective to the church and Roman empire. Emperor Charles the V, needing the help of Lutheran princes to keep the Muslims from conquering Europe, wanted to settle the controversy between the Catholics and the Lutherans. He invited Lutheran leaders to a diet at Augsburg in 1530. (Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517.) The AC was presented in both a Latin and a German version. Both versions are found in the Book of Concord. Its author Philip Melanchthon later rewrote the AC to be more congenial to Roman Catholic thought being later willing to compromise on certain key issues. This later version is called the Variatta. So the AC in the book of Concord is sometimes refered to at the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession
The Latin word apologia means "defense". This document was prepared as a response to the criticism of Roman Catholic theologians to the Augsburg Confession following the Diet of Augsburg. The Catholic theologians had prepared their own document in response called the "Confuation". The Apology was written against the accusations found in the "Confutation".
The Smalcald Articles
Pope Paul III announced in 1536 that a church council would be convened to deal with the Protestant position in 1537. The elector (ruler) of Saxony requested that Luther prepare a statement of key articles that should be discussed at such a council. Luther's document indicated points on which there could be no compromise and points on which compromise were possible. The council was never held, but the document was added to the Book of Concord as useful exposition of key Lutheran themes.
The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
At the time, this treatise was considered to be an addition to the Augsburg Confession regarding the Lutheran understanding of the papacy. In 1537 various protestants met to discuss theology at Smalcald in place of the Roman council which was not held. It is here that Melanchthon drafted this document.
Formula of Concord
After Luther's death there arose discord amongst Lutherans over certain key issues. Lutheran unity and the very future of the Reformation were at stake. Key Lutheran theologians sat down and put together this expostion of the Scripture on these disagreements bringing unity or concord back into the Lutheran movement. This document also recognizes the afore mentioned documents as being true expostions of Scripture and a true and faithful statement of the Lutheran and Christian faith.
Rev. David D. Reedy, 2005