The Apology


The purpose of the Diet at Augsburg was to restore religious peace to Europe following a very tumultuous decade. The reformation movement was blazing across the continent, and although the Roman Catholic Church had always been able to squelch such controversies in the past, this time was different. Because of the widespread nature of the reformation and the sheer number of those within the movement, it would not be stopped.

But the Romanists had one thing going for them. There was a great deal of division and controversy within the reformation movement itself. The reformation broke the chains of the Roman Catholic Church and brought the brilliant light of the Gospel back to the people through the Scriptural teaching of justification by grace through faith. But at the same time it also paved the way for many religious sects to break away from the “Universal Church” and begin teaching their own brand of heresy. Although Luther tried to unite the different groups on the basis of unity of doctrine, this was not to be so. The meetings of 1529 at Marburg and Schwabach only brought more clarity to the doctrinal differences between the groups.

Because of this division it was the hope of the Romanists that they might still be able to scare the divided reformers into submission with the threat of the Edict of Worms at Augsburg.

The Edict of Worms – pronounced by Emperor Charles V in 1521 after Luther’s refusal to recant all of his writings – proclaimed a total ban on Luther’s writings which were not to be printed, bought or sold, or even owned. Those who disobeyed this edict were to face “confiscation and loss of body and belongings and all goods.”

In many ways the plan of the emperor and the Romanists failed. With the public presentation of the Augsburg Confession on June 25, 1530, the Lutherans were given the chance to present their teachings and contradict the teachings that had been falsely attributed to them. This served to unify many of the German princes who now saw that they had been grossly misrepresented by Romanist representative John Eck in his 404 propositions.

The Confutation

Following the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, Charles had to decide how to proceed. The Romanists had refused to offer a confession of their own, saying that they adhered to the “holy Gospel of the Christian Church and His Majesty’s Edict.”

Charles could have simply rejected the Lutheran position immediately, but the Romanist anger had been aroused, and they now wanted a chance to reply to the Lutheran document. Charles was encouraged to appoint a committee who would compose a reply to the Lutheran Confession. On July 5th Charles announced that such a committee would be organized. The committee was made up of about 20 theologians, many of whom were fierce enemies of Luther and hostile to the Lutherans.

A week later the committee brought its work to Charles who rejected it because it was too long. This document – named the Confutation – was revised four times before the emperor reluctantly accepted it. The Confutation was given as the emperor’s own response to the Augsburg Confession, and was read in German before the Diet on August 3.

The Lutherans were refused a copy of the Confutation unless they would agree to three conditions: 1) they not publish it; 2) they not respond to it; and 3) they adhere to its teachings. They were unwilling to accept these conditions, so the only text the Lutherans had of the Confutation was one compiled from the notes taken by Melanchthon and others during the public reading of the Confutation and some of the meetings in the days that followed. The Confutation was not published until 1573.

The Apology

After the reading of the Confutation, Charles declared that meetings be held to solve the problems of difference between the two groups. So, from August 13-21 representatives of the Lutherans and Romanists met to discuss these articles. It quickly became clear that no reconciliation was possible. During this time Luther wrote: “It does not please me at all that the unity of doctrine is to be discussed since this is utterly impossible, unless the pope would abolish his entire popery.”

It was this recognition that motivated the Lutherans to prepare a response to the Confutation and in defense of the Augsburg Confession. The purpose was to show that the Confutation had not disproved anything in the Augsburg Confession on the basis of Scripture. Melanchthon and others worked diligently on such a document which was completed on September 20th. Two days later the Lutherans brought the document to the emperor, but he refused to accept it, stating that the Lutherans had been successfully refuted in the Confutation. With no hope of reconciliation and without further recourse, the Lutherans began returning home the following day.

Before the Diet was adjourned the emperor demanded that the Lutherans (and other separatists) conform to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church or face the consequences set forth in the Edict of Worms.

This document was named the “Apology” (not in the sense of an acknowledgment of offense or failure, but in the sense of a justification or defense) because it was to serve as a defense of the Augsburg Confession.

Although the Apology was never accepted by the emperor, it still became an important document for the Lutheran Churches. Melanchthon took the original draft of the Apology and began enlarging and strengthening it. When he was given a copy of the Confutation in October, he was able to refute its teachings more thoroughly. Finally in early May of 1531, the Apology was published in Latin for all to read. A second Latin version was published in September, and in November a German translation.

Although the Apology was originally a private work, it became the confession of the whole Lutheran Church. In 1532 it was accepted by the conference at Schweinfurt; in 1536 it was referred to in the Wittenberg Concord; in 1537 it was approved by the clergy assembled at Smalcald and named in a document signed by the princes; and in 1555 it was recognized as an official Lutheran confession in the Religious Peace Treaty of Augsburg. All this paved the way for its inclusion in the Book of Concord in 1580.

Value of the Apology

Three things stand out about the Apology.

   The first is its length. It is more than seven times longer than the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon went into much greater detail on many of the articles that were presented concisely in the Augsburg Confession. This can be seen in the extensive quotations made throughout the Apology, both from Scripture and from the writings of the church fathers.

   Second is the theological nature of the document. The purpose of the Apology was to defend the Augsburg Confession and refute the often technical attacks made in the Confutation. For this reason, the Apology is more polemical in nature, vigorously attacking the teaching of the Romanists.

   Finally, one cannot miss the overwhelming emphasis on the doctrine of Justification which fills almost one third of its pages! Not only was the article on Justification the longest of the articles, but we will notice that it carries into all the other articles as well. It is made clear that all the articles of our faith must be understood in the light of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is this truth – which never becomes outdated – that makes the Apology still relevant and full of meaning for us today!

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.

If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew