The Smalcald Articles

After Augsburg

At the close of the Diet of Augsburg, there was little hope that the Emperor would grant the Lutherans freedom to practice a religion separate from Catholicism. Fearing a military campaign by the emperor to force them to submit to the doctrine of Romanism, the Lutheran princes formed a military alliance known as the Smalcald League. Very quickly the Smalcald League became one of the most formidable powers in Europe. Not only did this include most of Germany, but even Denmark and England wanted to join the League! Because of its increasing power (and impending war with the Ottomans) Charles granted the Lutherans religious freedom at the Diet of Nurenberg, until a general council could be called.

In 1536, Pope John Paul III finally called for such a council to be held the following year. In preparation for the council, elector John Frederick asked Luther to draw up a confession that would clearly state the Lutheran doctrine. Luther was quite sick as he wrote this document, and although he lived another 9 years, considered this his doctrinal “Last Will and Testament.”

The Need for New Articles of Faith

Why was there a need for another confession of faith when the Lutherans already had the Large Catechism (1529) the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Apology (1531)? As solid as these earlier confessions were, there was now a need for a stronger confession on certain doctrines that were at issue between the Lutherans and the Romanists. The doctrinal lines dividing these two groups had become much more clear in the years since Augsburg giving Luther the chance to clarify points already stated in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology, but also to include new articles that were now at issue with the Romanists. This included statements on Purgatory, the Adoration of the Saints, and – most importantly – the Papacy.

Repentance also is a main thought in Luther’s Articles (taking up about one fifth of its length). Here Luther describes true repentance and condemns the false repentance taught by the papacy including work-righteousness, indulgences, and many other corrupt teachings which Luther had seen first-hand.

New Articles

Purgatory - Luther describes the deadly poison of the doctrine of purgatory: “the Mass was used almost exclusively for the dead although Christ instituted the sacrament for the living alone. Consequently purgatory and all the pomp, services, and business transactions associated with it are to be regarded as nothing else than illusions of the devil, for purgatory, too, is contrary to the fundamental article that Christ alone, and not the work of man, can help souls.”

Adoration of the Saints - Although this was briefly mentioned in Article XXI of the Augsburg Confession, Luther addresses this error head-on and once again shows how it undermines the Gospel: “it does not follow that we should invoke angels and saints, pray to them, keep fasts and festivals for them, say Masses and offer sacrifices to them, establish churches, altars, and services for them, serve them in still other ways, regard them as helpers in time of need, and attribute all sorts of help to them, assigning to each of them a special function, as the papists teach and practice. This is idolatry. Such honor belongs to God alone.”

The Papacy - Concerning the papacy Luther wrote: “The pope is not the head of all Christendom by divine right or according to God’s Word, for this position belongs only to one, namely to Jesus Christ.” “The papacy is a human invention, and it is not commanded, it is unnecessary, and it is useless. The holy Christian church can exist very well without such a head, and it would have remained much better if such a head had not bee raised up by the devil.” And finally, “The pope is the real Antichrist who has raised himself over and set himself against Christ, for the pope will not permit Christians to be saved except by his own power...”

Contents of the Smalcald Articles


Part 1 - Articles not in Dispute

       A.    The Trinity

       B.    The Person of Jesus Christ

Part 2 - Articles related to the Work of Christ

Article I - Christ and Faith

Article II - The Mass

               A.    Abuses of the Mass

               B.    Purgatory

               C.    Masses for the Dead

               D.    Pilgrimages

               E.     Monasteries

               F.     Relics

               G.   Indulgences

               H.    Invocation of the Saints

Article III - Chapters and Monasteries

Article IV - The Papacy

Part 3 - Other Articles

Article I - Sin

Article II - The Law

Article III - Repentance

Article IV - The Gospel

Article V - Baptism

Article VI - The Sacrament of the Altar

Article VII - The Ministry of the Keys

Article VIII - Confession

Article IX - Excommunication

Article X - Ordination

Article XI - The Marriage of Priests

Article XII - The Church

Article XIII - Good Works

Article XIV - Monastic Vows

Article XV - Human Tradition

The Power and Primacy of the Pope

Even though Melanchthon had been able to sidetrack acceptance of Luther’s Articles from formal acceptance at Smalcald in favor of the Augsburg Confession and Apology, the Lutheran representatives recognized the need for an additional article on the Papacy. So, Melanchthon was asked to prepare such a document (intended to be a supplement to the Augsburg Confession) which would expose the heresy of the doctrine of the papacy from Scripture. He completed his “Treatise on the power and primacy of the Pope” while at Smalcald where it was signed and accepted by the Lutheran delegates.

Here we again see Melanchthon’s lack of resolve on doctrinal matters. Although his “Treatise” takes a strong stand on the errors of the Papacy, Melanchthon later stated that it was written, “more harshly than is my custom.” It is possible that Melanchthon was forced to make this document stronger than he believed it should be, either by the Elector or by the general consensus at Smalcald. Whatever the cause, it is clear that his treatment of the papacy in this document went beyond his own personal beliefs (this can be seen in Melanchthon’s conditioned subscription to Luther’s “Smalcald Articles”).

Historical note: For some time there was confusion about the authorship of the “Treatise.” In the Book of Concord it was appended to the Smalcald Articles, rather than the Augsburg Confession, and it was ascribed to the “Assembled Theologians” at Smalcald, rather than Melanchthon. It wasn’t until 1770 that documents were uncovered the showed Melanchthon’s authorship.

The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope can be divided into two parts. The first deals with the pope and the power he claims: God-given spiritual power, God-given political power, and that all Christians must accept this to have salvation. These claims are refuted from Scripture and from history and it is demonstrated that the Papacy is the Antichrist. The second deals with the abuse of power by the bishops, and what the ministry really is.

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

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