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Formula Friday: Augsburg-Leipzig Interims

by PastorWilliams on January 19th, 2018


As we prepare to look at the Formula of Concord, we must look at the history that lead up to the publication of the Formula of Concord. On June 25, 1530, at an imperial Diet in Augsburg, the Lutheran princes declared their faith through the presentation of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V. On August 3 of the same year, the papal theologians issued their Confutation of the Augsburg Confession and demanded the Lutherans concede by April 15, 1531. Philip Melanchthon worked on an Apology, a defense, of the Confession in the light of the notes taken from the Confutation.

Another fifteen years of religious and political struggle between Lutheran lands and the Pope finally forced Luther to succumb to the peaceful sleep of death on February 18, 1546. However, Luther’s death appeared to be a window of opportunity for Pope Leo X and Emperor Charles V to advance their political and religious agendas upon the sect that was now leaderless. These continued pressures caused a wedge to form between groups of Lutherans. Some, following Philip Melanchthon, were willing to make compromises with Rome to ensure peace. These would become known as Philippists. Charles’ war against the Lutheran lands forced some to fall into despair about their personal safety and their property. Others sought to retain Luther’s pure teachings without compromising the Gospel. These would become known as the Gnesio (“genuine”) Lutherans. On May 19, 1547, only fifteen months after Luther’s death, Charles’ army had conquered all of the territories that had embraced the Lutheran Reformation by capturing Wittenberg.

Reading from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 445), as it gives the historical background for the Formula of Concord:

Though Charles had won a military victory, he realized that only the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people could eliminate Lutheranism. He chose instead to pursue political and ecclesiastical compromises. Some Lutherans were willing to go along with his plan.

The Augsburg Interim was the result of these compromises. On May 15, 1548, Charles V laid down the new law of the land for the Lutheran provinces:

  • Obey the Emperor and do not question his orders.

  • Do not speak in any way against the Augsburg Interim.

  • Lutheran clergy were allowed to marry and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but many of the previously abolished Roman practices and ceremonies had to be re-instituted.

  • Lutherans must acknowledge the Pope as the head of the Church by divine right.

  • Justification cannot be taught as being received by grace through faith alone.

  • Lutherans must teach transsubstantiation and all seven of Rome’s sacraments.

For the sake of peace, Melanchthon was willing to compromise and accept the Interim. Unfortunately, Melanchthon would allow almost anything to be compromised. He had already rewritten the Augsburg Confession so that it was more in line with the Reformed theology of John Calvin. He recanted his belief in justification by grace through faith alone, accepting that a person’s works also helped in salvation.

Imperial troops enforced the Interim with great brutality. Cities that refused it were deprived of their liberties and rights in the Empire. Pastors who refused to abide by the Interim’s terms were removed from office and exiled, imprisoned and/or executed.

One of the great shining lights in this time was Elector John Frederick the Magnanimous of Saxony, also known as John the Steadfast. He was the nephew of Elector Frederick the Wise, Luther’s patron and protector. John Frederick refused to accept the Interim. Being one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V couldn’t openly move against him in a complete invasion. Charles also understood he couldn’t wipe out entire populations who didn’t accept the Interim. Charles imprisoned John Frederick and attempted to encourage him to change his mind. John Frederick remained steadfast in his devotion to the Scriptures and the Augsburg Confession. He had the courage and boldness to be the leader that many wanted Melanchthon to be.


The Leipzig Interim, as it has been called, was another document in the long line of compromises made by Melanchthon and his supporters. In fact, the Leipzig Interim is primarily Melanchthon’s writing. Melanchthon crafted the document to help Lutherans be able to avoid the terrors of the Augsburg Interim while being able to retain their faithful proclamation of justification by grace through faith. Melanchthon purposely wrote the document with a great deal of ambiguity so that the Lutherans and Rome might be able to interpret the document in their own ways. This is very similar to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999. Even now, both sides can say that there is agreement between Roman Catholics and Lutherans while keeping their own interpretation and definitions for the common terms.

Melanchthon’s ambiguity and compromise aren’t anything new in the Leipzig Interim. In 1534, Melanchthon indicated to the French that he was willing to compromise with Rome on the invocation of the saints, withholding the cup from the laity, clerical celibacy, and jurisdiction of the bishops and Pope. As part of the Augsburg Interim, Melanchthon stated that it was the Church’s place to concede to the circumstances imposed by the politicians. Melanchthon finally got to a point that everything in the Church is adiaphora and subject to change with social circumstances.

You can see that the issues between the Philippists and the Gnesio-Lutherans run deep. More than four hundred fifty years later, the divide still stands. The ELCA and her partner churches throughout the world continue in the line of the Philippists. They continue to concede and allow the political authorities to decide what is and what is not part of the faith. The LCMS and the other confessional Lutheran church bodies continue in the line of the Gnesio-Lutherans. It is interesting to note that in some versions of the ordination rite among the ELCA and her partner churches that the Formula of Concord is not mentioned as a binding document. When it is mentioned, everything is subjected to being binding “in as far as” it agrees with Scripture.

This great divide, which will probably not be crossed and obliterated this side of Heaven, came to a head at the Celle Interim. This was Rome’s answer to Melancthon’s Leipzig Interim. Melanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen, Wittenberg’s city pastor, both signed the document. In it, they agreed to accept baptismal chrismation, Confirmation as a sacrament, the canonical hours, Latin’s exclusive use in Lutheran worship, Roman blessing ceremonies, extreme unction and fasting among others. Pastors who refused to accept this Interim—this compromise to the compromise—were immediately removed from office.

The Leipzig Interim tore the Lutheran Reformation in two. The Philippists kept control over the teaching in Wittenberg, but the university was eventually taken over by Calvinists. The Gnesio-Lutherans were established in Magdeberg. Through the constant theological warfare between these two groups, a third group came forward. They called themselves Concordists because they sought concord (“agreement”) between all who called themselves Lutherans. This third group is the one who developed and wrote the Formula of Concord. They took both sides to task where they no longer agreed with the Scriptures and the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. As we go further into the history in the next two weeks, you will see their dedication to the Scriptures and the Gospel of their Lord Jesus Christ and how it lead them to accomplish the great work of the Formula.

From → Formula Fridays

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