Dear Saints of Grace,
Following the Large Catechism in the Book of Concord is yet another book of confessions of the faith. This book is called the Epitome of the Formula of Concord. A simple reading of the Introduction to this book reveals the dedication to which our early Lutheran fathers held in their confession of faith. The Introduction helps to point out why yet another book of confession had to be written. It was because, after Luther’s death in 1547, threats from outside, and controversies from within, endangered the Lutheran Church. As it states, “The story from 1546 until 1580 (when the Book of Concord was published) is one of courage and cowardice, weakness and strength. All Christians, and most important, all who bear the name Lutheran, need to learn about this struggle for truth.” (Emphasis mine)
It didn’t take long (four months) for the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to come up with a plan to try to get rid of what they considered, the troublesome Lutherans. Their desire was to bring them back under the Pope’s authority. The Introduction contains actual quotes from their position as they agreed to take up arms to defeat and “root out the weeds of Lutheranism.”
Battles waged on throughout the different regions of Germany in an attempt to bring all of the people under the Pope again. The very Gospel hung in the balance! (There’s a great story of what the elector of Saxony said when he was told that he would be executed, as well as what the Emperor said when standing over Luther’s grave after conquering Wittenberg, but you’ll just have to read it to find out how they went. How’s that for a tease?)
The Emperor Charles V, seeing that hundreds of thousands of people were going to lose their life because of their dedication to their confession of faith, decided to issue a (temporary) series of commands to which one
could agree, until Church matters could be better solidified. This was called the Augsburg ‘Interim.’ This document would bring some of the early Lutheran confessors to falter, while others would become even more firm in their confession.
Many confessional Lutheran fathers would be solidified through this tempting time. There’s even a short story about Sibylla, a courageous and faithful wife, who would not compromise her confession of faith! We should be very thankful for all who fought so hard to hold onto the Lutheran Confessions (those mentioned and those not). Many bore their suffering, banishment and untold hardship, just so that the future generations would have the Lutheran Confessions to hold onto. Thanks be to God for that!
It was the ‘Interim’ and other writings at that time which brought more division. This division was not only with Rome, but also within Lutheranism. Eventually, leadership of the lands within Germany would prove controversial, as betrayal after betrayal would end with the signing of a couple of treaties which guaranteed religious liberty to the Lutherans and Protestants in 1555. It reads like a Hollywood script, so ‘give it a read’!
Lutheranism had become quite fractured during this time and stayed in doctrinal controversy until the 1570’s. It was a group of theologians who were not so involved in the controversies, which arose and played a key role at bringing resolution. This resolution brought about a number of writings. These writings were then combined into a single document called the Book of Torgau. It was the summary of that book which was requested and is known as the Epitome of the Formula of Concord in 1576.
With you IN Christ!