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What Luther Says

What Are The Smalcald Articles And The Treatise On The Power And Primacy Of The Pope?

What are the "Smalcald Articles" and "The Treatise On The Power And Primacy of The Pope" and why should we even care?

Ok, so, admittedly, when believers get to these next two documents that are included in the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord) it's generally the point where most people just "check out" and get that "glazed-over-eyes" look on their face.

At first blush, can you really blame them though? I mean, the title of both documents sounds so academic and formal and they probably elicit thoughts of being back in school again too ("Great! Is this a required reading assignment for me then?").

However, Confessional Lutherans have come to value these two manuscripts over the years for very good reasons (they're timeless!), and I can now see why as I've spent more and more time with them myself.

What Are The Smalcald Articles And The Treatise On The Power And Primacy Of The Pope? 
In 1537, Martin Luther was asked to prepare a statement of Lutheran belief for use at a church council, if it was called. Luther’s bold and vigorous confession of faith was later incorporated into the Book of Concord. It was presented to a group of Lutheran rulers meeting in the town of Smalcald. Philip Melanchthon was asked to expand on the subject of the Roman Pope and did so in his treatise, which also was included in the Book of Concord. 
A more official sounding definition of The Smalcald Articles can be: "The Smalcald Articles or Schmalkald Articles (German: Schmalkaldische Artikel) are a summary of Lutheran doctrine, written by Martin Luther in 1537 for a meeting of the Schmalkaldic League in preparation for an intended ecumenical Council of the Church." 
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.” 
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. 
Ok, but where does "The Treatise On The Power And The Primacy of The Pope" come in then? 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”). 
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. 

I hope that helped give you a better understanding of these two strangely named, but doctrinally sound documents.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, both documents are Biblical, confessional, and historical in nature, and that's why it's important for us to familiarize ourselves with them as such.

NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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