Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

VI
Theological Controversies
in Wittenberg

From its very beginning, Reformation theology was not completely uniform and homogeneous. Luther’s impetus was adopted by people who came from varied theological traditions, e.g., from late medieval mysticism or from humanism, and they gave accents to the new material that corresponded to their interests. This led to the sharp conflicts among the evangelicals in the 1520s. As we saw with Karlstadt, such differences could appear in Wittenberg as well. Even Luther and Melanchthon did not always agree. Their opinions diverged on an evaluation of Erasmus and on the Lord’s Supper. On major issues they may have felt themselves united, but they had to accept a certain tolerance in theological convictions on each side and refrain from attempting to achieve complete unanimity.

The process of drawing theological distinctions also continued in Wittenberg in the 1530s. In the meantime, to be sure, there was now a doctrinal basis in the Augsburg Confession of 1530 to which they could refer, but in developing evangelical theology and translating it into ecclesiastical practice new problems surfaced that demanded new solutions. They became acute because the Religious Peace of Nuremberg of 1532 had reduced the external pressure from the Catholics that had demanded internal unity. The Wittenberg Concord of 1536 noticeably lessened the opposition within the evangelical ranks. Moreover, the second generation of Reformation theologians was now arising. Both Luther and the elector were troubled with the question of if and how the genuine Reformation heritage would be preserved after Luther’s death. Efforts at preserving the pure, orthodox doctrine, a sign of the confessionalism that was already beginning, started during Luther’s lifetime and with his participation. This process of clarification introduced conflict. The necessary task of reaching precise understandings could also lead to narrowness and onesidedness. Where no agreement could be achieved, however, the unresolved unclarities themselves could impair the atmosphere. These problems were a considerable burden during the last years of Luther’s life and the later phase of the Reformation that was then getting underway. Sometimes provisional solutions could be found, but other times, justifiably or unjustifiably, theological and human divisions occurred.

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