Enough is Enough!
Confusion over the Augsburg Confession and its Satis est

James M. Kittelson

The theological work that underlies both the Concordat and Called to Common Mission is a misreading of both Luther and the Lutheran Confessions.

Often, the most common things can become so terribly confusing that they require asking someone, anyone, for a little help in clearing the mind. On one such occasion, a master carpenter came to the rescue. Gordy took time from his work on a perfectly simple, thoroughly functional, and starkly elegant pair of book shelves to answer one more stupid question.

"What do you think it means when you say, `It is enough?í"

Even though he had worked for a lot of goofy owners while perfecting his trade, the master carpenter could scarcely believe his ears. On the other hand, in addition to carpentry he also had learned that sometimes owners and their foibles just had to be tolerated. So he answered.

"I mean that I donít need anymore!" "In fact, take those shelves. If I put any more wood on them or fiddled with `em, Iíd wreck the whole job, and itíd cost more, too."

But then he could take no more. He turned his back, raised his arms, hammer and all, took a few steps, and shouted, "Enough is enough! And thatís all there is to it!"

* * * *

The Augsburg Confession and the satis est of its seventh article in particular are rather like those book shelves. They are, and have been, thoroughly functional over the centuries and their author, the humanistically trained, Philip Melanchthon, even made them elegant. Above all, just as the occasion demanded, they are simple. The overriding issue for all present at the Diet of Augsburg (1530) was how unity could be achieved so that the Holy Roman Empire might present a common front against the ever-advancing Turks. One aspect of the longed-for unity, indeed the overriding concern, was religious, and so Melanchthon wrote, "It is enough for the true unity of the church that there be agreement that the Gospel be preached according to its pure understanding and that the Sacrament be administered in accordance with the divine Word." ĎLest there be any further grounds for uncertainty as to his meaning, he added, "It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies instituted by men be alike everywhere."1

In spite of their simplicity and clarity, partisans, publicists, and even scholars of every sort have folded, spindled, and mutilated Melanchthonís words to the point of utter confusion. Thus, so much has been said and written about them in all the debate that preceded the failed Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat and that has followed the resolution that the ELCA redraft the unacceptable document (albeit under a mandate that the historic episcopate was off-limits for the rewrite team), that, as Gordy the master carpenter warned would happen, more has wrecked the job. In this instance the "more" consists of words, rather than wood, but the result has been the same. Where once there was simplicity, now confusion reigns to the point that the normative character of the Augustana for Lutherans and the meaning of the simple words, satis est, "it is enough" are in doubt. This confusion runs so deeply that the various parties have been reduced to charging one another with willful misunderstanding, while those who hold the present (and perhaps temporary) majority opinion have no recourse but to enforce it by administrative fiat and sleight-of-hand. In the midst of it all, the frail blossom of simple, mutual understanding has withered almost to the point of death.

How did this sorry state come to be? More importantly, is it possible to answer this critical question upon which the future of the ELCA will depend without indulging in more blame-laying and name-calling? Certainly, there was disagreement at the outset, if only because those who favored "full communion" between Lutherans and Episcopalians, as it has come to be called, knew, on the Lutheran side, that they could not openly contradict the Lutheran Confessions, to which at least the clergy among them had at one time or another formally subscribed and vowed to uphold. Hence, they were compelled to find warrant, or at least a little room, for the historic episcopate in these very confessions if their ecumenical vision were to prevail. The satis est, with its clear ecumenical intent, was an obvious place to look, on the grounds that it seemed to allow Lutherans to adopt the "historic episcopate" even if in and of itself it was not "enough" or essential to "the true unity of the church." Others2 were not of the same mind. They replied, in part, that in fact the envisioned Concordat transformed what the satis est allowed, namely the "historic episcopate," into something without which "the true unity of the church" could not be realized. As a result of this procedure, "true unity" would now be based, at least in part, on what article seven expressly excluded, namely "human traditions or rites and ceremonies."

The lines between the two parties were thus clearly drawn almost a decade before the failed vote on the Concordat. An illuminating debate could have followed, but did not. Many factors probably played roles in this missed opportunity, but the absence of one crucial and even fundamental principle of public discourse very nearly guaranteed failure. It is this: the burden of proof always lies on those who argue that the simple words of the text do not reliably apply to the point at issue. In this instance, the text is clear: agreement on Word and Sacrament "is enough for the true unity of the church;" hence, if it exists among all parties, formal concordats can follow. Moreover, concord of this sort probably should follow on the grounds that differing "human traditions" add nothing to the equation. Any argument to the contrary must be proven beyond futher discussion.3

But is it true in any documentable detail that this axiom has been ignored in the present controversy? If it is shown that those who would question the simple words have not proven their case, is there a way, while adhering to the text itself, to calculate what is truly at stake for Lutherans in the proposed Concordat with The Episcopal Church USA? Here, the method of the case study comes to the rescue. Thankfully, the work of Dr. Michael Root, which may be taken as the example par excellence and the case in point, becomes important in two revealing respects. In the first place, his interpretation of the satis est and other portions of the Lutheran confessions is in print for all to read and ponder. It both is a matter of public record and contains the evidence for the initial position taken and its development over time. Secondly, it is not necessary to argue that he and his interpretations have become normative, it is undeniable that he and certainly his views have become ever more prominent in pronouncements from officials of the ELCA who favor the Concordat. Dr. Root was thus one of three members of the committee appointed to revise the failed Concordat, one of, if not the, chief author of "Called to Common Mission" (the revised statement) and the only person to sign as author of a "Summary of Changes" that is one of its "accompanying documents." Most recently, he has seen fit to publish, in the form of a retrospective essay, a defense of the committeeís work and his own.4 Taken together, these labors thus offer a compelling case study with respect to just how doubts about the texts could come to dominance among Lutherans, when the simple words themselves might well put an end to all consideration of establishing "full communion" according to the terms of the revised Concordat with the Episcopal Church USA. Above all, when analyzed in this way, at least one leader in the drive to "full communion" reveals his sources and methods in his own words and deeds, and they are, without any questioning, truly enough.

Fairness and accuracy require beginning this investigation with a detailed report of Rootís arguments as they unfolded. He first addressed his interpretation of the Augsburg Confession and the satis est to a wider audience in the journal, dialog, in 1989, repeated it in the same publication in 1991, and then reiterated it once more in a volume of essays that appeared in 1995.5 He borrowed his basic argument from a number of secondary sources, the primary materials they used, and the English edition of Wilhelm Maurerís weighty commentary on the Augsburg Confession in particular. Root used Maurerís findings repeatedly to buttress his assertions regarding the whole, as well as its details. He expressed doubts, but without introducing any new evidence, only wherever Maurerís support was insufficiently straightforward and enthusiastic.

Appropriately enough, Root laid the groundwork in his first article with what initially appears to be a straightforward evaluation of Maurer on the subject of the epicopacy and Luther, but which he puts in the context of "The Augsburg Confession as Ecumenical Proposal." He begins, albeit without a specific reference to the work in question, by declaring, "Maurer demonstrates that at Augsburg CA was not an abstract theological statement. It was instead a concrete proposal for a reconciliation which the evangelical estates, especially the Saxons, hoped to achieve with the Imperial and Catholic authorities." The author concludes (also without direct reference to Maurerís work itself) that therefore, "the issue of the nature and authority of episcopacy ceases to be a peripheral concern of CA and becomes the concrete form in which it addressed the question of the gospel and church authority." For Root, just how the Augustana treated episcopacy and whether Luther fully adhered to this treatment consequently become critical for Lutherans in their approach to "contemporary ecumenical discussion" with the Episcopalians.6

From this point forward, Root does little substantively with his subject save to add his voice to Maurerís on Lutherís approval of the Augsburg Confession in general and article 28 in particular. The one possible exception is an unwise excursus into Lutherís "apocalypticism" that supposedly led Luther to view the entire experience of the Diet of Augsburg as an "eschatological trial and temptation" that presaged the End Times. Here, and without warrant, he contends that Lutherís conviction that the struggles of the Last Days had begun became the "decisive element in Lutherís thinking at this time;" here, he cites the indisputably standard authority on the subject, Mark Edwards, but without informing his readers in the text that Edwards concludes rather more judiciously only that Luther "understood his disagreements with [his opponents] in the context of this struggle between God and Satan." In this instance, Root carefully buried Edwardsí ipsissima verba in a back note. Later, he did reply to criticism of his general treatment of the subject, but only with the grudging remark that "of course, Luther was not an Apocalyptic-One-Note like Lindsay,"7 an obvious banality that is not to the point and truthfully grants the critique nothing at all. Adding to this repeated sleight-of-hand, Rootís apparent unwillingness or inability to distinguish between apocalyptic and eschatology leads to the suspicion that he was merely using Edwards, as he was Maurer, for his own predetermined ends. In any event, and in addition to abusing the secondary literature, Rootís essay had no substantive insights and no new material with which to add to the general understanding of the Augsburg Confession or article 28 in their own terms.

If Rootís own research in his attempt to draw support from church history for his ecumenical agenda is open to serious questions in purely scholarly terms, his final point amounts to a curious effort to clothe it in a rather different fabric of respectability. He invites the reader, at least by implication, to disregard the Augsburg Confession when considering ecumenical relations today. According to him, conditions in the sixteenth century were simply too different from those that prevail in the present. Then, the bishops were an essential part of the political and social fabric of the Holy Roman Empire and any serious proposal for reconciliation (as he now terms the Confessio Augustana) that turns on distinguishing between their temporal and spiritual jurisdictions was not serious at all, but a species of wishful thinking. But how can he make this suggestion without contradicting his own earlier view, which he held so strongly that he even argued for it against Maurerís acknowledged authority and according to which the Augsburg Confession was a serious proposal for reconciliation? In fact Melanchthon made precisely this distinction, while never arguing that prince-bishops must renounce their temporal holdings? They could remain princes. Indeed, article 28, the very article on which Rootís entire depiction of the Augustana as a proposal for reconciliaton depends, declares in so many words that "Our churches do not ask that the bishops restore concord at the expense of their honor (which, however, good pastors ought to do), but ask only that they relax unjust burdens which are new and were introduced contrary to the custom of the catholic church." Thus, bishops in their calling as pastors were not to employ their princely power to prohibit the preaching of the Gospel, which power, according to the most recent research, in fact constituted the very means with which they at last successfully defended Rome in the years after the first session of the Council of Trent and the Peace of Augsburg.8 But they were free to retain their princely dignity in every other respect. At least in passing, it is certainly not too much to observe in addition that todayís bishops or ecclesiastical overseers (episcopé) by any other name have far more at their disposal than the sword of the spirit. It is no longer "political power" in the strict sense, but (to put it as generously as possible) "administrative authority" from which the offices of teaching and providing spiritual leadership all too often have been shorn. In terms of what they actually do from day to day, bishops are the officials of both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church USA. They therefore participate far more in the realm of temporal affairs than Root and many others are willing to admit. Seen from the vantage point of pastors and parishioners, conditions and even the nature of the episcopacy are not all that different from those that prevailed in the Late Middle Ages.

Half-truths or, to put it more charitably, trial balloons of the sort described above shed no light. All they do is confuse the issues that should be at stake. Nonetheless, Root did little more in his second article (1991) than to repeat himself, only more loudly, but on this occasion directly with respect to article seven and the satis est. At base, he was building on his earlier borrowings from Maurer (wthout acknowledging the earlier contradiction noted above), according to which Melanchthonís confession was an attempt at reconciliation and was understood and approved as such by evangelical pastors and theologians at the time, including Luther.9

Stating the objective of reconciliation in such a bald and unnuanced fashion can scarcely raise objections, save from the crabbiest and most partisan critic who expected more than the sort of interpretation that might be found in a good undergraduateís final examination for an introductory course in church history. What is obvious to the decently well informed is therefore accurate enough. Melanchthon did cast the Augsburg Confession in two parts, the first of which consisted of teachings about which there could be no disagreement (on orders from the Curia there was in fact little) while in the second he listed those issues--chiefly practices or "abuses"-- over which there was disagreement or "dispute," as he put it. Thus, the first part is the foundation of the whole, and it is at least arguable that this very feature was the aspect of the Augsburg Confession that led Luther to confess, "I could not have trod so lightly."10 One other fact could very well persuade anyone that Root correctly reads the whole as a document designed for reconciliation. To put it briefly, article seven with its satis est appears in this very first part. Therefore, or so Root argues, the intent of article seven is not to serve as "blinders" that allow only agreeement on the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments but as a "lens that focuses the living unity of the church on the evangelical essential of agreement" on these matters.11 By extension, this convoluted argument leads Root to the conclusion that he has been seeking all along: the satis est does not preclude the "historic episcopate," even if the "ecumenical partner" should demand it as a condition of "full communion."

Still, troubling inconsistencies and omissions abound, with the result that confusion takes on new life. What could Root possibly have intended by reporting in his first article that "the essential position of Part 1 of CA" is "that Rome and not the evangelicals have introduced innovations into the church," when Melanchthonís text says in so many words that the first part of the Augustana consists of articles of faith and that the subject of "innovations" is by and large reserved for the second part? How can it be maintained, as Root most decidedly does, that by contrast this second part, which Melanchthon says consists of articles concerning practices that are disputed, "offers the reconciliation proposal" according to which, "If evangelical church practices (sic!) and the proclamation of the gospel are allowed, a reformed jurisdiction by the Catholic bishops will be recognized." If such a quid pro quo actually exists in the text (it does not), how could Melanchthon then conclude it with the following insistence?

Peter forbids the bishops to be domineering and to coerce the churches. It is not our intention that the bishops give up their power to govern, but we ask for this one thing, that they allow the Gospel to be taught purely and that they relax some few observances which cannot be kept without sin. If they do not do this, they must see to it how they will answer for it before God that by their obstinacy they offer occasion for schism.12

It all simply makes no sense, even if the evangelicals, beginning at Torgau, went as far as they could in article 28 to accommodate their opponents. Root nonetheless persists, undaunted, to the point that he concludes his essay with the flat declaration that "the proposal on ecclesiastical jurisdiction . . .was at the heart of CA."13 If so, it was a very threatening document indeed, and the Roman opposition at Augsburg rightly perceived it as such.

Now, however, Rootís subject is article seven itself, which, as he correctly observes, says not a word about the office (officium, that is duty or service) of ministry (diener des Worts or servants of the Word was a common substitution), to say nothing of episcopacy. It in fact explicitly declares that ceremonies and worship practices may differ, because satis est. . . . But anyone who is fully at home with sixteenth-century materials already knows precisely why Melanchthon included this article among indisputable articles of faith, including his explicit reference to ceremonies. Rome did, at that very moment, in fact tolerate and maintain communion with churches that had very different ceremonies in different places and with the Utraquists in Bohemia in particular, even to the point of recognizing their bishops. There is therefore no need to drag article five into what is already enough and thereby just add to the confusion. There is also no need to attempt to force the reader to conclude either that the Augsburg Confession was "inconsistent" on the subject of the ministerial office or to extort from two disparate articles a "single theological understanding." The document was never intended to be read as a sustained theological demonstration, as Root, following Maurer, correctly maintained in his earlier article. Why then does he contradict his earlier view of the matter, especially when he had it right the first time? Part one was indeed exactly what Melanchthon promised, that is, an orderly listing of the articles of faith on which the evangelicals and Rome were arguably (again if only by virtue of silence from the defenders of Rome) in agreement, while the second listed those practices that found them in contention. There can be little wonder, then, that Luther should respond to the Bohemian Brethren by explicitly referring to article seven and the satis est in a letter (1535) and treatise (1538), nor that they should subsequently accept this reply.14 It was useful, in that context, for the simple reason that article seven was indeed enough, above all because the issues concerned ceremonies and worship practices.

Whether the satis est nonetheless retains telling implications for the debate over the "historic episcopate" and Lutheran ecumenism in general is another matter, to be discussed later. For the present, it is enough to follow the remainder of Rootís argument. He quickly turns his discussion from the Augustana itself to the Wittenberg Articles of 1536, which he alleges were "drawn up by the Wittenberg theologians."15 There is no evidence to support this claim, and the Articles were far more likely the work of Edward Fox, Nicholas Heath, and Robert Barnes, who put their articles into the context of the Augsburg Confession and with whom Luther would have no direct dealings. The most currently available English-language text suggests that "the Wittenberg reformers," including (perhaps) Luther, collaborated with one another on the project. If so, they merely gave the English emissaries a copy of the Augsburg Confession, which the English directly referenced, article by article. In so doing, Barnes and his colleagues specifically agreed to article seven without further comment.

The Wittenberg Concord of the same year between the Saxons and the South Germans, notably Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito, is far more revealing of Lutherís and his colleaguesí way of conducting ecumenical negotiations. It was indeed a concord, and one between two parties that had been at odds over the elements in the Lordís Supper to such an extent that the southerners were not allowed to sign the Augsburg Confession six years earlier and were forced to submit their own Confessio Tetrapolitana. To put the matter at its simplest, there was no agreement with the Saxons regarding Word and sacrament and the Strasbourgeois could not at that time bring themselves to declare that there was. They remained firm on this matter, even when faced with the discomfort of their rulers, who were desperately in search of allies. Once they could agree theologically, and convince Luther of their change of heart, the Wittenberg Concord followed, and they freely subscribed to the Augsburg Confession in addition. To put it differently, even though their ceremonies differed, they found that they did agree on Word and sacrament; hence, they signed the Augsburg Confession and therefore fell under the umbrella of the satis est in article seven.16

These facts lead to an obvious question. Why did Root reach for the obscure Wittenberg Articles of the English (which did not lead to concord) while ignoring the far more important Wittenberg Concord of the same year? This sort of selective approach suggests a common tactic to bolster a weak case--argument by omission--according to which one offers only the evidence that supports a predetermined position. Surely, Root cannot really think it of no moment that in the Wittenberg Concord, and in so many words, Bucer and Capito of Strasbourg along with representatives of Ulm, Augsburg, and Esslingen subscribed to the entirety of the Augsburg Confession as well as Melanchthonís Apology, and pledged to bring others, notably the Swiss, into the agreement. As matters turned out, Capito drew the Swiss in this effort and failed utterly, because, save for Basel which remained Lutheran until the death of Simon Sulzer, the Swiss refused to confess anything other than Zwingliís extreme spiritualist understanding of the Lordís Supper. But Root does not mention this salient, even essential development either, despite the fact that, by contrast with the Swiss, the South Germansí subscription to the Augsburg Confession played a nearly determinative role in the shifting confessional allegiances of the 1550s and following. Moreover, if only as the result of an accident of timing, the Augustana to which they now adhered was the invariata, for the simple reason that Melanchthon had not yet composed the variata.17 As an aside that is not without irony, it is worth noting that to this day Lutheran churches in Alsace bear the designation, "églises de la Confession díAugsbourg." The answer to Rootís attempts to defend the Concordat on the grounds of a complex reading of the satis est is therefore compelling: these simple facts make a mockery of his effort to introduce confusion where clarity abounds in words to which practice attested. He has not made his case. Quite the contrary.

Consequently, the question Root chooses as a subtitle for his article on the satis est, "What do we do when other churches donít agree?", turns on far more than article seven. His apparent amazement that this article does not discuss the office of ministry has been treated above. But Rootís argument is even more complex than it is at that one easily correctable place, for he declares that this "single theological understanding" of Section 1 of the Augsburg Confession (which, with Maurer, he earlier rejected) suggests that "Article 7 presupposes Article 5" and its teaching on the ministry of the church. Nonetheless, he finally puts the matter correctly, when he conclues, "The unity of the church is the proclamation of the Word and celebration of the sacraments. The office of ministry may be instituted by God to serve this proclamation and celebration, but it remains the gospel in Word and sacrament, not office, that unites the church."18 Nothing that Root has written on this general subject is clearer, more to the point, and truer to the sources than these two sentences.

Why, then, does he persist in trying to create such confusion with respect to precisely what the satis est declares to be the heart of "the true unity of the church" as well as what it disallows? How can there be any doubt about even the possibility of "full communion" with anyone who asserts that agreement to one or another form of ecclesiastical organization is also a necessary constitutive element, in addition to Word and sacrament, for "the true unity of the church?"

Root cannot and will not have the matter become so simple or so clear. He insists instead that the satis est is too unclear to be a trustworthy guide for ecumenical relations today. But perhaps it is only he who is confused, or perhaps he is merely incapable of drawing the most reasonable inference from the evidence at hand. In just this regard, he himself reviews comments on the satis est during the decade immediately following the Diet of Augsburg through the references in the Formula of Concord (1577) and observes, "When one looks beyond CA itself, references to satis est are few yet persistent. . . . My less than exhaustive research has not turned up much controversial literature [even from the Catholic side] about it in the years immediately following." True enough. But then comes the erroneous inference and the apparently less than sincere lament: "Unfortunately, this [lack of controversy] means we lack the sort of discussion which would help clarify for us just what was meant by the satis est."19

Surely it makes more sense to conclude that there was so little controversy and comment about the satis est precisely because everyone knew exactly what it meant and they by and large agreed with it. A few pages earlier in this very same published article even Root knew what it meant and reported it in a clear, pointed, and materially true fashion. But now a relative silence on a widely agreed-upon statement leads him to doubt even his own earlier declaration. Perhaps he has forgotten the dictum, "Silentio assensus est!"

So why did Root break his own silence, and why is there such confusion about the matter now? It is certainly tempting to suggest that if indeed the satis est is as clear as everyone, even Root in one brief incarnation, thought it to be, then the entire attempt at concord with the Episcopalians is over, unless they give up the "historic episcopate," not for themselves but as a requirement for the Lutherans. Root attempts to banish this temptation by finding "a certain complexity" in the word, "agree." As he notes with sufficient seriousness that he repeats himself in the same brief paragraph, "Agreement cannot be assumed; it must be consciously realized."19

Now it is Rootís words that confuse. By its very nature, agreement belongs to the class of things called "conscious." This much is self-evident. But what is intended by "realized?"20 One suspects that it is not quite "made real" but more than "achieved." One might even reply, "íAgreeí has none of the complexity of Ďconsciously realize.í" After all, the record clearly indicates that when people who had been in disagreement came to agree, they knew it, and they signed the Augsburg Confession, all of it. Moreover, when they would not, they did not. When they did, they also "realized" their agreement on Word and sacrament by watching carefully to make certain that all parties in fact preached, taught, and acted accordingly. The negotiations of Bucer in Frankfurt subsequent to the Wittenberg Concord and Lutherís continued doubts about Bucerís sincerity provide a case in point.21

But Root will not have it be this simple, so he adds something else. Indeed, it would be impossible for him to work his way out of the confusion he himself has created without adding something else. This "something else" he calls "unity in love," and he claims to find it in the Smalcald Articles and Lutherís declaration that, "The church cannot be better governed and maintained than by having all of us live under one head, Christ, and by having all the bishops equal in office . . . and diligently joined together in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, etc."22 But this move simply amounts to the common practice of the partisan--quoting out of context. The total work in question is Lutherís strongest, most considered, and most trenchant defense of the emerging evangelical churches, written at a time that (according to Root) saw Luther dominated by thoughts of the Last Days. The unity of which Luther wrote is by no means to be compared, as Root does, with the "fellowship" envisioned in the Leuenberg Agreement that would occur "in the ongoing life of the churches." Quite the contrary. The unity of doctrine both well precedes and yields true fellowship, if there is to be any. Thus, and again in so many words, the subscribing parties to the Wittenberg Concord pledged, "Because we all intend to think and teach according to the confession and Apology of the evangelical princes, we have the highest hopes that concord will be repaired and established."23 Moreover, when Root cannot simply ignore a piece of evidence (because he himself introduced it), he found himself forced to present a "slightly altered" translation from even the Wittenberg Articlesí summary of article seven, which, to follow the invariata version, reads,

for it is sufficient for the maintenance of true unity that there be unity in the preaching of the Gospel and in the correct use of the sacraments and that people live in peace with one another in accordance with the Gospel, as St. Paul says, "One faith, one baptism, etc.

Why does Root ignore the clear order of events in the Wittenberg Concord? Why, even though he admits to altering the translation of the Wittenberg Articles, does he not include the genuine article in the notes? He has it read, "live in love with one another,"when the English text clearly says, "peace."24 Whether from the German or the Latin originals, the two words are unmistakeable, just as they are in English. Peace, which is a civil virtue, and love, which binds individuals together, even with God, are not the same thing.

The key to this curious way of proceeding, while disagreeable, is obvious. It is akin to Rootís playing with the meaning of the word, "agreement," but in this case it is also part of slipping in an even more insidious distortion of reality. After remarking that "The highly textual, academic tradition of Lutheran theology is by no means essential to the church," (which is certainly true), he concludes (more confusion), "In the pluralistic American and world context, we must be sensitive to the various forms in which agreement in preaching and sacraments can be realised [agreed upon, see above]." What Root is really saying here becomes clear only at the very end of his article when he identifies what he calls "satis est reductionism" with "a club to beat down any suggestion that something other than agreement in Word and sacrament might in some way be important."25 Here is almost his final rhetorical gambit; it is called (if only for lack of a better term) "argument by reverse pun." For something to be "important" is by no means the same as being "essential," any more than "peace" and "love" denote the same thing. In one last flurry, he has changed not just the meanings of words but the words themselves, while implying that in practical terms they all mean the same thing anyway.

Whether they do or they do not is up to the reader to decide. But by the end of this article, Root is engaging in the tactics of desperation, almost as if he knows, albeit secretly, that his argument is not working. Moreover, his article for the volume of collected essays (Inhabiting Unity 1995) reveals that he had no more to say or, if he did, that he chose not to say it. Throughout he repeats the contents, arguments, and conclusions of his previous articles and cites them for "support" of the most recent essay.26 By now it should come as no surprise that he does not take his criticsí views seriously enough to respond to their substance. Obviously, he also does not alter his earlier conclusions in the least.

The truly sad fact is that as early as 1995 he also began to engage in the lamentable practice of labeling and name-calling, the last straws with which to wave away critical ar guments. Thus, Gerhard Forde is in one place a "neo-Lutheran" and in another a purveyor of "a reductive sort of neo-Protestantism,"and Gracia Grindal is dismissed for her "extreme and wooden views." In neither instance does Root offer enough substance for the reader even to determine just what these labels might mean. Something bad and distasteful, no doubt. The only person whom he did not label in such a blatant fashion is Robert Goeser. Root merely accuses him of having "evidentiary problems," but, in the absence of new research to bring to bear on the matter, the best he can do by way of a telling reply is to allege that Goeser "comes close" to being inconsistent. Fully half of these instances appear in the current issue of dialog, where, in truly uninformative fashion, Root also flaunts his inability or unwillingness to carry the argument forward by referring readers to his slight, already repetitive piece in the multi-authored volume, Inhabiting Unity, for "a detailed reading of the Augustana and its ecumenical implications today."27

What, then, is truly at stake here? The simple words of the Augsburg Confessionís seventh article and its satis est remain. They have withstood the assault, even as they have withstood the test of time. What is at stake is so high that it cannot even be compared with the tradeoff between epicopacy and the priesthood of all believers. It is the ELCAís fidelity to the Gospel itself.

Luther himself minced no words on the question of whether anything could be added to the Gospel without falling into apostasy. Appropriately enough he did so in a sermon rather than a learned or polemical writing on either the Augustana or the satis est. He delivered it in 1539 at Castle Pleissenburg as part of the public events that attended the introduction of public evangelical worship in Ducal Saxony. The occasion was ideal for at least a little triumphalism, a further round condemnation of the late "Mad Duke George," as Luther called him, or even threats of what would befall those in other lands that pursued Duke Georgeís policy of repressing the Gospel. Luther might well have chosen to preach on the End Times and to celebrate one victory for the forces of good. But he did none of these things. Instead he mounted the pulpit and delivered a thoroughly pastoral exposition of the appointed text for the next day, John 14:23, "Whoever loves me will keep my word. . . ."

Lutherís message for his congregation of people who had until this moment been officially, although by no means enthusiastically, Catholic concerned whether in the true church anything could be added to Word and sacrament. His answer was unequivocal: "here in the Christian church it should be a house in which only the Word of God resounds." Luther was single-minded on the matter: "But in the church one should teach and preach nothing besides or apart from the Word of God." There was no room to add any human creations, traditions, institutions, or even good advice and good inclinations: "If anybody wants to teach human precepts, let him do so in secular and domestic affairs and leave the church alone."28 Only a false church tolerated anything in addition to Word and sacrament. Only Word and sacrament created and sustained the true church.

Anyone who reads article seven of the Augsburg Confession, compares it to Lutherís words, and then studies the Concordat and Called to Common Mission will see almost at a glance that the real issue is not whether Lutherans will or will not live with bishops, even those who claim to be in an apostolic succession that is, after all, entirely human. The question is whether Lutherans agree that anything else, no matter how important it may be, is necessary or worth anything whatsoever in addition to Word and Sacrament as the decisive constitutive elements of the true church, whose characteristic is its unity in Word and Sacrament. Or is the argument really that in some unexplained way, the historic episcopate makes "true unity" (as the satis est puts it) somehow truer?

What is at stake here is the Gospel as expressed in the Lutheran Confessions, and neither it nor they fare well either in the original Concordat or its initial revision. Thus, Called to Common Mission expressly grants to Episcopalian priests who wish to serve Lutheran congregations a "dispensation" from subscribing to the Confessions. Moreover, the Confessions themselves are treated in a rather cavalier manner. In paragraph 19 of both documents they include the complete Book of Concord, while in paragraph four they are taken to refer only to the Invariata and Lutherís Small Catechism. The sense that comes from reading Rootís essays is that he really wishes, by whatever means are necessary, to make the Confessions go away and to rid Lutherans of them. Confusing matters is only the means to this end, as Called to Common Mission so decisively expresses them.

It may be objected that there remains, according to Called to Common Mission, "the international Anglican-Lutheran doctrinal consensus," which the document then summarizes in section A, paragraph 5. But it and the summary do not add much to the understanding beyond the summary of doctrine that might be expected of an accomplished catechumen.. Above all, it must be acknowldged that what may be satisfying to Episcopalians by way of stated doctrinal standards has never been sufficiently precise for Lutherans. But the substance of the Lutheran Confessions has nonetheless been so diluted in the Concordat that the ELCA willingly obligates itself in section C, paragraph 19, "to begin the process for enacting a dispensation for ordained ministers of The Episcopal Church from its ordination requirement of acceptance of the unaltered Augsburg Confession and the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord," while receiving no such equivalent dispensation from their ecumenical partners with respect to The Book of Common Prayer.

The suspicion arises that the ELCAís negotiators regard the Confessions as so close to nothing and so dispensable that they are willing to receive nothing of the same sort in return for them. Looking to the future, what does it mean to pledge that Episcopal priests and others will regard themselves as "encouraged" to begin "to study" these "documents," as they are now called?29 Does the lack of a single word about the "dispensation" in the summary of changes (Called to Common Mission) mean that the matter was never even discussed and that the Lutheran confessions therefore truly have become mere historical "documents" of antiquarian interest only? Surely one can then look to the future once more and conclude that no one of sound mind could possibly develop a compelling argument that the Confessons should continue to be binding on every ELCA seminary graduate who presents her or himself for ordination to the ministry of Word and sacrament.

In an essay accompanying Called to Common Mission, Root notes that "The revised Proposal, like the 1997 Concordat of Agreement, does call for changes in some aspects of our life." There certainly can be no question about the accuracy of this observation! The ELCA news release of April 9, 1998 quotes his colleague on the rewriting team, Martin Marty, on the subject of changes on both sides of the negotiating table as saying: "There is no way to deal with an Episcopal Church that Lutherans would invent, and no way to deal with The Episcopal Church without dealing with bishops in the episcopate," while, on the other side, "There is no way to deal with Lutherans apart from reckoning with the ministry of the baptized, the priesthood of all believers."30 But what happened to the Confessions? Did they just get misplaced somewhere? It may sound like a fair deal, but in fact Lutherans get something that is not essential, the so-called "historic episcopate," and give up what is essential--their identity as members of the only church in Western Christianity that is defined by confessions that put Word and Sacrament alone at center stage.

The Gospel, as Lutherans have understood it since Luther himself, is what is at stake. Partially as a result of all the carefully wrought confusion, the official documents could not be clearer on the matter. The words of Cromwell (no friend of bishops, he) to the Long Parliament come to mind: "You have sat here too long for all the good you are doing. Be gone with you!" But Luther, referring to St. Paul at 1 Cor. 3:17, was not so sure that the nettlesome talkers would go away, so he put the responsibility to act where it belonged. That day in 1539, Luther told his congregation to "flee and avoid those who would lead us away from Godís Word, for if anyone defiles Godís temple, which we are, God will destroy him."31

Enough is enough!32

Thanks to many people who have read this work in its many incarnations, and in particular to two graduate students, Ms. Mary E. Anderson and Mr. Kenneth Sundet Jones, who had the pleasure of giving their major professorís paper a good, hard reading. None of these people is responsible for any errors or infelicities.


1. The translation is mine and follows the Latin text. Theodore G. Tappert, ed. and trans., The Book of Concord. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Fortress: Philaelphia, 1959): 32, renders the second sentence, "It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everwhere." For the Latin text see Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: Göttingen, 1982): 61-62, "Nec necesse est ubique similes esse traditiones humanas seu ritus aut ceremonias ab hominibus institutas." The difference lies in Tappertís decision to set the phrase "instituted by men" off with commas while tying together "human traditions or rites and ceremonies" in one phrase, which makes "instituted by men" the modifier of the whole. By using the words seu and then aut, Melanchthonís Latin distinguishes between "human traditions" on the one hand and "rites and ceremonies" on the other. Hence, the rendering of my translation in the text. That this distinction is genuine is evident from the repitition of human agancy, once for each category, and the briefer German version from ibid., "aber dasz die Ceremonien und ander menschlichen Ordnung allenthalben gleich sein, ist nit von noten," although the order is reversed. In any event, episcopay is reduced to a "human tradition."back to main text, back to note 28

2. Among the earlier objections, see those from Robert Goeser, "The Historic Episcopate and the Lutheran Confessions," Lutheran Quarterly 1 (1987): 214-232. and James M. Kittelson, "Ecumenism and Condemnation in Luther and Early Lutheranism," Lutheran Quarterly, 6 (1992): 131-145. See Michael Root, "A Reply to Robert Goeser," dialog 30 (1991): 63-66, that really amounted to no scholarly exchange at all, unless mere assertion has been raised to the level of argumentation. For a very brief summary, see Michael Root, "Bishops, the Concordat, and the Augsburg Confession," Inhabiting Unity. Theological Perspectives on the Proposed Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat, ed. by Ephraim Radner and R. R. Reno, (Grand Rapids, 1995): esp. p. 64 n. 26.back

3. Michael Root, "Whatís Next Ecumenically," dialog 37 (1998): 144-145, offers the challenge, "If [my] opponents believe they can defend their assertions, they should be willing to do so in the scholarly arena," as if Goeser, Gerhard Forde, Gracia Grindal, Roy Harrisville, Georg Kretschmar, and others had never written a word on the subject.back

4. These documents were taken from the internet and will be cited by name, section, and paragraph number as listed there on April 9, 1998. Three essays from members of the rewriting team (that of Martin Marty is in the format of a letter to Pastor Linda Lee Nelson; Ascension Lutheran Church; Riverside Illinois) that accompanied the basic material are cited merely by author. The total package, including an accompanying news release, is available from the ELCA. Its title notwithstanding, the last essay cited in n. 1, above, amounts to an apologia.back

5. The three principal works are ""The Augsburg Confession as Ecumenical Proposal: Episcopacy, Luther, and Wilhelm Maurer," dialog 28 (1989): 223-232; "íSATIS EST: What Do We Do When Other Churches Donít Agree?," dialog 30 (1991): 314-324; "Conditions of Communion: Bishops, the Concordat, and the Augsburg Confession," Inhabiting Unity. Theological Perspectives on the Proposed Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat, ed. by Ephraim Radner and R. R. Reno (: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995): 52-70 (cited hereafter as dialog (1989); dialog (1991); Inhabiting Unity.)back

6. dialog (1989), esp pp. 223-224; back

7. Ibid., pp. 227-228 and pp. 231, n. 27,-232. The work in question is Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Lutherís Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-1546 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 16.back

8. Leif Grane, The Augsburg Confession. A Commentary, trans. from the Danish by John H. Rasmussen, (Minneapolis, Augsburg:), pp. 248-249, where he includes the text from Theodore G. Tappert, ed. and trans., The Book of Concord (Philadelphia, Fortress: 1959), p. 93, and observes that "Melanchthonís Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope should be considered as a supplement to the AC, rather than to Lutherís Smalcald Articles," an observation that scarcely buttresses the claim that article 28 was a serious proposal for reconciliation. On the actual use of episcopal temporal powers in the service of the Counter-Reformation, which included refusing Lutherans burial rights in the local cemetary, see Hans-Christoph Rublack, Gescheiterte Reformation. Früheformatorische und prostantantische Bewegungen in süd- und westdeutschen geistlichen Residenzen (Stuttgart: Klett-Kotta, 1978).back

9. See dialog (1991): 315 n. 4 for the overarching dependence on Maurer. In all other respects, he depends on the judgments of systematic theologians such as Schlink, Prenter, Elert, and Althaus. One wonders what support he might have been able to wrest from more historically minded scholars such as Grane or George W. Forell, Die Augsburgische Konfession. Ein Kommentar für Unser Zeit (Berlin and Hamburg: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1970), p. 53, who concludes his discussion of article seven, (my trans.), "Should we undertake the attempt to discover the unity that God has given his church, we must direct our gaze unblinkingly at this Gospel; anything else, however shiny and good it fashions itself, can only distract us from our objective."back

10. WABr 5, 319 (AE 49, 297-298), scarcely a "left-handed remark," not even "possibly" so. See dialog (1991): 225-226 for Rootís fascinated horror at the prospect that it was so intended. On the relative Catholic silence with respect to doctrine, see David V. N. Bagchi, Lutherís earliest Opponents. Catholic Controversialists, 1518-1525 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), esp. pp. 45-55.back

11. Ibid., p. 223.back

12. dialog (1989): 224, cl. 3. Tappert, Book of Concord, p. 94.back

13. See dialog (1989), p. 230 n.12, where Root admits the possibility that Luther was critical of even what passed for the "spiritual" jurisdication of bishops. He ignores the fact that the Augustana also contains a very limited view of episcopal functions, as in article 28 itself: "no jurisdiction belongs to the bishops as bishops . . . except to forgive sins, to reject doctrine which is contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the fellowship of the church ungodly persons whose wickedness is known, doing all this without human power, simply by the Word." Tappert, Book of Concord, p. 84.back

14. dialog (1991): p. 315.back

15. Ibid., pp. 315-317. The text to the Wittenberg Articles is to be found in Neelak Serawlook Tjernagel, Henry VIII and the Lutherans. A Study in Anglo-Lutheran Relations, 1521 to 1547 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965): 255-286, who speaks of the English as being "in collaboration with the Wittenberg reformers," which severely limits the role of Luther and his colleagues.back

16. James M. Kittelson with Ken Schurb, "The Curious Histories of the Wittenberg Concord," Concordia Theological Quarterly 50 (1986): 119-137. For the maneuverings of Strasbourg's politicians, see Thomas A. Brady, Jr., "Jacob Sturm and the Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg, 1530," Church History 42(1973): 183-202.back

17. Robert Stupperich, et al., eds., Martin Bucerís Deutsche Schriften, 6/1 (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1988): 120-128. See below for the texts.back

18. dialog (1991), p. 315.back

19. Ibid., p. 315. back to first instance, back to second instance

20. Ibid., pp. 318ff.back

21. See the brief notice in Hans Hillerbrand et al., eds., The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation (Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 1996), 2: 136, and the bibliography cited there.back

22. dialog, (1991), pp. 319-320. On the Smalkald Articles, albeit very much in general, see William B. Russell, Lutherís Theological Testament: The Schmalkald Articles (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994).back

23. Martin Bucers Deutsche Schriften, 6/1, pp. 126-127: "Cum autem profiteantur omnes iuxta confessionem et Apologiam principum Evangelium profitentium in omnibis articulis sentire et docere velle, cupimus sarciri et constitui concordiam" or, "Nach dem aber diese alle bekennen, das sie inn allen Artikeln der Confession und Apologia der Euangelisschen fursten gemesz vnd gleich halten vnd leren wollen, wolten wir gern vnd begeren auffs hochst, das eine Concordia auffgericht wurde." back to main text, back to note 28

24. Tjernagel, Henry VIII, p. 273; dialog (1991), 315-316 n. 6, for the admission but without alerting the reader to the wording of the correct text.back

25. Ibid., pp. 323-324.back

26. Inhabiting Unity, p. 57 n.8.back

27. Michael Root, "Whatís Next Ecumenically?," dialog 37 (1998): 145 n. 18 for the recommendation of Inhabiting Unity, where, p. 58 n.9, he endorses his 1991 article.back

28. AE 51, 303-312. For the same sentiments, see nn. 1 and 23 above and the accompanying text.back

29. Called to Common Mission, section A paragraphs 4-5; section c, paragraph 19.back

30. An Essay from Dr. Michael J. Root, p. 2. ELCA News-Issue 13, p. 2.back

31. AE 51, 311-312.back

32. For the goal of "full communion," along with sneering at the ecumenical dreams others see fulfilled in occasional pulpit and altar fellowship, see Inhabiting Unity, pp. 53-54, n.3.back

Copyright Lutheran Quarterly, 1998. Published concurrently in Lutheran Quarterly 12 (1998): 249-270 and on Word Alone.

James M. Kittelson is Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

email James M. Kittelson

back to top



Return to Educational Resources

Return to Educational Resources