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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 121. The Tetrapolitan Confession.


I. Editions. The Latin text was first printed at Strassburg (Argentoratum), a.d. 1531, Sept. (21 leaves); then in the Corpus et Syntagma Confess. (1612 and 1654); in Augusti’s Corpus libr. symb. (1827), p. 327 sqq.; and in Niemeyer’s Collect. Confess. (1840), p. 740–770; Comp. Proleg., p. LXXXIII.

The German text appeared first at Strassburg, Aug. 1531 (together with the Apology, 72 leaves); then again, 1579, ed. by John Sturm, but was suppressed by the magistrate, 1580; at Zweibrücken, 1604; in Beck’s Symbol. Bücher, vol. I., p. 401 sq.; in Böckel’s Bekenntniss-Schriften der evang. reform. Kirche (1847), p. 363 sq.

II. Gottl. Wernsdorff: Historia Confessionis Tetrapolitanae, Wittenb. 1694, ed. IV. 1721. Schelhorn: Amaenitates Litter., Tom. VI., Francf. 1727. J. H. FELS: Dissert. de varia Confess. Tetrapolitanae fortuna praesertim in civitate Lindaviensi, Götting. 1755. Planck: Geschichte des protest. Lehrbegriffs, vol. III., Part I. (second ed. 1796), pp. 68–94. J. W. Röhrich: Geschichte der evangel. Kirche des Elsasses. Strassburg, 1855, 3 vols. J. W. Baum: Capito und Butzer (Elberf. 1860), p. 466 sqq. and 595. Schaff: Creeds, I. 524–529.


The Tetrapolitan Confession, also called the Strassburg and the Swabian Confession, is the oldest confession of the Reformed Church in Germany, and represented the faith of four imperial cities, Strassburg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau, which at that time sympathized with Zwingli and the Swiss, rather than Luther, on the doctrine of the sacraments.

It was prepared in great haste, during the sessions of the Diet of Augsburg, by Bucer, with the aid of Capito and Hedio, in the name of those four cities (hence the name) which were excluded by the Lutherans from their political and theological conferences, and from the Protestant League. They would greatly have preferred to unite with them, and to sign the Augsburg Confession, with the exception of the tenth article on the eucharist, but were forbidden. The Landgrave Philip of Hesse was the only one who, from a broad, statesmanlike view of the critical situation, favored a solid union of the Protestants against the common foe, but in vain.

Hence, after the Lutherans had presented their Confession June 25, and Zwingli his own July 8, the four cities handed theirs, July 11, to the Emperor in German and Latin. It was received very ungraciously, and not allowed to be read before the Diet; but a confutation full of misrepresentations was prepared by Faber, Eck, and Cochlaeus, and read Oct. 24 (or 17). The Strassburg divines were not even favored with a copy of this confutation, but procured one secretly, and answered it by a "Vindication and Defense" in the autumn of 1531.

The Tetrapolitan Confession consists of twenty-three chapters, besides preface and conclusion. It is in doctrine and arrangement closely conformed to the Lutheran Confession, and breathes the same spirit of moderation, but is more distinctly Protestant. This appears at once in the first chapter (On the Matter of Preaching), in the declaration that nothing should be taught in the pulpit but what was either expressly contained in the Holy Scriptures, or fairly deduced therefrom. (The Lutheran Confession is silent on the supreme authority of the Scriptures.) The evangelical doctrine of justification is stated in the third and fourth chapters more clearly than by Melanchthon; namely, that we are justified not by works of our own, but solely by the grace of God and the merits of Christ, through a living faith, which is active in love, and productive of good works. Images are rejected in Chap. XXII.

The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (Chap. XVIII.) is couched in dubious language, which was intended to comprehend in substance the Lutheran and the Zwinglian theories, and accords with the union tendency of Bucer. But it contains the germ of the Calvinistic view. In this ordinance, it is said, Christ offers to his followers, as truly now as at the institution, his very body and blood as spiritual food and drink, whereby their souls are nourished to everlasting life. Nothing is said of the oral manducation and the participation of unbelievers, which are the distinctive features of the Lutheran view. Bucer, who had attended the Conference at Marburg in 1529, labored with great zeal afterwards to bring about a doctrinal compromise between the contending theories, but without effect.

The Tetrapolitan Confession was soon superseded by the clearer and more logical confessions of the Calvinistic type. The four cities afterwards signed the Lutheran Confession to join the Smalcald League. But Bucer himself remained true to his union creed, and reconfessed it in his last will and testament (1548) and on his death-bed.


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