ADIAPHORA IN REFORMATION HISTORY
AND
CONSIDERATIONS FOR TODAY

The controversy over the adiaphoria (matters that are "indifferent," that is, are not commanded or forbidden by God.) can be traced back to congregations of the New Testament. St. Paul deals with the matter of meat offered to idols and other foods in Romans 8 and in I Corinthians 14. However, the more modern problems arose before the death of Martin Luther in 1546. Luther had seen that there were going to be problems following his departure. As early as 1531 he said "When the present pious, true creatures will be dead, others will come who will preach and act as it pleases the devil."

As is evident, Luther feared and expected that the forces of human nature were stronger than the forces of the Pope and Emperor at causing turmoil within the new church. In a 1546 sermon at Wittenberg he said, "Up to this time you have heard the real, true word; now beware of your own thoughts and wisdom. The devil will kindle the light of reason and lead you away from the faith, as he did the Anabaptists and Sacramentarians... I see clearly that, if God does not give us faithful preachers and ministers, the devil will tear our church to pieces by the fanatics, and will not cease until he has finished. ... If he cannot accomplish it through the Pope and the Emperor, he will do it through those who are now in doctrinal agreement with us."

But it was not those inner weaknesses which made the first move. Just four months after Luther's death, June 26, 1546, the Pope and Emperor agreed secretly to use force to make the Protestants acknowledge the decrees of the first session of the Council of Trent and to return to the Roman Church. The Emperor secretly gathered a large number of Italian soldiers and a large war chest in order to enforce his will on the Protestants.

He had to do this quietly because after the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 failed to settle the religious dispute between Romans and Protestants, the Lutherans had formed the Smalcald League and by the end of 1531 counted on 9 princes, 11 cities, and an army of 1200 men. In addition, the League was ready to ally itself with Frances, King of France, who had been at war with Emperor Charles V.

After a surprise attack, the Smalcald War, directed against the Smalcald League's major cities and princes, was easily won by the Emperor. Other reasons for his victory were the neutral attitude of many of the non-League Lutheran princes and even deliberate betrayal by Maurice, Duke of Saxony, and nephew of elector John Frederick of Saxony. The decisive battle was at Muehlberg on April 24, 1547.

The first step after the war was to reduce the Lutherans to obedience to the Pope. The tool was the so called Augsburg Interim document. In it the people were forbidden to teach, write, or preach against the contents of the Interim. It was called "Interim" because the issues would finally be settled by the next session of the Council of Trent, the decisions of which the Lutherans would be required to accept. While the Augsburg Interim was basically Papist, it did allow Priests to marry, and celebrate the Sacrament in both kinds. It was, however, silent on many other doctrinal points, including the one that was the primary reason for the Reformation movement, justification by faith alone without the deeds of the law. The Interim was fairly strictly enforced by Charles V in Southern Germany, but in Northern Germany there was a lot more resistance.

Although Philip of Hesse, signatory of the Augsburg Confession and bold confessor before the Emperor at the Diet, compromised and submitted to the Interim, John Frederich would not abandon his religious convictions. He declared "I will rather loose my head and suffer Wittenberg to be battered down than submit to a demand that violates my conscience." At first, Philip Melanchthon resisted the Augsburg Interim. He was, however,gwfraid to criticize it openly and courageously. Yet as the leader of the church and the successor of Luther, this kind of boldness was exactly what was needed. Failure to speak out was his first step into a downward spiral of greater compromises.

Having betrayed the Reformation, Maurice was appointed as the new Elector by the grateful Emperor. Politically he was in league with the Emperor, but personally he was in agreement with Lutheran doctrine. He had trouble with his conscience enforcing the Augsburg Interim on his people, so he proposed a commission of Wittenberg and Leipzig Theologians to draw up a substitute for it: a compromise more favorable and acceptable to his Lutheran subjects. The tension between faithfulness and practicality snapped over to the side of practicality, as it often does.

The Leipzig Interim was prepared predominately by Melanchthon. In it he advocated immovable steadfastness in doctrine, but submission in everything else for the sake of peace. Dividing doctrine and practice appeared to everyone outside of Wittenberg to be treasonable to the doctrines of the Reformation. Melanchthon's production was attacked by friend and foe alike.

The purpose of the Leipzig Interim was to compromise with the Catholics in order that the Lutherans might escape persecution and maintain control over their churches by adhering to the doctrine, principally of justification, but yielding in matters pertaining to ceremonies and practice. Bente called the Interim "a unionistic document sacrificing Lutheranism doctrinally as well as practically."

It's silence on original sin, free will and semi-pelagianism, doctrines which had been thoroughly discussed and settled in the hearts, minds and the existing Confessional writings of the Lutherans, tacitly approved the Roman positions. Schaff claims that the Leipzig Interim "was the mistake of his (Melanchthon's) life."

When the leaders of the church had compromised with the Interim, a large number of common pastors arose to support true Lutheranism. Among these faithful confessors were only a few recognizable people. The champions included John Hermann, Aquila, Nicholas Amsdorf, John Wigand, Alberus, Gaullus, Mathiaus Judex, Westfall and especially Mathias Flacius Illyricus. This latter, a professor at Wittenberg, became the most vocal and effective defender of Luther's doctrine. This Italian came to Wittenberg to study Theology at the guidance of his uncle Baldo Lupetino, a leader of the Franciscan order. He found peace for his troubled soul in Christ and in the doctrine of justification at the feet of Bugenhagen and Luther. Professor of Hebrew since 1544, he begged Melanchthon and the other compromisers on bended knee and with tears not to accept the Interim. The Lutheran Encyclopedia says that this Italian "saved true Lutheranism."

Flacius is probably better known for the hasty and regrettable statement he made in a debate about free will that original sin belonged to the substance of human nature and was not merely a so called "accident." After defending this doctrine for a time, Flacius finally recanted his statement and accepted the Lutheran terminology of the confessions.

One historian remarks: "In view of the fact that at that time about 400 evangelical pastors in Southern Germany, because of their refusal to adopt the Augsburg Interim, had suffered themselves to be driven from their charges and homes and wandered about starving, many with their wives and children, the yielding of the theologians of Electoral Saxony could but appear as unpardonable and as a betrayal of the church." Once again, as in Bible times, the true prophets were persecuted while those seeking peace at the price of conscience retained their churches and homes.

Elector Maurice, by now feeling the heat of political pressure from his own subjects who constantly showed their contempt for his person and character, decided that he needed to change his public image. He had been branded as a renegade and as an apostate, a traitor of Lutheranism, the "Judas of Meissen." Not at all to be outdone by the treachery and duplicity of Charles V, Maurice secretly planned a coup. He turned his army suddenly against the unsuspecting Emperor, drove him from Innsbrook and victoriously entered Augsburg, where he was received with great rejoicing. After his military victory, the treaties of Passau in 1552 and of Augsburg in 1555 granted religious liberty to the Lutherans and other Protestants. It returned the situation to the old rule "cuius regio, eius religio" and gave every prince religious control of his own territory, except where Catholic Bishops ruled.

Now what seemed to be a great victory for Lutheranism, needs to be examined closer. While the Interim was eliminated as a political and practical issue, the theological controversy brought on by it continued raging. Getting rid of the Interim neither unified nor pacified the church. It did not eliminate false doctrines, unionistic principals nor did it restore confidence in the doctrinal purity, loyalty, and sincerity of the "blowing in the wind" Philipists, who had caused the first division in the Lutheran church. Even after the Interim was a dead issue, questions still were alive. Is it Lutheran to tolerate and approve the doctrines and principals of the Interim? Are those who framed and defended this document in fellowship and now under the protection of Lutherans? The Interim stirred up so many doctrinal issues that controversies were bound to arise in the future.

During the time from Luther's death until after the Treaties of Passau and Augsburg there were three Theological parties involved in the discussions and controversies that were finally settled for the Lutherans by the Formula of Concord. The Phillipist party, many of whom were crypto-Calvinists, had their headquarters at the Universities of Wittenberg and Leipzig, the most well known of the seminaries. Almost the entire faculty supported the Interimists

. The second party, the Genesio-Lutherans (genuine Lutherans) was centered in Saxony and included a number of those leaders who fought valiantly and vocally against the Interim. Their strongholds were at Magdeburg and the University of Jena. The Genesio-Lutherans stood for "the simple Biblical truth as Luther had understood it." Occasionally some overstated their positions, but most were open to correction. Strict doctrinal discipline was their hallmark. Intellectually, they had become superior to those of the Philip party.

The third party was composed of loyal, confessional Lutherans who had taken no conspicuous part in the controversies, but, when the chips were down, came to the front in settling the various controversies. They were instrumental in framing the Formula of Concord and restoring true, scriptural and godly peace to the Lutheran church. Prominent names included Brenz, Andreae, Chemnitz, Selneccer, and others. These did not want any part in controversies that did not involve Biblical doctrine, but in every case they came down on the side of Luther and the Gnesio-lutherans and "rejected and condemned all forms of indifferentism and unionism, and strenuously opposed every effort at sacrificing, veiling, or compromising any doctrine by ambiguous formulas for the sake of external peace or any other policy whatever."

The question known as the Adiaphoristic Controversy was this: May Lutherans, under the conditions that prevailed under the Leipsig Interim, threats of persecution and violence if Roman Catholic ceremonies that had been abolished, even if they were indifferent were not reintroduced, adopt the ceremonies without approving the errors of Rome, offending the both the friends and enemies of the Reformation and especially the weak? The Interimists said, "Yes;" the gnesio-Lutherans said: "No!."

The books, brochures and pamphlets that were written showed the depth of feeling that was involved. Many were produced by Flacius under pen names and called the Interim "demonic," "a union of Christ and Belial," and a "Truly Heathen and Epicurean Book." The popular presses turned out many such critiques of the Interim.

One of the more frequently mentioned reintroduced ceremonies involved the wearing of the Chorrock or "vestis linea." This must have been the cope. The Anti-Interimist said that they would rather give up their churches than to wear the cope again. It would signal the common people that their pastor had retreated to Rome. It would not do to explain the convoluted reasons to them, for "actions speak louder than words," to use a modern proverb.

With arguments like this, the Anti-Interimists met and defeated every proposition of the Wittenbergers. Their appeal to a sort of ecclesiastical "domino theory" carried great weight. Where would the compromises stop? Melanchthon, as time went on, was prepared to give in on everything to save what would be left of the doctrine of justification. He even went to such extremes as to claim that he could celebrate the Corpus Christi festival and use it as an opportunity to teach the truth about the Lord's Supper. Frank said of this approach: "It is a monstrosity, a defense unworthy of an honest man, much less an evangelical Christian."

The compromisers claimed that they were only following Luther, who in the beginning of the Reformation was known to have tolerated much of what the Interim reintroduced. The Lutherans replied: "Distinguish times and conditions." Luther was dealing with people who in their weakness were conscience bound to the Roman church and who had not been instructed in the Biblical truth. The "weakness" Melanchthon and his disciples were concerned about now had nothing to do with erring consciences, but fear of persecution. Luther also hoped to arrive at doctrinal agreement with the Romanists through their discussions, debates and writings. Time for that was past.

Flacius boiled the controversy down to this: "Nothing is an adiaphoron when confession and offense are involved." Brenz summed it up: "Adiaphora must be judged from their conditions. If the condition is good, the adiaphoron is good and its observance is commanded. If, however, the condition is evil, the adiaphoron, too, is evil and the observance of it is prohibited." Flacius declared, "Confess the truth and suffer the consequences. A Christian cannot obtain peace by offending God and serving and satisfying tyrants."

We could examine many other issues in detail, but the facts of history remain the same. The Flacians Biblical and confessional arguments won the day. The Formula of Concord, written by the ordinary pastors who were not involved personally in the controversy, adopted not only the gist of their ideas, but the language as well. Interestingly, the title of the Tenth Article is "Of Church Rites," with the subtitle "Adiaphora."

The confessors in the Formula recognize that ceremonies could be "changed, diminished or increased without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way. . . for the edification of the Church." But when a time of confession is called for, "every member" and "especially the Ministers of the Word" . . . are bound to confess freely and openly the godly doctrine . . . not only in words, but in works and deeds. . ." Galatians 5:1 "Be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage," and Galatians 2:4f warning not to give in to false brothers who want to reintroduce circumcision are quoted in support. Then they express concern for the "truth of the Gospel" if ceremonies are imposed on the church by coercion. These are also the positions of the other confessions adopted by the Church.

"Adiaphora - Part two: Considerations for Today."