Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

The Wittenberg Concord (3)

A few people asked that I finish the translation of the Wittenberg Concord that I began about a year ago (see post 1 and 2). There was one article remaining, that on absolution; I include it below. The only thing that remains to be done and that likely will be of interest to TCI’s readers is a translation of Martin Bucer’s exhortation to his Swiss colleagues regarding the proper understanding of the articles.

In the article below, the signatories desire that private absolution, or the pronouncement of forgiveness, be retained in the churches.1 Some critics might say that this was simply a medieval holdover–an instance of not reforming enough. Because that is so, it is important to understand precisely what is meant.

The view of confession and absolution sketched in article 3 is not a sacramental one. There is no particular form that must be used–least so the old form of confession (vetus confessio)–nor must sins scrupulously and exhaustively be listed. Such a practice ought not to be “approved of or required,” say the delegates. Instead, in place of what one might consider a somewhat mechanical and certainly sacerdotal understanding of the practice, the Wittenberg theologians substitute instruction and edification. A “conversational” or discursive model (colloquium) is thus recommended. In sum, the practice is to be retained not because it is de fide and necessary for salvation to do its work, but because it is “exceedingly useful to the church” (valde utilis Ecclesiae).


On Absolution.

Concerning absolution, all desire that private absolution also be preserved in the church, both on account of the consolation of consciences and because that discipline, in which men are heard privately in order that the inexperienced may be able to be taught, is exceedingly useful to the church. For, to be sure, those who are somewhat ignorant in the faith have need of such conversation and examination. And for that reason the old form of confession and the enumeration of sins must be neither approved of nor required, but the conversation that occurs on account of absolution and instruction should be preserved.

All subscribed, as above. Proposed and concluded on the Monday after Exaudi Sunday, 29 May 1536.2

  1. On Bucer’s thought on the practice, see Eric Parker’s brief note here.
  2. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.