Jeremias II, the Tübingen Lutherans,
the Greek Version of the Augsburg Confession:
Sixteenth Century Encounter
for Dr. Nathan P. Feldmeth
Fuller Theological Seminary
– Reformation History
Table of Contents
of the Exchanges .........................................................
Context of the Exchanges
Sack of Constantinople .........................................................
of Constantinople in the Eastern Church
Jeremias II .........................................................
and the German Reformers ..................................................
Augsburg Confession .................................................
Greek Version of the Augsburg Confession ..................
of the Augustana Graeca ...................................
Nuances in the Text of the Augustana Graeca ...................
Chronology of Contact .................................................................
Initial Contact ........................................................
of Theological Correspondence ..........................
Agreement and Disagreement ..............................
Impact on Ecumenical Dialogue .....................................
the seventh century and the rise of Islam, the Orthodox East became
increasingly isolated from the Roman Catholic West.
Large sections of Eastern Orthodox Christianity existed for
centuries under Muslim and later under Ottoman rule – all hostile in
varying degrees to Christianity.
These historical, cultural, political and economic experiences
have formed the Orthodox Churches in ways that are difficult for
Western Christians to comprehend. Conversely, the Orthodox had little first-hand experience
with the distinctive religious and theological concerns of the
Reformation of the sixteenth century since it took place only in
Western Christendom. Thus,
it is extremely noteworthy that a group of Lutheran theologians from
the University of Tübingen in Germany during the last quarter of the
sixteenth century would initiate a dialogue with – and even seek
approval from – the Patriarch of Constantinople, leader of the
Orthodox Christians under Ottoman oppression in the East.
correspondence between the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias II and the Tübingen
theologians are ecumenical documents of great importance and interest,
representing the first systematic exchange of theological views
between the Orthodox East and the new Protestant West.
The tone was friendly, personal, polite and irenic in nature. There was sincerity and open-mindedness, especially in the
beginning. The true reasons which initiated and perpetuated the
exchange can only be speculated upon.
Was the motive purely a theological exchange of an ecumenical
nature or were other factors involved?
What adds a note of intrigue to this speculation is that the
Greek version of the Augsburg Confession which accompanied the initial
Lutheran letters was itself a very unusual document - no mere
translation but a significant re-working of the Confession, with
extensive additions in the Byzantine Liturgical language with which
the Orthodox East would be most familiar. While the questions of motive will never be fully answered,
the most significant impact of the correspondence was surely
ecumenical – friendly contact had at least been made.
This paper will briefly explore the religious climate in which
the first seed of this contact was planted, and a background for
understanding how this unique Greek Augsburg Confession and the
correspondence are considered to be a very important framework for
contemporary Lutheran-Orthodox ecumenical dialogues.
of the Exchanges
by the sixteenth century language and culture was a barrier between
the East and the West. The
Reformers certainly knew Greek – Philip Melanchthon, for example was
a distinguished Lutheran humanist and Greek scholar – but biblical
terms had come to assume different meanings in the two traditions.
In the West, the Reformers' piety and theology was shaped by
the scholastic debates of medieval western theology.
Their roots were in the Western Catholic tradition which had
developed independently of the East for almost a thousand years before
the Reformation. In the East, theology was discussed in terms of the Patristic and Apostolic Tradition of the unified Church of
the first eight centuries – a Tradition which the Orthodox had
fiercely and successfully preserved, even under oppression.
what impressed the West about the East enough to propel their interest
in dialogue? The late
Orthodox theologian, Georges Florovsky, Emeritus Professor of Eastern
Church History at Harvard, points out that the early Reformers had no
intention of "innovating" in doctrine.
They struggled to purify the Church from all those
"innovations" and additions which, in their opinion, had
been accumulated in the course of ages, particularly in the West.
The West recognized that however unfortunate was its political
situation, the East was a faithful guardian of the apostolic
tradition. It is
interesting to note that Ecclesiastical History, as a distinct
theological discipline had been first introduced in the University
curriculum in the West, first by the Protestants, and precisely for
polemical purposes against Rome.
So the crux of the heated political and religious debates
between Rome and the Reformers was whether or not Rome had been loyal
to the ancient tradition, or was it guilty of innovations and
unwarranted accretions. Conversely,
was the Reformation really a return to the doctrine and practice of
the primitive Church, or was it a deviation from it? So the witness of the Eastern Church was considered to be of
critical importance to both sides of the Western debate.
further states that: "many of these ecumenical conversations were
initiated, not so much because of any immediate theological concern,
as from heavy diplomatic pressure arising from the general
So one must also ask what it was about the West that may have
impressed the East? If
the West was interested in moral support against Rome, the East no
doubt was looking to the West for political support against the
Ottoman Empire. As the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire were becoming
increasingly less tolerant of Christianity, and more generally
corrupt, the Greeks increasingly looked to the West for liberation
from the oppressive yoke. But
the Greeks out of necessity kept a watchful eye on the
Protestant-Roman debates and developments.
According to Byzantine historian Constantine Tsirpanlis, there
may be evidence that Jeremias was on relatively good terms with the
Papacy leading to the possibility of military support against the
But the new religious divisions in the West created new
political divisions as well, weakening the European muscle that the
Greeks needed if liberation from the Turks was ever to be achieved.
Context of the Exchanges
order to better understand the initial contact and exchanges, a brief
background of the religious and political context on both sides is
necessary. The framework
will be given in terms of the unique struggles of the Eastern Church
in captivity, and the Western Protestant attempts to reform the Roman
West, resulting ultimately in Lutheranism.
Sack of Constantinople
Tuesday, May 29, 1453, the Emperor of Constantinople was dead and
lying on the battlefield. Also
dead was the Byzantine Empire, which had been a powerful Christian empire
since Constantine the Great legalized the practice of
Christianity, changing the complexion of the world from that point
forward. The Church of Constantinople – the Orthodox East –
instantly became the Church of a subject people.
She had been the partner of an Orthodox state for more than a
thousand years, but was now merely an association of second class
citizens, dependent upon the whims of a Muslim master, whose outlook
and entire way of life now had to be abruptly changed.
rulers had historically treated the religious minorities within their
dominions as millets, or nations, allowing them to govern their
own affairs according to their own laws and customs, and making the
religious head of the sect responsible for its administration and its
good behavior towards the paramount power.
So a Greek millet was organized, and a new Patriarch was found.
The most eminent scholar living in Constantinople at the time
of the conquest was a monk, Gennadius, who was persuaded to accept the
Patriarchal throne in January 1454 and became Ethnarch, the ruler of
the millet and first Patriarch under Turkish rule.
Gennadius and the conquering Sultan, Mehmet met to work out the
constitution to be granted to the Orthodox. The acknowledgement of
Christian marriage, burial customs, freedom of movement during the
three Easter feast-days and freedom from losing any more churches
converted into mosques were among the issues noted in the
Mehmet, who regarded these well-educated, hard-working and
wealthy Greek subjects as a valuable asset to his empire, personally
invested the Patriarch with these words: "Be Patriarch, with good
fortune, and be assured of our friendship, keeping all the privileges
that the Patriarchs before you enjoyed."
these were merely words. The
Great Cathedral of Agia Sophia had already been converted into a
mosque. Also unfortunate was that this new constitution was never
written down. Later
Sultans disregarded the initial respect shown to the Church
authorities, and when no documents could be produced, the sanctions
originally granted the Orthodox gradually disappeared.
Christians were never allowed to forget that they were a subject
people. They had to get
permission for the repair of churches, which was seldom granted.
They were required to wear distinctive clothes from the regular
citizens. Sons were
seized arbitrarily to be converted to Islam and enrolled in the
a Christian was converted to Islam (even involuntarily as a child) and
reverted to Christianity, he was liable to the death penalty.
All rights and privileges of the Christians depended on the
good will – and the whim – of the Sultan.
son, Selim I, actively disliked Christians.
In about 1520, he was nearly successful in an attempt to
forcibly convert all Christians to Islam.
Unfortunately, later Sultans were even less indulgent.
With the accession of his grandson, Selim II, the Drunkard,
decline set in at the top of the Ottoman empire.
More and more churches were converted to mosques under Selim II
and following. The
Sublime Porte, the seat of the Sultan's government, was controlled by
greedy and unscrupulous ministers.
It had become the regular custom that the Patriarch had to
provide a substantial annual offering to the Sublime Porte, and gifts
of money soon became the way the Greeks got along with their masters.
But at the back of the mind of every Greek, however faithfully
he might collaborate with his new Turkish masters, there lurked the
belief that one day the power of Antichrist would crumble and that
then the united Greek people would rise again and recreate their holy
of Constantinople in the Eastern Church
triumph of Selim I was the completion of the conquest of Syria, Egypt
and Arabia, thus absorbing the lands of the Orthodox Patriarchates of
Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
The Sublime Porte wanted to centralize everything at
Constantinople and as a result the other Orthodox Patriarchates were
put into a position of inferiority in comparison with that of
Constantinople. They lost
none of their ecclesiastical rights or autonomy, and they continued to
administer the Orthodox within their sees, but in practice they could
only negotiate with the Sublime Porte through their brother in
Constantinople. So the
Patriarch of Constantinople effectively became the spokesperson for
all of Eastern Christendom.
III, was deposed because he was believed to have pro-Roman tendencies
and was succeeded (in 1572) by Jeremias II (1536-1595), then only 36
years old, who was elected to the Patriarchal throne as a result of
the noisy demonstrations of the Greek congregations.
He was the 173rd successor of the first founder of
the Church at Constantinople, the Apostle Andrew, and the 19th
ecumenical Patriarch since the fall of Byzantium (1453).
He was elected and re-elected to the Patriarchate three times:
1572-1579, 1580-1584, 1586-1595.
as Jeremias Tranos, he was born at Anchialos on the Black Sea from a
noble family reputable for its piety and high social rank and
influence. His nickname
Tranos means a person of "penetrating intellect."
Byzantine historian, Sir Steven Runciman, suggest that his
education might have been at the Patriarchal Academy at
surrounded himself with learned men who were steeped in Greek and
Latin thought and was the first to found a publishing house in
According to Runciman, Jeremias II was "...probably the
ablest man to sit on the Patriarchal throne during the Captivity.
He was a sound theologian, an ardent reformer and a fierce
enemy to simony."
and the German Reformers
Reformers had felt a certain kinship with the Orthodox since Rome
considered both the Christian East and the Reformers to be heretics.
The Protestant Reformers often used Eastern Christianity for
propaganda and polemics. At
the Leipzig Debate in 1519, Martin Luther, pressed to defend his view
that the authority of the pope was not normative for Christian
doctrine and life, cited the example of
"the Greek Christians during the past thousand years...who
had not been under the authority of the Roman pontiff."
The next year he declared that the Orthodox "...believe as
we do, baptize as we do, preach as we do, live as we do."
In 1521 Martin Luther wrote about Holy Communion:
"Moreover, he [the Roman perverter] has against him the long
continued practice of the whole church in all the world, the practice
[the reception of both elements by the laity] that still continues
among the Greeks, whom even Rome itself dare not call heretics or
schismatics because of it... I
now say that on this point the Greeks and Bohemians are not heretics
and schismatics but the most Christian people and the best followers
of the Gospel on earth."
to the noted Lutheran-turned-Orthodox historian, Jaroslav Pelikan,
what was only a polemical intuition in Luther became a more
substantial ecumenical overture in his colleague, Philip Melanchthon,
and later in Melanchthon's pupils.
The most substantial of these overtures was the translation
into Greek of the Augsburg Confession.
Philip Melanchthon fathered the movement to bring an
understanding between Wittenberg and the East.
He was entirely dedicated to this task.
He was a kind and gentle humanist with an irenic tendency and a
desire to preserve or restore the unity of the Christian Church.
He expressed this desire in the Augsburg Confession, where he
tried to show the true catholicity of the Lutheran Church.
Philip Melanchthon's personality stood in marked contrast to
Luther's. He was timid
and gentle, no prophetic leader of men.
Luther was the experiential theologian, the fiery preacher and
popular writer who inspired others through his own faith-conversion;
Melanchthon was "the quiet Reformer," the methodical
thinker, the theologians' theologian – and a literary genius.
Melanchthon's humanist education and linguistic proclivities
made it uniquely appropriate for him eventually to seek out contact
with the sixteenth-century heirs of the Greek patristic legacy.
Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V repelled the advances of the Turkish
hordes at Vienna in 1529. He
then turned his attention to his troubled German situation, from which
external political matters had kept him absent since 1521.
The faith of the Holy Roman Empire was the only solidarity of
which it could boast, and the religious dissention in Germany was
rapidly damaging its unity of faith.
On January 21, 1530 Charles proclaimed a diet of German lands
to be held in Augsburg in the spring to allay divisions over the
religious issue. The
evangelical leaders wanted to produce a relatively simple apologetic
document summarizing their own teachings as they differed from Roman
dogma, especially in the area of salvation by good works and
justification by faith. But
the slanderous accusations by the Romans that the Lutherans lived
godless lives without faith and true religion, led the Lutherans to
the conclusion that a more substantial statement of their faith was
needed. The Schwabach
Articles had already been composed by Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas,
Brenz and Agricola in 1529. They
were appropriate to the task and conveniently at hand in order to
become the first seventeen chapters of what would become known as the
Augsburg Confession. During the proceedings of the diet, Luther was still under
the ban of the empire. But
even during his sequester, messengers kept him abreast of the
proceedings and he communicated regularly with the Lutheran divines in
attendance. Although Melanchthon was the general editor of the document
which was presented at Augsburg, it was said to be entirely in accord
with Luther's thinking.
public reading took place on June 25, 1530 at 3:00 p.m. at the Bishops
Palace in Augsburg. Although
the Confession had been prepared in both German and Latin, it was read
in German since many of the princes in attendance did not understand
Latin. It is for this
reason that the German is considered to be the official version.
The reading took two hours.
Some stood in respect. Many
Roman bishops and theologians indicated their approval during the
reading, but Emperor Charles, who knew little German, was said to have
fallen asleep. Jorgensen
states that the "detached observer will doubtlessly notice its
essentially conservative and catholic character."
What was originally intended to be a positive witness to the
catholic and orthodox faith of the Church came to be considered,
especially by Charles V, as a negative protest and a rebellious
declaration of independence. So
he threatened to use force to compel the confessors to submit to Rome,
which produced only greater solidarity among the Lutherans. Hence, June 25, 1530 the anniversary of the first reading of
the Augsburg Confession became the birthday of the Lutheran Church –
"a body united by a public confession and separated from the
V additionally forbade the dissemination and publication of the
Confession, and the originals were considered to be lost.
But the Confession immediately became the rallying cry and
symbol of the Lutheran movement, and its publication was only a matter
of time. Following is a
brief discussion of the various printed editions of the Augsburg
1530 invariata was the first edition of
the Augsburg Confession ever to be published.
It contains both the German and Latin texts along with
Melanchthon's Apology. This
is considered the official unaltered (invariata) version which
is chronologically and theologically closest to the actual profession
at Augsburg in 1530. This
version is sanctioned by the Lutheran Book of Concord.
The Octavo edition of 1531 has several
alterations, especially in the article on justification, and so it is
know as the 1531 variata.
The 1533 German variata version
reveals considerable alterations but no doctrinal changes.
The 1540 variata is a Latin edition and
express shifts in doctrinal perspectives which became a source of
contention in Lutheranism. The
most notable is the change in the teaching on the Eucharist, which
further removed Lutheran Eucharistic theology from the Roman
viewpoints and made the Augsburg Confession acceptable to many
Greek Version of the Augsburg Confession
was based on the 1540 variata,
although it did not make its first appearance until 1559.
It is not a literal translation, or even a translation with
alterations, but a significant re-working of the document with
numerous additions, paraphrases, expansions, and doctrinal excursions,
and will be discussed in greater detail following.
Greek Version of the Augsburg Confession
Ernst Benz of Marburg was the first to call attention to this curious
document. His publication
of Wittenberg und Byzanz, "Die grechische Übersetzung der
Confession Augustana aus dem Jahre 1559" in 1949 is used as the
basis for much contemporary research on the topic.
Georges Florovsky cites Benz as calling this Greek Version of
the Augsburg Confession, or Augustana Graeca "a document
of very peculiar character."
As a significant part of his Doctoral Dissertation entitled
"The Augustana Graeca and the Correspondence Between the Tübingen
Lutherans and Patriarch Jeremias: Scripture and Tradition in
Theological Methodology" Wayne James Jorgensen translated the Augustana
Graeca into English and calls it, "The greatest variata
of them all." Jorgensen
describes the Augustana Graeca as:
...in a class by
itself, markedly departing from all Latin or German versions of the
Confession and far surpassing them in the scope and purpose of its
addresses itself to readers who are not immediately familiar with the
issues which resulted in the fashioning of this statement of faith and
to whom its basic concepts and formations must be repeated and
of the Augustana Graeca
significant questions immediately come to mind about this unusual
document. Who translated it and what purpose did its translator intend
it to serve? Given the
reign of humanism in the academic world at that time, it is not at all
exceptional that a Lutheran would be inspired to produce a Greek
translation as the symbol of his faith.
The translation of the Augustana Graeca is attributed to
a renowned Greek scholar. His
dedication only appears as a preface in the rare 1559 edition of the
Augsburg Confession in which he states "I have rendered it in a
very simple way... as a translator should, adding nothing of his own
to that which he has undertaken to translate into a foreign
But Jorgensen's studies reveal that this is simply not true.
In response to Dolscius' preface he notes:
Yet every word of the
Augustana Graeca belies this remark! The preface is surely a red herring, serving to camouflage
the real purpose of the enterprise.
It is not a "simple" translation; nor is it intended
for intra-eccleiastical purpose in Germany.
The author is in fact adding much of his own..... The
document is clearly an ecumenical overture to readers who are
unfamiliar with the religious developments of sixteenth-century
to Jorgensen, Dolscius or any of the dozens of Greek scholars in
German could have produced an accurate and literal translation of the
Augsburg Confession. "The
complicated nature and the tendentious purpose camouflaged by the
diversionary preface tempt us to look elsewhere for the inspiration,
and perhaps also the author, of the document."
Benz argues most convincingly that the author must have been
Melanchthon himself. Jorgensen
has summarized Benz' arguments which are paraphrased here in this way:
1) Only Melanchthon had the ecumenical vision to approach the
Greek Church in the late 1550's.
Among the Reformers he was without peer in his knowledge of and
interest in the ecclesiastical writers of the early Church.
2) Much of the information about the minutiae of Greek Church
life which appears in the Augustana Graeca was most likely
unknown even to an expert Western theologian.
But it so happens that from the end of March through September
of 1559 Melanchthon provided hospitality to Demetrios Mysos, a Serbian
deacon from the Church of Constantinople, whose collaboration would
account for the document's occasional familiarity with some of the
more peculiar aspects of Greek ecclesiastical life, liturgy and
phraseology. 3) No other Lutheran would have dared to tamper with the
Augsburg Confession. Only
one who considered himself father and master of the text, who revised
it as his personal property while his thought progressed, would have
presumed to produce so bold and unprecedented a version of the
Lutheran symbol. 4) The
concerns elaborated in the Augustana Graeca are often close to
the explanations offered by Melanchthon in the Apology to the Augsburg
Confession of 1531. 5) In
the religious atmosphere of German Lutheranism, there would have been
a mighty uproar if Melanchthon had produced yet another variata.
So the authorship is assigned to his friend and former student,
Dolscius, and the preface are smoke screens for both Melanchthon's
authorship and the primary ecumenical intention of the work.
6) Finally, the most concrete evidence for Melanchthon's
authorship comes from Martin Crusius, his successor as foremost
humanist in Germany who writes that the Greek examplar of the Augsburg
Confession was ... "edited under the name of Dolscius, but
composed by Philip."
in the Text of the Augustana Graeca
stated previously, the Greek rendering of the Augsburg Confession is
not merely a translation but a revision, no doubt in the interest of
building a bridge between the East and West.
Terms of the Greek Liturgy were employed not only to make
matters clear to the Greek mind, according to Korte, but very often to
remove theological obstacles which hindered union.
linguistic style of the Augustana Graeca is termed by Jorgensen
as ecclesiastical Greek – neither classical Greek nor Byzantine
Greek, but a theological Greek – intended for a theologically
educated readership. Jorgensen
notes that the author is particularly fond of rendering a single Latin
expression by a double Greek expression. i.e. "three hypostases [or persons.]"
The Latin section "concerning Confession" speaks of
"the confession or divulging of sins."
Benz describes these double expressions as entailing "not
only a nuance and differentiation, but a greater sublimity and dignity
in the sense of Orthodox ecclesiastical language."
Distinctively Greek liturgical and dogmatic expressions are
sprinkled throughout. Mary
is "ever-Virgin (a*eipavrqeno")."
Any saints or theologians are deferred to in a hieratic
conventionalized way as "our holy Father among the saints,
The pope is mentioned only as "archbishop of Rome"
never as "pope." Article
Four "on Justification" is a brief paragraph in the Augsburg
Confession, but expanded to a "virtually independent
treatise" of almost two pages in the Augustana Graeca.
Chapter Two "on Original Sin" is two brief
paragraphs in the Confession and became over a page in the Augustana
Graeca. The word "orthodox(y)" appears several times in
the Augustana Graeca without any corresponding references in
the text of the Confession. "The
use of this favorite word of the Orthodox lends an air of authenticity
and common cause to the content of the statement of faith of the
theologian, Berthold Korte, believes that adapting the language to
suite the reader was not only acceptable, but necessary, in order to
counter the vast differences between the Greek and Roman mind:
In all justice to the
translator of the Augsburg Confession into Greek, we must see the
great difficulties he encountered.
These involved differences in language and piety.
The Latin language was formed by the Roman mind, its laws, and
its institutions, and these Roman conceptions were transferred to the
regard to soteriological ideas, the translators either knew that the
Lutheran conception of justification as a forensic act of God was
hardly comprehensible to the East, or that the East fully understood
this Augustinian-based view, and simply disagreed.
In either event, Korte believes that the Lutheran ideas were
diluted in order to be more palatable to the reader in the East:
piety circled around the three divine attributes, life, love, and
light. Sin and
forgiveness of sin were only secondary, contributory factors.
Man is saved by the healing process of divine grace.
Christ is the great physician whose healing power causes man to
be saved. To meet this
Eastern conception something had to be done: justification had to be
sacrificed in favor of reconciliation.
who studied the document at length while translating it into English
would contend that the crux of Lutheran doctrine was not sacrificed:
Despite all these
emphases, expansions, nuances and accommodations for the Greek reader,
the Augustana Graeca undeniably remains a Lutheran document.
The author intended no deceptions.
There are no distortions of Lutheran dogma.
The Augustana Graeca is an extraordinarily fascinating exercise
in sixteenth-century ecumenics.
ultimately, Korte believes that a spirit of ecumenism was really at
the heart of the accommodations and expansions in the Augustana
Accordingly the Greek
rendering of the Augsburg Confession is not merely a translation but a
revision in the interest of building a bridge between the East and the
West. Terms of the Greek
liturgy were employed not only to make matters clear to the Greek mind
but very often to remove theological obstacles which hindered union.
1558 (1559) Patriarch Joasaph II (1555-65) of Constantinople sent
Deacon Demetrios Mysos to Wittenberg to gather first-hand opinions
about the faith, worship, and customs of the Reformers.
It was there that Melanchthon and Mysos worked together on the
Greek version of the Augsburg Confession.
This Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession had
supposedly been sent to the Ecumenical Patriarch around 1558 through
the Serbian Demetrios, but Korte find evidence that Demetios was
killed in a rebellion in Wallachia and that Melanchthon's letter and
this first copy translation of the Augsburg Confession never reached
initial contact was begun in October, 1573. The new imperial
ambassador to Turkey, Baron David Ungnad von Sonnegk, a Protestant
aristocrat and pious Lutheran who had studied law at the University of
Tübingen, was going to Constantinople for a prolonged stay,
accompanied by his Lutheran chaplain, Stephan Gerlach.
Gerlach was carrying with him private introductory letters from
Martin Crusius and Jakob Andreae.
Jakob Andreae (1528-90) was the most famous theologian of the
period. He worked
unceasingly for unity and purity in Lutheran doctrine.
The second most important Lutheran involved in the exchange was
Martin Crusius (1526-1607) who was a leading classicist and
philhellene in Europe, and known for his significant influence shaping
the humanistic mold of the Renaissance.
Constantinople, Gerlach established personal contacts with various
dignitaries of the Church and had several interviews with the
Patriarch himself, and over a period of some eighteen months had
brought and presented the initial introductory letters of
recommendation, two other short letters from Andreae and Crusius, as
well as two of Andreae's homilies on John 10:11 and Luke 10:9.
In his diary, Gerlach writes that he was impressed with
Jeremias' erudition and also with his physical stature. "He is a
friendly and charming man, robust and tall, with a fat face and long
brown and red hair, a rather full but not very long brown beard, and
he carries a black patriarch's staff."
of Theological Correspondence
The period of the exchange of theological correspondence
between Constantinople and Tübingen took place during the years
1574-1582. On May 24,
1575, Gerlach personally presented to the Patriarch the Augustana
Graeca (which the Lutherans had titled "a Confession of the
Orthodox Faith") together with letters from Andreae and Crusius.
the Patriarch had answered the prior letters and two homilies with
kindness and fatherly love, he exhorted them to cautiously follow the
true Faith, and displayed an uncommitted reserve and caution.
But from the very beginning, the Germans expressed great
optimism, enthusiasm and respect,
addressing the Patriarch with terms such as: "Most Honorable
Lord," "All-Holy Sir," "Most God-Beloved
Sir," and "Your Holiness."
This is all-the-more noteworthy when it is compared to how the
Reformers spoke of Roman Catholic bishops.
Even the irenic Melanchthon referred to Roman Catholic
hierarchs at the Council of Trent as "epicurean bishops who know
about as much about Christian doctrine as the asses upon which they
Despite the fact that the Patriarch remained doctrinally rigid
and uncompromising throughout these dialogue, the Germans maintained a
high degree of respect and deference to the office of Patriarch
throughout their correspondence.
The late Father George Mastrantonis has translated the
preliminary correspondence as well as the theological exchange into
English. Clearly, from the first letter from the Tübingen theologians
to Patriarch Jeremias, dated
September 16, 1575, one can glean a sense that the Lutherans genuinely
believed they had not been innovative, but were merely returning to
the basics of the Christian Faith.
After thanking the Patriarch for the "paternal kindness of
Your Holiness" Andreae wrote:
I am sending you a
little book that contains the main parts of our entire faith, so that
Your Holiness may see what our religion is, and whether we agree with
the teaching of the churches under the jurisdiction of Your Holiness;
or whether perhaps, there might be something that is not in agreement
(which I would not desire.)
quite apparent in the same letter is that the Germans were not
seeking to "convert" the Orthodox, or to correct them
because they had "strayed so far from the truth" as Lutheran
Church History professor, Jane Strohl sees it,
but clearly seeking the paternal approval of Jeremias, with high
regard for his authority as the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox
I earnestly ask Your
Holiness to receive it with the same good favor with which you have
accepted my previous communications and, if it is not too much for
your wise person, to kindly express your most favorable judgment
concerning these articles, if God would grant that we think alike in
Christ. Farewell, most
Holy Father, together with the entire Church that is with you, for
many years. And look upon
my Christ-respecting study with a fatherly disposition.
second letter from Germany to Constantinople was even more
complimentary and self-effacing.
The Germans thanked the Patriarch for his benevolence, because
it is an honor that:
with so exalted a degree of dignity, should have thought us, whose
station is so much below that of Your Holiness, worthy of a reply.
And what a reply it was! A wise, and, indeed, a most pious one.
second personal letter, dated May, 1575 from Patriarch Jeremias II to
Andreae and Crusius notes the existence of doctrinal differences, and
again urges them to accept the teachings of the Church of Christ.
The Lutherans worked from the presupposition that they were in
basic agreement with Orthodox doctrine.
Whatever divergence might be apparent, according to the
Reformers, was only in secondary matters, namely, customs and ritual
Answering Jeremias' letter in which the Patriarch acknowledges
receipt of a copy of the Augsburg Confession, Andreae writes in 1575:
If perhaps, we differ
in some customs because of the great geographical distances that
separate us, nevertheless, we hope that we have in no way innovated on
the principal articles of salvation.
As far as we know, we have both embraced and preserved the
faith which has been handed down [to us] by the holy apostles and
prophets, the God-bearing fathers and patriarchs, and the seven
[ecumenical] synods that were built upon the God-given scriptures.
to Travis, clearly, the intent of the Greek version of the Augsburg
Confession was to connect Lutheran doctrine with patristic tradition,
which remained a constant and deep conviction throughout the
On November 16, 1575, Jeremias wrote to the Germans indicating
that he was preparing a careful, detailed official response to their
symbol of faith, but clearly informed them that the basis for his
response would be how the Scriptures have been interpreted by the
Councils and Fathers.
the eagerly awaited First Response of the Patriarch was received at
the University of Tübingen on June 18, 1576.
In the cover letter, Jeremias advises the "most wise
Germans" and his "spiritual sons" to avoid innovation
and to accept the truth; he extends the polite invitation to unite
with the Church of Christ, and "there will be joy in heaven and
on earth over the union of both churches. Jeremias' First Answer to Tübingen contains some brief
lines of introduction, comments on the Nicene Creed, and then the
Patriarch devoted some eighty pages to the questions of free will,
justification, sacraments, the invocation of the saints, and
initial response of Patriarch Jeremias II is considered to be the last
example of pure Byzantine theology without any western influence
whatsoever. Mastrantonis cites substantial evidence that Jeremias was the
primary author. The document was by no means an original composition,
but rather a deliberate compilation from traditional sources with
citations from Nicolas Cabasilas, Symeon of Thessalonica, Joseph
Bryennios, and especially St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom.
All novelty was strictly avoided.
It was not so much an analysis of the Augustana itself,
as a parallel exposition of Orthodox doctrine.
It has been suggested that the main value of the document lies
precisely in its un-originality.
No doubt, Jeremias saw this as a pastoral opportunity to
impress upon the Tübingen theologians by his example, that no
religious leader – whether Patriarch, or Pope, or Lutheran divine,
for that matter – has the right to innovate in doctrine, especially
when such innovation contradicts the consensus of the Holy Tradition
of the Church throughout her existence.
The Reformers were already very sensitive to the accusation of
being innovators, rather than traditionalists, having been harshly
accused by the Roman Catholics. If they were elated with Jeremias' first letter, which did
not accuse them, as did the Roman Catholics of being innovators, this
was not the case now. One
can imagine their disappointment upon receipt of this document from
the leader of the Greek Church. The
outlook for any union or theological coalition against Rome was bleak.
The ancient Church had sided with Rome in rejecting the
Lutheran faith as an "innovation."
Their only recourse was to convince the Orthodox otherwise,
which became the basis of all succeeding correspondence coming out of
The dialogue had taken a notable turn from seeking union to
apologetics which continued throughout the remaining correspondence.
The bilateral agenda of the second exchange was restricted to
six topics: filioque, free will, justification by faith and good
works, sacraments, invocation of the saints, and monastic life.
third exchange was largely a parting summary of two sides, with some
refinement of positions. The
Patriarch devotes almost his entire third reply of June 1581 to the
issue of the filioque clause, but seems resigned to accept the fact
that the Lutherans would not be moved on this point:
...We reiterate these
matters again, although we have been well-informed by your letters
that you will never be able to agree with us or rather, we should say,
with the truth.
cordiality never disappears, but the breakdown of the dialogue is
becoming apparent. In
this same third reply, Jeremias, accuses the Lutherans of being "Judaizers"
because of their contempt for icons and the preference for the
Masoretic text rather than the Septuagint.
Finally, at the conclusion of his third reply, Jeremias is
clearly taxed by the impasse. Jeremias believed it was necessary to respond only according
to the consensus of Patristic thought, but he now realizes the
Lutheran divines will clearly never consider any source as
authoritative which might reveal their own doctrines to be innovative.
we request that from henceforth you do not cause us more grief, nor
write to us on the same subject if you should wish to treat these
luminaries and theologians of the Church in a different manner.
You honor and exalt them in words, but you reject them in deeds.
For you try to prove our weapons which are their holy and
divine discourses as unsuitable. And it is
with these documents that we would have to write and contradict you.
Thus, as for you, please release us from these cares.
Therefore, going about your own ways, write no longer
concerning dogmas; but if you do, write only for friendships sake.
the Lutherans nevertheless wrote again.
In the brief salutation they expressed mutual suffering,
distress and confusion, with sincerity - but with noticeably more
reserve - still referring to him as "Your Holiness" and
"Most Holy Sir" and for the first time including the
Patriarch's advisors in the salutation.
They include brief clarifications on their positions concerning
free will, the sacraments, the saints, confession, the monastic life,
and rejected the accusations of heresy, schism, and Judaism. Nevertheless, their conclusion was gracious and friendly:
And even if you ask
us to no longer trouble you with such writings (although we have
conversed with you with much love and much kindness and with due
respect) yet we are hopeful that the matters which have been written
to you by us up to now will in time be re-examined and reconsidered
more accurately and much better. ... Therefore, standing together with
Your Holiness, Patriarch and Most Reverent Sir,
we offer to the God of all, our true friendship which we have shown to
you and which we will continuously afterwards keep.
Agreement and Disagreement
has outlined a very helpful summary (and by his own assessment, a
"gross over-simplification") of the points of doctrinal
agreements and disagreement in these exchanges, as noted:
of Doctrinal Agreement
fundamental authority of Scripture, its inspiration, and its
translation into the language of the people;
b. God and the
Trinity in general;
sin and its transmission to the entire human race;
humanity, not God, is the cause of evil;
e. The two
natures of Christ;
f. The head of
the Church is Jesus Christ alone;
g. The second Coming, the judgment and future life, and the
endlessness of reward and punishments;
reception of the Eucharist in both kinds;
i. Rejection of papal satisfactions, indulgences, the
treasury of the saints, purgatorial fire, and compulsory clerical
of Doctrinal Disagreement
a. Holy Tradition;
b. The Procession of the Holy Spirit (filioque);
c. Free Will;
d. Divine Predestination;
f. The number of sacraments;
g. The performance of Baptism by immersion (Orthodox) vs.
sprinkling or pouring (Lutheran), and the immediate performance of
Chrismation and the giving of the Eucharist to those baptized
h. The meaning
of the change in the Holy Eucharist, and the use of unleavened bread;
i. The infallibility of the Church and of the Ecumenical
j. The veneration, feasts, and invocation of saints, and
their icons and relics;
k. Fasts and other ecclesiastical traditions and customs.
Impact on Ecumenical Dialogue
most important outcome of these dialogues was that the silence between
the Orthodox East and Lutheran West was broken for the first time.
There was mutual ignorance about each other's theology, culture
and politics at first, but their willingness to learn from one another
was significant and commendable.
Although the dialogue was certainly friendly, there was an obvious resultant
disillusionment, disappointment and frustration on both sides –
clearly no agreement had been reached, and there was little hope of
Travis reminds us to appreciate the correspondence as being part of a
process generating far-reaching results.
To say the correspondence was completely negative is:
harsh verdict which impatiently assumes that every moment of history
must constitute either a monumental breakthrough or a bitter
assessment can change what has already taken place.
Rather, an understanding of the past can enable us to reflect
upon the present and the possibilities of the future.
even though the dialogues seemed to emphasize more the diversities
rather than the shared Christian life of both, even this was still not
a completely negative reality, says Travis.
"By bringing to the fore the points of divergence between
Orthodox and Protestantism, it enabled both to become familiar with
the other's religious and attitudinal way of looking at each other.
the course of history, the East ultimately grew weaker and weaker. It was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that
Orthodox Christian East began to become free from her various
oppressors around the world. Even
to this day, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, now
Istanbul, continues to be under the relatively fierce authority of the
Turkish government, which still demands control over even the most
minute details of Church management and polity, and has become even
more hostile to Orthodox Christianity in recent decades.
The West, however, continued to flourish and grow increasingly
strong. Because of its strength,
the West has tended to regard its Christianity as normative
Christianity, and to look upon the classical, patristic tradition of
the East as an exotic Christian sect.
According to the late Florovsky, who was a well-respective
scholar and participant in the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues of the
has been either tacitly ignored or disapproved.
Byzantium has sometimes slept.
But Byzantium is still alive in the things of the spirit, the
representative of an authentic Christian tradition, linked by unbroken
continuity with the thought of the apostolic age. Recovery of a genuine ecumenical unity will be possible only
through mutual rediscovery of East and West and a wider synthesis,
such as has sometimes been attempted but never yet achieved.
the first task of this "mutual rediscovery of East and West"
is the same first task of those involved in any ecumenical dialogue
– to discover common ground and to adopt a common idiom.
The sixteenth century Tübingen-Jeremias correspondence
accomplished exactly that. Melanchthon's
Greek version of the Augustana deserves the close attention of
modern ecumenical theologians, according to Florovsky, who believes
that this attempt to interpret the message of the Reformation in the
wider context of an ecumenical tradition embracing the East and the
West should be repeated.
Iakovos, Archbishop of North and South America for thirty five years,
who retired in 1996, was an active leader in the ecumenical dialogs
between the Lutheran West and Orthodoxy in the twentieth century.
Writing in the late 1950's in a Lutheran journal on the topic
of ecumenical dialogue, he first defines his concept of Orthodoxy as:
"...the Christian church's doctrine, order, worship and tradition
of the first eight centuries of united Christendom..." then
discusses what he believes to be the scope of Orthodoxy's contribution
to any ecumenical dialogue:
common use of the term "Orthodox" to signify the church of
the East should signify to the churches of the West that the Eastern
Church is committed to maintain the genuine characteristics of the one
church of Christ. Orthodoxy,
being true to her history and traditions and compelled by the
consciousness of her God-ordained task, is present and intends to be
present and participate actively in all ecumenical conversations as
long as their aim is to restore the disrupted unity of Christendom.
Orthodoxy's principal aim in participating in the ecumenical
movement is to make known the riches of her faith, worship and order,
and of her spiritual and ascetic life and experience.
pastor, Ross Aden, also sees great benefits in what the Lutheran
Church might gain from continuing in dialogue with the Orthodox,
especially in the area of piety and soteriology.
In his article, "Justification and Divinization" he
quotes Canadian Lutheran Henry Edwards as suggesting that
"Eastern theology acts like a prism which allows Lutherans to see
their own theology in a different manner..." Aden articulates at
length the various differences in the Lutheran/Orthodox salvation
metaphors pertaining to justification/sanctification vs. divinization
in his article and concludes that continued
discussion is of benefit to Lutheran understanding,
articulation, and piety:
Ongoing exposure to Orthodoxy will encourage us in the
important task of developing a more positive attitude toward the
personal and corporate practices of the spiritual life, for Eastern
Christianity proves that the categories of justification and
sanctification can be brought together in a way that does not violate
the principle of salvation grace.
.... This theology of Eastern Orthodoxy is permeated by the
thought of divine grace; it is an approach to understanding the saving
action of God that is relational not mechanical, that is dynamic not
we will never know what motivated this initial Lutheran contact with
Constantinople in the mid-sixteenth century.
The Lutheran theologians clearly had a generally favorable
image of the Orthodox Church in
their minds. Might they
indeed have genuinely been seeking unity with the Church of the East,
whom they considered guardians of the Apostolic Faith?
Perhaps they truly had not realized that the East would
consider their new Lutheranism to be "innovative."
also would be naïve to suggest that theology alone was the driving
force behind this sixteenth century correspondence.
Political factors were also strong motivators. The religious and political situation in the West with Rome
undoubtedly prompted the initial contact of the Reformers with the
East, who were seeking an ally in the great theological and political
debates of 16th century Western Europe. The hopes of a
Protestant ally again Turkish oppressors may indeed have propelled the
Patriarch to greater personal generosity and open-mindedness to
dialogue than he otherwise might have expressed.
of the motives on either side, the letters themselves stand as
ecumenical documents of the highest theological significance and
scholastic caliber. The
sincere and genuine personal regard which was apparent on both sides
of the correspondence should also stand as an exemplary model for any
present and future ecumenical dialogue.
George. Augsburg and
Constantinople: The Correspondence between the Tübingen Theologians
and Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople on the Augsburg Confession
(Brookline, MA:Holy Cross Press., 1982).
Ross. "Justification and Divinization" Dialog Vol.
32, No. 2. Spring 1993.
"Justification and Sanctification: A Conversation between
Lutheranism and Orthodoxy. St. Vladimir's Theological
Quarterly Volume 38, Number 1, 1994.
Constantine N. “Jeremias
II and the Lutherans” The Historical and Ecumenical Significance
of Jeremias II's Correspondence With the Lutherans (1573-1581)
Volume One. (Kingston, New York: American Institute For Patristic and
Byzantine Studies, 1982), p. 14.
"A Prosopography of Jeremias Tranos (1536-1595) and His Place in
the History of the Eastern Church." The Patristic and
Byzantine Review. Volume
4 Number 3, 1985.
John J. "The Dispute Concerning Sacred Tradition (1573-1581), The
Patristic and Byzantine Review. Volume
5 Number 2, continued in Number 3, 1986.
Constantine N. Tsirpanlis “Jeremias II and the Lutherans” from
The Historical and Ecumenical Significance of Jeremias II's
Correspondence With the Lutherans (1573-1581) Volume One.
(Kingston, New York: American Institute For Patristic and
Byzantine Studies, 1982), p. 14.
This primary edition is
very rare, and contains only the Greek text, but the more common
version is a literal reprint, the Acta et Scripta of 1584 also
includes a parallel Latin version (the variatissima) of the
Augsburg Confession the six doctrinal letters of Tübingen
and Constantinople and several other brief letters. (Jorgensen, Augustana
Graeca, p. 30 )