Thomas Carlyle once described Martin Luther as “great, not as a hewn obelisk, but as an Alpine mountain, so simple, honest, spontaneous, not setting up to be great at all; there for another purpose than being great at all!” That “purpose” was, in Luther’s mind, to preserve and proclaim God-given doctrine.

The thought never nested in Luther’s mind that the doctrine for which he stood was his own. “It is not my doctrine, not my creation, but God’s gift,” he declared in a 1531 sermon. “Dear Lord God, it was not spun out of my head, nor grown in my garden. Nor did it flow out of my spring, nor was it born of me. It is God’s gift, not a human discovery.”

Confession of God-given doctrine has characterized the church bearing Luther’s name ever since. Nine documents, or “symbols,” define the Lutheran Church and its theology:

1. The Apostles’ Creed

2. The Nicene Creed

3. The Athanasian Creed

4. The unaltered Augsburg Confession

5. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession

6. The Schmalkald Articles (and Tractate)

7. Luther’s Large Catechism

8. Luther’s Small Catechism

9. The Formula of Concord.

Lutheran churches commonly include a plank in their constitutions tying them to these symbols. Some churches, like the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, commit themselves to these “confessions” without qualification. Other Lutheran bodies refer to some confessions as historically important but not binding.

All nine documents have a connection—some more, some less—with the mind and spirit of Luther. What role did he play in each one?

Commending the Creeds

Martin Luther, of course, did not write the ancient Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian Creeds. But at a time when some reformers wished to do away with all things traditional, Luther saw the value in these creeds ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.