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  • The Wittenberg Concord: Creating Space for Dialogue by Gordon A. Jensen
  • Adam Koontz
Gordon A. Jensen, The Wittenberg Concord: Creating Space for Dialogue. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018. Pp. 235. $34.00.

Most histories of Protestant denominations will include a chart of the permutations of formation, fissure, and union. Disagreement or agreement can be tracked through lines plunging away from or toward one another. This may appear normal now, but in sixteenth-century Europe, fissure seemed unnatural to most. Jensen’s book chronicles the efforts of many, especially the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer, to unite the already diverging streams of the Lutheran reformation in Saxony from the different theological tendencies of southern Germany and Switzerland. The discussions at Wittenberg in 1536 that led to the Saxons’ signing a statement on the controverted articles of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and absolution with various southern Germans did not arise in a political vacuum. The imperial cities of southern Germany were militarily vulnerable within an increasingly politically hostile Holy Roman Empire, and they needed to affirm the 1530 Augsburg Confession to join the Smalcaldic League anchored by the larger powers of Electoral Saxony and Hesse. Political and military urgency was behind this burst of ecumenical dialogue.

Jensen very thoroughly covers the theological background to the Concord, including the failures to put forward a common Protestant witness at the 1529 Marburg Colloquy and the 1530 imperial Diet at Augsburg, where [End Page 294] three separate Protestant parties each made separate confessions of faith to a finally unreceptive Charles V. Their disagreements about the nature of the sacraments and about how lay rulers ought to go about reformation of church property, among many things, could not be resolved before 1536.

The Concord signed just after Ascension Day in 1536 did not attempt to resolve all issues. Jensen is clear that the Concord was not a new confession but a southern German interpretation of the Augsburg Confession. The Wittenberg Concord was sufficient in its sacramental statements for the southern Germans to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with the Saxons on Ascension Day. The document carefully avoided larger theological issues behind sacramental statements such as how Christ’s ascended human nature relates to the divine nature, and the dialogues at Wittenberg failed to produce a joint statement on how lay authorities should confiscate ecclesiastical property—due to great differences between Saxony and southern Germany on the theology of church-state relations.

Jensen wants to apply the Wittenberg Concord’s successes to contemporary ecumenical dialogue, but at least two things make this more difficult than he allows. First, the necessity for dialogue was existential for the militarily beleaguered southern Germans, making potential military conquest the stimulus to discussion. Second, the implosion of Lutheran-Reformed dialogue later in the century may not have been a “hardening” of positions that could have been softer with a better approach to dialogue. Instead, posterity had to deal with the deeper christological and linguistic positions that the Concord glossed over, and the children could not fix what the forebears would not touch.

Adam Koontz
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA


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pp. 294-295
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