One of the distinctive things about the Church of England and therefore Anglicanism, and something which is a problem to our critics, especially in gatherings and groups like GAFCON, is that we are not a confessional church. There were attempts to make it so and I suppose that the presence of the 39 Articles of Religion at the back of the Book of Common Prayer are a real indicator that there were reformers on our side of the channel who wanted for us what they had on the Continent. After all, setting out what the church believes in and how it operates from that theology and ecclesiology seems on the face of it reasonable. But in England it was decided that doctrine would be held in the liturgy and through the Book of Common Prayer and that our life would continue to be regulated through Canon Law.
So it was great on this final day of touring that we arrived in the city of Augsburg. There are two links with this mainly Protestant city set in mainly Catholic Bavaria and Martin Luther. Luther came here from 12 – 18 October 1518 to meet Cardinal Thomas Cajetan who insisted on examining the teachings of this troublesome northern monk. Then on 8 April 1530 the Diet of Augsburg met in the city to debate an agreement with the protestants, what is known as the Augsburg Confession. That document is an important statement about the beliefs of the ‘Lutherans’ as opposed to the Catholics. It was a compromise. Luther was not allowed outside Saxony and so couldn’t be in the city to argue his case for a ‘hard’ Confession. But the more diplomatic Philipp Melanchthon, a close friend of Luther and first author of the Confession, knew that a ‘soft’ version would achieve more. Sounds familiar!
The truth of course was that many priests were now married with children, monasteries had been dissolved, the translated scriptures were in people’s hands, people were receiving the sacraments in both kinds, and much that was superstious in former religious practise had been debunked. There was no going back. The only way was moving forward and so the interim agreement agreed in Augsburg with the Roman Catholic authorities allowed a more peaceful situation to develop.
Much of this early version of Brexit, the hard and the soft versions, centred on the beautiful church of St Anna. It was here in what is known as Luther’s Room that the meeting with the Cardinal took place. It was in this area that the Diet met. It was here that peace was declared.
The church itself is beautiful. The Goldsmiths’ Chapel still has pre-reformation frescos depicting the passion and the finding of the true cross by St Helena. It is ironic that in a church that Luther visited this particular story is still depicted. Luther was no fan of holy relics and was disdainful of the relics of the true cross which gained their legitimacy from the story of Helena. Luther wrote
The chapels in forests and the churches in fields, such as Wilsnack, [where the blood of Christ could be found] Sternberg, [more blood of Christ] Trier, [the seamless garment, recovered by Helena, mother of Constantine and housed there at Trier] the Grimmenthal, [where an image of Mary cured people of syphilis] and now Regensburg [various relics and a bit of the ‘true Cross’] and a goodly number of others which recently have become the goal of pilgrimages, must be leveled.
The chapel though is well worth visiting.
So is the beautiful Fuggerei in another part of the city. This huge ‘almshouse’, a complex of houses built by the local wealthy merchant and banker Jacob Fugger in 1516, is the oldest social housing project that is still in use and has been continuously since its foundation. Fugger established it because he was concerned for the poor in his city and concerned, as a banker charging interest on loans to the Pope and the Emporer, for the state of his own soul in eternity. So residents then and now have to fulfil three requirements – be citizens of Augsburg, be poor and commit to praying three times a day and for the soul of the benefactor and founder. If they met those requirements they were given lovely accommodation for 88 cents a year, in modern money, and that remains the annual rent. The residents are young and old, male and female, lone parents, widows and widowers, people in need of all kinds. It’s a complex story really which in itself describes what lay behind so much of the reformation – justification by good works, a belief that prayers could get you out of purgatory and away from judgment, the whole concept of buying indulgences through benevolent acts. But the good results can still be seen in an idyllic community.
The diplomatic compromise arrived at in Augsburg had to be achieved. Perhaps there are lessons for us in the Anglican Communion and the presence of a three-legged stool in a kitchen in the Fuggerei was a sign to me that we have to keep looking for a truly Anglican way forward.
Lord, guide us to that middle way along which your people may continue to walk together. Amen.