The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Augsburg--Lutheran and ecumenical city

The city of Augsburg is:(a) One of the oldest cities in Germany.
(b) Home of the world's oldest housing settlement for the poor.
(c) The place where Lutheranism was rejected by the Holy Roman Emperor.
(d) An ongoing example of Lutheran and Roman Catholic cooperation.

The correct answer, of course, is:
(e) All of the above.

Located in Bavaria, in the south of Germany, Augsburg doesn't turn up on many Lutherland tours. But it should. Augsburg has played a key role in Lutheran history for almost 500 years and is an inspiring example of how to live out Christian faith in community.

Augsburg was a bustling city in Martin Luther's day. Located at a major trade crossroads, it was a center for finance as well as business and industry. Because of its strategic location and influence, Augsburg was also a frequent site for political assemblies.

Let's take a quick trip through the city's history.

October 1518: A year after Luther posted his 95 Theses challenging the sale of indulgences, he went to Augsburg to meet with the pope's representative, Cardinal Cajetan. They met in the home of Jakob Fugger, the banker who was receiving half of the proceeds from the sale of indulgences. It's no surprise that, under these circumstances, Luther and Cajetan were unable to reach an agreement.

June 1530: In an attempt to resolve the religious controversy, Emperor Charles V invited Luther's supporters and the pope's representatives to Augsburg to present their religious views at an imperial Diet or assembly. Luther couldn't attend the meeting in person since he had been condemned as an outlaw.

Although rejected by the emperor, the statement of faith presented by Luther's supporters, the Augsburg Confession, is still authoritative for Lutherans throughout the world. Three ELCA colleges take their name from this document: Augsburg College in Minneapolis; Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; and Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D. (Augustana is the Latin form of the name Augsburg.)

September 1555: Following Luther's death, war broke out between Emperor Charles V and the German princes who had adopted Lutheranism in their territories. When the war ended, the Diet of Augsburg approved a policy allowing local rulers to choose whether the established religion in the area they governed would be Roman Catholic or Lutheran. This "Peace of Augsburg" gave permanent legal status to Lutheranism for the first time. The city still celebrates this landmark event with an annual Augsburg Peace Festival.

Augsburg itself was a free imperial city, not ruled by a regional prince but accountable only to the emperor. In Augsburg and other free cities, both Roman Catholic Christianity and Lutheran Christianity could be practiced openly. This was more than coexistence though—it was active cooperation.

For more than 150 years all public offices in Augsburg were filled by equal numbers of Lutherans and Roman Catholics. A Lutheran tax commissioner and a Roman Catholic tax commissioner worked side-by-side.  Doubtless there were conflicts. But over time, according to the current mayor of Augsburg, a side-by-side relationship became a hand-in-hand relationship. (Perhaps we could learn something from the Augsburg Christians about living and working together while respecting the bound conscience of their neighbors.)

While churches in Augsburg remained independent, there was religious cooperation as well as civic cooperation. One dramatic example is the twin St. Ulrich churches, one Protestant and one Roman Catholic, side-by-side on a public square. In fact, for many years there was an open archway in the wall shared by the two structures so people could walk freely from one church into the other.

October 1999: On Reformation Day, when representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican gathered to sign and celebrate the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, they met in Augsburg, in the very church where Luther had stayed during his 1518 confrontation with Cardinal Cajetan. The city that had been a place of division in 1518 and again in 1530 became a place of remarkable ecumenical reconciliation.


This week's front page features:

dec cover1Our worldwide church: (right) Global contexts challenge Lutheran theology.

A ministry 'blessing & challenge': Sudanese find a welcome home in Southeastern Minnesota. 

Come and behold him: Where? In the manger, in ourselves. 

The church as a marketplace: Guyanese Lutherans are called to serve life. 

Also: Confronting change.

Also: Trustees discuss plan adjustments.

Also Manz, noted organist, dies.

Read these articles at our front page ...

This week on our blogLiz

Elizabeth Hunter (right) blogs about the roof of an ELCA church.

Check out our staff blog ...


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