Chapter VIII. The Greek Version of the Augsburg Confession
The first Greek translation of the Augsburg Confession was published in 1559 in Basel. This edition included only the Greek text. The name of the translator was given on the title page: Graece reddita a Paulo Dolscio Plauensi. Dolscius also wrote the preface to the translation, in Latin. In 1584 the text of Dolscius was reprinted in the famous volume Acta et Scripta Theologorum Wirtembergensium, which was a complete report on the correspondence between a group of Lutheran theologians in Tubingen and the Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople.95 This time the Latin text was also given, in parallel column, with the Greek.
This first edition had apparently a limited circulation, or only few copies were published. Already in 1574 Martin Crusius had difficulty in obtaining a copy.96 It does not seem that the book was widely read in Western Europe. Indeed, the peculiar character of Dolscius’ edition escaped attention of scholars. Professor Ernst Benz of Marburg was the first to call attention to this curious document.97 Little can be added to his able analysis, although of course he did not solve definitely all the problems which the document raises. In this brief essay I can but review his findings.
First of all, the authorship of the translation is uncertain and obscure. Paul Dolscius was a competent Greek scholar and a convinced humanist. In his preface to the translation emphasized the importance of the biblical languages for an adequate understanding of the Christian faith. The preface was dedicated to a certain Dr. Melchior Kling, a renowned jurist of that time. Dolscius suggested that the stimulus for the translation was given by Dr. Kling. Now, it seems that all this is a disguise, if not a deliberate mystification. Dolscius also insisted on the strict accuracy of his translation: nihil de suo addens. But in fact the Greek translation deviates widely from the original. There are strong reasons for believing that the actual initiative belonged to no lesser than Melanchthon. Already Crusius was aware of this fact: nomine Dolscii editum, sed a Philippo compositum.98 In any case, in the very year of the first publication of the Greek version, Melanchthon forwarded his copy to the then Patriarch of Constantinople, Joasaph, with a covering letter in which he suggested that the Lutheran movement was close to Orthodoxy. The letter apparently was never delivered. In the light of this overture to the East, the peculiar character of the Greek version becomes comprehensible: it was intended primarily for the Greeks. No free circulation in the West was anticipated. Melanchthon’s keen interest in the Greek church is well known, and it dates from his early years. In the fifties he had various links with Greek visitors to Germany. One of them, Demetrius, even stayed with him during those years.99 Demetrius probably also participated in the translation. The role of Dolscius, on the other hand, is quite obscure.
Secondly, the text of the confession used for the translation was peculiar. It was not the official text of 1530. The Latin text included in Acta et Scripta is similar to the Variata of 15З1, but differs even from it. Professor Benz aptly describes it as Melachthon’s Variatissima. It remains to situate it accurately in relation to all of Melachthon’s other drafts of the confession. In his study Benz offers but few hints in this direction. Strangely enough, the editors of Acta et Scripta did not mention at all that the Latin text in their edition was a very special version of the Augsburg Confession. The problem is too technical to be discussed in this essay, however.
Thirdly, the Greek translation of 1559 widely differs also from this peculiar Latin text. It was more an adaptation than a translation. A detailed analysis is outside the scope of this essay. Such an analysis would require a thorough examination of various theological terms, both in Latin and Greek. On the whole, Professor Benz is right in suggesting that the translators deliberately toned down the forensic or juridical tenor of the Augustana doctrine of redemption. Indeed, at many points the translators could not easily find in current Greek theological vocabulary exact equivalents of Latin terms. Hence inaccuracy of rendering was almost inevitable. But there was much more than that. There was an obvious desire to adjust the exposition to the traditional convictions of the Greek church. As Benz has suggested, the whole exposition is transposed from the dimension of the Rechtfertigungsreligion into the dimension of the Erlösungsreligion. Instead of the concept of justification, the dominant idea of the Greek version is that of healing.
The question then arises, to what extent was this Greek interpretation of the confession congenial to the original intent of the Augustana? Indeed, the Greek version of 1559 was the only text of the Augsburg Confession which was put at the disposal of Greek authorities and theologians, when the group of Tubingen theologians approached the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1574 with the request to study and evaluate their doctrinal position. The patriarch was not informed about the actual status of the text submitted for his examination. What was behind this move?
It is quite possible that Martin Crusius and his friends sent to Constantinople the version of 1559 simply because this was the only existing Greek text. It is interesting, however, that a second edition of this version appeared again in 1587, in Wittenberg – again, the Greek text only. For whom was this new edition intended? I have not examined this second edition personally. But it is obviously strange that it was issued after the final authorization of the main text of 1530 by its inclusion in the Book of Concord. It does not seem that this new edition was intended for Greek readers. The patriarch’s unfavorable response sorely discouraged any new negotiations between Lutherans and Orthodox. The strangest thing is (and this was not mentioned explicitly by Professor Веnz) that the peculiarity of the Greek version was overlooked also by the Roman Catholic polemicists of the time, who could have exploited this fact for their own purposes – to estrange the Orthodox from the Lutherans. True, the original edition of 1559 may have been rare, but the same text was reprinted in Acta et Scripta. It is not excluded, however, that the Tubingen theologians were prepared to commit themselves to that particular interpretation of the Augsburg Confession which was embodied in the Greek version. Some further inquiry will be needed before an adequate answer can be given.
In any case, the Greek version of the Augustana was a significant theological experiment. One may ask in conclusion to what extent the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession can be adequately expressed in the categories of the Greek patristic (and liturgical) tradition? In our day, of course, this question has not the same meaning as in the days of Melachthon or of Martin Crusius.
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“The Greek Version of the Augsburg Confession” appeared in Lutheran World, Vol. VI, No.2 (1959), pp. 153 – 155. Reprinted by permission of the author.
A German translation of this important correspondence has recently been published: Wort und Mysterium (Witten/Ruhr: Luther-Verlag, 1958) [reviewed in Lutheran World, June, 1959, p. 90 f. Editor]; cf. my article, “An Early Ecumenical Correspondence,” in World Lutheranism of Today (1950), pp. 98 – 111 [in this volume].
Turcograecia, Tübingen, 1584, p. 488. Prof. Benz was able to locate copies of this edition in Tübingen, Stuttgart and Wittenberg. I had at my disposal, on microfilm, the copy of the library of Leipzig University. The Leipzig copy differs, however, from those known to Benz: he indicates the number of pages as 73 in 8vo; the Leipzig copy has 113.
Ernst Benz, “Die griechische Übersetzung der Confessio Augustana aus dem Jahre 1559,” in Kyrios, Vol. V, No. 1/2, 1940 – 1941, pp. 25 – 65; reprinted in Wittenberg und Byzanz: Zur Begegnung und Auseinandersetzung der Reformation und der östlich-orthodoxen Kirche (Marburg/Lahn: Elwert-Gräfe und Unzer Verlag, 1949), pp. 94 – 128.
Turcograecia, p. 264.
See E. Benz, “"Melanchthon und der Serbe Demetrios,» in Kyrios, Vol. IѴ, No. 3/4, 1939 – 1940, pp. 222 –261, and in Wittenberg und Byzanz, pp. 59 – 93.