John R. Muether
Protestants began to divide in the 1520s over sacramental theology, as southern Germans and the Swiss questioned Martin Luther’s teaching on the corporal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Meanwhile Charles V (recently crowned the Holy Roman Emperor) was campaigning against French and papal forces from the south and bracing against Ottoman threats from the east. Hoping to establish a religious settlement that would promote political unity, he summoned a Diet at Augsburg.
Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito quickly composed a confessional statement on behalf of four cities, Constance, Memmingen, Lindau, and Strasbourg; thus it became known as the Tetrapolitan Confession. Delegates from Strasbourg presented it to the Emperor at the Diet in July 1530 “to show our obedience to thy wish that we should explain our opinion concerning the reformation of religion.” The confession’s twenty-three chapters begin with the formal principle of the Reformation, the authority of the Word of God, enjoining “preachers to teach from the pulpit nothing else than is either contained in the Holy Scriptures or hath sure ground therein,” following the pattern “of the most holy fathers, bishops and princes.” (This is the first of four references to the “holy fathers” of the church, as the confession is eager to demonstrate the antiquity of its claims.) The confession proceeds to follow the general structure of the Augsburg Confession and it “breathes the same spirit of moderation,” according to Philip Schaff, while condemning Roman Catholic practices such as meats (ch. 9), monkery (ch. 12), and the Mass (ch. 19).
Naturally, the attention of the Diet was directed toward Article 18 on the Lord’s Supper. Bucer and Capito sought consensus language amid the growing antagonisms between Zwinglians and Lutherans. The original version, composed by Wolfgang Capito, declared that “Christ the Lord is truly in the Supper and gives his true body truly to eat and his blood truly to drink, but especially to the spirit, through faith.” When this last clause offended Lutherans at Augsburg, delegates from Strasbourg removed it in the interest of concord. The final version declares the true presence of Christ without specifying the manner of presence. (Capito would later insist that despite the change, the confession intended to affirm that spiritual eating was the only beneficial participation in the Supper.)
The Tetrapolitan Confession did not prevail at Augsburg. Lutherans dismissed it as fanatic and Roman Catholics branded it heretical. Even among its sponsoring cities, its confessional status lasted but a year, superseded by more thorough and systematic statements. Still, we should not miss its significance as a confessional effort to overcome isolation and to unite Reformed cities. James Dennison observes, “The Tetrapolitan Confession is regarded as the first Reformed Confession. It is not Lutheran, though Protestant. It is not Roman Catholic, but Protestant…. It marks the inauguration of a distinctive confessional tradition.”
Concerning this venerable sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, all that the evangelists, Paul and the holy fathers, have left in writing, our men, in the best faith, teach, commend, and inculcate. And hence with singular zeal they always publish this goodness of Christ to his people, whereby no less today than at that last Supper, to all those who sincerely have given their names among his disciples and receive this Supper according to his institution, he deigns to give his true body and true blood to be truly eaten and drunk for the food and drink of souls, for their nourishment unto life eternal so that he may live and abide in them, and they in him, to be raised up by him at the last day to new and immortal life …
Sixty-Seven Articles of Ulrich Zwingli (1523)
Tetrapolitan Confession (1530)
First Helvetic Confession (1536)
French Confession of Faith (1559)
Scots Confession (1560)
Belgic Confession of Faith (1561)
Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
Canons of the Synod of Dordt (1619)
Westminster Confession & Catechisms (1643)
 Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 vols. (New York: Harper, 1877), 1:527.
 James T. Dennison Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2008–14), 1:139.
John R. Muether serves as a ruling elder at Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Oviedo, Florida, library director at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, February 2017.