Before we conclude, it is necessary to discuss two questions.
The first is this: Is it fully in accord with the spirit of our Symbols to demand an unconditional subscription of the servants of our Church? I respond: There can be absolutely no doubt about this.
... We intend also, by the grace of the Almighty, faithfully to abide until our end by this Christian Confession, mentioned several times, as it was delivered in the year 1530 to the Emperor Charles V; and it is our purpose, neither in this nor in any other writing, to recede in the least (from the oft-cited Confession, nor to propose another or new confession (Triglotta, 847; "Introduction to the Formula of Concord"). (In the Latin original it says, "vel transversu, ut ajunt, ungue," that is, not to depart even a finger's breadth.) The same thing is expressed in the Preface to the Book of Concord also of the other previous Symbols, regarding the Ecumenical Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, and both catechisms, when it says there: "Therefore we also have determined not to depart even a finger's breadth... either from the subjects themselves or from the phrases which are found in them (Latin: vel a rebus ipsis vel a phrasibus; neither in the content of the matter taught, nor in the form and manner of speaking of it) but, the Spirit of the Lord aiding us, to persevere constantly, with the greatest harmony, in this godly agreement, and we intend to examine all controversies according to this true norm and declaration of the pure doctrine...
Finally, the Formula of Concord designates all the previous Lutheran Confessions as "a unanimously accepted, definite, common form of doctrine, which all our evangelical churches together and in common confess, from and according to which, because [not insofar as] it has been derived from God's Word, all other writings should be judged and adjusted as to how far they are to be approved and accepted" (Triglotta, 855; FC SD Rule and Norm 10).
The second question that remains, which is herewith drawn into consideration is this: Is our assertion that the Symbols of our Church are to be subscribed unconditionally by our teachers confirmed by the practice of our Church? To answer this question, let us make a few historical points.
... After the Formula of Concord had been introduced in Saxony, all the servants of those churches and schools since 1602 were asked to take the following oath:
'You shall vow and swear that you will continue and remain steadfastly and without guile in the pure, Christian understanding of the Gospel current in this territory as it is recorded in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, repeated and explained in the Christian Book of Concord, and preserved against all falsifications, and will neither secretly nor openly practice anything against it, but will at once fearlessly reveal anyone who departs from, or practices against, that understanding. If God should decree--May He graciously prevent it!--that you follow the dreams and vagaries of men, depart from this pure doctrine and understanding of God's Word, and turn to the Papists or Calvinists or other sects that are described and rejected in the religious peace because they are not in sympathy with our pure Confession, you shall swear that because of your oath you will without fear immediately report your change of mind to the proper authorities and await further regulations and resolutions. May you do all this faithfully and without deceit!'
A Leipzig licentiate of theology had to swear:
'I, N.N., swear to you, the Deacon and the Theological Faculty, that I intend to follow the holy doctrine of Christ, conveyed in the writing of the apostles and prophets, and explicated in the received creeds and in the Augsburg Confession delivered to Emperor Charles V in 1530, as also its Apology, in the Smalcald Articles, both Catechisms of Luther, and in the Book of Concord, and without any false intent I will fight as much as I can any godless, dark, heretical, and unionistic [religionsmengerischen] views and remain faithful to the statutes of the faculty. God help me through his holy Gospel!'
Osiander was the first to protest against this.
Parents should well consider whether or not to let their sons to to Wittenberg to become doctors or masters [of theology]. For there their money is taken from them, and if the parents think their son could become a first-rate man, well-rounded in the Holy Scriptures, able to oppose all fanatics and heretics, instead he becomes a poor captive whose conscience is hemmed in and confused. For he has to foreswear the Word of God and swear adherence to the doctrine of Phillipp. He has to permit himself to be muzzled in matters of faith. He is not to come to any conclusions until he has conferred with his elders who maintain the Confession. He must remain in harmony with he Confession because of his oath even though Scripture says something else. He is therefore a member of a secret society, a conspiracy which has a higher regard for the word of men than the Word of God, and Christianity is certainly the worse for it.
Against these accusation, Melanchthon responded in an address published in 1553. There he says, among other things;
He (Osiander)boasts of his vaunted freedom and refusal to tolerate these bonds. Many today have fallen prey to this cry, in a time of great licentiousness and anarchy, claiming unlimited freedom to spouse opinions and, like the skpetic philosopher Pyrrho, render all things handed over as doubtful. But pious and wise people see this happen not without great pain and recognize where it leads, namely, that the youth and the upright are not once reminded of discretion. Then wild, impudent men who are full of themselves can neither through such promises nor through other bonds be held in check.... First let me speak with us. it was introduced by this faculty at Wittenberg some twenty years ago, by Luther, Jonas and the pastor of this congregation, Dr. Pomeranus... Osiander does a great disservice to these upright men when he suggests that these men wanted to establish a tyranny. It is quite clear that they had the most honorable cause and intent. Also at that time there were many fanatics flying about who soon were spreading about new stupidities: Anabaptist, Servetus, Campanus, Stenkfeld, etc. so much as human diligence could accomplish it, the purpose of the Wittenberg symbolical pledge was two-fold: to admonish talented men to observe in humility proper bounds, and to check restless spirits as much as possible. This was also the custom of the Ancient church, in which as yet no tyranny ruled and the source of doctrine remained pure. ... In the Nicene Synod not only the bishops subscribed the decrees, but also the Emperor Constantine, all with their own hands. And no one was admitted to the office of the gospel, unless he were examined beforehand and expressly affirmed that the confession rendered the doctrine of the gospel unfalsified and he would not depart from it.