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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 9 — History of Protestantism From the Diet of Worms, 1521, to the Augsburg Confession, 1530

Chapter 20 — Preparations for the Augsburg Diet

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Charles Crosses the Tyrol–Looks down on Germany–Events in his Absence–His Reflections–Fruitlessness of his Labors–Opposite Realisations-All Things meant by Charles for the Hurt turn out to the Advantage of Protestantism–An Unseen Leader–The Emperor Arrives at Innspruck–Assembling of the Princes to the Diet–Journey of the Elector of Saxony–Luther's Hymn–Luther left at Coburg–Courage of the Protestant Princes–Protestant Sermons in Augsburg–Popish Preachers–The Torgau Articles–Prepared by Melanchthon– Approved by Luther.

THE emperor was returning to Germany after an absence of nine years. As, in the first days of May, he slowly climbed the summits of the Tyrolese Alps, and looked down from their northern slopes upon the German plains, he had time to reflect on all that had happened since his departure. The years which had passed since he last saw these plains had been full of labor, and yet how little had he reaped from all the toil he had undergone, and the great vexation he had experienced! The course affairs had taken had been just the opposite of that which he had wished and fully expected. By some strange fatality the fruits of all his campaigns had eluded him. His crowning piece of good fortune had been Pavia; that event had brought his rival Francis as a captive to Madrid, and placed himself for a moment at the head of Europe; and yet this brilliant victory had turned out in the end more damaging to the victor than to the vanquished. It had provoked the League of Cognac, in which the kings of Europe, with the Pontiff at their head, united to resist a power which they deemed dangerous to their own, and curb an ambition that they now saw to be boundless. The League of Cognac, in its turn, had recoiled on the head of the man who was its chief deviser. The tempest it had raised, and which those who evoked it intended should burst on the headquarters of Lutheranism, rolled away in the direction of Rome, and discharged its lightning-bolts on the City of the Seven Hills, inflicting on the wealth and glory of the Popes, on the art and splendor of their capital, a blow which no succeeding age has been able to repair.

For the moment all was again quiet. The Pope and the King of France had become the friends of the emperor. The Turks who had appeared in greater numbers, and penetrated farther into Europe than they had ever before been able to do, had suddenly retreated within their own dominions, and thus all things conspired to remove every obstacle out of Charles's path that might prevent his long-meditated visit to Germany. The emperor was now going to consolidate the peace that had so happily followed the tempest, and put the top-stone upon his own power by extinguishing the Wittenberg movement, a task not quite so hard, he thought, as that from which he was at this moment returning, the destruction of the League of Cognac.

And yet when he thought of the Wittenberg movement, which he was advancing to confront, he must have had some misgivings. His former experience of it must have taught him that instead of being the easiest to settle of the many matters he had on hand, it was precisely the one of all others the most difficult. He had won victories over Francis, he had won victories over the Pope, but he had won no victory over the monk. The dreaded Suleiman had vanished at his approach, but Luther kept his ground and refused to flee. Why was this? Nay, not only had the Reformer not fallen before him, but every step the emperor had taken against him had only lifted Luther higher in the sight of men, and strengthened his influence in Christendom. At the Diet of Worms, 1521, he had fulminated his ban against the heresiarch. He did not for a moment doubt that a few weeks, or a few months at the most, and he would have the satisfaction of seeing that ban executed, and the Rhine bearing the ashes of Luther, as a hundred years before it had done those of Huss, to the ocean, there to bury him and his cause in an eternal sepulcher. Far different had the result been. The emperor's ban had chased the Reformer to the Wartburg, and there, exempt from every other distraction, Luther had prepared an instrumentality a hundred times more powerful than all his other writings and labors for the propagation of his movement. The imperial ban, if it considered Luther to a brief captivity, had liberated the Word of God, imprisoned in a dead langnage, and now it was traversing the length and breadth of the Fatherland, and speaking to prince and peasant, to baron and burgher in their own mother tongue. This, as Charles knew to his infinite chagrin, was all that he had reaped as yet from the Edict of Worms.

He essayed a second time to extinguish but in reality to strengthen the movement. He convoked a Diet of the Empire at Spires in 1526, to take steps for executing the edict which had been passed with their concurrence five years before at Worms. Now it will be seen whether the bolt does not fall and crush the monk. Again the result is exactly the opposite of what the emperor had so confidently anticipated. The Diet decreed that, till a General Council should meet, every one should be at liberty to act in religious matters as he pleased. This was in fact an edict of toleration, and henceforward the propagation of Protestant truth throughout the dominions of the princes was to go on under sanction of the Diet. The movement was now surrounded by legal securities. How irritating to the potentate who thought that he was working skilfully for its overthrow! Twice had Charles miscarried; but he will make a third attempt and it will prosper; so he assures himself. In 1529 he convokes the Diet anew at Spires. He

sent a threatening message from Spain commanding the princes, by the obedience they owed him as emperor, and under peril of ban, to execute the edict against Luther. It was now that the Lutheran princes unfurled their great Protest, and took up that position in the Empire and before all Christendom which they have ever since, through all variety of fortune, maintained. Every time the emperor puts forth his hand, it is not to kill but to infuse new life into the movement; it is to remove impediments from its path and help it onward.

Even the dullest cannot fail to perceive that these most extraordinary events, in which everything meant for the destruction of the Protestant movement turned out for its furtherance, did not originate with Luther. He had neither the sagacity to devise them nor the power to control them. Nor did they take their rise from Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony; nor from Philip the Magnanimous, Landware of Hesse. Much less did they owe their origin to Charles, for nothing did he less intend to accomplish than what really took place. Let us then indulge in no platitudes about these men. Luther indeed was wise, and not less courageous than wise; but in what did his wisdom consist? It consisted in his profound submission to the will of One whom he saw guiding the movement through intricacies where his own counsels would have utterly wrecked it. And in what lay his courage? In this: in his profound faith in One whose arm he saw shielding Protestantism in the midst of dangers where, but for this protection, both the Reformer and the cause would have speedily perished.

In these events Luther beheld the footprints of One whom an ancient Hebrew sage styles "wonderful in counsel, excellent in working."

The emperor and his suite, a numerous and brilliant one, arrived at Innspruck in the beginning of May. He halted at this romantic little town that he might make himself more closely acquainted with the state of Germany, and decide upon the line of tactics to be adopted. The atmosphere on this side of the Alps differed sensibly from the fervid air which he had just left on the south of them. All he saw and heard where he now was told him that Lutheranism was strongly entrenched in the Fatherland, and that he should need to put forth all the power and craft of which he was master in order to dislodge it.

The appearance of the emperor on the heights of the Tyrol revived the fears of the Protestants. As when the vulture is seen in the sky, and there is silence and cowering in the groves, so was it with the inhabitants of the plains, now that the mailed cohorts of Rome were seen on the mountains above them. And there was some cause for alarm. With the emperor came Campeggio, as his evil genius, specially commissioned by the Pope to take care of Charles, [1] and see that he did not make any compromise with the Lutherans, or entangle himself by any rash promise of a General Council.

The legate had nothing but the old cure to recommend for the madness which had infected the Germans–the sword. Gattinara, who had held back the hand of Charles from using that weapon against Protestantism, and who had come as far as Innspruck, here sickened and died. [2] Melanchthon mourned his death as a loss to the cause of moderate counsels. "Shall we meet our adversary with arms?" asked the Protestant princes in alarm. "No," replied Luther, "let no man resist the emperor: if he demands a sacrifice, lead me to the altar." [3] Even Maimbourg acknowledges that "Luther conducted himself on this occasion in a manner worthy of a good man. He wrote to the princes to divert them from their purpose, telling them that the cause of religion was to be defended, not by the force of arms, but by sound arguments, by Christian patience, and by firm faith in the omnipotent God." [4] The Reformer strove at the same time to uphold the hearts of all by directing their eyes to heaven. His noble hymn, "A strong Tower is our God," began to be heard in all the churches in Germany. [5] Its heroic strains, pealed forth by thousands of voices, and swelling grandly aloft, kindled the soul and augmented the confidence and courage of the Protestant host. It continued to be sung in the public assemblies during all the time the Diet was in session.

The emperor, dating from Bologna, January 21st, 1530, had summoned the Diet to meet on April 8th. The day was now at hand, and the Protestant princes began to prepare for their journey to Augsburg. On Sunday, April 3rd, the Elector of Saxony, and the nobles and theologians who were to accompany him, assembled in the castle-church, Torgau, to join in prayer that God would inspire them with a spirit becoming the crisis that had arrived. Luther preached from the text, "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven." [6]

The key-note struck by the sermon was worthily sustained by the magnanimity of the princes at Augsburg. On the afternoon of the same day the elector set out, accompanied by John Frederick, his son; Francis, Duke of Luneburg; Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt; and Albert, Count of Mansfeld. The theologians whom the elector took with him to advise with at the Diet were Luther, Melanchthon, and Jonas. To these Spalatin was afterwards added. They made a fine appearance as they rode out of Torgau, escorted by a troop of 160 horsemen, [7] in scarlet cloaks embroidered with gold. But the spectators saw them depart with many anxious thoughts. They were going to confess a faith which the emperor had proscribed. Would they not draw upon themselves the tempest of his wrath? Would they

return in like fashion as they had seen them go? The hymn, "A strong Tower is our God," would burst forth at intervals from the troop, and rising in swelling strains which drowned the tramp of their horses and the clang of their armor, increased yet more the courage in which their journey was begun, continued, and ended.

On the eve of Palm Sunday they arrived at Weimar. They halted here over Sunday, and Luther again preached. Resuming their journey early in the week, they came at the close of it to the elector's Castle of Coburg, on the banks of the Itz; the Reformer delivering an address, or preaching a sermon, at the end of every day's march. [8] Starting from Coburg on the 23rd of April, the cavalcade proceeded on its way, passing through the towns of Barnberg and Nuremberg, and on the 2nd of May the elector and his company entered the gates of Augsburg. It had been confidently predicted that Prince John of Saxony would not attend the Diet. He was too obnoxious to the emperor, it was said, to beard the lion in his den. To the amazement of every one, [9] the elector was the first of all the princes to appear on the scene.

Soon the other princes, Popish and Protestant, began to arrive. Their entrance into Augsburg was with no little pomp. They came attended by their retainers, whose numbers and equipments were on a scale that corresponded with the power and wealth of the lord they followed. Clad in armor, bearing banners blazoned with devices, and proclaiming their approach with sound of drum and clarion, they looked more like men mustering for battle than assembling for the settlement of the creed of Christendom, the object specified in the Emperor's summons. But in those days no discussion, even on religious questions, was thought to have much weight unless it was conducted amid the symbols of authority and the blaze of power. On the 12th of May the Landgrave of Hesse entered Augsburg, accompanied by 120 horsemen. And three days thereafter the deputies of the good town of Nuremberg arrived to take part in the deliberations, bringing with them Osiander, the Protestant pastor of that place.

Since the memorable Diet at Worms, 1521, Germany had not been so deeply and universally agitated as it was at this hour. A decisive trial of strength was at hand between the two parties. Great and lasting issues must come out of the Diet. The people followed their deputies to Augsburg with their prayers. They saw the approach of the tempest in that of the emperor and his legions; but the nearer he came the louder they raised the song in all their churches and assemblies, "A strong Tower is our God." The fact that Charles was to be present, as well as the gravity of the crisis, operated in the way of bringing out a full attendance of princes and deputies. Over and above the members of the Diet there came a vast miscellaneous assemblage, from all the cities and provinces of Germany: bishops, scholars, citizens, soldiers, idlers, all flocked thither, drawn by a desire to be present on an occasion which had awakened the hopes of some, the fears of others, and the interest of all.

"Is it safe to trust ourselves in a walled city with the emperor?" asked some of the more timid Protestants. They thought that the emperor was drawing all the Lutherans into his net; and, once entrapped, that he would offer them all up in one great holocaust to Clement, from whose presence, the anointing oil still fresh upon him, the emperor had just come. Charles, to do him justice, was too humane and too magnanimous to think of such a thing. The venom which in after years vented itself in universal exterminations, had not yet been engendered, unless in solitary bosoms such as Campeggio's. The leaders of the Protestants refused to entertain the unworthy suspicion. The aged John, Elector of Saxony, set the example of courage, being the first to arrive on the scene. [10] The last to arrive were the Roman Catholic princes, Duke George of Saxony, Duke William of Bavaria, and the Elector Joachim of Brandenburg. They had this excuse, however, that before repairing to Augsburg they had gone to pay their respects to the emperor at Innspruck, and to encourage him to persevere in his resolution of putting down the Wittenberg movement, by soft measures if possible, by strong ones if need were. [11]

Meanwhile, till the Diet should be opened, occasion was taken of the vast concourse at Augsburg, assembled from the most distant parts, and embracing men of all conditions, to diffuse more widely a knowledge of the Protestant doctrines.

Scattered on this multitude the seeds of truth would be borne wide over all Germany, and floated to even remoter lands. The elector and the landgrave opened the cathedrals and churches, and placed in their pulpits the preachers who had accompanied them from Saxony and Hesse. Crowded congregations, day by day, hung upon their lips. They fed eagerly on the bread of the Word. The preachers were animated by the thought that they had all Germany, in a sense, for their audience. Although the emperor had sought to inflict a deadly wound on Catholicism, no more effectual way could he have taken than to summon this Diet. The Papists were confounded by the courage of the Lutherans; they trembled when they thought what the consequences must be, and they resolved to counteract the effects of the Lutheran sermons by preaching a purer orthodoxy. To this there could be no possible objection on the part of the Protestants. The suffragan and chaplain of the bishop mounted the pulpit, but only to discover when there that they had not learned how to preach. They vociferated at their utmost pitch; but the audience soon got tired of the noise, and remarking, with a

significant shrug, that "these predicants were blockheads," [12] retreated, leaving them to listen to the echoes of their own voice in their empty cathedrals.

When the elector set out for Augsburg, his cavaliers, in their scarlet cloaks, were not his only attendants. He invited, as we have seen, Luther, Melanchthon, and Jonas [13] to accompany him to the Diet. On these would devolve the chief task of preparing the weapons with which the princes were to do battle, and directing the actual combatants how to deal the blow. On the journey, however, it occurred to the elector that over Luther there still hung the anathema of the Pope and the ban of the Empire. It might not, therefore, be safe to carry the Reformer to Augsburg while the Edict of Worms was still unrepealed. Even granting that the elector should be able to shield him from harm, might not Charles construe Luther's appearance at the Diet into a personal affront? [14] It was resolved accordingly that Luther should remain at Coburg. Here it was easy to keep him informed of all that was passing in the Diet, and to have his advice at any moment. Luther would thus be present, although invisible, at Augsburg.

The Reformer at once acquiesced in this arrangement. The Castle of Coburg, on the banks of the river Itz, overlooking the town, was assigned him for his residence. From this place we find him, on April the 22nd, writing to Melanchthon: "I shall make a Zion of this Sinai; I shall build here three tabernacles–one to the Psalms, another to the Prophets, and a third to AEsop." He was at that time diversifying his graver labors by translating AEsop's fables. "I reside," he continues, "in a vast abode which overlooks the city; I have the keys of all its apartments. There are scarcely thirty persons within the fortress, of whom twelve are watchers by night, and two others, sentinels, who are constantly posted on the castle heights."

The Elector John, with statesman-like sagacity as well as Christian zeal–a fine union, of which that age presents many noble examples–saw the necessity of presenting to the Diet a summary of Protestant doctrine. Nothing of the sort as yet existed. The Protestant faith was to be learned, first of all in the Scriptures, next in the numerous and widely-diffused writings of Luther and other theologians, and lastly in the general belief and confession of the Christian people. But, over and above these, it was desirable to have some systematized, accurate, and authoritative statement of the Protestant doctrines to present to the Diet now about to convene. It was due to the Reformers themselves, to whom it would serve as a bond of union, and whose apology or defense it would be to the world; and it was due to their foes, who it was to be supposed in charity were condemning what, to a large extent, they were ignorant of. It is worthy of notice that the first suggestion of what has since become so famous, under the name of the Augsburg Confession, came, not from the clergy of the Protestant Church, but from the laity. When political actors appear before us on this great stage, we do them only justice to say that they were inspired by Christian motives, and aimed at gaining great spiritual ends. John of Saxony and Philip of Hesse did not covet the spoils of Rome: they sought the vindication of the truth and the reformation of society.

The Elector of Saxony issued an order in the middle of March (1530) to the theologians of Wittenberg to draw up a summary of the Protestant faith. [15] It was meant to set forth concisely the main doctrines which the Protestants held, and the points in which they differed from Rome. Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, and Pomeranus jointly undertook the task. Their labors were embodied in seventeen articles, [16] and were delivered to the elector at Torgau, and hence their name, the "Torgau Articles." These articles, a few weeks afterwords, were enlarged and remodeled by Melanchthon,with a view to their being read in the Diet as the Confession of the Protestants. [17] The great scholar and divine devoted laborious days and nights to this important work, amid the distractions and din of Augsburg. Nothing did he spare which a penetrating judgment and a lovely genius could do to make this Confession, in point of its admirable order, its clearness of statement, and beauty of style, such as would charm the ears and lead captive the understandings and hearts of the Roman Catholics in the Diet. "They must listen," said he, "in spite of themselves." Everything was put in the least offensive form. Wittenberg and Rome were brought as near to each other as the eternal barrier between the two permitted.

The document when finished was sent to Luther and approved by him. In returning it, the Reformer accompanied it with a letter to the elector, in which he spoke of it in the following terms:–"I have read over Master Philip's apology: it pleases me right well, and I know not how to better or alter anything in it, and will not hazard the attempt; for I cannot tread so softly and gently. Christ our Lord help that it bear much and great fruit; as we hope and pray. Amen."

Will the Diet listen? Will the genius of Melanchthon triumph over the conqueror of Pavia, and induce him to withdraw his ban and sit down at the feet of Luther, or rather of Holy Scripture? These were the questions men were eagerly asking.

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