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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 23 — Reading of the Augsburg Confession

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The Religious Question First–Augsburg Confession–Signed by the Princes–The Laity–Princes Demand to Read their Confession in Public Diet–Refusal–Demand Renewed–Granted–The Princes Appear before the Emperor and Diet–A Little One become a Thousand– Mortification of Charles–Confession Read in German–Its Articles – The Trinity–Original Sin–Christ– Justification– The Ministry– Good Works –The Church–The Lord's Supper, etc.–The Mass, etc.– Effect of Reading the Confession–Luther's Triumph.

THE Diet was summoned for two causes–first, the defense of Christendom against the Turk; secondly, and mainly, the settlement of the religious question. It was resolved to take into consideration first the matter of religion.

In order to an intelligent decision on this question, it seemed equitable, and indeed indispensable, that the Diet should hear from the Protestants a statement of the doctrine which they held. Without this, how could the Diet either approve or condemn? Such a manifesto, based on the "Torgau Articles," had been drawn up by Melanchthon, approved by Luther, and was now ready to be presented to the Diet, provided the emperor would consent to the public reading of it.

On the morning of the 23rd of June, the Protestants met in the apartments of the Elector of Saxony to append their signatures to this important deed. It was first read in German. The Elector John took the pen, and was about to append his name, when Melanchthon interposed. "It was the ministers of the Word, and not the princes of the State," he said, "that ought to appear in this matter. This was the voice of the Church." "God forbid," replied the elector, "that you should exclude me from confessing my Lord. My electoral hat and my ermine are not so precious to me as the cross of Jesus Christ." On this Melanchthon suffered him to proceed, and John, Duke of Saxony, was the first whose name was appended to this document.

After the Elector of Saxony had subscribed, George, Margrave of Brandenburg, and Ernest, Duke of Luneburg, appended their signatures, and then the pen was handed to Philip of Hesse. The landgrave accompanied his signature with an intimation that he dissented from the article on the Lord's Supper. He stood with Zwingli in this matter. [1] Then followed John Frederick, son of the Elector of Saxony; and Francis, Duke of Luneburg. Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt, came last.

"I would rather renounce my subjects and my States," said he, when he took the pen to sign, "I would rather quit the country of my fathers staff in hand, than receive any other doctrine than that which is contained in this Confession." [2] The devotion of the princes inspirited the theologians. Of the cities only two as yet subscribed the Confession, Nuremberg and Reutlingen. Those we have mentioned were the nine original subscribers. The document received a number of signatures afterwards; princes, ecclesiastics, and cities pressed forward to append their names to it. The ministers, one may think, ought to have had precedence in the matter of subscription. But the only names which the deed bore when carried to the Diet were those of the seven princes and the two cities, all lay signatures. One great end, however, was gained thereby: it gave grand prominence to a truth which for ages had been totally lost sight of, and purposely as profoundly buried. It proclaimed the forgotten fact that the laity form part of the Church. Rome practically defined the Church to be the priesthood. This was not a body Catholic, it was a caste, a third party, which stood between God and the laity, to conduct all transactions between the two. But when the Church revives at this great era, she is seen to be not a mutilated body, a mere fragment; she stands up a perfect, a complete society.

The Protestants agreed to demand that their Confession should be read publicly in the Diet. This was a vital point with them. They had not kindled this light to put it under a bushel, but to set it in a very conspicuous place; indeed, in the midst even of the princedoms, hierarchies, and powers of Christendom now assembled at Augsburg. To this, however, obstacles were interposed, as it was foreseen there would be. The Confession was subscribed on the 23rd of June; it was to be presented on the 24th. On that day the Diet met at three o'clock of the afternoon. The Protestant princes appeared and demanded leave to read their Confession. The legate Campeggio rose and began to speak. He painted the bark of Peter struggling in a tempestuous sea, the great billows breaking over it, and ready every moment to engulf it; but it was his consolation to know that a strong arm was near, able to still these mighty waves, and rescue that imperilled bark from destruction. [3] The strong arm to which he referred was that of the emperor. He ran on a long while in this vein of rhetoric. The legate was speaking against time. Next came deputies from Austria, who had a long and doleful recital of the miseries the Turk had inflicted upon them to lay before the Diet. [4] This scene had all been arranged beforehand.

It came at length to an end. The Protestant princes rose again and craved permission to read their paper. "It is too late," was the emperor's reply.

"But," insisted the princes, "we have been publicly accused, and we must be permitted publicly to justify ourselves." "Then," said the emperor, who felt it would be well to make a show of yielding, "tomorrow at the Palatinate Chapel." The "Palatinate Chapel" was not the usual place of the Diet's meeting, but an apartment in the emperor's own palace, capable of containing about two hundred persons. [5] It was seen that the emperor wished the audience to be select.

The morrow came, the 25th of June, 1530. Long before the hour of the Diet a great crowd was seen besieging the doors of the Palatinate. At

three o'clock the emperor took his seat on his throne. Around him was gathered all that his vast Empire could furnish of kingly power, princely dignity, august station, brilliant title, and gorgeous munificence. There was one lofty head missing, one seat vacant in that brilliant assembly. Campeggio stayed away, [6] and his absence anticipated a decree afterswards passed in a consistory of the cardinals at Rome disapproving the Diet's entering on the religious question, seeing that was a matter the decision of which appertained exclusively to the Pope. The eventful moment was now come. The princes stood up at the foot of the emperor's throne to present their Confession–John of Saxony, John Frederick, his son, Philip of Hesse, George of Brandenburg, Wolfgang of Anhalt, Ernest and Francis of Luneburg, and the two deputies of Nuremberg and Reutlingen. All eyes were fixed upon them. "Their air was animated," says Scultet, "and their faces radiant with joy." [7] It was impossible but that the scene of nine years ago should forcibly present itself at this moment to the emperor's mind.

Then, as now, he sat upon his throne with the princes of his kingdom around him, and a solitary monk stood up in his presence to confess his faith. The astounding scene was reproducing itself. The monk again stands up to confess his faith; not, indeed, in his own person, but in that of confederate princes and cities, inspired with his spirit and filled with his power. Here was a greater victory than any the emperor had won, and he had gained not a few since the day of Worms. Charles, ruler of two worlds, could not but feel that the monk was a greater sovereign than himself. Was not this the man and the cause against which he had fulminated his ban? Had he not hoped that, long ere this day, both would have sunk out of sight, crushed under its weight? Had he not summoned Diet after Diet to deal this cause the finishing blow? How, then, did it happen that each new Diet gave it a new triumph? Whence did it derive that mysterious and wondrous life, which the more it was oppressed the more it grew? It embittered his state to see this "Mordecai" sitting at the gate of his power, and refusing to do obeisance; nor could he banish from his mind the vaticinations which "his wise men, and Zeresh his wife," addressed to an ambitious statesman of old: "If thou hast begun to fall before him, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him."

The two chancellors of the elector, Bruck and Bayer, rose, holding in their hand, the one a German and the other a Latin copy of the "Chief Articles of the Faith." "Read the Latin copy," suggested the emperor. "No," replied the Elector of Saxony respectfully, "we are Germans and on German soil, we crave to speak in German." [8] Bayer now began to read, and he did so in a voice so clear and strong that every word was audible to the vast crowd of eager listeners that filled the ante-chambers of the hall.

"Most invincible Emperor, Caesar Augustus, most gracious lord," so spoke the chancellor, "we are here in obedience to the summons of your Majesty, ready to deliberate and confer on the affairs of religion, in order that, arriving at one sincere and true faith, we may fight under one Christ, form one Christian Church, and live in one unity and concord." As their contribution to this great work of pacification, the Protestants went on to say, through Bayer, that they had prepared and brought with them to the Diet a summary of the doctrines which they held, agreeable to Holy Scripture, and such as had aforetime been professed in their land, and taught in their Church. But should, unhappily, the conciliation and concord which they sought not be attained, they were ready to explain their cause in a "free, general Christian Council." [9]

The reading of the Confession proceeded in deep silence.

Article I. confessed the TRINITY. "There is one Divine essence who is God, eternal, incorporeal, indivisible, infinite in power, wisdom, and goodness; and there are three persons of the same essence and power and co-eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Article II. confessed ORIGINAL SIN. "Since the fall of Adam all men descending from him by ordinary generation are born in sin, which places under condemnation and bringeth eternal death to all who are not born again by baptism and the Holy Ghost."

Article III. confessed the PERSON AND OFFICE OF CHRIST. "The Son of God assumed humanity and has thus two natures, the divine and human, in His one person, inseparably conjoined: one Christ, very God and very man. He was born of the Virgin, He truly suffered, was crucified, died and was buried, that He might reconcile us to the Father, and be the sacrifice, not only for the original sin, but also for all the actual transgressions of men."

Article IV. confessed the doctrine of JUSTIFICATION. "Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. They are justified freely on Christ's account through faith, when they believe in the free pardon of their sins for the sake of Christ, Who has made satisfaction for them by His death. This faith God imputes to them for righteousness."

The "antithesis" or condemnation of the opposite doctrines professed by the Arians, Pelagians, Anabaptists, and more ancient heretical sects, was not stated under this article, as under the previous ones. We see in this omission the prudence of Melanchthon.

Article V. confessed the institution of the MINISTRY. "For by the preaching of the Word, and the dispensation of the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is pleased to work faith in the heart."

Article VI. confessed GOOD WORKS. "Faith ought to bear good fruits, not that these may justify us before God, but that they may manifest our

love to God."

Article VII. confessed the CHURCH, "which is the congregation of the holy, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered. To the real unity of the Church it is sufficient that men agree in the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments; nor is it necessary that the rites and ceremonies instituted by men should be everywhere the same."

Article VIII. confessed the CHURCH VISIBLE. "Although the Church is properly the assembly of saints and true believers, yet in this life there are mixed up in it many hypocrites and manifest sinners." [10]

Article IX. set forth the necessity of BAPTISM to salvation, "for through baptism is offered the grace of God," and the lawfulness of infant baptism.

Article X. set forth the doctrine of the LORD'S SUPPER. "We teach that the body and blood of Christ are really present, and administered to those who partake of the Lord's Supper." [11]

Articles XI. and XII. stated the doctrine of the Lutheran confessors on confession and penance.

Article XIII. set forth more explicitly the nature and use of the Sacraments, affirming that they were not mere "notes of profession" among men, but "signs and testimonies of the good-will of God toward us;" and that therefore to the "use of the Sacrament" faith must be added, which takes hold of the promises exhibited and held forth by the sacrament. And in the antithesis to this article they condemned those who taught that the Sacrament accomplishes its end ex opere operato, and that faith is not required in order to the remission of sins.

The articles that follow to the end are occupied with church order and rites, civil government, the final judgment, free will, and good works. On the latter the framers of the Confession were careful to distinguish between the power which man has to do "good or evil," within the sphere of natural and civil justice, and the sphere of holiness. Man can do many things, they said. He can love his children, his neighbors, his country; he can study an art, practice a profession, or guide the State; he can bless society by his virtues and talents, or afflict it by his vices and crimes; but those actions only are righteous in the sight of God which spring from a gracious principle, implanted by the Holy Spirit, and which are directed to a heavenly end. To love God, and love and labor for man for God's sake, is a power, they taught, which fallen man does not possess, and which must be given him from above; according to the saying of Ambrose, that "Faith is the mother of good desires and holy actions"–words which are but the echo of those of a greater Teacher, "Without me ye can do nothing." [12]

In conclusion, the Protestants returned in their Confession to their grand cardinal doctrine, salvation by grace. They especially attacked the mass, on which Rome had suspended the salvation of the world, making the priest, and not Christ, the savior of men; the sacrifice on the altar, and not the sacrifice on the cross, the real propitiation; thus compelling men to come to her and not to God for pardon, making merchandise of heaven, changing worship into mountebankery, and the Church into a fair. "If the mass," said they, "takes away the sins of the living and the dead, ex opere operato, then justification hangs on a mere rite," and Christ died in vain. [13]

With the Bible they would know no sacrifice for sin but that made by Christ, once for all, on Calvary, everlasting, and never needing to be repeated, inasmuch as its efficacy is wide as the populations of the globe, and lasting as eternity. Nor would they put any conditions upon the enjoyment of these merits other than had been put upon them by Him whose they were. These merits they would not give as the wages of work, nor as the equivalent of gold; they would give them on the same terms on which the Gospel offered them, "without money and without price." Thus they labored to overthrow the mass, with that whole system of salvation by works of which it was the pre-eminent symbol, and to restore the cross.

We have said that under the Fourth Article, that relating to justification, the antithesis was not formally stated. The Confession did not say, "We condemn Papists, etc., who hold a doctrine opposed to justification by faith." This omission arose from no want of courage, for in what follows we find the errors of Romanism boldly attacked. The mass, as we have seen, was not spared; but the Protestants did not single out the mass alone.

There was scarcely an abuse or error of the system that was not passed in review, and dismissed with the brand of reprobation upon it. On one and all was the sentence pronounced, "Unknown to Scripture and to the Fathers." Priestly absolution, distinction of meats, monastic vows, feast-days, the pernicious mixing up of ecclesiastical and civil authority, so hurtful to the character of the ministers of the Word, and so prolific of wars and bloodshed to the world–all were condemned on many grounds, but on this above all others, that they "obscured the doctrine ofgrace, and of the righteousness of faith, which is the cardinal article, the crowning glory of the Gospel." [14]

The Confession–with conspicuous boldness, when we think that it was read before an assembly in which so many prince-bishops had a seat– condemned one of the grand errors of the Middle Ages, namely, the confusion of Church and State, and the blending of things spiritual and secular, which had led to such corruption in the Church and inflicted so many calamities upon the world. It explained, with great clearness and at considerable length, that Church and State are two distinct societies, and, although co-related, each has its own boundaries, its own

rights and duties, and that the welfare of both requires the maintenance of the independence of each.

"Many," Bayer continued, "have unskilfully confounded the episcopal and the temporal power; and from this confusion have resulted great wars, revolts, and seditions. It is for this reason, and to reassure men's consciences, that we find ourselves constrained to establish the difference which exists between the power of the Church and the power of the sword.

"We, therefore, teach that the power of the keys or of the bishops is, conformably with the Word of the Lord, a commandment emanating from God, to preach the Gospel, to remit or retain sins, and to administer the Sacraments. This power has reference only to eternal goods, is exercised only by the minister of the Word, and does not trouble itself with political administration. The political administration, on the other hand, is busied with everything else but the Gospel. The magistrate protects, not souls, but bodies and temporal possessions. He defends them against all attacks from without, and by making use of the sword and of punishment, compels men to observe civil justice and peace.

"For this reason we must take particular care not to mingle the power of the Church with the power of the State. The power of the Church ought never to invade an office that is foreign to it; for Christ Himself said: 'My kingdom is not of this world.' And again: 'Who made me a judge over you?' St. Paul said to the Philippians: 'Our citizenship is in heaven.' And to the Corinthians: 'The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God.' "It is thus that we distinguish the two governments and the two powers, and that we honor both as the most excellent gifts that God has given us here on earth.

"The duty of the bishops is therefore to preach the Gospel, to forgive sins, and to exclude from the Christian Church all who rebel against the Lord, but without human power, and solely by the Word of God. If the bishops act thus, the Churches ought to be obedient to them, according to this declaration of Christ: 'Whoever heareth you heareth Me.'

"But if the bishops teach anything that is contrary to the Gospel, then the Churches have an order from God which forbids them to obey (Matthew 7:15, Galatians 1, and 2 Corinthians 13:8, 10). And St. Augustine himself, in his letter against Pertilian, writes: "We must not obey the Catholic bishops, if they go astray, and teach anything contrary to the canonical Scriptures of God.'"

Bayer then came to the epilogue of the Confession.

"It is not from hatred that we have spoken," said he, "nor to insult any one, but we have explained the doctrines that we maintain to be essential, in order that it may be understood that we admit of neither dogma nor ceremony which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and to the usage of the Universal Church."

"Such," said Bayer, having finished the document, "is a summary of our faith. Other things might have been stated, but for brevity's sake they are omitted. But what has been said is sufficient to show that in our doctrines and ceremonies nothing has been admitted which is inconsistent with Scripture, or with the Church catholic." [15]

The reading of the Confession occupied two hours. Not a word was spoken all that time. This assembly of princes and warriors, statesmen and ecclesiastics, sat silent, held fast in the spell, not of novelty merely, but of the simplicity, beauty, and majesty of the truths which passed before them in the grand spiritual panorama which Melanchthon's powerful hand had summoned up. Till now they had known the opinions of the Protestants only as rumor had exaggerated, or ignorance obscured, or hatred misrepresented and vilified them: now they learned them from the pen of the clearest intellect and most accomplished scholar in the Lutheran host. Melanchthon, knowing that he had to speak to an audience that were dull of ear, and yet more dull of heart, had put forth all his powers to throw the charm of an elegant style and lucid illustration around his theological theses; and such was his success that he was alike intelligible to layman and ecclesiastic, to warrior, baron, and scholar in the Diet. But this was the least of Melanchthon's triumphs.

In the two hours which the reading of the Confession occupied, what a work had been accomplished, what an advance made in the great cause of the Reformation! The errors which had been growing up during the course of ages had sentence of doom pronounced upon them, and from that hour began to wither away; such was the clearness and pertinency of the proofs with which Melanchthon confirmed the Protestant doctrines. It was as when the morning dawns, and the clouds which all night long had rested on the sides of the Alps break up, and rolling away disclose the stupendous, snow-clad, glorious peaks: so now, the fogs of mediaevalism begin to scatter, and lo! in majestic and brilliant array, those eternal verities which the Holy Spirit had revealed in ancient times for the salvation of men those Alps of the spiritual world, those mountain-peaks that lift their heads into heaven, bathed with the light of the throne of God–are seen coming forth, and revealing themselves to man's ravished eye. The Confession, moreover, added not a few influential converts to the ranks of Protestantism. The effect on some was surprise; on others, conviction; on most, it was the creation of a more conciliatory spirit towards the Lutherans.

Thirteen years before (1517) a solitary monk, bearing a scroll in one hand and a hammer in the other, is seen forcing his way through a crowd of pilgrims, and nailing his scroll, with its ninety-five theses, to the door of the castle-church of Wittenberg. The scene repeats itself, but on a grander scale. Now a phalanx of princes and

free cities is beheld pressing through the throng of the Diet of Augsburg, and, in presence of the assembled princedoms and hierarchies of Christendom, it nails the old scroll–for what is the Confession of Augsburg but the monk's scroll enlarged, and more impregnably supported by proof?–it nails this scroll to the throne of Charles V.


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