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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 24 — After the Diet of Augsburg

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The Great Protest–The Cities asked to Abandon it–The Augsburg Confession–Theological Culmination of Reformation in Germany– Elation of the Protestants–Three Confessions–Harmony–New Converts–Consultations and Dialogues in the Emperor's Antechamber–The Bishop of Salzburg on Priests–Translation of the Confession into French–The Free Protesting Towns–Asked to Abandon the Protest of 1529–Astonishment of the Deputies–The Vanquished affecting to be the Victor–What the Protest of 1529 enfolded–The Folly of the Emperor's Demand.

WE are now arrived at a stage where we can look around and take a survey of this great movement of regeneration as it develops itself in other countries. Everywhere, on the right and on the left, from the Baltic to the Alps, and from the Atlantic to the gates of Vienna, the doctrines of Protestantism are being scattered and are taking vigorous root. Nay, even beyond the mountains that wall in Italy and Spain, Protestant movements are springing up, and Rome is beginning to be assailed in those countries where she deemed her power to be so deeply seated in the traditional beliefs, the blind devotion, and the pleasure-loving habits of the people, that no one would be mad enough to attack her. But before withdrawing our eyes from Germany, let us briefly note the events immediately consequent on the Confession of Augsburg.

The presentation of the Confession to the Diet [1] was the culmination of the movement on German soil. It was the proudest hour of the Lutheran Church. To this point the labors of Luther and of the forces that operated around him had tended, and now that it was reached, the crown was put upon the theological development. The Augsburg Confession was not a perfectly accurate statement of Scripture truth by any means, but as a first attempt, made before the Reformation had completed its second decade, it was a marvellous effort, and has not been cast into the shade by even the noblest of those Confessions which have since followed it, and for which it so largely helped to prepare the way. When this Confession was laid on the imperial table, the movement had no longer Luther as its sole or chief embodiment. The Reformation now stood before the world in a body of Articles, drawn from the Bible, and comprehensively embracing those principles which God has made known as a basis of justice and order to nations, and the means of renewal and eternal life to individuals; and whatever might become of Luther, though he were this moment to be offered as a martyr, or, which was possible but hardly conceivable, were to apostatise, and destroy the faith he once preached, here was a greater preacher of the truth, standing before the nations, and keeping open to them the road to a glorious future.

Was the Confession of Augsburg to come in the room of the Bible to the Protestants? Far from it. Let us not mistake the end for which it was framed, and the place it was intended to occupy. The Confession did not create the faith; it simply confessed it. The doctrines it contained were in the Confession because they were first of all in the Bible. A terrestrial chart has authority and is to be followed only when for every island and continent marked on it there is a corresponding island and continent on the surface of the globe; a manual of botany has authority only when for every term on its page there is a living flower or tree in the actual landscape; and a map of the heavens is true only when for every star named in it there is an actual star shining in the sky. So of the Augsburg Confession, and all Confessions, they are true, and of authority, and safe guides only when every statement they contain has its corresponding doctrine in the Scriptures. Their authority is not in themselves, but in the Word of God. Therefore they do not fetter conscience, or tyrannise over it, except when perverted; they but guard its liberty, by shielding the understanding from the usurpation of error, and leaving the conscience free to follow the light of the Word of God.

Both parties felt the vast consequences that must needs follow from what had just taken place. The Protestants were elated. They had carried their main object, which was nothing less than to have their faith published in presence of the Diet, and so of all Christendom. "By the grace of God," exclaimed Pontanus, as he handed the Latin copy to the emperor's secretary, "this Confession shall prevail in spite of the gates of hell."

"Christ has been boldly confessed at Augsburg," said Luther, when the news reached him. "I am overjoyed that I have lived to this hour." The Churches, as we have seen, had been closed against the Protestant ministers; but now we behold the pulpit set up in the Diet itself, and great princes becoming preachers of the Gospel.

The Popish members were dismayed and confounded when they reflected on what had been done. The Diet had been summoned to overthrow the Reformation; instead of this it had established it. In the wake of this Confession came other two, the one written by Bucer, and signed by four cities which in the matter of the Lord's Supper leaned to the Zwinglian rather than to the Lutheran view–Strasbourg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau; [2] hence its name, the Tetrapolitan Confession; and the other presented in the name of Zwingli, and containing a statement of his individual views. Thus the movement, instead of shrinking into narrower dimensions, or hiding itself from view, was coming boldly out in the presence of its opponents, and the feeble hope which the Romanists founded upon the circumstance that there were three representations, or "a schism in the schism," as they termed it, vanished when these several documents were examined, and it was seen that there was substantial agreement among them; that on one point only did they differ, [3] and

that all were united in their repudiation and condemnation of Rome.

Moreover, powerful princes were passing from the Romanist to the Protestant side. The Archbishop Hermann, Elector of Cologne, the Count Palatine Frederick, Duke Eric of Brunswick-Luneburg, Duke Henry of Mecklenburg, and the Dukes of Pomerania were gained to the truth, and their accession wellnigh doubled the political strength of the Reformation.

These trophies of the power of the Confession were viewed as pledges of more numerous conversions to be effected in time to come. Nor were these hopes disappointed. The Confession was translated into most of the languages of Europe, and circulated in the various countries; the misrepresentations and calumnies which had obscured and distorted the cause were cleared away; and Protestantism began to be hailed as a movement bringing with it renovation to the soul and new life to States.

It was the morning of the day following that on which the Confession had been read, the 26th of June. The emperor had just awoke. He had slept badly, and was wearied and irritable. The affair of yesterday recurred to his mind, and a feeling of melancholy began to weigh upon him. He had made a bad beginning of the enterprise arranged between himself and the Pope at Bologna. Lutheranism stood better in the eyes of the world, and had more adherents around it now than when he entered Augsburg. He must bethink him how he can correct his first false move. At that moment the count palatine, looking as much out of sorts as his master, entered the imperial apartment. His eye caught the anxious face of the emperor, and divining the cause of his uneasiness, "We must," said he, "yield something to the Lutheran princes." A feeling of relief to the mind of Charles accompanied these words; and the count went on to say that it might not be ungraceful to make the concessions which the Emperor Maximilian was willing to grant. "What were they?" inquired the monarch. "These three: communion in both kinds, the marriage of priests, and freedom with regard to fasts," rejoined the count palatine. The thing pleased Charles. It left untouched the mass and the authority of the Church. It was a small sacrifice to prevent a great evil.

In a little, while Granvelle and Campeggio arrived. They were told the counsel which the count palatine had given, and which seemed good in the eyes of the emperor. It was not equally good in the eyes of these Churchmen. At the conferences at Bologna, Campeggio, as we have seen, had only one course to recommend, one remedy for all the heresies of the day–the sword. He was of the same opinion at Augsburg as at Bologna. Concession would only lead to greater concessions. "The counsel of the count palatine was not good," said the cardinal, and Campeggio had the art to persuade Charles to reject it.

Other arrivals soon followed, mainly ecclesiastics, who reinforced the legate in the position he had taken up. "I stay with the mother," exclaimed the Bishop of Wurzburg. "Spoken like a true and obedient son," said the courtier Brentz; "but pray, my lord, do not, for the mother, forget either the father or the son." "It is not the cure, but the physician who prescribes it, that I dislike," said the Archbishop of Salzburg, who had been peculiarly bitter against the Reformers. "I would oblige the laity with the cup, and the priests with wives, and all with a little more liberty as regards meats, nor am I opposed to some reformation of the mass; but that it should be a monk, a poor Augustine, who presumes to reform us all, is what I cannot get over." [4] "Nor I," responded another bishop, "that a little town should teach all the world; and that the ancient and orthodox waters of Rome should be forsaken for the heretical and paltry stream that Wittenberg sends forth, is not to be thought of." It was the old objection, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

Of the men now assembling around Charles, some blamed themselves as well as the Lutherans. The Bishop of Salzburg, whom we have just mentioned as more than ordinarily hostile to the Reformation, was by no means blind to the degeneracy of Rome, and made a very frank confession on that head one day to Melanchthon, who was insisting on a reformation in the lives of the clergy. The archbishop could not help expressing his opinion of the hopelessness of such a thing, not because it was not needed, but simply because it was chimerical. "What," he exclaimed abruptly, "reform us?" we priests have always been good for nothing." The archbishop was of opinion that there was not left enough of backbone in the priesthood to stand the process. The cure would certainly kill it. A Greater had pronounced the same judgment on the corrupt priesthood of a former age. "If the salt have lost its savor, it is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill, but men cast it out and it is trodden under foot."

Charles had got the Diet which he had summoned in so high hopes, and to which he had come in such magnificent state, not doubting that he was advancing to a scene of victory; he had got more: he had got the Lutheran Confession–not a confession of trespass against their mother the Church, and a cry for the pardon of the Pope and the emperor, which he had prepared himself to hear, but a bold justification of all the doctrines the princes had professed, and all the steps they had taken–in short, a flag of revolt unfurled at the very foot of the imperial throne. Before punishing the offenses of nine years ago by executing the Edict of Worms, he must deal with this new development of Lutheranism. If he should pass it over in silence, on the pretext that it was an affair of

dogmas merely, he would be visually tolerating the Protestant faith, and must nevermore mention the Worms proscription. If, on the other hand, he should call on the princes to retract, he must be prepared with something like reasonable grounds for demanding their submission, and, if need were, extorting it. He must steer between the Scylla of coercion and the Charybdis of toleration. This was all as yet the Diet had done for him. It had brought him new perplexities– more sleepless nights. It was mortifying to have to write to Clement VII. that the project they had spent a winter together at Bologna in concocting was speeding so ill–was, in fact, marching backwards.

Every hour was precious. Before sitting down to breakfast, steps had to be taken. Of the two courses open to him–tolerate or coerce? –it was clear that the latter was the one that must be taken in the last resort. But the emperor's edicts must be backed by reasons; and now it was that Charles painfully felt his unskilfulness in theology. Distracted rather than aided by the conflicting opinions and contrary counsels of the men around him, he resolved to look a little into this matter for himself, and for this end he ordered his secretary to prepare a French translation of the Confession.

Two copies, as we have said, had been handed to Charles, the one in Latin and the other in German; but he thought he could better see the theological bearings of Lutheranism and the idiomatic beauties of Melanchthon in French than in either of the other two languages. He required perfect accuracy of his secretary. "See," said he, "that not a word be wanting."

The Lutheran princes who heard these words were pleased with the emperor's wish to be well-informed in their cause; and took them as a sign that he leaned to their side–a somewhat narrow foundation for so great a conclusion. The courtiers who knew the emperor better, shook their heads when they learned that the Lutherans were reckoning Charles among the converts of the eloquent document of Melanchthon. It had already made some illustrious disciples among the lay princes; and one or two prince-bishops, as Cologne and Augsburg, it had almost persuaded to be Lutherans; but the head that wore the diadem was not to be numbered among those that were to bow to the force of truth.

While the emperor is seated at the breakfast table, the ante-chamber begins to be filled with a crowd of deputies. Who are they, and why are they here at this early hour? They are the ambassadors from the imperial cities, and they are here by command of the emperor. Before beginning his first lesson in Lutheran divinity, Charles will try what can be done with the towns.

Free towns have in all ages been objects of special jealousy and dislike to despots. The free cities of Germany were no exception to this rule. Charles viewed them with suspicion and abhorrence. They were the great stumbling-blocks in his path to that universal monarchy which it was his ambition to erect. But of the free imperial towns fourteen had given special cause of displeasure to the emperor. They had refused to submit to the Recess of the last Diet of Spires, that of 1529. The names of the offending cities were Strasburg, Nuremberg, Constance, Ulm, Reutlingen, Heilbronn, Memmingen, Lindau, Kempten, Windshelm, Isny, and Weissenberg. Their non-adherence to the Recess of the Diet had created a split in the Empire.

An attempt must be made to heal the breach, and bring back the contumacious cities before their evil example had been followed by the others. Their deputies were now gathered, along with the rest, into the imperial ante-chamber. Frederick, count palatine, was sent to them to say, "that in the last Diet of Spires (1529) a decree had been made, which had been obeyed by most of the States, much to the emperor's satisfaction, but that some of the cities had rejected it, to the weakening of the Empire, and that Charles now called on them to submit to the Diet." [5]

Little had they expected, when they assembled that morning in the ante-chamber of the monarch, to have a demand like this made upon them. The eloquent words of Melanchthon were still ringing in their ears; they felt more convinced than ever, after listening to his beautifully perspicuous and powerfully convincing exposition, that their faith was founded on the Word of God, and that they could not abandon it without peril to their souls; they had witnessed, only the day before, the elation of their brethren at this triumphant vindication, and they had shared their feelings.

They had marked, too, the obvious perplexity into which the reading of the Confession had thrown the Romanists, how troubled their faces, how uneasy their attitudes, how significant the glances they exchanged with one another, and how frankly some of them had confessed that Melanchthon's paper contained only the truth! A concession or an overture of conciliation would not have surprised them; but that the minister of Charles should on the morrow after this great triumph be the bearer of such a demand from the emperor did beyond measure astonish them. They had won the field; with them had remained the moral victory; but the vanquished suddenly put on the air of a conqueror.

The Protestant cities were asked to submit to the edict of the Diet of 1529. Let us see how much was involved in that demand. The Diet of 1529 abolished the toleration of 1526. Not only so: it placed all arrest upon the Protestant movement, and enacted that it should advance not a foot- breadth beyond the limits it had reached when the Recess of the Diet was published. As regarded all who were already Protestants, it graciously permitted them to remain so; but from this day forward, while Germany stood, not a prince, not a city, not an individual could enrol his

name in the Protestant ranks or leave the Church of Rome, whatever his convictions or wishes might be. It went further; it provided for the re-introduction of the mass, and the whole machinery of Romanism, into Protestant provinces and cities. While it stringently forbade all proselytising on the Protestant side, it gave unbounded licence to it on the Popish. What could happen, under an arrangement of this sort, but that Protestantism should wither and disappear? One could prognosticate the year, almost the very day, when it would be extinct. It was at this hour, with the Augsburg Confession lying on the emperor's table, that the free cities were asked to assist in arranging for the funeral obsequies of Protestantism.

Nor does even this fully bring out the folly which Charles committed in making such a demand, and the treason of which the free cities would have been guilty against the truth and the world, had they yielded to it. The Recess of 1529 was the act that had led them to send forth the great Protest from which they took their name. To adhere to the Recess was to abandon their Protest–was to pull down their flag as it floated before the eyes of all Christendom, a sign and promise to the nations of a glorious redemption from a great slavery.

They had not thought much of the act at the time; but the more they pondered it, the more they saw they had been led by a wisdom not their own to take up a position that was one of the most comprehensive and sublime in all history. With their Protest had come new liberties to the soul of man, and new rights and powers to human society. Their Protest had deposited in Christendom the one everlasting corner-stone of freedom and virtue–an emancipated conscience. But an emancipated conscience did not mean a lawless conscience, or a conscience guided by itself. Above conscience their Protest placed the Word of God–the light–the voice saying, "This is the way." Above the Word they placed the Spirit that speaks in it. They gave to no man and no Church the power of authoritatively interpreting the Scriptures; and they took care to guard against the tyranny of which Scripture had been made the instrument in the hands of infallible interpreters; for he who can interpret the law as he pleases, can make the law to be what it suits him. Scripture alone, they said, can interpret Scripture. Thus they proclaimed the supremacy of Scripture, not as a fetter on the understanding, but a Divine bulwark around it. Above the Supremacy of Scripture they placed the supremacy of the Spirit Who inspired it; and in doing so they reared another rampart around the liberty of the understanding.

An emancipated conscience they committed to the guardianship of the Bible: and the supremacy of the Bible they placed under the sovereignty of God. Thus they brought conscience in immediate contact with her Lord, and human society they placed under the rule of its rightful and righteous king.

The Protest of 1529 was thus a grand era of restoration and reconciliation. It restored society to God. Rome had divorced the two. She had come in between God and society by her assumed exclusive and infallible power of interpreting the Scriptures. She made the law speak what she pleased, and thus for the government of God she had substituted her own.

Protestantism came to reinstate the Divine government over the world. It did so by placing the authority of Scripture above the chair of the Pope, and lifting the crown of Christ above the throne of the emperor.

So grand a restoration could not be evolved in a day, or even in a century. But the Protest of 1529 had all this in it. The stable basis, the majestic order, the ever-expanding greatness and power of Protestant States lay all enfolded in its three mighty principles–Conscience, the Scriptures, the Spirit–each in its order and subordination. This simple Protest contained all, as the acorn contains the oak, or as the morning contains the noonday.


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Wednesday, December 12th, 2018
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