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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 26 — End of the Diet of Augsburg

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Diplomacy–The Protestant Princes–John the Steadfast–Bribes and Threatenings–Second Refutation of the Confession–Submission Demanded from the Protestants–They Refuse–Luther's Faith– Romanists resume Negotiations–Melancthon's Concessions– Melancthon's Fall–All Hopes of Reconciliation Abandoned–Recess of the Diet–Mortification and Defeat of the Emperor.

CHARLES V. laughed at the humor of the comedy, but did not ponder the wisdom of its moral. He went on poking amongst the red faggots, first with diplomacy and next with the sword, but with no other result than that which the nameless authors of the piece acted in the Palace of the Palatinate had warned him would ensue, that of kindling a fire on the wide hearth of Europe, which would in the end not merely singe the hem of the Pontifical robe and the fringe of the Imperial mantle, but would consume the body of both Empire and Papacy.

The emperor had endeavored to introduce the thin end of the wedge, which he hoped would split up the Protestant free cities: an attempt, however, which came to nothing. The Lutheran princes were to be next essayed. They were taken one by one, in the hope that they would be found less firm when single than they were when taken together. Great offers–loftier titles, larger territories, more consideration–were made to them, would they but return to the Church. [1] When bribes failed to seduce them, threats were had recourse to. They were given to understand that, stripped of title and territory, they would be turned adrift upon the world as poor as the meanest of their subjects. They were reminded that their religion was a new one; that their adherence to it branded all their ancestors as heretics; that they were a minority in the Empire; and that it was madness in them to defy the power and provoke the ire of the emperor. Neither were threats able to bend them to submission. They had come to the Diet of 1526 with the words written upon their shields, Verbum Domini manet in eternum–the word of the Lord endureth for ever–and, steadfast to their motto, their faith taught them not to fear the wrath of the powerful Charles. No efforts were spared to compel the Elector John to bow the neck. If he should yield, the strength of the confederacy would be broken–so it was thought–and the emperor would make short work with the theologians. Why the latter should be so obstinate the emperor could not imagine, unless it were that they stood behind the broad shield of the elector. Charles sent for John, and endeavored to shake him by promises.

When it was found that these could not detach him from the Protestant Confession, the emperor strove to terrify him by threats. He would take from him his electoral hat; he would chase him from his dominions; he would let loose against him the whole power of the Empire, and crush him as a potsherd. John saw himself standing on the brink of an abyss. He must make his choice between his crown and his Savior. Melancthon and all the divines conjured the elector not to think of them. They were ready that moment to endure any manner of death the emperor might decree against them, if that would appease his wrath. The elector refused to profit by this magnanimous purpose of self-devotion. He replied with equal magnanimity to the theologians that "he also must confess his Lord." He went back to the emperor, and calmly announced his resolution by saying that "he had to crave of his majesty that he would permit him and his to render an account to God in those matters that concerned the salvation of their souls." John risked all; but in the end he retained all, and amply vindicated his title to the epithet given him–"John the Constant."

After six weeks, the tlqo–Faber, Eck, and Cochlaeus–produced, with much hard labor and strain of mind, another Refutation of the Confession, or rather the former remodelled and abbreviated. Charles could show no less honor to the work of his doctors than had been shown to the Confession of Melancthon. On the 3rd September he sat down upon his throne, and calling his princes round him, commanded the Refutation to be read in their presence. In those doctrines which are common to both creeds, such as the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ, the Refutation agreed with the Confession. It also made an admission which would, but for the statement that followed, and which largely neutralised it, have been a most important one, namely, that faith is necessary in the Sacrament. [2]

But it went on to affirm that man is born with the power of performing good works, and that these works co-operate with faith in the justification of the sinner: thus rearing again the old fabric of salvation by works, which the former admission respecting the necessity of faith appeared to have thrown down. On another vital point the Refutation and the Confession were found to be in direct and fatal antagonism. Eck and his colleagues maintained the Divine authority of the hierarchy, and of course the correlative duty of absolute submission to it; the Protestants acknowledged no infallible rule on earth but the Scriptures. The two Churches, after very laborious effort on both sides, had come as near to each other as it appeared possible to come; but neither could conceal from itself the fact that there was still a gulf between them–an impassable gulf, for neither could pass to the other without ceasing to be what it had hitherto been. Should the Papacy pass over, it left ten centuries behind it; the moment it touched the Wittenberg shore it threw off its allegianco to Councils and traditions, and became the subject of another power. Should Protestantism pass over, it left the Bible behind it, and submitting to the old yoke of the Seven Hills, confessed that the Wittenberg movement had been a rebellion.

When the reading was finished the

emperor addressed the elector and the other Protestant princes to the effect that, seeing their Confession had now been refuted, it was their duty to restore peace to the Church, and unity to the Empire, by returning to the Roman obedience. He demanded, in fine, consent to the articles now read, under pain of the ban of the Empire.

The Protestant princes were not a little surprised at the emperor's Peremptoriness. They were told that they had been refuted, but unless they should be pleased to take the emperor's word for it, they had no proof or evidence that they had been so. Their own understandings did not tell them so. The paper now read had assented to some of the articles of their Confession, it had dissented from a good many others, but as to confuting even one of them, this, to the best of their judgment, it had not done; and as they knew of no power possessed by the emperor of changing bad logic into good, or of transforming folly into wisdom, the Protestant princes–a copy of the Refutation having been denied them intimated to Charles that they still stood by their Confession.

The design for which the Diet had been summoned was manifestly miscarrying. Every day the Protestants were displaying fresh courage, and every day their cause was acquiring moral strength. In the same proportion did the chagrin, anger, and perplexities of the Romanists increase. Every new movement landed them in deeper difficulties. For the emperor to fulminate threats which those against whom they were directed openly defied, and which the man who uttered them dared not carry into execution, by no means tended to enhance the imperial dignity. The unhappy Charles was at his wit's end; he knew not how to hide his mortification and discomfiture; and, to complete the imbroglio, an edict arrived from a consistory of cardinals held at Rome, 6th July, 1530, disallowing and forbidding the ultimatum of the Protestants as "opposed to the religion and prejudicial to the discipline and government of the Church." [3]

Ere this an event had taken place which helped to expedite the business. On the night of Saturday, the 6th of August, Philip of Hesse made his escape from Augsburg. Amid the cajoleries and threatenings of the Diet he was firm as a rock amid the waves, but he saw no purpose to be served by longer attendance at the Assembly. Chafed by continual delays, indignant at the dissimulations of the Papists, tempted today by brilliant offers from the emperor, and assailed tomorrow by as terrible threats; moreover looked askance upon by the Lutheran princes, from his known leaning to Zwingli on the question of the Lord's Supper–thoroughly wearied out from all these causes, he resolved on quitting the city. He had asked leave of the emperor, but was refused it. Donning a disguise, he slipped out at the gate at dusk, and, attended by a few horsemen, rode away. Desirous of preventing his flight, the emperor gave orders over-night to have the gates watched, but before the guards had taken their posts the landgrave was gone, and was now many leagues distant from Augsburg.

All was consternation at the court of the emperor when the flight of the landgrave became known next morning. The Romanists saw him, in imagination, returning at the head of an army. They pictured to themselves the other Protestant princes making their escape and sounding the tocsin of war. All was alarm, and terror, and rage in the Popish camp. The emperor was not yet prepared for hostilities; he shrunk back from the extremity to which he had been forcing matters, and from that day his bearing was less haughty and his language less threatening to the Protestants.

Luther, apart in his Castle of Coburg, was full of courage and joy. He was kept informed of the progress of affairs at Augsburg, and of the alternate fears and hopes that agitated his friends. Like the traveler in the Alps, who sees the clouds at his feet and hears the thunder rolling far beneath him, while around him is eternal sunshine, the Reformer, his feet planted on the mountain of God's power, looked down upon the clouds that hung so heavily above his friends in Augsburg, and heard far beneath the mutterings of imperial wrath; but neither could the one darken the sunshine of his peace, nor the other shake his confidence in that throne to which, in faith and prayer, his eyes were continually uplifted. His letters at this time show a singular elevation of faith, and a corresponding assurance of victory. To take an instance, "I beheld," says he, writing to his friends, "thick clouds hanging above us like a vast sea; I could neither perceive ground on which they reposed, nor cords by which they were suspended; and yet they did not fall upon us, but saluted us rapidly and passeel away." Emperors and armies, and all the array of earthly power, what are they? black vapors, which seem charged with tempest and destruction, but, just as they are about to burst, they are driven away by the breath of the Almighty, as clouds are driven before the wind. But fully to realize this we must mount to Luther's elevation. We must stand where we have the cloud beneath, not above us.

Meanwhile in the Diet promises had been tried and failed; threats had been tried and failed; negotiations were again opened, and now the cause had wellnigh been wrecked. Luther lived above the cloud, but unhappily Melancthon, who had to sustain the chief part in the negotiations, lived beneath it, and, not seeing the cords that held it up, and imagining that it was about to fall, was on the point of surrendering the whole cause to Rome. During the slow incubation of the Refutation, seven men were chosen (13th August) on each side, to meet in conference and essay the work of conciliation. [4]

They made rapid progress up to a certain point; but the moment they touched the essentials of either faith, they were conclusively stopped. The expedient was tried of reducing the commission to three on each side, in the hope that with fewer members there would be fewer differences. The chief on the Protestant side was Melancthon, of whom Pallavicino says that "he had a disposition not perverse, although perverted, and was by nature as desirous of peace as Luther was of contention." [5] Well did Melancthon merit this compliment from the pen of the Catholic historian. For the sake of peace he all but sacrificed himself, his colleagues, and the work on which he had spent so many years of labor and prayer. His concessions to the Romanists in the Commission were extraordinary indeed. He was willing to agree with them in matters of ceremony, rites, and feasts. In other and more important points, such as the mass, and justification by faith, findings were come to in which both sides acquiesced, being capable of a double interpretation. The Papists saw that they had only to bide their time to be able to put their own construction on these articles, when all would be right. As regarded the marriage of priests, communion in both kinds, and some similar matters, the Romanists agreed to allow these till the meeting of the next General Council. Touching the government of the Church, Melancthon, and his colleagues in the Commission, were willing to submit to the restored jurisdiction of the bishops, and to acknowledge the Pope as Head of the Church, by human right. There was not much behind to surrender; a concord on this basis would have been the burial of the Reformation.

Melancthon, in fact, was building unconsciously a sepulcher in which to entomb it. The lay Christians in Augsburg felt as if they were witnessing its obsequies. [6] Consternation and grief took possession of the Swiss Protestants. "They are preparing their return to Rome," said Zwingli. Luther was startled and confounded. He read the proposed concessions, took his pen and wrote forthwith to Augsburg as follows:–

"I learn that you have begun a marvellous work, namely, to reconcile Luther and the Pope; but the Pope will not be reconciled, and Luther begs to be excused. And if in despite of them you succeed in this affair, then, after your example, I will bring together Christ and Belial." [7]

This, one would think, should have torn the bandage from the eyes of Melancthon, and revealed to him the abyss towards which he was advancing. He was not to be counselled even by Luther. His patience was fretted, his temper soured, he began to brow-beat his colleagues, and was about to consummate his work of conciliation as he termed it, but in reality of surrender, when deliverance came from another quarter.

Smitten with madness in their turn the Romanists drew back when on the very point of grasping the victory. The matter in dispute between the two parties had been reduced to three points nominally, really to one–Does man merit by his good works? The Protestants maintained the negative, and the Papists the affirmative, on this point. The first briefly sums up the Protestant theology; the last is the corner-stone of the Roman faith.

Neither party would yield, and the conferences were broken off. [8] Thus Rome lost the victory, which would in the end have fallen to her, had she made peace on the basis of Melancthon's concessions. Her pride saved the German Reformation.

It now remained only for the emperor to draw up the Recess of the Diet. The edict was promulgated on the 22nd September, and was to the following effect:–That the Protestant princes should be allowed till the 15th April next to reconcile themselves to the Pope and to the rest of Christendom, and that meanwhile they should permit in their dominions no innovations in religion, no circulation of Protestant books, and no attempts at proselytism, and that they should assist the emperor in reducing the Anabaptists and Zwinglians. [9] This edict Charles would have enforced at once with the sword, but the spirit displayed by the Protestant princes, the attitude assumed by the Turk, and the state of the emperor's relations with the other sovereigns of Europe put war out of his power; and the consequence was that the monarch who three months before had made his entry into Augsburg with so much pomp, and in so high hopes of making all things and parties bend to his will, retired from it full of mortification and chagrin, disappointed in all his plans, and obliged to conceal his discomfiture under a show of moderation and leniency.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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