Martin Luther, part XV – The Diet at Augsburg

Emperor Charles V had called for a Diet of all the German States in Augsburg on April 8, 1530. With spring and the opening of the Alps, Charles began his travels to Germany from Italy. He arrived at Innspruck in May. Here the counselor Gattinara, who had encouraged Charles to avoid using the sword against Protestantism, sickened and died. This left only Campeggio as counselor to Charles, and he was the Pope’s specially commissioned counseler, who called for an inquisition against the reformers. Many of the Protestant princes themselves called for war, but Luther replied, “No, let no man resist the emperor: if he demands a sacrifice, lead me to the altar.” History of Protestantism, 581. He wrote to the princes calling for Christian patience and firm faith and “his noble hymn, ‘A Strong Tower is Our God,’ began to be heard in all the churches of Germany. 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.” Ibid., 581, 582.

In early April, the Protestant princes and the theologians began their journey to Augsburg. The people watched them leave with great anxiety. Not since the Diet at Worms in 1521, had there been such a widely felt and deep agitation in Germany. This contest was to decide great issues and the people, along with their representatives went in prayer to Augsburg . Luther’s hymn, sung by the travelers, drowned out the tramp of horses and the clank of armor, and served to increase their courage. Luther also preached a sermon at the end of each day’s march. Charles advanced closer to Augsburg, causing the hymn to be sung more loudly. Since he was to be present at the Diet, this brought out a full attendance of princes and deputies who were determined to also be present at this momentous occasion.

In March, Elector John of Saxony had issued an order for the theologians of Wittemburg to write a summary of the Protestant faith. It was meant to state, in a concise manner, how they differed from Rome. Luther, Melancthon, Jonas and Pomeranus worked on it jointly and presented it to the Elector before the trip. But a few weeks later at Augsburg, Melancthon enlarged and remodeled the articles, with a view in mind of having them read at the Diet. He worked long days and nights on this important task. “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,’ he said, ‘in spite of themselves.’ Everything was put in the least offensive form. Wittemburg and Rome were brought as near to each other as the eternal barrier between the two permitted.” Ibid., 585.

During the journey it had been deemed best for Luther to stay at Elector John’s Castle of Coburg, rather than to be present at the Diet in person, since the Edict of Worms was still in effect. There he could still be kept informed of events and his advice could be sought, but he would not be in such danger. Luther studied and spent hours each day in prayer. Melancthon’s revised articles were sent to Luther at Coburg. He gave them his approval. “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.” Ibid.

During the weeks that the crowds waited on Charles to arrive, they were given opportunity to hear the Protestant teachings, as the churches were opened and Protestant preachers gave daily messages which attracted thousands. The Papists were confounded by the courageous Lutherans, and they determined to replace these preachers with their own. These proved they had not learned how to preach and the crowds left them to deliver their noisy speeches in empty cathedrals.

The Emperor at Augsburg and the Opening of the Diet

June came, long past the April 8 date for the Diet, and Charles had still not arrived. The long delay caused Luther much anxiety. He used the time well, in study and prayer, and completed his translation of several books of the Old Testament during his confinement at Coburg. He daily spent three hours in prayer and added to this hours with the Scriptures. He needed rest but was not able to rest. He suffered from fears that seemed realities, but he wrote Scripture on the walls and claimed promises of safety and rest. He was able to come out the victor as he beheld in the skies the great firmament and the Hand that upheld it, and by faith he saw the mighty Hand that guided this movement. With this Hand in control what was the need of his own weak arm? From here he was able to strengthen Melancthon who was trying to uphold the heavens himself and was being crushed by its weight.

Melancthon was rushing here and there from one Romanist to another trying through every device to reconcile the parties. Luther clearly saw the two diametrically opposite churches and faiths in this matter, and he also saw that it was a waste of time and a risk to character and truth to try to reconcile the two. This Melancthon did not see. Luther counseled his friend, “If we are not the Church, where I pray is the Church?” Ibid., 593.

At last Charles made it to Augsburg on June 15, 1530 , and directed an assault against the Protestant sermons. “The crowds that gathered round the preachers were as great as ever. The emperor was galled by the sight of these enthusiastic multitudes . . . That the heresy which he had crossed the Alps to extinguish should be proclaimed in a score of churches, and within earshot of him, was more than he could endure. He sent for the Lutheran princes, and charged them to enjoin silence on their preachers. The princes replied that they could not live without the preaching of the Gospel, and that the citizens of Augsburg would not willingly consent to have the churches closed . . . After two days’ warm altercation it was concluded on the part of the Protestants—who feared to irritate too greatly the emperor, lest he should forbid the reading of their Confession in the Diet —that during the sitting of the Senate the Protestant sermons should be suspended; and Charles on his part agreed to appoint preachers who should impugn neither creed in their sermons, but steer a middle course between the old and the new faith . . . Those who went to witness the promised feat of preaching something that was neither Popery nor Protestantism, were not a little amused by the performances of this new sort of preachers. ‘Their sermons,’ said they, ‘are innocent of theology, but equally innocent of sense.’” Ibid., 589.

Charles opened the Diet with a speech. He told of the dangers presented by the Turks and then called for his hearers to execute the Edict of Worms. His speech shows the sad state of Christianity at this age. Priestcraft and despotism had so weakened the West that it was ready to be overcome by the Turks. Protestantism had arisen just in time to rekindle the nearly extinguished fires of patriotism and valor. Charles was calling for the death of the only hope the West had of being saved from being ruled from Constantinople and forced into Mohammedanism. The Diet had been called to deal with the problem of the Turks and to answer the religious questions. Charles decided to begin with the religious question.

Reading The Augsburg Confession

On the 23rd of June the Protestants met to sign their Confession which Melancthon had polished. This document had been prepared by theologians but it was signed by the laity. This was significant since “it proclaimed the forgotten fact that the laity form part of the Church . . . 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.” Ibid., 594.

After deliberations and delays, a public reading was granted to be given in a small hall that held only two hundred persons. Finally on the 25th of June the reading was given in German by Bayer, a chancellor of Elector John. All eyes were on the Protestants whose faces were radiant with joy. Bayer’s voice rang strong so all could hear, and for two hours the reading of the Confession continued. “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 Melancthon’s powerful hand had summoned up. Till now they had known the opinions of the Protestants only as rumour 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 . . . The effect on some was surprise; on others, conviction; on most, it was the creation of a more conciliatory spirit towards the Lutherans.” Ibid., 599.

“The presentation of the Confession to the Diet was the culmination of the movement on German soil. It was the proudest hour of the Lutheran Church . . . 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 . . . ‘Christ has been boldly confessed at Augsburg,’ said Luther, when the news reached him. ‘I am overjoyed that I have lived to this hour.’” Ibid., 601, 602.

“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.” Ibid. Two other Confessions followed, one from Bucer and signed by the four cities which held to the Zwinglian rather than the Lutheran view of the Lord’s supper, and the other from Zwingli stating his individual views. The Papists had hoped to find “a schism in a schism” but they found “that on one point only did they differ and that all were united in their repudiation and condemnation of Rome.” Ibid.

“Moreover, powerful princes were passing from the Romanist to the Protestant side . . . Their accession wellnigh doubled the political strength of the Reformation . . . 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.” Ibid., 602, 603.

The morning after the reading, Charles knew that he had made a bad start of this matter. He determined to correct his first false move and he sought counsel. Some suggested concessions that might appease the Protestants while leaving the mass and the authority of the Church intact. Charles liked this idea but Campeggio convinced him not to follow this counsel. He listened to many and varied counselors and determined that he must look into this matter himself. He did not speak German and so he ordered a perfectly accurate translation of the Confession into French.

In the meantime he called the deputies of the free cities of Germany into his ante-chamber. They were astonished by the demand made upon them. After the reading of Melancthon’s eloquent words which had caused such obvious perplexity among the Romanists, they expected a concession or an overture of conciliation, but they received a demand that they withdraw their support of the “Protest of the Princes” given at Spires in 1529. The deputies answered that in a matter of such importance they must have time to make an answer.

They had not thought much of the protest at the time but it was becoming evident that a wisdom not their own had ruled in the matter. “The Protest had deposited in Christendom the one everlasting corner-stone of freedom and virtue—an emancipated conscience . . . 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.” Ibid. The Protest “restored society to God . . . 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.” Ibid., 605.

Attempted Refutation of the Confession

Charles summoned a council of the Popish members of the Diet to give him advice concerning the Confession. Their counsel was not wise and was more of a distraction and embarrassment to Charles than a help. In the end it was decided that a few learned doctors would be appointed to write a Refutation of the Lutheran Confession which would then be read to the princes and ratified by Charles. Those selected for the task were twenty extreme Romanists, and it was clear that there would be no concessions to the Protestants. “Before unsheathing the sword, they would first make trial with the pen. They would employ violence with all the better grace afterwards.” Ibid., 608.

All knew too that this Refutation could not stand against the Confession if the Bible were the basis of its arguments. “‘Doctor,’ inquired the Duke of Bavaria, addressing Eck, ‘can you confute that paper out of the Bible?’ ‘No,’ replied he, ‘but it may be easily done from the Fathers and Councils.’ ‘I understand,’ rejoined the duke, ‘I understand; the Lutherans are in Scripture, and we are outside .’” Ibid.

Luther was inspired and encouraged at the prospect of the battle, but Melancthon was in despair. Luther’s hours of prayer and his great faith begat faith, as he wrote to encourage his friend that the battle was God’s and that He would win. The adherents of Lutheranism might die, but the cause would win. “So did the battle proceed on the two sides. Wiles, frowns, threats, with the sword as the last resort, are seen on the one side—prayers, tears, and faith on the other.” Ibid., 610.

Charles had sent two groups away with instruction to return with answers. The first to return were the deputies of the free cities. Charles had hoped that the differences within the cities on the question of the Lord’s supper might split the Protestant front, but they stood united and firm against the common foe and stated that they could not obey the emperor’s wishes as this would cause them to disobey God. The second group to return were the Popish doctors with their refutation or more rightly stated condemnation of the Protestant Confession.

After seeing the 280 page document and finding that it made no refutation at all but was full of abuse, Charles could see that “her worst foe could not do Rome a more unkindly act, or Wittemburg a greater service, than to publish such a document.” It would never stand under contrast with the Confession. Another refutation must be attempted.

End of the Diet of Augsburg

Six weeks were required to rewrite the Refutation. In the mean time Charles attempted to split the Protestants through the princes. “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. When bribes failed to seduce them, threats were had recourse to . . . Neither were threats able to bend them to submission . . . 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 . . . He must make his choice between his crown and his Savior.” He could not be moved to deny his Lord. “John risked all; but in the end he retained all, and amply vindicated his title to the epithet given him—‘John the Constant.’” Ibid., 614.

On September 3, Charles called his princes together to hear the reading of the Refutation. There were some areas of agreement with the Confession of the Protestants, but this Refutation professed the old fabric of salvation by works and “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.” Ibid., 615.

“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.” Ibid.

“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 . . . 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.” Ibid.

Every attempt of the emperor and the Romish representative of the Diet had failed to bring the Protestants into submission. Everyday they seemed to display more courage and their cause was gaining strength, while the anger and perplexities of the Romanists increased. The emperor was at his wit’s end. He dared not carry out his threats against the Protestants. Luther, still in the Castle of Coburg was filled with joy and courage, and his letters reflect his assurance of victory and an elevation of faith.

“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.” For though Luther was able to see by faith the Hands of God upholding all, Melancthon who was the chief negotiator for the Protestants seemed to imagine the imminent fall of the cause and was about to surrender all. For the sake of peace he all but sacrificed himself, his colleagues, and the work. His concessions were extraordinary. The lay Christians felt they were witnessing the burial of the movement. The Swiss Protestants were grief stricken. “Luther was startled and confounded.” He wrote to Augsburg. “I learned 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.” Ibid., 616.

But Melancthon would not be counseled by Luther. His patience was short and his temper sour, and he was about to finish what he termed his work of conciliation when deliverance came from another avenue. The Romanists, as if smitten with madness, drew back at the very point of victory and refused to be reconciled. “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.” Ibid., 617.

Now it was left to Charles to end the Diet. An edict was sent out allowing the Protestants till April 15th to be reconciled to the Pope and forbidding the circulation of their books or proselytizing and demanding that they help to reduce the Anabaptists and the Zwinglians. “This edict Charles would have enforced at once with the sword, but the spirit displayed by the Protestant princes, the attitude assumed by the Turks, 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.” Ibid.

The End