The Augsburg Confession

The Diet at Augsburg was held primarily for two purposes—the defense of the empire against the Turks and the settlement of the religious question, with the latter being the more important. Thus, it was decided to first of all take up the religious issue.

However, in order for an intelligent decision to be made, it was necessary that there be a clear statement of the Protestant beliefs. Just such an article had been drawn up by Melanchthon and approved by Luther, and lacked only the emperor’s permission to be publicly presented to the assembly.

Protestant Princes and their confession to Charles

On the morning of June 23rd, the Protestants met at the apartment of the Elector of Saxony. Originally, there were seven princes and the representatives of two German cities who signed their names to the confession—all laymen. This, however, was significant, as the Church of Rome had practically defined the church as the priesthood. This was not a body catholic, but a caste, or third party, that stood between God and the laity, conducting all dealings between the two. Now, however, as we see the church reviving and the spirit of new life energizing it in the Protestant movement, we see that once again, as in apostolic times, the church is once again a complete society.

It was a vital point with the Protestants that their Confession should be read publicly in the Diet, though they realized that there would be obstacles to be overcome in order to achieve this. In the end, the emperor deciding that it would be well to make a show of yielding agreed for the reading of the document the following day in the Palatinate Chapel. This was not the usual place of the Diet’s meeting, but an apartment in the emperor’s own palace, able of contain only about two hundred persons. Clearly, the emperor wished the audience to be select and limited in number.

The following day, the emperor took his seat at three o’clock. All eyes were fixed on the princes as they stood before his throne to make their confession. What a change had taken hold since nine years before at Worms lone monk had stood before his throne to make his confession of faith. Then, as now, the emperor sat upon his throne with the princes of the kingdom around him, but now, though Luther stands there in spirit, the confession is given by some of the mightiest prices of the realm. This was a greater victory than any Charles could lay claim to and he had won not a few in the intervening nine years. 

The reading of the Confession occupied two hours during which not a word was spoken as the entire assembly listened in spellbound silence. Till now, those assembled had known the Protestant beliefs as only rumor and misrepresentation had presented them. Now, in the clearest terms and in the simplest and yet majestic style, the truth had been presented as they had ever heard it before.

With boldness, the confession addressed one of the great errors of the time—the amalgamation of church and state and the blending of things spiritual and secular which had resulted in such corruption in the church and so many tragedies in society.  

What a triumph for truth had taken place. “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.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 9, chapter 23

The Augsburg Confession, though not a perfectly accurate statement of Scripture truth, was the crowning moment for the Protestant movement on German soil. No longer was Luther the sole embodiment of the movement. The Reformation now stood before the world as a body of articles.

The popish members were confounded and dismayed. The Diet, which had been called to overthrow the Reformation, had instead greatly strengthened it. As a result of the meeting, a number of powerful princes passed over to the Protestant side. These conversions had well nigh doubled the political strength of the Reformed party and the losses being suffered by the Roman party showed no signs of diminishing.

Protestant Princes sign their confession

Early the next morning, Charles summoned the deputies of the free cities to appear before him and demanded of them that they submit to the Diet of 1529 which abolished the toleration granted in 1526. While it allowed for those who were already Protestants to remain so, it strictly forbade the proselytizing by Protestants while reintroducing the mass. To agree was to admit that from that day forward, not another person could leave the Roman Church or enroll in the Protestant cause. The Protestants made reply that in so grave a matter, they needed time to reflect and withdrew from the meeting. 

Scarcely had the deputies retired when the emperor summoned the popish members of the Diet to appear. They were called to give counsel as to what was to be done with the Protestant confession laying on the table before them. Not all were of the same opinion and the group split into roughly three groups. Some were for compromise while others saw only a signal for war. A third party was writing a refutation of the Confession.

With clearer eye, Luther saw the inevitable outcome. He knew that there was not a popish theologian who could refute the Confession, were the Bible to hold any significance at all, and that as a result, there was but one alternative and that was the strong sword of Charles intervening to repress that which logic could not refute.

During the next weeks, while Faber, Eck, and Cochlaeus worked on a refutation of the Confession, Charles worked with bribes and threats to break the ranks of the Protestants with no success. Finally, the great day arrived when the work of the three scholars was completed and read before the gathered dignitaries

Upon the completion of the reading, the emperor announced that the Protestant Confession had been refuted and that it was now the duty of the Protestant princes to restore unity to the Church and peace to the empire by returning in obedience to the Church. In summation he demanded they consent to the articles just read, under pain of 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.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 9, chapter 26

Firm as a rock, Philip of Hesse, was immovable. His father in law, Duke George of Saxony, one of Luther’s most fanatical enemies, had assured him that if he would but submit to the pope, he would make him his heir, but Philip remained unmoved. Finally, Charles called him for a private interview in which he promised .to elevate him to regal dignity if he would but show himself submissive, still Philip remained unmoved.

From this day forward, Philip redoubled his efforts to unite the adherents of the Reformation, but with no success. While they might agree on all points but one, the doctrine of the Eucharist was an insurmountable difference between the followers of Luther and the Zwinglians. .

“The landgrave, threatened by the emperor, rejected by the theologians, began to ask himself what he did at Augsburg. The cup was full. Charles’s refusal to communicate the Romish Refutation, except on inadmissible conditions, made it run over. Philip of Hesse saw but one course to take—to quit the city.” D’Aubgine, History of the Reformation, book 14, chapter 10.

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