The Diet of Augsburg - Part Two

Having been crowned by the pope, after an absence of nine years, the emperor set his face towards Augsburg. From the summit of the Tyrolese Alps, as he gazed upon the plains of Germany below, what thoughts must have passed through his mind. The years that had passed since his last visit to Germany had been filled with frustration and disappointment. The one bright spot on which he might take satisfaction was his victory at Pavia which had brought his rival Francis I as a captive to Madrid had placed him, if only for the moment, as the most powerful monarch in Europe. However, even this was a hollow and transitory victory, as it also resulted in the League of Cognac in which the kings of Europe, with the Pontiff at their head, united to resist the power and curb the ambition that threatened their own.  Rather than weakening the cause of Lutheranism, it resulted in a blow to the splendor of Rome that no succeeding age would be able to repair.

However, at the moment all was quiet again, the Turks having retreated to their own dominions and the pope and the King of France on friendly terms with him. With every obstacle apparently removed, the time seemed ripe for the final assault on Lutheranism which Charles had so long meditated.

And yet, even as he contemplated this object, it must have been with some misgivings. He had won victories over Francis, and even the pope and the combined league of Cognac. At his approach, Suleiman had vanished, but Luther had stood his ground and refused to flee. Not only had the reformer not faltered before him, but every advance the emperor made against him had only resulted in strengthening his influence in Christendom. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, he had issued his ban against the reformer; little doubting that a few weeks, or months at the most, would see the Rhine bearing the ashes of Luther as it had those of Huss a hundred years before. The imperial ban, if it consigned Luther to a brief captivity, released a weapon infinitely more powerful than all his previous writings combined. Rather than imprisoning the hated cause, taking advantage of the uninterrupted quite, Luther released the Word of God in the mother tongue so that no longer imprisoned in a dead language; it was speaking to prince and pheasant alike. This was all that Charles had reaped as yet from the Edict of Worms.

In 1926, he had attempted a second time to extinguish the light shining from Wittenberg. To accomplish his purpose, he convoked a Diet at Spires in 1526 to execute the edict which five years before had been passed at Worms. Again, the result was just the opposite of that so confidently intended. Rather than crushing the obstinate monk, the Diet decreed that until a General Council should meet, everyone should be at liberty to act in religious matters as he pleased.

Having been thwarted in his plan twice, the emperor had again convoked a Diet at Spires in 1529. Rather than reaffirming the obedience that they owed him, the Protestant princes unfurled their great Protest. It seemed that every time the emperor put forth his hand, rather than crushing the hated movement, it resulted in infusing it with new life. If experience had taught Charles anything at all, it was that the one cause that looked the weakest and most vulnerable, was in reality the most difficult to destroy. As he reflected on these events, Charles must have experienced some misgivings as he began his decent to the plains below.

Soon the various princes began to arrive in Augsburg. They came attended by their retainers, whose numbers and equipments were on a scale that corresponded with the power and wealth of the lord they followed. Since the memorable Diet at Worms, 1521, Germany had not been as deeply and universally agitated as it was at this hour. Great and lasting issues were soon to be decided. In addition to the members of the Diet, large numbers from across Germany flocked to the city.

Before putting in their appearance at the Diet, the Roman Catholic princes repaired to Inspruck where the emperor was lodged, to encourage him to persevere in his resolution of putting down the Wittenberg movement; by soft means if possible, but by stronger ones if necessary.

The Elector John, with statesman-like wisdom, as well as Christian zeal, saw the necessity of presenting to the Diet a summary of Protestant doctrine as nothing of the sort as yet existed. In keeping with this resolve, he issued an order in the middle of March (1530) to the theologians of Wittenberg to draw up a summary of the Protestant faith, setting forth concisely the points in which they differed from Rome. These articles, once drawn up, were enlarged and remodeled by Melanchthon, with a view to their being read in the Diet as the Confession of the Protestants. Everything was put in the least offensive form. Wittenberg and Rome were brought as near to each other as the eternal barrier between the two permitted. It only remained to be seen if the genius of Melanchthon would triumph over the conqueror of Pavia and induce him to withdraw his ban in favor of the truth of the Holy Scriptures.

The emperor opened the Diet with a speech in which he painted a sad picture of state of Christendom. It revealed the West, groaning under the twin burdens of priest craft and despotism, vulnerable to the Turk, with the civilization of the world on the verge of being overwhelmed by the barbarous arms of the East. Though it was not the point he was seeking to make, it revealed the sad fact that but for the Protestantism which had rekindled the fires of patriotism and valor, but which he was seeking to banish from Europe, the Turk would most certainly have overrun empire and Constantinople, not Spain would be the new seat of power and that the dominant religion would not have been Romanism, but Mohammedanism.

Charles, who did not speak German, required the count-palatine to read it to the assembly. After enumerating blows which the empire had suffered at the hand of the enemy, he concluded. “If his fury be not resisted with greater forces than hitherto, we must expect no safety for the future, but one province after another being lost, all at length, and that shortly too, will fall under his power and tyranny. The design of this most cruel enemy was to make slaves of, nay, to sweep off all Christians from the face of the earth.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 9, chapter 22.

Still under ban of the empire, Luther was not in attendance, but staying at short distance away at Coburg Castle from where he could send counsels and encouragement to the Protestant members. Nor were his words unnecessary. Melanchthon, timid by nature and with a mind that was more penetrating than daring, at times tended to bend rather than resort to expedients and devices seeking to smooth the differences between the Protestants and their opponents. Daily he some new explanation, some subtle gloss, or some questionable compromise that he hoped would gain the Catholics. He lacked the clear and perfect conviction that was Luther’s that here were two diametrically opposed churches and faiths. H was constantly wasting time and risking character, and more importantly, truth, in his efforts to reconcile two irreconcilable points.

Melanchthon wrote to Luther of his fears and the anxieties that plagued him. In response, Luther said: “I hate with exceeding hatred those extreme cares which consume you. If the cause is unjust, abandon it; if the cause is just, why should we belie the promises of Him Who commands us to sleep without fear? Can the devil do more than kill us? Christ will not be wanting to the work of justice and of truth. He lives; He reigns: what fear then can we have? God is powerful to upraise His cause if it is overthrown, to make it proceed if it remains motionless; and, if we are not worthy of it, He will do it by others.

“I have received your Apology, and I cannot understand what you mean when you ask what we must concede to the Papist. We have already conceded too much. Night and day I meditate on this affair, turning it over and over, diligently searching the Scriptures, and the conviction of the truth of our doctrine becomes every day stronger in my mind. With the help of God, I will not permit a single letter of all that we have said to be torn from us.” Ibid.

He concluded by saying: “If we fall, Christ falls with us—that is to say, the Master of the world. I would rather fall with Christ than remain standing with Caesar.” Ibid.


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