The End of the Diet at Augsburg

Philip Escaping from Augsburg


Philip learning that his wife was dangerously ill and requesting him to return, and as he saw no purpose in remaining longer, begged the Charles’ leave to return home but Charles refused. Yet Charles was not at ease. The landgrave’s demand haunted him and the thought that perhaps all the Protestant princes might decide to leave left him very unsettled. He resolved that at all costs, their leaving must be prevented. To prevent such a flight, the emperor gave orders over night to have the gates watched, but before the order was issued, Philip donning a disguise had already slipped out the gate at dusk and attended by a few horsemen had ridden away.

Before the Protestant princes were yet awake the next morning, they received a summons to appear before the emperor. Upon their arrival they were confronted by a number of the Catholic members chosen by Charles to bring the ordeal to an end. Joachim of Brandenburg was the spokesman for the group and he began by asserting that the emperor had dealt with all of them in great kindness. He continued with threatening language to enumerate the dire consequences that would attend a refusal to conform. To submit voluntarily or to be reduced by force were the alternatives Charles proposed to the evangelical Christians.

Despite the fact that they were virtual prisoners and under the sword of Charles, the Protestants remained firm. However, it was important that they frame an appropriate reply and they begged a few minutes delay and retired.

When the Protestants had arrived that morning, both parties thought it strange that Philip of Hesse was absent. They were accustomed, however, to him keeping somewhat aloof and thought that no doubt he was out of humor. Now, at the moment when both parties were most anxious as to the outcome of the events, a strange rumor began to circulate. It as said that the landgrave had quit the city and returned to Hesse. The Protestant princes were as amazed as were the Roman Catholics.

The news shook the city like an explosion. All was dismay at the court of the emperor. In their imagination, the Romanists saw him returning at the head of an army. They pictured to themselves the other Protestant princes making their escape and sounding the alarm of war. All was alarm, 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 demeanor was less haughty and his language less threatening to the Protestants.

The Roman party now went to great lengths to convince the Protestants of their good will. The princes of the papal party, once so threatening, were similarly changed. But a short time before, they had freely spoken of war but they now shrank back from the frightful prospect. Were not the abuses of the Church everywhere acknowledged, and could the Roman princes even be certain of the loyalty of their own subjects were war to break out? Perhaps even more importantly, what might they hope to gain from such a conflict other than an increase of the emperor’s power? While they would have been glad to see Charles at war with the Protestants, in the hope that he would thus consume his strength, it was now clear that the emperor designed attacking the heretics with their soldiers.

Everything had thus changed in Augsburg. The Romish party was disheartened, and in a state of paralysis. The sword already drawn was hastily thrust back into the sheath.

Promised and threats alike had failed to move the Protestant princes and negotiations were again opened. “The chief on the Protestant side was Melanchthon, 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. Well did Melanchthon 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.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 9, chapter 26

There was great dismay among Swiss Protestants in attendance as they watched, as they believed, the Lutherans return to Rome. As he read the proposed concessions, he was alarmed and wrote Melanchthon: “I learn that you have begun a marvelous 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.

Just as Melanchthon, in his attempt to conciliate the Catholic party, was about to complete his work surrender, deliverance came from another quarter. Suddenly, as if smitten with a madness, at the very point of grasping victory, the Romanists drew back The matter in dispute between the two parties had been reduced really one point—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.  Thus Rome lost the victory, which would in the end have fallen to her, had she made peace on the basis of Melanchthon’s concessions. Her pride saved the German Reformation.

After a number of delays, nothing remained but for Charles to draw up the Recess of the Diet. It allowed the German Protestants till the following April to be reconciled to the pope and the rest of Christendom. In the meantime, they were prohibited from proselytism and were to assist the emperor in reducing the Anabaptists and Zwinglians.

Charles would not have hesitated to enforce this edict with force but for other circumstances that tied his hands. Not only the attitude of the Protestant princes, but the threatening posture of the Turks and even his own relationship to the other sovereigns of Europe collectively placed a war beyond his reach. Consequently, Charles, who had but three month prior entered Augsburg with such a show of pomp was constrained to retire in mortification and chagrin. Disappointed in all his plans, he was forced to conceal his humiliation under a show of restraint and leniency.

The Augsburg Confession formed the culmination of the German Reformation. Ironically, every new attempt to crush Luther and extirpate Protestantism recoiled on Charles himself. The sword unsheathed at Worms in 1521, rather than dealing the fatal stroke to the great movement became the instrument to lead it on to its ultimate triumph.

At Christmas, 1530, the Protestant princes met at Schmalkald to discuss what steps were to be taken to protect themselves from the enforcement of the Edict of Augsburg. To counter the danger they formed a league of defense known as the Schmalkald League where each pledged to stand in the defense for their faith and their liberties, and in particular to resist any attempt that might be made by force of arms to carry out the Edict of Augsburg. To meet this threat, they were each to maintain a military force for a period of six years, ready to come to the aid of any principality or town which might be attacked by imperial arms.

By the spring of 1531, the political scene had changed significantly and Charles, rather than opening hostilities against the Protestants found himself in need of their assistance. After a series of negotiations at Nuremberg, a peace was agreed upon and ratified later that summer in the Diet of Ratisbon. In this pacification the emperor granted the Lutherans free and undisturbed exercise of their religion, until such time as a General Council or and Imperial Diet should decide the religious question. In return, the Protestant pledged their aid to the emperor in his war against the Turks.

In contrast with past, the emperor who had not before appeared at the head of his troops. Under his command, the finest army which united Christendom had yet fielded marched against the Turks. The Turks, boasting an army of approximately three hundred thousand, were so disconcerted by so formidable an army that Solyman withdrew his troops without engaging in battle.

Upon his return, the emperor in order to oversee his vast military projects in other countries, left Germany and for nearly a decade and a half, the church and rest from persecution.