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    Chapter 6

    The Protest—Principles of the Protest—Supremacy of the Gospel—Christian Union—Ferdinand rejects the Protest—Attempt at Conciliation—Exultation of the Papists—Evangelical Appeal—Christian Unity a Reality—Dangers of the Protestants—The Protestants leave Spires—The Princes, the true Reformers—Germany and Reform

    If the imperial party displayed such contempt, it was not without a cause. They felt that weakness was on the side of the Reformation, and strength with Charles and the pope. But the weak have also their strength; and of this the evangelical princes were aware. As Ferdinand paid no attention to their complaints, they ought to pay none to his absence, to appeal from the report of the diet to the Word of God, and from the Emperor Charles to Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords.HRSCV4 520.2

    They resolved upon this step. A declaration was drawn up to that effect, and this was the famous Protest that henceforward gave the name of Protestant to the renovated Church. The elector and his allies having returned to the common hall of the diet, thus addressed the assembled states:—HRSCV4 520.3

    “Dear Lords, Cousins, Uncles, and Friends! Having repaired to this diet at the summons of his majesty, and for the common good of the empire and of Christendom, we have heard and learnt that the decision of the last diet concerning our holy Christian faith are to be repealed, and that it is proposed to substitute for them certain restrictive and onerous resolutions.HRSCV4 520.4

    “King Ferdinand and the other imperial commissaries, by affixing their seals to the last Recess of Spires, had promised, however, in the name of the emperor, to carry out sincerely and inviolably all that it contained, and to permit nothing that was contrary to it. In like manner, also, you and we, electors, princes, prelates, lords, and deputies of the empire, bound ourselves to maintain always and with our whole might every article of that decree.HRSCV4 520.5

    “We cannot therefore consent to its repeal:—HRSCV4 520.6

    “Firstly, because we believe that his imperial majesty (as well as you and we), is called to maintain firmly what has been unanimously and solemnly resolved.HRSCV4 520.7

    “Secondly, because it concerns the glory of God and the salvation of our souls, and that in such matters we ought to have regard, above all, to the commandment of God, who is King of kings and Lord of lords; each of us rendering him account for himself, without caring the least in the world about majority or minority.HRSCV4 520.8

    “We form no judgment on that which concerns you, most dear lords; and we are content to pray God daily that he will bring us all to unity of faith, in truth, charity, and holiness through Jesus Christ, our throne of grace and our only mediator.HRSCV4 520.9

    “But in what concerns ourselves, adhesion to your resolution (and let every honest man be judge!) would be acting against our conscience, condemning a doctrine that we maintain to be christian, and pronouncing that it ought to be abolished in our states, if we could do so without trouble.HRSCV4 520.10

    This would be to deny our Lord Jesus Christ, to reject his holy Word, and thus give him just reason to deny us in turn before his Father, as he had threatened.HRSCV4 520.11

    “What! we ratify this edict! We assert that when Almighty God calls a man to His knowledge, this man cannot however receive the knowledge of God! Oh! of what deadly backslidings should we not thus become the accomplices, not only among our own subjects, but also among yours!HRSCV4 520.12

    “For this reason we reject the yoke that is imposed on us. And although it is universally known that in our states the holy sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord is becoming administered, we cannot adhere to what the edict proposes against the sacramentarians, seeing that the imperial edict did not speak of them, that they have not been heard, and that we cannot resolve upon such important points before the next council.HRSCV4 520.13

    “Moreover”—and this is the essential part of the protest—“the new edict declaring the ministers shall preach the Gospel, explaining it according to the writings accepted by the holy Christian Church; we think that, for this regulation to have any value, we should first agree on what is meant by the true and holy Church. Now, seeing that there is great diversity of opinion in this respect; that there is no sure doctrine but such as is conformable to the Word of God; that the Lord forbids the teaching of any other doctrine; that each text of the Holy Scriptures ought to be explained by other and clearer texts; that this holy book is in all things necessary for the Christian, easy of understanding, and calculated to scatter the darkness: we are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure and exclusive preaching of his only Word, such as it is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testament, without adding anything thereto that may be contrary to it. This Word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell, while all the human vanities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of God.HRSCV4 520.14

    “For these reasons, most dear lords, uncles, cousins, and friends, we earnestly entreat you to weigh carefully our grievances and our motives. If you do not yield to our request, we Protest by these presents, before God, our only Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and Saviour, and who will one day be our judge, as well as before all men and all creatures, that we, for us and for our people, neither consent nor adhere in any manner whatsoever to the proposed decree, in any thing that is contrary to God, to his holy Word, to our right conscience, to the salvation of our souls, and to the last decree of Spires.HRSCV4 521.1

    “At the same time we are in expectation that his imperial majesty will behave towards us like a christian prince who loves God above all things; and we declare ourselves ready to pay unto him, as well as unto you, gracious lords, all the affection and obedience that are our just and legitimate duty.”HRSCV4 521.2

    Thus, in presence of the diet, spoke out those courageous men whom Christendom will henceforward denominate The Protestants.HRSCV4 521.3

    They had barely finished when they announced their intention of quitting Spires on the morrow.HRSCV4 521.4

    This protest and declaration produced a deep impression. The diet was rudely interrupted and broken into two hostile parties,—thus preluding war. The majority became the prey of the liveliest fears. As for the Protestants, relying, jure humano, upon the edict of Spires, and, jure divino, upon the Bible, they were full of courage and firmness.HRSCV4 521.5

    The principles contained in this celebrated protest of the 19th April 1529, constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the Church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate; and the authority of the Word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles: We must obey God rather than man. In presence of the crown of Charles the Fifth, it uplifts the crown of Jesus Christ. But it goes farther: it lays down the principle, that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God. Even the primitive Church, by recognizing the writings of the apostles, had performed an act of submission to this supreme authority, and not an act of authority, as Rome maintains; and the establishment of a tribunal charged with the interpretation of the Bible, had terminated only in slavishly subjecting man to man in what should be the most unfettered—conscience and faith. In this celebrated act of Spires no doctor appears, and the Word of God reigns alone. Never has man exalted himself like the pope; never have men kept in the background like the reformers.HRSCV4 521.6

    A Romish historian maintains that the word Protestant signifies enemy of the emperor and of the pope. If he means that Protestantism, in matters of faith, rejects the intervention both of the empire and of the papacy, it is well. But even this explanation does not exhaust the signification of the word, for Protestantism threw off man’s authority solely to place Jesus Christ on the throne of the Church, and his Word in the pulpit. There has never been anything more positive, and at the same time more aggressive, than the position of the Protestants at Spires. By maintaining that their faith alone is capable of saving the world, they defended with intrepid courage the rights of christian proselytism. We cannot abandon this proselytism without deserting the protestant principle.HRSCV4 521.7

    The Protestants of Spires were not content to exalt the truth; they defended charity. Faber and the other papal partisans had endeavoured to separate the princes, who in general walked with Luther, from the cities that ranged themselves rather on the side of Zwingle. Oecolampadius had immediately written to Melancthon, and enlightened him on the doctrines of the Zurich reformer. He had indignantly rejected the idea that Christ was banished into a corner of heaven, and had energetically declared that, according to the Swiss Christians, Christ was in every place upholding all things by the Word of his power. “With the visible symbols,” he added, “we give and we receive the invisible grace, like all the faithful.”HRSCV4 521.8

    These declarations were not useless. There were at Spires two men who from different motives opposed the efforts of Faber, and seconded those of Oecolampadius. The landgrave, ever revolving projects of alliance in his mind, felt clearly that if the Christians of Saxony and of Hesse allowed the condemnation of the churches of Switzerland and of Upper Germany, they would by that very means deprive themselves of powerful auxiliaries. Melancthon, who unlike the landgrave was far from desiring a diplomatic alliance, lest it should hasten on a war, defended the great principles of justice, and exclaimed: “To what just reproaches should we not be exposed, were we to recognize in our adversaries the right of condemning a doctrine without having heard those who defend it!” The union of all evangelical Christians is therefore a principle of primitive Protestantism.HRSCV4 522.1

    As Ferdinand had not heard the protest of the 19th April, a deputation of the evangelical states went the next day to present it to him. The brother of Charles the Fifth received it at first, but immediately after desired to return it. Then was witnessed a strange scene—the king refusing to keep the protest, and the deputies to take it back. At last the latter, out of respect, received it from Ferdinand’s hands but they laid it boldly upon a table, and directly quitted the hall.HRSCV4 522.2

    The king and the imperial commissaries remained in presence of this formidable writing. It was there—before their eyes—a significant monument of the courage and faith of the Protestants. Irritated against this silent but mighty witness, which accused his tyranny, and left him the responsibility of all the evils that were about to burst upon the empire, the brother of Charles the Fifth called some of his councillors, and ordered them instantly to carry the important document back to the Protestants.HRSCV4 522.3

    All this was unavailing; the protest had been registered in the annals of the world, and nothing could erase it. Liberty of thought and of conscience had been conquered for ages to come. Thus all evangelical Germany, foreseeing these things, was moved at this courageous act, and adopted it as the expression of its will and of its faith. Men in every quarter beheld in it not a mere political event, but a christian action, and the youthful electoral prince, John Frederick, in this respect the organ of his age, cried to the Protestants of Spires: “May the Almighty, who has given you grace to confess energetically, freely, and fearlessly, preserve you in that christian firmness until the day of eternity!”HRSCV4 522.4

    While the Christians were filled with joy, their enemies were frightened at their own work. The very day on which Ferdinand had declined to receive the protest (Tuesday 20th April), at one in the afternoon, Henry of Brunswick and Philip of Baden presented themselves as mediators, announcing, however, that they were acting solely of their own authority. They proposed that there should be no more mention of the decree of Worms, and that the first decree of Spires should be maintained, but with a few modifications; that the two parties, while remaining free until the next council, should oppose every new sect, and tolerate no doctrine contrary to the sacrament of the Lord’s body.HRSCV4 522.5

    On Wednesday, 21st April, the evangelical states did not appear adverse to these propositions; and even those who had embraced the doctrines of Zwingle declared boldly that such a proposal would not compromise their existence. “Only let us call to mind,” said they, “that in such difficult matters we must act, not with the sword, but with the sure Word of God. For, as Saint Paul says: What is not of faith is sin. If therefore we constrain Christians to do what they believe unjust, instead of leading them by God’s Word to acknowledge what is good, we force them to sin and incur a terrible responsibility.”HRSCV4 522.6

    The fanatics of the Roman party trembled as they saw the victory nearly escaping from them; they rejected all compromise, and desired purely and simply the re-establishment of the papacy. Their zeal overcame everything, and the negotiations were broken off.HRSCV4 522.7

    On Thursday, 22nd April, the diet re-assembled at seven in the morning, and the Recess was read precisely as it had been previously drawn up, without even mentioning the attempt at conciliation which had just failed.HRSCV4 522.8

    Faber triumphed. Proud of having the ear of kings, he tossed himself furiously about, and, to look at him, one would have said (according to an eye-witness) that he was a Cyclops forging in his cavern the monstrous chains with which he was about to bind the Reformation and the reformers. The papist princes, carried away by the tumult, gave the spur, says Melancthon, and flung themselves headlong into a path filled with dangers. Nothing was left for the evangelical Christians but to fall on their knees and cry to the Lord. “All that remains for us to do,” repeated Melancthon, “is to call upon the Son of God.”HRSCV4 522.9

    The last sitting of the diet took place on the 24th April. The princes renewed their protest, in which fourteen free and imperial cities joined; and they next thought of giving their appeal a legal form.HRSCV4 522.10

    On Sunday, 25th April, two notaries, Leonard Stetner of Freysingen and Pangrace Saltzmann of Bamberg, were seated before a small table in a narrow chamber on the ground-floor of a house situated in St. John’s Lane, near the church of the same name in Spires, and around them were the chancellors of the princes and of the evangelical cities, with several witnesses.HRSCV4 523.1

    This little house belonged to an humble pastor, Peter Muterstatt, deacon of St. John’s, who, taking the place of the elector or of the landgrave, had offered a domicile for the important act that was preparing. His name shall in consequence be transmitted to posterity. The document having been definitively drawn up, one of the notaries began reading it. “Since there is a natural communion between all men,” said the Protestants, “and since even persons condemned to death are permitted to unite and appeal against their condemnation; how much more are we, who are members of the same spiritual body, the Church of the Son of God, children of the same Heavenly Father, and consequently brothers in the Spirit, authorized to unite when our salvation and eternal condemnation are concerned.”HRSCV4 523.2

    After reviewing all that had passed in the diet, and after intercalating in their appeal the principal documents that had reference to it, the Protestants ended by saying: “We therefore appeal for ourselves, for our subjects, and for all who receive or who shall hereafter receive the Word of God, from all past, present, or future vexatious measures, to his Imperial Majesty, and to a free and universal assembly of holy Christendom.” This document filled twelve sheets of parchment; the signatures and seals were affixed to the thirteenth.HRSCV4 523.3

    Thus in the obscure dwelling of the chaplain of St. John’s was made the first confession of the true christian union. In presence of the wholly mechanical unity of the pope, these confessors of Jesus raised the banner of the living unity of Christ; and, as in the days of our Saviour, if there were many synagogues in Israel, there was at least but one temple. The Christians of Electoral Saxony, of Luneburg, of Anhalt, of Hesse and the Margravate, of Strasburg, Nuremberg, Ulm, Constance, Lindau, Memmingen, Kempten, Nordlingen, Heilbronn, Reutlingen, Isny, Saint Gall, Weissemburg, and Windsheim, took each other’s hands on the 25th April, near the church of St. John, in the face of threatening persecutions. Among them might be found those who, like Zwingle, acknowledged in the Lord’s Supper the entirely spiritual presence of Jesus Christ, as well as those who, with Luther, admitted his corporeal presence. There existed not at that time in the evangelical body any sects, hatred, or schism; christian unity was a reality. That upper chamber in which, during the early days of Christianity, the apostles with the woman and the brethren “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication,” and that lower chamber where, in the first days of the Reformation, the renewed disciples of Jesus Christ presented themselves to the pope and the emperor, to the world and to the scaffold, as forming but one body, are the two cradles of the Church; and it is in this its hour of weakness and humiliation that it shines forth with the brightest glory.HRSCV4 523.4

    After this appeal each one returned in silence to his dwelling. Several tokens excited alarm for the safety of the Protestants. A short time previously Melancthon hastily conducted through the streets of Spires toward the Rhine his friend Simon Grynaeus, pressing him to cross the river. The latter was astonished at such precipitation. “An old man of grave and solemn air, but who is unknown to me,” said Melancthon, “appeared before me and said: In a minute officers of justice will be sent by Ferdinand to arrest Grynaeus.” As he was intimate with Faber, and had been scandalized at one of his sermons, Grynaeus went to him, and begged him no longer to make war against the truth. Faber dissembled his anger, but immediately after repaired to the king, from whom he had obtained an order against the importunate professor of Heidelberg. Melancthon doubted not that God had saved his friend by sending one of His holy angels to forewarn him. Motionless on the banks of the Rhine, he waited until the waters of that stream had rescued Grynaeus from his persecutors. “At last,” cried Melancthon, as he saw him on the opposite side, “at last he is torn from the cruel jaws of those who thirst for innocent blood.” When he returned to his house, Melancthon was informed that officers in search of Grynaeus had ransacked it from top to bottom.HRSCV4 523.5

    There was nothing to detain the Protestants longer in Spires, and accordingly, on the morning after their appeal (Monday, 26th April), the elector, the landgrave, and the Dukes of Luneburg, quitted the city, reached Worms, and then returned by Hesse into their own states. The appeal of Spires was published by the landgrave on the 5th, and by the elector on the 13th of May.HRSCV4 523.6

    Melancthon had returned to Wittenberg on the 6th of May, persuaded that the two parties were about to draw the sword. His friends were alarmed at seeing him agitated, exhausted, and like one dead. “It is a great event that has just taken place at Spires,” said he; “an event pregnant with dangers, not only to the empire, but to religion itself. All the pains of hell oppress me.”HRSCV4 524.1

    It was Melancthon’s greatest affliction, that these evils were attributed to him, as indeed he ascribed them himself. “One single thing has injured us,” said he; “our not having approved, as was required of us, the edict against the Zwinglians.” Luther did not take this gloomy view of affairs; but he was far from comprehending the force of the protest. “The diet,” said he, “has come to an end almost without results, except that those who scourge Jesus Christ have not been able to satisfy their fury.”HRSCV4 524.2

    Posterity has not ratified this decision, and, on the contrary, dating from this epoch the definitive formation of Protestantism, it has hailed in the Protest of Spires one of the greatest movements recorded in history.HRSCV4 524.3

    Let us see to whom the chief glory of this act belongs. The part taken by the princes, and especially by the Elector of Saxony, in the German Reformation, must strike every impartial observer. These are the true reformers—the true martyrs. The Holy Ghost, that bloweth where it listeth, had inspired them with the courage of the ancient confessors of the Church; and the God of election was glorified in them. Somewhat later, perhaps, this great part played by the princes may have produced deplorable consequences: there is no grace of God that man cannot pervert. But nothing should prevent us from rendering honor to whom honor is due, and from adoring the work of the eternal Spirit in these eminent men who, under God, were in the sixteenth century the liberators of Christendom.HRSCV4 524.4

    The Reformation had taken a bodily form. It was Luther alone who had said No at the Diet of Worms: but churches and ministers, princes and people, said No at the Diet of Spires.HRSCV4 524.5

    In no country had superstition, scholasticism, hierarchy, and popery, been so powerful as among the Germanic nations. These simple and candid people had humbly bent their neck to the yoke that came from the banks of the Tiber. But there was in them a depth, a life, a need of interior liberty, which, sanctified by the Word of God, might render them the most energetic organs of christian truth. It was from them that was destined to emanate the reaction against that material, external, and legal system, which had taken the place of Christianity; it was they who were called to shatter in pieces the skeleton which had been substituted for the spirit and the life, and restore to the heart of Christendom, ossified by the hierarchy, the generous beatings of which it had been deprived for so many ages. The universal Church will never forget the debt it owes to the princes of Spires and to Luther.HRSCV4 524.6

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