1902 Encyclopedia > Martin Luther > Martin Luther - Third Period (1525-46)

Martin Luther
(Part 3)


In this third period the epic of Luther’s life was changed into tragedy; the revolt of the knights under Sickingen, the Anabaptist tumults, and the peasants’ war in the Black Forest alienated the sympathies of many from the Reformation, and resulted in a divided Germany (see vol. x. p. 498, vol. i. p. 786).

Revolt under Sickingen

From Sickingen’s rising sedulously kept himself aloof, but the insurgent had more than once proclaimed himself on Luther’s side, and that was enough to make many of the princes resolve to have nothing to do with reform. The convention of Ratisbon was the result of Sickingen’s abortive revolt.

Anabaptist Tumults

The Anabaptists have to do with Luther’s history mainly in so far as his contact with them modified and gave final shape to his doctrine of baptism. In his tract on the Sacrament of Baptism, 1519, Luther distinguishes carefully between the sign and the thing signified. The ordinance is just the sign, the thing signified is the death to sin, the new birth, and a new life in Christ. This new life goes on here on earth, so does the death to sin. Believers die daily to sin, not once for all in baptism, and their life in Christ is not a full life whilst earth’s life lasts; and so baptism is merely a sign of what is never really accomplished till after death. In the Babylonian Captivity of the Church of God, 1520, Luther adopted a view not unlike Calvin’s. He said that God’s word was always more than a statement, it was also a promise. Baptism was therefore a seal or pledge, a promise that what was signified by the ordinance would be bestowed. Only unbelief can rob the baptized of the benefits of their baptism and make the ordinance of none effect. But after Luther came in contact with the Anabaptists he departed from this simple theory, for he thought that he could not justify infant baptism upon it, and so in his Sermon on Baptism, 1535, he introduced a third theory, which approached much nearer to mediæval views. He explained that in the ordinance of baptism God through His word so works on the water in the sacrament that it is no longer mere water, but has the power of the blood of Christ in some mysterious fashion. Luther then asked if faith was required for the worthy partaking of the sacrament, and he felt obliged to confess that the faith of the recipient was not needed. This sermon marks Luther’s reaction towards ideas he had abandoned in 1519-20.

Peasants' War

More important was the connexion between the Lutheran movement and the peasant revolt. The first coalitions of the peasants against the intolerable rapacity and cruelty of the feudal aristocracy had begun before the close of the 15th century. But all the oppressed inclined towards Luther, and the oppressors, most of whom were sovereigns, bishops, and abbots, towards the pope. The struggle in the peasants’ war was really between the reforming and the papist party, and it could easily be foreseen that Luther would be dragged into it. As early as January 1525 the revolutionary movement had extended from the Black Forest into Thuringia and Saxony, and the peasants were eagerly looking to Luther for help. The more moderate party published their programme in twelve articles, with a very remarkable preface, in which they stated that they did not in accordance with the gospel. These articles were the following:æ (1) the whole congregation to have power to elect their minister, and if he was found unworthy to dismiss him; (2) the great tithe, i.e., the legal lithe of corn, to be still payable for the maintenance of the pastor, and what is over to go to support the poor; the small tithes to be no longer payable; (3) serfdom abolished, since Christ has redeemed us all by His precious blood; (4) game, fish, and fowl to be free as God created them; (5) the rich have appropriated the forests, this to be rearranged; (6) compulsory service to be abolishedæwages for work; (7) peasant service to be paid for; (8) fair rents; (9) arbitrary punishments abolished; (10) the commons restored; (11) the right of heriot, i.e., the right of the lord to take the vassal’s best chattel, to be abolished; (12) all these propositions to be tested by Scripture, and what cannot stand the test to be rejected. Most impartial historians have declared that their demands were on the whole just, and most of them have become law in Germany. The words of Scripture brought forward by the peasants prove clearly that Luther’s preaching of the gospel had acted, not as an incentive, but as a corrective. The peasants declared their desire to uphold the injunctions of the gospel, peace, patience, and union. Like the Puritans in the following century, the peasants say that they raise their voice to God who saved the people of Israel; and they believe that God can save them from their powerful oppressors, as he did the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Luther evidently felt himself appealed to. The crisis was difficult, and, in spite of what has been said in his defence, he failed, as he failed afterwards in the conference with the Swiss deputies at Marburg. Had Luther thrown the weight of his influence into the peasants’ scale, and brought the middle classes, who would certainly have followed him, to the side of the peasants, a peaceful solution would in all probability have been arrived at, and the horrors of massacre averted. But Luther, bold enough against the pope or the emperor, never had courage to withstand that authority to which he was constantly accustomed, the German prince. He began by speaking for the peasants in his address to the lords, and had courage enough to tell them some plain truths, as when he said that some of the twelve articles of the peasants are so equitable as to dishonour the lords before God and the world, when he told them that they must not refuse the peasants’ demands to choose pastors who would preach the gospel, and when he said that the social demands of the peasants were just, and that good government was not established for its own interest nor to make the people subservient to caprice and evil passion, but for the interest of the people. "Your exactions are intolerable," he said, "you take away from the peasant the fruit of his labour in order to spend his labour upon you finery and luxury." He was courageous enough also in asking the peasants to refrain from violence, and in telling them that they would put themselves in the wrong by rebellion. But what Luther did not see was that the time for good advice had gone by, and that he had to take his stand on one side or the other. He trusted too much in fine language. His advice that arbiters should be chosen, some from the nobility and some from towns, that both parties should give up something, and that the matter should be amicably settled by human law, came ten months too late. The bloody struggle came; the stream of rebellion and destruction rolled on to Thuringia and Saxony, and Luther apparently lost his head, and actually encouraged the nobles in their sanguinary suppression of the revolt, in his pamphlet entitled Against the Murdering, Robbing Troops of Peasants, where he hounds on the authorities to "stab, kill, and strangle." The princes leagued together, and the peasants were routed everywhere. One army, with neither military arms nor leaders, was utterly routed at Frankenhausen, another in Würtemberg. Fifty thousand were slain or butchered by wholesale executions. Among this number many of the quietest and most moderate people were made victims in the general slaughter, because they were known or suspected to be friends of the Reformation and of Luther, which indeed all the citizens and peasants of Germany were at that time. None felt more deeply, when it was too late, this misery, and what it involved in its effects on the cause of the gospel in Germany, than Luther; and he never recovered the shock. He thus unburdens his soul a the close of this fatal year, which crushed for centuries the rights and hopes of the peasants and labourers, and weakened the towns and cities, the seats of all that was best in the national life,æ"The spirit of these tyrants is powerless, cowardly, estranged from every honest thought. They deserve to be the slaves of the people;" and in the next yearæ"I fear Germany is lost; it cannot be otherwise, for they will employ nothing but the sword."

The prospect was dark enough for the Reformer. Ferdinand of Austria and the duke of Bavaria were imprisoning and slaying Christians on account of the gospel. The emperor, fresh from his victory at Pavia, and the pope were combining to crush the Reformation, and it was rumoured that the kings of France and England were to lend their aid. The convention of Raitsbon had resulted in a Roman Catholic league in which Duke George of Saxony, Albert elector-archbishop of Mainz, and the duke of Brunswick were the leaders. Luther also found that the war had demoralized the Protestant congregations, and that they were becoming ignorant and savage. And in May 1525 the elector Frederick died.

Luther's Marriage

It was under such auspices that Luther decided at last to take a wife, as he had long advised his friends among the priests and monks to do. He married Catherine von Bora, a lady twenty-four years of age, of a noble Saxon family, who had left her convent together with eight other sisters in order to worship Christ without the oppression of endless ceremonies, which gave neither light to the mind nor peace to the soul. The sisters had lived together in retirement, protected by pious citizens of Torgau. Luther married her on June 11, 1525, in the presence of Lucas Cranach and of another friend as witnesses. Catherine von Bora had no dowry, and Luther lived on his appointment as professor; he would never take nay money for his books. His marriage was a happy one, and was blessed with six children. He was a tender husband, and the most loving of fathers. In the close of the year 1525 Luther was engaged in controversy with Erasmus on the freedom of the will.

Progress of the Reformation

The princes who were friendly to the Reformation gradually gained more courage. The elector John of Saxony established the principle in his state that all rites should be abrogated which were contrary to the Scriptures, and that the masses for the dead be abolished at once. The young landgrave Philip of Hesse gained over the son of the furious Duke George to the cause of the Reformation. Albert, duke of Prussia, had established it at Königsberg, as hereditary duke, abolishing the vows of the order whose master he had been, saying:æ"There is only one order, and that is Christendom." At the request of the pope, Charles placed Albert under interdict as an apostate monk. The evangelical princes found in all these circumstances a still stronger motive to act at Augsburg as allies in the cause of the evangelical party; and when the diet opened in December 1525 they spoke out boldly:æ"It is violence which brought on the war of the peasants. If you will by violence tear the truth of God out of the hearts of those who believe, you will draw greater dangers and evils upon you." The Romanist party was startled. "The cause of the holy faith" was adjourned to the next diet at Spires. The landgrave and the elector made a formal alliance in February 1526 at Torgau.

Luther, being consulted as to his opinion, felt helpless. "You have no faith; you put not your trust in God; leave all to Him." The landgrave, the real head of the evangelical alliance, perceived that Luther’s advice was not practicalæthat Luther forsook the duty of self-defence and the obligation to do one’s duty according to the dictates of reason, in religious matters as well as in other political questions. But the alliance found no new friends. Germany showed all her misery by the meanness of her princes and the absence of any great national body to oppose the league formed by the pope, the emperor, and the Romanists throughout Europe. The archbishop of Treves preferred a pension from Charles to the defence of the national cause. The evangelically-disposed elector of the palatinate desired to avoid getting into trouble. The imperial city of Frankfort, surrounded by open enemies and timid friends, declined to accede to the alliance. There was more national feeling and courage in the Anglo-Saxon north of Germany. The princes of Brunswick, Luxemburg, Mecklenburg, Anhalt, and Mansfeld assembled at Magdeburg, and made a solemn and heroic declaration of their resolution "to pledge their estates, lives, states, and subjects for the maintenance of the holy word of God, relying on Almighty God, as whose instruments they would act." The town of Magdeburg (which then had about three times as many inhabitants as now) and Duke Albert of Prussia adhered to the alliance. The league doubled its efforts. Charles, strong and rendered safe by the peace of Madrid concluded with Francis, sent word from Seville in March 1526, through the Romish Duke Henry of Brunswick, that he would soon come himself to crush the heresy. Luther saw the dangers crowding around him; his advice was,æ"We are threatened with war; let s force our enemies to keep the peace, conquered by the Spirit of God, before whose throne we must now combat with the arms of prayer; that is the first work to be done."

Diet of Spires, 1526

The emperor commissioned his brother Ferdinand to preside at the diet of Spires and carry out his wishes. But before the diet met Francis and the pope had formed a league against him, and Charles had commissioned Count Frundsberg to levy an army of Germans to fight against the pope, while Ferdinand was called to Hungary to maintain against the Turks and others kingdoms Hungary and Bohemia, bequeathed to him by King Louis after the battle of Mohacz. When the diet at Spires met (June 1526), after some deliberation a proposition presented by the free cities was accepted that until a general council met "every state shall live, rule and bear itself as it shall be ready to answer for to God and his imperial majesty,"æa decision which foreshadowed the famous Augsburg formula cujus region ejus religio, the principle on which the German Protestant church was afterwards legally based. The Reformation had thus the three years, 1526-1529, to organize and consolidate itself. The man of Germany at that time among the princes was Philip, landgrave of Hesse, and he was taught what to do by a citizen James Sturm, the deputy of Strasburg at Spires. Sturm had convinced Philip that the basis of the true evangelical church was the acknowledgement of the self-government of the church by synods composed of the representatives of the whole Christian people; and this was embodied in the first Protestant constitution, the Reformatio ecclesiarum Hassiæ juxta certissimam sermonum Dei regulam ordinata.1 The constitution acknowledge the Episcopal element, but not Episcopal rule; the jus episcopale was invested in the Christian community, and the flock of Christ were to hear only the voice of their shepherd Christ. Bishops and deacons were to be elected by the Christian people; bishops were to be consecrated by imposition of the hands of three bishops, and deacons instituted by the imposition of the hands of elders; while elders were associated with the pastors in the pastoral care of the congregation. A general or land synod was to be held annually, consisting of the pastor of each parish and of pious men elected from the various congregations, and there were provisions made for provincial and congregational synods. Three men were to be elected annually to exercise the right of visitation. This as afterwards found to be inconvenient, and six and the thirteen superintendents for life were substituted. This board of superintendent became afterwards an oligarchy, and at last a mere instrument of state, overriding the original democratic constitutions of the church, a consequence of this disruption of Germany and of the paralysis of all national institutions. Luther had in 1523 and 1524 professed principles almost identical with those established in 1526 in Hesse. His action ceased there; after the peasants’ war he abandoned his more liberal ideas, and insisted on leaving everything to the princes, and what could a people do cut up into four hundred sovereignties? Luther never acknowledged Cæsaropapism or Erastianism as a principle and as a right. He considered the rights of the Christian people as a sacred trust provisionally deposited in the hands of the princes their representatives. "Where," he asked, "are the people to form the synods? I cannot find them." It was Melanchthon’s influence that facilitated the despotic system and hampered the thorough reform of the forms of worship. Luther withdrew from a sphere which he felt was not his. He busied himself during these years with plans to improve and simplify the church services at Wittenberg. Some portions of the music in the communion service were too difficult for the people. Luther induced the elector to provide music teachers, and also to permit a simpler service. This led to the German Mass and Order of Worship for Wittenberg. The churches too throughout electoral Saxony were becoming better attended, and Luther had to consider and devise plans for church extension and supervision. His letters to Philip of Hesse, disapproving of the new constitution of the church there, show how jealous he had become of the entrance of democratic ideas. He asked the elector of Saxony to take charge of the church within his dominions, and Melanchthon’s articles for the visitation of the churches in Saxony, which foreshadowed the Lutheran consistorial organization, show that Luther distinctly contemplates the transfer of the jus episcopale to the princes and magistrates. It is true that he called these magistrates Nothebishofe, but he could not see any other solutions of the difficulty, and undoubtedly from the legal point of view it was easy to transfer the right of supervision from one external authority to another, and difficult to hand it over from the bishops to the congregation. The new ecclesiastical organization adopted in Hesse and electoral Saxony had the effect of making the archbishop of Mainz renounce in 1528 the spiritual jurisdiction he had hitherto exercised over these two districts.

Diet of Spires, 1529

Meanwhile the emperor had been again successful in his political schemes. His German army under the Constable Bourdon and General Frundsberg had seized upon Italy and had sacked Rome, and again he had brought the pope and Francis to terms. It only remained to subdue the Reformation, and the mediæval empire might be restored. He first sent a dispatch saying the edict of Worms was to be held as in force. When the diet met at Spires in 1529, the imperial commissioners forbade the celebration of worship according to the reformed usage in churches, and afterwards in the houses of the elector and of the landgrave. The Act of Toleration of 1526 was to be abrogated. The diet appeared to be hopelessly divided, a majority with the emperor and a minority with the elector and the landgrave, and the majority passed an edict which amounted to this that where the edict of Worms could not be executed without fear of revolution no further reforms were to be allowed.

The Protest and Protestantism

The minority prepared a protest. "The diet has overstepped its authority," they said; "our acquired right is that the decree of 1526, unanimously adopted, remains in force until a council can be conveyed. Up to this time the decree has maintained the peace, and we protest against its abrogation." Ferdinand, who represented his brother, assured the princess that nothing remained for them but to submit; he threatened the free cities with the loss of their privileges and with an interdict, and he felt the diet while the evangelical members were deliberating. In spite of these threats the protest was signed by John of Saxony, George of Brandenburg, Ernest of Lüneburg, Philip of Hesse, and representatives of the free cities of Strasburg, Nuremberg, Ulm, Costnitz (Constance), Lindau, Memmingen, Kempten, Nördlingen, Heilbronn, Reutlingen, Isny, St Gall, Weissenburg, and Windsheim. This celebrated protest of April 15, 1529, from which comes the name Protestant, is one of the noblest documents of Christian history. The protesting prices and cities claimed as their right as Germans the sacred duty freely to preach the word of God and the message of salvation, that all who would hear it might join the community of believers. It was also an earnest of true evangelical union; for it was well known that most of the cities were more inclined towards Zwingli’s than towards Luther’s view of sacrament.

If this great act be considered impartially, it is impossible not to see that neither Luther nor Melanchthon was the real leader of the time. Luther had no real comprehension of what had to be done in Germany to preserve the gospel from destruction. He had shown little sympathy with the first attempt made in Hesse at the self-government of the church; still less did he see the importance of the protest at Spires, and of the unity it gave to the evangelical cause. It was evident that nothing but the inroad of the Turks had saved the Protestant princes after the diet, and that Charles was so far master of Germany as to make it impossible for Germany to become a Protestant nation. The Protestants were lost unless they strengthened the alliance which they had just founded at Spires. But Luther disliked such alliances; he dissuaded the elector from sending deputies to the meeting agreed to be held at Smalkald, and when the Saxon deputies prevented any business being done he was proud of the result. This apparent blindness and perversion of mind requires explanation. Luther lived under the shadow of the Middle Ages, and had been trained in scholastic law as well as in scholastic theology. To the mediæval jurist the emperor was the impersonation of all social order and moral law; he was the vicar of God. In the later Middle Ages the jurists had exaggerated this sacredness of the emperor, and had done so quite naturally in order to protect civil law from canon law, and to uphold the state against the church. Luther could throw off scholastic theology, but he could not throw off that scholastic jurisprudence that all his mediæval heroes, Occam, Wickliffe, and Huss had found so useful in their attacks on the papacy, and that Luther had found so serviceable when he appealed from the church defined by the pope to the church defined by the empire. He could not bear to think of an alliance against the holy Roman empire. Luther too had been trained in the school of Tauler and the Theologia Germanica, and partook greatly of their quietism. "Suffer God to do His work in you and about you" was their motto. There was a theological scruple also at the bottom of Luther’s opposition to a vigorous Protestant alliance and a national attitude. This betrayed itself, first, in an uneasiness about Zwingli’s rising influence in Germany, and, secondly, as a doctrinal idiosyncrasy respecting the sacrament of the Eucharist. Philip of Hesse saw through this instantly, and said, "I see they are against the alliance on account of these Zwinglians; well, let us see whether we cannot make these theological differences disappear."

Luther and Zwingli on the Eucharist

When Luther was raised above himself by the great problem before him in that glorious period of action from 1518 to 1524, he had considered the sacrament as a part of the services of the church, and a secondary matter compared with the right view of faith or the inward or the inward Christianity which implies necessarily an unselfish believing and thankful mind. He was convinced that there was no virtue inherent in the elements apart from the communion, and it was a matter different how the spirituality of the action and the real presence, even the transubstantiation, might be reconciled with faith. But the peasants’ war and Carlstadt’s mystical enthusiasm alarmed with. Where was this to lead to, he asked, and he seems to have settled down into a great resolve to abide by the tradition of the church, and alter as little as possible provided room was found for the exercise of living faith. So when he felt called upon to form a theory of the doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist he went back to his scholastic to find there some theory which should be traditional and yet afford room for the spiritual priesthood of all believers, and for the exercise of faith on the promise of God. He found it in the writings of the schoolman whom he more than once calls "his dear master," the daring Englishman William of Occam. Transubstantiation, the Romish doctrine, offended Luther in his two essential requirements: it demanded a miracle which could be performed by a priest only, and this miraculous power so separated clergy from laity that it denied the spiritual priesthood of all believers; and, when the elements had been made by the priest’s creating word the body and blood of the Lord, their supernatural efficacy, apart from the faith of the communicant, imparted grace. Occam had championed a theory which in some form or other had been in the church since the 10th century at least, and which openly rejected one of these stumbling blocks, and, as Luther saw, really did away with the other also. According to Occam’s scholastic distinctions, matter can be present in two ways æ(1) when it occupies a distinct place by itself, excluding every other body, e.g., two stones mutually exclude each other, and (2) when it occupies the same space as another body at the same time. Everything which is omnipresent or ubiquitous must be able to occupy the same space as other things, else it could not be ubiquitous. Christ’s resurrection body, said Occam, had this power when our Lord appeared among His disciples while they were in a room with the doors shut; at a certain moment of time it and a portion of door or wall must have been in the same place at the same time; and besides Christ’s body is ubiquitous. It is therefore in the elements bread and wine, in, with, and under them. Luther took over this doctrine from Occam without alteration. The very illustrations he uses in his Bekenntniss vom Abendmahl are taken almost verbatim from Occam, De Altaris Sacramento. From this it followed that consubstantiation involved no miracle. Christ’s body was not brought into the elements by the priest; it was there naturally. But its presence in these elements on sacramental occasions brought with it a blessing, and imparted grace, not because of the presence, but because God had promised that this particular presence of the everywhere present body of Christ would bring blessings to the faithful partaker. Occam’s theory of consubstantiation fulfilled all Luther’s wants, and above all it involved no explaining away of the plain meaning of the sentence, "This is my body," such as had offended him in Carlstadt. It is easy to see therefore how Luther was alarmed at Zwingli. The Swiss Reformer seemed to attack everything that Luther prized. He did not care tradition or church usage; he seemed engaged in a rationalistic attack on the presence of Christ in the church, and on the word of God, and so he was guilty, in Luther’s estimation, both of self-confidence and of a rationalism. On the other hand, Zwingli could not understand what Luther meant; and yet he was anxious to unite with him, and was willing to leave this one difficulty an open question.

Marburg Conference

It was in these circumstancesæsuspicion on the part of Luther, blank amazement on the part of Zwingliæthat Philip of Hesse induced the Swiss and the German theologians to meet at Marburg. Luther was gloomy and suspicious, "as he had never been seen before," a friend said. The frank declarations of the Swiss Reformers soon cleared away all shadows of difference and dissent on all points but one, and fourteen articles defining the chief heads of Christian doctrine were adopted by both parties. Then came the discussion on the fifteenth, the doctrine of the Eucharist. Luther took a piece of chalk and wrote upon the table Hoc est corpus meum, and when worsted in argument, as he usually was, appealed to the sentence. The discussion, which lasted four days, however, resulted in the parties recognizing exactly where the point of difference lay, and in reducing it to its smallest dimensions. Both declared that they agreed in recognizing the Eucharist to be a sacrament of the true body and blood of Christ, and that a spiritual partaking of this body was a means of grace. They differed whether the true body and blood of Christ were corporeally in the sacrament. It was hoped that time would bring about alliance if not agreement, but Luther was obstinate. "Submit yourselves, believe as we do, or you cannot be acknowledged as Christians." He refused Zwingli’s hand; "You have another spirit from us," he said, meaning that there was no objective basis of faith between them owing to what he thought to be Zwingli’s rationalism. The result was a sad one, but Zwingli was to some extent a gainer; his view became naturalized in Germany, where Swabia adopted it, as did many of the imperial cities, and Philip of Hesse indicated that he preferred it.

Diet of Augsburg Confession

The Marburg conference was a sad prelude to the decisive diet to be held at Augsburg in 1530. The new diet was anxiously awaited. Charles had made known his intention to be present, and that he intended to enforce obedience to the edict of Worms. He entered Augsburg with great magnificence, and was in fact at the zenith of his power. He had broken the might of France, humbled the papacy, been crowned at Bologna, reorganized Italy, and driven back the Turk. His only remaining task, and it seemed easy, was to crush the Reformation. He first summoned before him the protesting princes and asked them to withdraw the protest. This they refused to do; they had a clear constitutional right, founding on the decision of Spires, to resist the emperor, and they resolved to exercise it. Divine service after Lutheran fashion was held at their quarters, and they refused to join in the procession of the host at the festival of Corpus Christi. Meanwhile Luther, Melanchthon with him, was at Coburg, near enough at hand for consultation and yet beyond the emperor’s reach. Melanchthon was preparing a confession with a defense, the so-called Apology, in case the emperor should require a statement of their doctrines. Luther was writing commentaries on the Psalms and the prophets, and was also preparing a popular edition of Æsop’s Fables. He also wrote comforting letters to the elector, and addressed one of his most powerful writings to the Roman Catholic clergy assembled in the diet at Augsburg. Melanchthon was sent for to consult about the confession which the emperor had asked for, and Luther remained alone at Coburg full of anxiety, for he knew his friend’s helplessness in the actual bustle of life. When Melanchthon got to Augsburg he really became a source of weakness. He induced the elector for the sake of peace of give up the services in the Franciscan church, and the Protestant preachers left the town in despair. Luther all the while had been quiet, waiting in patience; but this was too much for him, and he wrote to encourage the elector to resist. At length the Protestants were asked to present their confession. The emperor ordered it to be read in Latin. "No," said the elector, "we are Germans and on German ground. I hope therefore your majesty will allow us to speak German." When the vice-chancellor of the elector, Dr Christian Bairer, had read the first part of the confession, which exponds, the principles of the Reformation, and in particular the doctrine of justification by faith, "that faith which is not the mere knowledge of an historical fact, but that which believers, no only the history, but also the effect of that history upon the mind," it is said that an indescribable effect was produced upon the assembly. The opponents felt that there was a reality before them which they had never imagined; and others said that such a profession of faith by such princes was a more effectual preaching than that which had been stopped. "Christ," said Jonas, "is in the diet, and he does not keep silence; the word of God is indeed not to be bound." The Roman Catholic theologians present answered the confession, and then the emperor engaged Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians in negotiations in which Melanchthon soon showed his yielding character, even granting that the Protestants might acknowledge the jurisdiction of the bishops and the supremacy of the pope. At this critical moment Luther’s indignation found vent. "I understand," he wrote to Melanchthon, "that you have begun a marvelous work, to make Luther and the pope agree together, but the pope will say that he will not, and Luther begs to be excused. Should you, however, after all succeed in your affair, I will follow you example and make an agreement between Christ and Belial. Take care that you give not up justification by faith; that is the heel of the seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. Take care not to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the bishops; they will soon take all. In short, your negotiations have no chance of success unless the pope will renounce papacy." The Romanists fortunately demanded too much. Not even Melanchthon could yield the acknowledgment of private masses, of auricular confession, and of the meritorious character of good works; and the negotiations ceased. While they were in progress the emperor tried to intimidate the princes by calling the imperial troops into the free city of Augsburg and closing the gates. The landgrave escaped, and this frightened the Catholics. Unfortunately the Protestant’s had confessed their want of union by presenting three confessions of faith:æthe Lutherans had presented the Augsburg confession; Strasburg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau, which sympathized to some extent with Zwingli, presented the Confessio Tetrapolitana; and Zwingli had sent a confession which was not, however, laid before the diet. The diet broke up with the final decision that the Protestants should have till next spring to consider whether they would voluntarily return to the church, and that, if they proved obstinate, then measures would be taken for their extermination.

To the student of Luther’s life the diet of Augsburg is noteworthy chiefly because it was the occasion of the composition of the Augsburg confession, or Augustana, which afterwards became the symbol or confession of faith for the Lutheran Church. It was prepared by Melanchthon, founding on the fifteen articles of the Marburg conference, on the seventeen articles of Schwabach, and on the articles of Torgau. These various sets of articles had been written by Luther, and the Augsburg confession was strictly Luther’s own. It consists of two partsæone dogmatic, in twenty-one articles, which states the principal doctrines of the evangelical church, beginning with the Trinity and ending with the worship of saints; and the other in seven articles, rejecting the celibacy of the clergy, the sacrifice of the mass, auricular confession, ceremonial feasts and fasts, monastic vows, and the secular jurisdiction of bishops. It was signed at Augsburg by John of Saxony, George of Brandenburg, Ernest of Lüneburg, Philip of Hesse, and Wolfgang of Anhalt, and by the representatives of the towns of Nuremberg and Reutlingen and during the sitting of the diet of the representatives of Kempthe, Heilbronn, Windsheim, and Weissenburg.

Smalkald League

The edict of the diet was published on November 19, and the Protestant princes, after having overcome the resistance of Luther, met for conference at Smalkald on Christmas 1530, and formed an armed league for mutual defence. It had been declared that the edict would be put into execution in the spring of 1531, but when the time came the emperor had other work on hand; France had become troublesome, and the Turks were again moving. He found also that he could not count on the support of the Roman Catholic princes in the suppression of the Protestants. In presence of danger the Zwinglians and Lutherans showed a united front, and the Smalkald league grew to be a formiable power. The emperor resolved to come to terms with his Protestant subjects, and the result was the religious peace or rather truce of Nuremberg, which left things as they were until a general council should settle matters. The years following this peace of Nuremberg were comparatively prosperous to the Reformation. The Smalkald league was the only organized power in Germany, and very effectually prevented the oppression of Protestants by Roman Catholics. Year by year their numbers increased, and Luther saw the evangelical cause prospering. First Wümtemberg was won back for young Duke Christopher, who had become a Protestant, and found on his entry to his dukedom that his people were already secret Protestants. In northern and central Germany whole districts embraced the evangelical doctrines. Electoral Brandenburg and ducal Saxony had received Protestant rulers, who found their people more than willing to accept the creed of their new sovereigns. At last the only large states that were able to maintain a firm front against the Lutheran doctrines were Austria, Bavaria, the Palatinate, and the great ecclesiastical provinces on the Rhine, an even in these regions visitations of the churches had shown that the people were forsaking the old faith. It appeared that a more serious defection than any might at any moment be made. The elector archbishop of Cologne showed signs of abandoning the Roma Catholic faith and secularizing his vast Episcopal territories, and this threatened defection made Charles bestir himself. If the elector became a Protestant the Lutherans would be in majority in the electoral college, and a Protestant emperor might he elected.

Work of Luther's Later Years

During all these years Luther was quietly at work at Wittenberg, lecturing, preaching, and writing. At first he felt anxious lest civil war should break out, and he had scruples about many of the doings, and even about the very existence, of the league which was really giving the land peace. Under Philip of Hesse the Reformation was assuming a national and political shape with alarmed Luther, who was than ever content to keep out of public life and keep himself to his books. He began publishing his lectures on various portions of Scripture, on the Epistle to the Galatians and on the Psalms of Degrees. He wrote one or two controversial tracts, mainly to show how the Reformed could not accept the conditions offered by the Roman Catholics at Augsburg. In 1534, to his great joy, the first complete translation of the whole Bible was published, and next year appeared a new edition of the Wittenberg hymn-book, containing several new hymns. Philip of Hesse, notwithstanding the failure of the conference at Marburg, still thought that something might be done to remove the theological differences between Switzerland and Saxony, or at least Swabia, Strasburg, and Wittenberg. The divines of Switzerland and South Germany had by their publications made this somewhat easier. The confession of Basel, drafted by (Œcolampadius (1531), revised by Myconius, and published by the magistracy of Basel, had declared that in the Lord’s Supper Christ is the food of the should to everlasting life, and Bucer and the other South-German divines were anxious for a union. Philip of Hesse, Bucer, and Melanchthon met in conference at Cassel to arrange preliminaries, not without suspicion on Luther’s part, for he could not trust Melanchthon at a conference, and, as he remarked to Justus Jonas, he hated trimmers above all men on the earth’s round. The result, however, was better than he had hoped for. Bucer drew up a short confession which was to be submitted to the Wittenberg theologians, and was favourably received by them, and the South German theologians were invited to a further conference at Wittenberg. The meeting very fairly represented all the German states, and the result was the document known as the Wittenberg Concordia. This document, mainly drawn up by Bucer and Melanchthon, contains a statement of the doctrine of the sacrament of the supper expressed according to the Lutheran formula, with the declaration that unworthy or faithless partakers really do not participate in the sacrament. Melanchthon and Bucer had used too much diplomatic skill in drawing up the formula, for the essential differences between the Wittenberg and the Strasburg school were not really faced and explained; they were covered over with ambiguous language. Nor could the document be accepted by the Swiss; but a time it seemed as if a satisfactory basis of peace had been established. The general satisfaction was increased by the publication of the First Helvetic Confession, which while stating the doctrine of ht sacrament of the supper in a manner essentially Zwinglian, laid special emphasis on the real spiritual presence of Christ in the elements. Luther in a letter to Meyer, burgomaster of Basel, and also in his answer to the Reformed cantons, acknowledged the earnest Christianity of the confession, and promised to do his best to promote union with the Swiss. It is sad to think that only three years later his old animosity to Zwingli and his countrymen broke out again in his book against the Turks, and that he renewed the sacramental controversy with even more than the old fury in his Short Confession of the Holy Sacrament, published in 1544. this first Helvetic confession was drawn up, however, for another purpose than to appease the Wittenberg theologians. Charles V. was urging the pope to call a general council to end the disputes within the Christian church, and it seemed so probable that a council would meet that the Protestants were everywhere preparing themselves by doctrinal statements for making their share in its work. The German princes and their theologians were also greatly exercised about this council, and the thought of it and how Protestants should bear themselves in its presence was filling Luther’s mind. He wrote several short papers on the subject in the years 1534-39, beginning with the Convocatio Concilii liberi and ending with Von den Conciliis und Kirchen. The pope, Paul III., yielding to the pressure of the emperor and of such liberal Roman Catholics as Vergerius, his legate in Germany, called a council to meet in May 1537 at Mantua, and invited the Lutherans to be present. The Lutheran princes and theologians felt compelled to face the question whether they could or could not accept the invitation, and Luther, at the request of the elector of Saxony, prepared a creed to used as a basis of negotiations. This was submitted to the princes and theologians assembled at Smalkald, and was in substance adopted by them. It is called the Smalkald Articles, and is important because in its statement of the doctrine of the sacrament of the supper it repudiates the Wittenberg Concord. The princes decide that they would have nothing to do with a council which did not meet on German soil. The emperor, alarmed at the progress of Protestantism, and at the united front shown by German Protestants, and troubled by the refusal of the pope to consent to a council to be held out of Italy, strove to bring Protestants and Roman Catholics together by means of religious conferences. The first of these, held at Hagenan, came to nothing. Next year (1541) the conference was renewed at Worms, when the Roman Catholic partly promised reforms on condition that the Protestants first submitted to the pope. This condition could not be accepted. Representatives met the same year at Ratisbon, and here the conference was wrecked on the doctrine of transubstantiation, but the diet renewed the terms of the edict of Nuremberg of 1532æ the Ratisbon Interim. If was felt by all parties that this provisional state of matters must come to and end some time, and that the Protestants must either be allowed to have their own way or win it by fighting. The emperor was not ready for war, and at the diet at Spires in 1544 it was agreed that the Protestants were to maintain their rights until a general council met. Whatever hope they might have from such a council were soon dissipated. The council of Trent was opened that year, and its earliest acts were to refuse to pass the conciliatory measures proposed by some of the liberal Roman Catholics. The emperor still temporized and promised reforms, if not by a council then by a national assembly, and many of the Protestants, Luther among them, still hoped that matters might settle themselves without civil war. This hope inspired what was called the Wittenberg Reformation, a document setting forth how near the evangelical church might approach the Roman Catholic and still retain the truths it had upheld. The year 1546 began, however, with unmistakable indications that Charles was now ready to strike a decisive blow.

Luther had been suffering much during the last few years, and he felt his end to be near. In the month of January 1546 undertook a journey to Eisleben in very inclement weather, in order to restore peace in the family of the counts of Mansfeld; he caught a violent cold, but preached four times, and took all the time an active part in the work of conciliation. On the 17th of February he felt that his release was at hand; and at Eisleben, where he was born, he died, in faith and prayer, on the following day. Nothing can be more edifying than the scene presented by the last days of Luther, of which we have the most authentic and detailed accounts. When dying, he collected his last strength and offered up the following prayer:æ "Heavenly Father, eternal, merciful God, thou hast revealed to me Thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Him I have taught, Him I have confessed, Him I love as my Saviour and Redeemer, whom the wicked persecute, dishonour, and reprove. Take my poor soul up to Thee!" Then two of his friends put to him the solemn question,æ"Reverend Father, do you die in Christ and in the doctrine you have constantly preached?" He answered by an audible and joyful "Yes"; and, repeating the verse, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," he expired peacefully, without a struggle, on the 18th of February 1546, at four o’clock in the afternoon.

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