LESSONS FROM THE
by Alonzo Jones
WHAT IS “PROTESTANT?”
What is the meaning of the word “Protestant?” How came it into the world?
The word “Protestant,” as expressing a religious distinction; the word “Protestant” with a capital P; the word “Protestant,” as dealt with by the Chicago Council of the Federated Churches; came into the world with the
word “Protest” that was used in the Protest that was made at the Diet of Spires in Germany, April 19, 1529.
That Protest was made against the arbitrary, unjust, and persecuting procedure of the papacy in that Diet.
This procedure in the Diet of Spires of 1529 swept away the religious liberty that had been agreed upon and regularly established in the Diet of Spires of 1526.
The religious liberty established by the Diet of Spires of 1526 was the result of a deadlock in the proceedings of that Diet over the enforcement, by all the power of the then papacy, of the Edict of Worms that had been issued in 1521 commanding the destruction of Martin Luther, his adherents, his writings, and all who printed or circulated his writings, or who on their own part should print or circulate the like.
Thus the Protest in which originated the word “Protestant” was against the effort of the papacy to destroy the Reformation, and was in behalf of the Reformation and its principles.
And now for anybody to renounce, repudiate, or disown, the word or title “Protestant,” is to repudiate the Protest.
To repudiate the Protest, is to repudiate as unworthy the cause and the principles in behalf of which the Protest was made.
And that cause was the Reformation. Those principles were the principles of the Reformation.
Therefore, to renounce, repudiate, or disown, the word and title “Protestant” is nothing less and nothing else than to repudiate the Reformation.
And the Federal Council of Churches, thirty-one denominations, having “a membership of more than seventeen millions,” at Chicago, Ill., Dec. 5, 1912, did unanimously renounce, repudiate, and disown, the word and title “Protestant.”
And that this may be made so plain that all may see for themselves that just such is unquestionably the meaning of that action taken, let us now consider directly the facts, documents, and dates, in which rests the indisputable truth of the case.
In 1521 the Diet of Worms condemned Luther and the Reformation. There immediately followed the “Edict of Worms” that is the key to the proceedings that called forth the Protest in which originated the word “Protestant.”
The Edict of Worms was issued by the Emperor Charles V, “the ablest and most powerful monarch of the sixteenth century.” After denouncing Luther personally in sweeping terms, the imperial edict thus commands: —
“We have therefore sent this Luther from before our face, that all pious and sensible men may regard him as a fool, or a man possessed of the devil; and we expect that after the expiry of his safe-conduct, effectual means will be taken to arrest his furious rage.
“Wherefore, under pain of incurring the punishment due to the crime of treason, we forbid you to lodge the said Luther as soon as the fatal term shall be expired, to conceal him, give him meat or drink, and lend him, by word or deed, publicly or secretly, any kind of assistance. We enjoin you, moreover, to seize him, or cause him to be seized, wherever you find him, and bring him to us without any delay, or to keep him in all safety until you hear from us how you are to act with regard to him, and till you receive the recompense due to your exertions in so holy a work. “As to his adherents, you will seize them, suppress them, and confiscate their goods.
“As to his writings, if the best food becomes the terror of all mankind as soon as a drop of poison is mixed with it, how much more ought these books, which contain a deadly poison to the soul, to be not only rejected, but also annihilated! You will therefore burn them, or in some other way destroy them entirely. “As to authors, poets, printers, painters, sellers or buyers of placards, writings or paintings, against the Pope or the church, you will lay hold of their persons and their goods, and treat them according to your good pleasure.
“And if anyone, whatever be his dignity, shall dare to act in contradiction to the decree of our imperial majesty, we ordain that he shall be placed under the ban of the empire. “Let everyone conform hereto.”
And that the emperor meant every word of that edict, and that it should be enforced in full of all that it said, is made plain in the following sentences which he wrote with his own hand: —
“Sprung from the Christian emperors of Germany, from the Catholic kings of Spain, the archduke of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy, who are all illustrious as defenders of the Roman faith, it is my firm purpose to follow the example of my ancestors. A single monk, led astray by his own folly, sets himself up in opposition to the faith of Christendom! I will sacrifice my dominions, my power, my friends, my treasure, my blood, my mind, and my life, to stay this impiety.”
Before the Diet had assembled, the Pope had included Luther in the list of heretics denounced in the annual proclamation of the “Greater Excommunication.” The Edict of Worms was the movement of the “secular arm” that should give effect to that excommunication. In the Diet, April 18, 1522, to the Emperor, to the papacy, to the Diet itself, to all Germany, to Europe, and to the world, Luther had given his “answer.” That answer, as summed up by Luther himself, after having spoken two hours, stands as follows: —
“Since your most serene majesty, and your high mightinesses, call upon me for a simple, clear, and definite answer, I will give it. And it is this:
“I cannot subject my faith either to the Pope or to Councils; because it is clear as day, that they have often fallen into error, and even into great self-contradiction.
“If, then, I am not disproved by passages of Scripture, or by clear arguments, — if I am not convinced by the very passages which I have quoted, and so bound in conscience to submit to the Word of God, I neither can nor will retract anything. For it is not safe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.
“Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” The personal presence of the Emperor and of the Pope’s nuncio in their known antagonism to it all, could not wholly restrain applause in response to that quietly brave and noble answer in the very moment of its giving. And that applause, with the noble “answer” itself, presently resounded through the whole of Germany, inspiring multitudes to speak out the faith and truth of the Gospel.
In the Diet the papacy had been arraigned by loyal Roman Catholic princes no less vigorously than by Luther. As a result, a formulated list of one hundred and one grievances had been lodged with the Diet for redress. This had given great force in the minds of all to the merit of Luther’s attacks, and above all to his plea for something better than a system that could produce only such grievous fruits. And his free answer to the Emperor and the Diet; and his plain refusal, alone, in the face of all the power of the empire and the papacy, to recede an inch or to retract anything, was the trumpet-sound of freedom that all were glad to hear. April 26 Luther left Worms to return to his home at Wittemberg. April 28, at one of the stations on the way, he wrote to the Emperor a personal letter in which he said: —
“God who is the searcher of hearts is my witness that I am ready with all diligence to obey your majesty, whether in honor or disgrace, whether by life or by death, and with absolutely no exception but the Word of God, from which man derives life.
“In all the affairs of the present life, my fidelity will be immutable; for, as to these, loss or gain cannot at all affect salvation. But in regard to eternal blessings, it is not the will of God that man should submit to man. Subjection in the spiritual world constitutes worship, and should be paid only to the Creator.”
While he was on his homeward journey, May 4, 1521, Luther was “captured” by friendly hands and was carried to the Wartburg, where he remained out of the knowledge of the world till March 3, 1522. But in all this time the Reformation went triumphantly onward throughout Germany, and even to Denmark and other neighboring countries.
In spite of the Edict of Worms and all the power behind it, in the very year of its proclamation there issued from the press at Wittemberg more than two hundred evangelical publications that were scattered and read everywhere. They were even translated into French, Spanish, English, and Italian.
The progress of the Turkish armies in 1522 so occupied the attention of the empire that there was no room for any general enforcement of the Edict of Worms. Yet the Emperor was determined that the Reformation should not be lost sight of. October 31 he wrote to the Pope: —
“It is necessary to arrest the Turks, and punish the partisans of the poisonous doctrines of Luther with the sword.”
In December, 1522, the imperial Diet assembled at Nuremberg, with its chief purpose, under instructions from the Emperor and the Pope, to deal with the Reformation.
The first thing that was put before the Diet was the demand from the Pope by his legate that Luther should be destroyed. With the papal brief in his hand the legate declared: —
“It is necessary to amputate this gangrened limb from the body. The omnipotent God has caused the earth to open and swallow up alive the two schismatics, Dathan and Abiram. Peter, the prince of the apostles, struck Ananias and Sapphira with sudden death for lying against God. Your own ancestors at Constance put to death John Huss and Jerome of Prague, who now seem risen from the dead in Martin Luther . Follow the glorious example of your ancestors; and, with the assistance of God and St. Peter, carry off a magnificent victory over the infernal dragon.”
Yet the Pope thought to make sure of the favor of the Diet by confessing the corruptions of the papacy, and actually declaring the universal desire for the reformation of the papacy “both in the head and the members.” He said: —
“We know well that for a considerable time many abominable things have found a place near the holy chair: abuses in spiritual things, exorbitant straining of prerogatives — everything turned to evil. The disease has spread from the head to the limbs — from the Pope to the prelates. We are all gone astray; there is none that has done rightly, no, not one. We desire the reformation of this Roman court, whence proceed so many evils. The whole world desires it. And it was with a view to its accomplishment that we were resigned to mount the pontifical throne.”
It is true that this so much “desired reformation” was not to be wrought “too precipitately”; no one must be “too extreme”; it must “proceed gently and by degrees, step by step.” But for the Pope to pronounce such a thing at all, as he did, and in writing, officially to the whole imperial Diet, and under precisely that sort of attack! The papal party in the Diet could scarcely believe their ears. The evangelicals rejoiced.
Instead of this stroke’s winning the Diet to the papal side, it put a decided check upon the Edict of Worms, fully justified Luther and the Reformation, and encouraged the Diet to bolder measures.
The Diet therefore “resolved to collect into one body all the grievances which Germany complained of against Rome, and despatch them to the Pope.” To this even the ecclesiastics in the Diet offered no opposition. When those grievances were formally listed, there were found to be eightyfour of them: a “terrible catalogue of the exactions, frauds, oppressions, and wrongs, that Germany had endured at the hands of the Popes.” And the presentation concluded with the significant sentence —
“If these grievances are not redressed within a limited time, we will consider other means of escaping from this oppression and suffering.”
As to Luther the Diet informed the Pope that to enforce the Edict of Worms against him and put him to death for saying the very things that the Pope himself had just now said, would be both so unjust and so dangerous that it would be but madness. If theologically Luther were wrong, the proper thing to do was for the church to refute from the Scriptures his errors; and they knew of but one way effectually to do that, which was by a General Council. And they demanded that such a Council should be called to meet within a year in some free city of Germany; and decreed that “in the meantime the pure Gospel shall be freely preached piously and soberly, according to the exposition of Scripture received and approved by the Church.”
By this unexpected turn of affairs the legate was so displeased that he utterly abandoned the Diet, and left Nuremberg. And when the official account of the proceedings reached Rome, the Pope was filled with wrath; and gave vent to it in a scathing letter to the Elector Frederick, Luther’s sovereign, in which he blamed Frederick for all the wars, calamities, and evils, that afflicted the empire, because he had not destroyed Luther. He threatened the Elector with the vengeance of God here and hereafter, and of the “two swords of the empire and the popedom,” if in this thing he were not “speedily converted.”
This cry of the Pope awakened the enforcement of the Edict of Worms in the Catholic States of Germany. Duke George took the lead in this. He too wrote to Frederick, who was his own brother, urging him to enforce the Edict of Worms. The noble Elector replied: —
“Whosoever shall do a criminal act within my States shall not escape condign punishment. But matters of conscience must be left to God.”
In 1524 the Imperial Diet met again in Nuremberg. The imperial commissioner came with the word of the Emperor, complaining that the Edict of Worms was not observed, and demanding that it be put into execution. The Pope’s legate, in his opening address, cited the Edict of Worms, called for its enforcement, and demanded that “the Reformation should be suppressed by force.”
Members of the Diet immediately inquired, “What has become of the grievances presented to the Pope by the Germanic nation?”
The legate answered that although three copies of the resolutions had reached Rome, —
“the Pope and college of cardinals could not believe that they had been framed by the princes! They thought that some private persons had published them in hatred to the court of Rome! Therefore I have no instructions as to that!”
That the solemn representations of the Diet should be ignored, and a slur cast upon the Diet itself, through such a subterfuge as that, caused a wave of just indignation to sweep the whole assembly. When their turn should come, they would know how to answer. And presently it came.
Both the legate and the imperial commissioner, each for his master, insisted on the full enforcement of the Edict of Worms. The Diet had no power to repeal it. They would not enforce it. Nor would they allow themselves to be put in the attitude of rebellion, by a flat refusal. Therefore they framed and adopted a decree that —
“It is necessary to conform to the Edict of Worms and vigorously to enforce it as far as possible.”
And all knew, indeed a majority of the States had already declared, that it was not possible at all. But both Emperor and Pope had to be content with the “decree.”
Again the Diet demanded a General Council to be held on German soil. They also agreed that a Diet should assemble at Spires in November of that same year, 1524. These acts offended both the Emperor and the Pope, each that he was not first consulted and deferred to. The Pope wrote to the Emperor: —
“If I am the first to face the storm, it is not because I am the first to be threatened by it; but because I sit at the helm. The rights of the empire are attacked even more than the dignity of the court of Rome.”
The Emperor issued an edict declaring: —
“It belongs to the Pope alone to assemble a Council, — to the Emperor alone to ask it. The meeting fixed to take place at Spires can not, and will not, be tolerated. It is strange in the German nation to undertake a work which all the other nations of the world, even with the Pope, would not be entitled to do. The proper course is to hasten the execution of the decree of Worms against the new Mohammed.”
Following the adjournment of the second Diet of Nuremberg, the Pope’s legate, in a conference at Ratisbon, formed a league, composed of the archduke of Austria, the dukes of Bavaria, the archbishop of Salzburg, and nine bishops, against the Reformation. This league engaged —
1. To execute the Edicts of Worms and Nuremberg.
2. To allow no change in public worship.
3. To give no toleration within their States to any married ecclesiastic.
4. To recall all the students belonging in their States who might be at Wittemberg.
5. To employ all the means in their power for the extirpation of heresy.
6. To enjoin upon all preachers that, in expounding difficult passages of the Scripture, they confine themselves to the interpretation given by the Latin Fathers Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great. The League also offered as a reform that priests should be forbidden —
1. To engage in trade.
2. To haunt taverns.
3. To frequent dances.
4. To engage over the bottle in discussing articles of faith.
May 5, 1525, died the Elector Frederick. Immediately Duke George set about to form in north Germany a league similar to that of Ratisbon in the south, against the Reformation. In July this was consummated at Dessau. It was composed of the Electors of Mentz and Brandenburg, two dukes of Brunswick, and Duke George. Just at this time there arrived in Germany from Spain, a decree of the Emperor appointing that a Diet be held at Augsburg in November of that year, to take measures —
“to defend the Christian religion, and the holy rites and customs received from their ancestors; and to prohibit all pernicious doctrines and innovations.”
Under this appointment the attendance at Augsburg was so small that the Diet adjourned to meet at Spires in midsummer of 1526.
In this intervening time a church convention at Mentz sent a deputation to the Emperor and one also to the Pope, asking them to “save the Church.” About the same time Duke George and two other members of his league conferred together and decided to send one of their number personally to the Emperor to beg his assistance, because “the detestable doctrine of Luther makes rapid progress.”
The Emperor gave to their deputy a special commission to assure them that —
“with deep grief he had learned of the continual progress of Luther’s heresy; and that, neglecting every other affair, he was going to quit Spain and repair to Rome to make arrangements with the Pope, and then return to Germany to combat the detestable pest of Wittemberg.”
The Leagues of Ratisbon and Dessau, with the reawakening of the Emperor and the Pope, all unitedly to enforce the Edict of Worms everywhere, amounted to a general alliance against the Reformation. This of necessity caused that the Princes who had received the Gospel, and such others as would not afflict their own people nor war upon their own States should stand in mutual sympathy and support against that thing being forced upon their States or their people.
The Princes who had decidedly accepted the Gospel, made public their agreement in a signed document running as follows: —
“God Almighty having, in His ineffable mercy, caused His holy and eternal Word, the food of our souls and our greatest treasure here below, to appear again amongst men: and powerful maneuvers having been employed on the part of the clergy and their adherents to annihilate and extirpate it; we being firmly assured that He who has sent it to glorify His name upon the earth is able to maintain it, engage to preserve this holy Word to our people: and for this end to employ our goods, our lives, our States, our subjects, all that we possess — confiding not in our armies, but solely in the omnipotence of the Lord, whose instruments we desire to be.”
The Elector of Saxony and ten other powerful Princes signed this document. Upon their banners and escutcheons, and upon the liveries of their retainers and servants, they emblazoned and embroidered the full five initials “V. D. M. I. AE.” of their motto — Verbum Domini Manet in AEternum” — The Word of the Lord abideth eternally.
This Christian courage of the evangelical Princes, and the expressive inaction of those Princes who were willing to be neutral, put a check upon the papal leagues and general alliance; and still suspended the force of the Edict of Worms. Thus matters stood at the time of the assembling of the Diet of Spires, June 25, 1526.
On arrival at Spires the evangelical Princes immediately asked the Bishop of Spires for the use of a church in which to worship and to listen to the preaching of the Gospel. The bishop, resenting such temerity, indignantly refused: “What would be thought of me at Rome?”!
The Princes complained of the injustice, for the churches belonged as much to them as to the bishops and were properly for the religious benefit of all the people.
Not being allowed any church, the evangelical Princes had the Gospel preached daily in the halls of their palaces. Immense crowds, of people from both city and country, attended the preaching of the Gospel, while the mass was said in empty churches. Evangelical writings were abundantly distributed, and eagerly read by both princes and people. The whole city and region round was moved more by the Reformation than by the Diet.
An immediate effect of all this was that the Princes who had been only neutral as to the enforcement of the Edict of Worms, now in the Diet stood decidedly against any enforcement of it. The Diet did not say that the Edict of Worms should be enforced “as far as possible.” It said plainly, not only that the enforcement of the Edict was impossible, but also that if the Emperor were present he himself would be of the same mind.
Next, against the opposition of the ecclesiastical section of the Diet, a resolution was adopted that the Diet should consider the church-abuses. The deputy from the City of Frankfort said: “The clergy make a jest of the public good, and look after their own interests only.”
The deputy from Duke George the rabid enemy of Luther, said: “The laymen have the salvation of Christendom much more at heart than the clergy.”
“Never had the towns spoken out more freely; never had the Princes pressed more urgently for a removal of their burthens.” — Ranke.
Several cities, by their representatives, presented to the Diet a paper containing a list of abuses from which they asked relief. They asked that the law of forbidden meats should be abolished: that as to ceremonies all men should be left at liberty, till a General Council should meet: that till then also there should be the free preaching of the Gospel.
They complained of the church holidays, which, of course, were all compulsory. They said —
“The severe penalties which forbid useful labor on these days, do not shut out temptations to vice and crime; and these periods of compulsory idleness are as unfavorable to the practice of virtue, as to the habit of industry.”
These complaints too were entertained, and “the Diet was divided into committees for the abolition of abuses.” August 1 a general committee reported “the necessity of a reform of abuses.” Finally “the proposal was made that the books containing the new statutes should be forthwith burned without reserve, and that the holy Scriptures should be taken as the sole rule of faith. Although some opposition arose, yet never was a resolution adopted with more firmness.” — Ranke.
The tide was flowing strongly in the unexpected direction. The Diet that was confidently convoked to speak the last word to the heretics, and if not heard was to deal the finishing blow to the Reformation, was speaking weighty words and dealing body blows to the papacy.
The situation was desperate. Something telling must be done. “Fanatical priests, monks, ecclesiastical princes, all gathered round Ferdinand. Cunning, bribery, nothing was spared.”
The reason that Ferdinand was the centre of effort was this: Ferdinand was the Emperor’s brother. He was the voice of the Emperor in the Diet. He had in his possession a document of “instructions” from the Emperor to the Diet, dated March 23, 1526, four months before the Diet had assembled. In this document the Emperor —
“willed and commanded that they should decree nothing contrary to the ancient customs, canons, and ceremonies, of the Church; and that all things should be ordered within his dominions according to the form and tenor of the Edict of Worms.”
The papal party in the Diet knew that Ferdinand had this document. The evangelical Princes and the deputies from the cities did not know that he had it. In the hope that the course of things in the Diet should be such that he might not have to use it, Ferdinand had not given it to the Diet at the beginning; and now that the Diet had gone so far in the opposite direction, he hesitated to publish it, knowing that in the present circumstances it amounted almost to a declaration of war.
Those who surrounded Ferdinand urged that he now bring forth the Emperor’s “instructions.” “To refuse their publication was to effect the ruin of the Church and the Empire! Let the voice of Charles oppose its powerful veto to the dizziness that is hurrying Germany along, and the Empire will be saved!”
Ferdinand yielded, and August 3 put the document before the Diet. The immediate effect of its promulgation was just what Ferdinand had feared. But presently the date of the document was asked for. When it was given, “March 23,” all breathed freely again; for the whole effect of it was gone. The Diet calmly replied that since that time the Emperor and the Pope had fallen out and were now at war, and this fact itself vitiated the force of the instructions; for they were founded on concert with the Pope. Indeed the document itself said that the Emperor was “about to proceed to Rome to be crowned,” and that he would then “consult with the Pope touching the calling of a General Council.” And since these parts of the document were now inoperative, so were all.
Further investigation developed the even more decisive fact that the Emperor had actually written to Ferdinand lately, saying in so many words,
“Let us suspend the Edict of Worms. Let us bring back Luther’s partisans by mildness, and by a good council cause the triumph of evangelical truth.”
This proposal was only a political turn taken by the Emperor to play against the Pope. But it perfectly fitted the necessity of the Diet; for it both suspended the Edict of Worms, and sanctioned all that the Diet had done to “cause the triumph of evangelical truth.”
The result was a deadlock in the proceedings in the Diet. Yet the way out was another advance of the Reformation, and further “triumph of evangelical truth.” That way was the way of religious liberty and the supremacy of the Word of God. There was unanimous agreement to — “Let every man do as he thinks fit: until a council shall re-establish the desired unity by the Word of God.”
This conclusion was framed into a formal decree of the Diet. This decree was called “the Recess of the Diet of Spires.” It was dated Aug. 17, 1526, and was officially signed by Ferdinand on the part of the Emperor. It provided that —
1. A universal, or at least a national free, Council should be convoked within a year.
2. The Emperor should be invited to return speedily to Germany.
3. “As to religion and the Edict of Worms, in the meanwhile till a General or National Council can be had, all shall so behave themselves in their several provinces as that they may be able to render an account of their doings both to God and the Emperor.”
The expected Council was not called within the year suggested, nor at all. This allowed the religious liberty established by the Diet to continue, with no check nor limitation: except in the rigidly Romish States.
The Emperor’s war with the Pope occupied all the attention of both. After that war had brought upon the City of Rome such a sacking by the imperial troops as it had never known since that by the Goths and the Vandals, if even then, the Emperor and the Pope concluded a “peace,” June 29, 1528. Of course this “peace” meant only destruction to the Christians of the Reformation. An article of the treaty stipulated that the Emperor should re31 establish the authority of the Pope in Germany. The Emperor promised that “with all his might” he would put down the heretics.
However, this should be done by means of the action of a Diet and the power of the States, if possible. But if that should fail, then it must be done by the power of the imperial armies. Accordingly, Aug. 1, 1528, the imperial letters were sent out appointing the meeting of the Diet Feb. 21, 1529, at Spires.
To attack the Reformation through the action of a Diet was now more difficult than ever, because the present order of religious liberty was of the direct and unanimous action of the Diet signed with the names and sealed with the oaths of all. By every formal and constitutional sanction that act was the law of the empire. Yet in the “peace” between the Emperor and the Pope, these considerations should count for nothing. All must be swept away, to give place to the Edict of Worms. The Reformation must be put down.
When the time came for the assembling of the Diet, everything was made to bear the impress of the purpose of the new compact. The papal party attended in greater numbers than ever before, and distinctly manifested a superior and confident air. The evangelical Princes were now forbidden to have the preaching of the Gospel even in their own halls. However, they did not respect this command. The Elector of Saxony wrote that about eight thousand people attended morning and evening worship in his chapel on Palm-Sunday.
Upon the formal opening of the Diet, the imperial commissioners conveyed the information that —
“It is the Emperor’s will and command that the Diet repeal the Edict of Spires.”
The papal party of course insisted that this should be done immediately, because, as they said, that Edict of religious liberty —
1. Protected all kinds of abominable opinions.
2. Fostered the growth of heretical and disloyal communities. (Meaning evangelical congregations.)
3. It was the will of the Emperor.
4. Whoever opposed the repeal was not the friend of the Emperor. The evangelical Princes maintained that —
1. The Edict of religious liberty had been unanimously adopted, signed and sworn to, by the members of the Diet, and by Ferdinand on behalf of the Emperor.
2. It was thus a part of the constitution of the empire.
3. For only a majority now to presume to repeal it, would be an open breach of national and constitutional faith.
4. If such procedure were to be adopted, there could never be any security in anything.
5. Also a centralized authority would thus be established that would sweep away the local.
6. The independence of the individual States would be destroyed.
7. Yet after all, there would yet remain the right of each State to resist such an order of things in its own territory.
8. Therefore the demand of the Emperor meant nothing less than revolution and war.
These arguments were so forceful, and the dangerous consequences of repeal were so manifestly logical, that even Catholic princes were won. The Emperor’s proposal did not carry. The Diet refused to repeal the Recess of Spires. Then the papal party played a bold stroke. The imperial commissioners announced that —
“By virtue of his supreme power, the Emperor has annulled the Edict of Spires.”
This was worse yet. The Emperor’s action in this was wholly unconstitutional and arbitrary. For a majority of the Diet to do such a thing would be arbitrary and revolutionary. But for the Emperor alone to do it of his own arbitrary will and power, was more so. The Diet — not the evangelical Princes only, but the main body of the Diet — met this new assertion with calmness and courage. They refused to recognize it.
But this being a part of the settled program, the papal party proceeded as if the Emperor’s arbitrary act were fully and formally legal. And with the Edict of Spires presumed thus to be out of the way, they demanded that the Diet now order the full enforcement of the Edict of Worms.
The Diet would not itself repeal the Recess, nor would it recognize the Emperor’s annulment of it. With it standing, the Edict of Worms could not be revived. Then the papal party took a course seemingly to propose the continuance of the Edict of Spires and the avoidance of the Edict of Worms; but really to undermine the Edict of Spires, and to smother the Reformation, instead of to crush it.
April 7 they secured a majority vote in the Diet in favor of a resolution that —
1. In all places where the Edict of Worms had been enforced, every religious innovation should continue to be interdicted.
2. In all places where the Edict of Worms had not been, or could not be, enforced, there should be no new reform.
3. The reformers should not touch any controverted point.
4. They should not oppose any celebration of the mass.
5. They should not permit any Catholic to embrace the doctrines of Luther.
6. They should acknowledge the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church.
7. They should not tolerate any Anabaptists nor any Sacramentarians. This on its face was a proposal for the positive smothering of the Reformation; for it stopped every activity of the reformers, and gave full scope to every activity of the Catholics.
Against the new proposal the evangelical Princes contended that —
“This Diet is incompetent to do more than to preserve the religious liberty established by the former Diet, until the Council shall meet according to the original agreement embodied in the provision of the Recess. Therefore we reject this decree. We reject it also because, in matters of faith the majority have no power.”
The passage of the new proposal, April 7th, was but the first step: others had to follow before it could be a law. But bearing down all pleas or considerations of right or justice, it was jammed through the remaining stages; for “Ferdinand and the priests were determined on vanquishing what they called a ‘daring obstinacy.’
“They commenced with the weaker States. They began to frighten and divide the cities, which had hitherto pursued a common course. On the 12th April they were summoned before the Diet. In vain did they allege the absence of some of their number, and ask for delay. It was refused, and the call was hurried on. Twenty-one free cities accepted the proposition of the Diet, and fourteen rejected it. “On the 18th April it was decreed that the evangelical States should not be heard again; and Ferdinand prepared to inflict the decisive blow, on the morrow.
“When the day came, the king appeared in the Diet surrounded by the other commissaries of the empire and several bishops. He thanked the Roman Catholics for their fidelity, and declared that the resolution, having been definitely agreed to, was about to be drawn up in the form of an imperial decree.
“He then announced to the Elector and his friends, that their only remaining course was to submit to the majority. The evangelical Princes, who had not expected so positive a declaration, were excited at this summons; and passed, according to custom, into an adjoining chamber to deliberate.
“But Ferdinand was not in a humour to wait for their answer. He rose and the imperial commissioners with him. Vain were all endeavors to stop him. ‘I have received an order from his imperial majesty,’ replied he; ‘I have executed it. All is over.” — D’Aubnigne.
When the Princes returned from their deliberation and found Ferdinand and his party gone, they sent to him a deputation entreating him to return. He replied only, “It is a settled affair. Submission is all that remains.”
Then the evangelical Princes, seeing that the whole matter had been decided against them, and the meeting adjourned to prevent their answering, and all this in their absence, decided “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.”
Accordingly the next day, April 19, 1529, the evangelical Princes appeared before the Diet, and, for himself, for the princes, and for the whole evangelical body, the Elector John of Saxony read the declaration of Protest that put the word “Protestant” in the world, and gave to the Reformation the name and title of Protestant.
That noble, just, and Christian Declaration runs as follows: —
“Dear Lords, Cousins, Uncles, and Friends! —
“Having repaired to this Diet at the summons of his majesty, and for the common good of Christendom, we have heard and learnt that the decisions 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.
“King Ferdinand and the other imperial commissioners, 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.
“We cannot, therefore, consent to its repeal: —
“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. “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.
“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.
“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.
“This would be to deny our Lord Jesus Christ, to reject His holy Word, and thus give Him good reason to deny us in turn before His Father, as He has threatened.
“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!
“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 becomingly 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.
“Moreover, 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 holy Word, such as 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: whilst all the human vanities that are set up against it, shall fall before the face of God.
“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 anything 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.
“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.”
“Thus, in the presence of the Diet, spoke out those courageous men whom Christendom will henceforward denominate The Protestants.”
And that is the origin of the word “Protestant.” That is the true story of the word “Protestant” as dealt with and repudiated by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, thirty-one denominations with “a membership of more than seventeen millions.”
And now, having looked the story through, —
What is there in it anywhere from beginning to end, that should cause anybody but a papist to want to repudiate the word “Protestant,” or the principle, or the idea, of it?
What is there anywhere in the story that “serves to recall” such a “most unhappy and trying experience” that anybody but a papist should now want to repudiate the word “Protestant?”
What is there anywhere in the story that can be so compromising or discreditable to anybody but a papist, that he must needs repudiate it in order that his “Christian brethren may work with him?”
Please look that story over again, yes even over and over and again and again; analyze it: examine each particular phase of it: distinguish each particular principle in it. Then upon the straight and simple story ask yourself, —
In fact and in truth, what does the word “Protestant” indicate? What does it tell? What does it mean?
And by the open evidence of the plain, straight, and simple, story, the answer comes.
It means protest against the burning or otherwise destroying of either the men or the writings of the men who are found to disagree in religion or faith with other men either in a church or a State.
It means protest against arbitrary and unjust procedure of ecclesiastical combines.
It means protest against any denunciation or condemnation of men in their absence, or without their being heard.
It means protest against any alliance or connection whatever between the ecclesiastical and the civil power.
It means protest against any assertion or claim of any power or right of any majority in matters of religion or faith.
It means protest against any intrusion whatever of the civil power, under whatever plea, in any matter that in any way partakes of religion or faith. It means protest against all arbitrary authority of the church under whatever form, name or claim.
In this it means protest against any exercise of ecclesiastical authority or power in any other wise than only by the ministry of the word of God. It means protest against any restriction whatever, of any kind, on the full preaching of the word of God, even on “controverted points,” to every creature everywhere and always.
It means protest against any restriction whatever, of any kind, on the full and free exercise and enjoyment of the right of any individual at any time to embrace any doctrine that he may choose to believe.
It proclaims and defends the full and complete liberty of every individual, himself alone.
In this it proclaims and defends the perfect individuality of every soul. And in this it proclaims and defends the sole and complete responsibility of the individual soul to god only, in all things pertaining to religion or faith. It rests in and proclaims the word of God alone, as in the Bible of the Old and New Testaments, as all-sufficient in all things pertaining to religion and faith.
That, all of that, and nothing less than that, in truth and in fact, is what the word “Protestant” means. That is what it means to be a Protestant. And that is what was repudiated by the Federal Council of Churches, when it unanimously repudiated the word “Protestant.”
Are you a Protestant?