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§ 115. The Second Diet of Speier, and the Protest of 1529.


Walch, XVI. 315 sqq. J. J. Müller: Historie von der evang. Stände Protestation und Appellation wider den Reichsabschied zu Speier, 1529, Jena, 1705. Tittmann: Die Protestation der evang. Stände mit Hist. Erläuterungen, Leipzig, 1829. A. Jung: Gesch. des Reichstags zu Speier, 1529, Leipzig, 1830. J. Ney (protest. pastor at Speier): Geschichte des Reichstags zu Speier im Jahr 1529. Mit einem Anhange ungedruckter Akten und Briefe, Hamburg, 1880. Ranke, III. 102–116. Janssen, III 130–146.


Under these discouragements the second Diet of Speier was convened in March, 1529, for action against the Turks, and against the further progress of Protestantism. The Catholic dignitaries appeared in full force, and were flushed with hopes of victory. The Protestants felt that "Christ was again in the hands of Caiaphas and Pilate."943943    Words of Jacob Sturm, the ambassador of Strassburg, from the middle of March.

The Diet neutralized the recess of the preceding Diet of 1526; it virtually condemned (without, however, annulling) the innovations made; and it forbade, on pain of the imperial ban, any further reformation until the meeting of the council, which was now positively promised for the next year by the Emperor and the Pope. The Zwinglians and Anabaptists were excluded even from toleration. The latter were to be punished by death.

The Lutheran members of the Diet, under the well-founded impression that the prohibition of any future reformation meant death to the whole movement, entered in the legal form of an appeal for themselves, their subjects and for all who now or shall hereafter believe in the Word of God, the famous protest of April 25, 1529, against all those measures of the Diet which were contrary to the Word of God, to their conscience, and to the decision of the Diet of 1526, and appealed from the decision of the majority to the Emperor, to a general or German council, and impartial Christian judges.944944    The great Instrumentum appellationis is given by Müller, Walch, Jung, and in substance by Gieseler, l.c. April 25 (a Sunday) is the date of the legal completion of the protest (Ranke, III. 113). The dates of the preparatory steps are April 19 and 22. The document was signed by the Elector John of Saxony, Margrave George of Brandenburg, Dukes Ernest and Francis of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Landgrave Philip of Hesse, Prince Wolfgang of Anhalt, and the representatives of fourteen imperial cities, including Strassburg and St. Gall of the Zwinglian persuasion. They were determined to defend themselves against every act of violence of the majority. Their motto was that of Elector John the Constant: "The Word of God abideth forever." They deserve the name of confessors of the evangelical faith and the rights of conscience in the face of imminent danger.945945    Janssen denies the right of such protest, and dates from it the schism of the German nation. "Von dem Tage zu Speier an," he says, III. 144, "beginnt die eigentliche Spaltung der deutschen Nation." Fortunately, the schism has been healed in 1870 by Providence, without the aid of the Pope and against his wish and will.

The protest of Speier was a renewal and expansion of Luther’s protest at Worms. The protest of a single monk had become the protest of princes and representatives of leading cities of the empire, who now for the first time appeared as an organized party. It was a protest of conscience bound in the Word of God against tyrannical authority.

The appeal was not entertained. The Emperor, who soon afterwards concluded peace with the Pope (June 29, 1529), and with the King of France (Aug. 5), refused even to grant the delegation of the Protestant States a respectful hearing at Piacenza (September), and kept them prisoners for a while.

From this protest and appeal the Lutherans were called Protestants; with good reason, if we look at their attitude to Rome, which remains the same to this day. It is the duty of the church at all times to protest against sin, error, corruption, tyranny, and every kind of iniquity. But the designation, which has since become a general term for evangelical Christians, is negative, and admits of an indiscriminate application to all who dissent from popery, no matter on what grounds and to what extent. It must be supplemented by the more important positive designation Evangelical. The gospel of Christ, as laid down in the New Testament, and proclaimed again in its primitive purity and power by the Reformation, is the basis of historical Protestantism, and gives it vitality and permanency. The protest of Speier was based objectively upon the Word of God, subjectively upon the right of private judgment and conscience, and historically upon the liberal decision of the Diet of 1526.946946    It is remarkable that one of the most conservative branches of Protestant Christendom, "the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America," adopted the term as a part of its official title when, after the Revolutionary War, it assumed an independent organization. This could not be done in the state of churchly sentiment which has since come to prevail in that church. Vigorous efforts have been made within the last few years to get rid of the term Protestant, and to substitute for it Catholic, or American, or some other more or less presumptuous epithet, but without success so far. The secession from this body which was organized in 1873 took the name of "The Reformed Episcopal Church."

Unfortunately, the moral force of the protest of Speier was soon weakened by dissensions among the signers. Luther and Melanchthon, who at that time were quite agreed on the eucharistic question, seriously objected to all political and military alliances, and especially to an alliance with the Zwinglians, whom they abhorred as heretics.947947    In a letter to Elector John, May 22, 1529 (De Wette, III. 455), Luther went so far as to call the Zwinglians "audacious enemies of God and his Word, who fight against God and the sacrament." They prevented vigorous measures of defense. Philip of Hesse, who was in full political, and in half theological, sympathy with the Swiss and Zwinglians, brought about in October of the same year the conference at Marburg in the hope of healing the Protestant schism: but the conference failed of its main object, and Protestantism had to carry on the conflict with Rome as a broken army.



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