Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions
X. The Smalcald War and the Augsburg and Leipzig Interims.
119. Bulwark of Peace Removed.
Luther died on the day of Concordia, February 18, 1546. With him peace and concord departed from the Lutheran Church. His death was everywhere the signal for action against true Lutheranism on the part of both its avowed enemies and false brethren. As long as that hero of faith and prayer was still living, the weight of his personal influence and authority proved to be a veritable bulwark of peace and doctrinal purity against the enemies within as well as without the Church. Though enemies seeking to devour had been lurking long ago, the powerful and commanding personality of Luther had checked all forces making for war from without and for dissension from within. The Emperor could not be induced to attack the Lutherans. He knew that they would stand united and strong as long as the Hero of the Reformation was in their midst. Nor were the false brethren able to muster up sufficient courage to come out into the open and publish their errors while the voice of the lion was heard.
But no sooner had Luther departed than strife began its distracting work. War, political as well as theological, followed in the wake of his death. From the grave of the fallen hero a double specter began to loom up. Pope and Emperor now joined hands to crush Protestantism by brute force as they had planned long ago. The result was the Smalcald War. The secret enemies which Lutheranism harbored within its own bosom began boldly to raise their heads. Revealing their true colors and coming out in the open with their pernicious errors, they caused numerous controversies which spread over all Germany (Saxony, the cradle of the Reformation, becoming the chief battlefield), and threatened to undo completely the blessed work of Luther, to disrupt and disintegrate the Church, or to pervert it into a unionistic or Reformed sect. Especially these discreditable internal dissensions were a cause of deep humiliation and of anxious concern to all loyal Lutherans. To the Romanists and Reformed; however, who united in predicting the impending collapse of Lutheranism, they were a source of malicious and triumphant scoffing and jeering. A prominent theologian reported that by 1566 matters had come to such a pass in Germany that the old Lutheran doctrine was publicly proclaimed only in relatively few places. In the Palatinate public thanks were rendered to God in the churches that also Electoral Saxony was now about to join them. The Jesuits insisted that, having abandoned the doctrine of the real presence in the Lord’s Supper, the Lutherans were no longer genuine Lutherans and hence no more entitled to the privileges guaranteed by the Peace of Augsburg (1555) . That the final result of this turmoil, political as well as theological, proved a blessing to the Lutheran Church must be regarded and ever gratefully remembered as a special grace and a remarkable favor of Almighty God.
120. Luther Foretold Coming Distress.
Though fully conscious of the gravity of the political and theological situation, and convinced that war and dissensions were bound to come, Luther was at the same time confident that it would not occur during his life.With respect to the coming war he said:“With great earnestness I have asked God, and still pray daily, that He would thwart their [the Papists'] plan and suffer no war to come upon Germany during my life. And I am confident that God surely hears such prayer of mine, and I know that there will be no war in Germany as long as I shall live."(St. L. 9, 1856.) In his Commentary on the Book of Genesis he wrote: “It is a great consolation when he says (Is. 57, 1) that the righteous are taken away from the evil to come. Thus we, too, shall die in peace before misfortune and misery overtake Germany.” (St. L. 1, 1758.)
Luther spoke frequently also of the impending doctrinal dissensions. As early as 1531 he declared that the Gospel would abide only a short time. “When the present pious, true preachers will be dead,” said he, “others will come who will preach and act as it pleases the devil.” (8, 72.) In 1546 he said in a sermon preached at Wittenberg: “Up to this time you have heard the real, true Word; now beware of your own thoughts and wisdom. The devil will kindle the light of reason and lead you away from the faith, as he did the Anabaptists and Sacramentarians … I see clearly that, if God does not give us faithful preachers and ministers, the devil will tear our church to pieces by the fanatics (Rottengeister), and will not cease until he has finished. Such is plainly his object. If he cannot accomplish it through the Pope and the Emperor, he will do it through those who are [now] in doctrinal agreement with us … Therefore pray earnestly that God may preserve the Word to you, for things will come to a dreadful pass.” (12, 1174. 437.)
Reading the signs of the times, Melanchthon also realized that Luther’s prophecies would be fulfilled.His address to the students of Wittenberg University, on February 19, 1546, in which he announced the death of Luther, concludes: “Obiit auriga et currus Israel. He is dead, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof, who guided the Church in this last old age of the world. For the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins and of faith in the Son of God was not discovered by human sagacity, but revealed by God through this man. Let us therefore love his memory and his teaching, and may we be all the more humble and ponder the terrible calamity and the great changes which will follow this misfortune.” (C. R. 6, 59.)
Nor were these prophecies of Luther mere intuitions or deductions based on general reflections only. They were inductions from facts which he had not failed to observe at Wittenberg, even in his immediate surroundings. Seckendorf relates that Luther, when sick at Smalcald in 1537, told the Elector of Saxony that after his death, discord would break out in the University of Wittenberg and that his doctrine would be changed. (Comm. de Lutheranismo 3, 165.) In his Preface to Luther’s Table Talk, John Aurifaber reports that Luther had frequently predicted that after his death his doctrine would wane and decline because of false brethren, fanatics, and sectarians, and that the truth, which in 1530 had been placed on a pinnacle at Augsburg,would descend into the valley, since the Word of God had seldom flourished more than forty years in one place. (Richard Conf. Hist., 311.) Stephanus Tucher, a faithful Lutheran preacher of Magdeburg, wrote in 1549: “Doctor Martin Luther, of sainted memory, has frequently repeated before many trustworthy witnesses, and also before Doctor Augustine Schurf, these words: ¡¥After my death not one of these [Wittenberg] theologians will remain steadfast.' " Tucher adds: “This I have heard of Doctor Augustine Schurf not once, but frequently. Therefore I also testify to it before Christ, my Lord, the righteous Judge,” etc. (St. L. 12, 1177;Walther, Kern und Stern, 7.)
It was, above all, the spirit of indifferentism toward false doctrine, particularly concerning the Lord’s Supper, which Luther observed and deplored in his Wittenberg colleagues: Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, Cruciger, Eber, and Major. Shortly before his last journey to Eisleben he invited them to his house, where he addressed to them the following solemn words of warning: They should “remain steadfast in the Gospel; for I see that soon after my death the most prominent brethren will fall away. I am not afraid of the Papists,“he added, “for most of them are coarse, unlearned asses and Epicureans; but our brethren will inflict the damage on the Gospel; for ¡¥they went out from us, but they were not of us' (1 John 2, 19); they will give the Gospel a harder blow than did the Papists.“About the same time Luther had written above the entrance to his study: “Our professors are to be examined on the Lord’s Supper.“When Major, who was about to leave for the colloquy at Regensburg, entered and inquired what these words signified, Luther answered: “The meaning of these words is precisely what you read and what they say; and when you and I shall have returned, an examination will have to be held, to which you as well as others will be cited.” Major protested that he was not addicted to any false doctrine. Luther answered:“It is by your silence and cloaking that you cast suspicion upon yourself. If you believe as you declare in my presence, then speak so also in the church, in public lectures, in sermons, and in private conversations, and strengthen your brethren, and lead the erring back to the right path, and contradict the contumacious spirits; otherwise your confession is sham pure and simple, and worth nothing. Whoever really regards his doctrine, faith and confession as true, right, and certain cannot remain in the same stall with such as teach, or adhere to, false doctrine; nor can he keep on giving friendly words to Satan and his minions. A teacher who remains silent when errors are taught, and nevertheless pretends to be a true teacher, is worse than an open fanatic and by his hypocrisy does greater damage than a heretic. Nor can he be trusted.He is a wolf and a fox, a hireling and a servant of his belly, and ready to despise and to sacrifice doctrine,Word, faith, Sacrament, churches, and schools. He is either a secret bedfellow of the enemies or a skeptic and a weathervane, waiting to see whether Christ or the devil will prove victorious; or he has no convictions of his own whatever, and is not worthy to be called a pupil, let alone a teacher; nor does he want to offend anybody, or say a word in favor of Christ, or hurt the devil and the world."(Walther, 39f.)
121.Unfortunate Issue of Smalcald War.
All too soon the predictions of Luther, and the fears expressed by Melanchthon and others, were realized. June 26, 1546, four months after Luther’s death, Pope and Emperor entered into a secret agreement to compel the Protestants by force of arms to acknowledge the decrees of the Council of Trent, and to return to the bosom of the Roman Church. The covenant provided that, “in the name of God and with the help and assistance of His Papal Holiness, His Imperial Majesty should prepare himself for war, and equip himself with soldiers and everything pertaining to warfare against those who objected to the Council, against the Smalcald League, and against all who were addicted to the false belief and error in Germany, and that he do so with all his power and might in order to bring them back to the old [papal] faith and to the obedience of the Holy See.” The Pope promised to assist the Emperor with 200,000 Krontaler, more than 12,000 Italian soldiers, and quite a number of horsemen. He furthermore permitted the Emperor to appropriate, for the purpose of this war,one half of the total income of the church property in Spain and 500,000 Krontaler from the revenue of the Spanish cloisters.
While the Emperor endeavored to veil the real purpose of his preparations, the Pope openly declared in a bull of July 4, 1546: “From the beginning of our Papacy it has always been our concern how to root out the weeds of godless doctrines which the heretics have sowed throughout Germany …Now it has come to pass that, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, our dearest son in Christ, Charles, the Roman Emperor, has decided to employ the sword against these enemies of God. And for the protection of religion we intend to promote this pious enterprise with all our own and the Roman Church’s possessions. Accordingly, we admonish all Christians to assist in this war with their prayers to God and their alms, in order that the godless heresy may be rooted out and the dissension removed … To each and all who do these things we grant the most complete indulgence and remission of all their sins.” (St. L. 17, 1453ff.Walther, 10.)
The Smalcald War, so called because it was directed against the Smalcald League, was easily won by the Emperor. Among the causes of this unfortunate issue were the neutral attitude of Joachim II of Brandenburg and of other Lutheran princes, and especially the treachery of the ambitious and unscrupulous Maurice, Duke of Saxony and nephew of Elector John Frederick of Saxony, who, in order to gain the Electorate of Saxony, had made a secret agreement with the Emperor according to which he was to join his forces with those of the Emperor against the Lutherans. The decisive battle was fought at Muehlberg on the Elbe,April 24, 1547. It proved to be a crushing defeat for the Protestants.The Elector himself was taken captive, treated as a rebel, and sentenced to death. The sentence was read to him while he was playing chess with his fellow-captive, Duke Ernest of Lueneburg. John Frederick answered, he did not believe that the Emperor would deal so severely with him; if, however, he were in earnest, they should let him know that he might order his affairs with his wife and children. He then calmly turned to the Duke, saying: “Let us continue the game; it’s your move.” (Jaekel, G. d. Ref. l, 114.) The day after the battle at Muehlberg, Torgau fell into the hands of the Emperor; and when he threatened to execute the Elector, having already erected a scaffold for this purpose,Wittenberg, too, though well protected by 5,000 soldiers, signed a capitulation on May 19, in order to save the Elector’s life. On the 23d ofMay,Wittenberg was occupied by the Emperor.Here Charles, when standing at the grave of Luther, and urged to have the body of “the heretic” exhumed, spoke the memorable words that he was warring not with the dead, but with the living. The death-sentence was rescinded, but, apart from other cruel conditions forced upon the Elector, he was compelled to resign in favor of Maurice and promise to remain in captivity as long as the Emperor should desire. His sons were granted the districts ofWeimar, Jena, Eisenach, and Gotha. Philip of Hesse surrendered without striking a blow, and was likewise treacherously held in captivity and humiliated in every possible way by the Emperor. The imperial plenipotentiaries had assured the Landgrave that he would not be imprisoned. Afterwards, however, the words in the document, “not any bodily captivity-nit eenige Leibesgefangenschaft,” were fraudulently changed by Granvella to read, “not eternal captivity-nit ewige Leibesgefangenschaft” (Marheineke, G. d. Deut. Ref. 4, 438.) The sons of the Landgrave remained in possession of his territory. Thus all of Southern and, barring a few cities, also all of Northern Germany was conquered by Charles. Everywhere the Lutherans were at the tender mercy of the Emperor,whose undisputed power struck terror into all Germany.
122. The Augsburg Interim.
The first step to reduce the Lutherans to obedience to the Pope was the so-called Augsburg Interim. It was proclaimed by the Emperor at Augsburg on May 15, 1548, as the law of the Empire under the title: “Der roemischen kaiserlichen Majestaet Erklaerung wie es der Religion halben im heiligen Reich bis zu Austrag des gemeinen Concilii gehalten werden soll.” The people were also forbidden to teach,write, or preach against the document. The Interim had been prepared by the papal bishops Julius Pflug and Michael Helding and the court-preacher of Elector Joachim of Brandenburg, John Agricola, a man with whom Luther had, already since 1540, refused to have any further intercourse owing to his insincerity and duplicity. “I go forth as the Reformer of all Germany,” Agricola boasted when he left Berlin to attend the Diet at Augsburg, which was to open September 1, 1547.After the Diet he bragged that in Augsburg he had flung the windows wide open for the Gospel; that he had reformed the Pope and made the Emperor a Lutheran, that a golden time had now arrived, for the Gospel would be preached in all Europe; that he had not only been present, but had presided at the drafting of the Interim; that he had received 500 crowns from the Emperor and 500 from King Ferdinand, etc. (Preger, M Flacius Illyricus, l, 119.)
The document, prepared at the command of the Emperor, was called Interim because its object was to regulate the church affairs until the religious controversy would be finally settled by the Council of Trent, to the resolutions of which the Lutherans were required to submit. It was, however, essentially papal. For the time being, indeed, it permitted Protestant clergymen to marry, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in both kinds, but demanded the immediate restoration of the Romish customs and ceremonies, the acknowledgment of papal supremacy iure divino, as well as the jurisdiction of the bishops, and the adoption of articles in which the doctrines were all explained in the sense of the Catholic dogmas, and in which truth and falsehood, in general, were badly mingled. Transubstantiation, the seven sacraments, and other papal errors were reaffirmed, while Lutheran tenets, such as the doctrine of justification by faith alone, were either denied or omitted.
And from the fact that this Interim was nevertheless condemned by the Pope and the Romanists, who demanded an unqualified, blind, and unconditional submission, the Lutherans could infer what they were to expect after consenting to these interimistic provisions. The general conviction among Catholics as well as Protestants was that the Interim was but the first step to a complete return to Romanism. Indeed, soon after its promulgation, the Catholic Electors of Mainz and Koeln endeavored to rob the Lutherans also of the use of the cup and of the marriage of the priests. The Elector of Mainz declared all such marriages void and their children bastards. (Jaekel, 162.)
In the most important point, the doctrine of justification, the Augsburg Interim not only omitted the sola fide, but clearly taught that justification embraces also renewal. When God justifies a man, the Interim declared, He does not only absolve him from his guilt, but also “makes him better by imparting the Holy Ghost, who cleanses his heart and incites it through the love of God which is shed abroad in his heart.” (Frank, Theologie d. Konkordienformel, 2, 80.) A man “is absolved from the guilt of eternal damnation and renewed through the Holy Spirit and thus an unjust man becomes just.” (143.) Again:“This faith obtains the gift of the Holy Ghost, by which the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts; and after this has been added to faith and hope, we are truly justified by the infused righteousness which is in man; for this righteousness consists in faith, hope, and love.” (81.)
In Southern Germany, Charles V and his Italian and Spanish troops, employing brute force, succeeded in rigidly enforcing the Interim outwardly and temporarily. Free cities rejecting it were deprived of their liberties and privileges. Constance, having fallen after a heroic defense, was annexed to Austria. Magdeburg offered the longest resistance and was outlawed three times. Defiantly its citizens declared: “We are saved neither by an Interim nor by an Exterim, but by the Word of God alone.” (Jaekel 1, 166.) Refractory magistrates were treated as rebels.Pastors who declined to introduce the Interim were deposed, some were banished, others incarcerated, still others even executed. In Swabia and along the Rhine about four hundred ministers were willing to suffer imprisonment and banishment rather than conform to the Interim. They were driven into exile with their families, and some of them were killed. When Jacob Sturm of Augsburg presented his grievances to Granvella, the latter answered: “If necessary, one might proceed against heretics also with fire.” “Indeed,” Sturm retorted, “you may kill people by fire, but even in this way you cannot force their faith.” (165.) Bucer and Fagius, preachers in Augsburg, left for England. Musculus was deposed because he had preached against the Interim. Osiander was compelled to leave Nuernberg, Erhard Schnepf, Wuerttemberg. Among the fugitives eagerly sought throughout Germany by the imperial henchmen was Brenz in Schwaebisch-Hall, the renowned theologian of Wuerttemberg, who spoke of the Interim only as “Interitus,Ruin."(C.R. 7, 289.) The tombstone of Brenz bears the inscription: “Voce, stylo, pietate, fide, ardore probatus-Renowned for his eloquence, style, piety, faithfulness, and ardor.” (Jaekel, 164.) A prize of 5,000 gulden was offered for the head of Caspar Aquila, who was one of the first to write against the Interim. (Preger 1, 12.) Of course, by persecuting and banishing their ministers, the Emperor could not and did not win the people. Elector Frederick II of the Palatinate consented to introduce the Interim. But even in Southern Germany the success of the Emperor was apparent rather than real. The churches in Augsburg, Ulm, and other cities stood empty as a silent protest against the Interim and imperial tyranny.
In Northern Germany the Emperor met with more than a mere passive resistance on the part of the people as well as the preachers. The Interim was regarded as a trap for the Lutherans. The slogan ran:“There is a rogue behind the Interim! O selig ist der Mann, Der Gott vertrauen kann Und willigt nicht ins Interim, Denn es hat den Schalk hinter ihm!” The Interim was rejected in Brunswick, Hamburg, Luebeck, Lueneburg, Goslar, Bremen, Goettingen, Hannover, Einbeck, Eisleben, Mansfeld, Stolberg, Schwarzburg, Hohenstein, Halle, etc. Joachim of Brandenburg endeavored to introduce it,but soon abandoned these efforts.At a convent of 300 preachers assembled in Berlin for the purpose of subscribing to the Interim, an old minister whose name was Leutinger, arose and declared in the presence of Agricola, the coauthor of the Interim: “I love Agricola, and more than him I love my Elector; but my Lord Jesus Christ I love most,” and saying this, he cast the document handed him for subscription into the flames of the fire burning in the hearth. Before this, Margrave Hans, of Kuestrin, had flung away the pen handed him for the subscription of the infamous document, saying: “I shall never adopt this poisonous concoction,nor submit to any council. Rather sword than pen; blood rather than ink!”
The three Counts of Mansfeld, Hans Jorge, Hans Albrecht, and Hans Ernest, declared in a letter of August 20, 1548, to the Emperor: “Most gracious Emperor and Lord! As for our government, the greater part of the people are miners, who have not much to lose and are easily induced to leave. Nor are they willing to suffer much coercion. Yet the welfare of our whole government depends upon them. Besides, we know that, if we should press the matter, all of the preachers would leave, and the result would be a desolation of preaching and of the Sacraments. And after losing our preachers, our own lives and limbs would not be safe among the miners, and we must needs expect a revolt of all the people.” (Walther 19f.) Thus the Interim before long became a dead letter throughout the greater part of Germany.
123.Attitude of John Frederick toward Interim.
In order to obtain his liberty, the vacillating Philip of Hesse, though he had declined to submit to the resolutions of the Council of Trent, declared himself willing to adopt the Interim.“It is better,” he is reported to have said, “to hear a mass than to play cards,” etc. (Jaekel 1, 130. 162.) Special efforts were also made by the Emperor to induce John Frederick to declare his submission to the Council and to sanction the Interim. But the Elector solemnly protested that this was impossible for him. All attempts to induce him to abandon his religious convictions met with quiet but determined resistance. One of the cruel conditions under which the Emperor was willing to rescind the death-sentence passed on the Elector was, that he should consent to everything the Emperor or the Council would prescribe in matters of religion. But the Elector declared: “I will rather lose my head and suffer Wittenberg to be battered down than submit to a demand that violates my conscience. Lieber will ich meinen Kopf verlieren und Wittenberg zusammenschiessen lassen, als eine Forderung eingehen, die mein Gewissen verletzt.” (1, 116.) Through Granvella the Emperor promised the Elector liberty if he would sign the Interim. But again the Elector declared decidedly that this was impossible for him.
In a written answer to the Emperor the ex-Elector declared, boldly confessing his faith: “I cannot refrain from informing Your Majesty that since the days of my youth I have been instructed and taught by the servants of God’s Word, and by diligently searching the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures I have also learned to know, and (this I testify as in the sight of God) unswervingly to adhere in my conscience to this, that the articles composing the Augsburg Confession, and whatever is connected therewith, are the correct, true, Christian, pure doctrine, confirmed by, and founded in, the writings of the holy prophets and apostles, and of the teachers who followed in their footsteps, in such a manner that no substantial objection can be raised against it…. Since now in my conscience I am firmly persuaded of this, I owe this gratefulness and obedience to God, who has shown me such unspeakable grace, that, as I desire to obtain eternal salvation and escape eternal damnation, I do not fall away from the truth of His almighty will which His Word has revealed to me, and which I know to be the truth. For such is the comforting and also the terrible word of God: ¡¥Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven,' If I should acknowledge and adopt the Interim as Christian and godly, I would have to condemn and deny against my own conscience, knowingly and maliciously, the Augsburg Confession, and whatever I have heretofore held and believed concerning the Gospel of Christ, and approve with my mouth what I regard in my heart and conscience as altogether contrary to the holy and divine Scriptures. This, O my God in heaven, would indeed be misusing and cruelly blaspheming Thy holy name, … for which I would have to pay all too dearly with my soul. For this is truly the sin against the Holy Ghost concerning which Christ says that it shall never be forgiven, neither in this nor in the world to come, i.e., in eternity.” (Walther, 16.)
The Emperor was small enough to punish the heroic refusal and bold confession of the Elector by increasing the severity of his imprisonment. For now he was deprived of Luther’s writings and even of the Bible. But the Elector, who drew the line of submission at his conscience and faith, declared, “that they were able indeed to deprive him of the books, but could not tear out of his heart what he had learned from them.” And when Musculus and the Lutheran preachers of Augsburg whom the Emperor had banished because of their refusal to introduce the Interim, took leave of the Elector, the latter said: “Though the Emperor has banished you from the realm, he has not banished you from heaven. Surely,God will find some other country where you may preach His Word.” (Jaekel. 164.)
124.Melanchthon’s Attitude toward the Interim.
In the beginning, Melanchthon, too, assumed an attitude of defiance over against the Augsburg Interim. Especially among his friends and in his private letters he condemned it. In several letters, also to Elector Maurice, he and his Wittenberg colleagues declared that they disapproved of the document, and that the doctrine must not be denied, changed, nor falsified. (C. R. 6, 874. 954.) April 25 1548 he wrote to Camerarius that the Interim corrupted the truth in the doctrine of justification, and that he was unable to assent to its sophisms. (878. 900.) April 29, 1548: “The manifest facts teach that efforts at conciliation with our persecutors are vain. Even though some kind of concord is patched up, still a peace will be established such as exists between wolves and lambs. Etiam cum sarcitur concordia qualiscumque, tamen pax constituitur, qualis est inter lupos et agnos.” (C. R. 6, 889; Frank 4, 90.) In a letter to Christian, King of Denmark (June 13, 1548), he said that the Interim “confirmed and reestablished many papal errors and abuses,” and that the “abominable book would cause many dissensions in the German nation.” (C. R. 6, 923.) June 20 he wrote with reference to the Interim: “I shall not change the doctrine of our churches, nor assent to those who do.” (946.) July 31, to the Margrave John of Brandenburg: “As for my person I do not intend to approve of this book, called Interim, for which I have many weighty reasons, and will commend my miserable life to God, even if I am imprisoned or banished.” (7, 85.) In a letter of August 10 he speaks of the corruptions “which are found in the Augsburg sphinx,” and declares that he is determined faithfully to guard the doctrine of the Gospel. (97.) August 13, 1548, he wrote to Medler: “Brenz, Nopus [Noppius], Musculus, learned, pious, and most deserving men, have been driven from their churches, and I hear that everywhere others are being expelled from other places,-and Islebius [Agricola] is shouting that this is the way to spread the Gospel.” (102.)
In a criticism of the Augsburg Interim published in the beginning of July, 1548, Melanchthon declared: “Although war and destruction are threatened, it is, nevertheless, our duty to regard the Word of God as higher; that is to say, we must not deny what we know to be the truth of the Gospel.” On November 10, 1548, he said before a convention of theologians:“Remember that you are the guardians of truth, and consider what has been entrusted to you for preservation by God through the prophets and the apostles, and, last of all, through Dr.Luther. If that man were still living, the misfortune of a change of doctrine would not be threatening us; but now that there is no one who is clothed with the authority which he had, now that there is no one who warns as he was wont to do, and many are accepting error for truth, the churches are brought to ruin, the doctrine heretofore correctly transmitted is distorted, idolatrous customs are established, fear, doubt, and strife are reigning everywhere.” (Walther, 21.)
However, though Melanchthon disapproved of the imperial Interim, he was afraid to antagonize it openly and unflinchingly. Yet it was just such a public and decided testimony that was needed, and everywhere expected of Melanchthon; for he was generally regarded as the logical and lawful successor of Luther and as the theological leader of the Church. July 22, 1548, Aquila wrote: “What shall I say of the arch-knave Eisleben, Agricola? He said: ¡¥The Interim is the best book and work making for unity in the whole Empire and for religious agreement throughout all Europe. For now the Pope is reformed, and the Emperor is a Lutheran,'“Imploring Melanchthon to break his silence and sound the public warning,Aquila continues:“Thou holy man, answer and come to our assistance, defend the Word and name of Christ and His honor (which is the highest good on earth) against that virulent sycophant Agricola, who is an impostor.” (7, 78.)
Such were the sentiments of loyal Lutherans everywhere. But Melanchthon, intimidated by threats of the Emperor, and fearing for his safety, turned a deaf ear to these entreaties. While the captive Elector was determined to die rather than submit to the Interim, and while hundreds of Lutheran ministers were deposed, banished, imprisoned, and some of them even executed because of their devotion to the truth, Melanchthon was unwilling to expose himself to the anger of the Emperor. And before long his fear to confess and his refusal to give public testimony to the truth was followed by open denial. At the behest of Elector Maurice he consented to elaborate, as a substitute for the Augsburg Interim, a compromise document-the socalled Leipzig Interim.
125.Melanchthon and the Leipzig Interim.
After the victory of the Emperor and the proclamation of the Augsburg Interim,Maurice, the new-fledged Elector, found himself in a dilemma. Charles V urged him to set a good example in obeying and enforcing the Interim. Indebted as he was to the Emperor for his Electorate, he, to some extent, felt bound to obey him also in religious matters.At the same time,Maurice was personally not at all in agreement with the radical Augsburg Interim and afraid of forfeiting the sympathies of both his old and new subjects on account of it. Nor did he fail to realize the difficulties he would encounter in enforcing it. Accordingly, he notified the Emperor on May 18 that he was not able to introduce the Interim at present. Soon after, he commissioned the Wittenberg and Leipzig theologians to elaborate, as a substitute for the Augsburg Interim, a compromise, more favorable and acceptable to his subjects. At the preliminary discussions, especially at Pegau and Celle, the theologians yielded, declaring their willingness to submit to the will of the Emperor with respect to the reintroduction of Romish ceremonies and to acknowledge the authority of the Pope and bishops if they would tolerate the true doctrine. (Preger 1, 40.) The final upshot of it all was the new Interim, a compromise document, prepared chiefly by Melanchthon and adopted December 22, 1548, at Leipzig. This “Resolution of the Diet at Leipzig” was designated by its opponents the “Leipzig Interim.“Schaff remarks:“It was the mistake of his [Melanchthon’s] life, yet not without plausible excuses and incidental advantages. He advocated immovable steadfastness in doctrine [?], but submission in everything else for the sake of peace.He had the satisfaction that the University of Wittenberg, after temporary suspension, was restored and soon frequented again by two thousand students. [The school was closed May 19 and reopened October 16, 1547.] But outside ofWittenberg and Saxony his conduct appeared treasonable to the cause of the Reformation, and acted as an encouragement to an unscrupulous and uncompromising enemy.Hence the venerable man was fiercely assailed from every quarter by friend and foe."(Creeds 1, 300.)
It is generally held that fear induced Melanchthon to condescend to this betrayal of Lutheranism,-for such the Leipzig Interim amounted to in reality.And,no doubt, there is a good deal of truth in this assumption. For Melanchthon had been told that because of his opposition to the Augsburg Interim the anger of the Emperor was directed against him especially, and that he had already called upon Maurice to banish this “arch-heretic.” It certainly served the purpose of Maurice well that he had to deal with Melanchthon, whose fear and vacillation made him as pliable as putty, and not with Luther, on whose unbending firmness all of his schemes would have foundered.However, it cannot have been mere temporary fear which induced Melanchthon to barter away eternal truth for temporal peace. For the theologians of Wittenberg and Leipzig did not only identify themselves with the Leipzig Interim while the threatening clouds of persecution were hovering over them, but also afterwards continued to defend their action.When the representatives of the Saxon cities protested against some of the provisions of the Interim, they declared, on December 28, 1548: “We have learned your request and are satisfied with the articles [Leipzig Interim] delivered, which not we alone, but also several other superintendents and theologians prepared and weighed well; therefore we are unable to change them. For they can well be received and observed without any violence to good conscience.” (C. R. 7, 270.) It was as late as September, 1556 that Melanchthon, though even then only in a qualified way, admitted that he had sinned in this matter, and should have kept aloof from the insidious counsels of the politicians. (8, 839.) Indeed, in 1557 and 1560 the Leipzig and Wittenberg theologians still defended the position they had occupied during the Interim. Evidently, then apart from other motives of fear, etc., Melanchthon consented to write the Interim because he still believed in the possibility of arriving at an understanding with the Romanists and tried to persuade himself that the Emperor seriously sought to abolish prevailing errors and abuses, and because the theological views he entertained were not as far apart from those of the Leipzig compromise as is frequently assumed.
126. Provisions of Leipzig Interim.
The professed object of the Leipzig Interim was to effect a compromise in order to escape persecution and desolation of the churches by adhering to the doctrine, notably of justification, but yielding in matters pertaining to ceremonies, etc. December 18, 1548, Melanchthon (in the name of George of Anhalt) wrote to Burchard concerning the Interim adopted four days later:“They [Maurice and the estates] hope to be able to ward off dangers if we receive some rites which are not in themselves vicious; and the charge of unjust obstinacy is made if in such things we are unwilling to contribute toward public tranquillity…. In order, therefore, to retain necessary things, we are not too exacting with respect to such as are unnecessary, especially since heretofore these rites have, to a great extent, remained in the churches of these regions….We know that much is said against this moderation, but the devastation of the churches, such as is taking place in Swabia, would be a still greater offense.” (7, 251ff.) The plan of Melanchthon therefore was to yield in things which he regarded as unnecessary in order to maintain the truth and avoid persecution.
As a matter of fact, however, the Leipzig Interim, too, was in every respect a truce over the corpse of true Lutheranism. It was a unionistic document sacrificing Lutheranism doctrinally as well as practically. The obnoxious features of the Augsburg Interim had not been eliminated, but merely toned down. Throughout, the controverted doctrines were treated in ambiguous or false formulas. Tschackert is correct in maintaining that, in the articles of justification and of the Church, “the fundamental thoughts of the Reformation doctrine were catholicized” by the Leipzig Interim. (508.) Even the Lutheran sola (sola fide, by faith alone) is omitted in the article of justification. The entire matter is presented in terms which Romanists were able to interpret in the sense of their doctrine of “infused righteousness, iustitia infusa.” Faith is coordinated with other virtues, and good works are declared to be necessary to salvation.“Justification by faith,“says Schmauk,“is there [in the Leipzig Interim] so changed as to mean that man is renewed by the Holy Spirit, and can fulfil righteousness with his works, and that God will, for His Son’s sake accept in believers this weak beginning of obedience in this miserable, frail nature.” (Conf. Prin., 596.)
Furthermore, the Leipzig Interim indirectly admits the Semi-Pelagian teaching regarding original sin and free will, while other doctrines which should have been confessed are passed by in silence. It recognizes the supremacy of the Pope, restores the power and jurisdiction of the bishops, acknowledges the authority of the council, approves of a number of ceremonies objectionable as such (e.g., the Corpus Christi Festival), and advocates the reintroduction of these and others in order to avoid persecution and to maintain outward peace with the Papists.
Self-evidently, in keeping with the Interim, the Pope also could no longer be regarded as, and publicly declared to be, the Antichrist. In 1561 Flacius wrote that at that time the suspected Lutherans did not consider the Pope the Antichrist. Simon Musaeus and others were banished because they refused to eliminate the hymn “Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort” from their services. (Walther, 25.)-Such, then, being the character of the Leipzig Interim, it stands to reason that this document, adopted as it was by Melanchthon and other Lutheran leaders, was bound to become a fertile source of numerous and violent controversies.
127. Flacius and Other Opponents of Interimists.
The Leipzig Interim was imposed upon the churches of Electoral Saxony as a directory for teaching, preaching, and worship. Melanchthon declared that it could be adopted with a good conscience, and hence should be introduced, as demanded by Maurice, in order to insure the peace of the Church. At Wittenberg and other places corresponding efforts were made. But everywhere the result was dissension and strife. The Interim defeated its own purpose. Pastors who declined to conform were deposed, banished, incarcerated or abused in other ways. And wherever faithful ministers were removed, the people refused to be served by the hirelings who took their places. At the very convention at Leipzig where the Interim was adopted, Wolfgang Pfentner, Superintendent at Annaberg, declared: “What caused them to reintroduce such tomfooleries [Romish ceremonies]? Were they growing childish again? They might do what they wanted to, but as for himself, he could not consent [to the Interim]. And even if he should permit himself to be deceived, his parishioners would not accept it. For in a letter delivered by a messenger on horseback they had charged him to agree to no ungodly article, or not return to them. Accordingly, he would have his head cut off at Leipzig and suffer this with a good conscience rather than give offense to his church.” (Walther, 22.)
December 24, three days after the adoption of the Interim, representatives of the cities in Saxony presented complaints to Elector Maurice and Melanchthon against some of the provisions of the document. They protested particularly against the reinstitution of Extreme Unction, the Festival of Corpus Christi, and the use of chrism at Baptism. (C. R. 7, 270.) Even the Wittenberg theologians finally admitted that in consequence of “the Interim the rupture had become so great that there was an agreement neither of one church with another, nor, in the same church, of any deacon, any schoolmaster, or sexton with his pastor, nor of one neighbor with another, nor of members of the household with one another.” (Walther, 23.)
Foremost among the champions of true Lutheranism over against the Interimists were John Hermann, Aquila, Nicholas Amsdorf, John Wigand, Alberus, Gallus,Matthias Judex,Westphal, and especially Matthias Flacius Illyricus, then (from 1544 to 1549) a member of the Wittenberg faculty,where he opposed all concessions to the Adiaphorists. It is due, no doubt, to Flacius more than to any other individual that true Lutheranism and with it the Lutheran Church was saved from annihilation in consequence of the Interims. In 1548 he began his numerous and powerful publications against them. In the same year, 1548, the following book of John Hermann appeared: “That during These Dangerous Times Nothing should be Changed in the Churches of God in Order to Please the Devil and the Antichrist.” In 1549: “Against the Mean Devil who Now Again is Disguising Himself as an Angel of Light.”
In 1549, when he was no longer safe in Wittenberg, Flacius removed to Magdeburg then the only safe asy- lum in all Germany for such as were persecuted on account of their Lutheran faith and loyalty, where he was joined by such “exiles of Christ” as Wigand, Gallus, and others,who had also been banished and persecuted because of their opposition to the Interim. Here they inaugurated a powerful propaganda by publishing broadsides of annihilating pamphlets against the Interim, as well as its authors, patrons, and abettors. They roused the Lutheran consciousness everywhere, and before long the great majority of Lutherans stood behind Flacius and the heroes ofMagdeburg. The publications emanating from this fortress caused such an aversion to the Adiaphoristic princes as well as theologians among the people that from the very outset all their plans and efforts were doomed to failure, and the sinister schemes of the Pope and Emperor were frustrated. Because of this able and staunch defense of Lutheranism and the determined opposition to any unionistic compromise, Magdeburg at that time was generally called “God’s chancellery, Gottes Kanzlei.“Nor did the opposition subside when this Lutheran stronghold, thrice outlawed by the Emperor, was finally, after a siege of thirteen months, captured by Maurice. In their attacks the champions of Magdeburg were joined also by the ministers of Hamburg and other places. Only in Saxony and Brandenburg the policy of Melanchthon was defended.
As the conflict extended, it grew in bitterness, revealing with increasing luridness the insincerity and dishonesty of the Philippists. True Lutherans everywhere were satisfied that the adoption also of the Leipzig Interim was tantamount to a complete surrender of Lutheranism. Their animosity against this document was all the stronger because it bore the stamp of the Wittenberg and Leipzig theologians and was sponsored by Melanchthon, the very man whom they had regarded as Luther’s successor and as the leader of the Church. This, too, was the reason why the Leipzig Interim caused even more resentment among the Lutherans, especially in Northern Germany, than did the Augsburg Interim. In their view,Melanchthon and his colleagues had betrayed the cause of the Reformation and practically joined their forces with those of the Romanists, even as Maurice had betrayed the Lutherans politically when fighting at the side of the Emperor against his own coreligionists. Tschackert remarks: “In view of the fact that at that time about 400 Evangelical pastors in Southern Germany, because of their refusal to adopt the Augsburg Interim, had suffered themselves to be driven from their charges and homes and wandered about starving, many with their wives and children, the yielding of the theologians of Electoral Saxony could but appear as unpardonable and as a betrayal of the Church.” (508.)
128.Grief over Melanchthon’s Inconstancy.
In consequence of his dubious attitude, Melanchthon also, who before this had been generally honored as the leader of the Lutheran Church, completely lost his prestige, even among many of his formerly most devoted friends. The grief and distress experienced by loyal Lutherans at his wavering and yielding is eloquently expressed by Antonius Corvinus, Superintendent at Kalenberg-Goettingen, the Lutheran martyr, who, because of his opposition to the Interim, was incarcerated for three years, in consequence of which he died, 1553. In a letter dated September 25, 1549, he implored his friend to abandon the Interim, and to “return to his pristine candor, his pristine sincerity, and his pristine constancy,” and “to think, say,write, and do what is becoming to Philip, the Christian teacher, not the court philosopher.” Peace, indeed, was desirable, but it must not be obtained by distracting the churches.Christ had also declared that He did not come to bring peace, but the sword. Even the heathen Horatius Flaccus had said: “Si fractus illabitur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae.” How much more should Christians avoid cowardice! One must not court the cross wantonly, but it must be borne courageously when for the sake of truth it cannot be avoided, etc.
In the original, Corvinus’s letter reads, in part, as follows: “O mi Philippe, o, inquam, Philippe noster, rede per immortalem Christum ad pristinum candorem, ad pristinam sinceritatem ad pristinam constantiam! Ne languescito ista tua formidine ac pusillanimitate nostrorum animos tantopere!… Non sis tantorum in ecclesia offendiculorum autor! Ne sinas, tua tam egregia scripta, dicta, facta, quibus mirifice hactenus de ecclesia ac scholis meritus es, isto condonationis, novationis, moderationis naevo ad eum modum deformari! Cogita, quantum animi ista vestra consilia et adversariis addant et nostris adimant! … Rogamus, ut, professionis tuae memor, talem te cum Vitebergensibus tuis iam geras, qualem te ab initio huius causae gessisti, hoc est, ut ea sentias, dicas, scribas, agas, quae Philippum, doctorem Christianum, non aulicum philosophum decent.” (Tschackert, 506.)
In a similar manner Melanchthon was admonished also by Brenz, who preferred exile and misery to the Interim. In a letter written early in 1549 he said: “It is also most manifest that the Interitus [Ruin, a term employed by Brenz for Interim] conflicts with the Word of the Lord.What concord, then, can be found between such conflicting things? You think that one ought to come to the assistance of the churches and pious ministers. Correct if such can be done without dishonor to Christ. Perhaps you believe that the Interimists will tolerate the pious doctrine if we agree to accept all their ceremonies. But do you not know that it is clearly commanded in the introduction of the Interitus that no one shall speak or write against this book? What kind of liberty in regard to doctrine is this? Therefore, if the Church and the pious ministers cannot be saved in any other way than by dishonoring the pious doctrine, let us commend them to Christ, the Son of God.He will take care of them.Meanwhile let us patiently bear our exile and wait for the Lord.” (C. R. 7, 289.)
June 18, 1550, Calvin also wrote a letter of warning to Melanchthon, in which he said in substance: “My grief renders me almost speechless.How the enemies of Christ enjoy your conflicts with the Magdeburgers appears from their mockeries.Nor do I acquit you altogether of all guilt. Permit me to admonish you freely as a true friend. I should like to approve of all your actions. But now I accuse you before your very face (ego te nunc apud te ipsum accuso). This ialis Sententiaeur defense: If the purity of doctrine be retained, externals should not be pertinaciously contended for (modo retineatur doctrinae puritas, de rebus externis non esse pertinaciter dimicandum). But you extend the adiaphora too far. Some of them plainly conflict with the Word of God. Now, since the Lord has drawn us into the fight, it behooves us to struggle all the more manfully (eo viriIius nos eniti decebat). You know that your position differs from that of the multitude. The hesitation of the general or leader is more disgraceful than the flight of an entire regiment of common soldiers. Unless you set an example of unflinching steadfastness, all will declare that vacillation cannot be tolerated in such a man. By yielding but a little, you alone have caused more lamentations and complaints than a hundred ordinary men by open apostasy (Itaque plures tu unus paululum cedendo querimonias et gemitus excitasti quam centum mediocres aperta defectione). I would die with you a hundred times rather than see you survive the doctrine surrendered by you. You will pardon me for unloading into your bosom these pitiable, though useless groans.” (Schluesselburg 13, 635; C. R. 41 [Calvini Opera 13 , 593; Frank 4, 88.)
129. Interim Eliminated Politically, But Not Theologically.
It was also in the interest of allaying the animosity against his own person that Elector Maurice had prevailed upon Melanchthon to frame the Leipzig Interim. But in this respect, too, the document proved to be a dismal failure. Openly the people, his own former subjects included, showed their contempt for his person and character. Everywhere public sentiment was aroused against him. He was held responsible for the captivity and shameful treatment of Philip ofHesse and especially of John Frederick, whom the people admired as the Confessor of Augsburg and now also as the innocent Martyr of Lutheranism. Maurice, on the other hand, was branded a mameluke, condemned as a renegade and an apostate, despised as the traitor of Lutheranism, and abhorred as the “Judas of Meissen,” who had sold his coreligionists for an electorate.
At the same time Maurice was provoked by the arbitrary manner in which the Emperor exploited and abused his victory by a repeated breach of his promises, and by the treacherous and shameful treatment accorded his father-in-law, Philip of Hesse. Chagrined at all this and fully realizing the utter impossibility of enforcing the Interim,Maurice decided to end the matter by a single stroke which at the same time would atone for his treachery, and turn shame into glory and the vile name of a “traitor” into the noble title of “Champion of Protestantism.” Accordingly Maurice, easily the match of Charles in duplicity and cunning, secretly prepared his plans, and, suddenly turning his army against the unsuspecting Emperor, drove him from Innsbruck, scared the “Fathers of Trent” to their homes, and on April 5, 1552, victoriously entered Augsburg, where he was received with great rejoicing. The fruits of this victory were the Treaties of Passau August 2, 1552, and of Augsburg, 1555, which for the first time granted religious liberty to the Protestants. The latter placed Lutherans and Catholics on an equal footing in the Empire and, according to the rule: Cuius regio, eius religio, gave every prince religious control in his own territory, non-conformists being granted the right of emigration. To the great advantage of the Romanists, however, the treaty also provided that territories ruled by bishops must remain Catholic even though the ruler should turn Protestant.
But while the Interim was thus eliminated as a political and practical issue, the theological controversy precipitated by it continued unabated. Its political elimination cleared the situation toward the Romanists, but left conditions within the Lutheran Church unsettled. It neither unified nor pacified the Church. It neither eliminated the false doctrines and unionistic principles and tendencies injected by the Interimists, nor did it restore confidence in the doctrinal soundness, loyalty, and sincerity of the vacillating Philippists, who had caused the first breach in the Lutheran Church.“Does it agree with the character of the Lutheran Church to tolerate and approve the doctrines and principles contained and involved in the Interim, and to harbor and fellowship such indifferentists as framed, indorsed, and defended this document?” such and similar were the questions which remained live issues even after the Interim was politically dead. The theological situation within the Lutheran Church, therefore, was not changed in the least when the annihilation threatening her from without was warded off by the victory of Maurice over the Emperor.The Interim was fraught with doctrinal issues which made unavoidable the subsequent controversies.