§ 112. The First Diet of Speier, and the Beginning of the Territorial System. 1526.


I. The documents in Walch, XVI. 243 sqq. Neue Sammlung der Reichsabschiede, II. 273–75. Buchholtz: Ferdinand I., Bd. III.

II. Ranke, II. 249 sqq. Janssen, III. 39 sqq. J. Ney (Prot. minister in Speier): Analekten zur Gesch. des Reichstags zu Speier im J. 1526, in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.," Gotha, 1885, p. 300 sqq., and 1887, p. 300 sqq. (New Documents from the archives of Karlsruh and Würzburg). Walter Friedensburg: Der Reichstag zu Speier, 1526, im Zusammenhang der polit. und Kirchl. Entwicklung Deutschlands im Reformationszeitalter, Berlin, 1887 (xiv. and 602 pages). Previous discussions by Veesemeier and Kluckhohn (in "Hist. Zeitschrift," 1886). Friedensburg used much new material preserved in the archives of Hamburg and other cities. Charles G. Albert: The Diet of Speyer, the Rise and Necessity of Protestantism, in the "Luth. Quart. Review" (Gettysburg, Penn.), for January, 1888.


We must now consider the political situation which has in part been presupposed in previous sections.

As Protestantism advanced, the execution of the Edict of Worms became less and less practicable. This was made manifest at the imperial Diet of Speier, held in the summer of 1526 under Archduke Ferdinand, in the name of the Emperor.942  The Protestant princes dared here for the first time to profess their faith, and were greatly strengthened by the delegates of the imperial cities in which the Reformation had made great progress. The threatening invasion of the Turks, and the quarrel of the Emperor with the Pope, favored the Protestant cause, and inclined the Roman Catholic majority to forbearance.

The Diet came with the consent of Ferdinand to the unanimous conclusion, Aug. 27, that a general or national council should be convened for the settlement of the church question, and that in the mean time, in matters concerning the Edict of Worms, "every State shall so live, rule, and believe as it may hope and trust to answer before God and his imperial Majesty."943

This important action was not meant to annul the Edict of Worms, and to be a permanent law of religious liberty, which gave to each member of the Diet the right to act as he pleased.944  It was no legal basis of territorial self-government, and no law at all. It was, as indicated by the terms, only an armistice, or temporary suspension of the Edict of Worms till the meeting of a general council, and within the limits of obedience to the Catholic Emperor who had no idea of granting religious liberty, or even toleration, to Protestants.

But in its practical effect the resolution of 1526 went far beyond its intention. It was a great help to the cause of Protestantism, especially as the council which the Diet contemplated, and which the Emperor himself repeatedly urged upon the Pope, was postponed for twenty years. In the mean time the Protestant princes, notably Philip of Hesse at the Synod of Homberg (Oct. 20, 1526), and the Elector of Saxony, interpreted the decree according to their wishes, and made the best use of the temporary privilege of independent action, regardless of its limitations or the views of the Emperor. Luther himself understood the Diet of Speier as having given him a temporary acquittal of heresy.945

At all events, from this time dates the exercise of territorial sovereignty, and the establishment of separate State churches in Germany. And as that country is divided into a number of sovereign States, there are there as many Protestant church organizations as Protestant States, according to the maxim that the ruler of the territory is the ruler of religion within its bounds (cujus regio, ejus religio).

Every Protestant sovereign hereafter claimed and exercised the so-called jus reformandi religionem, and decided the church question according to his own faith and that of the majority of his subjects. Saxony, Hesse, Prussia, Anhalt, Lüneburg, East-Friesland, Schleswig-Holstein, Silesia, and the cities of Nürnberg, Augsburg, Frankfurt, Ulm, Strassburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck, adopted the Reformation. The princes of the territories and the magistrates of the cities consulted the theologians and preachers; but the congregations had no voice, not even in the choice of their pastor, and submitted in passive obedience. The powerful house of Austria, with the Emperor, and the Dukes of Bavaria, adhered to the old faith, and hotly contested the principle of independent state action on the church question, as being contrary to all the traditions of the Empire and of the Roman Church, which is constitutionally exclusive and intolerant.

The Protestant princes and theologians were likewise intolerant, though in a less degree, and prohibited the mass and the Roman religion wherever they had the power. Each party was bent upon victory, and granted toleration only from necessity or prudence when the dissenting minority was strong enough to assert its rights. Toleration was the fruit of a bitter contest, and was at last forced upon both parties as a modus vivendi. Protestantism had to conquer the right to exist, by terrible sacrifices. The right was conceded by the Augsburg treaty of peace, 1555, and finally established by the Westphalian treaty, 1648, which first uses the term toleration in connection with religion, and remains valid to this day, in spite of the protest of the Pope. The same policy of toleration was adopted in England after the downfall of the Stuart dynasty in 1688, and included all orthodox Protestants, but excluded the Roman Catholics, who were not emancipated till 1829. In Germany, toleration was first confined to three confessions,—the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, and the German Reformed,—but was gradually extended to other religious communions which are independent of state support and state control.



toleration and freedom.


Toleration is far from religious liberty, but a step towards it. Toleration is a concession of the government on the ground of necessity or expediency, and may be withdrawn or extended. Even despotic Russia and Turkey are tolerant, the one towards Mohammedans, the other towards Christians, because they cannot help it. To kill or to exile all dissenters would be suicidal folly. But they allow no departure from the religion of the State, and no propagandism against its interests.

Religious liberty is an inviolable and inalienable right which belongs to all men, within the limits of public morals and safety. God alone is the Lord of conscience, and no power on earth has a right to interfere with it. The full enjoyment and public exercise of religious liberty require a peaceful separation of church and state, which makes each independent, self-governing, and self-supporting in its own sphere, and secures to the church the legal protection of the state, and to the state the moral support of the church. This is the American theory of religious freedom, as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution of 1787: it prevents the state from persecuting the church, and the churches from persecuting each other, and confines them to their proper moral and spiritual vocation. The American principle of the legal equality of religious confessions was proposed by the Frankfort Parliament in 1849, triumphed in the new German empire, 1870, and is making steady progress all over the civilized world. (See the author’s Church and State in the United States, N. Y., 1888.)


 § 113. The Emperor and the Pope. The Sacking of Rome, 1527.


Contemporary accounts of the sacking of Rome are collected by Carlo Milanesi: Il Sacco di Roma del MDXXVII., Florence, 1867. Alfred von Reumont: Geschichte der Stadt Rom (Berlin, 1870), vol. III. 194 sqq.; Comp. the liter. he gives on p. 846 sq. Ranke: bk. V. (vol. III. I sqq.). Janssen: vol. III. 124 sqq.


Charles V. neither signed nor opposed the edict of Speier. He had shortly before fallen out with Clement VII., because this Pope released King Francis I. from the hard conditions of peace imposed upon him after his defeat at Pavia, June 26, 1526, and placed himself at the head of a Franco-Italian league against the preponderance of Austria    the Holy League" of Cognac, May 22, 1526). The league of the Emperor and the Pope had brought about the Edict of Worms; the breach between the two virtually annulled it at the Diet of Speier. Had the Emperor now embraced the Protestant doctrines, he might have become the head of a German imperial state church. But all his instincts were against Protestantism.

His quarrel with the Pope was the occasion of a fearful calamity to the Eternal City. The Spanish and German troops of the Emperor, under the lead of Constable Charles de Bourbon, and the old warrior Frundsberg (both enemies of the Pope), marched to Rome with an army of twenty thousand men, and captured the city, May 6, 1527. Bourbon, the ablest general of Charles, but a traitor to his native France, was struck by a musket-ball in climbing a ladder, and fell dead in the moment of victory. The pope fled to the castle St. Angelo. The soldiers, especially the Spaniards, deprived of their captain, surpassed the barbarians of old in beastly and refined cruelty, rage and lust. For eight days they plundered the papal treasury, the churches, libraries, and palaces, to the extent of ten millions of gold; they did not spare even the tomb of St. Peter and the corpse of Julius II., and committed nameless outrages upon defenseless priests, monks, and nuns. German soldiers marched through the streets in episcopal and cardinal’s robes, dressed a donkey like a priest, and by a grim joke proclaimed Luther as pope of Rome.

Never before had Rome suffered such indignities and loss. The sacking was a crime against civilization, humanity, and religion; but, at the same time, a fearful judgment of God upon the worldliness of the papacy, and a loud call to repentance.946

When the news reached Germany, many rejoiced, at the fall of Babylon." But Melanchthon, rising above bigotry, said in one of his finest addresses to the students of Wittenberg: "Why should we not lament the fall of Rome, which is the common mother-city of all nations?  I indeed feel this calamity no less than if it were my own native place. The robber hordes were not restrained by considerations of the dignity of the city, nor the remembrance of her services for the laws, sciences, and arts of the world. This is what we grieve over. Whatever be the sins of the Pope, Rome should not be made to suffer."  He acquitted the Emperor of all blame, and held the army alone responsible.947


 § 114. A War Panic, 1528.


On the "Packische Händel," see Walch (XVI. 444), Gieseler (III. 1, 229), Ranke (III. 26), Janssen (III. 109), Rommel’s, and Wille’s monographs on Philip of Hesse; and St. Ehses: Geschichte der Packschen Händel, Freiburg i. B. 1881.


The action of the Diet of 1526, and the quarrel between the Emperor and the Pope, were highly favorable to the progress of the Reformation. But the good effect was in great part neutralized by a stupendous fraud which brought Germany to the brink of a civil war.

Philip of Hesse, an ardent, passionate, impulsive, ambitious prince, and patron of Protestantism, was deceived by an unprincipled and avaricious politician, Otto von Pack, provisional chancellor of the Duchy of Saxony, into the belief that Ferdinand of Austria, the Electors of Mainz and Brandenburg, the Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria, and other Roman Catholic rulers had concluded a league at Breslau, May 15, 1527, for the extermination of Protestantism. He procured at Dresden a sealed copy of the forged document, for which he paid Pack four thousand guilders. He persuaded the Elector John of Saxony of its genuineness, and concluded with him, in all haste, a counter-league, March 9, 1528. They secured aid from other princes, and made expensive military preparations, to anticipate by a masterstroke an attack of the enemy.

Fortunately, the Reformers of Wittenberg were consulted, and prevented an open outbreak by their advice. Luther deemed the papists had enough for any thing, but was from principle opposed to aggressive war;948 Melanchthon saw through the forgery, and felt keenly mortified. When the fictitious document was published, the Roman Catholic princes indignantly denied it. Duke George denounced Pack as a traitor.949  Archduke Ferdinand declared that he never dreamed of such a league.

The rash conduct of Philip put the Protestant princes in the position of aggressors and disturbers of the public peace, and the whole affair brought shame and disgrace upon their cause.


 § 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."950

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.951  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.952

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 1526.953

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.954  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.


 § 116. The Reconciliation of the Emperor and the Pope.

The Crowning of the Emperor. 1529.


The Emperor expressed to the Pope his deep regret at the sacking of the holy city. His breach with him was purely political and temporary. The French troops again entered Lombardy. Henry VIII. of England sympathized with Francis and the Pope. The Spanish counselors of Charles repre-sented to him that the imprisonment of the vicar of Christ was inconsistent with the traditional loyalty of Spain to the holy see.

On Nov. 26, 1527, the Emperor concluded an agreement with the Pope by which he was released from confinement, and reinstated in his temporal power (except over a few fortified places), on promise of paying the soldiers, and convening a council for the reformation of the church. For a while Clement distrusted the Emperor, and continued his Franco-Italian policy; but at last they definitely made peace, June 29, 1529. The Pope acknowledged the sovereignty of the Emperor in Italy, which he had heretofore opposed; the Emperor guaranteed to him the temporal possessions, with a reservation of imperial rights.

They held a personal conference at Bologna in November of that year. They were well matched in political and diplomatic shrewdness, and settled their secular disputes as well as they could. Charles was crowned Roman emperor, Feb. 24, 1530, at Bologna, the only emperor crowned outside of St. Peter’s at Rome, and the last German emperor crowned by the Pope. The dignitaries who graced the occasion were chiefly Spanish and Italian noblemen. Only one of the seven German electors was present, Philip of the Palatinate. The wooden awning which was constructed between the palace and the church of San Petronio broke down, but the Emperor escaped an accident. Clothed in a richly jewelled robe, he was anointed with oil, and received from the bishop of Rome the crown of Charlemagne as the temporal head of Western Christendom, and swore to protect the Pope and the Roman-Catholic Church with their possessions, dignities, and rights.955

This event was the sunset of the union of the German empire with the papal theocracy.

The German electors complained that they were not invited to the coronation, nor consulted about the treaties with the Italian States, and entered a formal protest.

Early in May, 1530, the Emperor crossed the Alps on his way to the Diet of Augsburg, which was to decide the fate of Lutheranism in Germany.



* Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and emended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.

942  Speier, or Speyer, is an old German city on the left bank of the Rhine, the seat of a bishop, with a cathedral and the graves of eight German kings, the capital of the Bavarian Palatinate. It became the birthplace of the name "Protestants" in 1529. See below, § 115, p. 692.

943  Demnach haben wir uns jetzt einmüthiglich verglichen und vereiniget, mittlerzeit des Concilii, oder aber Nationalversammlung, nichtsdestoweniger mit unsern Unterthanen, ein jeglicher in Sachen so das Edict durch kaiserl. Majestät auf dem Reichstag zu Worms gehalten, ausgangen, belangen möchten, für sich also zu leben, zu regieren und zu halten, wie ein jeder solches gegen Gott und kaiserliche Majestät hoffet und vertraut zu verantworten."See the Reichsabschied (recess) in Walch, XVI. 266, and in Gieseler, III. I. 223 (Germ. ed.; IV. 126 Am. ed.). The acts are now published in full by Friedensburg.

944  This was the view heretofore taken by most Protestant historians, e.g., by Kurtz (II. 31, ed. 9th), who calls the recess "die reichsgesetzliche Legitimation der Territorialverfassung," and by Fisher (Hist. of the Christ. Ch., p. 304): "This act gave the Lutheran movement a legal existence." The correct view is stated by Janssen (III. 51): "Der Speierer Abschied bildet keineswegs eine positive Rechtsgrundlage, wohl aber den Ausgangspunkt für die Ausbildung neuer Landeskirchen." Kluckhohn, Friedensburg, and his reviewer, Kawerau (in the "Theol. Literaturzeitung," Dec. 3, 1887), arrive at the same conclusion.

945  He alludes to it in a polemical tract against Duke George of Saxony from the year 1529 as follows: "Auch so bin ich auf dem Reichstage zu Speir durch ein öffentlichs kaiserlichs Reichsdecret wiederumb befreiet, oder zum wenigsten befristet [freed at least for a season], dass man mich nicht kann einen Ketzer schelten; weil daselbst beschlossen ist von Allen einträchtiglich, dass ein jeglicher solle und müge glauben, wie ers wisse gegen Gott und kaiserliche Majestät zu verantworten; und ich billig daraus als die Ungehorsamen dem Reich und Aufrührischen beklagen möcht alle die, so mich einen Ketzer schelten. Hat das Gebotzu Worms gegolten, da ich verdampt ward ohn Bewilligung der besten und höhesten Stände des Reichs: warumb sollt mir denn das Gebot zu Speir nicht auch gelten, welchs einträchtlich durch alle Stände des Reichs beschlossen und angenommen ist." Erl. ed., vol. VIII. p. 14.

946  Reumont (l.c. III. 201) says: "Wüster und andauernder ist keine Stadt geplündert, sind keine Einwohner misshandelt worden als Rom und die Römer. Spanier wie Teutsche haben bei diesem grausen Werke gewetteifert, jene mit erfinderischer Unmenschlichkeit, diese mit wilder Barbarei. Kirchen, Klöster, Palläste, Wohnhäuser, Hütten wurden mit gleicher Beutelust ausgeleert und verwüstet, Männer, Frauen, Kinder mit gleicher Grausamkeit misshandelt."

947  "Corp. Ref.," XI. 130; C. Schmidt, Phil. Melanchthon, p. 135 sq.

948  See his letters on this subject in De Wette, III. 314 sqq.

949  After a fugitive life, Pack was beheaded as a forger in the Netherlands, 1536, at the solicitation of Duke George.

950  Words of Jacob Sturm, the ambassador of Strassburg, from the middle of March.

951  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.

952  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.

953  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."

954  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."

955  How has the situation changed since! In the same once papal city where the Emperor was crowned by the Pope with all the splendor of the Catholic ceremonial, the eighth centennial of the University—the oldest in the world ("Bononia docet")—was celebrated June 11-13, 1888, in the presence of the King and Queen, with unbounded enthusiasm for free and united Italy, which has shaken off the yoke of petty tyrants, and is determined to resist all attempts at a restoration of the temporal power of the papacy. The Italians are willing to take their religion from the Pope, but not their politics. Practically, church and state are almost as separate in Italy, since 1870, as in the United States.