History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
« Prev The First Diet of Speier, and the Beginning of… Next »

§ 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.935935    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. 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."936936    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.

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.937937    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. 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.938938    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.

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.)

« Prev The First Diet of Speier, and the Beginning of… Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |