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History of the Christian Church, Volume VIII: Modern Christianity. The Swiss Reformation.
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§ 121. Against the German Interim. 1549.


Interim Adultero-Germanum: Cui adjecta est vera Christianae pacificationis et ecclesiae reformandae ratio, per Joannem Calvinum. Cavete a fermento Pharisaeorum, 1549. Opera, VII. 541–674.—It was reprinted in Germany, and translated into French (1549) and Italian (1561). See Henry, II. 369 sqq.; III. Beilage, 211 sq.; Dyer, 232 sq.

On the Interim, comp. the German Histories of Ranke, (V. 25 sqq.) and Janssen (III. 625 sqq.), and the monograph of Ludwig Pastor (Rom. Cath.): Die kirchlichen Reunionsbestrebungen während der Regierung Karls V. Freiburg, 1879, pp. 357 sqq.


Calvin’s tract on the false German Interim is closely connected with his criticism of the Council of Trent. After defeating the Smalkaldian League, the Emperor imposed on the Protestants in Germany a compromise confession of faith to be used till the final decision of the General Council. It was drawn up by two Roman Catholic bishops, Pflug (an Erasmian) and Helding, with the aid of John Agricola, the chaplain of Elector Joachim II. of Brandenburg. Agricola was a vain, ambitious, and unreliable man, who had once been a secretary and table companion of Luther, but fell out with him and Melanchthon in the Antinomian controversy. He was suspected of having been bribed by the Catholics.884884    The Emperor presented him with fifty crowns; King Ferdinand, with five hund-red thaler. Janssen, III. 625. Comp. G. Kawerau (a specialist in the history of the Lutheran Reformation), Johann Agricola von Eisleben, Berlin, 1881.

The agreement was laid before the Diet of Augsburg, and is called the Augsburg Interim. It was proclaimed, with an earnest exhortation, by the Emperor, May 15, 1548. It comprehended the whole Roman Catholic system of doctrine and discipline, but in a mild and conciliatory form, and without an express condemnation of the Protestant views. The doctrine of justification was stated in substantial agreement with that of the Council of Trent. The seven sacraments, transubstantiation, the mass, the invocation of the saints, the authority of the pope, and all the important ceremonies, were to be retained. The only concession made to the Protestants was the use of the cup by the laity in the holy communion, and the permission for married priests to retain their wives. The arrangement suited the views of the Emperor, who, as Ranke remarks, wished to uphold the Catholic hierarchy as the basis of his power, and yet to make it possible for Protestants to be reconciled to him. It is very evident that the adoption of such a confession was a virtual surrender of the cause of the Reformation and would have ended in a triumph of the papacy.

The Interim was received with great indignation by the Protestants, and was rejected in Hesse, ducal Saxony, and the Northern cities, especially in Madgeburg, which became the headquarters of the irreconcilable Lutherans under the lead of Flacius. In Southern Germany it was enforced with great rigor by Spanish soldiers. More than four hundred pastors in Swabia and on the Rhine were expelled from their benefices for refusing the Interim, and wandered about with their families in poverty and misery. Among them was Brenz, the Reformer of Würtemburg, who fled to Basel, where he received a consolitary letter from Calvin (Nov. 5, 1548). Martin Bucer, with all his zeal for Christian union, was unwilling to make a compromise at the expense of his conscience, and fled from Strassburg to England, where he was appointed professor of divinity in the University of Cambridge.

It was forbidden under pain of death to write against the Interim. Nevertheless, over thirty attacks appeared from the "Chancellery of God" at Magdeburg. Bullinger and Calvin wrote against it.

Calvin published the imperial proclamation and the text of the Interim in full, and then gave his reasons why it could never bring peace to the Church. He begins with a quotation from Hilary in the Arian controversy: "Specious indeed is the name of peace, and fair the idea of unity; but who doubts that the only peace of the Church is that which is of Christ?" This is the key-note of his own exposition on the true method of the pacification of Christendom.

Elector Maurice of Saxony, who stood between two fires,—his Lutheran subjects and the Emperor,—modified the Augsburg Interim, with the aid of Melanchthon and the other theologians of Wittenberg, and substituted for it the Leipzig Interim, Dec. 22, 1548. In this document the chief articles of faith are more cautiously worded so as to admit of an evangelical interpretation, but the Roman ceremonies are retained, as adiaphora, or things indifferent, which do not compromise the conscience nor endanger salvation. it gave rise to the Adiaphoristic Controversy between the strict and the moderate Lutherans. Melanchthon was placed in a most trying position in the midst of the contest. In the sincere wish to save Protestantism from utter overthrow and Saxony from invasion and desolation by imperial troops, he yielded to the pressure of the courtiers and accepted the Leipzig Interim in the hope of better times. For this conduct he was severely attacked by Flacius, his former pupil, and denounced as a traitor. When Calvin heard the news, he wrote an earnest letter of fraternal rebuke to Melanchthon, and reminded him of Paul’s unyielding firmness at the Synod of Jerusalem on the question of circumcision.885885    Letter of July 18, 1550, quoted in § 90, pp. 395 sq. Dyer decidedly defends Melanchthon in this adiaphoristic controversy, and makes the following remark (p. 240): "What a prospect do these squabbles hold out for the future union of the Protestant Church! A silly and scandalous, we had almost said, a childish, quarrel about a surplice and a few minor ceremonies divides the Protestants into hostile factions at the moment of their most eminent peril! With such feelings, how should they hope in quieter times to arrange those more serious questions, which turned on really important points of doctrine?"

Protestantism in Germany was brought to the brink of ruin, but was delivered from it by the treason of the Elector Maurice. This shrewd, selfish politician and master in the art of dissimulation, had first betrayed the Protestants, by aiding the Emperor in the defeat of the Smalkaldian League, whereby he gained the electorate; and then he rose in rebellion against the Emperor and drove him and the Fathers of Trent out of Tyrol (1551). He died in 1553 of a deadly wound which he received in a victorious battle against his old friend Albrecht of Brandenburg.886886    For a description of the character of Moritz, see Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, vol. V. 160 sqq. (6th ed. 1881).

The final result of the defeat of the Emperor was the Augsburg Treaty of Peace, 1555, which for the first time gave to the Lutherans a legal status in the empire, though with certain restrictions. This closes the period of the Lutheran Reformation.



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