Emperor Charles V had sent a message to Germany. After meeting with the pope, he would come to Germany and deal with the Reformation. On June 25, 1526, the princes of the empire met in Spires. The emperor’s brother, Ferdinand told the council that all the customs of the Church of Rome must be maintained and those who refused to obey this order must be punished.
The Reformation princes were not intimidated. They asked for a church at Spires where their ministers could preach the Word of God to the people. No church was given to them. So, the princes opened their palace halls, and while Ferdinand and the Roman bishops celebrated mass in the empty cathedral of Spires, thousands flocked daily to hear the Bible preached in the halls.
Duke John, Elector of Saxony had great influence. His court was made up of 700 persons who traveled with him to Spires. All the followers of the Reformation princes had sewn letters on their sleeves that stood for “The Word of the Lord endures forever.” But the protestants knew that this was not enough. Duke John, the elector and the landgrave Philip ordered that none of the partying normally associated with council sessions would be allowed. There would be no drinking and no carousing at the Diet of Spires.
The spirit of reform was felt at Spires. States that had not previously allied themselves openly with the Reformation, declared their agreement with the reformers. Neutral states stated their opposition to the edict of Worms, which ordered that all heretics must be punished.
The princes wanted the council to deal church abuses and called for churches to abandon all rituals that were contrary to the faith in Jesus. The bishops protested saying instead that all the Reformation books should be burned.
In spite of the bishops’ objections, the council divided into committees, with priests and laymen in equal numbers, to examine the abuses of the Roman Church. The committees reported to the council that a compromise should be made between reforms and Roman Church practices. Among the committee’s recommendations were these:
- Priests should be allowed to marry,
- Mass and the ceremony of baptism should be said in German as well as in Latin,
- The sacraments, rituals required by the church, should be offered by the church free of charge, and,
- The Word of God should be preached according to the interpretation of the Roman Church (the demand of the bishops), but Scripture should explain Scripture (the reformers’ requirement).
On August 1, the Diet of Spires announced that the Church of Rome must reform abuses within the church. On August 3, the enemies of the Reformation presented an order from the emperor requiring that the edict of Worms be enforced.
The princes saw that the emperor had issued the order four months earlier and they had heard, in the meantime, that Charles had changed his mind about the Reformation.
In fact, Charles had planned to first visit Pope Clement VII to officially receive the crown of the empire from him and then to return to Germany to fight against the Reformation. But the pope wanted more from Charles than just the reformers’ heads. He also demanded that Charles hand over some states that Charles had taken from the Duke of Ferrara. This was too much for Charles. He refused the pope’s demand.
The pope formed a “holy league” with his former enemy, Francis, the King of France, and others, and threatened to excommunicate the emperor. To get even with the pope, the emperor sent a message to his brother in Germany, telling him to make friends with the reformers. This clash between the emperor and the pope resulted in several years of peace for the Reformation.
The council meeting at Spires could not wait for the emperor or the pope to act decisively regarding the Reformation. They decided to allow every person to decide for himself how each should practice their religion, until a future council would determine the best way to re-establish unity. In doing this, the council granted the people freedom of religion.