Hearing of Charles’ reconciliation with the pope and his coronation in Bologna, Germany’s Protestant princes had grave misgivings about the upcoming diet at Augsburg. What they expected from the emperor was some minor compromises to be offered before being forced to give up the evangelical faith. They thought it would be best to decide what were the essential articles of the faith so they would know how to answer the emperor’s demands.
The elector called four chief theologians to write out the main points of their faith that they were unwilling to yield upon. Then, accompanied by 160 horsemen and his supporters, Elector John set out for Augsburg on April 3. Rumours swirled about, accusing him of planning an attack on the emperor. He was unruffled by this news. He had called upon his citizens to pray and he trusted that God would support His cause. He was the first of the imperial council to arrive there.
Luther composed his famous hymn A Mighty Fortress to encourage the faithful at this critical time. It was sung during the diet at Augsburg and all over Germany.
John and Philip Appoint Preachers
Upon arriving in Augsburg, John ordered one of his ministers to preach the Gospel daily. Philip, the landgrave of Hesse, also appointed a preacher to preach the Gospel. Great crowds attended the churches to hear the evangelical preaching.
The Bishop of Augsburg, perhaps out of jealousy at seeing the crowds flocking round the Protestants, instructed his priests to preach the Gospel also. But just as the people in Christ’s day had noted the difference between the preaching of Jesus – “He preaches as One who has authority,” they said – the people detected the difference and scorned the Roman Church’s priests.
Charles Demands the Preaching Be Stopped
The Bishop and other of the church’s supporters complained to Charles, who sent two influential counts with a message to John. Charles accused the elector of opposing the edict of Worms (condemning Luther and his followers) and of dividing Germany. Worst of all, he threatened that bloodshed was sure to follow. Charles demanded that John stop the evangelical preaching.
The theologians discussed this gag order. Luther thought the preaching was an unnecessary offense to the emperor. He felt that Paul’s admonition to give honour to whom honour is due (Romans 13:7) should guide the elector and his ministers. After all, Luther reasoned, the emperor is our master.
Melanchthon felt the same and felt, more than anyone else, the necessity of making peace with the emperor to avoid bloodshed. He advised John to stop the preaching and to tell the emperor that nothing controversial was being preached, but the ministers were only teaching the doctrine of Christ the Saviour. He also encouraged John to tell the emperor of the wonderful ways that he’d gained knowledge of the truth.
John Refuses to Give up Preaching
John, however, was not willing to stop the preaching. He believed that if he were to yield to the demands of the emperor before he’d even arrived at Augsburg it would start an avalanche of sacrifices the reformers would be required to make. His chancellor, Bruck, agreed. “If we yield at present, they will crush us by and by,” he said. Bruck advised the elector to humbly beg permission to continue the sermons.
John sent a message to Charles. He said that the Edict of Worms had not been approved by the six electors (himself and Frederick his brother included). If they had approved it they would have opposed the “everlasting word of Almighty God.” That is why succeeding diets had found it impossible to enforce. Furthermore, he said, nothing was being preached but the glorious truth of God and “never was it so necessary to us. We cannot therefor do without it!”
The Protestants expected John’s refusal to stop the preaching to trigger Charles’ immediate arrival at Augsburg. They would need to have a written document explaining their beliefs. Melanchthon was the obvious choice to do the writing.
Melanchthon wrote night and day, preparing, softening the language, editing, trying to make the Confession as conformable to the Roman Church as possible. He became so engrossed in the task that his health was suffering and Luther admonished him to take care of “his little body.” He warned Philip not to commit suicide in his service to God. “Never man serves him better than by keeping himself tranquil. It is for this reason God willed that the Sabbath should be so strictly observed.”[i]
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.