Today we continue our little series (See my Oct.10 and 17, and Nov.7, 2013 posts.) on Frederick III’s defense of the newly published Heidelberg Catechism (1563) before the Holy Roman Emperor at the Diet of Augsburg (Germany) held in 1566. Because neither the Catholic nor Protestant princes of Germany were pleased with Frederick’s conversion to Calvinism and subsequent introduction of it into the Palatinate region (of which he was Elector), and because the Emperor was concerned about the unity of his realm, Maximilian (II – emperor from 1564-1576) called for Frederick (also known as “the Pious”) to appear before a diet in Augsburg and defend himself along with his new faith and his new catechism.
And, as we saw last week, things did not look good in the least for this Reformed ruler as he faced this “trial”. It seemed that all things were against him – all his fellow rulers and all the circumstances surrounding this diet. And therefore, it also appeared that his beautiful and beloved catechism was doomed to be rejected and relegated to the distant memory pile of history. But God would not have it so. And Frederick was not going to allow this to happen if he could help it. The testimony he gave before the emperor and the other participants showed that the Reformed faith he had embraced was the conviction of his heart, and that the catechism he had drafted set forth the truth that was his only comfort.
On May 14, 1566 this is part of what Frederick III confessed:
…So far as matters of a religious nature are involved, I confess freely that in those things which concern the conscience, I acknowledge as Master, only Him, who is Lord of lords and King of kings. For the question here is not in regard to a cap of flesh, but it pertains to the soul and its salvation, for which I am indebted alone to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and which, as his gift, I will sacredly preserve. Therefore I cannot grant your Imperial Majesty the right of standing in the place of my God and Saviour.
What men understand by Calvinism I do not know. This I can say with a pure conscience that I have never read Calvin’s writings. But the agreement at Frankford and the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran statement of faith – cjt) that I signed at Naumberg, together with the other princes, of whom the majority are here present, in this faith I continue firmly, on no other ground than because I find it established in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Nor do I believe that any one can successfully show that I have done or received anything that stands opposed to that creed.
But that my catechism, word for word, is drawn, not from human, but from divine sources, the references (Bible – cjt) that stand in the margin will show. For this reason also certain theologians have in vain wearied themselves in attacking it, since it has been shown them by the open Scriptures how baseless is their opposition.
What I have elsewhere publicly declared to your Majesty in a full assembly of princes; namely, that if any one of whatever age, station or class he may be, even the humblest, can teach me something better from the Holy Scriptures, I will thank him from the bottom of my heart and be readily obedient to the divine truth. This is now repeat in the presence of this assembly of the whole empire. If there be any one here among my lords and friends who will undertake it, I am prepared to hear him and here are the Scriptures at hand (He had taken a Bible with him – cjt.). Should it please your Imperial Majesty to undertake this task, I would regard it as the greatest favor and acknowledge it with suitable gratitude. With this, my explanation, I hope your Imperial Majesty will be satisfied….
Should contrary to my expectations, my defense and the Christian and reasonable conditions which I have proposed, not be regarded of on any account, I shall comfort myself in this that my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has promised to me and to all who believe that whatsoever we lose on earth for His name’s sake, we shall receive an hundred fold in the life to come.
Concerning this testimony, James I. Good comments:
Thus with a martyr-like willingness to lose all for Christ, he closed by passing out of the domain of law, German or other, into the realm of conscience, which no man can force. The Christian courage, the deep conscientiousness and the great spiritual force, revealed in his address, made a most profound impression on the diet, even on his enemies (The Heidelberg Catechism in Its Newest Light, 193-94).
Next time we hope to bring this series to close by considering Frederick’s second testimony and the final outcome of this significant diet.