Today we post our final part in this little series examining the German Palatinate Elector’s courageous defense of the Reformed confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, before the Emperor Maximilian, German princes, and church leaders at the Diet of Augsburg in 1566, just three years after the publication on the HC.
As we have seen, this early in its history the future of this new Reformed catechism in Germany was in serious jeopardy, as both Roman Catholics and Lutherans opposed Frederick III’s newly-confessed Calvinism. They tried to get him to renounce it by attacking both his professed agreement with the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) and his professed Calvinism. And the Emperor tried desperately to preserve the unity of his realm by also trying to get Frederick to deny his Reformed faith. But no matter how hard these parties tried, they could not succeed. Frederick the Pious faithfully defended his faith and his catechism.
The final part of his defense came at the May 24 meeting of the diet. At a special meeting of all the Protestant States that morning Frederick III “was there very sharply charged that what was taught by his theologians in his churches and schools, yes, by himself at the diet, was more dangerous than anything taught by Calvin and Ecolampadius. And they earestly asked him to desist from this, at least until a conference could be called” (J.Good, p.198).
And here we pick up the narrative as described by James I. Good in his book The Heidelberg Catechism in Its Newest Light (1914):
And now we come to his second great address at the diet. He agreed with their last declaration to the Emperor and hoped they would ever carefully guard against division and would always remember that what happened to one today might happen to another tomorrow. He than again declared his adherence to the Augsburg Confession. But that as to the Lord’s Supper he was ready to be instructed out of the Bible. Of Calvin’s and Zwingli’s doctrines he knew nothing and had nothing to do with them. Then he took the Bible, laid it on the table and urged all who were present to teach him something better out of the Bible. But no one among them was willing to enter the lists (for Frederick was evidently recognized as not only the most spiritually-minded among them, but the best versed in the Bible). He continued, therefore, saying that he were reproached for having weakened from the Augsburg Confession, he could understand it in no other way than that he had gone back on his subscription to that Confession (which he had before denied), p.198.
And the outcome was this:
And so Frederick finally gained victory for his cause, and the Heidelberg Catechism was allowed to be tolerated in Germany. But it is none the less true, as Prof.Boquin, the oldest professor of theology in his university, said at (sic-cjt) in his funeral address on Frederick, ‘When it comes to martyrdom, to joyful willingness to suffer for the righteousness of the matter, dare we not truthfully count this pious prince among the martyrs of Christ.’ And we can join in this tribute. …And we can not thank him enough for this defense, which, as almost by a miracle, preserved to us our catechism. All honor to Frederick for his deep spirituality and wonderful eloquence at this diet, (p.200)!
With that last statement we would part company with Good. Rather ought we say, “All honor to Frederick’s Lord for his deep grace to this godly prince in his hour of need!”