Two weeks ago we began a little series of posts on Frederick III’s defense of the Heidelberg Catechism before the emperor and other German princes at the Diet of Augsburg (1566). This significant diet, at which the HC was destined to stand or fall, is nearly forgotten. But James I. Good has preserved its story in his book The Heidelberg Catechism in Its Newest Light (1914). From that work we quote again today.
Last time we began to set the stage for this historical event in the life of the HC. And we do more of the same today. We will hear a portion of Good’s commentary and we will hear a beautiful testimony of Frederick III himself. First, here is Good on the dangers Frederick the Pious was facing with this diet.
The storm, that has been gathering ever since the publication of the Heidelberg catechism early in 1563, broke around Frederick’s head three years later. …To the early opponents of the catechism, Duke Christopher of Wurtemburg and Duke Wolfgang of Zweibrucken (Lutherans -cjt), were now added a number of Catholic bishops who claimed that Frederick had taken away their endowments and despoiled their churches. So finally the Emperor, Maximilian, summoned a diet to meet at Augsburg in 1566. The notice of the diet was sent out January 4, 1566, and gave the three topics to be discussed at the diet.
1. How to bring the Christian religion to a better understanding.
2. How to check the destructive and corrupting sects.
3. How the Turks (Muslims -cjt) might be checked.
It was under the second of these that Frederick’s case came, as Zwinglianism and Calvinism were looked upon in Germany as sects. Frederick, as soon as he had received notice of the call for a diet, began to realize the danger that was threatening him and began to negotiate with other Protestant princes to head off his opponents.
But, as Good notes, with one important exception these negotiations did not go well, and Frederick “was in danger of being deposed from his electorate”, and with that the precious HC. “The danger was so great that his brother, Count Richard, warned him not to go to the diet at all, but to be represented by his statesmen as some of the other princes were. But such timidity was foreign to Frederick. He wrote to his brother a letter which breathes a true martyr spirit:
I stand in the comforting hope in my dear and true Father in heaven, that his mighty power would use me as an instrument to publicly confess his name in the holy realm of the German empire in these later days, not only with the mouth, but in deed and truth…. And although I am not so presumptuous as to compare my intellect with his (Duke John Frederick of Saxony, his brother-in-law -cjt), yet I also know that the same God, who then kept him in the right and true knowledge of His Gospel, still lives and is so mighty as to keep me a poor and simple man; so that he can and will certainly keep me by His Holy Spirit; even though matters should proceed so far as to cost blood. And if it should please my dear Father in Heaven to give me such honor, I could never sufficiently praise Him for it, either here in time or yonder in eternity.
No wonder Good ends this quote with the words, “One who could so write was already victorious. And so he went cheerfully to the diet” (pp.185-87).
Indeed. Does our Reformed faith as summed in the HC give us the same confidence in these latter days?