Presentation of the Augsburg Confession to Emperor Charles V, June 25 1530
Today the Lutheran Church turns 480 years old. While today will slip by for many Lutherans without the fanfare of Reformation Day (October, 31), today marks the day in which God fearing laymen stood up for the Gospel against Pope and Emperor.
A Diet (Imperial Council) was held in the city of Augsburg in 1530 to address, among other issues, Luther’s followers. The main issue however was that Suleiman was just routed at Vienna (thanks to excessive rain and early snow) and the Emporer wished to push back against the Ottoman invasion. He needed his German princes to be on board, and in his mind, for them to be on board was to follow the Empire’s spiritual head, the Pope. So Charles V ordered the princes to participate in a Corpus Christi procession as a show of good faith.
Margrave George of Brandenburg, as spokesman for the princes, replied, “We cannot and dare not do it. If it were a procession designed to honor the Emperor, or if any worldly affair, we should be the first to attend. But as this procession is given out as an act of worship which is not commanded in the Scriptures, and rather belongs to that class of which the Saviour says, Matt. xv. 9: ‘But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,’ so we must decline performing an act which would only burden our conscience with guilt before God.”
When asked again by the Emperor to honor Christ and the “Holy Mother Church” by participating in the procession, lest they dishonor the Sacrament, the reply was ever resolute, “That be far from us. It is because we desire not to desecrate the sacrament that we refuse to sanction this ceremony. What we yesterday said, we repeat to-day ; the festival of Corpus Christi is a mutilation of the sacrament; and carrying it about in procession, is against the institution of the sacrament itself, which was also commanded by Christ to be received and partaken of entire and unmutilated.”
The previous day, Margrave George demonstrated the resolve of the princes when ordered to participate in the same Chorpus Christi procession, “We base our refusal,” he continued, in a calm and unfaltering tone, ” on the plain word of God, from which we cannot swerve, because our souls are bound up in it. We do not refuse from disobedience to his imperial majesty, but because we fear the sin of opposing God’s word. In all human affairs, we are ready to serve his majesty with our property, life and blood, and thus prove that we keep the oath of allegiance. But in divine affairs, we have another and a higherLord and King, to whom we owe obedience for our poor souls’ sake. His Majesty is lord of our bodies, but not of our souls. Yes,” he continued, in a more determined tone, advancing nearer to the Emperor, ” before I would deny my God and his Gospel, I would here kneel before your Imperial Majesty and suffer my head to be cut off!”
The Emperor responded in his Netherland dialect, “Dear Prince, no heads off! No heads off!”
(For a more detailed reading, check out
The Diet of Augsburg, by Carl August Wildenhahn, John Gottlieb Morris, from which this account was taken pages 201-207)
The reason I go to such length in telling this story is because it is the same willingness to forsake all, even life, for the sake of the Gospel. This is what every pastor does when they vow that they will preach and teach according to Scripture as the only rule and norm. It is because of this confession that they also confess that the
Lutheran Confessions are a true exposition of Scripture, and fully subscribe to them. Then in the ordination / installation service the pastor also states “and I make this confession my own.”
This last phrase is key. It puts each pastor’s neck out their as they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Confessors, including Margrave George. This does away with confessional minimalism which says “I only subscribe to the doctrinal content of the Confessions.” Of course in saying this, it makes the individual a subjective arbiter of what is doctrinal and what is not doctrinal (often the terms “practice” or “descriptive” will be used). In my, not-so-humble, neck-extended, opinion, this is simply a stepping away from the spirit of what it means to make these confessions my own. So on this day, I rejoice in the confession of the pure doctrine of Christ and His Gospel.