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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

And to the consistorial system of ecclesiastical government


It chained irrevocably to the Romanist creed, by the clause called the _ecclesiastical reservation_, not merely the people, but the rulers in the numerous ecclesiastical principalities scattered all over Germany. This provision secured that if an ecclesiastical prince adopted the Lutheran faith, he was to be deprived of his principality. It is probable that this provision did more than anything else to secure for the Romanists the position they now have in Germany. It was partly due to the alarms excited by the fact that Albert of Brandenburg, Master of the Teutonic Knights, had secularised his land of East Prussia and had become a Lutheran, and by the narrow escape of the province of Koeln from following in the same path, under its reforming archbishop, Hermann von Wied.

The Peace of Augsburg made no provision for any Protestants other than those who accepted the Augsburg Confession; and thousands in the Palatinate and all throughout South Germany preferred another type of Protestant faith. It is probable that, had Luther lived for ten or fifteen years longer, the great division between the Reformed or Calvinist and the Evangelical or Lutheran Churches would have been bridged over; but after his death his successors, intent to maintain, as they expressed it, the deposit of truth which Luther had left, actually ostracised Melanchthon for his endeavour to heal the breach. The consequence was that the Lutheran Church within Germany after 1555 lost large districts to the Reformed Church.

Under Elector Frederick III., surnamed the Pious, the territorial Church of the Palatinate separated from the circle of Lutheran Churches, and in 1563 the Heidelberg Catechism was published. This celebrated doctrinal formula at once became, and has remained, the distinctive creed of the various branches of the Reformed Church within Germany; and its influence extended even farther.

Bremen followed the example of the Palatinate in 1568. Its divines published a doctrinal _Declaration_ in 1572, and a more lengthy _Consensus Bremenensis_ in 1595. Anhalt, under its ruler John George (1587-1603), did away with the consistorial system of Church government, and abandoned the use of Luther's Catechism. Hesse-Cassel joined the circle of German Reformed Churches in 1605. These examples were followed in many smaller principalities, most of which, imitating all the Reformed Churches, published separate and distinctive confessions of faith, which were nevertheless supposed to contain the sum and substance of the common Reformed creed.[3]

These German principalities, rulers and inhabitants, placed themselves deliberately outside the protection of the Religious Peace of Augsburg. The fundamental principles of their faith were not very different from the Lutheran, but they were important enough to make them forego the protection which the treaty afforded. Setting aside minor differences and sentiments, perhaps more powerful than doctrines, their separation from neighbouring Protestants was based on their objection to the doctrine of _Ubiquity_, essential to the Lutheran theory of the Sacrament of the Supper, and to the consistorial system of ecclesiastical government. They repudiated the two portions of the Lutheran system which were derived professedly from the mediaeval Church, and insisted on basing their exposition of doctrine and their scheme of ecclesiastical government more directly on the Word of God. They had come in contact with another reformation movement, had recognised its sturdier principles, and had become so enamoured of them that they felt compelled to leave the Lutheran Church for the Reformed.


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