Today in Catholic History – The Second Diet of Speyer and the beginnings of Protestantism

On 25 April 1529, Lutheran representatives at the Second Diet of Speyer issued a letter of protest against the decisions of the Diet’s Roman Catholic majority to enforce the Edict of Worms and prohibit further reformation in the Holy Roman Empire.

The purpose of the Second Diet of Speyer, which began on 15 March 1529, was to coordinate the response of the German princes and other leaders of the Holy Roman Empire against the threat of the Turks and address the issue of division in the Empire brought about by the ideas of Martin Luther and Heinrich Zwingli.

Attendees of the Diet who supported the Catholic Church wanted to reverse the earlier policy of religious tolerance adopted in 1526 at the First Diet of Speyer. This Diet had permitted “each one to live, govern and carry himself as he hopes to answer it to God and His Imperial Majesty.” Reversing the decisions of the First Diet was also the desire of Archduke Ferdinand, who led the Diet in the name of his brother the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Ferdinand ordered that all of the states of the Holy Roman Empire were to tolerate the practice of Catholicism, but Lutheranism would only be tolerated in those German states which had already done so – not in any additional states. Any further attempt to institute Lutheranism would be prohibited. Followers of Zwingli and the Anabaptists would not be tolerated at all. Indeed Anabaptists were to be put to death.

In response, the Lutheran attendees of the Diet issued a legal appeal on behalf of themselves, their subjects and all Christians. This appeal was a protest against those decisions of the Second Diet which they deemed contrary to the Word of God, their consciences and the earlier decisions of the First Diet of Speyer. It was signed by six German princes and representatives of fourteen Imperial Free Cities.

This protest would result in the term “Protestant” to be applied first of all to Lutherans and then to all non-Catholic and non-Orthodox Christians.

More on the Second Diet of Speyer

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