Great Controversy Errors Investigated: The Diet of Speyer, 1529
By Dieter Heimke, translated from German to English by J. Krahne
A brief history of the events s urrounding the Diet of Speyer
Ellen White's report about the Diet of Speyer, in 1529, raises serious questions. At that time the Evangelicals were first called PROTESTANTS. What transpired at the Diet is no secret. It is open to anyone who looks in the archives of the city of Speyer. E. Heuser reports in TheProtestation of Speyer:
"Eight years after Luther, at the Diet of Worms, spoke those most famous words: 'Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen!’, Emperor Charles V was no longer in Germany, but in his homeland of Spain, which was also his kingdom and he was their king long before the German electors made him their emperor."1
It was at Worms where Charles V enacted the edict to stop Luther's teaching and put him and his followers under an "Acht" (to ban, outlaw). But the Evangelical electors ignored the ban, and the emperor was not in the right mood to perform the necessary steps to stop them, insofar as his relationship with the Pope was not the best at that time. He was at war with his Holiness and stormed the well armored city of Rome in 1527.2 At that time the Pope became a prisoner when German soldiers, under the command of Georg of Frundsberg, stormed the Engelsburg.3
In the year of 1526, a Diet of Speyer was held--as was the next one in 1529--under the chairmanship of Charles V's brother Ferdinand, King of Bohemia and Hungary. At this Diet both parties, which had different religious opinions among their German electors and unions, were not going to settle any decisions, except for one: To produce an invitation to bring the Pope personally to Germany, and then in unity with him, call for a general Council. If that failed to work with the Pope, then a national Assembly would be called in a given German city, to stop the schism and unite Germany again into one doctrine, if possible. Then at that time, even the German Evangelical unions thought it possible and desirable to keep Germany united. Until a Council or Diet would come together, every Elector, Duke or other reigning prince should deal with their subordinates as they please, according to the Diet of Speyer in 1526, and ignore the Edict of Worms "as well as is possible in regard to God and the Emperor".4
In the meantime, the Pope and Emperor tried to forget their quarrels. The Pope demanded the complete termination of Lutherdom, but the Emperor was more willing to prevent a further spreading of the same. To fully prohibit was not very wise because of the acute danger of the Turks, and he was also depending on the favour and involvement of the Evangelical electors and cities.
For the final resolution in favour of the Emperor, seven points were presented at the Diet of Speyer in 1529.
"First was to arrange for a new Concilium, and in case it would not happen in the next two years, a general National Assembly should convene, in which all these matters should be decided. Second, those unions which had not yet changed anything, nor those who accepted the Reformation theory were forbidden to make any new changes. The third point dealt with the Holy Eucharist which nobody in the land should dare to touch. In the fourth article both parties should not abolish the mass, but rather be allowed to hear at all places. The fifth point ordered the punishment of the Anabaptists. The sixth point was related to the censorship of the books; nevertheless, after the "Nürnberger Abschied" it was left to the authorities. The last point dealt with the income of the individual provinces, and tough punishments for those who tried to confiscate them. This point tried to protect those episcopals, orders, monasteries etc. which had been confiscated in the past."5
Of course, there was quite some opposition of the Evangelical authorities and cities against those points, because they tried to take away their freedoms which they had enjoyed since 1526. In a writing of Protest which was directed at the Emperor, which A. Jung brings up in the original wording, the Evangelicals claimed religious liberty for themselves. The shortest ones they dealt with were points 5 and 6, writing only one sentence:
"So we want, concerning the points of re-baptism and print, to be understood by all that we are in harmony with the Diet and want to keep it that way."
To clear away all the dust, it means nothing else than that the undersigned of the Protestation agreed with the persecution of the Anabaptists and book censorship and wanted it kept that way.
Also, besides their own communion service they would not allow celebrating the Catholic mass in their own territory. It would not promote unity nor peace.6
We see here already the first effects of Luther's principles after 1526, that the authorities decide in matters of religion in favor of their subordinates and not for the individual. Right there was founded the protestant State-Church and it was ruled with state power almost as sovereign as the catholic Church. Anyone who was not a Catholic or Evangelical was open for persecution.
From the proceeding protocols of Speyer it is very clear that it was all about the Evangelical cities securing their own rights according to the teachings of Luther and Zwingli, but that all new doctrines, sects and Anabaptists should be prohibited.7
While they claimed for themselves religious freedom, at the Diet of Speyer the Catholics and Protestants decided in unison for the suppression of "sects" and "heretics." Everything that was called "Church" rallied together in a war of annihilation against those religious groups which stood outside, and a witch hunt started against all those who were called Anabaptists or the like.8
Examining Ellen White's position on the Diet of Speyer
Now there is only one question left which contrasts our position on Church and State on the one side, and baptism by faith and the Sabbath on the other side. How we are we going to judge the Diet of Speyer - positive or negative? Ellen G. White's position was as follows:
"One of the noblest testimonies ever uttered for the Reformation was the Protest offered by the Christian princes of Germany at the Diet of Speyer in 1529. The courage, faith, and the firmness of those men of God gained for succeeding ages liberty of thought and of conscience. Their Protest gave to the reformed church the name of Protestant; its principles are "the very essence of Protestantism."9
No wonder that Ellen G. White, from the time of the Reformation forward, looked upon the Protestants as the true church, instead of looking to the persecuted ones like the Anabaptists, Sabbathkeepers, etc. The whole of Great Controversy has been influenced by that mindset.
On another occasion she had this to say:
"The will of God, so plainly revealed in His Word, was covered up with errors and traditions, which have been taught as the commandments of God. Although this heaven-daring deception will be suffered to be carried on until the second appearing of Jesus, yet through all this time of error and deception, God has not been left without witness. Amid the darkness and persecution of the church there have always been true and faithful ones who kept all of God's commandments."11
Instead of Seventh Day Baptists and similar groups we read in Great Controversy of Wesley and other Sunday keepers. This is not astonishing, because she herself came from the Millerite movement, which originated among Sunday-worshipping groups, not Seventh Day Baptists.
The Diet of Speyer is, of course, held in high esteem by Protestants. Certainly Ellen G. White relied too much on history writers - as was the case with the Interdicts of 1411-1412. But in this case, 300 years of Church History are at stake and not one year as was in the case of the Interdicts. It is inconceivable how in her representation of the Great Controversy between Light and Darkness she could change the facts of history and still claim for herself heavenly inspiration.12
At age 77 she was still convinced that she was the "greatest." In her letter to her grand-daughter Mabel she wrote the following:
"While I am able to do this work, the people must have these things to revive past history, that they may see that there is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written. This, I am instructed, is to be a living letter to all in regard to my faith."12
1. E. Heuser, The Protestation of Speyer, Prologue.
2. The campaign was carried out with the help of his Konnetabel Bourbon.
3. This war campaign of Charles V became necessary because Pope Clemens VII was constantly supporting King Franz I of France in his fight against the emperor. In fact, the Pope even made a pact with this king in 1527 against Charles V.
4. Heuser, p. 1-2.
5. A. Jung describes the 7 points in "Beiträge zur Geschichte der Reformation" first section: History of the Diet in Speyer 1529, with an appendix of 56 files, among it the "Protestation of 1529" (Strassburg and Leipzig, 1830) on pages 21-22.
6. Ibid., pages 99-100.
7. Compare by A. Jung, pages 30, 55, 86, 87. This also is confirmed by Samuel H. Geiser in Die Taufgesinnten Gemeinden im Rahmen der allge-meinen Kirchengeschichte (2nd Edition, 1971).
8. Jung, page 89.
9. D'Aubigne, book 13, chapter 6 cited by Ellen White in Great Controversy, p. 197.
10. Ellen G. White, Great Controversy, pp. 203-204.
11. Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 216.
12. Ellen G. White, Letter 329 A, 1905.