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  ‘In matters which concern God\'s honour and the salvation and eternal life of our souls, everyone must stand and give account before God for himself; and no one can excuse himself by the action or decision of another, whether less or more.’ This statement, from the Instrumentum Appellationis (25 April 1529) was the bottom line for the signatories of the Protestation of Speyer, a minority led by the Elector of Saxony, the Dukes of Saxony and Brunswick, Philip, Landgrave of Hesse and the representatives of 14 reformed cities who refused to accept the decision of the Second Diet of Speyer. That decision reversed the decree of the First Diet of Speyer (1526) tolerating the reformed faith where it had taken hold, and prohibited the secularization of Church lands. The Protestants, as they came to be called, doubtless wanted to increase their wealth and authority at the expense of the Catholic Church, but their statement was fundamental to the Protestant position. In Protestantism, the individual conscience ultimately decides, though decisions are taken in the light of perceived biblical truth. No decision of pope or emperor can determine one\'s salvation (which meant an end to the papal indulgences and dispensations), and no bishop or priest can mediate between individuals and their Creator, since there is only one mediator, Christ.

In the next Diet, at Augsburg in 1530, the Lutherans had to redefine their position theologically and, in the deteriorating political situation, to defend themselves by force of arms. However, the name ‘Protestant’ (and hence Protestantism) stuck, and came to be applied to the followers of Zwingli and Calvin as well. Elizabeth I of England abhorred the term, which she saw as synonymous with rebellion against the authority of Church and State, but Anglicans are generally counted as Protestants. Today the word is loaded with sectarian overtones, and the original principles are forgotten, especially as Catholics who accept the position of Vatican II (1962-65) have adopted ‘Protestant’ positions, for example, over freedom of conscience or the centrality of the Bible, which must be in one\'s mother tongue. EMJ

Further reading G.R. Elton, Reformation Europe.



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