Rome and the Reformers "almost" got back together. On this day, April 27, 1541, Emperor Charles V convened a conference at Ratisbon (Regensberg) to discuss reunification of the western church. In his opening statement, Charles said that he realized that religious differences had torn Europe apart and had allowed the Turks to drive almost into Germany. He wanted to find a peaceful solution, he said.
Pope Paul III also hoped for reconciliation. He sent as his representative Cardinal Contarini, a man of pure life, whose views on the doctrine of justification were close to Luther's. The Protestants also wanted peace. They were outnumbered in Europe and knew that they must suffer a good deal if some agreement could not be worked out. John Calvin turned up to watch the proceedings, but he proved prophetic when he declared that the differences between the two sides were too great to be resolved by mere discussions.
Negotiating for the Catholic side were Eck, Pflug, and Gropper. Speaking for the Protestants were Melanchthon, Bucer, and Pistorius. The talks followed an outline known as the Regensburg Book, which had been prepared in advance by Martin Bucer and John Gropper and read and revised by Cardinal Contarini.
Pope Paul wanted the issue of his authority settled first. Contarini recognized that this was best left until the dispatch of easier matters had created a momentum of cooperation. And, in fact, the negotiators quickly came to agreement on such doctrines as original sin, free will, and even justification. Calvin rejoiced that the compromises kept "all the substance of the true doctrine."
The negotiators skipped over matters of church authority when they saw they were at loggerheads, and moved on to discuss the sacraments. But on the Lord's Supper (Eucharist) agreement could not be reached. The Catholics insisted that the bread literally became Christ's body and was to be adored; the Reformers declared that Christ was merely present, and that adoration of the symbols was idolatry. Attempts to contrive formulas that would allow each side to hold its own view failed.
And so did the conference. Although the participants talked some more about the other questions still on the table, the discussions were half-hearted. Reconciliation had failed.
As a consequence, denominations took their own paths. Eventually, Europe became the scene of conflict as war raged between Christians.
- Bezold, Friedrich von. Geschichte der Deutschen Reformation. Berlin: Derlagsbuchhandlung, 1890. Source of the image.
- Clark, R. Scott. "Regensberg and Regensberg II."
- "Ratisbon, Conference of." Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Wylie, James A. History of Protestantism, Volume II. London: Cassell and Co., 1878.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated June, 2007.