JohnCasimirThe battle for the faith was not only between Protestants and Catholics, but in Germany, became a battle among Protestants, as well. Chief among those who attempted to unite the Protestant cause, and promote religious liberty, was John Casimir. One can only speculate as to how the face of Europe and the world would have been changed had his appeals for Protestant unity been heeded. Sadly, the failure of the Protestant princes to unite led, ultimately, to the devastating Thirty Years War and divisions within the believing church that remain today.
The complaints had been heard by the Emperor, and in 1566, in the city of Augsburg, a meeting of the Diet was called. The Elector Palatine had confessed the Reformed faith and he had commissioned a new catechism expressing that faith to be published in Heidelberg a few years earlier. He was summoned in order to convince him to renounce his catechism, affirm the Augsburg Confession, and hold to the 1555 Peace of Augsburg. The future of the reign and realm of Elector Frederick III, later known as Frederick the Pious, hung in the balance. As he entered the meeting room, his 23 year old second son followed close behind him carrying his Bible. His son’s name was John Casimir. Casimir saw and heard his father’s vigorous defense of the biblical faith and his confession of reliance upon Christ alone saying, “…I shall comfort myself in this, that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has promised to me and to all who believe, that whatsoever we lose on earth for his sake, we shall receive a hundred fold in the life to come.” Frederick’s soft answer to the accusations of his enemies would help him to keep his realm and the Reformation faith would continue to prosper in the Palatinate for ten more years under his wise administration. No doubt, his experience at Augsburg made a lasting impression on the young prince, for he would share his father’s commitment to the faith, but his life was to be much different than his father’s.
1800sCasimirumIn 1576, Frederick III was taken by his Lord, and the elder son Louis assumed his father’s place. Many years before his father’s death, Louis had been named governor of the Upper Palatinate where his already strong Lutheran convictions were reinforced by the Lutheran sympathies of his people there. These convictions were to be a cause of much disturbance in the Palatinate. Upon arriving at Heidelberg, Louis refused to allow a Reformed minister to conduct his father’s funeral and ordered his own court-preacher to conduct the funeral. This was but a foretaste of things to come. Louis, contrary to his father’s will, set about to return the Palatinate to the Lutheran camp. Booksellers were forbidden to print or sell Reformed literature, the Consistory, which was filled with Reformed men, was forbidden to fill vacancies and Caspar Olevianus, one of the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism, was placed under house arrest and not permitted to have any contact with outside people, and with the learned in particular. Within a few months, pictures, altars, candles, and wafers were re-introduced into the churches. The Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Peter’s church in Heidelberg were taken, and all of the Reformed ministers in the Palatinate were dismissed. This represented upwards of 600 ministers. Even the French Protestant refugees lost their meeting place at the university. Later, Zacharius Ursinus, a writer of the Heidelberg Catechism, was also dismissed after the closure of Sapienz College. These actions so disturbed and disgusted Casimir that he and his wife left for his small estate in Pfaltz-Lautern.
CasimirSealAlthough he had fled to his estates, Casimir was not idle. Queen Elizabeth had sent Sir Philip Sydney on a mission to the Continent in order to investigate the possibility of forming a Protestant League consisting of Protestant principalities united in a common defense. Sir Philip found a sympathetic ear in the person of Casimir. This was the beginning of a close political, military, and ecclesiastical relationship between the Queen of England and Casimir. This relationship became so close that Elizabeth made Casimir a Knight of the Garter with Sir Philip serving as proxy for Casimir. In the spring of 1576 Casimir marched into France in support of the Protestant Huguenots with the substantial financial support of the Queen. His appearance with 20,000 troops within close proximity of Paris helped to secure The Peace of Beaulieu with the King of France, Henry III, which granted all of the demands of the Huguenots. He also joined with William of Orange in his defense of the independence of the Netherlands against the forces of the Austrian prince Don John.
Casimir also had the broader Protestant church in mind in his own political and ecclesiastical initiatives on the Continent. He had the goal to unify the Protestant states of Europe and fight against the condemnation of the Formula of Concord which condemned all “Calvinists.” In Casimir’s mind, this Formula was divisive and counter-productive to the unity of the church. In the summer of 1577, he sent messengers to all of the Reformed lands to spread his idea and call a meeting to be held at Frankfurt later that year. His overtures were met with great success. In September, representatives from France, England, Navarre, Poland, Hungary, Holland, The Palatinate and the Prince of Condé arrived, as well as letters of support from Bohemia and Switzerland. Out of this meeting emissaries were commissioned to go all over Germany in an effort to warn of the dangers of division in the Protestant camp and remind the Lutherans of Papal designs. Sadly, these efforts were met with mixed results and the desired unity did not occur in any large measure, although Casimir’s brother Louis did begin to moderate his harsh views, and later in his life he even expressed regret at signing the Formula of Concord.
ModernCasimirumThus, this little principality of Pfalz-Lautern became a haven for the Reformed faith. Not all of Casimir’s efforts were political and martial. Casimir was also determined to found a school in the city of Neustadt which would be a center of Reformed scholarship. Casimir found a ready and able faculty in the persons of Ursinus, Zanchius, Tossanus, as well as others who had fled from Louis and Heidelberg University. This school, known as the Casimirianum, soon became so successful that it even surpassed Heidelberg University.
NeustadtIn October of 1583, Elector Louis died and he left his son Frederick IV to reign in his stead. Frederick had already lost his mother and he was only nine years old when his father died. Upon hearing of the death of his brother, Casimir left his military campaign at Cologne and went immediately to Heidelberg to assume guardianship of the young Frederick. Casimir knew that the future of the church in the Palatinate lay with his nephew and he immediately set about training the young man in the faith of his father, Frederick. Naturally, the entrenched Lutheran party at Heidelberg loudly opposed this guardianship, but Casimir ignored their protests. Casimir also began to reintroduce the Reformed faith to the Lower Palatinate. Although the policies of Louis were harsh, and persecution common, there was still great affection for the Reformed faith among the people in the Palatinate, and they joyfully embraced it once again. Especially compared to the reign of Louis, Casimir was quite gentle in his dealings with those who opposed his theology. During this time, he tried to put into practice what he had proposed during the Frankfurt Conference in 1577. He tried to institute a form of religious liberty and, under his rule, the Lutherans were permitted to continue to worship according to their consciences as long as their preachers did not accuse the Reformed of heresy from their pulpits. Sadly, they did not refrain from doing so and Casimir was compelled to dismiss all but five. He continued to make efforts at making peace, but they served only to make matters worse and he ultimately had to dismiss all of the Lutheran pastors from the Palatinate. Casimir also followed the example of his father and gave to the French Protestant refugees a place to worship.
CasimirHomeUrsinusHomePlaqueAfter guardianship of Frederick IV for nine years, Casimir died suddenly on January 6, 1592. Although Casimir made many advances for the Reformed faith in his own realms. as well as in other parts of Europe, there were other efforts which were not as successful. The Upper Palatinate, those areas bordering Saxony, Bohemia and Bavaria staunchly resisted introduction of the Reformed faith by him, as well as by his father and his nephew, and they were left alone to a great extent to continue as they wished. Casimir was also more of a warrior than his father and his nephew and devoted his energies to those pursuits more than his father had. His legacy may be seen in the events surrounding Frederick IV after his death and beyond. Frederick was six weeks shy of being 18 years old when Casimir died, and had not yet reached his majority. His great uncle, Richard of Simmern, tried to impose himself and his Lutheran convictions on the young prince. Frederick steadfastly held to his faith as it was taught to him by his uncle Casimir. Politically, the close ties with England and Holland, fostered by Casimir, were strengthened, and he also continued the work of unity within the Protestant camp. Casimir’s legacy is one of firm commitment to the faith, united with love for the people of God wherever they are. His example is one of action motivated by zeal for the Word of God.