Dialogue between denominations. Bishop Julius Plug and the Reformation
5 June to 1 November 2017
From 5 June to 1 November 2017, the association Vereinigte Domstifter zu Merseburg und Naumburg and the collegiate foundation Zeitz will be presenting a unique exhibition devoted to Julius Pflug (1499 – 1564), the last bishop of Naumburg, in association with the city of Zeitz.
This is the first exhibition to focus in an authentic location on one of the most important Catholic personalities of the Reformation period whose activities encouraged a compromise between the disputing parties and the unity of the church.
In January 1541, the Naumburg cathedral chapter selected Julius Pflug, canon in Mainz, provost of Zeitz and a member of the Saxon aristocracy, to become their new bishop. Pflug was however somewhat anxious about this appointment which he was unwilling to undertake. Would Pflug be in a position to reject this problematic post in the “heartland of the Reformation” or alternatively make a success out of his new position?
Julius Pflug requested the Pope to give him almost a year to make up his mind. His reluctance was understandable: what would a Catholic bishop be able to achieve in Naumburg? Too much had previously gone wrong and all credibility had been lost. The reputation of the bishop’s position was at its lowest ebb.
Serious Catholic reformers had the biggest problems – no-one was prepared to listen to them. What is more, the Lutheran dukes undermined the sovereignty of the bishop and were eager to acquire the goods of the church. A large proportion of the priesthood had become supporters of Luther.
The Elector Johann Friedrich I of Saxony took advantage of Pflug’s deliberation – he did not want a Catholic bishop in Naumburg. His aim was to secularise the diocese and appoint his own selected Protestant bishop. When Pflug finally announced his willingness to take up the position in August 1541, the Elector was swift to react.
He undertook control of the diocese in September and appointed his own candidate for the bishopric, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, who was personally ordained by Martin Luther in the Naumburg cathedral as the first Protestant bishop in the world.
It is claimed that a total of 5 000 people were present at this ordination! Two days later, Bishop Nikolaus held his first sermon in the Zeitz cathedral. This was the first time that an appointed Catholic bishop was confronted by a Protestant anti-bishop.
After studying in Leipzig, Padua and Bologna, Julius Pflug was employed in diplomatic services from 1521 onwards, first in Dresden court and subsequently the court in Mainz. He was simultaneously canon in a variety of cathedrals. The Emperor Charles V and the Papal Curia appointed him as chief negotiator with the Protestant faction.
He was involved in personal consultation with emperors and popes, electors and cardinals, with Philipp Melanchthon, Erasmus von Rotterdam and other major individuals of his time. Julius Pflug was responsible for the compilation of the “Augsburg Interim” decreed in 1548. This imperial law was intended to clarify the ecclesiastical situation until a general council could be convened. Pflug undertook great efforts in numerous religious discussions and writings to act as a moderator searching for compromises between the two denominations, an aspiration which finds its modern expression in striving for ecumenism.
The exhibition invites you on a journey into the past in which major theological, political and social issues are directly interwoven with personal commitment and human activities. What was the essence of ecumenism in the past and what does it signify today?
The four sections of the extensive special exhibition “Dialogue between denominations” takes you to authentic locations connected with faith in Zeitz: castle Moritzburg as the seat of the former bishop’s palace, the over 1 000-year old cathedral of St Peter and Paul housing the grave of Julius Pflug, the Stiftsbibliothek [foundation library] as the reservoir of knowledge and location of Pflug’s originally surviving private library and the parish church of St Michael, reformed in 1539; incidentally, Bishop Julius gave permission in 1542 for the then Protestant clergyman to remain in office.
This is rounded off by the cathedral church as the Baroque court church of the Dukes of Saxon-Zeitz and the museum in Castle Moritzburg containing an important collection of memorial paintings of the ducal family as impressive evidence of a long, eventful and diverse history of faith.