A Foreign Prince—Council of Politicians—Conference between the Confessor and the Chancellor—Inutility of these Manoeuvres—Aleander’s Activity—Luther’s Words—Charles yields to the Pope.
BUT all this was of little consequence to politicians. However noble might have been the idea Charles had formed of the imperial dignity, Germany was not the centre of his interests and of his policy. He understood neither the spirit nor the language of Germany. He was always a Duke of Burgundy, who to many other sceptres had united the first crown of Christendom. It was a remarkable circumstance that, at the moment of its most intimate transformation, Germany should elect a foreign prince, to whom the necessities and tendencies of the nation were but of secondary importance. Undoubtedly the emperor was not indifferent to the religious movement, but it had no meaning in his eyes except so far as it threatened the pope. War between Charles and Francis I. was inevitable; the principal scene of that war would be Italy. The alliance of the pope became therefore daily more necessary to Charles’s projects. He would have preferred detaching Frederick from Luther, or satisfying the pope without offending Frederick. Many of his courtiers manifested in the affair of the Augustine monk that disdainful coldness which politicians generally affect when there is any question of religion. “Let us avoid all extreme measures,” said they. “Let us entangle Luther by negotiations, and reduce him to silence by some trifling concessions. The proper course is to stifle and not to fan the flame. If the monk falls into the net, we are victorious! By accepting a compromise, he will silence himself and ruin his cause. For form’s sake we will decree certain exterior reforms; the elector will be satisfied; the pope will be gained; and matters will resume their ordinary course.”
Such was the project formed by the emperor’s confidants. The Wittenberg doctors seem to have divined this new policy. “They are trying to win men over secretly,” said Melancthon, “and are working in the dark.” Charles’s confessor, John Glapio, a man of great weight, a skilful courtier, and a wily monk, took upon himself the execution of the scheme. Glapio possessed the full confidence of Charles; and this prince, imitating the Spanish customs in this particular, entrusted him almost entirely with the care of matters pertaining to religion. As soon as Charles had been named emperor, Leo hastened to win over Glapio by favours which the confessor very gratefully acknowledged. He could make no better return to the pontiff’s generosity than by crushing this heresy, and he applied himself to the task.
Among the elector’s councillors was Gregory Bruck, or Pontanus, the chancellor, a man of intelligence, decision, and courage, who was a better theological scholar than many doctors, and whose wisdom was capable of resisting the wiles of the monks in Charles’s court. Glapio, knowing the chancellor’s influence, requested an interview with him, and introducing himself as if he had been a friend of the reformer, said with an air of kindness: “I was filled with joy, in reading Luther’s first writings; I thought him a vigorous tree, which had put forth goodly branches, and gave promise to the Church of the most precious fruit. Many people, it is true, have entertained the same views before his time; yet no one but himself has had the noble courage to publish the truth without fear. But when I read his book on the Captivity of Babylon, I felt like one overwhelmed with blows from head to foot. I do not think,” added the monk, “that brother Martin will acknowledge himself to be the author of it; I do not find in it either his usual style or learning.” After some discussion, the confessor continued: “Introduce me to the elector, and in your presence I will show him Luther’s errors.”
The chancellor replied that the business of the diet left his highness no leisure, and besides he did not mix himself up with this matter. The monk was vexed at seeing his demand rejected. “Nevertheless,” continued the chancellor, “since you say there is no evil without a remedy, explain yourself.”
Assuming a confidential air, the confessor replied: “The emperor earnestly desires to see a man like Luther reconciled with the Church; for his books (previous to the publication of the treatise on the Captivity of Babylon) were rather agreeable to his majesty The irritation caused by the bull no doubt excited Luther to write the latter work. Let him then declare that he had no intention of troubling the repose of the Church, and the learned of every nation will side with him. Procure me an audience with his highness.”
The chancellor went to Frederick. The elector well knew that any retraction whatsoever was impossible: “Tell the confessor,” answered he, “that I cannot comply with his re quest; but continue your conference.”
Glapio received this message with every demonstration of respect; and changing his line of attack, he said: “Let the elector name some confidential persons to deliberate on this affair.”
THE CHANCELLOR.—”The elector does not profess to defend Luther’s cause.”
THE CONFESSOR.—”Well, then, you at least can discuss it with me Jesus Christ is my witness that I make this proposition from love to the Church and Luther, who has opened so many hearts to the truth.”
The chancellor having refused to undertake a task which belonged to the reformer, prepared to withdraw.
Stay,” said the monk.
THE CHANCELLOR.—”What remains to be done?”
THE CONFESSOR.—”Let Luther deny that he wrote the Captivity of Babylon.”
THE CHANCELLOR.—”But the pope’s bull condemns all his other writings.”
THE CONFESSOR.—”That is because of his obstinacy. If he disclaims this book, the pope in his omnipotence can easily pardon him. What hopes may we not entertain, now that we have so excellent an emperor!”
Perceiving that these words had produced some effect on the chancellor, the monk hastily added: “Luther always desires to argue from the Bible. The Bible it is hike wax, you may stretch it and bend it as you please. I would undertake to find in the Bible opinions more extravagant even than Luther’s. He is mistaken when he changes every word of Christ into a commandment.” And then wishing to act upon the fears of his hearer, he added: “What would be the result if to-day or to-morrow the emperor should have recourse to arms? Reflect upon this.” He then permitted Pontanus to retire.
The confessor laid fresh snares. “A man might live ten years with him, and not know him at last,” said Erasmus.
“What an excellent book is that of Luther’s on Christian Liberty,” said he to the chancellor, whom he saw again a few days after; “what wisdom! what talent! what wit! it is thus that a real scholar ought to write Let both sides choose men of irreproachable character, and let the pope and Luther refer the whole matter to their decision. There is no doubt that Luther would come off victorious on many points. I will speak about it to the emperor. Believe me, I do not mention these things solely on my own authority. I have told the emperor that God would chastise him and all the princes, if the Church, which is the spouse of Christ, be not cleansed from all the stains that defile her. I added, that God himself had sent Luther, and commissioned him to reprove men for their offences, employing him as a scourge to punish the sins of the world.”
The chancellor, on hearing these words (which reflected the feelings of the age, and showed the opinion entertained of Luther even by his adversaries), could not forbear ex pressing his astonishment that his master was not treated with more respect. “There are daily consultations with the emperor on this affair,” said he, “and yet the elector is not invited to them, He thinks it strange that the emperor, who is not a little indebted to him, should exclude him from his councils.”
THE CONFESSOR.—”I have been present only once at these deliberations, and then heard the emperor resist the solicitations of the nuncios. Five years hence it will be seen what Charles has done for the reformation of the Church.”
The elector,” answered Pontanus, “is unacquainted with Luther’s intentions. Let him be summoned and have a hearing.”
The confessor replied with a deep sigh: “I call God to witness how ardently I desire to see the reformation of Christendom accomplished.”
To protract the affair and to keep the reformer silent was all that Glapio proposed. In any case, Luther must not come to Worms. A dead man returning from the other world and appearing in the midst of the diet, would have been less alarming to the nuncios, the monks, and all the papal host, than the presence of the Wittenberg doctor.
“How many days does it take to travel from Wittenberg to Worms?” asked the confessor with an assumed air of indifference; and then, begging Pontanus to present his most humble salutations to the elector, he retired.
Such were the manoeuvres resorted to by the courtiers. They were disconcerted by the firmness of Pontanus. That just man was immovable as a rock during all these negotiations. The Roman monks themselves fell into the snares they had laid for their enemies. “The Christian,” said Luther in his figurative language, “is like a bird tied near a trap. The wolves and foxes prowl round it, and spring on it to devour it; but they fall into the pit and perish, while the timid bird remains unhurt. It is thus the holy angels keep watch around us, and those devouring wolves, the hypocrites and persecutors, cannot harm us.” Not only were the artifices of the confessor ineffectual, but his admissions still more confirmed Frederick in his opinion that Luther was right, and that it was his duty to protect him.
Men’s hearts daily inclined more and more towards the Gospel. A Dominican prior suggested that the emperor, the kings of France, Spain, England, Portugal, Hungary, and Poland, with the pope and the electors, should name representatives to whom the arrangement of this affair should be confided. “Never,” said he, “has implicit reliance been placed on the pope alone.” The public feeling became such that it seemed impossible to condemn Luther without having heard and confuted him
Aleander grew uneasy, and displayed unusual energy. It was no longer against the elector and Luther alone that he had to contend. He beheld with horror the secret negotiations of the confessor, the proposition of the prior, the consent of Charles’s ministers, the extreme coldness of Roman piety, even among the most devoted friends of the pontiff; “so that one might have thought,” says Pallavicini, “that a torrent of iced water had gushed over them.” He had at length received from Rome the money he had demanded; he held in his hand the energetic briefs addressed to the most powerful men in the empire. Fearing to see his prey escape, he felt that now was the time to strike a decisive blow. He forwarded the briefs, scattered the money profusely, and made the most alluring promises “and, armed with this threefold weapon,” says the historian, Cardinal Pallavicini, “he made a fresh attempt to bias the wavering assembly of electors in the pope’s favour.” But around the emperor in particular he laid his snares. He took advantage of the dissensions existing between the Belgian and Spanish ministers. He besieged the monarchs unceasingly. All the partisans of Rome, awakened by his voice, solicited Charles. “Daily deliberations,” wrote the elector to his brother John, “are held against Luther; they demand that he shall be placed under the ban of the pope and of the emperor; they endeavour to injure him in every way. Those who parade in their red hats, the Romans, with all their followers, display indefatigable zeal in this task.”
Aleander was in reality pressing for the condemnation of the reformer with a violence that Luther characterizes as marvellous fury. The apostate nuncio, as Luther styles him, transported by auger beyond the bounds of prudence, one day exclaimed: “If you Germans pretend to shake off the yoke of obedience to Rome, we will act in such a manner tint, exterminated by mutual slaughter, you shall perish in your own blood.”—”This is how the pope feeds Christ’s sheep,” adds the reformer.
But such was not his own language. He asked nothing for himself. “Luther is ready,” said Melancthon, “to purchase at the cost of his own life the glory and advancement of the Gospel.” But he trembled when he thought of the calamities that might be the consequence of his deaths. He pictured to himself a misled people revenging perhaps his martyrdom in the blood of his adversaries, and especially of the priests. He rejected so dreadful a responsibility. “God,” said he, “checks the fury of his enemies but if it breaks forth then shall we see a storm burst upon the priests hike that which has devastated Bohemia My hands are clear of this, for I have earnestly entreated the German nobility to oppose the Romans by wisdom, and not by the sword. To make war upon the priests,—a class without courage or strength,—would be to fight against women and children.”
Charles V. could not resist the solicitations of the nuncio. His Belgian and Spanish devotion had been developed by his preceptor Adrian, who afterwards occupied the pontifical throne. The pope had addressed him in a brief; entreating him to give the power of law to the bull by an imperial edict. “To no purpose will God have invested you with the sword of the supreme power,” said he, “if you do not employ it, not only against the infidels, but against the heretics also, who are far worse than they.” Accordingly, one day at the beginning of February, at the moment when every one in Worms was making preparations for a splendid tournament, and the emperor’s tent was already erected, the princes who were arming themselves to take part in the brilliant show were summoned to the imperial palace. After listening to the reading of the papal bull, a stringent edict was laid before them, enjoining its immediate execution. “If you can recommend any better course,” added the emperor, following the usual custom, “I am ready to hear you.”
An animated debate immediately took place in the assembly. “This monk,” wrote a deputy from one of the free cities of Germany, “gives us plenty of occupation. Some would like to crucify him, and I think that he will not escape; only it is to be feared that he will rise again the third day.” The emperor had imagined that he would be able to publish his edict without opposition from the states; but such was not the case. Their minds were not prepared. It was necessary to gain over the diet. “Convince this assembly,” said the youthful monarch to the nuncio. This was all that Aleander desired; and he was promised to be introduced to the diet on the 13th of February.
Meander introduced to the Diet—Aleander’s Speech—Luther is accused—Rome is justified—Appeal to Charles against Luther—Effect of the Nuncio’s Speech.
THE nuncio prepared for this solemn audience. This was an important duty, but Meander was not unworthy of it. Ambassador from the sovereign pontiff, and surrounded with all the splendour of his high office, he was also one of the most eloquent men of his age. The friends of the Reformation looked forward to this sitting with apprehension. The elector, pretending indisposition, was not present; but he gave some of his councillors orders to attend, and take notes of the nuncio’s speech.
When the day arrived, Aleander proceeded towards the assembly of the princes. The feelings of all were excited; many were reminded of Annas and Caiaphas going to Pilate’s judgment-seat and calling for the death of this fellow who perverted the nation. “Just as the nuncio was about to cross the threshold, the usher of the diet,” says Pallavicini, “approaching him rudely, thrust him back by a blow on the breast.” “He was a Lutheran in heart,” adds the Romanist historian. If this story be true, it shows no doubt an excess of passion; but at the same time it furnishes us with a standard by which to measure the influence that Luther’s words had excited even in those who guarded the doors of the imperial council. The proud Aleander, recovering himself with dignity, walked forward, and entered the hail. Never had Rome been called to make its defence before so august an assembly. The nuncio placed before him the documents that he had judged necessary, namely, Luther’s works and the papal bulls; and as soon as the diet was silent, he began:—
“Most august emperor, most mighty princes, most excellent deputies! I appear before you in defence of a cause for which my heart glows with the most ardent affection. It is to retain on my master’s head that triple crown which you all adore: to maintain that papal throne for which I should be willing to deliver my body to the flames, if the monster that has engendered this growing heresy that I am now to combat could be consumed at the same stake, and mingle his ashes with mine.
“No! the whole difference between Luther and the pope does not turn on the papal interests. I have Luther’s books before me, and a man only needs have eyes in his head to see that he attacks the holy doctrines of the Church. He teaches that those alone communicate worthily whose consciences are overwhelmed with sorrow and confusion be cause of their sins, and that no one is justified by baptism, if he has not faith in the promise of which baptism is the pledge. He denies the necessity of works to obtain heavenly glory. He denies that we have the liberty and power of obeying the natural and Divine law. He asserts that we sin of necessity in every one of our actions. Has the arsenal of hell ever sent forth weapons better calculated to break the bonds of decency? He preaches in favour of the abolition of monastic vows. Can we imagine any greater sacrilegious impiety? What desolation should we not witness in the world, were those who are the salt of the earth to throw aside their sacred garments, desert the temples that re-echo with their holy songs, and plunge into adultery, incest, and every vice!……
“Shall I enumerate all the crimes of this Augustine monk? He sins against the dead, for he denies purgatory; he sins against heaven, for be says that he would not believe even an angel from heaven; he sins against the Church, for he maintains that all Christians are priests; he sins against the saints, for he despises their venerable writings; he sins against councils, for he designates that of Constance an assembly of devils; he sins against the world, for he forbids the punishment of death to be inflicted on any who have not committed a deadly sin. Some of you may say that he is a pious man I have no desire to attack his life, but only to remind this assembly that the devil often deceives people in the garb of truth.”
Aleander, having spoken of the doctrine of purgatory condemned by the Council of Florence, laid at the emperor’s feet the papal bull on this council. The Archbishop of Mentz took it up, and gave it to the Archbishops of Treves and Cologne, who received it reverently, and passed it to the other princes. The nuncio, after having thus accused Luther, proceeded to the second point, which was to justify Rome:—”At Rome, says Luther, the mouth promises one thing, the hand does another. If this were true, must we not come to the very opposite conclusion? If the ministers of a religion live conformably to its precepts, it is a sign that the religion is false. Such was the religion of the ancient Romans Such is that of Mahomet and of Luther him self; but such is not the religion which the Roman pontiffs teach us. Yes, the doctrine they profess condemns them all, as having committed faults; many, as guilty; and some (I will speak frankly) as criminal. This doctrine exposes their actions to the censure of men during their lives, to the brand of history after their death. Now, I would ask what pleasure or profit could the popes have found in inventing such a religion?
“The Church, it may be said, was not governed by the Roman pontiffs in the primitive ages.—What conclusion shall we draw from this? With such arguments we might persuade men to feed on acorns, and princesses to wash their own linen.”
But his adversary—the reformer—was the special object of the nuncio’s hatred. Boiling with indignation against those who said that he ought to be heard, he exclaimed: “Luther will not allow himself to be instructed by any one. The pope had already summoned him to Rome, and he did not comply. Next, the pope cited him before the legate at Augsburg, and he did not appear until he had procured a safe-conduct, that is to say, after the legate’s hands were tied, and his tongue alone was left unfettered Ah!” said Aleander, turning to wards Charles V., “I entreat your imperial Majesty to do nothing that may lead to your reproach. Do not interfere in a matter which does not concern the laity. Perform your own duties! Let Luther’s doctrines be interdicted by you throughout the length and breadth of the empire: let his writings be burnt everywhere. Fear not! In Luther’s errors there is enough to burn a hundred thousand heretics…... And what have we to fear? The multitude? Its insolence makes it appear terrible before the conflict, but in the battle its cowardice renders it contemptible. Foreign princes?…... But the King of France has forbidden the introduction of Luther’s doctrines into his kingdom; and the King of England is preparing an assault with his own royal hand. You know what are the sentiments of Hungary, Italy, and Spain, and there is not one of our neighbours, however much he may hate you, who wishes you so much evil as this heresy would cause you. For if our adversary’s house adjoins our own, we may desire it to be visited with fever, but not with the plague What are all these Lutherans? A crew of insolent pedagogues, corrupt priests, dissolute monks, ignorant lawyers, and degraded nobles, with the common people, whom they have misled and perverted. How far superior to them is the catholic party in number, ability, and power! A unanimous decree from this illustrious assembly will enlighten the simple, warn the imprudent, decide the waverers, and give strength to the weak. But if the axe is not put to the roots of this poisonous tree, if the death-blow is not struck, then I see it overshadowing the heritage of Jesus Christ with its branches, changing our Lord’s vineyard into a gloomy forest, transforming the kingdom of God into a den of wild beasts, and reducing Germany into that frightful state of barbarism and desolation which has been brought upon Asia by the superstition of Mahomet.”
The nuncio was silent. He had spoken for three hours. The enthusiasm of his language had produced a deep impression on the assembly. The princes looked at each other, excited and alarmed, says Cochlœus, and murmurs soon arose from every side against Luther and his partisans. If the eloquent Luther had been present; if he had been able to reply to this speech; if, profiting by the avowals extorted from the Roman nuncio by the recollection of his former master, the infamous Borgia, he had shown that these very arguments, intended to defend Rome, were of themselves its condemnation; if he had shown that the doctrine which proved its iniquity was not invented by him, as the orator said, but was that religion which Christ had given to the world, and which the Reformation was re-establishing in its primitive splendour; if he had presented a faithful and animated picture of the errors and abuses of the papacy, and had shown how the religion of Christ had been made an instrument of self-interest and rapacity: the effect of the nuncio’s harangue would have been instantly nullified. But no one rose to speak. The assembly remained under the impression produced by this speech; and, agitated and transported, showed itself ready to extirpate Luther’s heresy by force from the soil of the empire.
Nevertheless, it was a victory only in appearance. It was among the purposes of God that Rome should have an opportunity of displaying her reasons and her power. The greatest of her orators had spoken in the assembly of the princes; he had given utterance to all that Rome had to say. But it was precisely this last effort of the papacy that became a signal of defeat in the eyes of many who had listened to it. If a bold confession is necessary for the triumph of truth, the surest means of destroying error is to make it known without reserve. Neither the one nor the other, to run its course, should be concealed. The light tests all things.
Sentiments of the Princes—Speech of Duke George—Character of the Reformation One Hundred and One Grievances—Charles gives Way Aleander’s Stratagems—The Grandees of Spain—Peace of Luther—Death and no Retractation.
A FEW days were sufficient to dissipate the first impression, as is ever the case when an orator conceals the emptiness of his arguments by high-sounding words.
The majority of the princes were ready to sacrifice Luther; but no one desired to immolate the rights of the empire and the grievances of the Germanic nation. They were very ready to give up the insolent monk who had dared to speak so boldly; but they were the more resolved to make the pope feel the justice of a reform demanded by the chiefs of the nation. It was accordingly Luther’s most determined personal enemy, Duke George of Saxony, who spoke with the greatest energy against the encroachments of Rome. The grandson of Podiebrad, king of Bohemia, although offended by the doctrine of Grace preached by the reformer. had not yet lost the hope of a moral and ecclesiastical reform. The principal cause of his irritation against the monk of Wittenberg was, that by his despised doctrines he was spoiling the whole affair. But now, seeing the nuncio affecting to involve Luther and the reform of the Church in one and the same condemnation, George suddenly rose in the assembly of tile princes, to the great astonishment of those who knew his hatred of the reformer. “The diet,” said he, “must not forget its grievances against tie court of Rome. How many abuses have crept into our states! The annats, which the emperor granted voluntarily for the good of Christianity, now exacted as a due; the Roman courtiers daily inventing new regulations to monopolize, sell, and lease the ecclesiastical benefices; a multitude of transgressions connived at; rich transgressors undeservedly tolerated, while those who have no money to purchase impunity are punished without mercy; the popes continually bestowing on their courtiers reversions and re-serves, to the detriment of those to whom the benefices belong; the condemns of the abbeys and consents of Rome conferred. on cardinals, bishops, and prelates, who appropriate their revenues, so that not a single monk is to be found in a convent where there should be twenty or thirty; stations multiplied to infinity, and stalls for the sale of indulgences set up in every street and public place of our cities—stalls of Saint Anthony, of the Holy Ghost, of Saint Hubert, of Saint Cornelius, of Saint Vincent, and so forth; companies purchasing at Rome the right to hold such markets, then buying permission of their bishop to display their wares, and squeezing and draining the pockets of the poor to obtain money; the indulgence, that ought only to be granted for the salvation of souls, and that should be earned by prayer, fasting, and works of charity, sold according to a tariff; the bishops’ officials oppressing the lowly with penances for blasphemy, adultery, debauchery, and the violation of any festival, but not even reprimanding the clergy who commit similar crimes; penalties imposed on those who repent, and devised in such a manner that they soon fall again into the same error and give more money; these are some of the abuses that cry out against Rome. All shame has been put aside, and their only object is money! money! money so that the preachers who should teach the truth, utter nothing but falsehoods, and are not only tolerated, but rewarded, because the greater their lies, the greater their gain. It is from this foul spring that such tainted waters flow. Debauchery stretches out the hand to avarice. The officials invite women to their dwellings under various pretexts, and endeavour to seduce them, at one time by threats, at another by presents, or if they cannot succeed, they ruin their good fame. Alas! it is the scandal caused by the clergy that hurls so many poor souls into eternal condemnation! A general reform must be effected. An œcumenical council must be called to bring about this reform. For these reasons, most excellent princes and lords, I humbly entreat you to take this matter into your immediate consideration. “Duke George then handed in a list of the grievances he had enumerated. This was some days after Aleander’s speech. The important catalogue has been preserved in the archives of Weimar.
Even Luther had not spoken with greater force against the abuses of Rome; but he had done something more. The duke pointed out The evil; Luther had pointed out both The cause and the remedy. He had demonstrated that the sinner receives the true indulgence, that which cometh from God, solely by faith in the grace and merits of Jesus Christ; and this simple but powerful doctrine had over thrown all the markets established by The priests. “How can a man become pious?” asked he one day. “A gray friar will reply, By putting on a gray hood. and girding yourself with a cord. A Roman will answer, By hearing mass and by fasting. But a Christian will say, Faith in Christ alone justifies and saves. Before works, we must have eternal life. But when we are born again, and made children of God by the Word of grace, then we perform good works.”
The duke’s speech was that of a secular prince; Luther’s, that of a reformer. The great evil in the Church had been its excessive devotion to outward forms, its having made of all its works and graces mere external and material things. The indulgences were The extreme point of this course; and that which was most spiritual in Christianity, namely, pardon, might be purchased in shops like any other commodity. Luther’s great work consisted in employing this extreme degeneration of religion to head men and the Church back to the primitive sources of life, and to restore the kingdom of the Holy Ghost in the sanctuary of the heart. Here, as often happens in other cases, the remedy was found in the disease itself, and the two extremes met. From that time forward, the Church, that for so many centuries had been developed externally in human ceremonies, observances, and practices, began to be developed internally in faith, hope, and charity.
The duke’s speech produced a proportionally greater impression, as his hostility to Luther was notorious. Other members of the diet brought forward their respective grievances, which received the support of the ecclesiastical princes themselves. “We have a pontiff who loves only the chase and his pleasures,” said they; “the benefices of the German nation are given away at Rome to gunners, falconers, footmen, ass-drivers, grooms, guardsmen, and other people of this class, ignorant, inexperienced, and strangers to Germany.”
The diet appointed a committee to draw up all these grievances; they were found to amount to a hundred and one. A deputation composed of secular and ecclesiastical princes presented the report to the emperor, conjuring him to see them rectified, as he had engaged to do in his capitulation. “What a loss of Christian souls!” said they to Charles V.; “what depredations! what extortions, on ac count of the scandals by which the spiritual head of Christendom is surrounded! It is our duty to prevent the ruin and dishonour of our people. For this reason we most humbly but most urgently entreat you to order a general reformation, and to undertake its accomplishment.” There was at that time in christian society an unknown power operating on princes and people alike, a wisdom from on high, influencing even the adversaries of the Reformation, and preparing for that emancipation whose hour was come at last.
Charles could not be insensible to the remonstrances of the empire. Neither he nor the nuncio had expected them. Even his confessor had threatened him with the vengeance of Heaven, unless he reformed the Church. The emperor immediately recalled the edict commanding Luther’s writings to be burnt throughout the empire, and substituted a provisional order to deliver these books into the keeping of the magistrates.
This did not satisfy the assembly, which desired the appearance of the reformer. It is unjust, said his friends, to condemn Luther without a hearing, and without learning from his own mouth whether he is the author of the books that are ordered to be burnt. His doctrines, said his adversaries, have so taken hold of men’s minds, that it is impossible to check their progress, unless we hear them from him self. There shall be no discussion with him; and if he avows his writings, and refuses to retract them, then we will all with one accord, electors, princes, estates of the holy empire, true to the faith of our ancestors, assist your majesty to the utmost of our power in the execution of your decrees.
Aleander in alarm, and fearing everything from Luther’s intrepidity and the ignorance of the princes, instantly strained every nerve to prevent the reformer’s appearance. He went from Charles’s ministers to the princes most favourably inclined to the pope, and from them to the emperor himself. “It is not lawful,” said he, “to question what the sovereign pontiff has decreed. There shall be no discussion with Luther you say; but,” continued he, “will not the energy of this audacious man, the fire of his eyes, the eloquence of his language, and the mysterious spirit by which he is animated, be sufficient to excite a tumult? Already many adore him as a saint, and in every place you may see his portrait surrounded with a glory like that which encircles the heads of the blessed If you are resolved to summon him before you, at least do not put him under the protection of the public faith!” These latter words were meant either to intimidate Luther, or to prepare the way for his destruction.
The nuncio found an easy access to the grandees of Spain. In Spain, as in Germany, the opposition to the Dominican inquisitors was national. The yoke of the inquisition, that had been thrown off for a time, had just been replaced on their necks by Charles. A numerous party in that peninsula sympathized with Luther; but it was not thus with the grandees, who had discovered on the banks of the Rhine what they had hated beyond the Pyrenees. Inflamed with the most ardent fanaticism, they were impatient to destroy the new heresy. Frederick, duke of Alva, in particular, was transported with rage whenever he heard the Reformation mentioned. He would gladly have waded in the blood of all these sectarians. Luther was not yet summoned to appear, but already had his mere name powerfully stirred the lords of Christendom assembled at Worms.
The man who thus moved all the powers of the earth seemed alone undisturbed. The news from Worms was alarming. Luther’s friends were terrified. “There remains nothing for us but your good wishes and prayers,” wrote Melancthon to Spalatin. “Oh! that God would deign to purchase at the price of our blood the salvation of the christian world But Luther was a stranger to fear; shutting himself up in his quiet cell, he there meditated on and applied to himself those words in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, exclaims: My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. These are some of the reflections that filled Luther’s heart: “ HE THAT IS MIGHTY,” says Mary. What great boldness on the part of a young girl! With a single word she brands all the strong with weakness, all the mighty with feebleness, all the wise with folly, all those whose name is glorious upon earth with disgrace, and casts all strength, all might, all wisdom, and all glory at the feet of God. His arm, continues she, meaning by this the power by which he acts of himself, without the aid of any of his creatures: mysterious power! which is exerted in secrecy and in silence until His designs are accomplished. Destruction is at hand, when no one has seen it coming: relief is there, and no one had suspected it. He leaves His children in oppression and weakness, so that every man says: They are lost! But it is then He is strongest; for where the strength of men ends, there begins that of God. Only let faith wait upon him. And, on the other hand, God permits his adversaries to increase in grandeur and power. He withdraws His support, and suffers them to be puffed up with their own.’ He empties them of His eternal wisdom, amid lets them be filled with their own, which is but for a day. And while they are rising in the brightness of their power, the arm of the Lord is taken away, and their work vanishes as a bubble bursting in the air.”
It was on the 10th of March, at the very moment when the imperial city of Worms was filled with dread at his name, that Luther concluded this explanation of the Magnificat.
He was not left quiet in his retreat. Spalatin, in conformity with the elector’s orders, sent him a note of the articles which he would be required to retract. A retractation, after his refusal at Augsburg “Fear not,” wrote he to Spalatin, “that I shall retract a single syllable, since their only argument is, that my works are opposed to the rites of what they call the Church. If the Emperor Charles summons me only that I may retract, I shall reply that I will remain here, and it will be the same as if I had gone to Worms and returned. But, on the contrary, if the emperor summons me that I may be put to death as an enemy of the empire, I am ready to comply with his call; for, with the help of Christ, I will never desert the Word on the battle-field. I am well aware that these bloodthirsty men will never rest until they have taken away my life. Would that it was the papists alone that would be guilty of my blood!”
Shall Luther have a Safe-conduct—The Safe-conduct—Will Luther come—Holy Thursday at Rome—The Pope and Luther.
AT last the emperor made up his mind. Luther’s appearance before the diet seemed the only means calculated to terminate an affair which engaged the attention of all the empire. Charles V. resolved to summon him, but without granting him a safe-conduct. Here Frederick was again compelled to assume the character of a protector. The dangers by which the reformer was threatened were apparent to all. Luther’s friends, says Cochlœus, feared that he would be delivered into the pope’s hands, or that the emperor himself would put him to death, as undeserving, on account of his heresy, that any faith should be kept with him. On this question there was a long and violent debate between the princes. Struck at last by the extensive agitation then stirring up the people in every part of Germany, and fearing that during Luther’s journey some unexpected tumult or dangerous commotion might burst forth in favour of the reformer, the princes thought the wisest course would be to tranquillize the public feelings on this subject; and not only the emperor, but also the Elector of Saxony, Duke George, and the Landgrave of Hesse, through whose territories he would have to pass, gave him each a safe-conduct.
On the 6th of March 1521, Charles V. signed the following summons addressed to Luther
“Charles, by the grace of God, Emperor elect of the Romans, always August, &c. &c.
Honourable, well-beloved, and pious! We and the States of the Holy Empire here assembled, having resolved to institute an inquiry touching the doctrine and the books that thou hast lately published, have issued, for thy coming hither, and thy return to a place of security, our safe-conduct and that of the empire, which we send thee herewith. Our sincere desire is, that thou shouldst prepare immediately for this journey, in order that within the space of the twenty-one days fixed by our safe-conduct, thou mayst without fail be present before us. Fear neither injustice nor violence. We will firmly abide by our aforesaid safe-conduct, and expect that thou wilt comply with our summons. In so doing, thou wilt obey our earnest wishes.
“Given in our imperial city of Worms, this sixth day of March, in the year of our Lord 1521, and the second of our reign.
“By order of my Lord the Emperor, witness my hand, ALBERT, Cardinal of Mentz, High-chancellor.
The safe-conduct contained in the letter was directed: “To the honourable, our well-beloved and pious Doctor Martin Luther, of the order of Augustines.”
It began thus:
“We, Charles, the fifth of that name, by the grace of God Emperor elect of the Romans, always August, King of Spain, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem, of Hungary, of Dalmatia, of Croatia, &c., Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Count of Hapsburg, of Flanders, of the Tyrol,” &c. &c.
Then the king of so many states, intimating that he had cited before him an Augustine monk named Luther, enjoined all princes, lords, magistrates, and others, to respect the safe-conduct which had been given him, under pain of the displeasure of the emperor and the empire.
Thus did the emperor confer the titles of “well-beloved, honourable, and pious,” on a man whom the head of the Church had excommunicated. This document had been thus drawn up, purposely to remove all distrust from the mind of Luther and his friends. Gaspard Sturm was commissioned to bear this message to the reformer, and accompany him to Worms. The elector, apprehending some outburst of public indignation, wrote on the 12th of March to the magistrates of Wittenberg to provide for the security of the emperor’s officer, and to give him a guard, if it was judged necessary. The herald departed.
Thus were God’s designs fulfilled. It was His will that this light, which he had kindled in the world, should be set upon a hill; and emperor, kings, and princes, immediately began to carry out His purpose without knowing it. It costs Him little to elevate what is lowliest. A single act of His power suffices to raise the humble native of Mansfeldt from an obscure cottage to the palaces in which kings were assembled. In His sight there is neither small nor great, and, in His good time, Charles and Luther meet.
But will Luther comply with this citation? His best friends were doubtful about it. “Doctor Martin has been summoned here,” wrote the elector to his brother on the 25th March; “but I do not know whether he will come. I cannot augur any good from it.” Three weeks later (on the 16th of April), this excellent prince, seeing the danger increase, wrote again to Duke John: “Orders against Luther are placarded on the walls. The cardinals and bishops are attacking him very harshly: God grant that all may turn out well! Would to God that I could procure him a favourable hearing!”
While these events were taking place at Worms and Wittenberg, the Papacy redoubled its attacks. On the 28th of March (which was the Thursday before Easter), Rome re-echoed with a solemn excommunication. It was the custom to publish at that season the terrible bull Cœna Domini, which is a long series of maledictions. On that day the approaches to the temple in which the sovereign pontiff was to officiate were early occupied with the papal guards, and by a crowd of people that had flocked together from all parts of Italy to receive the benediction of the holy father. Branches of laurel and myrtle decorated the open space in front of the cathedral; tapers were lighted on the balcony of the temple, and there the remonstrance was elevated. On a sudden the air re-echoes with the loud pealing of bells; the pope, wearing his pontifical robes, and borne in an arm-chair, appears on the balcony; the people kneel down, all heads are uncovered, the colours are lowered, the soldiers ground their arms, and a solemn silence prevails. A few moments after, the pope slowly stretches out his hands, raises them towards heaven, and then as slowly bends them towards the earth, making the sign of the cross. Thrice he repeats this movement. Again the noise of bells reverberates through the air, proclaiming far and wide the benediction of the pontiff; some priests now hastily step forward, each holding a lighted taper in his hand; these they reverse, and after tossing them violently, dash them away, as if they were the flames of hell; the people are moved and agitated; and the words of malediction are hurled down from the roof of the temple.
As soon as Luther was informed of this excommunication, he published its tenor, with a few remarks written in that cutting style of which he was so great a master. Although this publication did not appear till later, we will insert in this place a few of its most striking features. We shall hear the high-priest of Christendom on the balcony of the cathedral, and the Wittenberg monk answering him from the farthest part of Germany.
There is something characteristic in the contrast of these two voices.
THE POPE.—“Leo, bishop”
LUTHER.—“Bishop! yes, as the wolf is a shepherd: for the bishop should exhort according to the doctrine of salvation, and not omit forth imprecations and maledictions.”
THE POPE.—“Servant of all the servants of God”
LUTHER.—“At night, when we are drunk; but in the morning, our name is Leo, lord of all lords.”
THE POPE.—“The Roman bishops, our predecessors, have been accustomed on this festival to employ the arms of righteousness......
LUTHER.—“Which, according to your account, are ex-communication and anathema; but according to Saint Paul, long-suffering, kindness, and love.” (2 Cor. vi. 6, 7.)
THE POPE.—“According to the duties of the apostolic office, and to maintain the purity of the christian faith......
LUTHER.—“That is to say, the temporal possessions of the pope.”
THE POPE.—“And its unity, which consists in the union of the members with Christ, their head......and with his vicar”
LUTHER.—“For Christ is not sufficient: we must have another besides.”
THE POPE.—“To preserve the holy communion of believers, we follow the ancient custom, and excommunicate and curse, in the name of Almighty God, the Father”
LUTHER.—”Of whom it is said: God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world.” (John iii. 17.)
THE POPE.—“The Son, and the Holy Ghost, and according to the power of the apostles Peter and Paul......and our own”
LUTHER.—”Our own! says the ravenous wolf as if the power of God was too weak without him.”
THE POPE.—“We curse all heretics,—Cathari, Patarins, Poor Men of Lyons, Arnoldists, Speronists, Passageni, Wickliffites, Hussites, Fratricelli”…...
LUTHER.—“For they desired to possess the Holy Scriptures, and required the pope to be sober and preach the Word of God.”
THE POPE.—“And Martin Luther, recently condemned by us for a similar heresy, as well as all his adherents, and all those, whomsoever they may be, who show him any countenance.”
LUTHER.—“I thank thee, most gracious pontiff for condemning me along with all these Christians! It is very honourable for me to have my name proclaimed at Rome on a day of festival, in so glorious a manner, that it may run through the world in conjunction with the names of these humble confessors of Jesus Christ.”
THE POPE.—“In like manner, we excommunicate and curse all pirates and corsairs”
LUTHER.—“Who can be a greater corsair and pirate than he that robs souls, imprisons them, and puts them to death?”
THE POPE.—“Particularly those who navigate our seas”...
LUTHER.—“Our seas!…...Saint Peter, our predecessor, said: Silver and gold have I none (Acts iii. 6); and Jesus Christ said: The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; but ye shall not be so (Luke xxii. 25). But if a waggon filled with hay must give place on the road to a drunken man, how much more must Saint Peter and Christ himself give way to the pope!”
THE POPE.—“In like manner we excommunicate and curse all those who falsify our bulls and our apostolical letters”
LUTHER.—“But God’s letters, the Holy Scriptures, all the world may condemn and burn.”
THE POPE.—“In like manner we excommunicate and curse all those who intercept the provisions that are coming to the court of Rome”
LUTHER.—“He snarls and snaps, like a dog that fears his bone will be taken from him.”
THE POPE.—”In like manner we condemn and curse all those who withhold any judiciary dues, fruits, tithes, or revenues, belonging to the clergy”
LUTHER.—“For Christ has said: If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also (Matt. v. 40), and this is our commentary.”
THE POPE.—“Whatever be their station, dignity, order, power, or rank; were they even bishops or kings”
LUTHER.—“For there shall be false teachers among you, who despise dominion and speak evil of dignities, says Scripture.” (Jude 8.)
THE POPE.—“In like manner we condemn and curse all those who, in any manner whatsoever, do prejudice to the city of Rome, the kingdom of Sicily, the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, the patrimony of St. Peter in Tuscany, the duchy of Spoleto, the marquisate of Ancona, the Campagna, the cities of Ferrara and Benevento, and all other cities or countries belonging to the Church of Rome.”
LUTHER.—“O Peter! thou poor fisherman! whence didst thou get Rome and all these kingdoms? all hail, Peter! king of Sicily and fisherman at Bethsaida!”
THE POPE.—“We excommunicate and curse all chancellors, councillors, parliaments, procurators, governors, officials, bishops, and others, who oppose our letters of exhortation, invitation, prohibition, mediation, execution.”
LUTHER.—“For the holy see desires only to live in idleness, in magnificence, and debauchery; to command, to intimidate, to deceive, to lie, to dishonour, to seduce, and commit every kind of wickedness in peace and security
“O Lord, arise! it is not as the papists pretend; thou hast not forsaken us; thou hast not turned away thine eyes from us!”
Thus spoke Leo at Rome and Luther at Wittenberg.
The pontiff having ended these maledictions, the parchment on which they were written was torn in pieces, and the fragments scattered among the people. Immediately the crowd began to be violently agitated, each one rushing forward and endeavouring to seize a scrap of this terrible bull. These were the holy relics that the Papacy offered to its faithful adherents on the eve of the great day of grace and expiation. The multitude soon dispersed, and the neighbourhood of the cathedral became deserted and silent as before. Let us now return to Wittenberg.
Luther’s Courage—Bugenhagen at Wittenberg—Persecutions in Pomerania—Melancthon desires to accompany Luther—Amsdorff, Schurif, and Suaven—Hütten to Charles V.
IT was now the 24th of March. At last the imperial herald had passed the gate of the city in which Luther resided. Gaspard Sturm waited upon the doctor, and delivered the citation from Charles V. What a serious and solemn moment for the reformer! All his friends were in consternation. No prince, without excepting Frederick the Wise, had declared for him. The knights, it is true, had given utterance to their threats; but them the powerful Charles despised. Luther, however, was not discomposed. “ The papists,” said he, on seeing the anguish of his friends, “ do not desire my coming to Worms, but my condemnation and my death. It matters not! Pray, not for me, but for the Word of God. Before my blood has grown cold, thousands of men in the whole world will have become responsible for having shed it! The most holy adversary of Christ, the father, the master, the generalissimo of murderers, insists on its being shed. So be it! Let God’s will be done! Christ will give me his Spirit to overcome these ministers of error. I despise them during my life; I shall triumph over them by my death. They are busy at Worms about compelling me to retract; and this shall be my retractation: I said formerly that the pope was Christ’s vicar; now I assert that he is our Lord’s adversary, and the devil’s apostle.” And when he was apprized that all the pulpits of the Franciscans and Dominicans resounded with imprecations and maledictions against him: Oh! what deep joy do I feel!” exclaimed he. He knew that he had done God’s will, and that God was with him; why then should he not set out with courage? Such purity of intention, such liberty of conscience, is a hidden but incalculable support, that never fails the servant of God, and renders him more invulnerable than if protected by coats of mail and armed hosts.
At this time there arrived at Wittenberg a man who, like Melancthon, was destined to be Luther’s friend all his life, and to comfort him at the moment of his departure. This was a priest named Bugenhagen, thirty-six years of age, who had fled from the severities which the Bishop of Camin and Prince Bogislas of Pomerania exercised on the friends of the Gospel, whether ecclesiastics, citizens, or men of letters. Sprung from a senatorial family, and born at Wollin in Pomerania (whence he is commonly called Pomeranus), Bugenhagen had been teaching at Treptow from the age of twenty years. The young eagerly crowded around him; the nobles and the learned emulated each other in courting his society. He diligently studied the Holy Scriptures, praying God to enlighten him. One day towards the end of December 1520, Luther’s book on the Captivity of Babylon was put into his hands as he sat at supper with several of his friends. “Since the death of Christ,” said he, after running his eye over the pages, “ many heretics have infested the Church; but never yet has there existed such a pest as the author of this work.” Having taken the book home and perused it two or three times, all his opinions were changed; truths quite new to him presented themselves to his mind and on returning some days after to his colleagues, he said, “The whole world has fallen into the thickest darkness. This man alone sees the light.” Several priests, a deacon, and the abbot himself, received the pure doctrine of salvation, and in a short time, by the power of their preaching, they led their hearers (says an historian) back from human superstitions to the sole and effectual merits of Jesus Christ. Upon this a persecution broke out. Already the prisons re-echoed with the groans of many individuals. Bugenhagen fled from his enemies and arrived at Wittenberg. “ He is suffering for love to the Gospel,” wrote Melancthon to the elector’s chaplain. “ Whither could he fly, but to our asulon (asylum), and to the protection of our prince?”
But no one welcomed Bugenhagen with greater joy than Luther. It was agreed between them, that immediately after the departure of the reformer, Bugenhagen should begin to lecture on the Psalms. It was thus Divine Providence led this able man to supply in some measure the place of him whom Wittenberg was about to lose. A year later, Bugenhagen was placed at the head of the Church in this city, over which he presided thirty-six years. Luther styled him in an especial manner The Pastor.
Luther was about to depart. His friends, in alarm, thought that if God did not interpose in a miraculous manner, he was going to certain death. Melancthon, far removed from his native town, was attached to Luther with all the affection of a susceptible heart. “ Luther,” said he, “ supplies the place of all my friends; he is greater and more admirable for me than I can dare express. You know how Alcibiades admired Socrates; but I admire Luther after another and a christian fashion.” He then added these beautiful and sublime words: “ As often as I contemplate Luther, I find him constantly greater than himself.” Melancthon desired to accompany Luther in his dangers; but their common friends, and no doubt the doctor himself, opposed his wishes. Ought not Philip to fill his friend’s place? and if the latter never returned, who then would there be to direct the work of the Reformation? “ Would to God,” said Melancthon, resigned, yet disappointed, “that he had allowed me to go with him.”
The impetuous Amsdorff immediately declared that he would accompany the doctor. His strong mind found pleasure in confronting danger. His boldness permitted him to appear fearlessly before an assembly of kings. The elector had invited to Wittenberg, as professor of jurisprudence, Jerome Scurff son of a physician at St. Gall, a celebrated man, of gentle manners, and who was very intimate with Luther. “He has not yet been able to make up his mind,” said Luther, “to pronounce sentence of death on a single malefactor.” This timid man, however, desired to assist the doctor by his advice in this perilous journey. A young Danish student, Peter Suaven, who resided with Melancthon, and who afterwards became celebrated by his evangelical labours in Pomerana and Denmark, likewise declared that he would accompany his master. The youth of the schools were also to have their representative at the side of the champion of truth.
Germany was moved at the sight of the perils that menaced the representative of her people. She found a suitable voice to give utterance to her fears. Ulrich of Hütten shuddered at the thought of the blow about to be inflicted on his country. On the 1st of April, he wrote to Charles V. himself: “Most excellent emperor,” said he, “ you are on the point of destroying us, and yourself with us. What is proposed to be done in this affair of Luther’s, except to ruin our liberty, and to crush your power? In the whole extent of the empire there is not a single upright man that does not feel the deepest interest in this matter. The priests alone set themselves against Luther, because he has opposed their enormous power, their scandalous luxury, and their depraved lives; and because he has pleaded, in behalf of Christ’s doctrine, for the liberty of our country, and for purity of morals.
“O emperor! discard from your presence these Roman ambassadors, bishops, and cardinals, who desire to prevent all reformation. Did you not observe the sorrow of the people as they saw you arrive on the banks of the Rhine, surrounded by these red-hatted gentry......and by a band of priests, instead of a troop of valiant warriors?......
“ Do not surrender your sovereign majesty to those who desire to trample it under foot! Have pity on us! Do not drag yourself and the whole nation into one common destruction. Lead us into the midst of the greatest dangers, under the weapons of your soldiers, to the cannon’s mouth: let all nations conspire against us; let every army assail us, so that we can show our valour in the light of day, rather than that we should be thus vanquished and enslaved obscurely and stealthily, like women, without arms and unresisting..... Alas! we had hoped that you would deliver us from the Roman yoke, and overthrow the tyranny of the pontiff. God grant that the future may be better than these beginnings!
“All Germany falls prostrate at your feet; with tears we entreat and implore your help, your compassion, your faithfulness; and by the holy memory of those Germans who, when all the world owned the Roman sway, did not bow their heads before that haughty city, we conjure you to save us, to restore us to ourselves, to deliver us from bondage, and take revenge upon our tyrants!”
Thus, by the mouth of this knight, spoke the German nation to Charles V. The emperor paid no attention to this epistle, and probably cast it disdainfully to one of his secretaries. He was a Fleming, and not a German. His personal aggrandizement, and not the liberty and glory of the empire, was the object of all his desires.