corner graphic   Hi,    
Facebook image
ver. 2.0.17.05.29
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 6 — From the Leipsic Disputation to the Diet at Worms, 1521

Chapter 1 — Pope Leo's Bull

Resource Toolbox

Books:
 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

Chapters:
 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Dangers of Luther – Doubtful Aid – Death of Maximilian – Candidates for the Empire – Character of Charles of Spain – His Dominions – The Empire Offered to Frederick of Saxony – Declined – Charles of Spain Chosen – Wittemberg – Luther's Labors – His Appeal to the People of Germany – His Picture of Germany under the Papacy – Reforms Called for – Impression produced by his Appeal.

AMONG the actors that now begin to crowd the stage there are two who tower conspicuously above the others, and fix the gaze of all eyes, well-nigh exclusively, upon themselves. With the one we are already familiar, for he has been some time before us, the other is only on the point of appearing. They come from the opposite poles of society to mingle in this great drama. The one actor first saw the light in a miner's cottage, the cradle of the other was placed in the palace of an ancient race of kings. The one wears a frock of serge, the other is clad in an imperial mantle. The careers of these two men are not more different in their beginning than they are fated to be in their ending. Emerging from a cell the one is to mount a throne, where he is to sit and govern men, not by the force of the sword, but by the power of the Word. The other, thrown into collision with a power he can neither see nor comprehend, is doomed to descend through one humiliation after another, till at last from a throne, the greatest then in the world, he comes to end his days in a cloister. But all this is yet behind a veil.

Meanwhile the bulkier, but in reality weaker power, seems vastly to overtop the stronger. The Reformation is utterly dwarfed in presence of a colossal Imperialism. If Protestantism has come forth from the Ruler of the world, and if it has been sent on the benign errand of opening the eyes and loosing the fetters of long-enslaved nations, one would have thought that its way would be prepared, and its task made easy, by some signal weakening of its antagonist. On the contrary, it is at this moment that Imperialism develops into sevenfold strength. It is clear the great Ruler seeks no easy victory. He permits dangers to multiply, difficulties to thicken, and the hand of the adversary to be made strong. But by how much the fight is terrible, and the victory all but hopeless, by so much are the proofs resplendent that the power which, without earthly weapon, can scatter the forces of Imperialism, and raise up a world which a combined spiritual and secular despotism has trodden into the dust, is Divine. It is the clash and struggle of these two powers that we are now to contemplate. But first let us glance at the situation of Luther.

Luther's friends were falling away, or growing timid. Even Staupitz was hesitating, now that the goal to which the movement tended was more distinctly visible. In the coldness or the absence of these friends, other allies hastened to proffer him their somewhat doubtful aid. Drawn to his side rather by hatred of Papal tyranny than by appreciation of Gospel liberty and purity, their alliance somewhat embarrassed the Reformer. It was the Teutonic quite as much as the Reformed element–a noble product when the two are blended–that now stirred the German barons, and made their hands grasp their sword-hilts when told that Luther's life was in danger; that men with pistoIs under their cloak were dogging him; that Serra Longa was writing to the Elector Frederick, "Let not Luther find an asylum in the States of your highness; let him be rejected of all and stoned in the face of heaven;" that Miltitz, the Papal legate, who had not forgiven his discomfiture, was plotting to snare him by inviting him to another interview at Treves; and that Eck had gone to Rome to find a balm for his wounded pride, by getting forged in the Vatican the bolt that was to crush the man whom his scholastic subtlety had not been able to vanquish at Leipsic.

There seemed cause for the apprehensions that now began to haunt his friends. "If God do not help us," exclaimed Melanchthon, as he listened to the ominous sounds of tempest, and lifted his eye to a sky every hour growing blacker, "If God do not help us, we shall all perish." Even Luther himself was made at times to know, by the momentary depression and alarm into which he was permitted to sink, that if he was calm, and strong, and courageous, it was God that made him so. One of the most powerful knights of Franconia, Sylvester of Schaumburg, sent his son all the way to Wittemberg with a letter to Luther, saying, "If the electors, princes, magistrates fail you, come to me. God willing, I shall soon have collected more than a hundred gentlemen, and with their help I shall be able to protect you from every danger." [1]

Francis of Sickingen, one of those knights who united the love of letters to that of arms, whom Melanchthon styled "a peerless ornament of German knighthood," offered Luther the asylum of his castle. "My services, my goods, and my body, all that I possess are at your disposal," wrote he. Ulrich of Hutten, who was renowned for his verses not less than for his deeds of valor, also offered himself as a champion of the Reformer. His mode of warfare, however, differed from Luther's. Ulrich was for falling on Rome with the sword, Luther sought to subdue her by the weapon of the Truth. "It is with swords and with bows," wrote Ulrich, "with javelins and bombs that we must crush the fury of the devil." "I will not have recourse to arms and bloodshed in defense of the Gospel," said Luther, shrinking back from the

proposal. "It was by the Word that the Church was founded, and by the Word also it shall be re-established." And, lastly, the prince of scholars in that age, Erasmus, stood forward in defense of the monk of Wittemberg. He did not hesitate to affirm that the outcry which had been raised against Luther, and the disturbance which his doctrines had created, were owing solely to those whose interests, being bound up with the darkness, dreaded the new day that was rising on the world [2] –a truth palpable and trite to us, but not so to the men of the early part of the sixteenth century.

When the danger was at its height, the Emperor Maximilian died (January 12th, 1519). [3] This prince was conspicuous only for his good nature and easy policy, but under him the Empire had enjoyed a long and profound peace. An obsequious subject of Rome, the Reformed movement was every day becoming more the object of his dislike, and had he lived he would have insisted on the elector's banishing Luther, which would have thrown him into the hands of his mortal enemies. By the death of Maximilian at this crisis, the storm that seemed ready to burst passed over for the time. Till a new emperor should be elected, Frederick of Saxony, according to an established rule, became regent. This sudden shifting of the scenes placed the Reformer and the Reformation under the protection of the man who for the time presided over the Empire.

Negotiations and intrigues were now set on foot for the election of a new emperor. These became a rampart around the Reformed movement. The Pope, who wished to carry a particular candidate, found it necessary, in order to gain his object, to conciliate the Elector Frederick, whose position as regent, and whose character for wisdom, gave him a potential voice in the electoral college. This led to a clearing of the sky in the quarter of Rome.

There were two candidates in the field–Charles I. of Spain, and Francis I. of France. Henry VIII. of England, finding the prize which he eagerly coveted beyond his reach, had retired from the contest. The claims of the two rivals were very equally balanced. Francis was gallant, chivalrous, and energetic, but he did not sustain his enterprises by a perseverance equal to the ardor with which he had commenced them. Of intellectual tastes, and a lover of the new learning, wise men and scholars, warriors and statesmen, mingled in his court, and discoursed together at his table. He was only twenty-six, yet he had already reaped glory on the field of war. "This prince," says Muller, "was the most accomplished knight of that era in which a Bayard was the ornament of chivalry, and one of the most enlightened and amiable men of the polished age of the Medici." [4] Neither Francis nor his courtiers were forgetful that Charlemagne had worn the diadem, and its restoration to the Kings of France would dispel the idea that was becoming common, that the imperial crown, though nominally elective, was really hereditary, and had now been permanently vested in the house of Austria.

Charles was seven years younger than his rival, and his disposition and talents gave high promise. Although only nineteen he had been trained in affairs, for which he had discovered both inclination and aptitude. The Spanish and German blood mingled in his veins, and his genius combined the qualities of both races. He possessed the perseverance of the Germans, the subtlety of the Italians, and the taciturnity of the Spaniards. His birth-place was Ghent. Whatever prestige riches,extent of dominion, and military strength could give the Empire, Charles would bring to it. His hereditary kingdom, inherited through Ferdinand and Isabella, was Spain. Than Spain there was no more flourishing or powerful monarchy at that day in Christendom. To this magnificent domain, the seat of so many opulent towns, around which was spread an assemblage of corn-bearing plains, wooded sierras, and vegas, on which the fruits of Asia mingled in rich luxuriance with those of Europe, were added the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, Flanders and the rich domains of Burgundy; and now the death of his grand-father, the Emperor Maximilian, had put him in possession of the States of Austria. Nor was this all; the discovery of Columbus had placed a new continent under his sway; and how large its limit, or how ample the wealth that might flow from it, Charles could not, at that hour, so much as conjecture. So wide were the realms over which this young prince reigned. Scarcely had the sun set on their western frontier when the morning had dawned on their eastern.

It would complete his glory, and render him without a peer on earth, should he add the imperial diadem to the many crowns he already possessed. He scattered gold profusely among the electors and princes of Germany to gain the coveted prize. [5] His rival Francis was liberal, but he lacked the gold-mines of Mexico and Peru which Charles had at his command. The candidates, in fact, were too powerful. Their greatness had well-nigh defeated both of them; for the Germans began to fear that to elect either of the two would be to give themselves a master. The weight of so many sceptres as those which Charles held in his hand might stifle the liberties of Germany.

The electors, on consideration, were of the mind that it would be wiser to elect one of themselves to wear the imperial crown. Their choice was given, in the first instance, neither to Francis nor to Charles; it fell unanimously on Frederick of Saxony. [6] Even the Pope was with them in this matter. Leo X. feared the overgrown power of Charles of Spain. If the master of so many kingdoms should be elected to the vacant dignity, the Empire might overshadow the mitre. Nor was the Pope more

favorably inclined towards the King of France: he dreaded his ambition; for who could tell that the conqueror of Carignano would not carry his arms farther into Italy? On these grounds, Leo sent his earnest advice to the electors to choose Frederick of Saxony. The result was that Frederick was chosen. We behold the imperial crown offered to Luther's friend!

Will he or ought he to put on the mantle of Empire? The princes and people of Germany would have hailed with joy his assumption of the dignity. It did seem as if Providence were putting this strong scepter into his hand, that therewith he might protect the Reformer. Frederick had, oftener than once, been painfully sensible of his lack of power. He may now be the first man in Germany, president of all its councils, generalissimo of all its armies; and may stave off from the Reformation's path, wars, scaffolds, violences of all sorts, and permit it to develop its spiritual energies, and regenerate society in peace. Ought he to have become emperor? Most historians have lauded his declinature as magnanimous. We take the liberty most respectfully to differ from them.

We think that Frederick, looking at the whole case, ought to have accepted the imperial crown; that the offer of it came to him at a moment and in a way that, made the point of duty clear, and that his refusal was an act of weakness.

Frederick, in trying to shun the snare of ambition, fell into that of timidity. He looked at the difficulties and dangers of the mighty task, at the distractions springing up within the Empire, and the hostile armies of the Moslem on its frontier. Better, he thought, that the imperial scepter should be placed in a stronger hand; better that Charles of Austria should grasp it. He forgot that, in the words of Luther, Christendom was threatened by a worse foe than the Turk; and so Frederick passed on the imperial diadem to one who was to become a bitter foe of the Reformation.

But, though we cannot justify Frederick in shirking the toils and perils of the task to which he was now called, we recognize in his decision the overriding of a Higher than human wisdom. If Protestantism had grown up and flourished under the protection of the Empire, would not men have said that its triumph was owing to the fact that it had one so wise as Frederick to counsel it, and one so powerful to fight for it? Was it a blessing to primitive Christianity to be taken by Constantine under the protection of the arms of the first Empire? True, oceans of blood would have been spared, had Frederick girded on the imperial sword and become the firm friend and protector of the movement. But the Reformation without martyrs, without scaffolds, without blood! We should hardly have known it. It would be the Reformation without glory and without power.

Not its annals only, but the annals of the race would have been immensely poorer had they lacked the sublime spectacles of faith and heroism which were exhibited by the martyrs of the sixteenth century. Not an age in the future which the glory of these sufferers will not illuminate!

Frederick of Saxony had declined what the two most powerful sovereigns in Europe were so eager to obtain. On the 28th of June, 1519, the electoral conclave, in their scarlet robes, met in the Church of St. Bartholomew, in Frankfort-on-the-Main, and[proceeded to the election of the new emperor.

The votes were unanimous in favor of Charles of Spain. [7] It was more than a year (October, 1520) till Charles arrived in Germany to be crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle; and meanwhile the regency was continued in the hands of Frederick, and the shield was still extended over the little company of workers at Wittemberg, who were busily engaged in laying the foundations of an empire that would long outlast that of the man on whose head the diadem of the Caesars was about to be placed.

The year that elapsed between the election and the coronation of Charles was one of busy and prosperous labor at Wittemberg. A great light shone in the midst of the little band there gathered together, namely, the Word of God. The voice from the Seven Hills fell upon their ear unheeded; all doctrines and practices were tried by the Bible alone. Every day Luther took a step forward. New proofs of the falsehood and corruption of the Roman system continually crowded in upon him. It was now that the treatise of Laurentius Valla fell in his way, which satisfied him that the donation of Constantine to the Pope was a fiction. This strengthened the conclusion at which he had already arrived touching the Roman primacy, even that foundation it had none save the ambition of Popes and the credulity of the people. It was now that he read the writings of John Muss, and, to his surprise, he found in them the doctrine of Paul–that which it had cost himself such agonies to learn–respecting the free justification of sinners. "We have all," he exclaimed, half in wonder, half in joy, "Paul, Augustine, and myself, been Hussites without knowing it! [8] and he added, with deep seriousness, "God will surely visit it upon the world that the truth was preached to it a century ago, and burned?" It was now that he proclaimed the great truth that the Sacrament will profit no man without faith, and that it is folly to believe that it will operate spiritual effects of itself and altogether independently of the disposition of the recipient. The Romanists stormed at him because he taught that the Sacrament ought to be administered in both kinds, not able to perceive the deeper principle of Luther, which razed the opus operatum with all attendant thereon. They were defending the outworks: the Reformer, with a giant's strength, was levelling the citadel. It was

amazing what activity and rigour of mind Luther at this period displayed. Month after month, rather week by week, he launched treatise on treatise. These productions of his pen, "like sparks from under the hammer, each brighter than that which prceceded it," added fresh force to the conflagration that was blazing on all sides. His enemies attacked him: they but drew upon themselves heavier blows. It was, too, during this year of marvellously varied labor, that he published his Commentary upon the Galatians, "his own epistle" as he termed it. In that treatise he gave a clearer and fuller exposition than he had yet done of what with him was the great cardinal truth, even justification through faith alone. But he showed that such a justification neither makes void the law, inasmuch as it proceeds on the ground of a righteousness that fulfils the law, nor leads to licentiousness, inasmuch as the faith that takes hold of righteousness for justification, operates in the heart to its renewal, and a renewed heart is the fountain of every holy virtue and of every good work.

It was now, too, that Luther published his famous appeal to the emperor, the princes, and the people of Germany, on the Reformation of Christianity [9] This was the most graphic, courageous, eloquent, and spirit-stirring production which had yet issued from his pen. It may be truly said of it that its words were battles. The sensation it produced was immense. It was the trumpet that summoned the German nation to the great conflict.

"The time for silence," said Luther, "is past, and the time to speak is come." And verily he did speak.

In this manifesto Luther first of ail draws a most; masterly picture of the Roman tyranny. Rome had achieved a three-fold conquest. She had triumphed over all ranks and classes of men; she had triumphed over all the rights and interests of human society; she had enslaved kings; she had enslaved Councils; she had enslaved the people. She had effected a serfdom complete and universal. By her dogma of Pontifical supremacy she had enslaved kings, princes, and magistrates. She had exalted the spiritual above the temporal in order that all rulers, and all tribunals and causes, might be subject to her own sole absolute and irresponsible will, and that, unchallenged and unpunished by the civil power, she might pursue her career of usurpation and oppression.

Has she not, Luther asked, placed the throne of her Pope above the throne of kings, so that no one dare call him to account? The Pontiff enlists armies, makes war on kings, and spills their subjects' blood; nay, he challenges for the persons of his priests immunity from civil control, thus fatally deranging the order of the world, and reducing authority into prostration and contempt.

By her dogma of spiritual supremacy Rome had vanquished Councils. The Bishop of Rome claimed to be chief and ruler over all bishops. In him was centered the whole authority of the Church, so that let him promulgate the most manifestly erroneous dogma, or commit the most flagrant wickedness, no Council had the power to reprove or depose him. Councils were nothing, the Pope was all. The Spiritual supremacy made him the Church: the Temporal, the World.

By her assumed sole and infallible right of interpreting Holy Scripture, Rome had enslaved the people. She had put out their eyes; she had bound them in chains of darkness, that she might make them bow down to any god she was pleased to set up, and compel them to follow whither she was pleased to lead–into temporal bondage, into eternal perdition.

Behold the victory which Rome has achieved! She stands with her foot upon kings, upon bishops, upon peoples! All has she trodden into the dust.

These, to use Luther's metaphor, were the three walls behind which Rome had entrenched herself. [10] Is she threatened with the temporal power? She is above it. Is it proposed to cite her before a Council? She only has the right to convoke one. Is she attacked from the Bible? She only has the power of interpreting it. Rome has made herself supreme over the throne, over the Church, over the Word of God itself! Such was the gulf in which Germany and Christendom were sunk. The Reformer called on all ranks in his nation to combine for their emancipation from a vassalage so disgraceful and so ruinous.

To rouse his countrymen, and all in Christendom in whose breasts there yet remained any love of truth or any wish for liberty, he brought the picture yet closer to the Germans, not trusting to any general portraiture, however striking. Entering into details, he pointed out the ghastly havoc the Papal oppression had inflicted upon their common country.

Rome, he said, had ruined Italy; for the decay of that fine land, completed in our day, was already far advanced in Luther's. And now, the vampire Papacy having sucked the blood of its own country, a locust swarm from the Vatican had alighted on Germany. The Fatherland, the Reformer told the Germans, was being gnawed to the very bones. Annats, palliums, commendams, administrations, indulgences, reversions, incorporations, reserves–such were a few, and but a few, of the contrivances by which the priests managed to convey the wealth of Germany to Rome. Was it a wonder that princes, cathedrals, and people were poor? The wonder was, with such a cormorant swarm preying upon them, that anything was left. All went into the Roman sack which had no bottom. Here was robbery surpassing that of thieves and highwaymen, who expiated their offences on the gibbet. Here were the tyranny and destruction of the gates of hell, seeing it was the destruction of soul and body, the ruin of both Church and State. Talk of the devastation of the Turk, and of raising armies to resist him! there is no Turk in all the world like the Roman Turk.

The instant remedies

which he urged were the same with those which his great predecessor, Wicliffe, a full hundred and fifty years before, had recommended to the English people, and happily had prevailed upon the Parliament to so far adopt. The Gospel alone, which he was laboring to restore, could go to the root of these evils, but they were of a kind to be corrected in part by the temporal power. Every prince and State, he said, should forbid their subjects giving annats to Rome. Kings and nobles ought to resist the Pontiff as the greatest foe of their own prerogatives, and the worst enemy of the independence and prosperity of their kingdoms.

Instead of enforcing the bulls of the Pope, they ought to throw his ban, seal, and briefs into the Rhine or the Elbe. Archbishops and bishops should be forbidden, by imperial decree, to receive their dignities from Rome. All causes should be tried within the kingdom, and all persons made amenable to the country's tribunals. Festivals should cease, as but affording occasions for idleness and all kinds of vicious indulgences, and the Sabbath should be the only day on which men ought to abstain from working. No more cloisters ought to be built for mendicant friars, whose begging expeditions had never turned to good, and never would; the law of clerical celibacy should be repealed, and liberty given to priests to marry like other men; and, in fine, the Pope, leaving kings and princes to govern their own realms, should confine himself to prayer and the preaching of the Word. "Hearest thou, O Pope, not all holy, but all sinful? Who gave thee power to lift thyself above God and break His laws? The wicked Satan lies through thy throat.–O my Lord Christ, hasten Thy last day, and destroy the devil's nest at Rome. There sits ' the man of sin,' of whom Paul speaks, 'the son of perdition.'"

Luther well understood what a great orator [11] since has termed "the expulsive power of a new emotion." Truth he ever employed as the only effectual instrumentality for expelling error. Accordingly, underneath Rome's system of human merit and salvation by works, he placed the doctrine of man's inability and God's free grace. This it was that shook into ruin the Papal fabric of human merit. By the same method of attack did Luther demolish the Roman kingdom of bondage. He penetrated the fiction on which itwas reared. Rome takes a man, shaves his head, anoints him with oil, gives him the Sacrament of orders, and so infuses into him a mysterious virtue. The whole class of men so dealt with form a sacerdotal order, distinct from and higher than laymen, and are the divinely appointed rulers of the world.

This falsehood, with the grievous and ancient tyranny of which it was the corner-stone, Luther overthrew by proclaiming the antagonistic truth. All really Christian men, said he, are priests. Had not the Apostle Peter, addressing all believers, said, "Ye are a royal priesthood"? It is not the shearing of the head, or the wearing of a peculiar garment, that makes a man a priest. It is faith that makes men priests, faith that unites them to Christ, and that gives them the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, whereby they become filled with all holy grace and heavenly power. This inward anointing–this oil, better than any that ever came from the horn of bishop or Pope–gives them not the name only, bnt the nature, the purity, the power of priests; and this anointing have all they received who are believers on Christ.

Thus did Luther not only dislodge the falsehood, he filled its place with a glorious truth, lest, if left vacant, the, error should creep back. The fictitious priesthood of Rome–a priesthood which lay in oils and vestments, and into which men were introduced by scissors and the arts of necromancy–departed, and the true priesthood came in its room. Men opened their eyes upon their glorious enfranchisement. They were no longer the vassals of a sacerdotal oligarchy, the bondsmen of shavelings; they saw themselves to be the members of an illustrious brotherhood, whose Divine Head was in heaven.

Never was there a grander oration. Patriots and orators have, on many great and memorable occasions, addressed their fellow-men, if haply they might rouse them to overthrow the tyrants who held them in bondage. They have plied them with every argument, and appealed to every motive. They have, dwelt by turns on the bitterness of servitude and the sweetness of liberty.

But never did patriot; or orator address his fellow-men on a geater occasion than this–rarely, if ever, on one so great. Never did orator or patriot combat so powerful an antagonist, or denounce so foul a slavery, or smite hypocrisy and falsehood with blows so terrible. And if orator never displayed more eloquence, orator never showed greater courage. This appeal was made in the face of a thousand perils. On these Luther did not bestow a single thought. He saw only his countrymen, and all the nations of Christendom, sunk in a most humiliating and ruinous thraldom, and with fearless intrepidity and Herculean force he hurled bolt on bolt, quick, rapid, and fiery, against that tyranny which was devouring the earth. The man, the cause, the moment, the audience, all were sublime.

And never was appeal more successful. Like a peal of thunder it rang from side to side of Germany. It sounded the knell of Roman domination in that land. The movement was no longer confined to Wittemberg; it was henceforward truly national. It was no longer conducted exclusively by theologians. Princes, nobles, burghers joined in it. It was seen to be no battle of creed merely; it was a struggle for liberty, religious and civil; for rights, spiritual and temporal; for the generation then living, for all the generations that were to live in the future; a struggle, in fine, for the manhood of the human race.

Luther's

thoughts turned naturally to the new emperor. What part will this young potentate play in the movement? Presuming that it would be the just and magnanimous one that became so great a prince, Luther carried his appeal to the foot of the throne of Charles V. "The cause," he said, "was worthy to come before the throne of heaven, much more before an earthly potentate." Luther knew that his cause would triumph, whichever side Charles might espouse. But though neither Charles nor all the great ones of earth could stop it, or rob it of its triumph, they might delay it; they might cause the Reformation's path to be amid scaffolds and bloody fields, over armies vanquished and thrones cast down. Luther would much rather that its progress should be peaceful and its arrival at the goal speedy. Therefore he came before the throne of Charles as a suppliant; trembling, not for his cause, but for those who he foresaw would but destroy themselves by opposing it. What audience did the monk receive? Tho emperor never deigned the doctor of Wittemberg a reply.


Lectionary Calendar
Monday, May 29th, 2017
the Seventh Week after Easter
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology