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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 12 — Protestantism in Germany From the Augsburg Confession to the Peace of Passau

Chapter 3 — Accession of Princes and states to Protestantism

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Wurtemberg – Captivity of Duke Christopher – Escape – Philip of Hesse takes Arms to Restore the Duke – His Success – The Duke and Wurtemberg Join the Protestants – Death of Duke George – Accession of Albertine-Saxony to Protestantism – All Central and Northern Germany now Protestant – Austria and Bavaria still Popish – Protestant Movements in Austria – Petition of Twenty-four Austrian Nobles – Accession of the Palatinate – The Elector-Archbishop of Cologne embraces Protestantism – Expelled from his Principality – Barbarossa-Dissimulation of the Emperor – Purposes War.

WE turn to Protestantism, which, as we have said above, was continually multiplying its adherents and enlarging its area. At this hour a splendid addition was unexpectedly made to its territorial domain. In the year 1519, Duke Ulrich of Wurtemberg had been expelled his dominions, having made himself odious to his subjects by his profligate manners and tyrannical dispositions. [1] The emperor, Charles V, seized on his territory, gave it to his brother Ferdinand of Austria, who occupied it with his troops; and to make all sure the emperor carried off Christopher, the son of the duke, in his train. The young captive, however, contrived to give his majesty the slip. The imperial cavalcade was slowly winding up the northern slopes of the Alps. It might be seen disappearing this moment as it descended into some gorge, or wound round some spur of the mountain, and coming fully into view the next as it continued its toilsome ascent toward the summit of the pass. The van of the long and brilliant procession now neared the snows of the summit while its rear was only in mid-ascent. The young duke, who meditated flight – watching his opportunity – fell behind.

The vigilance of the guards was relaxed; a friendly rock interposed between him and the imperial cavalcade. He saw that the moment was come. He turned his horse's head and, followed by a single attendant whom he had let into the secret, fled, while the emperor continued his progress upward. [2]

When at length his flight was known the pursuit began in hot haste. But it was all in vain. The pursuers returned without him; and it was given out that the young Duke of Wurtemberg, in crossing the mountains, had been slain by brigands, or had perished by accident.

Years wore on: the duke was believed to be dead. Meanwhile the Wurtembergers found the yoke of Austria – under which the emperor had placed them – more unbearable than that of Ulrich, which they had cast off, and began to sigh for their legitimate ruler. It was now the year 1532.

It came to be known that the young Christopher was still alive; that he had been all the while in hiding with his relations on the confines of Alsace and Burgundy; and that he had embraced the Reformed faith in his retirement. As these same opinions had been spreading in Wurtemberg, the desire was all the stronger on the part of the inhabitants of that territory to have the son of their former sovereign, the young duke, back as their prince.

The advantage of strengthening the League of Schmalkald and enlarging the Protestant area by so splendid an addition as Wurtemberg was obvious to the Protestant princes. But this could not be done without war. Luther and Melancthon recoiled from the idea of taking arms. The League was strictly defensive. Nevertheless, Philip of Hesse, one of its most active members, undertook the project on his own responsibility. He set about raising an army in order to drive out the Austrians and restore Christopher to his dukedom.

Further, the Landgrave of Hesse came to a secret arrangement with the King of France, who agreed to furnish the money for the payment of the troops. It was the moment to strike. The emperor was absent in Spain, Ferdinand of Austria had the Turk on his hands, Francis I – ever ready to ride post between Rome and Wittemberg – had sent the money, and Protestant Germany had furnished the soldiers.

The landgrave began the campaign in the end of April: his first battle was fought on the 13th of May, and by the end of June he had brought the war to a successful issue. Ferdinand had to relinquish the dukedom, Ulrich and his son Christopher were restored, [3] and with them carne liberty for the new opinions. A brilliant addition had been made to the Schmalkald League, and a Protestant wedge driven into Southern Germany.

Nor did this close the list of Protestant successes. Among the German princes was no more restless, resolute, and consistent opponent of Lutheranism than George, Duke of Albertine-Saxony. His opposition:, based on a sincere belief in the doctrines of Romanism, was inflamed by personal antipathy to Luther. He raged against the Reformer as a fire-brand and revolutionist; and the Reformer in his turn was at no pains to conceal the contempt in which he held the duke, whom he commonly styled the "clown." On the 24th of April, 1539, George, Duke of Saxony, died. By his death without issue for his two sons had predeceased him – his succession fell to his brother Henry, whose attachment to Protestantism was as zealous as had been that of his deceased brother to Popery. Duke George ordered: in his last will that his brother should make no change in the religion of his States, and failing fulfillment of this condition he bequeathed his kingdom to the emperor and Ferdinand of Austria. Henry on the first news of his brother's death hastened to Dresden, and disregarding the injunction in the will on the matter of religion, he took possession of the kingdom by making himself be proclaimed, not only in the capital, but in Leipsic and other great towns.

Luther was invited to preach a course of sermons at Leipzig, to initiate the people into the doctrines of the Reformed faith; and in the course of

a few weeks the ancient rites were changed and the Protestant worship was set up in their room. The change was hailed with joy by the majority of the inhabitants, some of whom had already embraced the Reformed opinions, but were restrained from the avowal of them by the prisons and executioners of Duke George. The accession of this powerful dukedom to the Schmalkald League converted what had heretofore been a danger – lying as it did in the heart of the Lutheran States – into a buttress of the Protestant cause. [4]

In Brandenburg were thousands of Protestants, but secretly for fear of Elector Joachim. In 1539, Joachim I. died, with him fell the mass, and on its ruins rose the Protestant worship. Brunswick followed in 1542. [5] A chain of Protestant States now extended, in an almost unbroken line, from the shores of the Baltic to the banks of the Rhine.

The whole of Central and Northern Germany was now Protestant. On the side of the old faith there remained only Austria, Bavaria, the Palatinate, and the ecclesiastical principalities of the Rhine. Nor did it seem that these States would long be able to resist the advances of Protestantism. In all of them a religious movement was already on foot, and if peace should be prolonged for a few years they would, in all likelihood, be permanently added to the side of the Reform. On the 13th of December, 1541, a petition was presented to Ferdinand, in the name of the nobility and States of Austria, praying for the free exercise of religion. [6] The petition was signed by twenty-four nobles and ten cities, among which was Vienna.

The neighboring provinces of Styria and Carniola joined in the request for freedom of conscience. Referring to the miseries of their times, the wars, pestilences, and famines which these sixteen years had witnessed, and the desolations which the Turk had inflicted, the petitioners pointed to the corruption of religion as the cause which had drawn this terrible chastisement upon them. "In the whole body politic," say they, "there is nothing pure or sound; all discipline both public and private is laid aside... We truly know no other medicine, most dread sovereign, than that the word of God be truly taught, and the people stirred up to amendment of life, that in confidence thereof they may withstand the violences of the Turks, for in the true worshipping of God all our safety consist .. .. Wherefore we humbly beseech your Majesty to give command that the Gospel be purely taught, especially that point of doctrine which relates to justification, viz., that our sins are pardoned through Christ alone. In the next place, that men be exhorted to the practice of charitable and good works, which are as it were the fruit and signs of faith. In like manner that they who desire it may have the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper given them according to the custom of the primitive Church; that injunction be also laid upon the bishops, that according to the late decree of the Empire, that they reform what is amiss in the Church, that they appoint able ministers to instruct the people, and not to turn out sound preachers as they have always done hitherto." [7]

To this request King Ferdinand would fain have said peremptorily and roundly, "No;" but with Hungary pressing him on the one side, and the Turk on the other, he dared not use such plainness of speech. He touched, in his reply, on the efforts he had made to have "the Word of God rightly preached, according to the traditions of the Fathers, and the interpreters of the Church;" he spoke sanguinely of the coming Council which was to compose all differences about religion, and exhorted them meanwhile to "avoid innovations, and follow in the footsteps of their fathers, and walk in the old way of their religion." [8]

In Bavaria, the call for Reform was met by the appointment; of a Church visitation into the state of the clergy. The investigation had proceeded but a short way when it became evident to what that road would lead, and the business was wound up with all the expedition possible, before the Roman Church should be utterly discredited, and her cause hopelessly damaged in the eyes of the people.

In the Palatinate the movement bore fruit. The elector provided Protestant preachers for the churches; permitted the Sacrament to be dispensed in both kinds; gave the priests leave to marry; and on January 10th, 1546, Divine service, in the tongue of the people, was celebrated in room of the mass in the Cathedral-church of Heidelberg. [9]

The ecclesiastical electorate of Cologne caused more uneasiness to the emperor and the Pope than all the rest. It was at this hour trembling in the balance. Its prince-bishop had come to be persuaded of the truth of Protestantism, and was taking steps to reform his principality. He invited Bucer to preach in Bonn and other towns, and he had prevailed on Melancthon to come to Cologne, and assist in drawing up a scheme of Reformation. The secession from the Roman ranks of one who held a foremost place among the princes of Germany would, it was foreseen, be a terrible blow both to the Popedom and the Empire. The Archbishop of Cologne was one of the four ecclesiastical electors, the other three being the Archbishops of Mainz, Treyes, and Salzburg, and his conversion would make a radical change in the electoral college. The majority would be shifted to the Protestant side, and the inevitable consequence would be the exclusion of the House of Austria from the Empire. This could not but alarm Charles.

But the evil would not end there. There was a goodly array of ecclesiastical principalities – some half-a-hundred – scattered over Germany. Their bishops were among the most powerful of the German magnates. They wielded the temporal

as well as the spiritual jurisdiction, the sword was as familiar to their hand as the crosier, and they were as often in the field, at the head of armies, as in the chapter-house, in the midst of their clergy. They were, as may be believed, the firmest pillars of the Popedom in Germany. If so influential an electorate as that of Cologne should declare for Lutheranism, it was hard to say how many of these ecclesiastical princedoms would follow suit. Those in Northern Germany had already gone over. The Rhenish electorates had till now remained firm; only Cologne, as yet, had wavered. But the danger was promptly met. The Pope, the emperor, the chapter, and the citizens of Cologne, all combined to resist the measures of the elector-bishop, and maintain the faith he appeared on the point of abandoning. The issue was that the archbishop, now an old man, was obliged to succumb. [10] Under pressure of the Pope's ban and the emperor's arms he resigned his electorate, and retired into private life. Thus Cologne remained Popish.

The emperor clearly saw how matters were going. The progress of Lutheranism had surpassed even his fears. Principality after principality was going over to the Schmalkald League; each new perversion was, he believed, another prop of his power gone; thus was the Empire slipping from under him. He could hardly hope that even his hereditary dominions would long be able to resist the inroads of that heresy which had overflown the countries around them. He must adopt decisive measures.

From this time (January, 1544) his mind was made up to meet the Protestants on the battle-field.

But the emperor was not yet ready to draw the sword. He was on the eve of another great war with France. To the growing insolence and success of Solyman in Eastern Europe was now added an irruption of the Turks in the South. The fleet of Barbarossa was off the harbor of Toulon, and waited only the return of spring to carry terror and desolation to the coast of Southern Europe. While these obstacles existed the emperor wore peace on his lips, though war was in his heart. He ratified at Ratisbon and Spires the Decree of Nuremberg (1532), which gave substantial toleration to the Protestants. He dangled before their eyes the apple with which he had so long tempted them – the promise of a Council that should heal the schism; and thus for two years he lulled them into security, till he had settled his quarrels with Francis and Solyman, and completed his preparations for measuring swords with the League, and then it was that the blow fell under which the Protestant cause in Germany was for awhile all but crushed.

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Thursday, October 22nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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