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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 6 — The "Interim" – Re-Establishment of Protestantism

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All seems Lost – Humiliation of Germany – Taxes – The "Interim" – Essentially a Restoration of Popery – Persecutions by which it was Enforced – The Climax of the Emperor's Power – It Falls – The Pope Forsakes him – Maurice Turns against him – Manifesto of Maurice – Flight of the Emperor – Peace of Passau – Treaty of Augsburg – Re-establishment of Protestantism in Germany – Charles's Abdication and Retirement to the Monastery of St. Juste – Reflections.

IT did seem as if the knell of the Lutheran Reformation had been rung out. The emperor's triumph was complete, and he had it now in his power to settle the religious question as he chose. From the southern extremity of Wurtemberg, as far as the Elbe the provinces and the cities had submitted and were in the occupation of the imperial troops. Of the three leading princes of the League, one was the ally of the emperor, the other two were his prisoners. Stripped of title and power, their castles demolished, their lands confiscated, Charles was leading them about from city to city, and from prison to prison, and with wanton cruelty exhibiting them as a spectacle to their former subjects. Germany felt itself insulted and disgraced in this open and. bitter humiliation of two of its most illustrious princes. The unhappy country was made still further to feel the power of the conqueror, being required to pay a million and a half crowns – an enormous sum in those days – which Charles levied without much distinction between those who had served and those who had opposed him in the late war. [1] "The conqueror publicly insulted the Germanic body by leading its principal members in captivity from town to town. He oppressed all who joined the League of Schmalkald with heavy taxes, carried off their artillery, and disarmed the people; levied contributions at his pleasure from his allies, and treated them as if they had been his own subjects .. .. . Ferdinand exercised the same despotism over the Bohemians, and stripped them of almost all their privileges." [2]

Events abroad left Charles yet more free to act the despot in Germany. His two rivals, Henry VIII. of England and Francis I. of France, were removed from the scene by death, and he had now little cause to fear opposition to his projects in the quarters from which the most formidable resistance aforetime had come. Of the four potentates – Leo of Rome and the Kings of England, France, and Spain – whose greatness had signalised, and whose ambition had distracted, the first half of the sixteenth century, Charles was now the sole survivor; – but his sun was nearer its setting than he thought

Master of the situation, as he believed, the emperor proceeded to frame a creed for his northern subjects. It was styled the "INTERIM." Meant to let Lutheran Germany easily down, it was given out as a half-way compromise between Wittemberg and Rome. The concoctors of this famous scheme were Julius Pflug, Bishop of Naumberg, Michael Sidonius, and John Agricola, a Protestant, but little trusted by his brethren. [3] As finally adjusted, after repeated corrections, this new creed was the old faith of Rome, a little freshened up by ambiguities of speech and quotations from Scripture. The Interim taught, among other things, the supremacy of the Pope, the dogma of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, the invocation of the saints, auricular confession, justification by works, and the sole right of the Church to interpret the Scriptures; in short, not one concession did Rome make. In return for swallowing a creed out-and-out Popish, the Protestants were to be rewarded with two paltry boons. Clergymen already married were to be permitted to discharge their office without putting away their wives; and where it was the wont to dispense the Sacrament in both kinds the custom was still to be tolerated. This was called meeting the Protestants half-way. [4]

Nothing was to be altered in the canon of the mass, nothing changed in the ceremonies of baptism. In every city church two masses were to be said daily; in village churches and landward parishes, one, especially on holidays. Exorcism, chrism, oil, etc., were to be retained; as were also vestments, ornaments, vessels, crosses, altars, candles, and images. The compilers added, without intending to be in the least satirical, "that if anything have crept in which may give occasion to superstition, it be taken away." [5]

This document was presented (May 15th, 1548) by the emperor to the Diet at Augsburg. It was read according to form. Without giving time for any discussion, the Archbishop of Mainz, President of the Electoral College, hastily rose, and thanking the emperor for this new token of his care about the Church, and his pious wish to heal her divisions, expressed the Diet's concurrence in the new scheme. Not a dissent was tendered; the Diet sat silent, awed by the emperor's soldiers, who had been massed around Augsburg. The Interim was straightway promulgated by the emperor: all were to conform to it under pain of his displeasure, and it was to remain in force until a free General Council could be held. [6]

Astute and far-seeing as the emperor was within his own province, the Interim remains the monument of his short-sightedness in matters outside of that province. Great as his experience had been of the world and its affairs, he did not yet know man. He knew the weakness of man, his self-love, his covetousness, and his ambition; but he did not know that in which lies his strength – namely, in conscience. This was the faculty that Protestantism had called into existence, and it was with this new power – which Charles did not understand, or rather did not believe in – that he was now rushing into conflict. He thought he was advancing to victory, when the issue showed that

he was marching to destruction. The emperor now proceeded to enforce the Interim. "The emperor insisted on the observance of it with the authority of a master that would be obeyed." [7] He was astonished to find that a matter which he had taken to be so simple should give rise to so many difficulties. The Interim, for which he had anticipated a chorus of welcome on all sides, had hardly a friend in the world beyond the narrow circle of its compilers. It stank in the nostrils of the Vatican authorities. It gave offense in that quarter, not in point of substance, for theologically there was little to complain of, but in point of form. That the emperor in virtue of his own sole authority should frame and promulgate a creed was not to be tolerated; it was to do the work of a Council; it was, in fact, to seat himself in the chair of the Pope and to say, "I am the Church." Besides, the cardinals grudged even the two pitiful concessions which had been made to the Protestants.

In Germany the reception which the Interim met with was different in the different provinces. In Northern Germany, where the emperor's arm could hardly reach, it was openly resisted. In Central Germany it in a manner fell to the ground. Nuremberg, Ulm, Augsburg accepted it. Prince Maurice, to please Charles, had it proclaimed in his dominions, but, in tenderness to his former allies, he excused himself from enforcing it. It was otherwise in Upper or Southern Germany. There the Churches were purified from their Protestant defilement. The old rites were restored, Protestant magistrates were replaced by Popish ones, the privileges of the free cities were violated, and the inhabitants driven to mass by the soldiers of the emperor.

The Protestant pastors were forced into exile, or rendered homeless in their native land. Four hundred faithful preachers of the Gospel, with theft' wives and families, wandered without food or shelter ill Southern Germany. Those who were unable to escape fell into the hands of their enemy and were led about in chains. [8]

There is one submission that pains us more than all the others. It is that of Melancthon. Melancthon and the Wittemberg divines, laying down the general principle that where things indifferent only are in question it is right to obey the commands of a lawful superior, and assuming that the Interim, which had been slightly manipulated for their special convenience, conflicted with the Augustan Confession in only indifferent points, and that it was well to preserve the essentials of the Gospel as seed-corn for better times, denied their Protestantism, and bowed down in worship of the emperor's religion. [9]

But amid so many prostrate one man stood nobly erect. John Frederick of Saxony, despite the suffering and ignominy that weighed upon him, refused to accept the Interim. Hopes of liberty were held out to induce him to indorse the emperor's creed, but this only drew from him a solemn protestation of his adherence to the Protestant faith. "God," said the fallen prince, "has enlightened me with the knowledge of his Word; I cannot forsake the known truth, unless I would purchase to myself eternal damnation; wherefore, if I should admit of that decree which in many and most material points disagrees with the Holy Scriptures, I should condemn the doctrine of Jesus Christ, which I have hitherto professed, and in words and speech approve what I know to be impious and erroneous. That I retain the doctrine of the Augustan Confession, I do it for the salvation of my soul, and, slighting all worldly things, it is now my whole study how, after this painful and miserable life is ended, I may be made partaker of the blessed joys of life everlasting." [10]

Believing Roman Catholicism to be the basis of his power, and that should Germany fall in two on the question of religion, his Empire would depart, Charles had firmly resolved to suppress Lutheranism, by conciliation if possible; if not, by arms. He had been compelled again and again to postpone the execution of his purpose. He had appeared to lose sight of it in the eager prosecution of other schemes. Yet, no; he kept it ever in his eye as the ultimate landing-place of all his projects and ambitions, and steadily pursued it through the intrigues and wars of thirty years. If he combated the King of France, if he measured swords with the Turk, if he undertook campaigns in the north of Africa, if he coaxed and threatened by turns his slippery ally, the Pope, it was that by overcoming these rivals and enemies, he might be at liberty to consolidate his power by a consummating blow against heresy in Germany. That blow he had now struck. There remained nothing more to be achieved. The League was dissolved, the Protestants were at his feet. Luther, whose word had more power than ten armies, was in his grave. The emperor had reached the goal. After such ample experience of the burdens of power, he would now pause and taste its sweets.

It was at this moment, when his glory was in its noon, that the whole aspect of affairs around the emperor suddenly changed. As if some malign star had begun to rule, not a friend or ally had he who did not now turn against him.

It was at Rome that the first signs of the gathering storm appeared. The accession of power which his conquests in Germany had brought the emperor alarmed the Pope. The Papacy, he feared, was about to receive a master. "Paul III already repented," says the Abbe Millot, "of having contributed to the growth of a power that might one day make Italy its victim; besides, he was offended that he received no share of the conquests, nor of the contributions." [11]

Paul III., therefore, recalled the numerous contingent he had sent

to the imperial army to aid in chastising the heretics. The next step of the Pope was to order the Council of Trent to remove to Bologna. A sudden sickness that broke out among the Fathers furnished a pretext, but the real motive for carrying the Council to Italy was a dread that the emperor would seize upon it, and compel it to pass such decrees as he chose. A religious restoration, of which Charles himself was the high priest, was not much to the taste of the Pope, and what other restoration had the emperor as yet accomplished? He had put down Lutheranism to set up Caeasarism. He was about to play the part of Henry of England. So was it whispered in the Vatican.

Nearer him, in Germany, a yet more terrible tempest was brewing. "So many odious attempts against the liberties of Germany brought on a revolution." [12] The nation felt that they had been grossly deceived. They had been told before the war began that it formed no part of the emperor's plans to alter the Reformed religion. The Protestant ministers turned out of office and banished, their churches in possession of mass-priests, blazing with tapers, and resounding with chants and prayers in an unknown tongue, told how the promise had been kept. To deception was added insult. In the disgrace of its two most venerated chiefs, Germany beheld its own disgrace. As every day renewed its shame, so every day intensified its indignation. Prince Maurice saw the gathering storm, and felt that he would be the first to be swept away by it. His countrymen accused him as the author of the calamities under which Germany was groaning. They addressed him as "Judas," and assailed him in daily satires and caricatures. At last he made his choice: he would atone for his betrayal of his Protestant confederates by treachery to the emperor.

He divulged his purpose to the princes. They found it difficult not to believe that he was digging a deeper pit for them. Able at length to satisfy them of his sincerity, they willingly undertook to aid him in the blow he meditated striking for the liberties of Germany. He had a large force under him, which he was employing professedly in the emperor's service, in the siege of Magdeburg, a town which distinguished itself by its brave resistance to the Interim. Maurice protracted the siege without discovering his designs. When at last Magdeburg surrendered, the articles of capitulation were even conformable to the views of Charles, but Maurice had privately assured the citizens that they should neither be deprived of the exercise of their religion nor stripped of their privileges. In a word, he so completely extinguished their former hatred of him, that they now elected him their burgrave. [13] The force under him, that had been employed in the siege of Magdeburg, Maurice now diverted to the projected expedition against the emperor. He farther opened communications with King Henry II., who made a diversion on the side of France, by entering Lorraine, and taking possession of the imperial city of Metz, which he annexed to the French monarchy. All these negotiations Maurice conducted with masterly skill and profound secrecy.

The emperor meanwhile had retired to Innspruck in the Tyrol. Lulled into security by the artifices of Maurice, Charles was living there with a mere handful of guards. He had even fewer ducats than soldiers, for his campaigns had exhausted his money-chest. In March, 1552, the revolt broke out. The prince's army amounted to 20,000 foot and 5,000 horse, and before putting it in motion he published a manifesto, saying that he had taken up arms for the Protestant religion and the liberties of Germany, both of which were menaced with destruction, and also for the deliverance of Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, from a long and unjust imprisonment [14]

The emperor, on being suddenly and rudely awakened from his security, found himself hemmed in on every side by those who from friends had been suddenly converted into foes. The Turk was watching him by sea. The French were striking at him by land. In front of him was the Pope, who had taken mortal offense; and behind him was Maurice, pushing on by secret and forced marches, "to catch," as he irreverently said, "the fox in his hole." And probably he would have done as he said, had not a mutiny broken out among his troops on the journey, which, by delaying his march on Innspruck, gave Charles time to learn with astonishment that all Germany had risen, and was in full march upon Innspruck. The emperor had no alternative but flight.

The night was dark, a tempest was raging among the Alps; Charles was suffering from the gout, and his illness unfitted him for horseback. They placed him in a litter, and lighting torches to guide them in the darkness, they bore the emperor over the mountains, by steep and rugged paths, to Villach in Carinthia. Prince Maurice entered Innspruck a few hours after Charles had quitted it, to find that his prey had escaped him. [15]

The emperor's power collapsed when apparently at its zenith. None of the usual signs that precede the fall of greatness gave warning of so startling a downfall in the emperor's fortunes. His vast prestige had not been impaired. He had not been worsted on the battle-field; his military glory had suffered no eclipse; nor had any of his kingdoms been torn from him; he was still master of two worlds, and yet, by an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances, he was rendered helpless in presence of his enemies, and had to save his liberty, if not his life, by a hasty and ignominious flight. It would be difficult, in all history, to find such another reverse of fortune. The emperor never fully recovered either himself or his Empire.

There followed, in July, the Peace of Passau. The main article in

that treaty was that the Protestants should enjoy the free and undisturbed possession of their religion till such time as a Diet of all the States should effect a permanent arrangement, and that failing such a Diet the present agreement should remain in force for ever. [16] This was followed by the Treaty of Augsburg in 1555. This last ratified and enlarged the privileges conceded to the Protestants in the pacification of Passau, and gave a legal right to the Augustan Confession to exist side by side with the creed of the Romish Church. [17] The ruling idea of the Middle Ages, that one form of religion only could exist in a country, was then abandoned; yet with some unwillingness on both sides; for the Lutherans, not less than the emperor, had some difficulty in shaking themselves free of the exclusiveness of former times. The members of the Reformed Church, the followers of Zwingle and Calvin, were excluded from the privileges secured in the treaties of Passau and Augsburg, nor was legal toleration extended to them till the Peace of Westphalia, a century later.

To the emperor how mortifying this issue of affairs! To overthrow the Protestant religion in Germany, and restore the Popish worship to its ancient dominancy, was the one object of all his campaigns these five years past. His efforts had led to just the opposite result. He had been compelled to grant toleration to Lutheranism, and all things appertaining to the churches, schools, and pastors of Germany had returned to the position in which they were before the war. He was in the act of putting the crown upon the fabric of his power, when lo! it suddenly fell into ruin.

At the beginning of his career, and when just entering on his great combat with the Reformation, Charles V., as we have already seen, staked kingdom and crown, armies and treasures, body and soul, in the battle with Protestantism. [18] Thirty years had passed since then, and the emperor was now in circumstances to say how far he had succeeded. Hundreds of thousands of lives had he sacrificed and millions of money had he squandered in the contest, but Protestantism, so far from being extinguished, had enlarged its area, and multiplied its adherents four-fold.

While the fortunes of Protestantism flourished day by day, how different was it with those of the emperor! The final issue as regarded Spain was as yet far from being reached, but already as regarded Charles it shaped itself darkly before his eyes. His treasury empty, his prestige diminished, discontent and revolt springing up in all parts of his dominions, his toils and years increasing, but bringing with them no real successes, he began to meditate retiring from the scene, and entrusting the continuance of the contest to his son Philip. In that very year, 1555, he committed to him the government of the Netherlands, and soon thereafter that of the Spanish and Italian territories also. [19] In 1556 he formally abdicated the Empire, and retired to bury his grandeur and ambition in the monkish solitude of St. Juste.

Disembarking in the Bay of Biscay, September, 1556, he proceeded to Burgos, and thence to Valladolid, being borne sometimes in a chair, sometimes in a horse-litter. So thoroughly had toil and disease done their work upon him, that he suffered exquisite pain at every step. A few only of his nobles met him on his journey, and these few rendered him so cold an homage, that he was now made painfully aware that he was no longer a monarch. From Valladolid he pursued his journey to Placentia in Estremadura, near to which was a monastery belonging to the Order of St. Jerome, so delightfully situated that Charles, who had chanced to visit it many years before, had long dreamed of ending his days here. It lay in a little vale, watered by a brook, encircled by pleasant hills, and possessing a soil so fertile and an air so salubrious and sweet, that it was esteemed the most delicious spot in Spain.

Before his arrival an architect had added eight rooms to the monastery for the emperor's use. Six were in the form of monks' cells, with bare walls; the remaining two were plainly furnished. Here, with twelve servants, a horse for his use, and a hundred thousand crowns, which he had reserved for his subsistence, and which were very irregularly paid, lived Charles, so lately at the head of the world, "spending his time," says the continuator of Sleidan, "in the innocent acts of grafting, gardening, and reconciling the differences of his clocks, which yet he never could make to strike together, and therefore ceased to wonder he had not been able to make men agree in the niceties of religion." [20]

As soon as he had set foot upon the shore of Spain, "he prostrated himself upon the earth," says the same writer, "and kissing it he said, 'Hail, my beloved mother; naked came I out of my mother's womb, and now I return naked to thee again, as to another mother; and here I consecrate and give to thee my body and my bones, which is all the acknowledgment I can give for all thy numerous benefits bestowed upon me.'" [21]

What a striking contrast! The career of Charles ends where that of Luther begins. From a convent we see Luther come forth to enlighten the world and become a king of men: year by year his power expands and his glory brightens. At the door of a convent we behold Charles bidding adieu to all his dominion and grandeur, to all the projects he had formed, and all the hopes he had cherished. The one emerges from seclusion to mount into the firmament of influence, where a place awaits him, which he is to hold for ever: the other falls suddenly from the heaven of power, and the place that knew him knows

him no more. In the emphatic language of Scripture, "that day his thoughts perish."

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