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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 13 — From Rise of Protestantism in France (1510) to Publication of the Institutes (1536)

Chapter 16 — Melancthon's plan for uniting Wittemberg and Rome

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The Laborers Scattered — The Cause Advances — The Dread it Inspires — Calvin and Catherine — A Contrast — The Keys and the Fleur-de-Lis — The Doublings of Francis — Agreement between Francis and Philip of Hesse at Bar-le-Duc — Campaign — Wurtemberg Restored to Christopher — Francis I's Project for Uniting Lutheranism and Romanism — Du Bellay's Negotiations with Bucer — Melancthon Sketches a Basis of Union — Bucer and Hedio add their Opinion — The Messenger Returns with the Paper to Paris — Sensation — Council at the Louvre — Plan Discussed — An Evangelical Pope.

OF the evangelists who, but a dozen years before the period at which we are now arrived, had proclaimed the truth in France, hardly one now survived, or was laboring in that country. Some, like Lefevre, had gone to the grave by "the way of all men." Others, like Berquin and Pavane, had passed to it by the cruel road of the stake. Some there were, like Farel, who had been chased to foreign lands, there to diffuse the light of which France was showing itself unworthy. Others, whose lot was unhappier still, had apostatised from the Gospel, seduced by love of the world, or repelled by the terrors of the stake. But if the earlier and lesser lights had nearly all disappeared, their place was occupied by a greater; and, despite the swords that were being unsheathed and the stakes that were being planted, it was becoming evident to all men that the sun of truth was mounting into the horizon, and soon the whole firmament would be filled with his light.

The movement caused much chagrin and torment to the great ones of the earth. They trembled before a power which had neither war-horse nor battle-axe, but against which all their force could avail nothing. They saw that mysterious power advancing from victory to victory; they beheld it scattering the armies that stood up to oppose it, and recruiting its adherents faster than the fire could consume them; and they could hardly help seeing in this an augury of a day when that power would "possess the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven." This power was none other than the CHRISTIANITY of the first ages, smitten by the sword of the pagan emperors, wounded in yet more deadly fashion by the superstition of Rome, but now risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works did show forth themselves in it.

The two chiefs of the great drama which was now opening in France had just stepped upon the stage — Calvin and Catherine de Medici. The one was taken from an obscure town in the north of France; the other came from a city already glorified by the renown of its men of letters, and the state and power of its princes. The former was the grandson of a cooper; the latter was of the lineage of the princely House of Tuscany. Catherine was placed in the Louvre, with the resources of a kingdom at her command; Calvin was removed outside of France altogether, where, in a small town hidden among the hills of the Swiss, he might stand and fight his great battle. But as yet Catherine had not reached the throne, nor was Calvin at Geneva. Death had to open the way that the first might ascend to power, and years of wandering and peril had yet to be gone through before the latter should enter the friendly gates of the capital of the Genevese.

We return for a moment to Marseilles. Catheline de Medici had placed her cold hand in that of Henry of Valois, and by the act a new link had been forged which was to bind together, more firmly than ever, the two countries of Italy and France. The. Keys and the Fleur-de-lis were united for better for worse. The rejoicings and festivities were now at an end. The crowd of princes and courtiers, of prelates and monks, of liveried attendants and men-at-arms, which for weeks had crowded the streets of Marseilles, and kept it night and day in a stir, had dispersed; and Francis and Clement, mutually satisfied, were on their way back, each to his own land. The winds slept, the uneasy Gulf of Lyons was still till the Pontiff's galley had passed; and as he sailed away over that glassy sea, Clement felt that now the tiara sat firmer on his head than before, and that he might reckon on happier days in the Vatican. Alas, how little could he forecast the actual future! What awaited him at Rome was a shroud and a grave.

Francis I., equally overjoyed, but equally mistaken, amused himself, on his journey to Paris, with visions of the future, arrayed in colors of equal brilliancy. He had not patience till he should arrive at the Louvre before making a beginning with these grand projects. He halted at Avignon, that old city on the banks of the Rhone, which had so often opened its gates to receive the Popes when Rome had cast them out. Here he assembled his council, and startled its members by breaking to them his purpose of forming a league with the Protestants of Germany. [1] Fresh from the embraces of Clement, this was the last thing his courtiers had expected to hear from their master. Yet Francis I. was in earnest. One hand had he given to Rome, the other would he give to the Reformation: he would be on both sides at once. [2] This was very characteristic of this monarch; — divided in his heart — unstable in all his ways — continually oscillating — but sure to settle on the wrong side in the end, and to reap, as the fruit of all his doublings, only disgrace to himself and destruction to his kingdom.

The King of France was, in sooth, at this

moment playing a double game — a political league and a religious reform. Of the two projects the last was the more chimerical, for Francis aimed at nothing less than to unite Rome and the Reformation. What a strange moment to inaugurate these schemes, when Europe was still ringing with the echoes of the bull in which the German heretics had been cursed, and which had been issued by the man with whom Francis had been closeted these many days past! And not less strange the spot chosen for the concoction of these projects, a city which was a second Rome, the very dust of which was redolent of the footprints of the Popes, and whose streets and palaces recalled the memories of the pride, the luxury, and the disorders of the Papal court.

The key of the policy of Francis was his desire to humble his dreaded rival, Charles V. Hence his approach to the Pope, on the one hand, and to the Protestant princes, on the other. For the Papacy he did not greatly care; for Lutheranism he cared still less: his own ascendency was the object he sought.

The political project came first and sped best. An excellent opportunity for broaching it presented itself just at this time. Charles V. had carried away by force of arms the young Duke of Wurtemberg. And not only had he stolen the duke; he had stolen his duchy too, and annexed it to the dominions of the House of Austria. [3] Francis thought that to strike for the young duke, despoiled of his ancestral dominions, would be dealing a blow at Charles V., while he would appear to be doing only a chivalrous act. It would, moreover, vastly please the German princes, and smooth his approaches to them. If his recent doings at Marseilles had rendered him an object of suspicion, his espousal of the quarrel of the Duke of Wurtemberg would be a counter-stroke which would put him all right with the princes. An incident which had just fallen out was in the line of these reasonings, and helped to decide Francis.

The young Duke Christopher had managed to escape from the emperor in a way which we have narrated in its proper place. He remained for some time in hiding, and was believed to be dead; but in November, 1532, he issued a manifesto claiming restoration of his ancestral dominions. The claim was joyfully responded to by the Protestants of Germany, as well as by his own subjects of Wurtemberg. This was the opening which now presented itself to the King of France, ever ready to ride post from Rome to Germany, and back again with even greater speed and heartier good-will from Germany to Rome.

A Diet was assembling at Augsburg, to discuss the question of the restoration of the States of Wurtemberg to their rightful sovereign. The representatives of Ferdinand were to appear before that Diet, to uphold the cause of Austria. Francis I. sent Du Bellay as his ambassador, with instructions quietly, yet decidedly, to throw the influence of France into the opposite scale. [4] Du Bellay zealously carried out the instructions of his master. He pleaded the cause of Duke Christopher so powerfully before the Diet, that it decided in favor of his restoration to Wurtemberg. But the ambassadors of Austria stood firm; if Wurtemberg was to be reft from their master, and carried over to the Protestant side, it must be by force of arms. Philip, Landgave of Hesse, met Francis I. at Bar-le-Duc, near the western frontier of Germany, and there arranged the terms for a campaign on behalf of the young Duke Christopher. The landgrave was to supply the soldiers, and the King of France, was to furnish — though secretly, for he did not wish his hand to be seen — the requisite money. [5] All three had a different aim, though uniting in a common action. Philip of Hesse hoped to strengthen Protestantism by enlarging its territorial area. Du Bellay hoped to make the coming war the wedge that was to separate Francis from the Pope, and rend the Ultramontane yoke from the neck of his country. Francis was simply pursuing what had been his one policy since the battle of Pavia, the humiliation of Charles V., which he hoped to effect, in this case, by kindling a war between the German princes and the emperor.

There was another party having interest; this party now stepped upon the scene. Luther and Melancthon were the representatives of Protestantism as a religion, as the princes were the representatives of it as a policy. To make war for the Gospel was to them the object of their utmost alarm and abhorrence. They exerted all their rhetoric to dissuade the Protestant princes from drawing the sword. But it was in vain. The war was precipitately entered upon by Philip. A battle was fought. The German Protestants were victorious; the Austrian army was beaten, and Wurtemberg, restored to Duke Christopher, was transferred to the political side of Protestantism. [6]

The political project of Francis I. had prospered. He had wrested Wurtemberg from Ferdinand, and through the sides of Austria had hurt the pride of his rival Charles V. This success tempted him to try his hand at the second project, the religious one. To mould opinions might not be so easy as to move armies, but the Lutheran fit was upon Francis just now, and he would try. The Reformation which the French king meditated consisted only in a few changes on the surface; these he thought would bring back the Protestants, and heal the broken unity of Rome. He by no means wished to injure the Pope, much less to establish a religion that would necessitate a reform of his own life, or that of his courtiers. The first step was to sound Melancthon, and Bucer, and Hedio, as to the amount of change that would satisfy them. It

was significant that Luther was not approached. It was Lutheranism with Luther left out that was now entering into negotiations with Rome. It does not seem to have struck those who were active in setting this affair on foot, that the man who had created the first Lutheranism could create a second, provided the first fell back into the old gulf of Romanism.

Meanwhile, however, the project gave promise of prospering. Du Bellay, in his way back from Augsburg, had an interview with Bucer at Strasburg; and, with true diplomatic tact, hinted to the pacific theologian that really it was not worth his while to labor at uniting the Zwinglians and the Lutherans. Here was something more worthy of him, a reconcilement of Protestantism and Romanism. The moment this great affair was mentioned to Bucer, other unions seemed little in his eyes. Though he should reconcile Luther and Zwingle, the great rent would still remain; but Rome and the Reformation reconciled, all would be healed, and the source closed of innumerable, strifes and wars in Christendom. Bucer, being one of those who have more faith in the potency of persons than of principles, was overjoyed; if so powerful a monarch as Francis and so able a statesman as Du Bellay had put their shoulders to this work, it must needs, he thought, progress.

A special messenger was dispatched to Melancthon (July, 1534) touching this affair. The deputy found the great doctor bowed to the earth under an apprehension of the evils gathering over Christendom. There, first of all, was the division in the Protestant camp; and there, too, was the cloud of war gathering over Europe, and every hour growing bigger and blacker. The project looked to Melancthon like a reprieve to a world doomed to dissolution. The man from whom it came had been in recent and confidential intercourse with the Pope; and who could tell but that Clement VII. was expressing his wishes and hopes through the King of France? Even if it were not so, were there not here the "grand monarchs," the Kings of France and England, on the side of union? Melancthon took his pen, sat down, and sketched the basis of the one Catholic Church of the future. In this labor he strove to be loyal to his convictions of truth. His plan, in brief, was to leave untouched the hierarchy of Rome, to preserve all her ceremonies of worship, and to reform her errors of doctrine. This, he admitted, was not all that could be wished, but it was a beginning, and more would follow. [7] Finishing the paper, he gave it to the messenger, who set off with it to Francis.

On his way to Paris the courier halted at Strasburg, and requested Bucer also to put on paper what he thought ought to form a basis of union between the two Churches. Bucer's plan agreed in the main with that of Melancthon. The truth was the essential thing; let us restore that at the foundation, and we shall soon see it refashioning the superstructure. So said Bucer. There was another Reformer of name in Strasburg — Hedio, a meek but firm man; him also the messenger of Francis requested to give his master his views in writing. Hedio complied; and with these three documents the messenger resumed his journey to Paris.

On his arrival in the capital the papers were instantly laid before the king. There was no small sensation in Paris; a great event was about to happen.

Protestantism had spoken its last word. Its ultimatum lay on the king's table. How anxiously was the opening of these important papers, which were to disclose the complexion of the future, waited for! Were Rome and Wittemberg about to join hands? Was a new Church, neither Romanist nor Protestant, but Reformed and eclectic, about to gather once more within its bosom all the peoples of Christendom, hushing angry controversies, and obliterating the lines of contending sects in one happy concord? Or was the division between the two Churches to be henceforward wider than ever, and were the disputes that could not be adjusted in the conference-hall to be carried to the bloody field, and the blazing stake?. Such were the questions that men asked themselves with reference to the three documents which the royal messenger had brought back with him from Germany. In the midst of many fears, hope predominated.

The king summoned a council at the Louvre to discuss the programme of Melancthon and his two fellow-Reformers. Gathered round the council-table in the palace were men of various professions, ranks, and aims. There sat the Archbishop of Paris and other prelates; there sat Du Bellay and a few statesmen; and there, too, sat doctors of the Sorbonne and men of letters. Some sincerely wished a Reformation of religion; others, including the king, made the Reform simply a stalking-horse for the advancement of their own interests.

The papers were opened and read. All around the table, were pleased and offended by turns. The color came into the king's face when he found the Reformers commencing by stating that "a true faith in Christ" was a main requisite for such a union as was now sought to be attained. But when, farther on, the Pope's deposing power was thrown overboard, the monarch was appeased. Prominence was given to the "doctrine of the justification of sinners," nor was the council displeased when this was ascribed not to "good works," nor the "rites of priests," but to the "righteousness and blood of Christ;" for had not the schoolmen used similar language? The question of the Sacrament was a crucial one. "There is a real presence of Christ in the Eucharist," said the Reformers, without defining the nature or manner of that presence; but they added, it is "faith," not the "priest," that gives communion with Christ in the Lord's Supper. The bishops frowned; they saw at a glance that if the opus operatum were

denied, their power was undermined, and the "Church" betrayed. On neither side could there be surrender on this point.

The king had looked forward with some uneasiness to the question of the Church's government. He knew that the Reformers held the doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers;" this, he thought, was fatal to order. But, replied the Reformers, the Gospel-church is a "kingdom of priests," and in a kingdom there must be officers and laws; the function of priesthood is inherent in all, but the exercise of it appertains only to those chosen and appointed thereto. The king was reassured; but now it was the turn of the Protestants at the council-board to feel alarm; for Melancthon and his fellow-Reformers were willing to go so far on the point of Church government as to retain the hierarchy. True, its personnel was to undergo a transformation. All its members from its head downwards were to become Reformed. The Pope was to be retained, but how greatly changed from his former self! He was to hold the primacy of rank, but not the primacy of power, and after this he would hardly account his tiara worth wearing. Here, said the Protestants, is the weak point of the scheme. A Reformed Pope! that indeed will be something new! When Melancthon put this into his scheme of Reform, said they, he must have left the domain of possibilities and strayed into the region of Utopia.

To these greater reforms a few minor ones were appended. Prayers to the saints were to be abolished, although their festivals were still to be observed; priests were to be allowed to marry, but only celibates would be eligible as bishops; the monasteries were to be converted into schools; the cup was to be restored to the laity; private masses were to be abolished; in confession it was not to be obligatory to enumerate all sins; and, in fine, a conference of pious men, including laymen, was to meet and frame a constitution for the Church, according to the Word of God. [8]

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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