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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

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

Chapter 3 — Luther summoned to the Diet at Worms

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A Spring-time – The New Creation – Three Circles – The Inner Reformed Doctrine-The MiddleMorality and Liberty – The Outer – The Arts and Sciences – Charles V. Crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle – Papal Envoy Aleander Labors to have the Bull executed against Luther – His Efforts with Frederick and Charles – Prospect of a War with France – The Emperor courts the Pope – Luther to be the Bribe – The Pope Won – The Court goes to Worms – A Tournament Interrupted – The Emperor's Draft – Edict for Luther's Execution.

FROM the posting of the "Theses" on the doors of the Schloss Kirk of Wittemberg, on October 31st, 1517, to the burning of the Pope's bull on December 10th, 1520, at the eastern gate of the same town, are just three years and six weeks. In these three short years a great change has taken place in the opinions of men, and indeed in those of Luther himself. A blessed spring-time seems to have visited the world. How sweet the light! How gracious the drops that begin to fall out of heaven upon the weary earth! What a gladness fills the souls of men, and what a deep joy breaks out on every side, making itself audible in the rising songs of the nations, which, gathering around the standard of a recovered Gospel, now "come," in fulfilment of an ancient oracle, "unto Zion with singing! "

The movement we are contemplating has many circles or spheres. We trace it into the social life of man; there we see it bringing with it purity and virtue. We trace it into the world of intellect and letters; there it is the parent of rigour and grace–a literature whose bloom is fairer, and whose fruit is sweeter than the ancient one, immediately springs up. We trace it into the politics of nations; there it is the nurse of order, and the guardian of liberty. Under its aegis there grow up mighty thrones, and powerful and prosperous nations. Neither is the monarch a tyrant, nor are the subjects slaves; because the law is superor to both, and forbids power to grow into oppression, or liberty to degenerate into licentiousness. Over the whole of life does the movement diffuse itself. It has no limits but those of society–of the world.

But while its circumference was thus vast, we must never forget that its center was religion or dogma–great everlasting truths, acting on the soul of man, and effecting its renewal, and so restoring both the individual and society to right relations with God, and bringing both into harmony with the holy, beneficent, and omnipotent government of the Eternal. This was the pivot on which the whole movement rested, the point around which it revolved.

At that center were lodged the vital forces–the truths. These ancient, simple, indestructible, changeless powers came originally from Heaven; they constitute the life of humanity, and while they remain at its heart it cannot die, nor can it lose its capacity of reinvigoration and progress. These life-containing and life-giving principles had, for a thousand years past, been as it were in a sepulcher, imprisoned in the depths of the earth. But now, in this gracious spring-time, their bands were loosed, and they had come forth to diffuse themselves over the whole field of human life, and to manifest their presence and action in a thousand varied and beautiful forms.

Without this center, which is theology, we never should have had the outer circles of this movement, which are science, literature, art, commerce, law, liberty. The progress of a being morally constituted, as society is, must necessarily rest on a moral basis. The spiritual forces, which Luther was honored to be the instrument of once more setting in motion, alone could originate this movement, and conduct it to such a goal as would benefit the world. The love of letters, and the love of liberty, were all too weak for this. They do not go deep enough, nor do they present a sufficiently high aim, nor supply motives strong enough to sustain the toil, the self-denial, the sacrifice by which alone the end aimed at in any true reformation can be attained. Of this the history of Protestantism furnishes us with two notable examples. Duke George of Saxony was a prince of truly national spirit, and favored the movement at the first, because he saw that it embodied a resistance to foreign tyranny. But his hatred to the doctrine of grace made him, in no long time, one of its bitterest enemies. He complained that Luther was spoiling all by his "detestable doctrines," not knowing that it was the doctrines that won hearts, and that it was the hearts that furnished swords to fight the battle of civil liberty.

The career of Erasmus was a nearly equally melancholy one. He had many feelings and sympathies in common with Luther. The Reformation owes him much for his edition of the Greek New Testament. [1] Yet neither his refined taste, nor his exquisite scholarship, nor his love of liberty, nor his abhorrence of monkish ignorance could retain him on the side of Protestantism; and the man who had dealt Rome some heavy blows, when in his prime, sought refuge when old within the pale of Romanism, leaving letters and liberty to care for themselves.

We turn for a little while from Luther to Charles V., from Wittemberg to Aix-la-Chapelle. The crown of Charlemagne was about to be placed on the head of the young emperor, in the presence of the electoral princes, the dukes, archbishops, barons, and counts of the Empire, and the delegates of the Papal See. Charles had come from Spain to receive the regalia of empire, taking England in his way, where he spent four days in attempts to secure the friendship of Henry VIII., and detach his powerful and ambitious minister, Cardinal Wolsey, from the interests of the French king, by dangling before his eyes the brilliant

prize of the Papal tiara. Charles was crowned on the 23rd of October, in presence of a more numerous and splendid assembly than had ever before gathered to witness the coronation of emperor.

Having fallen prostrate on the cathedral floor and said his prayers, Charles was led to the altar and sworn to keep the Catholic faith and defend the Church. He was next placed on a throne overlaid with gold. While mass was being sung he was anointed on the head, the breast, the armpits, and the palms of his hands. Then he was led to the vestry, and clothed as a deacon. Prayers having been said, a naked sword was put into his hand, and again he promised to defend the Church and the Empire. Sheathing the sword, he was attired in the imperial mantle, and received a ring, with the scepter and the globe. Finally, three archbishops placed the crown upon his head; and the coronation was concluded with a proclamation by the Archbishop of Mainz, to the effect that the Pope confirmed what had been done, and that it was his will that Charles V. should reign as emperor. [2]

Along with the assemblage at Aix-la-Chapelle came a visitor whose presence was neither expected nor desired–the plague; and the moment the coronation was over, Charles V. and his brilliant suite took their departure for Cologne. The emperor was now on his way to Worms, where he purposed holding his first Diet. The rules of the Golden Bull had specially reserved that honor for Nuremberg; but the plague was at present raging in that town also, and Worms was chosen in preference. In the journey thither the court halted at Cologne, and in this ancient city on the banks of the Rhine were commenced those machinations which culminated at the Diet of Worms.

The Papal See had delegated two special envoys to the imperial court to look after the affair of Luther, Marino Caraccioli, and Girolamo Aleander. [3]

This matter now held the first place in the thoughts of the Pope and his counsellors. They even forgot the Turk for the time. All their efforts to silence the monk or to arrest the movement had hitherto been in vain, or rather had just the opposite effect. The alarm in the Vatican was great. The champions sent by Rome to engage Luther had one after another been discomfited. Tetzel, the great indulgence-monger, Luther had put utterly to rout. Cajetan, the most learned of their theologians, he had completely baffled. Eck, the ablest of their polemics, he had vanquished; the plausible Miltitz had spread his snares in vain, he had been outwitted and befooled; last of all, Leo himself had descended into the arena; but he had fared no better than the others; he had been even more ignominiously handled, for the audacious monk had burned his bull in the face of all Christendom.

Where was all this to end? Already the See of Rome had sustained immense damage. Pardons were becoming unsaleable. Annats and reservations and first-fruits were, alas! withheld; holy shrines were forsaken; the authority of the keys and the ancient regalia of Peter was treated with contempt; the canon law, that mighty monument of Pontifical wisdom and justice, which so many minds had toiled to rear, was treated as a piece of lumber, and irreverently thrown upon the buring pile; worst of all, the Pontifical thunder had lost its terrors, and the bolt which had shaken monarchs on their thrones was daringly flung back at the thunderer himself. It was time to curb such audacity and punish such wickedness.

The two envoys at the court of the emperor left no stone unturned to bring the matter to an issue. Of the two functionaries the more zealous was Aleander, who has already come before us. An evil prestige attached to him for his connection with the Papal See during the most infamous of its Pontificates, that of Alexander VI.; but he possessed great abilities, he had scholarly tastes, indefatigable industry, and profound devotion to the See of Rome. She had at that hour few men in her service better able to conduct to a favorable issue this difficult and dangerous negotiation. Luther sums up graphically his qualities. "Hebrew was his mother-tongue, Greek he had studied from his boyhood, Latin he had long taught professionally. He was a Jew, [4] but whether he had ever been baptised he did not know. He was no Pharisee, however, for certainly he did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, seeing he lived as if all perished with the body. His greed was insatiable, his life abominable, his anger at times amounted to insanity. Why he seceded to the Christians he knew not, unless it were to glorify Moses by obscuring Christ. [5]

Aleander opened the campaign with a bonfire of Luther's writings at Cologne. "What matters it," said some persons to the Papal delegate, "to erase the writing on paper? it is the writing on men's hearts you ought to erase. Luther's opinions are written there." "True," replied Aleander, comprehending his age, "but we must teach by signs which all can read." [6]

Aleander, however, wished to bring something else to the burning pile–the author of the books even. But first he must get him into his power. The Elector of Saxony stood between him and the man whom he wished to destroy. He must detach Frederick from Luther's side. He must also gain over the young emperor Charles. The last ought to be no difficult matter.

Born in the old faith, descended from an ancestry whose glories were entwined with Catholicism, tutored by Adrian of Utrecht, surely this young and ambitious monarch will not permit a contemptible monk to stand between him and the great projects he is revolving! Deprived of the protection of Frederick and Charles, Luther will be in the nuncio's power, and then the stake will very soon stifle that

voice which is rousing Germany and resounding through Europe! So reasoned Aleander; but he found the path beset with greater difficulties than he had calculated on meeting.

Neither zeal nor labor nor adroitness was lacking to the nuncio. He went first to the emperor. "We have burned Luther's books," he said [7] –the emperor had permitted these piles to be kindled–" but the whole air is thick with heresy. We require, in order to its purification, an imperial edict against their author." "I must first ascertain," replied the emperor, "what our father the Elector of Saxony thinks of this matter."

It was clear that before making progress with the emperor the elector must be managed. Aleandor begged an audience of Frederick. The elector received him in the presence of his counsellors, and the Bishop of Trent. The haughty envoy of the Papal court assumed a tone bordering on insolence in the elector's presence. He pushed aside Caraccioli, his fellow-envoy, who was trying to win Frederick by flatteries, and plunged at once into the business. This Luther, said Aleander, is rending the Christian State; he is bringing the Empire to ruin; the man who unites himself with him separates himself from Christ. Frederick alone, he affirmed, stood between the monk and the chastisement he deserved, and he concluded by demanding that the elector should himself punish Luther, or deliver him up to the chastiser of heretics, Rome [8]

The elector met the bold assault of Aleander with the plea of justice. No one, he said, had yet refued Luther; it would be a gross scandal to punish a man who had not been condemned; Luther must be summoned before a tribunal of pious, learned, and impartial judges. [9]

This pointed to the Diet about to meet at Worms, and to a public hearing of the cause of Protestantism before that august assembly. Than this proposal nothing could have been more alarming to Aleander. He knew the courage and eloquence of Luther. Hie dreaded the impression his appearance before the Diet would make upon the princes. He had no ambition to grapple with him in person, or to win any more victories of the sort that Eck so loudly boasted. He knew how popular his cause already was all over Germany, and how necessary it was to avoid everything that would give it additional prestige. In his journeys, wherever he was known as the opponent of Luther, it was with difficulty that he could find admittance at a respectable inn, while portraits of the redoubtable monk stared upon him from the walls of almost every bedroom in which he slept. He knew that the writing of Luther were in all dwellings from the baron's castle to the peasant's cottage. Besides, would it not be an open affront to his master the Pope, who had excommunicated Luther, to permit him to plead his cause before a lay assembly? Would it not appear as if the Pope's sentence might be reversed by military barons, and the chair of Peter made subordinate to the States-General of Germany? On all these grounds the Papal nuncio was resolved to oppose to the uttermost Luther's appearance before the Diet.

Aleander now turned from the Elector of Saxony to the emperor. "Our hope of conquering," he wrote to the Cardinal Julio de Medici, "is in the emperor only." [10] In the truth or falsehood of Luther's opinions the emperor took little interest. The cause with him resolved itself into one of policy. He asked simply which would further most his political projects, to protect Luther or to burn him? Charles appeared the most powerful man in Christendom, and yet there were two men with whom he could not afford to quarrel, the Elector of Saxony and the Pontiff. To the first he owed the imperial crown, for it was Frederick's influence in the electoral conclave that placed it on the head of Charles of Austria. This obligation might have been forgotten, for absolute monarchs have short memories, but Charles coutd not dispense with the advice and aid of Frederick in the government of the Empire at the head of which he had just been placed. For these reasons the emperor wished to stand well with the elector.

On the other hand, Charles could not afford to break with the Pope. He was on the brink of war with Francis I., the King of France. That chivalrous sovereign had commenced his reign by crossing the Alps and fighting the battle of Marignano (1515), which lasted three days–"the giant battle," as Marshal Trivulzi called it. [11] This victory gained Francis I. the fame of a warrior, and the more substantial acquisition of the Duchy of Milan. The Emperor Charles meditated despoiling the French king of this possession, and extending his own influence in Italy. The Italian Peninsula was the prize for which the sovereigns of that age contended, seeing its possession gave its owner the preponderance in Europe. This aforetime frequent contest between the Kings of Spain and France was now on the point of being resumed. But Charles would speed all the better if Leo of Rome were on his side.

It occurred to Charles that the monk of Wittemberg was a most opportune card to be played in the game about to begin. If the Pope should engage to aid him in his war with the King of France, Charles would give Luther into his hands, that he might do with him as might seem good to him. But should the Pope refuse his aid, and join himself to Francis, the emperor would protect the monk, and make him an opposing power against Leo. So stood the matter. Meanwhile, negotiations were being carried on with the view of ascertaining on which side Leo, who dreaded both of these potentates, would elect to make his stand, and what in consequence would be the fate of the Reformer, imperial protection or imperial condemnation.


this fashion did these great ones deal with the cause of the world's regeneration. The man who was master of so many kingdoms, in both the Old and the New Worlds, was willing, if he could improve his chances of adding the Dukedom of Milan to his already overgrown possessions, to fling into the flames the Reformer, and with him the movement out of which was coming the new times. The monk was in their hands; so they thought. How would it have astonished them to be told that they were in his hands, to be used by him as his cause might require; that their crowns, armies, and policies were shaped and moved, prospered or defeated, with sole reference to those great spiritual forces which Luther wielded! Wittemberg was small among the many proud capitals of the world, yet here, and not at Madrid or at Paris, was, at this hour, the center of human affairs.

The imperial court moved forward to Worms. The two Papal representatives, Caraccioli and Aleander, followed in the emperor's train. Feats of chivalry, parties of pleasure, schemes of ambition and conquest, occupied the thoughts of others; the two nuncios were engrossed with but one object, the suppression of the religious movement; and to effect this all that was necessary, they persuaded themselves, was to bring Luther to the stake. Charles had summoned the Diet for the 6th of January, 1521. In his circular letters to the several princes, he set forth the causes for which it was convoked. One of these was the appointment of a council of regency for the government of the Empire during his necessary absences in his hereditary kingdom of Spain; but another, and still more prominent matter in the letters of convocation, was the concerting of proper measures for checking those new and dangerous opinions which so profoundly agitated Germany, and threatened to overthrow the religion of their ancesters. [12]

Many interests, passions, and motives combined to bring together at Worms, on this occasion, a more numerous and brilliant assemblage than perhaps had ever been gathered together at any Diet since the days of Charlemagne. It was the emperor's first Diet. His youth, and the vast dominions over which his scepter was swayed, threw a singular interest around him. The agitation in the minds of men, and the gravity of the affairs to be discussed, contributed further to draw unprecedented numbers to the Diet. Far and near, from the remotest parts, came the grandees of Germany. Every road leading to Worms displayed a succession of gay cavalcades. The electors, with their courts; the axchbishops, with their chapters; margraves and barons, with their military retainers; the delegates of the various cities, in the badges of their office; bands of seculars and regulars, in the habits of their order; the ambassadors of foreign States–all hastened to Worms, where a greater than Charles was to present himself before them, and a cause greater than that of the Empire was to unfold its claims in their hearing.

The Diet was opened on the 28th of January, 1521. It was presided over by Charles–a pale-faced, melancholy-looking prince of twenty, accomplished in feats of horsemanship, but of weak bodily constitution. Thucydides and Machiavelli were the authors he studied. Chievres directed his councils; but he does not appear to have formed as yet any decided plan of policy. "Charles had chiefly acquired from history," says Muller, "the art of dissimulating, which he confounded with the talent of governing." [13] Amid the splendor that surrounded him, numberless affairs and perplexities perpetually distracted him; but the pivot on which all turned was the monk of Wittemberg and this religious movement. The Papal nuncios were night and day importuning him to execute the Papal bull against Luther. If he should comply with their solicitations and give the monk into their hands, he would alienate the Elector of Saxony, and kindle a conflagration in Germany which all his power might not be able to extinguish. If, on the other hand, he should refuse Aleander and protect Luther, he would thereby grievously offend the Pope, and send him over to the side of the French king, who was every day threatening to break out into war against him in the Low Countries, or in Lombardy, or in both.

There were tournaments and pastimes on the surface, anxieties and perplexities underneath; there were feastings in the banquet-hall, intrigues in the cabinet. The vacillations of the imperial mind can be traced in the conflicting orders which the emperor was continually sending to the Elector Frederick. One day he would write to him to bring Luther with him to Worms, the next he would command him to leave him behind at Wittemberg. Meanwhile Frederick arrived at the Diet without Luther.

The opposition which Aleander encountered only roused him to yet greater energy–indeed, almost to fury. He saw with horror the Protestant movement advancing from one day to another, while Rome was losing ground. Grasping his pen, he wrote a strong remonstrance to the Cardinal de Medici, the Pope's relative, to the effect that "Germany was separating itself from Rome;" and that, unless more money was sent to be scattered amongst the members of the Diet, he must abandon all hope of success in his negotiations, [14] Rome listened to the cry of her servant. She sent not only more ducats, but more anathemas. Her first bull against Luther had been conditional, inasmuch as it called on him to retract, and threatened him with excommunication if, within sixty days, he failed to do so. Now, however, the excommunication was actually inflicted by a new bull, fulminated at this time (6th January, 1521), and ordered to be published with terrible solemnities in all the churches of Germany. [15] This bull placed all Luther's adherents under the same curse as himself; and thus was completed the separation between Protestantism and Rome. The excision, pronounced and sealed by solemn anathema, was the act of

Rome herself.

This new step simplified matters to both Aleander and Luther, but it only the more embroiled them to the emperor and his councillors. The politicians saw their path less clearly than before. It appeared to them the wiser course to stifle the movement, but the new ban seemed to compel them to fan it. This would be to lose the Elector even before they had gained the Pope; for the negotiations with the court of the Vatican had reached as yet no definite conclusion. They must act warily, and shun extremes.

A new device was hit upon, which was sure to succeed, the diplomatists thought, in entrapping the theologians of Wittemberg. There was at the court of the emperor a Spanish Franciscan, John Glapio by name, who held the office of confessor to Charles. He was supple, plausible, and able. This man undertook to arrange the matter [16] which had baffled so many wise heads; and with this view he craved an interview with Gregory Bruck, or Pontanus, the councillor of the Elector of Saxony. Pontanus was a man of sterling integrity, competently versed in theological questions, and sagacious enough to see through the most cunning diplomatist in all the court of the emperor. Glapio was a member of the reform party within the Roman pale, a circumstance which favored the guise he now assumed. At his interview with the councillor of Frederick, Glapio professed a very warm regard for Luther; he had read his writings with admiration, and he agreed with him in the main. "Jesus Christ, [17] he said, heaving a deep sigh, "was his witness that he desired the reformation of the Church as ardently as Luther, or any one." He had often protested his zeal on this head to the emperor, and Charles sympathised largely with his views, as the world would yet come to know.

From the general eulogium pronounced on the writings of Luther, Glapio excepted one work–the Babylonish Captivity. That work was not worthy of Luther, he maintained. He found in it neither his style nor his learning.

Luther must disavow it. As for the rest of his works, he would propose that they should be submitted to a select body of intelligent and impartial men, that Luther should explain some things and apologise for others; and then the Pope, in the plenitude of his power and benignity, would reinstate him. Thus the breach would be healed, and the affair happily ended. [18] Such was the little artifice with which the wise heads at the court of Charles hoped to accomplish so great things. They only showed how little able they were to gauge the man whom they wished to entrap, or to fathom the movement which they sought to arrest. Pontanus looked on while they were spreading the net, with a mild contempt; and Luther listened to the plot, when it was told him, with feelings of derision.

The negotiations between the emperor and the court of the Vatican, which meanwhile had been going on, were now brought to a conclusion. The Pope agreed to be the ally of Charles in his approaching war with the French king, and the emperor, on his part, undertook to please the Pope in the matter of the monk of Wittemberg. The two are to unite, but the link between them is a stake. The Empire and the Popedom are to meet and shake hands over the ashes of Luther. During the two centuries which included and followed the Pontificate of Gregory VII., the imperial diadem and the tiara had waged a terrible war with each other for the supremacy of Christendom. In that age the two shared the world between them–other competitor there was none. But now a new power had risen up, and the hatred and terror which both felt to that new power made these old enemies friends. The die is cast. The spiritual and the temporal arms have united to crush Protestantism.

The emperor prepared to fulfill his part of the arrangement. It was hard to see what should hinder him. He had an overwhelming force of kingdoms and armies at his back. The spiritual sword, moreover, was now with him.

If with such a combination of power he could not sweep this troublesome monk from his path, it would be a thing so strange and unaccountable that history might be searched in vain for a parallel to it.

It was now the beginning of February. The day was to be devoted to a splendid tournament. The lists were already marked out, the emperor's tent was pitched; over it floated the imperial banner; the princes and knights were girding on their armor, and the fair spectators of the show were preparing the honors and prizes to reward the feats of gallantry which were to signalise the mimic war, when suddenly an imperial messenger appeared commanding the attendance of the princes in the royal palace. It was a real tragedy in which they were invited to take part. When they had assembled, the emperor produced and read the Papal brief which had lately arrived from Rome, enjoining him to append the imperial sanction to the excommunication against Luther, and to give immediate execution to the bull. A yet greater surprise awaited them. The emperor next drew forth and read to the assembled princes the edict which he himself had drawn up in conformity with the Papal brief, commanding that it should be done as the Pope desired.

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