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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 7 —

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The Movement Widening – Rising of the Diet – The Draught of Beer – Frederick's Joy – Resolves to Protect Luther – Mortification of Papal Party – Charles's Proposal to Violate Safe-Conduct – Rejected with Indignation – Negotiations opened with Luther – He Quits Worms – The Emperor fulminates against him his Ban – The Reformel Seized by Masked Horsemen – Carried to the Wartburg.

OUR line of narration has, hitherto, been in the main continuous. We have followed the current of Protestant development, which has flowed so far within well-defined channels. But now we have reached the point where the movement notably widens. We see it branching out into other countries, and laying hold on the political combinations and movements of the age. We must therefore ascend, and take a more extensive survey of the stage of Christendom than we have as yet had occasion to do, noting the marvellously varied forms, and the infinitely diversified results, in which Protestantism displays itself. It is necessary to mark not only the new religious centers it is planting, but the currents of thought which it is creating; the new social life to which it is giving birth; the letters and arts of which it is becoming the nurse; the new communities and States with which it is covering Christendom, and the career of prosperity it is opening to the nations, making the aspect of Europe so unlike what it has been these thousand years past.

But first let us succinctly relate the events immediately following the Diet of Worms, and try to estimate the advance the Protestant movement had made, and the position in which we leave it at the moment when Luther entered into his "Patmos."

"The Diet will meet again to-morrow to hear the emperor's decision," said Chancellor Eck, dismissing the members for the night. The streets through which the princes sought their homes were darkened but not deserted. Late as the hour was, crowds still lingered in the precincts of the Diet, eager to know what the end would be. At last Luther was led out between two imperial officers. "See, see," said the bystanders, "there he is, in charge of the guard!. .. Are they taking you to the prison?" they shouted out. "No," replied Luther, "they are conducting me to my hotel." The crowd instantly dispersed, and the city was left to the quiet of the night. Spalatin and many friends followed the Reformer to his lodgings. They were exchanging mutual congratulations, when a servant entered, bearing a silver jug filled with Eimbeck beer. Presenting it to the doctor, the bearer said, "My master invites you to refresh yourself with this draught." "Who is the prince," asked Luther, "who so graciously remembers me?" It was the aged Duke Eric of Brunswick, one of the Papal members of the Diet. Luther raised the vessel to his lips, took a long draught, and then putting it down, said, "As this day Duke Eric has remembered me, so may the Lord Jesus Christ remember him in the hour of his last struggle." Not long after this, Duke Eric of Brunswick lay dying. Seeing a young page standing by his bedside, he said to him, "Take the Bible, and read in it to me." The page, opening the Bible, read out these words: "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to me, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. [1] Duke Eric was refreshed in his turn. When his heart and strength were failing him a golden cup was put to his lips, and he drank therefrom a draught of the Water of Life.

The Elector Frederick was overjoyed at the appearance Luther had made before the Diet. The force and pertinency of his matter, the eloquence of his words, his intrepid yet respectful bearing, had not only delighted the sovereign of Saxony, but had made a deep impression on the princes of the Diet. From that hour many of them became attached friends of Luther and the Reformation. Some of them openly avowed their change of sentiment at the time; in others the words of Luther bore fruit in after-years. Frederick was henceforward more resolved than ever to protect the Reformer; but knowing that the less his hand was seen in the matter, the more effectually would he further the cause and shield its champion, he avoided personal intercourse with the Reformer. [2] On one occasion only did the two men meet.

The mortification of the Papal party was extreme. They redoubled their activity; they laid snares to entrap the Reformer. They invited him to private conferences with the Archbishop of Treves; they submitted one insidious proposal after another, but the constancy of the Reformer was not to be overcome. Meanwhile Aleander and his conclave had been closeted with the emperor, concocting measures of another kind. Accordingly, at the meeting of the Diet next day, the decision of Charles, written in his own hand, [3] was delivered and read. It set forth that after the example of his Catholic ancesters, the Kings of Spain and Austria, etc., he would defend, to the utmost of his ability, the Catholic faith and the Papal chair. "A single monk," said he, "misled by his own folly, has risen against the faith of Christendom. To stay such impiety, I will sacrifice my kingdom, my treasures, my friends, my body, my blood, my life, and my soul. [4] I am about to dismiss the Augustine Luther. I shall then proceed against him and his adherents as contumacious heretics, by excommunication, by interdict, and by every means calculated to destroy them."

But the zeal of Charles had outrun his powers. This proscription could not be carried out without the consent of the States. The announcement of the emperor's decision raised a storm in the Diet. Two parties instantly declared themselves. Some of the Papal party, especially the Elector

of Brandenburg, demanded that Luther's safe-conduct should be disregarded, and that the Rhine should receive his ashes, as it had done those of John Huss a century before. [5] But, to his credit, Louis, Elector Palatine, expressed instant and utter abhorrence of the atrocious proposal. True, he said, Huss was burned at the stake, but ever since calamity has never ceased to pursue Germany. We dare not, said he, erect a second scaffold. He was joined by Duke George, whose repudiation of the proposed infamy was the more emphatic that he was Luther's avowed enemy. That the princes of Germany should for a moment entertain the purpose of violating a safe-conduct, was a thing he held impossible. They never would bring such a stain upon the honor of the Fatherland; nor would they open the reign of the young emperor with such an evil augury. [6] The Bavarian nobles, though mostly Papal, also protested against the violation of the public faith. The proposition met with the fate it deserved; it was expelled the Diet with scorn and indignation.

The extreme men of the Papal party would, without hesitation, have planted the Reformer's stake, but what would have been the result? A civil war in Germany the very next day. The enthusiasm of all classes was immense. Even Dean Cochlaeus and Cardinal Pallavicino assure us that there were hundreds of armed men in Worms itself, ready to unsheathe the sword and demand blood for blood. Only a dozen miles away, in his strong castle of Ebernburg, "the refuge of the Righteous," was the valorous Sickingen, and the fiery knight Hutten, at the head of a corps of men-at-arms amounting to many thousands, ready to descend on Worms, should Luther be sacrificed, to hold a reckoning with all those who were concerned in his death. From the most distant cities of Germany men watched, their hands on their sword-hilts, to see what would happen at Worms. The moderate men among the Papal members of the Diet were well aware that to violate the safe-conduct, would simply be to give the signal for outbreak and convulsion from one end of Germany to the other.

Nor could Charles be blind to so great a danger. Had he violated the safe-conduct, his first would probably have been his last Diet; for the Empire itself would have been imperilled. But if we may trust historians of name, [7] his conduct in this matter was inspired by nobler sentiments than these of self-interest. In opposing the violation of the plighted faith of the Empire, he is reported to have said that "though faith should be banished from all the earth, it ought to find refuge with princes." Certainly a kingly sentiment, well becoming so powerful a potentate, but there was not wanting a little alloy in its gold. War was then on the point of breaking out between him and the King of France. Charles only half trusted the Pope, and even that was trusting him a little too much. The Pope had just concluded a secret treaty with both kings, [8] Charles and Francis, pledging his aid to both, with, of course, the wise reservation of giving it only to the one by aiding whom he should, as future events might show, most effectually aid himself. This double-handed policy on the part of Leo, Charles met by tactics equally astute. In the game of checking the Pope, which he found he must needs play, he judged that a living Luther would be a more valuable counter than a dead one. "Since the Pope greatly feared Luther's doctrine," says Vetteri, "he designed to hold him in check with that rein." [9]

The result of so many conflicting yet conspiring circumstances was that Luther departed in peace from those gates out of which no man had expected ever to see him come alive. On the morning of the 26th April, surrounded by twenty gentlemen on horseback, and a crowd of people who accompanied him beyond the walls, Luther left Worms. [10] His journey back was accomplished amid demonstrations of popular interest more enthusiastic even than those which had signalised his progress thither. A few days after he was gone, the emperor fulminated his "edict" against him, placing him beyond the pale of law, and commanding all men, whenever the term of Luther's safe-conduct expired, to withhold from him food and drink, succor and shelter, to apprehend him and send him bound to the emperor. This edict was drafted by Aleander, and ratified at a meeting of the Diet which was held, not in the hall of assembly, but in the emperor's own chamber. The Elector Frederick, the Elector Palatine, and many others, had ere this left Worms. The edict was dated the 8th of May, but in point of fact the imperial signature was appended to it on the 26th of May, as Pallavicino tells us, in the cathedral church of Worms, after the celebration of high mass; the design of the ante-dating being, the same writer says, to give to the edict the appearance of carrying with it the authority of a full Diet. [11] This edict was more discursive than such documents usually are. Its style, instead of being formal and stately, was figurative and rhetorical. It opened with a profusion of epithets meant to be descriptive of the great heretic of Wittemberg; it ran on, in equally fertile vein, in an enumeration of the heresies, blasphemies, and vices into which he had fallen, and the crimes to which he was inciting the People– "schism, war, murder, robbery, incendiarism"–and it foretold in alarming terms the perdition into which he was dragging society, and the ruin that impended unless his "furious rage" should be checked. The edict reached its climax in the startling affirmation that "this man was not a man, but Satan himself under the form of a man, and dressed in a monk's frock." [12]

So spake

Charles the Fifth to the electors, princes, prelates, and people of his Empire. Luther had entered Worms with one sword hanging over his head–the anathema of the Pope; he quits it with two unsheathed against him, for now to the Pope's excommunication is added the emperor's ban.

Meanwhile the Reformer was going on his way. It was now the ninth day (May 4th) since he set out from Worms. He had traversed the mountains of the Black Forest. How grateful, after the stirs and grandeurs of Worms, their silent glades, their fir-embowered hamlets, their herds quietly pasturing, the morning shooting its silvery shafts through the tall trees, and the evening with its shadows descending from the golden west!

The pines were getting fewer, the hills were sinking into the plain; our traveler was nearing Eisenach; he was now on ground familiar to him from boyhood. At this point of the journey, Schurf, Jonas, and Sauven left him and went on to Wittemberg, taking the high road that leads eastward over the plain by Elgurt. Amsdorff alone remained with him. The doctor and his companion struck northward to the town of Mora to visit his grandmother, who still survived. He passed the next day in the refreshing quiet of this little place. The following morning he resumed his journey, and had reached a lonely spot near the Castle of Altenstein, when a troop of horsemen, wearing masks and completely armed, rushed suddenly upon him. The wagon in which he sat was stopped, the waggoner thrown to the ground, and while one of the masks laid firm hold of Amsdorff, another pulling Luther hastily out of the car, raised him to the saddle, and grasping his horse's bridle-rein, plunged quickly with him into the forest of Thuringia.

All day long the troop of horsemen wandered hither and thither in the wood, their purpose being to defy pursuit. When night fell they began to ascend a mountain, and a little before midnight they came under the walls of a castle that crowned its summit [13] The drawbridge was let down, the portcullis raised, and the cavalcade passing in, the troopers dismounted in the rocky court of the castle. The captive was led up a single flight of steps, and ushered into an apartment, where he was told he must make a sojourn of unknown length, and during it must lay aside his ecclesiastical dress, attire himself in the costume of a knight, which lay ready to his hand, and be known only by the name of Knight George.

When morning broke, and Luther looked from the casement of his apartment, he saw at a glance where he was. Beneath him were the forest glades, the hamlets, and all the well-known scenes that adjoin Eisenach; although the town itself was not in view. Farther away were the plains around Mora, and bounding these was the vast circle of the hills that sweep along on the horizon. [14] He could not but know that he was in the Castle of the Wartburg, and in friendly keeping.

Thus suddenly the man on whom all eyes were fixed was carried off, as if by a whirlwind, no one knew whither; nor could any one in all Germany,save his captors, toll whether he was now dead or alive. The Pope had launched his bolt, the emperor had raised his mailed hand to strike, on every side destruction seemed to await the Reformer; at that moment Luther becomes invisible. The Papal thunder rolls harmlessly along the sky–the emperor's sword cleaves only the yielding air.

Strangely have the scenes been shifted, and thestage has become suddenly dark. But a moment ago the 'theater was crowded with great actors, emperors, princes, ecclesiastical dignitaries, and ambassadors. Powerful interests were in conflict, and mighty issues were about to be decided. The thunder of a fearful ban had just pealed forth, the sword of the emperor had left its scabbard, matters were hurrying to a crisis, and the crash of some terrible catastrophe seemed to be impending. All at once the action is arrested, the brilliant throng vanishes, a deep silence succeeds the tumult and noise, and we have time to meditate on what we have seen, to revolve its lessons, and to feel in our hearts the presence and the hand of that Great Ruler who "sits King upon the floods."

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