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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 9 — History of Protestantism From the Diet of Worms, 1521, to the Augsburg Confession, 1530

Chapter 14 — Politics and Prodigies

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Wars–Francis I. Violates his Treaty with Charles–The Turk–The Pope and the Emperor again become Friends–Failure of the League of Cognac–Subjection of Italy to Spain–New League between the Pope and the Emperor –Heresy to be Extinguished–A New Diet summoned–Prodigies–Otto Pack–His Story–The Lutheran Princes prepare for War against the Popish Confederates–Luther Interposes– War Averted–Martyrs.

WHILE within the inner circle formed by that holy society which we have seen rising there was peace, outside of it, on the open stage of the world, there raged furious storms. Society was convulsed by wars and rumors of wars. Francis I., who had obtained his liberty by signing the Treaty of Madrid, was no sooner back in France, breathing its air and inhaling the incense of the Louvre, than he declared the conditions which had opened to him escape from captivity intolerable, and made no secret of his intention to violate them. He applied to the Pope for a dispensation from them. The Pope, now at open feud with the emperor, released Francis from his obligations. This kindled anew the flames of war in Europe. The French king, instead of marching under the banner of Charles, and fighting for the extinction of heresy, as he had solemnly bound himself to do, got together his soldiers, and sent them across the Alps to attack the emperor in Italy.

Charles, in consequence, had to fight over again for the possessions in the peninsula, which the victory of Pavia he believed had securely given him. In another quarter trouble arose. Henry of England, who till now had been on the most friendly terms with the emperor, having moved in the matter of his divorce from his queen, Catherine, the emperor's aunt, was also sending hostile messages to the Spanish monarch. To complete the embroilment, the Turk was thundering at the gates of Austria, and threatening to march right into the heart of Christendom. Passing Vienna, Suleiman was pouring his hordes into Hungary; he had slain Louis, the king of that country, in the terrible battle of Mohacz; and the Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Austria, leaving the Reformers at liberty to prosecute their work of upbuilding, had suddenly quitted the Diet of Spires and gone to contest on many a bloody field his claim to the now vacant throne of Hungary. On every side the sword was busy. Armies were continually on the march; cities were being besieged; Europe was a sea on whose bosom the great winds from the four quarters of the heavens were contending in all their fury.

Continual perplexity was the lot of the monarchs of that age. But all their Perplexities grew out of that mysterious movement which was springing up in the midst of them, and which possessed the strange, and to them terrible, faculty of converting everything that was meant for its harm into the means of its advancement. The uneasiness of the monarchs was shown in their continual shiftings. Scarcely had one combination been formed, when it was broken in pieces, and another and a different one put in its place. We have just seen the Pope and the emperor at feud. We again behold them becoming confederates, and joining their swords, so recently pointed at each other, for the extinction of the heresy of Wittenberg. The train of political events by which this came about may be told in a few words.

The expedition of the French king into Italy, in violation, as we have seen, of the Treaty of Madrid, was at first successful. His general, Lautrec, sweeping down from the Alps, took the cities of Alessandria and Pavia. At the latter place Francis I. had been defeated and made captive, and his soldiers, with a cruelty that disgraced themselves more than it avenged their master, plundered it, having first put its inhabitants to the sword.

Lautrec crossed the Apennines, intending to continue his march to Rome, and open the doors of the Castle of St. Angelo, where Clement VII. still remained shut up. The Pope meanwhile, having paid the first instalment of a ransom of 400,000 crowns, and having but little hope of being able to pay the remainder, wearied with his imprisonment, disguised himself as a merchant, and escaped, with a single attendant, to Orvieto. The French general pressed on to Naples, only to find that victory had forsaken his banners. Smitten by the plague rather than the Spanish sword, his army melted away, his conquests came to nothing, and the emperor finally recovered his power both in Naples and Lombardy, and again became unchallenged master of Italy, to the terror of the Pope and the chagrin of the Italians. Thus the war which Italy had commenced under the auspices of Clement VII., and the vague aspirations of the Renaissance, for the purpose of raising ifself to the rank of an independent sovereignty, ended in its thorough subjection to the foreigner, not again to know emancipation or freedom till our own times, when independence dawned upon it in 1848, and was consummated in 1870, when the Italian troops, under the broad aegis of the new German Empire, entered Rome, and Victor Emmanuel was installed in the quirinal as monarch from the Alps to Sicily.

Thus the League of Cognac had utterly failed; the last hopes of the Renaissance expired; and Charles once more was master.

Finding that the emperor was the stronger, the Pope tacked about, cast Francis I. overboard, and gave his hand to Charles V. The emperor's ambition had alarmed the Pontiff aforetime; he was now stronger than ever. The pope consoled himself by reflecting that Charles was a devoted son of Catholicism, and that the power which he had not the strength to curb he had the craft to use.

Accordingly, on the 29th June, 1528, Clement concluded a peace with the emperor at Barcelona, on the promise that Charles would do his utmost to root out that nest of heretics which had been formed at Wittenberg, and to exalt the dominion and glory

of the Roman See. [1]

The moment seemed opportune for finishing with heresy. Italy was now at the feet of the emperor; Francis I. and his kingdom had been chastised, and were not likely soon again to appear in arms on the south of the Alps; the tide of Turkish invasion had been rolled back; the Pope was again the friend of the emperor, and all things seemed to invite Charles to all enterprise which he had been compelled to postpone, and at times to dissemble, but which he had never abandoned.

It was not his intention, however, to draw the sword in the first instance. Charles was naturally humane; and though intent on the extinction of the Reformed movement, foreseeing that it would infallibly break up his vast Empire, he preferred accomplishing his purpose by policy, if that were possible. He would convoke a Diet: he would get the Wittenberg heresy condemned, in which case he hoped that the majority of the princes would go along with him, and that the leaders of the Protestant movement would defer to this display of moral power. If still they should prove intractable, why, then he would employ force; but in that case, he argued, the blame would not lie at his door. The emperor, by letters dated Valladolid, Augrest 1st, 1528, convoked a Diet to meet at Spires, on the 21st February, 1529. [2]

Meanwhile, vague rumors of what was on the carpet reached the Reformers in Germany. They looked with apprehension to the future. Other things helped to deepen these gloomy forebodings. The natural atmosphere would seem to have been not less deranged than the political. Portentous meteors shot athwart the sky, marking their path in lines of fire, and aftrighting men with their horrid noise. The hyperborean lights, in sudden bursts and flashing lines, like squadrons rushing to combat, illumined the nocturnal heavens. Rivers rising in flood overflowed their banks, and meadows, corn-fields, and in some instances whole provinces, lay drowned beneath their waters. Great winds tore up ancient trees; and, as if the pillars of the world were growing feeble and toppling, earthquakes shook kingdoms, and engulfed castles and towns. "Behold," said the men who witnessed these occurrences, "Behold the prognostics of the dire calamities which are about to overwhelm the world." Even Luther partook of the general terror.

"Dr. Hess," says he, writes me word that in December last the whole heavens were seen on fire above the Church of Breslau, and another day there were witnessed, in the same place, two circles of fire, one within the other, and in the center of them a blazing pinar. These signs announce, it is my firm opinion, the approach of the Last Day.

The Roman Empire tends nearly to its ruin; the Turk has attained the summit of his power; the Papal splendor is fast becoming eclipsed; the world cracks in every direction as though about to fall in pieces." [3]

While so many real dangers disturbed the age, a spurious or doubtful one had wellnigh precipitated the Reformation upon its ruin. A nobleman of Misnia, Otto Pack by name–a greedy, dissipated, and intriguing character, who had been some time vice-chancellor to Duke George of Saxony–came one day to Philip, the Landgrave of Hesse, and, looking grave, professed to be in possession of a terrible secret, which much concerned him and his Lutheran confederate, the Elector of Saxony. [4] On being pressed to explain himself, he declared his readiness, on payment of a certain sum, to reveal all. The landgrave's fears being thoroughly aroused, he agreed to pay the man the reward demanded. Pack went on to say that a diabolical plot had been hatched among the Popish princes, headed by the Archduke Ferdinand, to attack by arms the two heretical princes, John of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, strip them of their territories, seize upon Luther and [all his followers, and, having disposed of them by summary means, to re-establish the ancient worship.5]

Pack was unable to show to the landgrave the original of this atrocious league, but he produced what bore to be a copy, and which, having attached to it all the ducal and electoral seals, wore every appearance of being authentic, and the document convinced the landgrave that Pack's story was true.

Astounded at the danger thus strangely disclosed, and deeming that they had not a moment to lose before the mine exploded, the elector and the landgrave hastily raised an army to avert from themselves and their subjects what they believed to be impending destruction. The two princes entered into a formal compact (March 9th, 1528) "to protect with body, dignity, and possession, and every means in their power, the sacred deposit of God's word for themselves and their subjects."

They next looked around for allies. They hoped through the Duke of Prussia to incite the King of Poland against Ferdinand of Austria, and to keep the Franconian bishops in check by the arms of George of Brandenburg. They reckoned on having as auxiliaries the Dukes of Luneburg, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and the city of Magdeburg. For themselves they agreed to equip a force of 6,000 cavalry, and 20,000 infantry. [6] They had in view also a league with the King of Denmark. They resolved to anticipate their opponents by striking the first blow. All Germany was in commotion. It was now the turn of the Popish princes to tremble. The Reformers were flying to arms, and before their own preparations could be finished, they would be assailed by an overwhelming host, set on by the startling rumors of the savage plot, formed to exterminate them. The Reformation was on the point of being dragged into the battlefield. Luther shuddered when he saw what was about to happen.

He stood up manfully before the two chiefs who were hurrying the movement into this fatal path, and though he believed in the reality of the plot, despite the

indignant denial of Duke George and the Popish princes, he charged the elector and landgrave not to strike the first blow, but to wait till they had been attacked. "There is strife enough uninvited," said he, "and it cannot be well to paint the devil over the door, or ask him to be godfather. Battle never wins much, but always loses much, and hazards all; meekness loses nothing, hazards little, and wins all."

Luther's counsels ultimately prevailed, time was given for reflection, and thus the Lutheran princes were saved from the tremendous error which would have brought after it, not triumph, but destruction. [7]

Meanwhile the Reformation was winning victories a hundred times more glorious than any that armed hosts could have achieved for it. One martyr is worth more than a thousand soldiers. Such were the champions the Reformation was now sending forth. Such were the proofs it now began to give of its prowess–better, surely, than fields heaped with the slain, which even the worst of causes can show.

In Bavaria, Leonard Caspar at this time sealed his testimony with his blood. He was apprehended at the instance of the Bishop of Passau, and condemned for maintaining that man is justified by faith alone; that there are but two Sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper; that the mass is not a sacrifice, and avails not for the quick and the dead; and that Christ alone hath made satisfaction for us. [8] In Bavaria, where the Reformed doctrines dared not be preached, no better way could the bishop have taken for promulgating them than by burning this man for holding them. At Munich, George Carpenter was led to the stake for denying that the baptism of water can by its inherent virtue save men. "When you are in the fire," said his friends, "give us a token that you abide steadfast." "So long," replied he, "as I am able to open my mouth I will confess my Savior." [9] The executioner took him and bound him, and cast him into the flames. "Jesus, Jesus!" exclaimed the martyr. The executioner, with an iron hook, turned him round and round amid the blazing coals. "Jesus,Jesus!" the martyr continued to exclaim, and so confessing the name of his Lord he gave up the ghost in the fire. Thus another blazing torch was kindled in the midst of the darkness of Bavaria.

Other martyrs followed in those German provinces which still owned the jurisdiction of Popish princes. At Landsberg nine persons suffered in the fire, and at Munich twenty-nine were drowned in the Iser. In the case of others the more summary dispatch of the poignard was employed. In the spring of 1527, George Winkler, preacher at Halle, was summoned before Albert, Cardinal of Mainz. Being dismissed from the archbishop's tribunal, he was mounted on the horse of the court fool, and made to set out on his journey homeward. His way led through a forest; suddenly a little troop of horsemen dashed out of the thicket, struck their swords into him, and again plunged into the wood. Booty was plainly not the object of the assassins, for neither money nor other article of value was taken from his person; it was the suspicion of heresy that drew their daggers upon him. Luther hoped that "his murdered blood, like Abel's, might cry to God; or rather be as seed from which other preachers would spring." "The world," said he, "is a tavern, of which Satan is the landlord, and the sign over the doorway is murder and lying." He almost envied these martyrs. "I am," said he, "but a wordy preacher in comparison with these great doers."

In the piles of these martyrs we hear the Reformation saying to the Lutheran princes, some of whom were so eager to help it with their swords, and thought that if they did not fight for it, it must perish, "Dismiss your armed levies. I will provide my own soldiers. I myself will furnish the armor in which they are to do battle; I will gird them with patience, meekness, heroism, and joy; these are the weapons with which they will combat. With these weapons they will break the power, foil the arts, and stain the pride of the enemy."


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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