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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 22 — Luther in the Coburg and Melanchthon at the Diet

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The Emperor Opens the Diet–Magnificence of the Assemblage–Hopes of its Members–The Emperor's Speech–His Picture of Europe–The Turk–His Ravages–The Remedy–Charles Calls for Execution of Edict of Worms –Luther at Coburg–His Labors–Translation of the Prophets, etc.–His Health–His Temptations–How he Sustains his Faith–Melanchthon at Augsburg–His Temporisings–Luther's Reproofs and Admonitions.

FROM the cathedral the princes adjourned to the town-hall, where the sittings of the Diet were to take place. The emperor took his seat on a throne covered with cloth of gold. Immediately in front of him sat his brother Ferdinand, King of Austria, On either hand of him were ranged the electors of the Empire. Crowding all round and filling every part of the hall was the rest of this august assembly, including forty-two sovereign princes, the deputies of the cities, bishops, ambassadors–in short, the flower not of Germany only, but of all Christendom. This assemblage– the representative of so much power, rank, and magnificence–had gathered here to deliberate, to lay their plans, and to proclaim their triumphs: so they firmly believed. They were quite mistaken, however. They were here to suffer check after check, to endure chagrin and discomfiture, and to see at last that cause which they had hoped to cast into chains and drag to the stake, escaping from their hands, mounting gloriously upward, and beginning to fill the world with its splendor.

The emperor rose and opened the Diet with a speech. We turn with a feeling of relief from the fiery harangue of the fanatical nuncio to the calm words of Charles. Happily Sleidan has handed down to us the speech of the emperor at considerable length. It contains a sad picture of the Christendom of that age. It shows us the West, groaning under the twin burdens of priestcraft and despotism, ready to succumb to the Turk, and the civilization and liberty of the world on the point of being overwhelmed by the barbarous arms of the East. It shows us also that this terrible catastrophe would most surely have overtaken the world, if that very Christianity which the emperor was blindly striving to put down had not come at that critical moment, to rekindle the all but extinct fires of patriotism and valor. If Charles had succeeded in extirpating Protestantism, the Turk would have come after him and gathered the spoils. The seat of Empire would have been transferred from Spain to Constantinople, and the dominant religion in the end would have been not Romanism, but Mohammedanism.

The emperor, who did not speak German, made his address be read by the count-palatine. "Sacrificing my private injuries and interests to the common good," said Charles, "I have quitted the most flourishing kingdom of Spain, with great danger, to cross the seas into Italy, and, after making peace with my enemies, to pass thence into Germany. Not only," continued the emperor, "were there great strifes and dissensions in Germany about religion, but also the Turks had invaded Hungary and the neighboring countries, putting all to fire and sword, Belgrad and several other castles and forts being lost. King Lewis and several of the nobles had sent ambassadors to desire the assistance of the Empire... The enemy having taken Rhodes, the bulwark of Christendom on that side, marched further into Hungary, overcame King Lewis in battle, and took, plundered, and burned all the towns and places between the rivers Save and Drave, with the slaughter of many thousands of men. They had afterwards made an incursion into Sclavonia, and there having plundered, burned, and slain, and laid the whole country waste, they had carried away about thirty thousand of men into miserable slavery, and killed those poor creatures that could not follow after with the carriages. They had again, the year before, advanced with an innumerable army into Austria, and laid siege to Vienna, the chief city thereof, having wasted the country far and near, even as far as Linz, where they had practiced all kinds oifcruelty and barbarity... That now, though the enemy could not take Vienna, [1] yet the whole country had sustained great damage, which could hardly be in long time repaired again. And although the Turk had drawn off his army, yet he had left garrisons and commanders upon the borders to waste and destroy not only Hungary, but Austria also, and Styria, and the places adjoining; and whereas now his territory in many places bordered upon ours, it was not to be doubted but upon the first occasion he would return again with far greater force, and drive on his designs to the utter ruin chiefly of Germany.

It was well known how many places he had taken from us since he was master of Constantinople, how much Christian blood he had shed, and into what straits he had reduced this part of the world, that it ought rather to be lamented and bewailed than enlarged on in discourse. If his fury be not resisted with greater forces than hitherto, we must expect no safety for the future, but one province after another being lost, all at length, and that shortly too, will fall under his power and tyranny. The design of this most cruel enemy was to make slaves of, nay, to sweep off all Christians from the face of the earth."

The emperor having drawn this picture of the Turk, who every year was projecting a longer shadow over Christendom, proceeded next to counsel his hearers to trample out that spirit which alone was capable of coping with this enemy, by commanding them to execute the Edict of Worms. [2]

While the Diet is proceeding to business, let us return to Luther, whom we left, as our readers will recollect, in the Castle of Coburg. Alone in his solitary chamber, he is, rightly looked at, a grander sight than the magnificent assemblage we have been contemplating. He is the embodiment of that great power which Charles has assembled his princes and is

about to muster his armies to combat, but before which he is destined to fall, and with him that mighty Empire over which he so proudly sways the scepter, and which, nine years before, at the Diet of Worms, he had publicly staked on the issue.

Luther is again shut up with his thoughts and his books. From the scene of labor and excitement which Wittenberg had become, how refreshing and fascinating the solitude of the Coburg! The day was his own, with scarce an interruption, from dawn till dusk. The Reformer needed rest, and all things around him seemed to invite him to it–the far-extending plains, the quiet woods, the cawing of the rooks, and the song of the birds; but Luther was incapable of resting. Scarcely had the tramp of the elector's horsemen, continuing their journey to Augsburg, died away in the distance, than he sat down, and wrote to Wittenberg for his books. By the end of April they had arrived, and he immediately set to work. He returned to his version of Jeremiah, and completed it before the end of June. He then resumed the Minor Prophets, and before the middle of August all had been translated, with the exception of Haggai and Malachi. He wrote an exposition of several of the Psalms–the 2nd, the 113th, and 117th–a discourse on the necessity of schools for children, and various tracts–one on purgatory, another on the power of the "keys," and a third on the intercession of saints. With untiring labor he forged bolt after bolt, and from his retreat discharged them at the enemy.

But the too active spirit wore out the body. Luther was seized with vertigo. The plains, with their woods and meadows, seemed to revolve around the Castle of Coburg; his ears were stunned with great noises; at times it was as if a thunder-peal were resounding in his head. Then, perforce, the pen was laid down. But again he would snatch it up, and give Philip the benefit of his dear-bought experience, and bid him "take care of his own precious little body, and not commit homicide." "God," he said, "is served by rest, by nothing more than rest, and therefore He has willed that the Sabbath should be so rigidly kept"–thus anticipating Milton's beautiful lines

"God doth not need
Either man's work, or His own gifts; who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest.
They also serve who only stand and wait." [3]


But worse symptoms supervened. In the unstrung condition of his nervous system, impressions became realities to him. His imagination clothed the dangers which he apprehended in a palpable form and shape, and they stood before him as visible existences. His Old Enemy of the Wartburg comes sailing, like black night, to the Castle of Coburg. The Reformer, however, was not to be overcome, though the Prince of Darkness had brought all hell behind him. He wrote texts of Scripture upon the walls of his apartment, upon his door, upon his bed–"I will lay me down in peace and sleep; for thou, O Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety." Within this "fortress" he felt he could defy the Prince of Spain and the Prince of the Power of the Air.

Three hours of every day did Luther devote to prayer; to this he added the assiduous perusal of the Scriptures. [4] These were the fountains at which he refreshed his soul, and whence he recruited his strength, Nay, more, the intercessions that ascended from the Coburg came back, we cannot doubt, upon his friends in Augsburg in needed supplies of wisdom and courage, and thus were they able to maintain the battle in the presence of their numerous and powerful adversaries. For days together Luther would be left without intelligence from the Diet. Post after post arrived from Augburg. "Do you bring me letters? " he would eagerly inquire. "No," was the answer, with a uniformity that severely tried his patience, and also his temper. At times he became a prey to fear–not for himself; his life he held in his hand, ready at any moment to lay it down for the truth; it was for his friends he feared in these intervals of silence, lest perchance some disaster had befallen them. Retiring into his closet, he would again send up his cry to the throne in the heavens. Straightway the clouds of melancholy would roll away, and the light of coming triumphs would break in upon his soul. He would go to the window and look forth upon the midnight sky.

The mighty vault, studded with glorious stars, became to him a sign that helped his faith. "How magnificent! how lofty!" he would exclaim. "Where are the strong pillars that support this immense dome? I nowhere behold them. Yet the heavens do not fall." Thus the firmament, upheld by a Hand he could not see, preached to him peace and prophesied of triumph. It said to him, "Why, Luther, are you disquieted and in trouble? Be at rest." He saw around him a work in progress as stupendous as the fabric of the heavens. But why should he take that work upon himself as if it were his, and as if he must charge himself with its standing or its falling? As well might he take upon his shoulders the burden of the firmament. The heavens did not fall although his hand was not steadying its pillars, and this work would go on whether he lived or died. He saw the Pope and the emperor and the Prince of Hell fighting against it with all their might; nevertheless, it was borne up and

carried forward. It was not he that was causing it to advance, nor was it Melanchthon, nor the Elector John; agencies so feeble were wholly inadequate to effects so grand. There was an omnipotent Hand guiding this movement, although to him it was invisible; and if that Hand was there, was his weak arm needed? and if it should be withdrawn, was it Luther's that could uphold it? In that Hand, the Hand of the God-man, of Him who made and who upholds the world, would he leave this cause. If it should fall, it was not Luther that would fall, but the Monarch of heaven and earth; and he would rather fall with Christ than stand with Charles. Such was the train of courageous thoughts that would awaken in the mind of Luther. In this way did he strengthen his faith, and being strengthened himself he strengthened his brethren.

Nor were the counsels and encouragements of Luther unneeded at Augsburg. Melanchthon, constitutionally timid, with a mind to penetrate rather than to dare, a soul to expatiate on the beauty of truth rather than to delight in the rude gusts and tempests of opposition, at all times bending under apprehensions, was at this time bowed down to almost the very ground. In fact, he was trying to uphold the heavens. Instead of leaving the cause in the hands of Him whose it was, as Luther did, he was taking it upon his own shoulder, and he felt its weight crushing him. He was therefore full of thoughts, expedients, and devices. Every day he had some new explanation, some subtle gloss, or some doubtful compromise which he thought would gain the Catholics. He kept running about continually, being now closeted with this bishop, now with that; now dancing attendance on the legate, and now on the emperor. [5] Melanchthon never had the same clear and perfect conviction as Luther that there were two diametrically opposite Churches and faiths in the matter he was handling, and that he was but wasting time and risking character, and, what was infinitely more, truth, in these attempts to reconcile the two. He had no fruit of these efforts, save the consuming anxiety which they caused him now, and the bitter mortification which their failure gave him afterwards.

"I dwell in perpetual tears," [6] wrote he to Luther. In reply Luther points out, with admirable fidelity and skill, at once the malady and its cure. The cure is expressed in one word–Faith.

"Grace and peace in Christ! in Christ, I say, and not in the world. Amen. I hate with exceeding hatred those extreme cares which consume you. If the cause is unjust, abandon it; if the cause is just, why should we belie the promises of Him Who commands us to sleep without fear? Can the devil do more than kill us? Christ will not be wanting to the work of justice and of truth. He lives; He reigns: what fear then can we have? God is powerful to upraise His cause if it is overthrown, to make it proceed if it remains motionless; and, if we are not worthy of it, He will do it by others.

"I have received your Apology, [7] and I cannot understand what you mean when you ask what we must concede to the Papist. We have already conceded too much. Night and day I meditate on this affair, turning it over and over, dingently searching the Scriptures, and the conviction of the truth of our doctrine becomes every day stronger in my mind. With the help of God, I will not permit a single letter of all that we have said to be torn from us.

"The issue of this affair torments you, because you cannot understand it. But if you could, I would not have the least share in it. God has put it in a 'common-place' that you will not find in either your rhetoric or your philosophy. That place is called Faith. It is that in which subsist all things that we can neither understand nor see. Whoever wishes to touch them, as you do, will have tears for his sole reward.

"If Christ is not with us, where is He in the whole universe? If we are not the Church, where, I pray, is the Church? Is it the Duke of Bavaria? is it Ferdinand? is it the Pope? is it the Turk who is the Church? If we have not the Word of God, who is it that possesses it?

"Only we must have faith, lest the cause of faith should be found to be without faith.

"If we fall, Christ falls with us–that is to say, the Master of the world. I would rather fall with Christ than remain standing with Caesar." [8]


Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 21st, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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