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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 3 — Pope Adrian and his scheme of reform

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Calm Returns – Labors of Luther – Translation of Old Testament – Melanchthon's Common-places – First Protestant System – Preachers – Books Multiplied – Rapid Diffusion of the Truth – Diet at Nuremberg – Pope Adrian Afraid of the Turk – Still more of Lutheranism – His Exhortation to the Diet – His Reforms put before the Diet – They are Rejected – The Hundred Grievances – Edict of Diet permitting the Gospel to be Preached – Persecution – First Three Martyrs of Lutheran Reformation – Joy of Luther – Death of Pope Adrian.

THE storm was quickly succeeded by a calm. All things resumed their wonted course at Wittenberg. The fanatics had shaken the dust from their feet and departed, predicting woe against a place which had forsaken the "revelations" of Nicholas Stork to follow the guidance of the Word of God.

The youth resumed their studies, the citizens returned to their occupations; Luther went in and out of his convent, busied with writing, preaching, and lecturing, besides that which came upon him daily, "the care of all the churches." One main business that oecupied him, besides the revision of his German New Testament, and the passing of it through the press, was the translation, now undertaken, of the Old Testament. This was a greater work, and some years passed away before it was finished.

When at last, by dint of Herculean labor, it was given to the world, it was found that the idiomatic simplicity and purity of the translation permitted the beauty and splendor of Divine truth to shine through, and its power to be felt. Luther had now the satisfaction of thinking that he had raised an effectual barrier against such fanaticism as that of Zwickau, and had kindled a light which no power on earth would Be able to put out, and which would continue to wax brighter and shine ever wider till it had dispelled the darkness of Christendom.

In 1521 came another work, the Common-places of Melanchthon, which, next after the German translation Of the Bible, contributed powerfully to the establishment of Protestantism. Scattered through a hundred pamphlets and writings were the doctrines of the Reformation–in other words, the recovered truths of Scripture. Melanchthon set about the task of gathering them together, and presenting them in the form of a system. It was the first attempt of the kind. His genius admirably fitted him for this work. He was more of the theologian than Luther, and the grace of his style lent a charm to his theology, and enabled him to find readers among the literary and philosophical classes. The only systems of divinity the world had seen, since the close of the primitive age, were those which the schoolmen had given to it. These had in them neither light nor life; they were dry and hapless, a wilderness of subtle distinctions and doubtful speculations. The system of Melanchthon, drawn from the Bible, exhibiting with rare clearness and beauty the relationships of truth, contrasted strikingly with the dark labyrinth of scholasticism. The Reformation theology was not a chaos of dogmas, as some had begun to suppose it, but a majestic unity.

In proportion as Protestantism strengthened itself at its center, which was Wittenberg, it was diffused more and more widely throughout Germany, and beyond its limits. The movement was breaking out on all sides, to the terror of Rome, and the discomfiture of her subservient princes. The Augustine convents sent numerous recruits to carry on the war. These had been planted, like Papal barracks, all over Germany, but now Rome's artilllery was turned against herself. This was specially the case in Nuremberg, Osnabruck, Ratisbon, Strasburg, Antwerp, and in Hesse and Wurtemberg. The light shone into the convents of the other orders also, and their inmates, laying down their cowls and frocks at the gates of their monasteries, joined their Brethren and became preachers of the truth. Great was the wrath of Rome when she saw her soldiers turning their arms against her. A multitude of priests became obedient to the faith, and preached it to their flocks. In other cases flocks forsook their priests, finding that they continued to inculcate the old superstitions and perform the old ceremonies. A powerful influence was acting on the minds of men, which carried them onward in the path of the Reformed faith, despite threats and dangers and bitter persecutions. Whole cities renounced the Roman faith and confessed the Gospel. The German Bible and the writings of Luther were read at all hearths and by all classes, while preachers perambulated Germany proclaiming the new doctrines to immense crowds, in the market-place, in burial-grounds, on mountains, and in meadows. At Goslar a Wittenberg student preached in a meadow planted with lime-trees, which procured for his hearers the designation of the "Lime-tree Brethren."

The world's winter seemed passing rapidly away. Everywhere the ice was breaking up; the skies were filling with light; and its radiance was refreshing to the eyes and to the souls of men! The German nation, emerging from torpor and ignorance, stood up, quickened with a new life, and endowed with a marvellous power. A wondrous and sudden enlightenment had overspread it. It was astonishing to see how the tastes of the people were refined, their perceptions deepened, and their judgments strengthened. Artisans, soldiers–nay, even women–with the Bible in their hand, would put to flight a whole phalanx of priests and doctors who strove to do battle for Rome, but who knew only to wield the old weapons. The printing-press, like a battering-ram of tremendous force, thundered night and day against the walls of the old fortress. "The impulse which the Reformation gave to popular literature in Germany," says D'Aubigne, "was immense. Whilst in the year 1513 only thirty-five publications had appeared, and thirty-seven in 1517, the number of books increased with astonishing rapidity after the appearance of Luther's 'Theses.' In 1518, we find seventy-one different works; in 1519, one hundred and eleven; in 1520, two

hundred and eight; in 1521, two hundred and eleven; in 1522, three hundred and forty-seven; and in 1523, four hundred and ninety-eight. These publications were nearly all on the Protestant side, and were published at Wittenberg. In the last-named year (1523) only twenty Roman Catholic publications appeared." [1] It was Protestantism that called the literature of Germany into existence.

An army of book-hawkers was extemporised. These men seconded the efforts of publishers in the spread of Luther's writings, which, clear and terse, glowing with the fire of enthusiasm, and rich with the gold of truth, brought with them an invigoration of the intellect as well as a renewal of the heart. They were translated into French, English, Italian, and Spanish, and circulated in all these countries. Occupying a middle point between the first and second cradles of the Reformation, the Wittenberg movement covered the space between, touching the Hussites of Bohemia on the one side, and the Lollards of England on the other.

We must now turn our eyes on those political events which were marching alongside of the Protestant movement. The Diet of Regency which the emperor had appointed to administer affairs during his absence in Spain was now sitting at Nuremberg. The main business which had brought it together was the inroads of the Turk. The progress of Soliman's arms was fitted to strike the European nations with terror. Rhodes had been captured; Belgrad had fallen; and the victorious leader threatened to make good his devastating march into the very heart of Hungary. Louis, the king of that country, sent his ambassador to the Diet to entreat help against the Asiatic conqueror. At the Diet appeared, too, Chieregato, the nuncio of the Pope.

Adrian VI., when he cast his eyes on the Tartar hordes on the eastern frontier, was not without fears for Rome and Italy; but he was still more alarmed when he turned to Germany, and contmplated: the appalling spread of Lutheranism. [2] Accordingly, he instructed his ambassador to demand two things–first, that the Diet should concert measures for stopping the progress of the Sultan of Constantinople; but, whatever they might do in this affair, he emphatically demanded that they should cut short the career of the monk of Wittenberg.

In the brief which, on the 25th of November, 1522, Adrian addressed to the "Estates of the sacred Roman Empire, assembled at Nuremberg," he urged his latter and more important request, "to cut down this pestilential plant that was spreading its boughs so widely... to remove this gangrened member from the body," by reminding them that "the omnipotent God had caused the earth to open and swallow up alive the two schismatics, Dathan and Abiram; that Peter, the prince of apostles, had struck Ananias and Sapphira with sudden death for lying against God... that their own ancestors had put John Huss and Jerome of Prague to death, who now seemed risen from the dead in Martin Luther." [3]

But the Papal nuncio, on entering Germany, found that this document, dictated in the hot air of Italy, did not suit the cooler latitude of Bavaria. As Chieregato passed along the highway on his mule, and raised his two fingers, after the usual manner, to bless the wayfarer, the populace would mimic his action by raising theirs, to show how little they cared either for himself or his benediction. This was very mortifying, but still greater mortifications awaited him. When he arrived at Nuremberg, he found, to his dismay, the pulpits occupied by Protestant preachers, and the cathedrals crowded with most attentive audiences. When he complained of this, and demanded the suppression of the sermons, the Diet replied that Nuremberg was a free city, and that the magistrates mostly were Lutheran.

He next intimated his intention of apprehending the preachers by his own authority, in the Pontiff's name; but the Archbishop of Mainz, and others, in consternation at the idea of a popular tumult, warned the nuncio against a project so fraught with danger, and told him that if he attempted such a thing, they would quit the city without a moment's delay, and leave him to deal with the indignant burghers as best he could.

Baffled in these attempts, and not a little mortified that his own office and his master's power should meet with so little reverence in Germany, the nuncio began, but in less arrogant tone, to unfold to the Diet the other instructions of the Pope; and more especially to put before its members the promised reforms which Adrian had projected when elevated to the Popedom. The Popes have often pursued a similar line of conduct when they really meant nothing; but Adrian was sincere. To convince the Diet that he was so, he made a very ample confession of the need of a reform.

"We know," so ran the instructions put into the hands of his nuncio on setting out for the Diet, "that for a considerable time many abominable things have found a place beside the Holy Chair – abuses in spiritual things–exorbitant straining at prerogatives–evil everywhere. From the head the malady has proceeded to the limbs; from the Pope it has extended to the prelates; we are all gone astray, there is none that hath done rightly, no, not one." [4]

At the hearing of these words the champions of the Papacy hung their heads; its opponents held up theirs. "We need hesitate no longer," said the Lutheran princes of the Diet; "it is is not Luther only, but the Pope, that denounces the corruptions of the Church: reform is the order of the day, not merely at Wittenberg, but at Rome also."

There was all the while an essential difference between these two men, and their reforms: Adrian would have lopped off a few of the more rotten of the branches; Luther was for uprooting the evil tree, and planting a good one in its stead. This was a reform little to the taste of Adrian,

and so, before beginning his own reform, he demanded that Luther's should be put down. It was needful, Adrian doubtless thought, to apply the pruning-knife to the vine of the Church, but still more needful was it to apply the axe to the tree of Lutheranism. For those who would push reform with too great haste, and to too great a length, he had nothing but the stake, and accordingly he called on the Diet to execute the imperial edict of death upon Luther, whose heresy he described as having the same infernal origin, as disgraced by the same abominable acts, and tending to the same tremendous issue, as that of Mahomet. [5] As regarded the reform which he himself meditated, he took care to say that he would guard against the two evils mentioned above; he would neither be too extreme nor too precipitate; "he must proceed gently, and by degrees," step by step– which Luther, who translated the brief of Adrian into German, with marginal notes, interpreted to mean, a few centuries between each step? [6]

The Pope had communicated to the Diet, somewhat vaguely, his projected measure of reformation, and the Diet felt the more justified in favoring Adrian with their own ideas of what that measure ought to be. First of all they told Adrian that to think of executing the Edict of Worms against Luther would be madness. To put the Reformer to death for denouncing the abuses Adrian himself had acknowledged, would not be more unjust than it would be dangerous. It would be sure to provoke all insurrection that would deluge Germany with blood. Luther must be refuted from Scripture, for his writings were in the hands and his opinions were in the hearts of many of the population. They knew of but one way of settling the controversy–a General Council, namely; and they demanded that such a Council should be summoned, to meet in some neutral German town, within the year, and that the laity as well as the clergy should have a seat and voice in it. To this not very palatable request the princes appended another still more unpalatable–the "Hundred Grievances," as it was termed, and which was a terrible catalogue of the exactions, frauds, oppressions, and wrongs that Germany had endured at the hands of the Popes, and which it had long silently groaned under, but the redress of which the Diet now demanded, with certification that if within a reasonable time a remedy was not forthcoming, the princes would take the matter into their own hands. [7]

The Papal nuncio had seen and heard sufficient to convince him that he had stayed long enough at Nuremberg. He hastily quitted the city, leaving it to some other to be the bearer of this ungracious message to the Pontiff. Till the Diet should arrange its affairs with the Pontiff, it resolved that the Gospel should continue to be preached. What a triumph for Protestantism! But a year before, at Worms, the German princes had concurred with Charles V. in the edict of death passed on Luther. Now, not only do they refuse to execute that edict, but they decree that the pure Gospel shall be preached. [8] This indicates rapid progress. Luther hailed it as a triumph, and the echoes of his shout came back from the Swiss hills in the joy it awakened among the Reformers ofHelvetia.

In due course the recess, or decree, of the Diet of Nuremberg reached the Seven-hilled City, and was handed in at the Vatican. The meek Adrian was beside himself with rage. Luther was not to be burned! a General Council was demanded! a hundred grievances, all duly catalogued, must be redressed! and there was, moreover, a quiet hint that if the Pope did not look to this matter in time, others would attend to it. Adrian sat down, and poured out a torrent of invectives and threatenings, than which nothing more fierce and bitter had ever emanated from the Vatican. [9] Frederick of Saxony, against whom this fulmination was thundered, put his hand upon his sword's hilt when he read it. "No," said Luther, the only one of the three who was able to command his temper, "we must have no war. No one shall fight for the Gospel." Peace was preserved.

The rage of the Papal party was embittered by the checks it was meeting with. War had been averted, but persecution broke out. At every step the Reformation gathered new glory. The courage of the Reformer and the learning of the scholar had already illustrated it, but now it was to be glorified by the devotion of the martyr. It was not in Wittenberg that the first stake was planted. Charles V. would have dragged Luther to the pile, nay, he would have burned the entire Wittenberg school in one fire, had he had the power; but he could act in Germany only so far as the princes went with him. It was otherwise in his hereditary dominions of the Low Countries; there he could do as he pleased; and there it was that the storm, after muttering awhile, at last burst out. At Antwerp the Gospel had found entrance into the Augustine convent, and the inmates not only embraced the truth, but in some instances began to preach it with power. This drew upon the convent the eyes of the inquisitors who had been sent into Flanders. The friars were apprehended, imprisoned, and condemned to death. One recanted; others managed to escape; but three–Henry Voes, John Esch, and Lambert Thorn–braved the fire. They were carried in chains to Brussels, and burned in the great square of that city on the 1st of July, 1523. [10] They behaved nobly at the stake. While the multitude around them were weeping, they sang songs of joy. Though about to undergo a terrible death, no sorrow darkened their faces; their looks, on the contrary, bespoke the

gladness and triumph of their spirits. Even the inquisitors were deeply moved, and waited long before applying the torch, in the hope of prevailing with the youths to retract and save their lives. Their entrearies could extort no answer but this–"We will die for the name of Jesus Christ." At length the pile was kindled, and even amid the flames the psalm ascended from their lips, and joy continued to light up their countenances. So died the first martyrs of the Reformation–illustrious heralds of those hundreds of thousands who were to follow them by the same dreadful road–not dreadful to those who walk by faith–to the everlasting mansion of the sky. [11]

Three confessors of the Gospel had the stake consumed; in their place it had created hundreds. "Wherever the smoke of their burning blew," sale! Erasmus, "it bore with it the seeds of heretics." Luther heard of their death with thanksgiving. A cause which had produced martyrs bore the seal of Divine authentication, and was sure of victory.

Adrian of Rome, too, lived to hear of the death of these youths. The persecutions had begun, but Adrian's reforms had not yet commenced. The world had seen the last of these reforms in the lurid light that streamed from the stake in the great square of Brussels. Adrian died on the 14th of September of the same year, and the estimation in which the Romans held him may be gathered from the fact that, during the night which succeeded the day on which he breathed his last, they adorned the house of his physician with garlands, and wrote over its portals this inscription – "To the savior of his country."

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