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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 4 — Pope Clement and the Nuremberg diet

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The New Pope – Policy of Clement – Second Diet at Nuremberg – Campeggio – His instructions to the Diet – The "Hundred Grievances" – Rome's Policy of Dissimulation – Surprise of the Princes – They are Asked to Execute the Edict of Worms – Device of the Princes – A General Council – Vain Hopes – The Harbor – Still at Sea – Protestant Preaching in Nuremberg – Proposal to hold a Diet at Spires – Disgust of the Legate – Alarm of the Vatican – Both Sides Prepare for the Spires Diet.

ADRIAN was dead. His scheme for the reform of the Papacy, with all the hopes and fears it had excited, descended with him to the grave. Cardinal Guilio de Medici, an unsuccessful candidate at the last election, had better fortune this time, and now mounted the Pontifical throne. The new Pope, who took the title of Clement VII., made haste to reverse the policy of his predecessor. Pallavicino was of opinion that the greatest evils and dangers of the Papacy had arisen from the choice of a "saint" to fill the Papal chair.

Clement VII. took care to let the world know that its present occupant was a "man of affairs"–no austere man, with neither singing nor dancing in his palace; no senile dreamer of reforms; but one who knew both to please the Romans and to manage foreign courts. "But it is in the storm that the pilot proves his skill," says Ranke. [1] Perilous times had come. The great winds had begun to blow, and the nations were laboring, as the ocean heaves before a tempest. Two powerful kings were fighting in Italy; the Turk was brandishing his scimitar on the Austrian frontier; but the quarter of the sky that gave Clement VII. the greatest concern was Wittenberg.

There a storm was brewing which would try his seamanship to the utmost. Leo X. had trifled with this affair. Adrian VI. had imagined that he had only to utter the magic word "reform," and the billows would subside and the winds sink to rest. Clement would prove himself an abler pilot; he would act as a statesman, as a Pope.

Early in the spring of 1524, the city of Nuremberg was honored a second time with the presence of the Imperial Diet within its walls. The Pope's first care was to send a right man as legate to this assembly. He selected Cardinal Campeggio, a man of known ability, of great experience, and of weight of character – the fittest, in short, his court could furnish. His journey to the Italian frontier was like a triumphal march. But when he entered upon German soil all these tokens of public enthusiasm forsook him, and when he arrived at the gates of Nuremberg he looked in vain for the usual procession of magistrates and clergy, marshalled under cross and banner, to bid him welcome. Alas! how the times had changed! The proud ambassador of Clement passed quietly through the streets, and entered his hotel, as if he had been an ordinary traveller. [2]

The instructions Campeggio had received from his master directed him to soothe the Elector Frederick, who was still smarting from Adrian's furious letter; and to withhold no promise and neglect no art which might prevail with the Diet, and make it subservient. This done, he was to strike at Luther. If they only had the monk at the stake, all would be well.

The able and astute envoy of Clement acted his part well. He touched modestly on his devotion to Germany, which had induced him to accept this painful mission when all others had declined it. He described the tender solicitude and sleepless care of his master, the Pope, whom he likened now to a pilot, sitting aloft, and watching anxiously, while all on board slept; and now to a shepherd, driving away the wolf, and leading his flock into good pastures. He could not refrain from expressing "his wonder that so many great and honorable princes should suffer the religion, rites, and ceremonies wherein they were born and bred, and in which their fathers and progenitors had died, to be abolished and trampled upon." He begged them to think where all this would end, namely, in a universal uprising of peoples against their rulers, and the destruction of Germany. As for the Turk, it was unnecessary for him to say much. The mischief he threatened Christendom with was plain to all men. [3]

The princes heard him with respect, and thanked him for his good will and his friendly counsels; but to come to the matter in hand, the German nation, said they, sent a list of grievances in writing to Rome; they would like to know ff the Pope had returned any answer, and what it was. Campeggio, though he assumed an air of surprise, had expected this interrogatory to be put to him, and was not unprepared for the part he was to act. "As to their demands," he said, "there had been only three copies of them brought privately to Rome, whereof one had fallen into his hands; but the Pope and college of cardinals could not believe that they had been framed by the princes; they thought that some private persons had published them in hatred to the court of Rome; and thus he had no instructions as to that particular." [4]

The surprise the legate's answer gave the Diet, and the indignation it kindled among its members, may be imagined.

The Emperor Charles, whom the war with Francis kept in Spain, had sent his ambassador, John Hunnaart, to the Diet to complain that the decree of Worms, which had been enacted with their unanimous consent, was not observed, and to demand that it be put in execution – in other words, that Luther be put to death, and that the Gospel be proscribed in all the States of the Empire. [5]

Campeggio had made the same request in his master's name.

"Impossible!" cried many of the deputies; "to attempt such a thing would be to plunge Germany into war and bloodshed."

Campeggio and Hunnaart insisted, nevertheless, that the princes should put in force the edict against Luther and his doctrines, to which they had been consenting parties. What was the Diet to do?

It could not repeal the edict, and it dared not enforce it, The princes hit upon a clever device for silencing the Pope who was pushing them on, and appeasing the people who were holding them back. They passed a decree saying that the Edict of Worms should be vigorously enforced, as far as possible. [6] (Edipus himself could hardly have said what this meant. Practically it was the repeal of the edict; for the majority of the States had declared that to enforce it was not possible.

Campeggio and Hunnaart, the Spanish envoy from Charles, V., had gained what was a seeming victory, but a real defeat. Other defeats awaited them.

Having dexterously muzzled the emperor's ban, the next demand of the Nuremberg Diet was for a General Council. There was a traditional belief in the omnipotency of this expedient to correct all abuses and end all controversies. When the sky began to lower, and a storm appeared about to sweep over Christendom, men turned their eyes to a Council, as to a harbor of refuge: once within it, the laboring vessel would be at rest – tossed no longer upon the billows. The experiment had been tried again and again, and always with the same result, and that result failure – signal failure. In the recent past were the two Councils of Constance and Basle.

These had ended, like all that preceded them, in disappointment. Much had been looked for from them, but nothing had been realised. They appeared in the retrospect like goodly twin trees, laden with leaves and blossoms, but they brought no fruit to perfection. With regard to Constance, if it had humiliated three Popes, it had exalted a fourth, and he the haughtiest of them all; and as for Reformation, had not the Council devoted its whole time and power to devising measures for the extinction of that reforming spirit which alone could have remedied the evils complained of? There was one man there worth a hundred Councils: how had they dealt with him? They had dragged him to the stake, and all the while he was burning, cursed him as a heretic! And what was the consequence? Why, that the stream of corruption, dammed up for a moment, had broken out afresh, and was now flowing with torrent deeper, broader, and more irresistible than ever. But the majority of the princes convened at Nuremberg were unable to think of other remedy, and so, once again, the old demand was urged–a General Council, to be held on German soil.

However, the princes will concert measures in order that this time the Council shall not be abortive; now at last, it will give the world a Pope who shall be a true father to Christendom, together with a pious, faithful, and learned hierarchy, and holy and laborious priests–in short, the "golden age," so long waited for. The princes will summon a Diet–a national and lay Diet–to meet at Spires, in November of this year. And, further, they will take steps to evoke the real sentiments of Germany on the religious question, and permit the wishes of its several cities and States to be expressed in the Diet; and, in this way, a Reformation will be accomplished such as Germany wishes. The princes believed that they were ending their long and dangerous navigation, and were at last in sight of the harbor.

So had they often thought before, but they had awakened to find that they were still at sea, with the tempest lowering overhead, and the white reefs gleaming pale through the waters below. They were destine to repeat this experience once more. The very idea of such a Diet as was projected was an insult to the Papacy. For a secular assembly to meet and discuss religious questions, and settle ecclesiastical reforms, was to do a great deal more than paving the way for a General Council; it was to assume its powers and exercise its functions; it was to be that Council itself–nay, it was to go further still, it was to seat itself in the chair of the Pontiff, to whom alone belonged the decision in all matters of faith. It was to pluck the scepter from the hands of the man who held himself divinely invested with the government of the Church.

The Papal legate and the envoy of Charles V. offered a stout resistance to the proposed resolution of the princes. They represented to them what an affront that resolve would be to the Papal chair, what an attack upon the prerogatives of the Pontiff. The princes, however, were not to be turned from their purpose. They decreed that a Diet should assemble at Spires, in November, and that meanwhile the States and free towns of Germany should express their mind as regarded the abuses to be corrected and the reforms to be instituted, so that, when the Council met, the Diet might be able to speak in the name of the Fatherland, and demand such Reformation of the Church as the nation wished.

Meanwhile the Protestant preachers redoubled their zeal; morning and night they proclaimed the Gospel in the churches. The two great cathedrals of Nuremberg were filled to overflowing with an attentive audience. The Lord's Supper was dispensed according to the apostolic mode, and 4,000 persons, including the emperor's sister, the Queen of Denmark, and others of rank, joined in the celebration of the ordinance. The mass was forsaken; the images were turned out of doors; the Scriptures were explained according to the early Fathers; and scarce could the Papal legate go or return from

the imperial hall, where the Diet held its meetings, without being jostled in the street by the crowds hurrying to the Protestant sermon. The tolling of the bells for worship, the psalm pealed forth by thousands of voices, and wafted across the valley of the Pegnitz to the imperial chateau on the opposite height, sorely tried the equanimity of the servants of the Pope and the emperor. Campeggio saw Nuremberg plunging every day deeper into heresy; he saw the authority of his master set at nought, and the excommunicated doctrines every hour enlisting new adherents, who feared neither the ecclesiastical anathema nor the imperial ban. He saw all this with indignation and disgust, and yet he was entirely without power to prevent it.

Germany seemed nearer than it had been at any previous moment to a national Reformation. It promised to reach the goal by a single bound. A few months, and the Alps will do more than divide between two countries; they will divide between two Churches. No longer will the bulls and palls of the Pope cross their snows, and no longer will the gold of Germany flow back to swell the wealth and maintain the pride of the city whence they come. The Germans will find for themselves a Church and a creed, without asking humbly the permission of the Italians. They will choose their own pastors, and exercise their own government; and leave the Shepherd of the Tiber to care for his flock on the south of the mountains, without stretching his crosier to the north of them. This was the import of what the Diet had agreed to do.

We do not wonder that Campeggio and Hunnaart viewed the resolution of the princes with dismay. In truth, the envoy of the emperor had about as much cause to be alarmed as the nuncio of the Pope. Charles's authority in Germany was tottering as well as Clement's; for if the States should break away from the Roman faith, the emperor's sway would be weakened–in fact, all but annihilated; the imperial dignity would be shorn of its splendor; and those great schemes, in the execution of which the emperor had counted confidently on the aid of the Germans, would have to be abandoned as impracticable.

But it was in the Vatican that the resolution of the princes excited the greatest terror and rage. Clement comprehended at a glance the full extent of the disaster that threatened his throne. All Germany was becoming Lutheran; the half of his kingdom was about to be torn from him. Not a stone must be left unturned, not an art known in the Vatican must be neglected, if by any means the meeting of the Diet at Spires may be prevented.

To Spires all eyes are now turned, where the fate of the Popedom is to be decided. On both sides there is the bustle of anxious preparation. The princes invite the cities and States to speak boldly out, and declare their grievances, and say what reforms they wish to have enacted. In the opposite camp there is, if possible, still greater activity and preparation.

The Pope is sounding an alarm, and exhorting his friends, in prospect of this emergency, to unite their counsels and their arms. While both sides are busy preparing for the eventful day, we shall pause, and turn our attention to the city where the Diet just breaking up had held its sitting.

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