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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 9 — The Battle of Pavia and its influence on Protestantism

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The Papacy Entangles itself with Earthly Interests–Protestantism stands Alone–Monarchy and the Popedom–Which is to Rule?–The Conflict a Defence in Protestantism–War between the Emperor and Francis I.– Expulsion of the French from Italy–Battle of Pavia–Capture and Captivity of Francis I.–Charles V. at the Head of Europe– Protestantism to be Extirpated–Luther Marries–The Nuns of Nimptsch–Catherine von Bora–Antichrist about to be Born–What Luther's Marriage said to Rome.

THERE Was one obvious difference between that movement of which Rome was the headquarters, and that of which Wittenberg was the center. The Popedom mixed itself up with the politics of Europe; Protestantism, on the other hand, stood apart, and refused to ally itself with earthly confederacies. The consequence was that the Papacy had to shape its course to suit the will of those on whom it leaned. It rose and fell with the interests with which it had cast in its lot. The loss of a battle or the fall of a statesman would, at times, bring it to the brink of ruin. Protestantism, on the other hand, was free to hold its own course and to develop its own principles. The fall of monarchs and the changes in the political world gave it no uneasiness. Instead of fixing its gaze on the troubled ocean around it, its eye was lifted to heaven.

At this hour intrigues, ambitions, and wars were rife all round Protestantism. The Kings of Spain and France were striving with one another for the possession of Italy. The Pope thought, of course, that he had a better right than either to be master in that country. He was jealous of both monarchs, and shaped his policy so as to make the power of the one balance and check that of the other. He hoped to be able one day to drive both out of the peninsula, if not by arms, yet by arts; but till that day should come, his safety lay in appearing to be the friend of both, and in taking care that the one should not be very much stronger than the other.

All three–the Emperor, the King of France, and the Pope–in whatever else they differed, were the enemies of the Reformation; and had they united their arms they would have been strong enough, in all reckoning of human chances, to put down the Protestant movement. But their dynastic ambitions, fomented largely by the personal piques and crafty and ambitious projects of the men around them, kept them at almost perpetual feud. Each aspired to be the first man of his time. The Pope was still dreaming of restoring to the Papal See the supremacy which it possessed in the days of Gregory VII. and Innocent III., and of dictating to both Charles and Francis. These sovereigns, on the other hand, were determined not to let go the superiority which they had at last achieved over the tiara.

The struggle of monarchy to keep what it had got, of the tiara to regain what it had lost, and of all three to be uppermost, filled their lives with disquiet, their kingdoms with misery, and their age with war. But these rivalries were a wall of defense around that Divine principle which was growing up into majestic stature in a world shaken by the many furious storms that were raging on it.

Scarce had the young emperor Charles V. thrown down the gage of battle to Protestantism, when these tempests broke in from many quarters. He had just fulminated the edict which consigned Luther to destruction, and was drawing his sword to execute it, when a quarrel broke out between himself and Francis I. The French army, crossing the Pyrenees, overran Navarre and entered Castile. The emperor hastened back to Spain to take measures for the defense of his kingdom. The war, thus begun, lasted till 1524, and ended in the expulsion of the French from Milan and Genoa, where they had been powerful ever since the days of Charles VIII. Nor did hostilities end here. The emperor, indignant at the invasion of his kingdom, and wishing to chastise his rival on his own soil, sent his army into France.

The chivalry of Francis I., and the patriotic valor of his subjects, drove back the invaders. But the French king, not content with having rid himself of the soldiers of Spain, would chastise the emperor in his turn. He followed the Spanish army into Itay, and sought to recover the cities and provinces whereof he had recently been despoiled, and which were all the dearer to him that they were situated in a land to which he was ever exceedingly desirous of stretching his scepter, but from which he was so often compelled, to his humiliation, again to draw it back.

The winter of 1525 beheld the Spanish and French armies face to face under the walls of Pavia. The place was strongly fortified, and had held out against the French for now two months, although Francis I. had employed in its reduction all the engineering expedients known to the age. Despite the obstinacy of the defenders, it was now evident that the town must fall. The Spairish garrison, reduced to extremity, sallied forth, and joined battle, with the besiegers with all the energy of despair.

This day was destined to bring with it a terrible reverse in the fortunes of Francis I. Its dawn saw him the first warrior of his age; its evening found him in the abject condition of a captive. His army was defeated under the walls of that city which they had been on the point of entering as conquerors. Ten thousand, including many a gallant knight, lay dead on the field, and the misfortune was crowned by the capture of the king himself, who was taken prisoner in the battle, and carried to Madrid as a trophy of the conqueror. In Spain, Francis I. dragged out a wretched year in captivity. The emperor, elated

by his good fortune, and desirous not only of humiliating his royal prisoner, but of depriving him of the power of injuring him in time to come, imposed very hard conditions of ransom.

These the French king readily subscribed, and all the more so that he had not the slightest intention of fulfilling them. "In the treaty of peace, it is stipulated among other things," says Sleidan, "that the emperor and king shall endeavor to extirpate the enemies of the Christian religion, and the heresies of the sect of the Lutherans. In like manner, that peace being made betwixt them, they should settle the affairs of the public, and make war against the Turk and heretics excommunicated by the Church; for that it was above all things necessary, and that the Pope had often solicited and advised them to bestir themselves therein. That, therefore, in compliance with his desires, they resolved to entreat him that he would appoint a certain day when the ambassadors and deputies of all kings and princes might meet, in a convenient place, with full power and commission to treat of such measures as might seem proper for undertaking a war against the Turk, and also for rooting out heretics and the enemies of the Church." [1]

Other articles were added of a very rigorous kind, such as that the French king should surrender Burgundy to the emperor, and renounce all pretensions to Italy, and deliver up his two eldest sons as hostages for the fulfillment of the stipulations. Having signed the treaty, early in January, 1526, Francis was set at liberty. Crossing the frontier near Irun, and touching French soil once more, he waved his cap in the air, and shouting aloud, "I am yet a king!" he put spurs to his Turkish horse, and galloped along the road to St. John de Luz, where his courtiers waited to welcome him. [2]

The hour was now come, so Charles V. thought, when he could deal his long-meditated blow against the Wittenberg heresy. Never since he ascended the throne had he been so much at liberty to pursue the policy to which his wishes prompted. The battle of Pavia had brought the war in Italy to a more prosperous issue than he had dared to hope. France was no longer a thorn in his side. Its monarch, formerly his rival, he had now converted into his ally, or rather, as Charles doubtless believed, into his lieutenant, bound to aid him in his enterprises, and specially in that one that lay nearer his heart than any other. Moreover, the emperor was on excellent terms with the King of England, and it was the interest of the English minister, Cardinal Wolsey, who cherished hopes of the tiara through the powerful influence of Charles, that that good understanding should continue. As regarded Pope Clement, the emperor was on the point of visiting Rome to receive the imperial crown from the Pontiff's hands, and in addition, doubtless, the apostolic benediction on the enterprise which Charles had in view against an enemy that Clement abhorred more than he did the Turk.

This was a most favorable juncture for prosecuting the battle of the Papacy. The victory of Pavia had left Charles the most puissant monarch in Europe. On all sides was peace, and having vanquished so many foes, surely it would be no difficult matter to extinguish the monk, who had neither sword nor buckler to defend him. Accordingly, Charles now took the first step toward the execution of his design. Sitting down (May 24, 1525) in the stately Alcazar of Toledo, [3] whose rocky foundations are washed by the Tagus, he indited his summons to the princes and States of Germany to meet at Augsburg, and take measures "to defend the Christian religion, and the holy rites and customs received from their ancestors, and to prohibit all pernicious doctrines and innovations." This edict the emperor supplemented by instructions from Seville, dated March 23, 1526, which, in effect, enjoined the princes to see to the execution of the Edict of Worms. [4] Every hour the tempest that was gathering over Protestantism grew darker.

If at no previous period had the emperor been stronger, or his sword so free to execute his purpose, at no time had Luther been so defenseless as now. His protector, the Elector Frederick, whose circumspection approached timidity, but whose purpose was ever resolute and steady, was now dead. The three princes who stood up in his room–the Elector John, Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, and Albert of Prussia–were new to the cause; they lacked the influence which Frederick possessed; they were discouraged, almost dismayed, by the thickening dangers–Germany divided, the Ratisbon League rampant, and the author of the Edict of Worms placed by the unlooked-for victory of Pavia at the head of Europe.

The only man who did not tremble was Luther. Not that he did not see the formidable extent of the danger, but because he was able to realize a Defender whom others could not see. He knew that if the Gospel had been stripped of all earthly defense it was not because it was about to perish, but because a Divine hand was about to be stretched out in its behalf, so visibly as to give proof to the world that it had a Protector, though "unseen," more powerful than all its enemies. While dreadful fulminations were coming from the other side of the Alps, and while angry and mortal menaces were being hourly uttered in Germany, what did Luther do? Run to his cell, and do penance in sackcloth and ashes to turn away the ire of emperor and Pontiff? No. Taking Catherine von Bors by the hand he led her to the altar, and made her his wife. [5]

Catherine von Bora was the daughter of one of the minor nobles of the Saxon Palatinate. Her father's fortune was not equal to his rank, and this circumstance disabling

him from giving Catherine a dowry, he placed her in the convent of Nimptsch, near Grimma, in Saxony. Along with the eight nuns who were the companions of her seclusion, she studied the Scriptures, and from them the sisters came to see that their vow was not binding. The Word of God had unbarred the door of their cell. The nine nuns, leaving the convent in a body, repaired to Wittenberg, and were there maintained by the bounty of the elector, administered through Luther. In process of time all the nuns found husbands, and Kate alone of the nine remained unmarried. The Reformer thus had opportunity of knowing her character and virtues, and appreciating the many accomplishments which were more rarely the ornament of the feminine intellect in those days than they are in ours. The marriage took place on the 11th of June. On the evening of that day, Luther, accompanied by the pastor Pomeranus, whom he had asked to bless the union, repaired to the house of the burgomaster, who had been constituted Kate's guardian, and there, in the presence of two witnesses–the great painter, Lucas Cranach, and Dr. John Apella – the marriage took place. On the 15th of June, Luther says, in a letter to Ruhel, "I have made the determination to retain nothing of my Papistical life, and thus I have entered the state of matrimony, at the urgent solicitation of my father." [6] The special purport of the letter was to invite Ruhel to the marriage-feaast, which was to be given on Tuesday, the 27th of June. The old couple from Mansfeld–John and Margaret Luther – were to be present. Ruhel was wealthy, and Luther, with characteristic frankness, tells him that any present he might choose to bring with him would be acceptable. Wenceslaus Link, of Nuremberg, whose nuptials Luther had blessed some time before, was also invited; but, being poor, it was stipulated that he should bring no present. Spalatin was to send some venison, and come himself. Amsdorf also was of the number of the guests. Philip Melancthon, the dearest friend of all, was absent. We can guess the reason. The bold step of Luther had staggered him. To marry while so many calamities impended! Philip went about some days with an anxious and clouded face, but when the clamor arose his brow cleared, his eye brightened, and he became the warmest. defender of the marriage of the Reformer, in which he was joined by not a few wise and moderate men in the Romish Church. [7]

The union was hardly effected when, as we have already hinted, a shout of indignation arose, as if Luther had done some impious and horrible thing. "It is incest!" exclaimed Henry VIII. of England. "From this marriage will spring Antichrist," said others, remembering with terror that some nameless astrologer of the Middle Ages had foretold that Antichrist would be the issue of a perjured nun and an apostate monk. "How many Antichrists," said Erasmus, with that covert but trenchant irony in which he was so great a master, "How many Antichrists must there be then in the world already. [8] What was Luther's crime? He had obeyed an ordinance which God has instituted, and he had entered into a state which an apostle has pronounced "honorable in all." But he did not heed the noise. It was his way of saying to Rome, "This is the obedience I give to your ordinances, and this is the awe in which I stand of your threatenings." The rebuke thus tacitly given sank deep. It was another inexpiable offense, added to many former ones, for which, as Rome fondly believed, the hour of recompense was now drawing nigh. Even some of the disciples of the Reformation were scandalised at Luther's marrying an ex-nun, so slow are men to cast off the trammels of ages.

With Catherine Bora there entered a new light into the dwelling of Luther. To sweetness and modesty, she added a more than ordinary share of good sense. A genuine disciple of the Gospel, she became the faithful companion and help-meet of the Reformer in all the labors and trials of his subsequent life. From the inner circle of that serenity and peace which her presence diffused around him, he looked forth upon a raging world which was continually seeking to destroy him, and which marvelled that the Reformer did not sink, not seeing the Hand that turned aside the blows which were being ceaselessly aimed at him.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 21st, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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