Luther and the Religious Revolution in Germany
By Rev. James A. MacCaffrey
The religious revolt that had been foretold by many earnest ecclesiastics began in Germany in 1517. Its leader was Martin Luther, the son of a miner, born at Eisleben in 1483. As a boy he attended school at Eisenach and Magdeburg, supporting himself by singing in the streets until a kind benefactress came to his assistance in the person of Ursula Cotta. His father, having improved his position in the world, determined to send the youth to study law at the University of Erfurt, which was then one of the leading centers of Humanism on the northern side of the Alps. But though Luther was in close touch with some of the principal classical scholars of Germany and was by no means an indifferent classical scholar himself, there is no evidence of his having been influenced largely in his religious views by the Humanist movement. He turned his attention principally to the study of philosophy, and having received his degree in 1505, he began to lecture on the physics and ethics of Aristotle.
Suddenly, to the surprise of his friends, and the no small vexation of his father the young Luther, who had not been particularly remarkable for his religious fervor, abandoned his career at the university and entered the novitiate of the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt (July 1505). The motives which induced him to take this unexpected step are not clear. Some say he was led to do so by the sudden death of a student friend, others that it was in fulfillment of a vow which he had made during a frightful thunderstorm that overtook him on a journey from his father’s house to Erfurt, while he himself tells us that he became a monk because he had lost confidence in himself. Of his life as a student very little is known for certain. Probably he was no worse and no better than his companions in a university city, which was described by himself in later life as a “beerhouse” and a “nest of immorality.”
The sudden change from the freedom and excitement of the university to the silence and monotony of the cloister had a depressing influence on a man like Luther, who, being of a nervous, highly-strung temperament, was inclined to pass quickly from one extreme to another. He began to be gloomy and scrupulous, and was driven at times almost to despair of his salvation; but Staupitz, the superior of the province, endeavored to console him by impressing on him the necessity of putting his trust entirely in the merits of Christ. Yet in spite of his scruples Luther’s life as a novice was a happy one. He was assiduous in the performance of his duties, attentive to the instruction of his superiors, and especially anxious to acquire a close acquaintance with the Sacred Scriptures, the reading and study of which were strongly recommended to all novices in the Augustinian order at this period. In 1506 he was allowed to make his vows, and in the following year he was ordained priest. During the celebration of his first Mass he was so overcome by a sense of his own unworthiness to offer up such a pure sacrifice that he would have fled from the altar before beginning the canon had it not been for his assistants, and throughout the ceremony he was troubled lest he should commit a mortal sin by the slightest neglect of the rubrics. At the breakfast that followed, to which Luther’s relatives had been invited, father and son met for the first time since Luther entered the monastery. While the young priest waxed eloquent about the happiness of his vocation and about the storm from heaven that helped him to understand himself, his father, who had kept silent throughout the repast, unable to restrain himself any longer interrupted suddenly with the remark that possibly he was deceived, and that what he took to be from God might have been the work of the devil. “I sit here,” he continued, “eating and drinking but I would much prefer to be far from this spot.” Luther tried to pacify him by reminding him of the godly character of monasticism, but the interruption was never forgotten by Luther himself or by his friends who heard it.
After his ordination the young monk turned his attention to theology, but, unfortunately, the theological training given to the Augustinian novices at this period was of the poorest and most meager kind. He studied little if anything of the works of the early Fathers, and never learned to appreciate Scholasticism as expounded by its greatest masters, St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure. His knowledge of Scholastic Theology was derived mainly from the works of the rebel friar William of Occam, who, in his own time, was at constant war with the Popes, and who, during the greater part of his life, if not at the moment of his death, was under sentence of excommunication from the Church. The writings of such a man, betraying as they did an almost complete lack of acquaintance with the Scriptures and exaggerating men’s natural powers to the undervaluing or partial exclusion of Grace, exercised a baneful influence on a man of Luther’s tastes and temperaments. Accepted by Luther as characteristic of Scholastic Theology, such writings prejudiced him against the entire system. Acting on the advice of the provincial, Staupitz, he gave himself up with great zeal to the study of the Bible, and later on he turned his attention to the works of St. Augustine, particularly the works written in defense of the Catholic doctrine on Grace against the Pelagians. In 1508 he went to the university of Wittenberg, founded recently by Frederick of Saxony, to lecture on Logic and Ethics, and to continue his theological studies; but for some reason, as yet unexplained, he was recalled suddenly to his monastery at Erfurt, where he acquired fame rapidly as a lecturer and preacher.
Thirty foundations of the Augustinians in Saxony had accepted the reform begun by Andrew Proles in the fifteenth century, and had separated themselves definitely from the unreformed houses of the order in Germany. They were subject immediately to the general of the order, whose vicar at this time in Saxony was the well-known Humanist, Staupitz. The latter was anxious to bring about a reunion between the two parties and to have himself appointed as superior; but the party who stood for the strict observance were opposed bitterly to such a step, and determined to send a representative to Rome to plead their cause. The fact that they selected so young a man as Luther to champion their interests is a sufficient proof of the position which he had won for himself amongst his religious brethren. He was looked up to already as an ornament of the order, and his selection for this highly important mission served to increase the over- weening pride and self-confidence that had manifested themselves already as weak spots in his character. Accompanied by a companion of his order he started on his long journey across the Alps. As he reached the heights of Monte Mario and surveyed the Popes he fell on his knees, according to the custom of the pilgrims, and hailed “the city thrice sanctified by the blood of martyrs.” He had looked forward with pleasure to a stay in Rome, where he might have an opportunity of setting his scruples to rest by a general confession of his sins, but, unfortunately, his brother Augustinians in Rome and those with whom he came most in contact seemed to have been more anxious to regale him with stories about the real or imaginary scandals of the city than to give him spiritual consolation or advice. Yet in later life, when he had definitely separated from the Church and when he was most anxious to blacken the character of Rome and the Popes, it is remarkable that he could point to very little detrimental to them of which he had personal knowledge, and was forced to rely solely on what had been told him by others. Nor did he leave Rome as a declared enemy of the Papacy, for even so late as 1516 he defended warmly the supremacy of the Pope as the one safeguard for the unity of the Church. Many of his biographers, indeed, assert that, as he stood by the Scala Sancta and witnessed the pilgrims ascending on their bare knees, he turned aside disgusted with the sight and repeated the words of St. Paul, “the just man lives by his faith”; but such a statement, due entirely to the imagination of his relatives and admirers is rejected as a legend by those best qualified to judge. The threatened union of the strict and unreformed that had occasioned Luther’s journey to Rome was abandoned; but it is worthy of note that Staupitz had succeeded in detaching him from his former friends, and that he returned to Germany a convinced and violent opponent of the party of strict observance, who had sent him to Rome as their representative. During his stay in the city there is good reason for believing that on his own behalf he sought for permission to lay aside his monastic habit and to devote himself for ten years to study in Italy, but his request was refused on the ground that it was not supported by the authority of his superiors. This petition was probably the foundation for the rumors that were circulated in Germany by his opponents that while in Rome he endeavored to have himself “secularized” and to obtain a dispensation to marry.
On his return to Germany he devoted himself once more to the study of theology in preparation for the doctorate which he won at Wittenberg in 1512. Almost immediately he was appointed professor at the university and undertook to lecture on the Psalms. His eloquence and his imagination, his retentive memory enabling him to illustrate his texts by parallel passages drawn from the books of the Old Testament, and in a certain way his exaggerations, his strength of diction, and his asperity of language towards all with whose views he did not find himself in agreement, made his lectures most popular at the university, and filled his hall with an eager and attentive audience. Amongst the students Luther had no rival, and even the few professors who were inclined to resent his methods and his views were captivated by the magic influence of their brilliant young colleague. The Augustinians, mindful of the honor he was achieving for their order, hastened to appoint him to the important position of district vicar (1515), while the Elector Frederick could not conceal his delight at having secured the services of so capable a professor for the new university.
At Wittenberg Luther felt himself completely at home. He was proud of the distinctions conferred upon him by his brethren, and of the influence accorded to him by his companions in the university. Great as were his industry and his powers of application, yet they were put to the most severe tests to enable him to complete the programme he had set himself to accomplish. His lectures at the university, his sermons preached in the Augustinian church, his visitations of the houses of his order in the district over which he was vicar, his correspondence, partly routine and partly entailed by his close relations with some of the leading men in Germany, occupied all his time even to the exclusion of the spiritual exercises enjoined by his rule. Very frequently he neglected to celebrate Mass or even to read the divine office, and then alarmed by his negligence and guilt he had recourse to extraordinary forms of penance. Fits of laxity were followed by fits of scrupulousness until at last he was driven at times almost to despair. It was then that he called to mind the consoling advice given to him by his superior that he should put his trust in the merits of Christ, and the teaching of St. Augustine on the frailty of human nature unless it was aided and supported by divine Grace. He began to develop the idea that justification could not be acquired by good works, that concupiscence could not be overcome, and that consequently man could be justified only by the imputation of the merits of Christ. Years before, views such as these had been passing through his mind, as may be seen in his sermons against the Augustinians of the strict observance, but they found adequate expression only in his commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans and to the Galatians (1515-6). Still, as yet, he held strongly to the principle of authority in matters of religion, and inveighed against heretics who would dare to set aside the authority of the Pope in order to follow their own judgment. In reality, however, his own teaching on merit and justification was no longer in harmony with Catholic doctrine, and only a slight occasion was required to bring him into open and definite conflict with the authorities of the Church.
This occasion was provided by the preaching in Germany of an Indulgence proclaimed by Leo X. (1513-21). The building of St. Peter’s had been begun by Julius II. and was continued by his successor Leo X., the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, and the great patron of the Humanist movement. In order to provide funds to enable him to continue this gigantic undertaking Leo X. proclaimed an Indulgence. In addition to Confession and Holy Communion it was ordered that those of the faithful who wished to share in the spiritual favors granted by the Pope should contribute according to their means for the completion of St. Peter’s, or that they should pray for the success of the work in case poverty did not permit them to give alms. The publication of the Indulgence in a great part of Germany was entrusted to Albrecht of Brandenburg, who had been elected Archbishop of Mainz though he was already Archbishop of Magdeburg and Administrator of Halberstadt. The fees to be paid by an archbishop appointed to Mainz were exceptionally high not to speak of the large sum required for the extraordinary favor of being allowed to hold two archbishoprics. As a means of enabling Albrecht to raise the required amount, it was proposed by an official of the Datary that he should be allowed to retain half of the contributions given on the occasion of the publication of the Indulgence in the provinces of Mainz and Magdeburg, and in the lands of the House of Brandenburg.
To publish the Indulgence in the above-mentioned territories Albrecht appointed the Dominican John Tetzel, who had acquired already considerable renown as a preacher. Tetzel was a man of solid education and of good moral standing, whose reputation as a successful popular preacher stood high in Germany at this period. Many grave abuses have been alleged against him by his enemies concerning his manner of carrying out the office entrusted to him by the archbishop, and in regard to his own private life serious crimes have been laid to his charge; but as a matter of history it is now admitted that Tetzel was a much maligned man, that his own conduct can bear the fullest scrutiny, and that in his preaching the worst that can be said against him is that he put forward as certainties, especially in regard to gaining indulgences for the souls of the faithful departed, what were merely the opinions of certain schools of theologians. Nor is it true to say that as the result of his activity vast sums of money made their way into the papal treasury. The accounts of the monies received during the greater portion of the time are now available, and it can be seen that when all expenses were paid comparatively little remained for either the Archbishop of Mainz or the building fund of St. Peter’s.
Tetzel preached with considerable success in Halberstadt, Magdeburg and Leipzig, and in May 1517 he found himself in the neighborhood of Wittenberg, whence many people flocked to see him, and to gain the Indulgence. This was not calculated to please Luther or his patron the Elector, Frederick of Saxony, and provided Luther with an occasion of giving vent to his own views on good works, Grace, and Justification. Years before, both in his sermons attacking the Augustinians of the strict observance for their over confidence in the merits of good works and penance, and in his commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans and to the Galatians, he had indicated already that his views on man’s power to do anything good, and on the means and nature of justification differed widely from those put forward by Catholic theologians. At last, after careful consideration, following the bent of his own inclination and the advice of his friends, he determined to take the field openly by publishing, on the eve of the festival of All Saints, 1517, his celebrated seventy theses against Indulgences. This document was drawn up with great skill and foresight. Some of the theses were perfectly orthodox and professed great reverence for the teaching of the Church and the authority of the Pope; others of them were open to an orthodox as well as to an unorthodox interpretation; others, still, were opposed clearly and definitely to Catholic doctrine, and all of them were put forward in a way that was likely to arrest public attention and to win the support of the masses. They were affixed to the doors of the university church in Wittenberg, and copies of them were spread broadcast through Germany. Before a week had elapsed they were discussed with eagerness in all parts of the country, and the state of feeling became so intense that Tetzel was obliged to discontinue his mission, and to retire to Frankfurt, where under the direction of Wimpina, he set himself to draw up a number of counter theses which he offered to defend.
The circumstances of the time were very favorable to a campaign suchas Luther had initiated. The princes of Germany and even some of the bishops made no secret of their opinion that indulgences had been abused, and many of them were anything but displeased at the step that had been taken by the Wittenberg professor. The old opposition between the Teuton and the Latin was growing daily more marked owing to the violent and abusive language of men like Ulrich von Hutten, who posed as German patriots; while the Humanist party, roused by the attacks made upon Reuchlin by the Dominicans of Cologne, backed by the Scholastic Theologians, were not sorry to see their opponents challenged in their own special department, and obliged to act on the defensive. The knights or lower nobles, too, who had been deprived of many of their privileges by the princes, were ready for any scheme of violence in the hope that it might conduce to their advantage; and the lower classes ground down for centuries were beginning to realize their own strength, partly owing to the spread of secret societies, and were willing to lend a ready ear to a leader who had given expression to views that were coursing already through their minds.
From all parts of Germany letters of congratulation poured in upon Luther. Many of these came from men who had no desire for a religious change, but who thought that Luther’s campaign was directed only against abuses in the Church. From the Humanists, from several of the professors and students of Wittenberg, and even from the superiors of his order he received unstinted praise and encouragement. At least one of the bishops, Lorenz von Bibra of Wurzburg, hastened to intercede for him with Frederick the Elector of Saxony, while none of the others took up an attitude of unflinching opposition. Tetzel, who had been forced to abandon his work of preaching, defended publicly at Frankfurt on the Maine a number of counter theses formulated by Conrad Wimpina. To this attack Luther replied in a sermon on indulgences in which he aimed at expressing in a popular style the kernel of the doctrine contained in his theses. Sylvester Prierias, the master of the Sacred Palace in Rome, to whom Luther’s theses had been forwarded for examination, published a sharp attack upon them, and was answered in Luther’s most abusive style. The most distinguished, however, of the men who took the field against him was John Eck, Professor of Theology and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt. He was a man well versed in the Scriptures and in the writings of the Fathers, a ready speaker and an incisive writer, in every way qualified to meet such a versatile opponent. While on a visit with the Bishop of Eichstatt he was consulted about Luther’s theses, and gave his opinion in the Obelisks on the dangerous character of the teaching they contained. The Obelisks was prepared hastily and was not intended for publication, but it was regarded as so important that copies of it were circulated freely even before it was given to the world. Luther replied in the Asterisks, a work full of personal invective and abuse. A Dominican of Cologne, Hochstraten, also entered the lists against Luther, but his intervention did more harm than good to the cause of the Church by alienating the Humanist party whom he assailed fiercely as allies and abettors of Luther. These attacks, however, served only to give notoriety to Luther’s views and to win for him the sympathy of his friends. His opponents made one great mistake. Their works were intended in great part only for the learned, while Luther aimed principally at appealing to the masses of the people. The Augustinians represented him as the victim of a Dominican conspiracy, and to show their high appreciation of his services they selected him to conduct the theological disputation at a chapter meeting held at Leipzig six months after the publication of his theses (1518). At this same meeting Luther defended the view that free will in man and all power of doing good were destroyed by original sin, and that everything meritorious accomplished by man is really done by God. His old opponent at the university, Bodenstein (surnamed Carlstadt from his place of birth), declared himself openly in favor of Luther’s teaching on free will, and published a reply to Eck.
As a result of this controversy between Eck and Carlstadt it was arranged that a public disputation should be held at Leipzig (27 June – 15 July, 1519). The Catholic teaching was to be defended by Eck against his two opponents, Luther and Carlstadt. A hall in the castle of Pleissenburg was placed at the disposal of the disputants by Duke George of Saxony, who was a convinced Catholic himself, and who believed that the disputation might be the means of removing many doubts and misunderstandings. The acts of the disputation were to be drawn up and forwarded to the Universities of Paris and Erfurt for their decision. When it became known throughout Germany that a meeting had been arranged between Eck and his two principal opponents, the excitement, especially in the learned circles, became intense, and so great was the rush of scholars from all parts of the country to witness the encounter, that the immense hall was packed with an eager and attentive audience when Eck and Carlstadt entered the pulpits that had been prepared for them.
Few men in Germany, or outside it, were more fitted to hold their own in such a disputation than the distinguished Vice-Chancellor of Ingolstadt. He was a man of imposing appearance, gifted with a clear and pleasing voice and good memory, even tempered and ready, quick to detect the weak points of his adversaries, and keenly alert to their damaging concessions and admissions. The first point to be debated between him and Carlstadt was the question of Grace and Free Will. Carlstadt was at last obliged to concede that the human will was active at least to the extent of co-operating or of not co-operating with divine Grace, a concession that was opposed entirely to the thesis he had undertaken to sustain. Luther, alarmed by the discomfiture of his colleague, determined to enter the lists at once on the question of the primacy of the Roman See. He was not, however, more successful than Carlstadt. Eck, taking advantage of Luther’s irascible temperament and his exaggerations of speech, forced him step by step to put aside as worthless interpretations given by the early Fathers to certain passages of Scripture, and to reject the authority and infallibility of General Councils. Such a line of arguments, opposed as it was to the teaching and beliefs of the Church, roused the opposition of the audience, and served to open the eyes of Duke George to the real nature of Luther’s movement. Annoyed by his own defeat and by the attentions and applause lavished upon his rival by the people of Leipzig, Luther left the city in disgust. The disputation undoubtedly did good in so far as it made clear to all the position of the two parties, and succeeded in holding Duke George of Saxony and the city of Leipzig loyal to the Church; but it also did much harm by giving Luther the notoriety that he was so anxious to obtain, and by winning to his side Philip Melanchthon, who was destined to be in after life his ablest lieutenant. Both sides, as is usual in such contests, claimed the victory. The Universities of Cologne and Louvain condemned Luther immediately, as did also Paris in 1521, but as far as can be known Erfurt pronounced no decision on the questions submitted.
Meanwhile what was the attitude of the authorities in Rome towards Luther’s movement. Leo X., having learned something of the turmoil created in Germany by Luther’s theses and sermons, requested the vicar-general of the Augustinians to induce his rebellious subject to recall his teaching, or, at least, to keep silent. The vicar wrote to the principal, Staupitz, but, as the latter was one of those who had encouraged Luther to take the steps he had taken, very little was done to secure peace. Luther was, however, induced to write a most submissive letter to the Pope in which he begged for an investigation, pledging himself at the same time to accept the decision of Leo X. as the decision of Christ (30th May, 1518). Not satisfied with the course of events, and alarmed by the reports forwarded to him from Germany, the Pope appointed a commission to examine the whole question, the result of which commission was that Luther was summoned to submit at once or to appear at Rome to defend himself within sixty days.
He and his friends were thrown into a state of great alarm by this unexpected step. On the one hand, were he to submit and to acknowledge that he had been in error his reputation would be shattered, the Augustinians would feel themselves disgraced, and the University of Wittenberg would lose caste in the estimation of educated Germans. On the other hand, if he adopted the bold policy of refusing to yield to the papal entreaties he was in danger of being denounced publicly as a heretic. In this difficult situation his friends determined to invoke the protection of the Elector Frederick of Saxony, the founder and patron of Wittenberg University. Alarmed by the danger that threatened this institution from the removal or excommunication of one of its most popular professors, and anxious to gain time, Frederick requested the Pope to refer the matter for decision to some German bishop or to a neutral university. In reply to this request Leo X. appointed Cardinal Cajetan, papal legate in Germany, to hold an inquiry (23 Aug., 1518). Luther, having armed himself with a safe conduct, went to Augsburg to meet the papal representative, who received him very kindly, and exhorted him to withdraw his statements and submit. Luther endeavored to induce the cardinal to enter into a discussion on the questions in dispute, but the latter did not allow himself to be drawn into a disputation. Finally, Luther refused to submit, though, at the same time, he declared solemnly that he wished unsaid and unwritten what he had said or written against the Roman Church. A few days later he fled from Augsburg after having drawn up a formal appeal “from the Pope ill-informed to the Pope well-informed,” while the cardinal, disappointed by the failure of his efforts, turned to the Elector of Saxony for help against the rebellious monk. But the latter, deceived by the recommendations forwarded on Luther’s behalf by his own superior, Staupitz, yielded to the entreaties of Spalatin, the court chaplain, and of the professors of Wittenberg, and declined to take any steps to compel Luther to submit. Fearful, however, lest his patron might not be able to shield him from the censures of Rome, Luther determined to anticipate the expected condemnation by issuing an appeal to a future General Council (28 Nov., 1518).
In the meantime Leo X. who had learned from his representative the result of the Augsburg interviews, issued the Bull, Cum postquam (9 Nov., 1518), in which he explained authoritatively the Catholic doctrine on Indulgences, and threatened excommunication against all who refused to accept it. This document was deprived of much of its effect owing to the misrepresentations of Luther and his friends, who announced that it owed its origin to the schemes and intrigues of their Dominican opponents at Rome and in Germany. The occasion called for speedy and decisive action. But the impending imperial election, in which Charles I. of Spain (1516-56) and Francis I. of France (1515- 47) were to be rival candidates, made it necessary for the Pope to proceed cautiously, and above all, to do nothing that might antagonize the Elector of Saxony, whose influence would be of the greatest importance in deciding the votes of the electoral college, if, indeed, it did not secure his own election. Had the appointment of a successor to Maximilian I. rested with Leo X. it can hardly be doubted that, in the hope of preserving the balance of power and of securing the freedom of the Holy See, he would have favored the claims of the Elector against either or both the rival monarchs.
In these circumstances it was decided to send Karl von Miltitz, who was by birth a Saxon nobleman and at that period a chamberlain at the Papal Court, to present Frederick with the Golden Rose, and to bring about a peaceful settlement of a controversy that had been disturbing the whole Empire. The selection of Miltitz for such a delicate mission was most unfortunate. Proud, obstinate, and ill- informed about the real issues at stake, he was anxious to have the glory of putting an end to the controversy at all costs, and hence he was willing to appear before Luther as a humble suitor for peace rather than as a stern judge. All his severity and reproaches were reserved for Luther’s opponents, especially for Tetzel, whom he held primarily responsible for the whole mischief, and towards whom he acted both imprudently and unjustly. The Elector showed himself but little inclined to respond to the advances of Leo X. He consented, however, to arrange an interview between Miltitz and Luther at Altenburg (Jan. 1519). During the course of the interviews that took place between them, Luther pledged himself to remain silent if his opponents were forced to do likewise. He promised, too, that if Miltitz wrote advising the Pope to appoint a German bishop to try the case and to convince him of his error he would be willing to retract his theses, to submit to the Church, and to advise all his supporters to remain loyal to the Holy See. At the same time he prepared a letter for transmission to Rome, in which he addressed the Pope in the most respectful terms, declaring as on oath before God and creatures that it never entered into his mind to attack in any way the authority of the Roman Church or of the Pope, that he confessed willingly that in this Church was vested supreme jurisdiction, and that neither in heaven or on earth was there anything he should put before it except Jesus Christ the Lord of all things. Throughout these proceedings it is clear that Luther meant only to deceive Miltitz and to lull the suspicions of the Roman authorities, until the seed he had planted should have taken root. Only a short time before he had written to a friend, hinting that the Pope was the real Anti- Christ mentioned by St. Paul in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, and asserting his ability to prove that he who ruled at the Roman Court was worse than the Turk.
Several months passed and no further steps were taken by Rome to meet the crisis. This delay was due in great measure to the death of Maximilian I. (1519), and to the sharp contest that ensued. The two strongest candidates were Charles I., King of Spain, who as son of Philip the Handsome (son of Maximilian), and of Joanna of Castile (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella), was ruler of Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, and Naples, and Francis I., King of France. For centuries the Pope had striven to prevent the union of Naples and the Empire, and with good reason, for such a union must prove almost of necessity highly detrimental to the safety of the Papal States and the independence of the Holy See. For this reason, if for no other, Leo X. did not favor the candidature of Charles. Nor could he induce himself to display any enthusiasm for the cause of Francis I., whose intervention in Italian affairs the Pope had good grounds to dread. As against the two the Pope endeavored to induce the princes to elect one of their own number, preferably the Elector of Saxony. But the Elector showed no anxiety to accept such a responsible office, and in the end Charles succeeded in winning over to his side the majority of the princes. He was elected and proclaimed Emperor under the title of Charles V. (1519).
While Rome remained inactive, and while the opponents of Luther in Germany were handicapped by the crude diplomacy of Miltitz, Luther was gaining ground with marvelous rapidity. His success was due partly to his own great personal gifts as a popular demagogue, and partly also to the fact that no man knew better than he how to make capital out of the ecclesiastical abuses of the time, and to win to his side all who had any reason to be discontented with the existing order. He was strengthened very much by the inactivity of the German bishops, who seemed unwilling to take any severe measures against him, by the help and encouragement of Frederick of Saxony, who, during the interregnum and for some time after the election of Charles V. was the real administrator of Germany, by his union with the leading Humanist scholars and professors, especially Erasmus, all of whom regarded Luther merely as the champion of liberty against the obscurantism of the Scholastics, and by his secret alliances with discontented nobles, such as Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen, whose sole hope of improving their fortunes lay in the creation of public disorder.
Johann Eck, Luther’s chief opponent, realizing that there was no hope of stirring up the German authorities to take action, hastened to Rome to impress upon the Pope and his advisers the extreme gravity of the situation, and to urge them to proceed against the revolt with all possible energy and dispatch. Luther himself recognized clearly enough that the crisis he had long foreseen was at hand, and he began to prepare men’s minds for complete rupture with the Church by his sermon on excommunication in which he bade defiance to the ecclesiastical authorities. He threw himself with renewed energy into the fray, turning out volume after volume with feverish rapidity, each more violent and abusive than its predecessor, and nearly all couched in language that was as intelligible to the peasant as it was to the professor. In his Address to the Nobles of Germany, in his works On the Mass, On the Improvement of Christian Morality, and On the Babylonian Captivity, he proclaimed himself a political as well as a religious revolutionary. There was no longer any concealment or equivocation. The veil was lifted at last, and Luther stood forth to the world as the declared enemy of the Church and the Pope, the champion of the Bible as the sole rule of faith, and the defender of individual judgment as its only interpreter. In these works he rejected the Mass, Transubstantiation, vows of chastity, pilgrimages, fasts, the Sacraments, the powers of the priesthood, and the jurisdiction and supremacy of the Pope. With such a man there could be no longer any question of leniency or of compromise. The issues at stake, namely, whether the wild and impassioned assertions of a rebel monk should be accepted in preference to the teaching of Christ’s Church, ought to have been apparent to every thinking man; and yet so blinded were some of his contemporaries by their sympathy with the Humanists as against the Theologians, that even still they forced themselves to believe Luther sought only for reform.
At Rome the trouble in Germany was one of the main subjects that engaged the attention of the Curia. It was felt that the time had come when decisive measures must be taken. After long and anxious deliberations Leo X. published the Bull, Exsurge Domine (June 1520), in which forty propositions taken from Luther’s writings were condemned, his works were ordered to be burned, the full penalties of excommunication were proclaimed against him unless he withdrew his errors and made his submission within sixty days, while his aiders and abettors were besought in the most touching terms to abandon the dangerous path into which they had been betrayed. Had such a pronouncement been issued at the beginning of the movement it might have done much to restore peace to the Church, but, coming as it did at a time when Luther’s movement, backed by all the revolutionary forces of Germany, had already acquired considerable dimensions, it failed to put an end to the tumult. Besides, the papal decision was deprived of much of its force by the fact that Eck, Caraccioli, and Aleandro were appointed as a commission to superintend its execution. The appointment of Eck was a great tactical blunder, as it afforded Luther and his friends an opportunity of proclaiming that the sentence of excommunication was procured by the intrigues and misrepresentations of their personal enemies; while the fact that the German bishops were disregarded in the execution of the Bull as if they were not above suspicion themselves, was looked upon by many as a studied insult to the entire German hierarchy. Even though Luther had entertained any thoughts of submission, the triumph of Eck would have created very serious obstacles; but, knowing as he did, that even at the worst he could reckon upon the support of a certain number of the discontented nobles who had pledged themselves to put their swords at his disposal, he had no intention of making his submission.
The reception accorded to the papal document varied according to the views of the local authorities and the state of public feeling in the different cities and provinces. Thus, while its publication was welcomed in Cologne, Mainz, Halberstadt, and Freising, it was received with very mixed feelings at Leipzig and at Erfurt. Frederick of Saxony, to whom Leo X. had addressed a personal appeal, refused to abandon Luther’s cause unless it were proved from the Scriptures that he was wrong. He did, indeed, suggest that Luther should write a respectful letter to the Pope, but his suggestion passed unheeded. At first Luther pretended that the Bull was a forgery brought forward by Eck to discredit him, but when this line of defense proved useless, he boldly attacked the papal pronouncement in his pamphlet, Against the Bull of Anti-Christ, in which he denounced Leo X. as a heretic and apostate, an enemy of the Holy Scriptures, a tyrant, and a calumniator. Lest, however, the courage of his supporters might be overcome by the terrors of excommunication, he issued an appeal from the sentence of the Pope to the judgment of a future General Council. Finally, on the 10th December, 1520, in the presence of an immense concourse of the citizens and students of Wittenberg, he burned publicly the papal Bull and the writings of his political opponents. On this occasion he proclaimed his intention of overthrowing the ecclesiastical organization, and of introducing a new theological system. For the future it was to be war to the knife against the Pope and the Church, and he called upon German patriots and all true friends of personal liberty to take their stand by his side in the conflict that had been begun.
Charles V. was apparently in a very strong position. Not since the days of Charlemagne had any ruler claimed jurisdiction over so wide a territory as his, comprising, as it did, Germany and Austria, the kingdom of the two Sicilies, Spain, and the Netherlands. But in reality the very extent of his dominions made him much less powerful than he might have been as the sovereign of a smaller but more compact region. It served to awaken the suspicions of his subjects, who feared that he might abolish their distinctive national constitutions and weld his scattered territories into one great empire, and to excite the jealousy of the other rulers of Europe, who imagined that he might declare himself dictator of the western world. The German princes, having resisted successfully all the efforts made by his grandfather, Maximilian I., to convert the loose confederation of the German States into a united and centralized nation, were on their guard lest his successor should attempt a similar policy with the aid of Spanish troops and Spanish gold; the Spaniards resented the absence of the king from Spain, where many of the lower classes were in a state bordering on rebellion; Francis I. of France, trembling for the very existence of his country, was willing to do all things, even to agree to an alliance with the sons of Mohammed, if he could only lessen the influence of his powerful rival. The Turks under Soliman I. were determined to realize the dreams of their race by extending their territories from the Bosphorus to the Atlantic; while even the Pope had good reason to suspect that Charles V., unmindful of the example of his great namesake, might seek to become the master rather than the protector of the Church.
On account of the troubles in Spain it was only late in the year 1520 that Charles V. could come to Germany to meet the electors, and to take over formally the administration of the Empire (23 Oct.). Less than two weeks had elapsed when the papal representative, Aleandro, himself a distinguished Humanist, sought an interview with the new ruler, and besought him to enforce the papal Bull against Luther with the full weight of his imperial authority. But the wavering attitude of many of the princes and the determined opposition of Frederick of Saxony made the Emperor hesitate to condemn Luther without giving him an opportunity for explanation and defense. The Diet was soon to open at Worms, and Charles V. issued an invitation to Luther to attend, guaranteeing at the same time his personal safety on the way to and from Worms and during his sojourn in the city.
The Diet met in January 1521, but despite the efforts of Aleandro the majority of the princes still failed to realize the gravity of the situation. Feeling against Rome was running very high in Germany at the time. Many of the princes insisted on presenting a document embodying the grievances of Germany (Centum Gravamina) to the papal ambassador, while even such an orthodox supporter of the Church as Duke George of Saxony, brought forward very serious complaints against the clergy, accompanied by a demand that a General Council should be summoned to restore peace to the Church. Luther, strengthened by the safe conduct of the Emperor and by a secret understanding with some of the princes and knights, set out from Wittenberg for Worms, where he arrived in April 1521. On presenting himself before the Diet he was invited to state if he were really the author of the works published under his name, copies of which were presented to him, and, if so, was he willing to retract the doctrines contained in them. In reply to the former of these questions he admitted the authorship of the volumes, but asked for time to consider what answer he should make in regard to the latter. A day was allowed him for consideration. When he appeared again, all traces of the hesitation and nervousness that marked his attitude at the previous session had disappeared. He refused to retract his opinions, and made it clear that he no longer acknowledged the authority of the Pope or of General Councils as a safe guide in matters religious.
Thereupon the Emperor intimated to the princes that he was determined to take vigorous action against such a heretic and disturber of the public peace, though at the request of some of the princes he allowed time for private conferences between Luther and representative Catholic theologians, notably Eck and Cochlaeus. These conferences having failed to produce any result the Emperor issued an order (25th April) commanding Luther to depart from Worms without delay, and forbidding him to preach to the people on his journey under pain of forfeiting his safe conduct. A month later Charles V. published a decree placing Luther under the ban of the Empire. He was denounced as a public heretic whom no one should receive or support; he was to be seized by any one who could do so, and delivered to the Emperor; his writings were to be burned, and all persons proved guilty of countenancing himself or his errors were liable to severe punishment. Many hoped that the decree might put an end to the confusion, but in reality Charles V. was powerless to enforce it, especially as the majority of the princes were unwilling to carry out its terms in their territories. Hence, outside the hereditary dominions of the House of Habsburg, the lands of Joachim I. of Brandenburg and of Duke George of Saxony, and in Bavaria, it remained a dead letter.
On the route from Worms Luther was taken prisoner by soldiers of the Elector, Frederick of Saxony, according to arrangements that had been made for his protection, and was brought to the castle at Wartburg where he remained for close on a year (May 1521-March 1522) under the assumed name of Yonker George, safe in spite of the imperial decrees. In the silence of his retreat at Wartburg Luther had an opportunity for reflection on the gravity of the situation that he had created. At times he trembled, as he thought of separating himself definitely from the great world-wide organization which recognized the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, and of setting up his own judgment against the faith that had been handed down for centuries, and that was supported by the ablest scholars from the days of Clement of Rome to those of St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure.
In his anxiety of mind he was the victim of hallucinations, believing that the spirit of evil appeared to him in visible form, and held commune with him in human speech. He was assailed, too, with violent temptations of the flesh, which reduced him to a state bordering on despair. But these moments of depression passed away, to be succeeded by fits of wild exultation in which he rejoiced at the storm that he had created already, and at the still greater storm he was soon to create. He set to work with tireless energy, believing himself to be inspired from on high as was the apostle, St. John, during his stay in the island of Patmos. At the instigation of his friends, who urged him to attack the celibacy of the monks and nuns, he turned his attention to this question, and issued a work On Monastic Vows, in which he declared that such vows of chastity, being opposed to the freedom of the Gospel, were sinful and should be neglected. In his book On the Mass he assailed the Mass and the whole theory of the Christian priesthood, declaring that every believer was in a true sense a priest. He poured out a most violent torrent of abuse against Henry VIII. of England, who, in his Defense of the Seven Sacraments, had ventured to join issue with the German reformer. At the same time he undertook to prepare a translation of the New Testament as a means of advancing his propaganda. By aid of mis- ranslations and marginal notes he sought to popularize his views on Faith and Justification, and to win favor with the people by opening to them the word of God, which he asserted falsely had been closed against them for centuries.
All his pamphlets were couched in popular language and were exactly the kind of works likely to appeal to the masses of the people, as well as to the debased instincts of those who had entered into the religious state in response to the wishes of their parents or guardians rather than in obedience to the call of God. But while Luther thus catered for the multitude, Melanchthon sought to gain the support of the more educated classes by throwing Luther’s teaching into scientific and systematic form in his work, Loci Communes (1521), a book that remained for centuries the standard authority on Lutheran teaching.
It would be wrong to assume that Luther developed his theological system in its entirety before his separation from the Church. On the question of Justification and Free-will he had arrived at views distinctly opposed to Catholic doctrine, but his system as such took shape only gradually in response to the attacks of his opponents or the demands of his friends. On the one hand, imbued with the ideas of German Pantheistic mysticism, Luther started with the fixed principle that man’s action is controlled by necessary laws, and that even after justification man is completely devoid of free will at least in religious matters. According to him, human nature became so essentially maimed and corrupted by the sin of Adam that every work which man can do is and must be sinful, because it proceeds in some way from concupiscence. Hence it is, he asserted, that good works are useless in acquiring justification, which can be obtained only by faith; and by faith he understood not the mere intellectual assent to revealed doctrines, but a practical confidence, resulting, no doubt, from this assent, that the merits of Christ will be applied to the soul. Through this faith the sinner seizes upon the righteousness of Christ, and by applying to himself the justice of his Savior his sins are covered up. For this reason Luther explained that justification did not mean the actual forgiveness of sin by the infusion of some internal habit called sanctifying grace, but only the non-imputation of the guilt on account of the merits of Christ.
Since faith alone is necessary for justification it followed as a logical consequence that there was no place in Luther’s system for the Sacraments, though in deference to old traditions he retained three Sacraments, Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist. These, however, as he took care to explain, do not produce grace in the soul. They are mere outward pledges that the receiver has the faith without which he cannot be justified. Having in this way rejected the sacramental system and the sacrificial character of the Mass, it was only natural that he should disregard the priesthood, and proclaim that all believers were priests. In harmony with his theory on justification, and its dependence on faith, he denounced Purgatory, Prayers for the Dead, Indulgences, and Invocation of the Saints as being in themselves derogatory to the merits of Christ.
On the other hand, he laid it down as the leading principle that the Bible was the sole rule of faith, and that individual judgment was its only interpreter. Consequently he rejected the idea of a visible authority set up by Christ as an infallible guide in religious affairs. In this way he sought to undermine the authority of the Church, to depreciate the value of the decrees of the Popes and General Councils, and to re-assure his less daring followers by stripping ecclesiastical censures of more than half their terrors.
The results of Luther’s literary activity were soon apparent at Wittenberg and other centers in Germany. The Augustinians in Luther’s own convent set aside their vows as worthless, and rejected the Mass. Carlstadt made common cause with the most radical element in the city, celebrated Mass on Christmas morning in the German language (1521), and administered Holy Communion to every one who came forward to receive, without any inquiry about their spiritual condition. Putting himself at the head of a body of students and roughs he went round the churches destroying the pictures, statues, confessionals, and altars. To increase the confusion a party of men at Zwickau led by a shoemaker, Nicholas Storch, and a preacher, Thomas Munzer, following the principle of private judgment advocated by Luther, insisted on faith as a condition for baptism and rejected infant baptism as worthless. They were called Anabaptists. They claimed to be special messengers from God, gifted with the power of working miracles, and favored with visions from on high. In vain did Luther attack them as heretics, and exhort his lieutenants to suppress them as being more dangerous than the Papists. Carlstadt, unable to answer their arguments from Scripture, went over to their side, and even Melanchthon felt so shaken in his opposition that he appealed to Wartburg for guidance. The students at the university became so restless and turbulent that Duke George of Saxony began to take the prompt and decisive action necessary for dealing with such a dangerous situation. Luther, alarmed for the future of his work, abandoned his retreat at Wartburg (March 1522) and returned to Wittenberg, where he had recourse to stern measures to put an end to the confusion. He drove Carlstadt from the city, and even followed him to other places where he tried to find refuge, till at last, after a very disedifying scene between them in a public tavern, he forced him to flee from Saxony. Carlstadt’s greatest offence in the eyes of his master was his preaching against the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, though Luther himself admitted that he should have liked to deny the Real Presence if only to annoy the Pope, were it not that the words of Scripture proved too strong. Carlstadt adopted a different interpretation, but Luther was not the man to tolerate individual judgment in the case of one of his own lieutenants. Carlstadt was denounced as a heretic and a blasphemer, for whom no punishment could be sufficiently severe. Munzer, too, was banished, and with the assistance of the Elector, Luther was enabled to overcome all his opponents.
Luther owed his success in the opening years of his campaign mainly to his ability in gauging the feelings of the different classes whose support he wished to obtain, as well as to his complete mastery of the German language. In appealing to the monks and nuns, who were longing to escape from the obligations they had contracted, he offered them complete liberty by denouncing their vows as opposed to the freedom of the Gospel and consequently sinful. Many of the monks and nuns abandoned their cloisters and fled to Wittenberg to seek the pleasures denied them hitherto, and to put in practice Luther’s teaching on the necessity of marriage. Though he encouraged bishops and priests to marry, and though he forwarded his warmest congratulations to Carlstadt on his betrothal to a fifteen year old maiden (1522), Luther himself hesitated long before taking his final plunge; but at last, against the advice of his best friends, he took as his wife Catherine Bora, one of the escaped nuns who had sought refuge in Wittenberg. His marriage (1525) was a source of amusement to his opponents as it was of dismay to his supporters. Melanchthon complained bitterly of the step his master had taken, but he consoled himself with the thought that the marriage might put an end to his former frivolity, and might allay the suspicions that his conduct had aroused. To the princes, the free cities, and the landless knights he appealed by holding out hopes that they might be enriched by a division of the ecclesiastical estates and of the goods of the monasteries and churches. With the overthrow of the Pope and of the bishops the princes were led to expect that they might themselves become spiritual dictators in their own dominions. To the friends of the Humanist movement and the great body of the professors and students he represented himself as the champion of learning and intellectual freedom, anxious to defend them against the obscurantism of the Scholastics and the interference of the Roman congregations.
A large number of the leading Humanists, believing that Luther had undertaken only a campaign against universally recognized abuses, were inclined at first to sympathize with his movement. The friendly attitude they adopted, and the influence employed by Erasmus and others on his behalf during the early years of his revolt contributed not a little to his final success. But as it became evident that his object was the overthrow of the Church and of doctrines accepted as dogmas of faith by the whole Christian world, his former allies fell away one by one. On the question of free-will Erasmus, who had long played a double role, found it necessary to take the field openly against him. Luther’s answer, full of personal abuse and invective, drew a sharp reply from Erasmus, and all friendly intercourse between them was broken off for ever.
But it was on the mass of the people, the peasants and the artisans, that Luther relied mainly for support, and it was to these he addressed his most forcible appeals. The peasants of Germany, ground down by heavy taxes and reduced to the position of slaves, were ready to listen to the revolutionary ideas put forward by leaders like Sickingen and von Hutten, and to respond to the call of Luther to rise against their princes whether they were secular or ecclesiastical. In the imagination of the peasants Luther appeared as the friend of human liberty, determined to deliver them from the intolerable yoke that had been laid upon them by their masters. His attacks were confined at first to the prince-bishops and abbots, but soon realizing the strength of the weapon he wielded, he attacked the lay princes in the pamphlets entitled Christian Liberty and The Secular Magistracy, and advocated the complete overthrow of all authority. It is true, undoubtedly, that many of the peasants were already enrolled in the secret societies, and that had there never been a Luther a popular rising might have been anticipated; but his doctrines on evangelical freedom and his frenzied onslaughts on the ecclesiastical and lay rulers, turned the movement into an anti- eligious channel, and imparted to the struggle a uniformity and bitterness that otherwise it could never have acquired.
Risings of the peasantry took place in various parts of Germany, notably in Swabia, Thuringia, the Rhine Provinces, and Saxony (1524). Thomas Munzer, the leader of the Anabaptists, encouraged them in their fight for freedom. At first the attack was directed principally against the spiritual princes. Many monasteries and churches were plundered, and several of the nobles were put to death. Soon the lay princes of Germany, alarmed by the course of the revolutionaries and fearing for the safety of their own territories, assembled their forces and marched against the insurgents. The war was carried on mercilessly on both sides, close upon 100,000 peasants being killed in the field, while many of their leaders, amongst them Thomas Munzer, were arrested and condemned to death. In nearly every important engagement the peasants, as might be expected, suffered defeat, so that before the end of 1525 the movement was, practically speaking, at an end. Luther, who had been consulted by both sides, and who had tried to avoid committing himself to either, frightened by the very violence of the storm he had been instrumental in creating, issued an appeal to the princes calling upon them to show no mercy to the forces of disorder, and even Melanchthon, gentle and moderate as he usually was, did not hesitate to declare that the peasants of Germany had more liberty than should be allowed to such a rude and uncultured people. The Peasants’ War, disastrous as it was, did some good by opening men’s eyes to the dangerous consequences of Luther’s extravagant harangues, and by giving some slight indications as to the real character and methods of the man, who was posing as a heaven-sent reformer and at the same time as a champion of popular liberty.
But though Luther lost ground in many quarters owing to the part he played before and during the Peasants’ War, he had no intention of abandoning the struggle in despair. During the early years of his campaign his mind was so engrossed with the overthrow of existing religious institutions, that he had little time to consider how he should rebuild what he had pulled down. At first he thought that no visible organization was necessary, as the Church, according to his view, consisted of all those who had true faith and charity. But soon he abandoned this idea in favor of district or local churches that should be left completely independent. The disturbances in Germany during the Peasants’ War taught him the hopelessness of such a scheme, and showed him that his only chance of permanent success lay in the organization of state churches to be placed under the protection and authority of the civil rulers. By this bribe he hoped to conciliate the princes, whom he had antagonized by his attacks on their own body as well as by his attitude during the early stages of the disturbance. The Elector John of Saxony, who had succeeded his brother Frederick, hesitated at first to assist him in the momentous work of setting up a rival Christian organization. But, at last, mindful of the advantages that would accrue to him from being recognized as supreme head of the Church in his own dominions, he gave a reluctant consent to the plans formulated by Luther.
A body of visitors consisting of clerics and lawyers was appointed to draw up a new ecclesiastical constitution, the most noteworthy feature of which was the complete dependence of the new church on the secular authority of each state. Episcopal jurisdiction was rejected, and in place of the bishops, superintendents were appointed. The ordinary administration was to be carried out by a synod of clerics and laymen elected by the various parishes, but, in reality, the right of appointment, of taxation, of apportioning the temporal goods, and of deciding legal difficulties passed under the control of the sovereign. Strange to say, though Luther insisted on individual judgment during his campaign against the Catholic Church, he had no difficulty in urging the civil rulers to force all their subjects to join the new religious body. The goods of the Catholic Church were to be appropriated, some of them being set aside for the support of the new religious organization, while the greater portion of them found their way into the royal treasury. The Mass, shorn of the Elevation and of everything that would imply the idea of sacrifice, was translated into the German language, so that in all solemn religious services the place of the Sacrifice was taken by the hymns, Scriptural lessons, the sermon, and the Lord’s Supper. Melanchthon wrote a Visitation Book (1527) for the guidance of Lutheran ministers, and Luther himself published two catechisms for the instruction of the children. The Lutheran church was organized on a similar plan in Hesse and Brandenburg and in many of the free cities such as Nurnberg, Magdeburg, Bremen, Frankfurt, Ulm, etc. By these measures the separation was completed definitely, and a certain amount of unity was ensured for the new religion.
Meanwhile, how fared it with the Emperor and the Pope? Shortly after the Diet of Nurnberg (1522) Charles V. left Germany for the Netherlands. Owing to the troubles in Spain and the long drawn out war with France he was unable to give any attention to the progress of affairs in Germany. The administration of the Empire was committed to three representatives, the ablest of whom was the Elector Frederick of Saxony, the friend and patron of Luther. The result was that Luther had a free hand to spread his views notwithstanding the decree of Worms.
Leo X. died in 1521 and was succeeded by Adrian VI. (1522-3), a former tutor of the Emperor. As a Hollander it might be anticipated that his representations to the German princes would prove more effective than those of his Italian predecessor, particularly as not even his worst enemies could discover anything worthy of reproach either in his principles or personal conduct. Convinced that Luther’s only chance of winning support lay in his exaggerated denunciations of real or imaginary abuses, he determined to bring about a complete reform, first in Rome itself and then throughout the entire Christian world. Owing to his ill- isguised contempt for all that was dear to the heart of the Humanist Leo X., and to the severe measures taken by him to reduce expenses at the Roman Court, he encountered great opposition in Rome, and incurred the dislike both of officials and people.
When he learned that a Diet was to be held at Nurnberg (1522) to consider plans for the defense of the Empire against the Turks who had conquered Belgrade, he dispatched Chieregati as his nuncio to invite the princes to enforce the decree of Worms, and to restore peace to the Church by putting down the Lutheran movement. In his letters to individual members of the Diet and in his instructions to the nuncio, which were read publicly to the assembled representatives, Adrian VI. admitted the existence of grave abuses both in Rome itself and in nearly every part of the church. He promised, however, to do everything that in him lay to bring about a complete and thorough reform.
These admissions served only to strengthen the hands of Luther and his supporters, who pointed to them as a justification for the whole movement, and to provide the princes with a plausible explanation of their inactivity in giving effect to the decree of Worms. The princes refused to carry out the decree of Worms, alleging as an excuse the danger of popular commotion. They brought forward once more the grievances of the German nation against Rome (Centum Gravamina), insisted on a General Council being called to restore peace to the Church, and held out a vague hope that an effort would be made to prevent the spread of the new doctrine till the Council should be convoked.
The papal nuncio, dissatisfied with the attitude of the representatives, withdrew from the Diet before the formal reply was delivered to him. Adrian VI., cognizant of the failure of his efforts and wearied by the opposition of the Romans to whom his reforms were displeasing, made a last fruitless effort to win over Frederick of Saxony to his side. The news that the island of Rhodes, for the defense of which he had labored and prayed so strenuously, had fallen into the hands of the Turks, served to complete his affliction and to bring him to a premature grave. He died in September 1523 to the great delight of the Romans, who could barely conceal their rejoicing even when he lay on his bed of death. He was an excellent Pope, though perhaps not sufficiently circumspect for the critical times in which he lived. Had he been elected a century earlier, and had he been given an opportunity of carrying out reforms, as had been given to some of his predecessors, the Lutheran movement would have been an impossibility.
He was succeeded by Clement VII. (1523-34). The new Pope was a relative of Leo X., and, like him, a patron of literature and art. He was a man of blameless life and liberal views, and endowed with great prudence and tact, but his excessive caution and want of firmness led to the ruin of his best-conceived plans and to the failure of his general policy. He dispatched Cardinal Campeggio as his legate to the Diet of Nurnberg (1524). Once again the princes of Germany closed their ears to the appeal of the Pope, refused to take energetic measures to enforce the decree of Worms, and talked of establishing a commission to consider the grievances of their nation against Rome, and to inquire into the religious issues that had been raised. Campeggio, feeling that it was hopeless to expect assistance from the Diet, turned to the individual princes. He succeeded in bringing about an alliance at Ratisbon (1524) between the rulers of Austria, Bavaria, and several of the ecclesiastical princes of Southern Germany for the purpose of opposing the new teaching and safeguarding the interests of the Catholic Church. A similar alliance of the Catholic princes of Northern Germany was concluded at Dessau in 1526. At the same time the princes who were favorable to Lutheran views, notably Philip of Hesse, John, Elector of Saxony, the rulers of Brandenburg, Prussia, Mecklenburg and Mansfeld, together with the representatives of the cities of Brunswick and Mecklenburg, met and pledged themselves to make common cause, were any attempt made by the Emperor or the Catholic princes to suppress Luther’s doctrine by force. In this way Germany was being divided gradually into two hostile camps.
Unfortunately Charles V., whose presence in Germany might have exercised a restraining influence, was so engrossed in the life and death struggle with France that he had no time to follow the progress of the religious revolt. To complicate the issue still more, Clement VII., who had been friendly to the Emperor for some time after his election, alarmed lest the freedom of the Papal States and of the Holy See might be endangered were the French driven completely from the peninsula, took sides openly against Charles V. and formed an alliance with his opponent. The good fortune that had smiled on the French arms suddenly deserted them. In 1525 Francis I. was defeated at Pavia and taken as prisoner to Spain, where he was forced to accept the terms dictated to him by his victorious rival. On his release in 1526 he refused to abide by the terms of the Treaty, and a new alliance, consisting of the Pope, France, England, Venice, Florence, Milan, and Switzerland was formed against Charles V. Disturbances, fomented by the Italian supporters of the Emperor, broke out in the Papal States, and a German army led by the Prince of Bourbon marched on Rome without the knowledge of Charles, captured the city, plundered its treasures, and for several days wreaked a terrible vengeance on the citizens. Charles, who was in Spain at the time, was deeply grieved when the news was brought to him of the havoc that had been wrought by his subordinates. A temporary peace was concluded immediately between the Emperor and the Pope, and the peace of Barcelona in 1529 put an end to this unholy strife. About the same time the hostilities between Charles and Francis I. were brought to a conclusion by the Peace of Cambrai, and the Emperor, having been crowned by the Pope at Bologna (1530), was free at last to turn his attention to the religious revolution in Germany.
During the struggle between Charles V. and the Pope the Lutheran princes had a free hand to do as they pleased, and, indeed, at one time they were not without hope that Charles might be induced to place himself at their head. Besides, owing to the fact that the Turks were advancing on Hungary and were likely to overrun the hereditary dominions of the House of Habsburg, they felt confident that no attempt could be made to suppress Lutheranism by force. At the Diet of Speier, in 1526, John Duke of Saxony, and Philip of Hesse adopted so violent and unconciliatory an attitude that Germany was on the brink of civil war, had not the Archduke Ferdinand, alarmed by the success of the Turks, used all his powers to prevent a division. It was agreed that both sides should unite against the Turks, that a Council should be called within a year to discuss the religious difficulties, and that in the meantime individual rulers were free to enforce or disregard the decree of Worms as they wished.
These concessions, wrung from the Catholic princes owing to the fear of Turkish invasion, did not satisfy either party. False rumors were spread among the Protestant princes that Duke George of Saxony and other Catholic rulers intended to have recourse to arms, and though the Duke was able to clear himself of the charge, the relations between the two parties became gradually more strained. In 1526 the Turks overcame the Hungarians and Bohemians at Mohacz, and advancing into Austria were encamped under the very walls of Vienna. It became necessary to summon another Diet at Speier (1529). The Catholic princes were in the majority, and the knowledge, that the Emperor had concluded peace with France and the Pope and was now ready to support them, rendered them less willing to accept dictation. It was carried by a majority that the Emperor should attempt to have a Council convoked within a year, that in the meantime the rulers in whose territories the decree of Worms had been in force should continue to enforce it, and that in the states where the new teaching had taken root the rulers were at liberty to allow it to continue, but, in the interval before the Council they should permit no further changes to be introduced. Nobody should be allowed to preach against the Sacrament of the Altar; the Mass should be celebrated if it had not been abolished, and if abolished no one should be punished for celebrating or attending it, and the Scripture should be expounded according to the traditional interpretation of the Church.
The Lutheran party objected strongly to this decree, and as their objections were over-ruled they submitted a formal protest, on account of which they received the distinctive title of Protestants. The protest, signed by the Elector of Saxony, the Margrave of Brandenburg, the Dukes of Brunswick-Luneburg, Philip of Hesse, and the representatives of fourteen cities, having failed to produce any effect on the Diet, a deputation was appointed to interview the Emperor and to place their grievances before him. But Charles V., mindful of his imperial oath, refused to allow himself to be intimidated. He warned the deputation that he and the Catholic princes had also their duties to fulfill towards God and the Church, and that until a Council should assemble they must obey the decrees of the Diet. In January 1530 he convened a new Diet to meet at Augsburg at which he himself promised to be present.
The Diet was convened to meet at Augsburg in April 1530, but it was the middle of June before the Emperor, accompanied by the papal legate, made his formal entrance into the city. On the following day the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated with the customary solemnities, and the Emperor was pained deeply when he learned that the Protestant princes refused to be present or to take any part in the function. At the opening of the Diet it was agreed that the religious question should take precedence, and the Protestant princes were invited to make a clear statement of their doctrines and demands. Luther himself could not be present on account of the decree of Worms, and hence the duty of preparing a complete exposition of the Protestant doctrine devolved upon the ablest of his lieutenants, Philip Melanchthon. He drew up and presented to the Diet the document known as the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) accepted by Luther himself as a masterly though perhaps too moderate statement of the new teaching. The Confession was divided into two parts, the former of which consisted of twenty-one articles or dogmas of faith received by himself and his friends; the latter dwelt with what he termed abuses which they rejected, notable amongst these being celibacy of the clergy, monastic vows, auricular confession, private masses, communion under one kind, abstinence, and episcopal government. The Confession was drawn up very skillfully, great prominence being given to the doctrines on which all Christians were agreed, while the distinctive tenets of the Protestant reformers were put forward in their mildest and least offensive form. The document was read to the Diet in German by Bayer, Chancellor of the Elector of Saxony, and undoubtedly it produced a marked impression on the assembly. The Emperor held a conference with the Catholic princes, some of whom advocated prompt recourse to the sternest measures. Others, however, amongst them being several of the ecclesiastical princes, misled by the temperate and, in a certain sense, misleading character of Melanchthon’s statement, and believing that a peaceful solution to the religious difficulty was still possible, urged Charles V. to abstain from decisive action. It was agreed that the work of examining and refuting the Augsburg Confession should be entrusted to a certain number of Catholic theologians, the most prominent of whom were Eck, Cochlaeus, and Conrad Wimpina. Unfortunately these men allowed their natural feelings of irritation to overcome their judgment, and not content with a calm and judicial refutation of the document submitted to them, they attacked warmly the exaggerations, contradictions, and misrepresentations of Catholic doctrine of which Luther had been guilty, and succeeded in imparting to their reply a bitter and ironical tone more likely to widen than to heal the division. At the request of the Emperor they modified it very considerably, confining themselves entirely to a brief and dispassionate examination of the individual points raised by Melanchthon, and in its modified form their refutation (Confutatio Confessionis Augustanae) was presented to the Diet (3rd Aug.).
When the reply of the Catholic theologians had been read the Emperor called upon the Protestant princes to return to the unity of the Church; but his appeal fell upon deaf ears, and it seemed as if the issue were to be decided immediately by civil war. By way of compromise it was suggested that representatives of both parties should meet in conference, Eck, Cochlaeus, and Wimpina being selected as the Catholic theologians, Melanchthon, Brenz, and Schnep as the champions of Lutheranism. From the very outset it should have been evident to all that, where disagreement was so fundamental, one party maintaining the theory of an infallible Church as the only safe guide in religious matters, the other rejecting entirely the authority of the Church and the Pope in favor of individual judgment, the discussion of particular dogmas could never lead to unity. As a matter of fact Melanchthon was willing to make most important concessions, and on the question of original sin, free-will, justification, faith, penance, and the intercession of the saints, formulas were put forward not displeasing to either party. Even in regard to the Eucharist, the jurisdiction of the bishops, and the supremacy of Rome, Melanchthon was inclined to go far to meet his opponents, much to the disgust of the extremists of his own party and to the no small alarm of Luther. But in reality the apparent harmony existed only on paper, and the concessions made by Melanchthon depended entirely on the meaning that should be placed on the ambiguous phraseology and qualifications with which they were clothed. On the question of the Mass, the celibacy of the clergy, and the meritorious character of good works, no agreement was arrived at, as Melanchthon, alarmed by the opposition of his own supporters and the reproofs of Luther, was unwilling to modify his position. What the conference of theologians had failed to do was undertaken by a mixed commission consisting of princes, theologians, and lawyers, but without any result. In September the Emperor announced that he was endeavoring to procure the convocation of a General Council and that in the meantime the Protestants should return to the old faith, a certain time being allowed them for consideration, that they should attempt no further innovations or interference with the followers of the old faith, that they should restore the ecclesiastical goods which had been seized, and that they should unite with the Catholics in opposing the Anabaptists and the Sacramentarians.
The Protestant princes refused to submit on the ground that their doctrines were in harmony with the Word of God, and to justify this contention Melanchthon published the Apologia Confessionis Augustanae, which was in many points more full and explicit than the Confession itself. Some of the German cities that had embraced the Zwinglian doctrine, notably, Strassburg and Constance, repudiated the Augsburg Confession, and presented a document embodying their beliefs, known as the Confessio Tetrapolitana which found no favor with Charles V. or with the Diet. Finally, on the 18th November, the Emperor announced to the Diet that until a General Council should meet, everything must be restored to the status quo, that he felt it incumbent upon him as protector of the Church to defend the Catholic faith with all his might, and that in this work he could count on the full support of the Catholic princes. Unfortunately, it was by no means correct to state that the Catholic rulers of Germany stood behind their Emperor. Nearly all of them were anxious to avoid civil war at any cost, and not a few of them hesitated to support the Emperor lest the suppression of the Protestant princes might lead to the establishment of a strong central power. Nor were the Protestants alarmed by the threat of force. With the Turks hovering on the flanks of the empire, they were confident that they might expect concessions rather than violence.
The Protestant princes met in December (1530) at Schmalkald to consider their position, and early in the following year (1531) they formed the Schmalkaldic League for the defence of their religious and temporal interests. Negotiations were opened up with France, Denmark, and England, and notification was made to the Emperor that they must withhold their assistance against the Turks until their religious beliefs were secured. They refused, furthermore, to recognise Ferdinand, brother of Charles V., whom Charles had proclaimed King of the Romans. The Emperor, alarmed by the news that Soliman was preparing an immense army for a general attack on Italy and Austria, and well aware that he could not count either on the assistance of the Catholic princes or the neutrality of France, was forced to give way. In July 1532 peace was concluded at Nurnberg. According to the terms of the Peace of Nurnberg it was agreed that until a General Council should assemble no action should be taken against the Protestant princes, and that in the interval everything was to remain unchanged. This agreement, it was stipulated, should apply only to those who accepted the Confession of Augsburg, a stipulation that was meant to exclude the followers of Zwingli.
Charles V. was really anxious that a Council should be called, nor was Clement VII. unwilling to meet his wishes, if only he could have been certain that a Council constituted as such assemblies had been constituted traditionally, could serve any useful purpose. Time and again Luther had expressed his supreme contempt for the authority of General Councils, though he professed to be not unwilling to submit the matters in dispute to a body of men selected by the civil rulers. In 1532-3 Pope and Emperor met at Bologna to discuss the situation, and messengers were dispatched to see on what terms the Protestants would consent to attend the Council. The members of the Schmalkaldic League refused (1533) to accept the conditions proposed by the Pope, namely, that the Council should be constituted according to the plan hitherto followed in regard to such assemblies, and that all should pledge themselves beforehand to accept its decrees.
Clement VII. died in September (1534) and was succeeded by Paul III. (1534-49). He convoked a General Council to meet at Mantua in 1537, but the League refused once more to attend (1535). Even had there been no other difficulties in the way, the war that broke out with renewed bitterness between Charles V. and Francis I. would have made it impossible for such a body to meet with any hope of success. The helpless condition of the Emperor, confronted, as he was, on the one side by the French and on the other by the Turks, raised the hopes of the Protestant party, and made them more determined than ever to attend no Council in which the authority of the bishops or the jurisdiction of the Pope should be recognized. Moreover, each year brought new accessions to their ranks. The appearance of organized Christian bodies, completely national in character, accepting the civil rulers as their head, and conceding to them full power to deal as they liked with ecclesiastical property, created a deep impression on several princes and free cities, and made them not averse to giving the new religion a fair trial. In 1530, the Elector of Saxony, Philip of Hesse and the rulers of Ansbach, Anhalt, Brunswick-Luneburg, Bayreuth, East Friesland, and a few of the larger cities had gone over to Luther. Before ten years had elapsed the greater part of Northern Germany had fallen from the Catholic Church, and even in Southern Germany Protestantism had made serious inroads. Several of the more important cities such as Wittenberg, Strassburg, Nurnberg, Magdeburg, Frankfurt-on-Main, Hamburg, and Erfurt became leading centres for the spread of the new teaching, while many of the German universities, for example, Erfurt, Basle, Frankfurt, Rostock, and Marburg supported strongly the efforts of Luther.
The Catholic princes, alarmed by the rapid spread of the new doctrines and by the extravagant demands of the Protestants, met together to form the Holy League (1538) as a defence against the Schmalkaldic confederation. Feeling was running so high at the time that the long expected war might have broken out immediately, had not the dread of a Turkish invasion exercised a restraining influence on both parties. In 1539 negotiations were opened up for a temporary armistice, and another fruitless attempt was made to arrive at peace by means of a religious conference. Before any result had been attained the Emperor summoned a Diet to meet at Ratisbon (April 1541). Three theologians were appointed from both sides to discuss the questions at issue. Though some of the Catholic representatives showed clearly enough that their desire for union was much greater than their knowledge of Catholic principles, an understanding was arrived at only in regard to a few points of difference. By the Recess of the Diet (known as the Ratisbon Interim) it was ordered that both parties should observe the articles of faith on which they had agreed until a General Council should meet, that in the interval the terms of the Peace of Nurnberg should be carried out strictly, that the religious houses that had escaped destruction hitherto should remain undisturbed, and that the disciplinary decrees promulgated by the cardinal legate (Contarini) should be obeyed by the Catholics.
The Protestant princes were still dissatisfied. In order to procure their assistance Charles was obliged to yield to further demands, notably, to permit them to suppress the monasteries in their dominions. But, fortunately for the Catholic Church, the agreement embodied in the Ratisbon Interim was rejected by the more extreme Protestant Party led by Luther himself, and the danger of grave misunderstanding was removed.
During the following years the Lutheran movement continued to advance by leaps and bounds. Duke George of Saxony, one of its strongest opponents, died in 1539, and his successor invited the Lutheran preachers to assist him in the work of reform. Henry, Duke of Brunswick, was driven from his kingdom by the League of Schmalkald and forced to seek refuge in Bavaria. The Bishoprics of Hildesheim and Naumburg were captured by force, and it required all the efforts of the Pope and of the Emperor to prevent Cologne from being handed over to Luther’s followers by its prince-bishop (Hermann von Wied). Lutheranism provided almost irresistible attractions for the lay rulers, who desired to acquire wealth and power at the expense of the Church, as well as for the unworthy ecclesiastical princes who were anxious to convert the states of which they were merely administrators into hereditary dominions.
But though outwardly the movement prospered beyond expectation all was far from well within. The fundamental principle enunciated by Luther, namely, the rejection of all religious authority, opened the way for new theories and new sects. Quite apart from the controversies between the followers of Luther and Zwingli, which shall be dealt with later, the Anabaptists and others continued to destroy the harmony of the self-styled reformers. The Anabaptists seized the city of Munster, proclaimed a democratic theocracy with John of Leyden, a tailor, at its head, and pronounced their intention of taking the field for the overthrow of tyrants and impostors. But their success was short-lived. Conrad, bishop and prince of Munster, raised an army, laid siege to the city which he captured after a desperate struggle, and put to death the fanatical leaders who had deceived the people (1535-6). Other writers and preachers questioned the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, and advocated many heresies condemned by the early Church, some of them going so far as to insist on the revival of circumcision and the Jewish ceremonial law.
Nor did the new teaching exercise an elevating influence on the morals or conduct of its adherents. Luther himself was forced to admit that the condition of affairs had grown worse even than it had been before he undertook his campaign. “Since we have commenced to preach our doctrine,” he said in one of his sermons, “the world has grown daily worse, more impious, and more shameless. Men are now beset by legions of devils, and while enjoying the full light of the Gospel are more avaricious, more impure, and repulsive than of old under the Papacy. Peasants, burghers, nobles, men of all degrees, the higher as well as the lowest are all alike slaves to avarice, drunkenness, gluttony, and impurity, and given over to horrible excesses of abominable passions.”
The princes, free from all religious and ecclesiastical restraints, set an example of licentiousness which their subjects were not slow to imitate. Philip of Hesse was the life and soul of the Lutheran movement. He was married already to Christina, daughter of Duke George of Saxony, by whom eight children had been born to him, but finding it impossible to observe his marriage obligations, and wishing to impart to his own sinful conduct an air of decency, he demanded permission from Luther to marry one of the maids of honor in attendance on his sister. This request placed Luther and Melanchthon in a very delicate position. On the one hand, if they acceded to it they would be regarded as patrons and defenders of adultery and would expose themselves to the ridicule of their opponents; on the other, were they to refuse compliance with his wishes, Philip, forgetful of his former zeal for the pure word of God, might carry out his threats to return to the Catholic Church. After long and anxious deliberation they determined to exercise a dispensing power such as had never been exercised before by any Pope. “In order to provide for the welfare of his soul and body and to bring greater glory to God,” they allowed him to take to himself a second wife, insisting, however, that the whole affair should be kept a close secret. But hardly had the marriage ceremony been gone through (1540) than the story of the dispensation became public. Luther was at first inclined to deny it entirely as an invention of his enemies, but he changed his mind when he found that the proofs were irrefragable and determined to brazen out the affair.
Luther’s last years were full of anxiety and sorrow. As he looked round his own city of Wittenberg and the cities of Germany where his doctrines had taken root he found little ground for self-congratulation. Religious dissensions, bitterness, war-like preparations, decline of learning, decay of the universities, and immorality, had marked the progress of his gospel. In many districts the power of the Pope had indeed been broken, but only to make way for the authority of the civil rulers upon whom neither religious nor disciplinary canons could exercise any restraint; the monasteries and religious institutions had been suppressed, but their wealth had passed into the treasuries of the princes, whilst the poor for whose benefit it had been held in trust were neglected, and the ministers of religion were obliged to have recourse to different occupations to secure a livelihood. To his followers and his most intimate associates he denied the liberty of thought and speech that he claimed for himself, by insisting on the unconditional acceptance of his doctrines as if in him alone were vested supreme authority and infallibility. For exercising their right to private judgment, Carlstadt was pursued from pulpit to pulpit till at last he was forced to seek safety in flight; Zwingli was denounced as a heretic for whose salvation it was useless to pray; the Anabaptists were declared to be unworthy of any better fate than the sword or the halter; Agricola, his most zealous fellow-laborer, was banished from his presence and his writings were interdicted; and even Melanchthon was at last driven to complain of the state of slavery to which he had been reduced.
His failing health and his disappointments served to sour his temper and to render him less approachable. The attacks that he directed against the Papacy such as The Papacy an Institution of the Devil, and the verses prepared for the vulgar caricatures that he induced Cranach to design (1545) surpassed even his former productions in violence and abusiveness. Tired of attacking the Papacy, he turned his attention once more to the Jews, upon whom he invoked the vengeance of Heaven in the last sermon that he was destined to preach on earth. He was taken suddenly ill in Eisleben, where he had come to settle some disputes between the Counts of Mansfeld, and on the 18th February 1546, he passed away.
Luther is a man whose character it is difficult to appreciate exactly. At times he spoke and wrote as if he were endowed with a deeply religious feeling, convinced of the truth of his doctrines, and anxious only for the success of the work for which he professed to believe he had been raised up by God. Some of his sermons sounded like a trumpet call from Heaven, warning the people that the hour for repentance had drawn nigh, while his conversations with his intimate friends breathed at times a spirit of piety and fervour redolent of the apostolic age. This, however, was only one feature of Luther’s character, and, unfortunately, it was a feature that manifested itself only too rarely. As a general rule his writings, his sermons and speeches, and, in a word, his whole line of conduct were in direct opposition to everything that is associated generally in the popular mind with the true religious reformer. His replies to his opponents, even to those who, avoiding personalities, addressed themselves directly to his doctrines, were couched in the most violent and abusive language. His wild onslaughts and his demands for vengeance on any one who ventured to question his teaching, whether they were Catholics, Zwinglians, Sacramentarians or Anabaptists, were the very antithesis of the spirit of charity and meekness that should characterize a follower, not to say an apostle, of Christ. Nor were his over-weening pride and self-confidence in keeping with the spirit of meekness and humility inculcated so frequently in the writings of the New Testament.
In his letters, and more especially in his familiar intercourse with his friends, his conversation was frequently risky and indecent; his relations with women, at least before his marriage with Catherine Bora, were, to put it mildly, not above suspicion, as is evident from his own letters and the letters of his most devoted supporters; while his references to marriage and vows of chastity in his sermons and pamphlets were filthy and unpardonable even in an age when people were much more outspoken on such subjects than they are at present. Though he insisted strongly on the necessity of preaching the pure Word of God, he had little difficulty in having recourse to falsehood when truth did not serve his purpose, or in justifying his conduct by advocating the principle that not all lies were sinful particularly if they helped to damage the Roman Church. His frequent and enthusiastic references to the pleasures of the table were more like what one should expect to find in the writings of a Pagan epicure than in those of a Christian reformer. He was not, as is sometimes asserted, a habitual drunkard. His tireless activity as a writer and preacher is in itself a sufficient refutation of such a charge, but he was convinced that a hard drinking bout was at times good for both soul and body, and in this respect at least he certainly lived up to his convictions.
It would be a mistake to judge him by his Latin writings, which, both in manner and style, seldom rise above the level of mediocrity. It is in his German books and pamphlets that Luther is seen at his best. There, he appears as a man of great ability and learning, gifted with a prodigious memory, a striking literary style, and a happy knack of seizing upon the weak points of his adversaries and of presenting his own side of the case in its most forcible and attractive form. No man knew better than he how to adapt himself to the tastes of his audience or the prejudices of his readers. He could play the role of the judge or the professor almost as well as that of the impassioned fanatic convinced that behind him were arrayed all the powers of Heaven. In dealing with men of education, who were not likely to be captivated by rhetoric, he could be calm and argumentative; but when he addressed himself to the masses of the people he appeared in his true character as a popular demagogue, hesitating at nothing that was likely to arouse their indignation against the Roman Church and their enthusiasm for the movement to which he had devoted his life. In words of fiery eloquence he recalled to their minds the real and imaginary grievances of their nation against Rome, the over-weening pride and tyranny of the spiritual princes, the scandalous lives of many of the ecclesiastics, and the failure of the Pope and councils to carry through a scheme of wholesale reform. He called upon them to throw off the yoke imposed by foreigners on their fathers and themselves, and to support him in his struggle for the liberty of the people, the independence of the German nation, and the original purity of the Gospel, promising them that if only they would range themselves under his banner, all their grievances, both spiritual and temporal, must soon be redressed. Had Luther never appeared, or had he been less gifted as an orator, a writer and a popular leader than he was, a crisis must have arisen at the time; but his genius and enthusiasm turned what might have been a trickling stream into a raging torrent, threatening destruction to beliefs and institutions hitherto regarded as inviolable. The time was ripe for a reformer, and Luther’s only claim to greatness was his capacity of utilising in a masterly way the materials, political and religious, that lay ready at his hand. Religious abuses, social unrest, politics, personal vanities, and the excesses always attendant upon a great literary revival, were pressed into his service, and were directed against the Roman Church. And yet his success fell far short of his expectations. Beyond doubt he contrived to detach individuals and kingdoms from their obedience to the Pope and their submission to ecclesiastical authority only to subject them to the spiritual yoke of secular princes, and to expose them to doctrinal anarchy subversive of dogmatic religion; but the Catholic Church and the See of Rome, for the overthrow of which he had laboured so energetically, emerged triumphant from the terrible trial that had been permitted by God only for its purification.
During the period that intervened between the Ratisbon Interim and the death of Luther (1541-6) Charles V., hard pressed by the war with France and the unsuccessful expeditions against the Barbary pirates, was obliged to yield to the increasing demands of the Protestant princes; nor could Paul III., however much he desired it, realize his intention of convoking a General Council. But at last the Peace of Crepy (1544) which put an end to the war with France, and the convocation of a General Council to meet at Trent in March 1545, strengthened the hands of the Emperor, and enabled him to deal effectively with the religious revolution. The Protestant princes announced their determination to take no part in a Council convoked and presided over by the Pope. Charles left no stone unturned to induce them to adopt a more conciliatory attitude, but all his efforts having proved unavailing, he let it be known publicly that he would not allow himself to be intimidated by threats of violence, and that if need be he would insist on obedience at the point of the sword. John Frederick of Saxony and Philip of Hesse, alarmed by the threatening aspect of affairs, determined to anticipate the Emperor, and took the field at the head of an army of forty thousand men (1546).
Charles V., relying upon the aid of the Pope and the co-operation of the Catholic princes, issued a proclamation calling upon all loyal subjects to treat them as rebels and outlaws. Maurice of Saxony deserted his co-religionists on promise of succeeding to the Electorship, joined the standard of Charles V., and in conjunction with Ferdinand directed his forces against Saxony. The Elector was defeated and captured at Muhlberg (April 1547). He was condemned to death as a traitor, but he was reprieved and detained as a prisoner in the suite of the Emperor, while his nephew, Maurice of Saxony, succeeded to his dominions. Philip of Hesse, too, was obliged to surrender, and Charles V. found himself everywhere victorious. He insisted on the restoration of the Bishop of Naumburg and of Henry of Brunswick to his kingdom as well as on the resignation of Hermann Prince von Wied, Archbishop of Cologne. He was unwilling, however, to proceed to extremes with the Protestant princes, well knowing that he could not rely on some of his own supporters. Besides, he had become involved in serious difficulties with Pope Paul III., who complained, and not without reason, of the demands made upon him by the Emperor, and of the concessions that the Emperor was willing to make to the Lutherans.
Charles V. summoned a Diet to meet at Augsburg (1547), where he hoped that a permanent understanding might be secured. A document known as the Augsburg Interim, prepared by Catholic theologians in conjunction with the Lutheran, John Agricola, was accepted provisionally by both parties. The doctrines were expressed in a very mild form, though not, however, altogether unacceptable to Catholics. Protestants were permitted to receive communion under both kinds; their married clergy were allowed to retain their wives; and it was understood tacitly that they might keep possession of the ecclesiastical property they had seized. The Augsburg Interim, as might have been anticipated, was displeasing to both parties. Maurice of Saxony, unwilling to give it unconditional approval, consulted Melanchthon and others of his school as to how far he might accept its terms. In their reply they distinguished between matters that were essential and those that were only of secondary importance. The latter might be accepted unreservedly in obedience to the orders of the Emperor. In regard to doctrines, they were willing to compromise on the question of justification and good-works, to accept the sacraments, including confirmation and Extreme Unction, the Mass with the addition of some German hymns, and in a certain sense the jurisdiction of the bishops. Such concessions were a distinct departure from Luther’s teaching and would have been impossible had he been alive.
The relations between the Pope and the Emperor took a more friendly turn when the General Council was transferred from Bologna to Trent (1551). The Protestant princes, invited to send representatives, declined at first, but in a short time several of them agreed to accept the invitation. Safe conducts were issued for their representatives by the Council in 1551 and again in 1552. Even the Wittenberg theologians were not unfavourably disposed, and Melanchthon was actually on his way to Trent. But suddenly Maurice of Saxony, who had assembled a large army under pretext of reducing Magdeburg, and had strengthened himself by an alliance with several princes as well as by a secret treaty with Henry II. of France, deserted the Emperor and placed himself at the head of the Protestant forces. When all his plans were completed he advanced suddenly through Thuringia, took Augsburg, and was within an inch of capturing the Emperor who then lay ill at Innsbruck (1552). At the same time the French forces occupied Lorraine. Charles, finding himself unable to carry on the struggle, opened negotiations for peace, and in 1552 the Treaty of Passau was concluded. Philip of Hesse was to be set at liberty; a Diet was to be called within six months to settle the religious differences; in the meantime neither the Emperor nor the princes should interfere with freedom of conscience; and all disputes that might arise were to be referred to a commission consisting of an equal number of Protestant and Catholic members.
Owing to the war with France it was not until the year 1555 that the proposed Diet met at Augsburg. The Protestant party, encouraged by their victories, were in no mood for compromise, and as it was evident that there was no longer any hope of healing the religious division in the Empire, it was agreed that peace could be secured only by mutual toleration. In September 1555 the Peace of Augsburg was concluded. According to the terms of this convention full freedom of conscience was conceded in the Empire to Catholics and to all Protestants who accepted the Augsburg Confession. The latter were permitted to retain the ecclesiastical goods which they had already acquired before the Treaty of Passau (1552). For the future each prince was to be free to determine the religion of his subjects, but in case a subject was not content with the religion imposed on him by his sovereign he could claim the right to migrate into a more friendly territory.
A great difficulty arose in regard to the disposal of the ecclesiastical property in case a Catholic bishop or abbot should apostatise. Notwithstanding the protests of the Protestant party, it was decreed that if such an event should occur the seceder could claim his own personal property, but not the property attached to his office. This clause, known as the Ecclesiasticum Reservatum, gave rise to many disputes, and was one of the principal causes of the Thirty Years’ War.
By the Peace of Augsburg Protestantism was recognised as a distinct and separate form of Christianity, and the first blow was struck at the fundamental principles on which the Holy Roman Empire had been built. Charles V was blamed at the time, and has been blamed since for having given his consent to such a treaty, but if all the circumstances of the time be duly considered it is difficult to see how he could have acted otherwise than he did. It is not the Emperor who should be held accountable for the unfavourable character of the Augsburg Peace, but “the most Catholic King of France” who allied himself with the forces of German Protestantism, and the Catholic princes who were more anxious to secure their own position than to fight for their sovereign or their religion. Charles V, broken down in health and wearied by his misfortunes and his failure to put down the religious revolt, determined to hand over to a younger man the administration of the territories over which he ruled, and to devote the remainder of his life to preparation for the world to come. In a parting address delivered to the States of the Netherlands he warned them “to be loyal to the Catholic faith which has always been and everywhere the faith of Christendom, for should it disappear the foundations of goodness should crumble away and every sort of mischief now menacing the world would reign supreme.” After his resignation he retired to a monastery in Estremadura, where he died in 1558. Spain and the Netherlands passed to his legitimate son, Philip II., while after some delay his brother, Ferdinand, was recognised as his successor in the Empire.
Charles V. was a man of sound judgment and liberal views, of great energy and prudence, as skilful in war as he was in the arts of diplomacy, and immensely superior in nearly every respect to his contemporaries, Francis I. of France and Henry VIII. of England. Yet in spite of all his admitted qualifications, and notwithstanding the fact that he was the ruler of three-fourths of Western Europe, he lived to witness the overthrow of his dearest projects and the complete failure of his general policy. But his want of success was not due to personal imprudence or inactivity. It is to be attributed to the circumstances of the times, the rebellion in Spain, the open revolt of some and the distrust of others in Germany, the rapid advance of the Turks towards the west, and, above all, the struggle with France. Despite his many quarrels with the Holy See, and in face of the many temptations held out to him to arrive at the worldwide dictatorship to which he was suspected of aspiring, by putting himself at the head of the new religious movement, he never wavered for a moment in his allegiance to the Catholic Church.
This is taken from History of the Catholic Church.
See also: Martin Luther, by John Lord.