Martin Luther, part XIV – Charles V

Charles had been present at the Diet of Worms in 1521 where Luther had been condemned as a heretic. For nine years he has been prevented from carrying out the edict against Luther. First the Pope, fearing Charles’s growing power, had joined in the “Holy League” with Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England, and from 1521 to 1525 Charles was in war against that league.

Charles set his brother Ferdinand in charge of the Diet at Spires in 1526 for the purpose of having the Edict of Worms executed, but the outcome was just the opposite, with every state being given the freedom to decide on religious matters within its borders. That same year Charles found it necessary to carry the battle against the “Holy League” to Rome. The Pope and his cardinals fled to the Castle of St. Angelo while twenty thousand of Charles’ troops terrorized Rome’s inhabitants and sacked and pillaged the city. For the next three years the King was kept busy with intrigues and battles, as ambition and war strove together.

“Now it is from the region of the Danube that the hoarse roar of battle is heard to proceed. There the Turk is closing on fierce conflict with the Christian, and the leisure of Ferdinand of Austria, which otherwise might be worse employed, is fully occupied in driving back the hordes of a Tartar invasion.” History of Protestantism, 566.

The cities of Germany waited in terror for the approach of the Asiatic warriors and were greatly cheered by news that the invaders had suffered a defeat at Vienna. “The scarcity of provisions to which the Turkish camp was exposed, and the early approach of winter, with its snow-storms, combined to effect the raising of the siege and the retreat of the invaders; but Luther recognized in this unexpected deliverance the hand of God, and the answer of prayer.” Ibid., 567.

These troubles in the political world left the church, in peace, to organize and spread the doctrines of the Reformation. During these years of peace for the church, Luther translated the Bible into German, wrote his “Larger and Smaller Catechisms,” and produced numerous tracts and Bible commentaries. Wittenberg was not quiet for a minute. The university continued to teach religion and theology as well as the sciences.

Charles Refocuses His Attack on the Reformation

Now the emperor is “victorious over the league which his enemies had formed against him. He has defeated the King of France; he has taught Henry of England to be careful of falling a second time into the error he committed in the affair of Cognac; he has chastised the Pope and compelled Clement VII to sue for peace with a great ransom and the offer of alliance; and now he looks around him and sees no opponent save one, and that one apparently the weakest of all. That opponent swept from his path, he will mount to the pinnacle of power. Surely he who has triumphed over so many kings will not have to lower his sword before a monk. The emperor has left Spain in great wrath, and is on his way to chastise those audacious Protestants, who are now, as he believes, fully in his power.” Ibid, 567.

It would be much easier for Charles if these rebels were in some other part of his realm. He could easily have carried out the Edict of Worms had the offenders been in Spain or Flanders, but in Germany, Charles must follow the constitutional forms he had agreed to, at his coronation as emperor. In Germany he had to consult the will of others, so he proceeded to convoke another Diet at Augsburg. He first needed to make sure the crafty Pope was going to abide by their alliance, and this necessitated a trip to Italy for a personal interview.

In the autumn of 1529, he set sail from Spain through the Mediterranean to Genoa. The Italians feared the approach of their new master and were pleasantly surprised to see, when he landed, not a ferocious conqueror but a prince of winning address and gentle manners. But this smiling prince could certainly frown sternly. The Protestant deputies that were on their way to meet with him would have the latter experience.

The Reformed princes had given the famous protest at Spires in April of 1529. The Arch-Duke Ferdinand, brother to Charles, had presided over that Diet. He had stormed and left the assembly, so the protesters had appealed to a general assembly and to posterity. They followed up this act with an appeal to the emperor, and their ambassadors, three in number, were now on their way to approach the emperor. “Their mission was deemed a somewhat dangerous one, and before their departure a pension was secured to their widows in case of misfortune. The prospect of appearing in the imperial presence was no pleasant one, for they knew that they had come to plead for a cause which Charles had destined to destruction. Their fears were confirmed by receiving an ominous hint to be brief, and not preach a Protestant sermon to the emperor.

“Unabashed by the imperial majesty and the brilliant court that waited upon Charles, these three plain ambassadors, when the day of audience came, discharged their mission with fidelity. They gave a precise narrative of all that had taken place in Germany on the matter of religion since the emperor quitted that country, which was in 1521. They specially instanced the edict of toleration promulgated by the Diet of 1526; the virtual repeal of the edict by the Diet of 1529; and Protest of the Reformed princes against that repeal; their challenge of religious freedom for themselves and all who should adhere to them, and their resolution, at whatever cost, never to withdraw from that demand, but to prosecute their Protest to the utmost of their power. In all matters of the Empire they would most willingly obey the emperor, but in the things of God they would obey no power on earth. So they spoke. It was no pleasant thing, verily, for the victor of kings and the ruler of two hemispheres to be thus plainly taught that there were men in the world whose wills even he, with all his power, could not bend. This thought was the worm at the root of the emperor’s glory. Charles deigned no reply; he dismissed the ambassadors with the intimation that the imperial will would be made known to them in writing.” Ibid., 569.

One month following their appearance before the emperor, the written answer was delivered by the emperor’s secretary, Alexander Schweiss. It stated that the emperor was well acquainted with matters in Germany, through his brother Ferdinand, and that he intended to carry out the last edict from Spires of a few months before. Namely, his intention was to abolish the toleration and advance to destroy the religious movement. He called for the Duke of Saxony to obey the decree because he owed allegiance to the emperor and if he chose not to obey, the emperor would find it necessary to punish him.

The ambassadors had already prepared an appeal; for they had guessed what would be the contents of the written reply from Charles. They sent this back to the emperor with his secretary. After reading the appeal, the emperor ordered Schweiss to go and arrest the ambassadors and hold them under house arrest, where they were not only kept inside, but they were also not permitted to write to friends, nor send any servant abroad, under penalty of death.

It so happened that one of the three deputies was away from the hotel when the emperor’s secretary came to carry out the order. His servant slipped out and told him what had happened. He was able to write an account of the happenings and send it by a trusty messenger to the Senate at Nuremberg. He then joined his fellows in the inn to share their fate. Within a few days the emperor’s great retinue set out for Bologna to meet with the Pope. He took the three Protestant deputies as captives.

The Schmalkald Articles

As the emperor was traveling to Bologna the letter from the captive deputies arrived in Nuremberg. News of the emperor’s stand against their protest and of the arrest of the ambassadors caused a profound sensation. The Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse called a meeting of the Protestants in late November at Schmalkald. By this time Charles had released two of the deputies and the third had escaped. They were present to give a report in person. They “gave a full account of all that had befallen them at the court of the emperor. Their statement did not help to abate the fears of the princes. It convinced them to prepare against it; and the first and most effectual preparation, one would have thought, was to be united among them.” Ibid., 573.

Luther and friends had recently revised the Marburg Articles, in a strictly Lutheran sense, and these revised articles, known as the Schmalkald Articles were presented and signatures demanded, that they be first united on religion so they might be united for a political league. This required that all signers be agreed on transubstantiation. “This course was simply deplorable. Apart from religious belief, there was enough of clear political ground on which to base a common resistance to a common tyranny. But in those days the distinction between the citizen and the church-member, between the duties and the rights appertaining to the individual in his political and in his religious character, was not understood. All who would enter the proposed league must be of one mind on the tenet of consubsantiation. They must not only be Protestant, but Lutheran.” Ibid. The Lutheran princes would hear of no confederation with those who would not take the religious test. “The gulf between the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches was deepened at an hour when every sacrifice short of the principle of Protestantism itself ought to have been made to close it.” Ibid., 574.

Luther was not only opposed to union with those who did not see the Lord’s Supper in the exact light that he saw it, but he was also opposed to war. He believed that only the “sword of the spirit” should be used in the battle. “If then Luther must make his choice between the sword and the stake, between seeing the Reformation triumph on the field of war and triumph on the field of martyrdom, he infinitely prefers the latter. To have transferred the cause of Protestantism at that epoch from the pulpit, from the university, and the press, to the battle-field, would not have contributed to its final success.” Luther’s stand at Schmalkald is not defensible but the division did “ward off a great danger from Protestantism” and conducted “it into a path where it was able to give far sublimer proofs of its heroism, and to achieve victories more glorious and more enduring than any it could have won by arms.” Ibid.

Charles and Clement VII at Bologna

Bologna presents a splendid scene as the Pope and his host are housed in one palace with Charles and his troops in one that adjoins. The city is filled with church bells and military parades, “for religious ceremonies and military shows proceed without intermission.” A door is placed in the wall between the palaces of pope and emperor, and they are free to meet at all hours of the day or night. By day they meet with their counselors, and at night they meet secretly to form a plan against the Protestants.

Charles however has come to these meetings with a double mind. “He was now coming to see that to extinguish Luther would be to leave the Pope without a rival. The true policy was to tolerate Wittenberg, taking care that it did not become strong, and play it off, when occasion required, against Rome. He would muzzle it: he would hold the chain in his hand, and have the unruly thing under his own control. Luther and Duke John and Landgrave Philip would dance when he piped, and mourn when he lamented; and when the Pope became troublesome, he would lengthen the chain in which he held the hydra of Lutheranism, and reduce Clement to submission by threatening to let loose the monster on him. By being umpire Charles would be master.”

The counselors who were in Charles’ company were not less divided. “Campeggio and Gattinara advocated opposite policies. Campeggio was for dragging every Protestant to the stake and utterly razing Wittenberg.’ said he, ‘The first step in this process would be to confiscate property, civil or ecclesiastical, in Germany as well as in Hungary and Bohemia. For with regard to heretics, this is lawful and right. Is the mastery over them thus obtained, then must holy inquisitors be appointed, who shall trace out every remnant of them, proceeding against them as the Spaniards did against the Moors in Spain.’ . . . Not so did Gattinara counsel. He would heal the schism and unite Christendom, by other means. He called not for an army of executioners, but for an assembly of divines . . . ‘Assemble the pious men of all nations, and let a free Council deduce from the Word of God a scheme of doctrine such as may be received by every people.’ The policies of the two counselors stood markedly distinct—the sword, a Council.” Ibid., 575.

Pope Clement had more than one reason for opposing a council. Since the days of Pius IX and the decree of infallibility, the Pope had been the absolute head of the church. A council might threaten his superior authority. He also feared the council because he had gotten his pontifical chair by no blameless means, and had squandered the means of his office on his family inheritance, in Florence. A reckoning would be most inconvenient. “It is not” said he, “by the decree of councils, but by the edge of the sword, that we should decide controversies.” Charles sided with Gattinara. “The ecclesiastical potentate continued to advocate the sword, and the temporal monarch to call for a Council. It is remarkable that each distrusted the weapon with which he was best acquainted. ‘The sword will avail nought in this affair,’ urged the emperor; ‘let us vanquish our opponents in argument.’ ‘Reason,’ explained the Pope, ‘will not serve our turn; let us resort to force.’ ” Ibid., 578. The discussions continued through January. Battle on either front was not imminent since winter had closed the Alps and the emperor was quite comfortable in Bologna.

There was another reason that Charles preferred to have a council to an inquisition—because the Protestants were not small in number, and they had enough political power to be considered a threat to his throne. “It was clear that the burning of 100,000 Protestants or so would be only the beginning of the drama. The Pope would most probably approve of so kindly a blaze; but might it not end in setting States besides Germany on fire, and the Spanish monarchy among the rest? Charles, therefore, stuck to his idea of a Council; and being master, as Gattinara reminded him, he was able to have the last word in the conferences . . . Till a General Council could be convened, and as preparatory to it, the emperor, on the 20th January, 1530, issued a summons for a Diet of the States of Germany Augsburg on the 8th April.” Ibid., 578. The summons called for all parties to lay aside all differences and come together in one communion, one Church, and one unity.

Charles Crowned by the Pope.

The only thing Charles lacked in completing his grandeur was receiving the imperial diadem from the Pope. He had already been crowned emperor of Germany; crowned King of Lombardy by the Pope, on the 22nd of February, and on the 24th of February he was crowned as emperor of the Romans. The ceremonies included magnificent symbolism. Theocracy was the form of government in that day, so no king had any right to the throne unless he first became an officer in the church. Charles submitted to the elaborate ceremony by stripping his garments of royalty and replacing them with those of a deacon.

The End