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    Chapter 11

    Coronation of Charles the Fifth—The Nuncio Aleander—Shall Luther’s Books be Burnt?—Aleander and the Emperor—The Nuncios and the Elector—Duke John’s Son in Behalf of Luther—Luther’s Calmness—The Elector protects Luther—Reply of the Nuncios—Erasmus at Cologne—Erasmus at the Elector’s—Declaration of Erasmus—Advice of Erasmus—System of Charles V

    The mighty words of the reformer sunk deep into men’s hearts, and contributed to their emancipation. The sparks that flew from every one of them were communicated to the whole nation. But still a greater question remained to be solved. Would the prince in whose states Luther was residing, favor or oppose the execution of the bull? The reply appeared doubtful. The elector, as well as all the princes of the empire, was at Aix-la-Chapelle.HRSCV2 210.11

    Here the crown of Charlemagne was placed on the head of the youngest but most powerful monarch of Christendom. An unusual pomp and magnificence were displayed in this ceremony. Charles V, Frederick, princes, ministers, and ambassadors, repaired immediately to Cologne. Aix-la-Chapelle, where the plague was raging, seemed to pour its whole population into this ancient city on the banks of the Rhine.HRSCV2 211.1

    Among the crowd of strangers who thronged this city were the two papal nuncios, Marino Caraccioli and Jerome Aleander. Caraccioli, who had already been ambassador at the court of Maximilian, was commissioned to congratulate the new emperor, and to treat with him on political matters. But Rome had discovered that, to succeed in extinguishing the Reformation, it was necessary to send into Germany a nuncio specially accredited for this work, and of a character, skill, and activity fitted for its accomplishment. Aleander had been selected. This man, afterwards invested with the purple of the cardinals, would appear to have been descended from a family of respectable antiquity, and not from Jewish parents, as it has been said. The guilty Borgia invited him to Rome to be the secretary of his son—of that Caesar before whose murderous sword all Rome trembled. “Like master, like man,” says an historian, who thus compares Aleander to Alexander VI. This judgment is in our opinion too severe. After Borgia’s death, Aleander applied to his studies with fresh ardor. His knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic, gained him the reputation of being the most learned man of his age. He devoted himself with his whole heart to everything he undertook. The zeal with which he studied languages was by no means inferior to that which he exerted afterwards in persecuting the Reformation. Leo X attached him to his own service. Some historians speak of his epicurean manners; Romanists of the integrity of his life. It would appear that he was fond of luxury, parade, and amusement. “Aleander is living at Venice like a grovelling epicurean, and in high dignity,” wrote his old friend Erasmus concerning him. All are agreed in confessing that he was violent, prompt in his actions, full of ardor, indefatigable, imperious, and devoted to the pope. Eck was the fiery and intrepid champion of the schools: Aleander the haughty ambassador of the proud court of the pontiffs. He seemed born to be a nuncio.HRSCV2 211.2

    Rome had made every preparation to destroy the monk of Wittenberg. The duty of attending the coronation of the emperor, as the pope’s representative, was a mere secondary mission in Aleander’s eyes, yet calculated to facilitate his task by the respect in secured for him. But he was specially charged to prevail upon Charles to crush the rising Reformation.HRSCV2 211.3

    As soon as Aleander arrived at Cologne, he and Caraccioli set every wheel in motion to have Luther’s heretical works burnt throughout the empire, but particularly under the eyes of the German princes assembled in that city. Charles V had already given his consent with regard to his hereditary states. The agitation of men’s minds was excessive. “Such measures,” said they to Charles’s ministers and the nuncios themselves, “far from healing the wound, will only increase it. Do you imagine that Luther’s doctrines are found only in those books that you are throwing into the fire? They are written, where you cannot reach them, in the hearts of the nation. If you desire to employ force, it must be that of countless swords unsheathed to massacre a whole nation. A few logs of wood piled up to burn a few sheets of paper will effect nothing; and such arms are unbecoming the dignity of an emperor and of a pontiff.”—The nuncio defended his burning piles: “These flames,” said he, “are a sentence of condemnation written in colossal characters, equally intelligible to those who are near and those who are afar off,—to the learned and ignorant,—and even to those who cannot read.”HRSCV2 211.4

    But it was not in reality papers and books that the nuncio wanted: it was Luther himself. “These flames,” resumed he, “are not sufficient to purify the infected air of Germany. If they terrify the simple, they do not punish the wicked. We require an imperial edict against Luther’s person.”HRSCV2 211.5

    Aleander did not find the emperor so compliant when the reformer’s life was in question, as when his books only were concerned.HRSCV2 211.6

    “As I have but recently ascended the throne,” said he to Aleander, “I cannot without the advice of my councilors and the consent of the princes strike such a blow as this against a numerous faction surrounded by so many powerful defenders. Let us first learn what our father, the Elector of Saxony, thinks of this matter; we shall afterwards see what reply we can make to the pope.” The nuncios, therefore, proceeded to make trial of their artifices and eloquence on the elector.HRSCV2 211.7

    The first Sunday in November, Frederick having attended mass in the Greyfriars’ convent, Caraccioli and Aleander begged an audience. He received them in the presence of the Bishop of Trent and several of his councilors. Caraccioli first presented the papal brief. Of a milder disposition than Aleander, he thought it his duty to win over the prince by his flatteries, and began by eulogizing him and his ancestors. “It is to you,” said he, “that we look for the salvation of the Roman Church and of the Roman Empire.”HRSCV2 211.8

    But the impetuous Aleander, wishing to come to the point, hastily stepped forward and interrupted his colleague, who modestly gave way: “It is to me and Eck,” said he, “that this business of Martin’s has been intrusted. Look at the imminent dangers into which this man is plunging the christian republic. If we do not make haste to apply some remedy, the empire is ruined. Why were the Greeks destroyed, but because they abandoned the pope? You cannot remain united to Luther without separating from Jesus Christ. I require two things of you, in the name of his holiness: first, that you will burn Luther’s writings; secondly, that you will inflict on him the punishment he deserves, or at least that you will deliver him up to the pope. The emperor and all the princes of the empire have declared their willingness to accede to our request; you alone hesitate still.”HRSCV2 212.1

    Frederick replied, through the medium of the Bishop of Trent: “This matter is too serious to be settled now. We will let you know our determination.”HRSCV2 212.2

    The situation in which Frederick was placed was a difficult one. What part ought he to take? On the one side were the emperor, the princes of the empire, and the supreme pontiff of Christendom, whose authority the elector had as yet no idea of throwing off; on the other, a monk, a feeble monk; for it was he only that they demanded. Charles’s reign had just commenced. Ought Frederick, the oldest and wisest of all the princes of Germany, to sow disunion in the empire? Besides, how could he renounce that ancient piety which led him even to the sepulchre of Christ?HRSCV2 212.3

    Other voices were then heard. A young prince, who afterwards wore the electoral crown, and whose reign was signalized by the greatest misfortunes, John Frederick, son of Duke John, the elector’s nephew, and Spalatin’s pupil, a youth seventeen years of age, had received in his heart a sincere love for the truth, and was firmly attached to Luther. When he saw the reformer struck by the Roman anathemas, he embraced his cause with the warmth of a young Christian and of a youthful prince. He wrote to the doctor and to his uncle, nobly entreating the latter to protect Luther against his enemies. On the other hand, Spalatin, frequently it is true very dejected, Pontanus, and the other councilors who were with the elector at Cologne, represented to the prince that he ought not to abandon the reformer.HRSCV2 212.4

    In the midst of this general agitation, one man alone remained tranquil: it was Luther. While it was sought to preserve him by the influence of the great, the monk in his cloister at Wittenberg thought that it was rather for him to save the great ones of this world. “If the Gospel,” wrote he to Spalatin, “was of a nature to be propagated or maintained by the powers of this world, God would not have intrusted it to fishermen. It belongs not to the princes and pontiffs of this age to defend the Word of God. They have enough to do to shelter themselves from the judgments of the Lord and his Anointed. If I speak, it is in order that they may attain a knowledge of the Divine Word, and that by it they may be saved.”HRSCV2 212.5

    Luther’s expectation was not to be deceived. That faith, which a convent at Wittenberg concealed, exerted its power in the palaces of Cologne. Frederick’s heart, shaken perhaps for a moment, grew stronger by degrees. He was indignant that the pope, in defiance of his earnest entreaties to examine into the matter in Germany, had decided upon it at Rome at the request of a personal enemy of the reformer, and that in his absence this opponent should have dared publish in Saxony a bull that threatened the existence of the university and the peace of his subjects. Besides, the elector was convinced that Luther was wronged. He shuddered at the thought of delivering an innocent man into the hands of his cruel enemies. Justice was the principle on which he acted, and not the wishes of the pope. He came to the determination of not giving way to Rome. On the 4th of November, his councilors replied on his behalf to the Roman nuncios who came to the elector’s, in the presence of the Bishop of Trent, that he had seen with much pain the advantage that Dr. Eck had taken of his absence to involve in the condemnation several persons who were not named in the bull; that since his departure from Saxony, it was possible that an immense number of learned and ignorant men, of the clergy and laity, might have united and adhered to the cause and appeal of Luther; that neither his imperial majesty nor any other person had shown that Luther’s writings had been refuted, and that they only deserved to be thrown into the fire; and finally he requested that Doctor Luther should be furnished with a safe-conduct, so that he might appear before a tribunal of learned, pious, and impartial judges.HRSCV2 212.6

    After this declaration, Aleander, Caraccioli, and their followers retired to deliberate. This was the first time that the elector had publicly made known his intentions with regard to the reformer. The nuncios had expected quite a different course from him. Now (they had thought) that the elector, by maintaining his character for impartiality, would draw dangers upon himself the whole extent of which he could not foresee, he will not hesitate to sacrifice the monk. Thus Rome had reasoned. But her machinations were doomed to fail before a force that did not enter into her calculations,—the love of justice and of truth.HRSCV2 213.1

    Being re-admitted into the presence of the elector’s councilors, the imperious Aleander said: “I should like to know what the elector would think, if one of his subjects should choose the king of France, or any other foreign prince, for judge.” Seeing that nothing could shake the Saxon councilors, he said: “We will execute the bull; we will hunt out and burn Luther’s writings. As for his person,” added he, affecting a contemptuous indifference, “the pope is not desirous of staining his hands with the blood of the wretched man.”HRSCV2 213.2

    The news of the reply the elector had made to the nuncios having reached Wittenberg, Luther’s friends were filled with joy. Melancthon and Amsdorff, especially, indulged in the most flattering anticipations. “The German nobility,” said Melancthon, “will direct their course by the example of this prince, whom they follow in all things, as their Nestor. If Homer styled his hero the bulwark of the Greeks, why should we not call Frederick the bulwark of the Germans?”HRSCV2 213.3

    The oracle of courts, the torch of the schools, the light of the world, Erasmus, was then at Cologne. Many princes had invited him, to be guided by his advice. At the epoch of the Reformation, Erasmus was the leader of the moderates; he imagined himself to be so, but without just cause; for when truth and error meet face to face, justice lies not between them. He was the chief of that philosophical and academical party which, for ages, had attempted to correct Rome, but had never succeeded; he was the representative of human wisdom, but that wisdom was too weak to batter down the high places of Popery. It needed that wisdom from God, which men often call foolishness, but at whose voice mountains crumble into dust. Erasmus would neither throw himself into the arms of Luther, nor sit at the pope’s feet. He hesitated, and often wavered between these two powers, attracted at one time towards Luther, then suddenly repelled in the direction of the pope. “The last spark of christian piety seems nearly extinguished,” said he in his letter to Albert; “and ‘tis this which has moved Luther’s heart. He cares neither for money nor honors.” But this letter, which the imprudent Ulrich of Hutten had published, caused Erasmus so much annoyance, that he determined to be more cautious in future. Besides, he was accused of being Luther’s accomplice, and the latter offended him by his imprudent language. “Almost all good men are for Luther,” said he; “but I see that we are tending towards a revolt I would not have my name joined with his. That would injure me without serving him.” “So be it,” replied Luther; “since that annoys you, I promise never to make mention either of you or of your friends.” Such was the man to whom both the partisans and enemies of the Reformation applied.HRSCV2 213.4

    The elector, knowing that the opinion of a man so much respected as Erasmus would have great influence, invited the illustrious Dutchman to visit him. Erasmus obeyed the order. This was on the 5th December. Luther’s friends could not see this step without secret uneasiness. The elector was standing before the fire, with Spalatin at his side, when Erasmus was introduced. “What is your opinion of Luther?” immediately demanded Frederick. The prudent Erasmus, surprised at so direct a question, sought at first to elude replying. He screwed up his mouth, bit his lips, and said not a word. Upon this the elector, raising his eyebrows, as was his custom when he spoke to people from whom he desired to have a precise answer, says Spalatin, fixed his piercing glance on Erasmus. The latter, not knowing how to escape from his confusion, said at last, in a half jocular tone: “Luther has committed two great faults: he has attacked the crown of the pope and the bellies of the monks.” The elector smiled, but gave his visitor to understand that he was in earnest. Erasmus then laying aside his reserve, said: “The cause of all this dispute is the hatred of the monks towards learning, and the fear they have of seeing their tyranny destroyed. What weapons are they using against Luther?—clamor, cabals, hatred, and libels. The more virtuous a man is, and the greater his attachment to the Gospel, the less is he opposed to Luther. The severity of the bull has aroused the indignation of all good men, and no one can recognize in it the gentleness of a vicar of Christ. Two only, out of all the universities, have condemned Luther; and they have only condemned him, not proved him in the wrong. Do not be deceived; the danger is greater than some men imagine. Arduous and difficult things are pressing on. To begin Charles’s reign by so odious an act as Luther’s imprisonment, would be a mournful omen. The world is thirsting for evangelical truth; let us beware of setting up a blamable opposition. Let this affair be inquired into by serious men,—men of sound judgment; this will be the course most consistent with the dignity of the pope himself!”HRSCV2 213.5

    Thus spoke Erasmus to the elector. Such frankness may perhaps astonish the reader; but Erasmus knew whom he was addressing. Spalatin was delighted. He went out with Erasmus, and accompanied him as far as the house of the Count of Nucnar, provost of Cologne, where Erasmus was residing. The latter, in an impulse of frankness, on retiring to his study, took a pen, sat down, wrote a summary of what he had said to the elector, and forwarded the paper to Spalatin; but erelong the fear of Aleander came over the timid Erasmus; the courage that the presence of the elector and his chaplain had communicated to him had evaporated; and he begged Spalatin to return the too daring paper, for fear it should fall into the hands of the terrible nuncio. But it was too late.HRSCV2 214.1

    The elector, feeling re-assured by the opinion of Erasmus, spoke to the emperor in a more decided tone. Erasmus himself endeavoured, in nocturnal conferences, like those of Nicodemus of old, to persuade Charles’s councilors that the whole business should be referred to impartial judges. Perhaps he hoped to be named arbitrator in a cause which threatened to divide the christian world. His vanity would have been flattered by such an office. But at the same time, and not to lose his credit at Rome, he wrote the most submissive letters to Leo, who replied with a kindness that seriously mortified Aleander. From love to the pope, the nuncio would willingly have reprimanded the pope; for Erasmus communicated these letters from the pontiff, and they added still more to his credit. The nuncio complained of it to Rome. “Pretend not to notice this man’s wickedness,” was the reply; “prudence enjoins this: we must leave a door open to repentance.”HRSCV2 214.2

    Charles at the same time adopted a “see-saw” system, which consisted in flattering the pope and the elector, and appearing to incline by turns towards each, according to the necessities of the moment. One of his ministers, whom he had sent to Rome on Spanish business, arrived at the very moment that Doctor Eck was clamorously urging on Luther’s condemnation. The wily ambassador immediately saw what advantage his master might derive from the Saxon monk. “Your Majesty,” he wrote on the 12th May 1520 to the emperor, who was still in Spain, “ought to go into Germany, and show some favor to a certain Martin Luther, who is at the Saxon court, and who by the sermons he preaches gives much anxiety to the court of Rome.” Such from the commencement was the view Charles took of the Reformation. It was of no importance for him to know on which side truth or error might be found, or to discern what the great interests of the German nation required. His only question was, what policy demanded, and what should be done to induce the pope to support the emperor. And this was well known at Rome. Charles’s ministers intimated to Aleander the course their master intended following. “The emperor,” said they, “will behave towards the pope as he behaves towards the emperor; for he has no desire to increase the power of his rivals, and particularly of the King of France.” At these words the imperious nuncio gave way to his indignation. “What!” replied he, “supposing the pope should abandon the emperor, must the latter renounce his religion? If Charles wishes to avenge himself thus let him tremble! this baseness will turn against himself.” But the nuncio’s threats did not shake the imperial diplomatists.HRSCV2 214.3

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