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    Book 13—The Protest and the Conference 1526-1529

    Chapter 1

    Twofold Movement of Reform—Reform the Work of God—First Diet of Spires—Palladium of Reform—Firmness of the Reformers—Proceedings of the Diet—Report of the Commissioners—The Papacy painted and described by Luther—The Destruction of Jerusalem—Instructions of Seville—Change of Policy—Holy League—Religious Liberty proposed—Crisis of the Reformation

    We have witnessed the commencement, the struggles, the reverses, and the progress of the Reformation; but the conflicts hitherto described have been only partial; we are entering upon a new period,—that of general battles. Spires (1529) and Augsburg (1530) are names that shine forth with more immortal glory than Marathon, Pavia, or Marengo. Forces that up to the present time were separate, are now uniting into one energetic band; and the power of God is at work in those brilliant actions, which open a new era in the history of nations, and communicate an irresistible impulse to mankind. The passage from the middle ages to modern times has arrived.HRSCV4 499.1

    A great protest is about to be accomplished; and although there have been protestants in the Church from the very beginning of Christianity, since liberty and truth could not be maintained here below, save by protesting continually against despotism and error, Protestantism is about to take a new step. It is about to become a body, and thus attack with greater energy that “mystery of iniquity” which for ages has taken a bodily shape at Rome, in the very temple of God.HRSCV4 499.2

    But although we have to treat of protests, it must not however be imagined that the Reformation is a negative work. In every sphere in which anything great is evolved, whether in nature or society, there is a principle of life at work,—a seed that God fertilizes. The Reformation, when it appeared in the sixteenth century, did not, indeed, perform a new work, for a reformation is not a formation; but it turned its face toward the beginnings of Christianity; it seized upon them with affection, and embraced them with adoration. Yet it was not satisfied with this return to primitive times. Laden with its precious burden, it again crossed the interval of ages, and brought back to fallen and lifeless Christendom the sacred fire that was destined to restore it to light and life. In this twofold movement consisted its action and its strength. Afterwards, no doubt, it rejected superannuated forms, and combated error; but this was, so to speak, only the least of its works, and its third movement. Even the protest of which we have to speak had for its end and aim the re-establishment of truth and of life, and was essentially a positive act.HRSCV4 499.3

    This powerful and rapid twofold action of reform, by which the apostolic times were re-established at the opening of modern history, proceeded not from man. A reformation is not arbitrarily made, as charters and revolutions are in some countries. A real reformation, prepared during many ages, is the work of the Spirit of God. Before the appointed hour, the greatest geniuses and even the most faithful of God’s servants cannot produce it; but when the reforming time is come, when it is God’s pleasure to renovate the affairs of the world, the divine life must clear a passage, and it is able to create of itself the humble instruments by which this life is communicated to the human race. Then, if men are silent, the very stones will cry out.HRSCV4 499.4

    It is to the protest of Spires (1529) that we are now about to turn our eyes; but the way to this protest was prepared by years of peace, and followed by attempts at concord that we shall have also to describe. Nevertheless the formal establishment of Protestantism remains the great fact that prevails in the history of the Reformation from 1526 to 1529.HRSCV4 500.1

    The Duke of Brunswick had brought into Germany the threatening message of Charles the Fifth. That emperor was about to repair from Spain to Rome to come to an understanding with the pope, and from thence to pass into Germany to constrain the heretics. The last summons was to be addressed to them by the Diet of Spires, 1526. The decisive hour for the Reformation was on the point of striking.HRSCV4 500.2

    On the 25th June 1526, the diet opened. In the instructions, dated at Seville, 23rd March, the emperor ordered that the Church customs should be maintained entire, and called upon the diet to punish those who refused to carry out the edict of Worms. Ferdinand himself was at Spires, and his presence rendered these orders more formidable. Never had the hostility which the Romish partisans entertained against the evangelical princes, appeared in so striking a manner. “The Pharisees,” said Spalatin, “are inveterate in their hatred against Jesus Christ.”HRSCV4 500.3

    Never also had the evangelical princes showed so much hope. Instead of coming forward frightened and trembling, like guilty men, they were seen advancing, surrounded by the ministers of the word, with uplifted heads and cheerful looks. Their first step was to ask for a place of worship. The Bishop of Spires, count-palatine of the Rhine, having indignantly refused this strange request, the princes complained of it as an act of injustice, and ordered their ministers to preach daily in the halls of their palaces, which were immediately filled by an immense crowd from the city and the country, amounting to many thousands. In vain on the feast days did Ferdinand, the ultra-montane princes, and the bishops assist in the pomps of the Roman worship in the beautiful cathedral of Spires; the unadorned Word of God, preached in the protestant vestibules, engrossed all hearers, and the mass was celebrated in an empty church.HRSCV4 500.4

    It was not only the ministers, but the knights and the grooms, “mere idiots,” who, unable to control their zeal, everywhere eagerly extolled the Word of the Lord. All the followers of the evangelical princes wore these letters embroidered on their right sleeves: V. D. M. I. AE., that is to say, “The Word of the Lord endureth for ever.” The same inscription might be read on the escutcheons of the princes, suspended over their hotels. The Word of God—such from this moment was the palladium of the Reformation.HRSCV4 500.5

    This was not all. The Protestants knew that the mere worship would not suffice: the landgrave had therefore called upon the elector to abolish certain “court customs” which dishonored the Gospel. These two princes had consequently drawn up an order of living which forbade drunkenness, debauchery, and other vicious customs prevalent during a diet.HRSCV4 500.6

    Perhaps the protestant princes sometimes put forward their dissent beyond what prudence would have required. Not only they did not go to mass, and did not observe the prescribed fasts, but still further, on the fast days, their attendants were seen publicly bearing dishes of meat and game, destined for their masters’ tables, and crossing, says Cochloeus, in the presence of the whole auditory, the halls in which the worship was celebrating. “It was,” says this writer, “with the intent of attracting the catholics by the savour of the meats and of the wines.”HRSCV4 500.7

    The elector in effect had a numerous court: seven hundred persons formed his retinue. One day he gave a banquet at which twenty-six princes with their gentlemen and councillors were present. They continued playing until a very late hour—ten at night. Everything in Duke John announced the most powerful prince of the empire. The youthful landgrave of Hesse, full of zeal and knowledge, and in the strength of a first christian love, made a still deeper impression on those who approached him. He would frequently dispute with the bishops, and owing to his acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, easily stopped their mouths.HRSCV4 500.8

    This firmness in the friends of the Reformation produced results that surpassed their expectation. It was no longer possible to be deceived: the spirit that was manifested in these men was the spirit of the Bible. Everywhere the scepter was falling from the hands of Rome. “The leaven of Luther,” said a zealous papist, “sets all the people of Germany in a ferment, and foreign nations themselves are agitated by formidable movements.”HRSCV4 500.9

    It was immediately seen how great is the strength of deep convictions. The states that were well disposed towards the reform, but which had not ventured to give their adhesion publicly, became emboldened. The neutral states, demanding the repose of the empire, formed the resolution of opposing the edict of Worms, the execution of which would have spread trouble through all Germany; and the papist states lost their boldness. The bow of the mighty was broken.HRSCV4 500.10

    Ferdinand did not think proper, at so critical a moment, to communicate to the diet the severe instructions he had received from Seville. He substituted a proposition calculated to satisfy both parties.HRSCV4 501.1

    The laymen immediately recovered the influence of which the clergy had dispossessed them. The ecclesiastics resisted a proposal in the college of princes that the diet should occupy itself with church abuses, but their exertions were unavailing. Undoubtedly a non-political assembly would have been preferable to the diet, but it was already a point gained that religious matters were no longer to be regulated solely by the priests.HRSCV4 501.2

    As soon as this resolution was communicated to the deputies from the cities, they called for the abolition of every usage contrary to the faith in Jesus Christ. In vain did the bishops exclaim that, instead of doing away with pretended abuses, they would do much better to burn all the books with which Germany had been inundated during the last eight years. “You desire,” was the reply, “to bury all wisdom and knowledge.” The request of the cities was agreed to, and the diet was divided into committees for the abolition of abuses.HRSCV4 501.3

    Then was manifested the profound disgust inspired by the priests of Rome. “The clergy,” said the deputy for Frankfort, “make a jest of the public good, and look after their own interests only.” “The laymen,” said the deputy from Duke George, “have the salvation of Christendom much more at heart than the clergy.”HRSCV4 501.4

    The commissioners made their report: people were astonished at it. Never had men spoken out so freely against the pope and the bishops. The commission of the princes, in which the ecclesiastics and laymen were in equal numbers, proposed a fusion of popery and reform. “The priests would do better to marry,” said they, “than to keep women of ill fame in their houses; every man should be at liberty to communicate under one or both forms; German and Latin may be equally employed in the Lord’s Supper and in Baptism; as for the other sacraments, let them be preserved, but let them be administered gratuitously. Finally, let the Word of God be preached according to the interpretation of the Church (this was the demand of Rome), but always explaining Scripture by Scripture” (this was the great principle of the Reformation). Thus the first step was taken towards a national union. Still a few more efforts, and the whole German race would be walking in the direction of the Gospel.HRSCV4 501.5

    The evangelical Christians, at the sight of this glorious prospect, redoubled their exertions. “Stand fast in the doctrine,” said the Elector of Saxony to his councillors. At the same time hawkers in every part of the city were selling Christian pamphlets, short and easy to read, written in Latin and in German, and ornamented with engravings, in which the errors of Rome were vigorously attacked. One of these books was entitled, The Papacy with its Members painted and described by Doctor Luther. In it figured the pope, the cardinals, and all the religious orders, exceeding sixty, each with their costumes and description in verse. Under the picture of one of these orders were the following lines: Greedy priests, see, roll in gold, Forgetful of the humble Jesu:HRSCV4 501.6

    under another: We forbid you to behold The Bible; lest it should mislead you! and under a third: We can fast and pray the harder With an overflowing larder.HRSCV4 501.7

    “Not one of these orders,” said Luther to the reader, “thinks either of faith or charity. This one wears the tonsure, the other a hood; this a cloak, that a robe. One is white, another black, a third gray, and a fourth blue. Here is one holding a looking-glass, there one with a pair of scissors. Each has his playthings… Ah! these are the palmer-worms, the locusts, the canker-worms, and the caterpillars, which, as Joel saith, have eaten up all the earth.”HRSCV4 501.8

    But if Luther employed the scourges of sarcasm, he also blew the trumpet of the prophets; and this he did in a work entitled The Destruction of Jerusalem. Shedding tears like Jeremiah, he denounced to the German people a ruin similar to that of the holy city, if like it they rejected the Gospel. “God has imparted to us all his treasures,” exclaimed he; “he became man, he has served us, he died for us, he has risen again, and he has so opened the gates of heaven, that all may enter… The hour of grace is come… The glad tidings are proclaimed… But where is the city, where is the prince that has received them? They insult the Gospel: they draw the sword, and daringly seize God by the beard… But wait He will turn round; with one blow will he break their jaws, and all Germany will be one vast ruin.”HRSCV4 501.9

    These works had a very great sale. They were read not only by the peasants and townspeople, but also by the nobles and princes. Leaving the priests alone at the foot of the altar, they threw themselves into the arms of the new Gospel. The necessity of a reform of abuses was proclaimed on the 1st of August by a general committee.HRSCV4 502.1

    Then Rome, which had appeared to slumber, awoke. Fanatical priests, monks, ecclesiastical princes, all gathered round Ferdinand. Cunning, bribery, nothing was spared. Did not Ferdinand possess the instructions of Seville? To refuse their publication was to effect the ruin of the Church and of the empire. Let the voice of Charles, said they, oppose its powerful veto to the dizziness that is hurrying Germany along, and the empire will be saved! Ferdinand made up his mind, and at length, on the 3rd August, published the decree drawn up more than four months previously in favor of the edict of Worms.HRSCV4 502.2

    The persecution was about to begin; the reformers would be thrown into dungeons, and the sword drawn on the banks of the Guadalquivir would at last pierce the bosom of the Reformation.HRSCV4 502.3

    The effect of the imperial ordinance was immense. The breaking of an axletree does not more violently check the velocity of a railway train. The elector and the landgrave announced that they were about to quit the diet, and ordered their attendants to prepare for their departure. At the same time the deputies from the cities drew towards these two princes, and the Reformation appeared as if it would enter immediately upon a contest with the pope and Charles the Fifth.HRSCV4 502.4

    But it was not yet prepared for a general struggle. The tree was destined to strike its roots deeper, before the almighty unchained the stormy winds against it. A spirit of blindness, similar to that which in former times was sent out upon Saul and Herod, then seized upon the great enemy of the Gospel; and thus was it that Divine Providence saved the Reformation in its cradle.HRSCV4 502.5

    The first movement of trouble being over, the friends of the Gospel began to consider the date of the imperial instructions, and to weigh the new political combinations which seemed to announce to the world the most unlooked-for events. “When the emperor wrote these letters,” said the cities of Upper Germany, “he was on good terms with the pope, but now everything is changed. It is even asserted that he told Margaret, his representative in the Low Countries, to proceed gently with respect to the Gospel. Let us send him a deputation.” That was not necessary. Charles had not waited until now to form a different resolution. The course of public affairs, taking a sudden turn, had rushed into an entirely new path. Years of peace were about to be granted to the Reformation.HRSCV4 502.6

    Clement VII, whom Charles was about to visit, according to the instructions of Seville, in order to receive the imperial crown in Rome itself and from his sacred hands, and in return to give up to the pontiff the Gospel and the reformation,—Clement VII, seized with a strange infatuation, had suddenly turned against this powerful monarch. The emperor, unwilling to favor his ambition in every point, had opposed his claims on the states of the Duke of Ferrara. Clement immediately became exasperated, and cried out that Charles wished to enslave the peninsula, but that the time was come for re-establishing the independence of Italy. This great idea of Italian independence, entertained at that period by a few literary men, had not, as in out days, penetrated the mass of the nation. Clement therefore hastened to have recourse to political combinations. The Pope, the Venetians, and the King of France, who had scarcely recovered his liberty, formed a holy league, of which the King of England was by a bull nominated the preserver and protector. In June 1526, the emperor caused the most favorable propositions to be presented to the pope; but his advances were ineffectual, and the Duke of Sessa, Charles’s ambassador at Rome, returning on horseback from his last audience, placed a court-fool behind him, who, by a thousand monkey tricks, gave the Roman people to understand how little they cared for the pope and his projects. Clement responded to these bravadoes by a brief, in which he threatened the emperor with excommunication, and without loss of time pushed his troops into Lombardy, while Milan, Florence, and Piedmont declared for the holy league. Thus was Europe preparing to be avenged for the triumph of Pavia.HRSCV4 502.7

    Charles did not hesitate. He wheeled to the right as quickly as the pope had done to the left, and turned abruptly towards the evangelical princes. “Let us suspend the edict of Worms,” wrote he to his brother; “let us bring back Luther’s partisans by mildness, and by a good council cause the triumph of evangelical truth.” At the same time he demanded that the elector, the landgrave, and their allies should march with him against the Turks—or against Italy, for the common good of Christendom.HRSCV4 502.8

    Ferdinand hesitated. To gain the friendship of the Lutherans was to forfeit that of the other princes, who were already beginning to utter violent threats. The Protestants themselves were not very eager to take the emperor’s hand. “It is God, God himself,” they said, “who will save his churches.”HRSCV4 503.1

    What was to be done? The edict of Worms could neither be repealed nor carried into execution.HRSCV4 503.2

    So strange a situation led of necessity to the desired solution: religious liberty. The first idea of this occurred to the deputies of the cities. “In one place,” said they, “the ancient ceremonies have been preserved; in another they have been abolished; and both think they are right. Let us allow every man to do as he thinks fit, until a council shall re-establish the desired unity by the Word of God.” This idea gained favor, and the recess of the diet, dated the 27th August, decreed that a universal or at the least a national free council should be convoked within a year, that they should request the emperor to return speedily to Germany, and that, until then, each state should behave in its own territory in such a manner as to be able to render an account to God and to the emperor.HRSCV4 503.3

    Thus they escaped from their difficulty by a middle course; and this time it was really the true path. Each one maintained his rights, while recognizing another’s. The diet of 1526 forms an important epoch in history: an ancient power, that of the middle ages, is shaken; a new power, that of modern times, is advancing; religious liberty boldly takes its stand in front of Romish despotism; a lay spirit prevails over the sacerdotal spirit. In this single step there is a complete victory: the cause of the reform is won.HRSCV4 503.4

    Yet it was little suspected. Luther, on the morrow of the day on which the recess was published, wrote to a friend: “The diet is sitting at Spires in the German fashion. They drink and gamble, and there is nothing done except that.” “Le congres danse et ne marche pas,” has been said in our days. Great things are often transacted under an appearance of frivolity, and God accomplishes his designs unknown even to those whom he employs as his instruments. In this diet a gravity and love of liberty of conscience were manifested, which are the fruits of Christianity, and which in the sixteenth century had its earliest if not its most energetic development among the German nations.HRSCV4 503.5

    Yet Ferdinand still hesitated. Mahomet himself came to the aid of the Gospel. Louis, king of Hungary and Bohemia, drowned at Mohacz on the 29th August 1526, as he was fleeing from before Soliman II, had bequeathed the crown of these two kingdoms to Ferdinand. But the Duke of Bavaria, the Waywode of Transylvania, and, above all, the terrible Soliman, contested it against him. This was sufficient to occupy Charles’s brother: he left Luther, and hastened to dispute two thrones.HRSCV4 503.6

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