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History of Protestantism, vol. 1 - Contents
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    Chapter 6: The Ratisbon League and Reformation

    Protestantism in Nuremberg-German Provinces Declare for the Gospel-Intrigues of Campeggio-Ratisbon League -Ratisbon Scheme of Reform-Rejected by the German Princes-Letter of Pope Clement to the Emperor-The Emperor’s Letter from Burgos-Forbids the Diet at Spires-German Unity Broken-Two Camps-Persecution-Martyrs

    Picture: Albert Durer

    Picture: View of Burgos showing the Cathedral

    Nuremberg had thrown itself heartily into the tide of the Reform movement. It was not to be kept back either by the muttered displeasure of the Pope’s legate, or the more outspoken threatenings of the emperor’s envoy. The intelligent citizens of Nuremberg felt that Protestantism brought with it a genial air, in which they could more freely breathe. It promised a re-invigoration to their city, the commerce of which had begun to wane, and its arts to decline, as the consequence of the revolutions which the mariner’s compass had brought with it. Their preachers appeared daily in the pulpit; crowded congregations daily assembled in the large Church of St. Sebald, on the northern bank of the Pegnitz, and in the yet more spacious Cathedral of St. Lawrence, in the southern quarter of the city. The tapers were extinguished; the images stood neglected in their niches, or were turned out of doors; neither pyx, nor cloud of incense, nor consecrated wafer was to be seen; the altar had been changed into a table; bread and wine were brought forth and placed upon it: prayer was offered, a psalm sung, and the elements were dispensed, while some 4,000 communicants came forward to partake. The spectacle caused infinite disgust to Campeggio, but how to prevent it he knew not. Hunnaart thought, doubtless, that had his master been present, these haughty citizens would not have dared to flaunt their heresy in the face of the emperor. But Charles detained by his quarrels with Francis I. and the troubles in Spain, heresy flourished unchecked by the imperial frown.HOPV1 502.2

    From the hour the Diet broke up, both sides began busily to prepare for the meeting at Spires in November. The princes, on their return to their States, began to collect the suffrages of their people on the question of Church Reform; and the legate, on his part, without a day’s delay, began his intrigues to prevent the meeting of an assembly which threatened to deliver the heaviest blow his master’s authority had yet received.HOPV1 502.3

    The success of the princes friendly to the Reformed faith exceeded their expectations. The all but unanimous declaration of the provinces was, “We will serve Rome no longer.” Franconia, Brandenburg, Henneburg, Windsheim, Wertheim, and Nuremberg declared against the abuses of the mass, against the seven Popish Sacraments, against the adoration of images, and, reserving the unkindliest cut for the last, against the Papal supremacy. 1D’Aubigne, bk. 10, chap. 5. These dogmatic changes would draw after them a host of administrative reforms. The pretext for the innumerable Romish exactions, of which the Germans so loudly complained, would be swept away. No longer would come functions and graces from Rome, and the gold of Germany would cease to flow thither in return. The Protestant theologians were overjoyed. A few months, and the national voice, through its constituted organ the Diet, will have pronounced in favor of Reform. The movement will be safely piloted into the harbor.HOPV1 502.4

    The consternation of the Romish party was in proportion. They saw the gates of the North opening a second time, and the German hosts in full march upon the Eternal City. What was to be done? Campeggio was on the spot; and it was fortunate for Rome that he was so, otherwise the subsequent intervention of the Pope and the emperor might have come too late. The legate adopted the old policy of “divide and conquer.”HOPV1 503.1

    Withdrawing from a Diet which contemplated usurping the most august functions of his master, Campeggio retired to Ratisbon, and there set to work to form a party among the princes of Germany. He succeeded in drawing around him Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, the Dukes of Bavaria, the Archbishop of Salzburg, and the Bishops of Trent and Ratisbon. These were afterwards joined by most of the bishops of Southern Germany. Campeggio represented to this convention that the triumph of Wittemberg was imminent, and that with the fall of the Papacy was bound up the destruction of their own power, and the dissolution of the existing order of things. To avert these terrible evils, they resolved, the 6th of July, to forbid the printing of Luther’s books; to permit no married priests to live in their territories; to recall the youth of their dominions who were studying at Wittemberg; to tolerate no change in the mass or public worship; and, in fine, to put into execution the Edict of Worms against Luther. They concluded, in short, to wage a war of extermination against the new faith. 2Pallavicino, lib. 2, cap. 11. Sleidan, bk. 4, p. 74. Fra-Paolo Sarpi, livr. 1, p. 67; Basle, 1738.HOPV1 503.2

    As a set-off against these stern measures, they promised a few very mild reforms. The ecclesiastical imposts were to be lightened, and the Church festivals made somewhat less numerous. And, not able apparently to see that they were falling into the error which they condemned in the proposed Diet at Spires, they proceeded to enact a standard of orthodoxy, consisting of the first four Latin Fathers-Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory-whose opinions were to be the rule according to which all preachers were to interpret Scripture. Such was the Ratisbon Reformation, as it came afterwards to be called.HOPV1 503.3

    The publication of the legate’s project was viewed as an insult by the princes of the opposite party. “What right,” they asked, “have a few princes and bishops to constitute themselves the representatives of the nation, and to make a law for the whole of Germany? Who gave them this authority? Besides, what good will a Reformation do us that removes only the smaller abuses, and leaves the great altogether untouched? It is not the humbler clergy, but the prelates and abbots who oppress us, and these the Ratisbon Convention leaves flourishing in their wealth and power. Nor does this Reform give us the smallest hope that we shall be protected in future from the manifold exactions of the Roman court. In condemning the lesser evils, does not the League sanction the greater?” Even Pallavicino has acknowledged that this judgement of the princes on the Ratisbon Reformation was just, when he says that “the physician in the cure of his patient ought to begin not with the small, but the great remedies.” 3Fra-Paolo Sarpi, livr. 1, p. 68. Pallavicino, lib. 2, cap. 11.HOPV1 503.4

    The legate had done well, and now the Pope, who saw that he must grasp the keys more firmly, or surrender them altogether, followed up with vigor the measures of Campeggio. Clement VII. wrote in urgent terms to Charles V., telling him that the Empire was in even greater danger from these audacious Germans than the tiara. Charles did not need this spur. He was sufficiently alive to what was due to him as emperor. This proposal of the princes to hold a Diet irrespective of the emperor’s authority stung him to the quick.HOPV1 503.5

    The Pope’s letter found the emperor at Burgos, the capital of Old Castile. The air of the place was not favorable to concessions to Lutheranism. Everything around Charles-a cathedral of un-rivalled magnificence, the lordly priests by which it was served, the devotion of the Castilians, with other tokens of the pomp and power of Catholicism -must have inspired him with even more than his usual reverence for the old religion, and made the project of the princes appear in his eyes doubly a crime. He wrote in sharp terms to them, saying that it belonged to him as emperor to demand of the Pope that a Council should be convoked; that he and the Pope alone were the judges when it was a fitting time to convoke such an assembly, and that when he saw that a Council could be held with profit to Christendom he would ask the Pope to summon one; that, meanwhile, till a General Council should meet, it was their duty to acquiesce in the ecclesiastical settlement which had been made at Worms; that at that Diet all the matters which they proposed to bring again into discussion at Spires had been determined, and that to meet to discuss them over again was to unsettle them. In fine, he reminded them of the Edict of Worms against Luther, and called on them to put it in execution. He forbade the meeting of the Diet at Spires, under penalty of high treason and ban of the Empire. The princes eventually submitted, and thus the projected Diet, which had excited so great hopes on the one side and so great alarm on the other, never met. 4Sleidan, bk. 4, pp. 75, 76. Pallavicino, lib. 2, cap. 10. Fra-Paolo Sarpi, livr. 1, pp. 69, 70.HOPV1 503.6

    The issue of the affair was that the unity of Germany was broken. From this hour, there were a Catholic Diet and a Protestant Diet in the Empire- a Catholic Germany and a Protestant Germany. The rent was made by Campeggio, and what he did was endorsed and completed by Charles V. The Reformation was developing peacefully in the Empire; the majority of the Diet was on its side; the several States and cities were rallying to it; there was the promise that soon it would be seen advancing under the aegis of a united Fatherland: but this fair prospect was suddenly and fatally blighted by the formation of an Anti-Protestant League. The unity thus broken has never since been restored. It must not be overlooked that this was the doing of the Romanist party.HOPV1 504.1

    “What a deplorable event!” exclaims the reader. And truly it was. It had to be expiated by the wars, the revolutions, the political and religious strifes of three centuries. Christendom was entering on the peaceful and united rectification of the errors of ages-the removal of those superstitious beliefs which had poisoned the morals of the world, and furnished a basis for ecclesiastical and political despotisms. And, with a purified conscience, there would have come an enlarged and liberated intellect, the best patron of letters and art, of liberty and of industry. With the rise of these two hostile camps, the world’s destinies were fatally changed. Henceforward Protestantism must advance by way of the stake. But, lacking these many heroic deaths, these hundreds of thousands of martyrs, what a splendor would have been lacking to Protestantism!HOPV1 505.1

    The conferences at Ratisbon lasted a fortnight, and when at length they came to an end, the Archduke Ferdinand and the Papal legate journeyed together to Vienna. On the road thither, they came to an understanding as to the practical steps for carrying out the league. The sword must be unsheathed. Gaspard Tauber, of Vienna, whose crime was the circulating of Luther’s books, was among the first to suffer. An idea got abroad that he would recant. Two pulpits were erected in the churchyard of St. Stephen’s. From the one Tauber was to read his recantation, and from the other a priest was to magnify the act as a new trophy of the power of the Roman Church. Tauber rose in presence of the vast multitude assembled in the graveyard, who awaited in deep silence the first words of recantation. To their amazement he made a bolder confession of his faith than ever. He was immediately dragged to execution, decapitated, and his body thrown into the fire and consumed. His Christian intrepidity on the scaffold made a deep impression on his townsmen. At Buda, in Hungary, a Protestant bookseller was burned with his books piled up around him. He was heard amid the flames proclaiming the joy with which he suffered for the sake of Christ. An inquisitor, named Reichler, traversed Wurtemberg, hanging Lutherans on the trees, and nailing the Reformed preachers to posts by the tongue, and leaving them to die on the spot, or set themselves free at the expense of self-mutilation, and the loss of that gift by which they had served Christ in the ministry of the Gospel. In the territories of the Archbishop of Salzburg, a Protestant who was being conducted to prison was released by two peasants, while his guards were carousing in an alehouse. The peasants were beheaded outside the walls of the city without form of trial. There was a Reign of Terror in Bavaria. It was not on those in humble life only that the storm fell; the magistrate on the bench, the baron in his castle found no protection from the persecutor. The country swarmed with spies, and friend dared not confide in friend.HOPV1 505.2

    This fanatical rage extended to some parts of Northern Germany. The tragical fate of Henry van Zutphen deserves a short notice. Escaping from the monastery at Antwerp in 1523, when the converts Esch and Voes were seized and burned, he preached the Gospel for two years in Bremen. His fame as a preacher extending, he was invited to proclaim the Reformed doctrine to the uninstructed people of the Ditmarches country. He repaired thither, and had appeared only once in the pulpit, when the house in which he slept was surrounded at midnight by a mob, heated by the harangues of the prior of the Dominicans and the fumes of Hamburg beer. He was pulled out of bed, beaten with clubs, dragged on foot over many miles of a road covered with ice and snow, and finally thrown on a slow fire and burned. 5Sleidan, bk. 4, p. 75. Luth. Opp., lib. 19, p. 330. D’Aubigne, vol. 3, pp. 151-155; Glas., 1855. Such were the means which the “Ratisbon Reformers” adopted for repressing Protestantism, and upholding the old order of things. “The blood he is shedding,” exclaimed Luther, on being told of these proceedings, “will choke the Pope at last, with his kings and kingdoms.” 6Luther to Hausmann, 1524, p. 563.HOPV1 506.1