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History of Protestantism, vol. 1 - Contents
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    Chapter 25: Attempted Refutation of the Confession

    What is to be done with the Confession?—Perplexity of the Romanists—The Confession to be Refuted—Eck and Twenty Others chosen for this Work—Luther’s Warnings—Melanchthon’s and Charles’s Forecast—Wrestlings in the Coburg—The Fourteen Protestant Free Cities—Refutation of the Confession—Vapid and Lengthy—Rejected by the Emperor—A Second Attempt—The Emperor’s Sister—Her Influence with Charles—The Play of the Masks

    Picture: The Deputies from the Imperial Cities Awaiting an Audience of Charles

    Picture: Charles Witnessing the Play of the Masks

    Picture: The Peller Court at Nuremberg

    “Adhere to the Recess of 1529 and abandon your Protest,” was the message delivered from Charles to the ambassadors of the fourteen free cities, gathered in the imperial ante-chamber on the morning of the 26th June, 1530. When we think that that Protest meant a new age, which was bearing in with it Luther and the Protestant princes and cities, instead of being borne in by them, how foolish does that demand look, even when it comes from one who wore so many crowns, and had so numerous armies at his command! The deputies made answer that in a matter of so great moment time must be given them to deliberate. They retired, to return with their answer in writing only on the 7th of July. While the cities are preparing their reply, another matter calls for consideration. What is to be done with the Confession lying on the emperor’s table? and what steps are to be taken to bring over the Elector John and the other Protestant princes?HOPV1 607.1

    We have seen the emperor dismiss the representatives of the Protestant cities with an injunction to take counsel and bring him word how they meant to act in the matter of the Decree of Spires, and whether they were prepared to abandon their Protest of 1529. Scarcely have they left his presence when he summons a council of the Popish members of the Diet.HOPV1 607.2

    They have been called together to give advice respecting another matter that claims urgent attention from the emperor. The Confession of the Protestant princes is lying on his table; what is to be done with it? Lutheranism is not at Wittemberg only: it is here, in the Palatinate Palace of Augsburg, protesting with eloquent voice against the tyranny that would suppress it, crying aloud before the Diet, as by-and-by, if not silenced, it will cry before all Christendom, that Rome has corrupted the faith, and is become apostate. “What shall we do?” asked the emperor, of the princes and bishops now gathered round him, “how shall we dispose of this document?”HOPV1 607.3

    The emperor’s interrogatory was the signal for the expression of a number of contrary opinions. It was not wise guidance, but distraction and embarrassment, that Charles found in the multitude of his counsellors. There were three distinct parties in the body around him. “We shall not,” said one party,” chop logic with our opponents; while we are entangled in a theological labyrinth, they may escape. We have but one course to pursue, namely, to execute the Edict of Worms.” 1Corp. Ref., 2, 154-D’Aubigne, bk. 14, chap 8. Another party, better acquainted with the secret wishes of Charles, said, “Let us refer the matter to the decision of the emperor.” There came yet a third, formed of those who were somewhat vain of their traditional lore, and not unwilling to show it. “Let a few doctors,” said they, “be appointed to write a Refutation of the Lutheran Confession, which may be read to the princes, and ratified by the emperor.”HOPV1 607.4

    It was not the bishops who urged the emperor to extreme and violent courses. They rather, on the whole, employed their influence to check the sanguinary zeal of others. “I cannot advise his majesty to employ force,” said Albert of Mainz, but the reason he assigned for his temperate counsels somewhat detracts from their generosity, “lest when the emperor retires the Lutherans retaliate upon the priests, and the Turk come in, in the end of the day, and reap with his scimitar what the Lutheran sword may have left.” The Bishop of Augsburg drew upon himself the suspicion of a heretic in disguise by the lengths he was willing to go in conciliating the Protestants. The Sacraments in both kinds, and the marriage of the priests, he was prepared to concede; even more, were it necessary—pointing evidently to private masses. “Masses!” exclaimed some; “abolish masses! why not say at once the kitchens of the cardinals?” All the ecclesiastics, however, were not so conciliatory. The Archbishop of Salzburg said tartly, “The Lutherans have laid before us a Confession written with black ink on white paper. Well, if I were emperor, I would answer them with red ink.” 2Ibid, 2, 147—D’Aubigne.HOPV1 607.5

    Some of the lay princes were the most fanatical and fiery in the council. George of Saxony and Joachim of Brandenburg outdid the most violent of the priests. The former hated Luther with a fervor that seemed to increase with his years, and the latter was known as a hare-brained fool, whom the mere mention of the word “Lutheran” sufficed to kindle into a rage. These two nobles pressed forward and gave their voices for war. Argument was tedious and uncertain, they urged, especially with sophists like those of Wittemberg; the sword was summary and much more to be relied upon. There was present a certain Count Felix of Verdenberg, whom the word war seemed to electrify. Scenting the battle from afar, he started up, and said, “If there is to be fighting against the Lutherans, I offer my sword, and I swear not to return it to its scabbard till the stronghold of Luther has been laid in the dust.” Count Felix doubtless would have backed these valorous words by not less valorous deeds but for the circumstance that, regaling himself with too copious draughts from the wine-flagon, he died a few days thereafter. It was the fanatical men who carried it in the council. Even the proposal of the middle party was rejected, which was to leave the matter to the adjudication of the emperor. That implied, the extreme men argued, that there were two parties and two causes. This was to misapprehend the matter wholly, said they. There was but one party—the Empire—and but one cause; for that of the Lutherans was rebellion, and to be dealt with only by the sword.HOPV1 607.6

    But before unsheathing the sword, they would first make trial with the pen. They would employ violence with all the better grace afterwards. They agreed that a Refutation of the Confession should be drawn up.HOPV1 608.1

    Of course the theologians of the party were the men who were looked to, to undertake this task—an impossible one if the Bible was to count for anything, but at Augsburg the Bible had about as little standing as the Confession. Most of the Popish princes had brought their divines and learned men with them to the Diet. “Some,” said Jonas, “have brought their ignoramuses.” Cochlaeus, Jonas ranks in this class. Faber and Eck held a better position, being men of some learning, though only of second-rate ability, if so much. There was but one man of surpassing talent and scholarship outside the Protestant pale, Erasmus, and he was not at Augsburg. He had been invited by both proxies, but their solicitations failed to woo him from his retreat at Basle. The great scholar sent characteristic excuses of absence to both. To the Protestants he wrote, “Ten councils could not unravel the deep plot of your tragedy, much less could I. If any one starts a proposition that has common sense on its side, it is at once set down as Lutheranism.” But, changing his tactics when he addressed himself to the other side, he found for the Romanists a few pleasant words at the expense of the Lutherans. What a memorable example is Erasmus of the difference between the Renaissance and the Reformation—the revival of letters and the revival of principles!HOPV1 608.2

    But the Confession must be refuted, and for the preparation of such a work Rome can employ only such theologians as she possesses. Faber, who had been promoted to the Archbishopric of Vienna; Eck, the opponent and vituperator of Luther; Cochlaeus, the Archdeacon of Frankfort, with seventeen others, mostly Dominican monks, twenty in all, were told off to write an answer to the Confession of the Protestant princes.HOPV1 608.3

    These were all extreme Romanists. It was clear what sort of instrument would issue from such a workshop. That these men would make any attempt to meet the views of the Lutherans, or that they would look candidly at the reasonings of Melanchthon, and grapple seriously with them, much less overturn them, was what no one expected. Campeggio is believed to have been the man who gave in this list of names; but no one knew better than himself the utter futility of what he was setting his nominees to do. The decided character of the committee was a virtual declaration that there was to be no concession, and that Rome was meditating no surrender. Those who feared conciliation were now able to dismiss their fears, and those who wished for it were compelled to lay aside their vain hopes. “Doctor,” inquired the Duke of Bavaria, addressing Eck, “can you confute that paper out of the Bible?” “No,” replied he, “but it may be easily done from the Fathers and Councils.” “I understand,” rejoined the duke, “I understand; the Lutherans are in Scripture, and we are outside.” 3Mathesius, Hist., p. 99. The worthy Chancellor of Ingolstadt was of the same opinion with another of his co-religionists, that nothing is to be made of Protestants so long as they remain within the castle of the Bible; but bring them from their stronghold down into the level plain of tradition, and nothing is easier than to conquer them.HOPV1 608.4

    The clear eye of Luther saw what was coming. He knew that it was not in Dr. Eck, and the whole cohort of his coadjutors to boot, to refute the Confession of Melanchthon, and that there was but one alternative, namely, that the strong sword of Charles should come in to repress what logic could not confute. “You are waiting for your adversaries’ answer,” wrote he to his friends at Augsburg; “it is already written, and here it is: The Fathers, the Fathers, the Fathers; the Church, the Church, the Church; usage, custom; but of the Scriptures—nothing. 4Luth. Opp., 4, 96.—D’Aubigne, bk. 14, chap. 8. Then the emperor, supported by the testimony of these arbiters, will pronounce against you; and then will you hear boastings on all sides that will ascend up to heaven, and threatenings that will descend even to hell.”HOPV1 608.5

    The same issue was now shaping itself to the eye of other two men—Melanchthon and the Emperor Charles. But though all three—Luther, Melanchthon, and Charles—had arrived at this conclusion, they had arrived at it by different roads. Luther in the Coburg, like the astronomer in his watchtower, with eyes uplifted from earth and fixed on heaven, deduced the future course of affairs from the known laws of the Divine government, and the known facts of the Protestant and Popish systems. Melanchthon came to his conclusion to a large extent by sense. At Augsburg he had a close view of the parties arrayed against him; he heard their daily threats, and knew the intrigues at work around him, and felt that they could have only a violent end. The emperor divined the denuament on grounds peculiar to himself. He had sounded Luther as to whether he was willing to abide by his decision of the question. The Reformer replied through the Elector John: “If the emperor wish it, let him be judge. But let him decide nothing contrary to the Word of God. Your highness cannot put the emperor above God Himself. 5Ibid., 4, 83—D’Aubigne. This was Luther’s way of saying that in spiritual things the State possessed no jurisdiction. This swept away a hope to which till now the emperor had clung—that the matter would be left to his arbitration. This he saw could not now be. On the other hand, the extreme party among the Romanists were the majority at Augsburg. They were ruling in the Diet; they were ruling at Rome also; and they would no more leave the final determination of the question in the hands of Charles than the Protestants would. To the emperor nothing would remain but the by no means enviable and dignified task of executing the resolve on which he saw the fanatical advisers of the Papacy were determined to precipitate the controversy—namely, the employment of force.HOPV1 609.1

    This forecast of the issue on the part of all three affected each of them very differently. Melanchthon it almost overwhelmed in despair; Charles it stung into a morose and gloomy determination to avenge himself on a cause which had thrust itself into the midst of his great projects to thwart and vex him; Luther, on the other hand, it inspired with courage, we might say with defiance, if we can so characterise that scornful yet holy disdain in which he held all who were warring against Protestantism, from Charles down to Dr. Eck and Cochlaeus. As regards Luther and Melanchthon, the difference between them was this: Melanchthon thought that the sword of the emperor would kill the cause, Luther knew that it would kill only its adherents, and through their death give life to the cause. The cause was God’s: of this he had the firmest possible conviction. That surely meant victory. If not, it came to this, that the King of Heaven could do only what the King of Spain permitted Him to do; and that Christ must go forward or must turn back, must uphold this cause and abandon that, as the emperor willed—in other words, that Charles and not God was the ruler of the world.HOPV1 609.2

    We are compelled to ask, when we see the courageous man shut up in the Coburg, and the timid and trembling one sent into the field, was this the best arrangement? Was the right man in the right place? The arrangement we would have made would have been exactly the reverse. We would have sent the strong man to fight the battle, and withdrawn the weak and feeble one into the retreat of the Coburg, there to commune and to pray. But in this, as in other instances, we are taught that God’s ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts. The actual arrangement was the best. It was the strong man that was needed to pray; it was the weak one that was fitted to receive and act upon the answer. It is only the prayer of faith that prevails, and it is only to a great faith that great blessings are given. Melanchthon, therefore, would have been out of place in the Coburg, but his weakness in the field illustrated the power of his Master, and showed who was doing the work. Besides, the lengths he was willing to go to meet the Papists—and he went much further than Luther would have done—only the more manifestly put Rome in the wrong, and left the blame of the final rupture with her.HOPV1 609.3

    But if Luther with uplifted hands drew down daily strength from the skies, as the conductor draws down the electric fire from the clouds, it was to send on the Divine influence, which descended from above, to those who had so much need of it at Augsburg. Faith begets faith, and Luther became as God to Melanchthon and the men around him. Let us enter the Coburg. The voice as of a man in a great agony falls on our ear. He groans, he cries; he cries yet more earnestly. Whose voice is it? Listen. It is Luther’s. We need not enter his chamber; we can distinctly hear every word where we stand outside his closet door in the corridor. “I have once heard him praying,” wrote Veit Dietrich, a friend, who at times visited the Reformer in the castle, “communing with God as a Father and Friend, and reminding Him of His own promises from the Psalms, which he was certain would be made good—‘I know, O God, Thou art our dear God and Father: therefore am I certain that Thou wilt destroy the persecutors of Thy Church. If Thou dost not destroy them, Thou art in like danger with us. It is Thy own cause. The enemies of the cross of Christ assault us. It appertains to Thee and the honour of Thy name to protect Thy confessors at Augsburg. Thou hast promised, Thou wilt do it; for Thou hast done it from the beginning. Let Thine help shine forth in this extremity.’”HOPV1 609.4

    The prayer has gone up; it has knocked at the gates of the eternal temple; it has unlocked the fountains of God’s power; and now an air celestial fills the chamber of the Coburg, and a Divine strength is infused into the soul of its inmate. What Luther has freely received he freely gives to others. He sends it onward to Augsburg thus:—“What is the meaning,” writes he to Melanchthon, “of fearing, trembling, caring, and sorrowing? Will He not be with us in this world’s trifles who has given us His own Son? In private troubles I am weak, and you are strong—if, at least, I can call private the conflicts I have with Satan—but in public trials I am what you are in private. The cause is just and true—it is Christ’s cause. Miserable saintling that I am! I may well turn pale and tremble for myself, but I can never fear for the cause.” “I pray, have prayed, and shall pray for thee, Philip,” he wrote in another letter, “and I have felt the Amen in my heart.” “Our Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote to Jonas, “is King of kings and Lord of lords. If He disown the title at Augsburg, He must disown it in heaven and earth. Amen.” 6Seckendorf, lib. 2, sec. 32, p. 182.HOPV1 610.1

    So did the battle proceed on the two sides. Wiles, frowns, threats, with the sword as the last resort, are seen on the one side—prayers, tears, and faith on the other. The Emperor Charles, the legate Campeggio, and the Popish theologians at Augsburg saw only Melanchthon. They beheld him dejected, bending under a load of anxieties, and coming to them each day with a new concession or explanation, if haply it might end the battle. The adversary with whom they were all the while contending, however, was one they saw not—one who was out of their reach—the man of prayer in the Coburg, or rather the God-man at the right hand of Power in heaven—the Ancient of Days.HOPV1 610.2

    We have seen the emperor send away two commissions, with instructions to each to deliberate on the matter referred to it, and return on a future day with the answer. They are here, in the presence of the emperor, to give in their report. First come the representatives of the fourteen cities which had refused adherence to the Edict of Spires, 1529. Of these cities some were of Zwingle’s sentiments on the Sacrament, while others agreed with the Augsburg Confession. This difference of opinion had introduced the wedge of discord, and had raised the hopes of the emperor. Nevertheless, in the presence of the common foe, they were united and firm. They replied to Charles “that they were not less desirous than their ancestors had been to testify all loyalty and obedience to his imperial majesty, but that they could not adhere to the Recess of Spires without disobeying God, and compromising the salvation of their souls.” 7Sleidan, bk. 7, p. 130. Thus the hope vanished which the emperor had cherished of detaching the cities from the princes, and so weakening the Protestant front.HOPV1 610.3

    The next body to appear at the foot of the emperor’s throne, with an account of their labours, were the twenty theologians to whom had been entrusted the important matter of preparing an answer to the Protestant Confession. They had gone to work with a will, meeting twice a day; and we can do justice to their zeal only when we reflect that it was now on the eve of the dog-days. Eck and his company showed themselves experts at producing what they understood to be wanted, a condemnation rather than a refutation. Eck had declared beforehand that the latter could not be forthcoming if Scripture were allowed a hearing. This very considerably simplified and lightened the task, and in a fortnight Eck and his coadjutors gave in a document of not less than 280 pages. In point of bulk this performance might have sufficed to refute not one but a dozen such Confessions as that of Augsburg. Charles surveyed the ponderous Refutation with dismay. He appeared to divine that it would only fortify that which it was meant to overthrow, and overthrow that which it was intended to fortify. It did not improve on closer acquaintance. It was vapid as well as bulky. It was pointless as a “Refutation,” and vigorous only in its abuse. Its call for “blood” was unmistakable. 8Corp. Ref., 2. 193-198. Charles saw that it would never do to give the world an opportunity of contrasting the lumbering periods and sanguinary logic of Eck, with the terse and perspicuous style and lofty sentiments of Melanchthon. Her worst foe could not do Rome a more unkindly act, or Wittemberg a greater service, than to publish such a document. Another Refutation must be prepared; yet even this inspired but little hope, for to whom could the emperor commit the task, except to the old hands? Letters, too, alas! were going over to the side of Wittemberg; and soon nothing would remain with Rome but one thing—the sword.HOPV1 610.4

    But the Reformation was not yet able to endure persecution, and meanwhile friends of the Gospel were placed one after another near Charles, to pluck away his hand when it was laid on his sword’s hilt, with intent to unsheathe and use it against the Gospel. He had buried Gattinara, the friend of toleration, at Innspruck. This left the legate Campeggio without a rival in the imperial councils. But only three days after the reading of the Confession two ladies of high rank came to Augsburg, whose quiet but powerful influence restored the balance broken by the death of Gattinara. The one was Maw, the sister of the emperor, and widow of Louis, King of Hungary; the other was her sister-in-law, the Queen of Bohemia, and wife of Ferdinand of Austria. The study of the Scriptures had opened in both the way to peace. Their hearts had been won for the Gospel, and when Campeggio approached to instil his evil counsel into the ear of the emperor, these two ladies were able, by a word fitly spoken, to neutralise its effects upon the mind of their brother, and draw him back from the paths of violence to which, at the instigation of the legate, he seemed about to commit himself. 9Seckendorf, lib. 2,sec. 32, p. 183.HOPV1 611.1

    In those days truth could sometimes be spoken to princes, in a figure when it dared not be told them in plain language. One day, during his stay in Augsburg, as Charles sat at dinner with his lords, a message was brought to him that some comedians wished to amuse him and his guests. Instant permission was given, for the request was in accordance with the manners of the age, and excited no suspicion. First an old man, in a doctor’s gown, tottered across the floor, carrying a burden of sticks, some long, some short. Throwing down the sticks on the hearth in confusion, he turned to retire. On his back, now displayed to the courtiers, was the name—JOHN REUCHLIN. A second mask now entered, also attired as a doctor. He went up to the hearth, and began deftly arranging the sticks. He worked assiduously for a little while, but, despite his pains, the long and short, the crooked and the straight, would not pair; so, giving up his task, with a sardonic smile on his countenance, he made his exit. Charles and his lords, as he walked out, read on his back—ERASMUS OF ROTTERDAM. The comedy was beginning to have interest. A third now entered: this time it was a monk, in the frock and cowl of the Augustines. With keen eye and firm step he crossed the hall, bearing a brazier filled with live coals. He raked the sticks together, not waiting to sort them, put a coal underneath the heap, blew it up, and soon a blazing fire was roaring on the hearth. As he withdrew he showed on his back—MARTIN LUTHER. The plot was thickening.HOPV1 611.2

    A fourth appeared—a stately personage, covered with the insignia of empire. He gazes with displeasure at the fire. He draws his sword, and plunges it in amongst the burning faggots; the more they are stirred the more fiercely they blaze. He strikes again and again; the flame mounts higher, and the red sparks fall thicker around. It is plain that he is feeding, not quenching, the fire. The mask turns and strides across the hall in great anger He has no name, nor is it necessary; every one divines it, though no one utters it.HOPV1 611.3

    Yet another—a fifth! He comes forward with solemn and portly air. His robes, which are of great magnificence, are priestly. He wears a triple crown on his head, and the keys of St. Peter are suspended from his girdle. On seeing the fire this great personage is seized with sudden anguish, and wrings his hands. He looks round for something with which to extinguish it. He espies at the farther end of the hall two vessels, one containing water and the other oil. He rushes eagerly to get hold of the one containing the water; in his hurry he clutches the wrong vessel, that filled with the oil, and empties it on the fire 10This, of course, was before the Vatican decree of 1870. Such a mistake is not conceivable now; although it perplexes one to think that the Popes of the age of Leo X. were, according to the decree, as infallible as those of the days of Pio Nono; seeing the latter-with greater generosity than prudence-admitted all his predecessors to partnership with him in his attribute of infallibility. The fire blazes up with a fury that singes his priestly robe, and compels its unfortunate wearer to escape for his safety. The comedy is at an end.HOPV1 611.4

    The authors of this play never came forward to receive the praise due to their ingenuity, or to claim the pecuniary reward usually forth-coming on such occasions. They doubtless held it would be reward enough if the emperor profited by its moral. “Let thy gifts be to thyself,” said the prophet, when he read the writing on the wall of the king’s palace. So said the men who now interpreted in the Palatinate Palace of Augsburg the fate of the Empire and the Papacy. 11D’Aubigne, bk. 14, chap. 9. Worsley, Life of Luther, vol. 2, pp 226, 227.HOPV1 613.1

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