THROUGH all the political and religious confusion, which distracted Germany during the period from the Diet of Worms to the Peasants’ War, there runs one thread which gives to the story at least a semblance of unity; and that is the attempt and failure of a central government to keep the nation together on the path towards a practical reform in Church and in State. The reform was no less imperative than the obstacles to it were formidable. Germany was little more than a geographical expression, and a vague one withal; it was not a State, it could hardly be called a nation, so deep were its class divisions. Horizontal as well as vertical lines traversed it in every part, and its social strata were no more fused into one nation than its political sections were welded into one organized State. Rival ambitions and conflicting interests might set Prince against Prince, knight against knight, and town against town, but deeper antagonisms ranged knights against Princes and cities, or cities against Princes and knights; they might all conspire against Caesar, or the peasant might rise up against them. Imperial authority was an ineffective shadow brooding over the troubled waters and unable to still the storm. Separatism in every variety of permutation and combination was erected into a principle, and on it was based the Germanic political system.
Yet this warring concourse of atoms felt once and again a common impulse, and adopted on rare occasions a common line of action. With few exceptions the German people were bent on reform of the Church, and with one voice they welcomed the election of Charles V. Nor for the moment was the hope of political salvation entirely quenched. The efforts of Berthold of Mainz and Frederick of Saxony to evolve order out of the chaos had been foiled by the skill of the Emperor Maximilian, and the advent of Luther had been the signal for a fresh eruption of discord. But the urgency of the need produced a correspondingly strong demand for national unity; and at his election Charles was pledged to renew the attempt to create a national government, to maintain a national judicature, and to pursue a national policy. Unhappily vague aspirations and imperial promises were poor substitutes for political forces, and the forms in which the common feelings of the nation found vent added strength to centrifugal tendencies, and contributed their share to the ruin of unity. The attempt to remodel the Church divided the realm into two persistently hostile camps, and the succession of Charles V secured the throne of the Caesars to a family which was too often ready to sacrifice its national imperial duties to the claims of dynastic ambition.
Seldom has a nation had better cause to repent a fit of enthusiasm than Germany had when it realized the effects of the election of Charles V. Of his rivals Francis I would no doubt have made a worse Emperor, but the choice of Ferdinand - a suggestion made by Margaret of Savoy and peremptorily rejected by Charles himself - or of Frederick of Saxony, would probably have been attended with less disastrous consequences to the German national cause. In personal tastes and sympathies, in the aims he pursued within his German kingdom, and in his foreign policy Charles V was an alien; his ways were not those of his subjects, nor were his thoughts their thoughts; he could neither speak the German language, nor read the German mind. Nurtured from birth in the Burgundian lands of his father, he at first regarded the world from a purely Burgundian point of view and sorely offended his Spanish subjects by his neglect of their interests in concluding the Treaty of Noyon (1516). But the Flemish aspect of his Court and his policy rapidly changed under southern influence, and the ten years of his youth (1517-20 and 1522-9) which he spent in Spain developed the Spanish tastes and feelings which he derived from his mother Juana. His mind grew ever more Spanish in sympathy, and this mental evolution was more and more clearly reflected in Charles’ dynastic policy. So far as it was affected by national considerations, those considerations became ever more Spanish; the Colossus which bestrode the world gradually turned its face southwards, and it was to Spain and not to the land of his birth that Charles retired to die.
From this development Germany could not fail to suffer. German soldiers helped to win Pavia and to desecrate Rome, but their blood was shed in vain so far as the fatherland was concerned. Charles1 conquests in Italy, made in the name of the German Empire and supported by German imperial claims, went to swell the growing bulk of the Spanish monarchy, and when he was crowned by Pope Clement VII at Bologna it was noted that functions which belonged of right to Princes of the Empire were performed by Spanish Grandees. His promise to the German nation to restore to the Empire its pristine extent and glory was interpreted in practice as an undertaking to enhance at all costs the prestige of the Habsburg family. The loss of its theoretical rights over such States as Milan and Genoa was, however, rather a sentimental than a real grievance to the nation. It had better cause for complaint when Charles (1543) in effect severed the Netherlands from the Empire and transferred them to Spain. He sacrificed German interests in Holstein to those of his brother-in-law Christian II of Denmark; and, although he was not primarily responsible for the loss of Metz, Toul, and Verdun in 1552, his neglect of German interests along the Slavonic coasts of the Baltic was not without effect upon the eventual incorporation of Estonia, Livonia, and Courland, in the Russian domains of the Czar. German troops had been wont to march on Rome; but Charles brought Italian troops to the banks of the Elbe. He introduced into Germany that Spanish taint which was only washed out in the Thirty Years' War; and he then sought to turn that tide of northern influence, which has been flowing ever since the decline of the Roman Empire.
In religion as well as in politics Charles’ increasingly Spanish tendencies had an evil effect on the Empire. He was no theologian, and he could never comprehend the Reformers’ objections to Roman dogma; but that did not make him less hostile to their cause. His attitude towards religion was half way between the genial orthodoxy of his grandfather Maximilian and the gloomy fanaticism of his son Philip II, but his mind was always travelling away from the former and towards the latter position; and the transition enhanced the difficulty of coming to an accommodation with Lutheran heretics.
This orthodoxy, however, implied no blindness to the abuses of the Pope’s temporal power, and was always conditioned by regard for the Emperor’s material interests. The fervid declaration of zeal against Luther which Charles read at the Diet of Worms has been described as the most genuine expression of his religious feelings. No doubt it was sincere, but it is well to note that the Emperor’s main desire was then to wean Leo X from his alliance with Francis I, and to prove to the papal Nuncio that, whatever the Diet might do, Charles' heart was in the right place. If he often assumed the rôle of papal champion, he could on occasion remember that he was the successor of Henry IV, and to some at least the Sack of Rome must have seemed a revenge for the scene at Canossa. He could tell Clement that that outrage was the just judgment of God, he could seize the temporalities of the bishopric of Utrecht, and speak disrespectfully of papal excommunications. He could discuss proposals for deposing the Pone and destroying his temporal power, and was even tempted to think that Luther might one day become of importance if Clement continued to thwart the imperial plans.
With Charles, as with every prince of the age, including the Pope, political far outweighed religious motives. Chivalry and the crusading spirit were both dead. His religious faith and family pride might both have impelled him to avenge upon Henry VIII the wrongs of Catharine of Aragon; but these, he said, were private griefs; they must not be allowed to interfere with the public considerations which compelled him impression. The devils on the roofs of the houses at Worms were really rather friendly to Luther than otherwise, and the renowned Edict itself was not so much an expression of settled national policy as an expedient, recommended by the temporary exigencies of the Emperor’s foreign relations, and only extorted from him by Leo’s promise to cease from supporting Charles’ foes. Probably Charles himself had no expectation of seeing the Edict executed, and certainly the Princes who passed it had no such desire. They were much more intent on securing redress of their grievances against the Church than on chastising the man who had attacked their common enemy; and the fact that the Diet which condemned Luther's heresy also solemnly formulated a comprehensive indictment against the Roman Church throws a vivid light upon the twofold aspect which the Reformation assumed in Germany as elsewhere.
1521] Revolt against clerical domination.
The origin of the whole movement was a natural attempt on the part of man, with the progress of enlightenment, to emancipate himself from the clerical tutelage under which he had labored for centuries, and to remedy the abuses which were an inevitable outcome of the exclusive privileges and authority of the Church. These abuses were traced directly or indirectly to the exemption of the Church and its possessions from secular control, and to the dominion which it exercised over the laity; and the revolt against this position of immunity and privilege was one of the most permanently and universally successful movements of modern history. It was in the beginning quite independent of dogma, and it has pervaded Catholic as well as Protestant countries. The State all over the world has completely deposed the Church from the position it held in the Middle Ages; and the existence of Churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, in the various political systems, is due not to their own intrinsic authority but to the fact that they are tolerated or encouraged by the State. No ecclesiastic has any appeal from the temporal laws of the land in which he lives. In 1521 clerical ministers ruled the greater part of Europe, Wolsey in England, Adrian in Spain, Du Prat in France, and Matthew Lang to no small extent in Germany; today there is not a clerical prime minister in the world, and the temporal States of the Catholic Church have shrunk to the few acres covered by the Vatican. The Church has ceased to trespass on secular territory and returned to her original spiritual domain.
This was, roughly speaking, the main issue of the Reformation; it was practically universal, while the dogmatic questions were subsidiary and took different forms in different localities. It was on this principle that the German nation was almost unanimous in its opposition to Rome, and its feelings were accurately reflected in the Diet at Worms. Even Frederick of Saxony was averse from Luther's repudiation of Catholic doctrine, but, if the Reformer had confined himself to an attack on the Church in its temporal aspect, Pope and Emperor together would have been powerless to secure his condemnation. The whole nation, wrote a canon of Worms, was of one mind with regard to clerical immorality, from Emperor down through all classes to the last man. Nine-tenths of Germany, declared the papal Nuncio, cried “Long live Luther”, and the other tenth shouted “Death to the Church”. Duke George of Saxony, the staunchest of Catholics, was calling for a General Council to reform abuses, and Gattinara, Charles’ shrewdest adviser, echoed the recommendation. Even Jean Glapion, the Emperor’s confessor, was believed to be not averse from an accommodation with Luther, provided that he would disavow the Babylonish Captivity, and in Worms itself the papal emissaries went about in fear of assassination. The Germans, wrote Tunstall to Wolsey from Worms, were everywhere so addicted to Luther that a hundred thousand of them would lay down their lives to save him from the penalties pronounced by the Pope.
This popular enthusiasm for Luther led Napoleon to express the belief that, had Charles adopted his cause, he could have conquered Europe at the head of a united Germany. But an imperial sanction of Lutheranism would not have killed the separatist tendencies of German politics, nor was it Lutheran doctrine which had captivated the hearts of the German people. He was the hero of the hour solely because he stood for the national opposition to Rome. The circumstances in Germany in 1521 were not very dissimilar from those in England in 1529. There was an almost universal repugnance to clerical privilege and to the Roman Curia, but the section of the nation which was prepared to repudiate Catholic dogma was still insignificant; and a really national government, which regarded national unity as of more importance than the immediate triumph of any religious party, would have pursued a policy something like that of Henry VIII in his later years. It would have kept the party of doctrinal revolution in due subordination to the national movement against the abuses of a corrupt clerical caste and an Italian domination; it would have endeavored to satisfy the popular demand for practical reform, without alienating the majority by surrendering to a sectional agitation against Catholic dogma. But both the man and the forces were wanting. Charles often dallied with the idea of a limited practical reform, and he had already slighted the Papacy by allowing Luther to be heard at the Diet of Worms after his condemnation by the Pope, as if an imperial edict were of more effect in matters of faith than a papal Bull. He could hardly, however, be Reformer in Germany and reactionary in Spain, and the necessities of his dynastic position as well as his personal feelings tied him to the Catholic cause. His frequent and prolonged periods of absence and his absorption in other affairs prevented him from bestowing upon the government of Germany that vigilant and concentrated attention which alone enabled Henry VIII to effect his aims in England; and the task of dealing with the religious, and with the no less troublesome political and social discord in Germany, was left to the Council of Regency and practically, for five years, to Ferdinand.
The composition and powers of this body were among the chief questions which came before the Diet of Worms. When the electors extorted from Charles a promise to re-establish the Reichsregiment, they had in their mind a national administration like that suggested by Berthold of Mainz; when Charles gave his pledge, he was thinking of a Council which should be, like Maximilian’s, Aulic rather than national; and he imagined that he was redeeming his pledge when he proposed to the Diet the formation of a government which was to have no control over foreign affairs, and a control, limited by his own assent, over domestic administration. The Regent or head of the Council and six of its twenty members were to be nominated by the Emperor; these were to be permanent, but the other fourteen, representing the Empire, were to change every quarter. This body was to have no power over Charles’ hereditary dominions, nor over the newly-won Württemberg. The Emperor, in short, was to control the national government, but the writs of the national government were not to run in the Habsburg territories. On the other hand, the Princes demanded a form of government which would have practically eliminated the imperial factor from the Empire; the governing Council was to have the same authority whether Charles himself were present or not, it was to decide foreign as well as domestic questions, and in it the Emperor should be represented only in the same way as other Princes, namely, by a proportionate number of members chosen from his hereditary lands.
In the compromise which followed Charles secured the decisive point. The government which was formed was too weak to weld Germany into a political whole, able to withstand the disintegrating influence of its own particularism and of the Habsburg dynastic interest; and Charles was left free to pursue throughout his reign the old imperial maxim, divide et impera. The Reichsregiment was to have independent power only during the Emperor’s absence; at other times it was to sink into an advisory body, and important decisions must always have his assent. He was to nominate the president and four out of the Council’s twenty-two members; but his own dominions were to be subject to its authority, the determination of religious questions was left largely in the hands of the Estates, and Charles undertook to form no leagues or alliances affecting the Empire without the Council's consent. The reconstitution of the supreme national court of justice or Reichskammergericht presented few variations from the form adopted at Constance in 1507, and the ordinance establishing it is almost word for word the same as the original proposal of Berthold of Mainz in 1495; the imperial influence was slightly increased by the provision permitting him to nominate two additional assessors to the Court, but, being paid by the Empire and not by the Emperor, its members retained their independence.
A measure which ultimately proved to be of more importance than the reorganization of these two institutions was the partition of the Habsburg inheritance. One of the most cherished projects of Ferdinand of Aragon had been the creation in northern Italy of a kingdom for the benefit of the younger of his two grandsons, which would have left Charles free to retain his Austrian lands. That scheme had failed; but the younger Ferdinand, especially when he became betrothed to the heiress of Hungary and Bohemia, could not decently remain unendowed while his brother possessed so much; and on April 28, 1521, a contract was ratified transferring to Ferdinand the five Austrian duchies, of Austria, Carinthia, Carniola, Styria, and Tyrol. This grant formed the nucleus of the present so-called Dual Monarchy; it was gradually extended by the transference to Ferdinand of all Charles V’s possessions and claims in Germany, and the success with which the younger brother governed his German subjects made them regret that Ferdinand had not been elected Emperor in 1519 instead of having to wait thirty-seven years for the prize.
Growth of the power of the Princes.
Soon after the conclusion of the Diet of Worms Charles left Germany, which he was not to see again until nine years later; and long before then the attempt of the central government to control the disruptive forces of political and religious separatism had hopelessly broken down. A pathetic interest attaches to the intervening struggles of the Reichsregiment as being the last efforts to create a modern German national State co-extensive with the medieval Empire, a State which would have included not only the present German Empire, but Austria and the Netherlands, and which, stretching from the shores of the Baltic to those of the Adriatic sea, and from the Straits of Dover to the Niemen or the Vistula, would have dominated modern Europe; and a good deal of angry criticism has been directed against the particulars bodies which one after another repudiated the authority of the government and brought its work to nought. But particularism had so completely permeated Germany that the very efforts at unity were themselves tainted with particularist motives; and one reason alike for the favor with which Princes like Frederick of Saxony regarded the Reichisregiment, and for its ultimate failure, was that, with its ostensible unifying purpose, the government combined aims which served the interests of Princes against those of other classes.
The great Princes of the Empire present a double aspect, varying with the point of view from which they are regarded. To Charles they were collectively an oligarchy which threatened to destroy the monarchical principle embodied in the person of the Emperor; but individually and from the point of view of their own dominions they represented a monarchical principle similar to that which gave unity and strength to France, to England, and to Spain, a territorial principle more youthful and more vigorous than the effete Kaisertum. The force of political gravitation had already modified profoundly the internal constitution of the Empire; States like Saxony, Brandenburg, and Bavaria had acquired consistency and weight, and began to exercise an attraction over the numberless molecules of the Empire which the more distant and nebulous luminary of the Kaisertum could not counteract. The petty knight, the cities and towns, found it ever more difficult to resist the encroachments of neighboring Princes; and princely influence over municipal elections and control over municipal finance went on increasing throughout the sixteenth century, till towards its end the former autonomy of all but a select number of cities had well-nigh disappeared. It was not from the Emperor but from the Princes that knights and burgesses feared attacks on their liberties, and their danger threw them into an attitude of hostility to the Reichsregiment, a body by means of which the Princes sought to exercise in their own interests the national power. They could also appeal to the higher motive of imperial unity; the strength of individual Princes meant the weakness of the Emperor, and unity in parts might seem to be fatal to the unity of the whole.
The Diet of Worms had in fact been a struggle between Emperor and Princes, in which neither had paid much regard to inferior classes, and the spoils were divided exclusively between the two combatants. The knightly order was denied all share in the government of the Empire; they could expect no more consideration than before in their endless disputes over territory with their more powerful neighbors, and the Reichskammergericht with its Roman law they regarded as an insufferable infringement of their own feudal franchises. The cities were not less discontented. They had been refused any representation in the Reichsregiment, subsidies had been voted without their concurrence, and they anticipated with reason fresh taxation which would fall mainly on their shoulders.
The new government was established at Nurenberg in November, 1521, and in the following February it met the Diet. The first business was to raise forces to serve against the Turks before whose advance Belgrade had just fallen; and with Charles’ consent a portion of the supplies voted for the Emperor’s abandoned journey to Rome was applied to this purpose. Greater difficulty was experienced in finding means to defray the expenses of the imperial council and court of justice. It was proposed to revert to the Common Penny, to tax the Jews, and to apply the annates of the German Church, which supported the Roman Curia, to the purposes of the national government. But all these suggestions were rejected in favor of a scheme which offered the threefold advantage of promoting German unity, of relieving German capitalists of some of their superfluous wealth, and of sparing the pockets of those who voted the tax. All classes had soon perceived that there could be no peace and no justice unless somebody paid for its maintenance and administration, and with one voice they began to excuse themselves from the honor of providing the funds. It was necessary, however, to select a victim, and the choice of the mercantile interest was received with acclamation by every other class in Germany.
Proposal to tax exports and imports. [1522
The commercial revolution which marked the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century had led, as such revolutions always do, to the rapid and disproportionate accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few who knew how to exploit it; and the consequent growth of luxury and increase of the power of mercantile magnates were a constant theme of denunciation in the mouths of less fortunate men. The canonist doctrine of usury, based on the Scriptural prohibition, still held sway in all but commercial circles, and the forestalling and rerating, against which the English statute-book is so eloquent, excited no less odium in Germany. Theologians united with lawyers in denouncing the Fuggerei of the great trading companies; Luther and Zwingli, Hutten and Erasmus were of one mind on the question. Erasmus described the merchants as the basest of all mankind, and it was partly due to this feeling that the lawless robbery of traders at the hands of roving knights went on openly without an attempt to check it; the humanist, Heinrich Bebel, even declared that the victims owed their captors a debt of gratitude because the seizure of their ill-gotten goods smoothed their path to heaven.
This moral antipathy to the evil effects of wealth, as exhibited in other people, was reinforced by the prevalent idea that money and riches were synonymous terms, and that the German nation was being steadily impoverished by the export of precious metals to pay for the imports it received from other countries, and especially English cloth and Portuguese spices. It was felt that some check must be put upon the process, and a national tax on imports and exports would, it was thought, cure this evil, satisfy at once the moral indignation of people and Princes against capitalists and their selfish desire for fiscal immunity, and provide a stable financial basis for the national executive and judicial system, for the defence of the realm against foreign foes, and for the maintenance of peace within its borders. The measure as passed by the Diet of Nurnberg in 1522 exempted all the necessaries of life, but imposed a duty of four per cent, on all other merchandise, to be paid on exports as well as on imports. Custom-houses were to be erected along the whole frontier of the Empire, which was defined for the purpose. Switzerland refused its consent and was excluded, and so were Bohemia and Prussia, the latter as being a fief of Poland, but the Netherlands were reckoned as an integral part of the Empire; and, had the project been carried out, it would have provided not only the revenues which were its immediate object, but an invaluable lever for the unification of Germany.
Not content, however, with this victory over the moneyed classes obtained through the co-operation of their own particular interests with a national sentiment, nor with the further prohibition of all trading companies possessing a capital of more than fifty thousand crowns, the Princes proceeded at the Diet held at Nurnberg in November, 1522, to strike at the imperial cities which had hitherto refrained from making common cause with the capitalists. In language which reminds English readers of James I, they affirmed that the participation of the cities in the affairs of the Empire was not a matter of right, but of grace and a privilege which might be withdrawn at pleasure; when the Electors and Princes had agreed on a measure, the cities, they said, had nothing to do but consent, and they were now required to levy a contribution towards the Turkish war which had been voted without their concurrence.
The golden age of the towns had passed away in Germany as well as in Italy, their brilliant part in history had been played out, and they were already yielding place to greater political organizations; but they were not yet prepared to surrender to the Princes without a struggle. At a congress of cities held at Speier in March, 1523, it was resolved to appeal from the Reichsregiment to the Emperor, and an embassy was sent to lay their case before Charles at Valladolid in August. At first the imperial Court took up an attitude of real or feigned hostility to their demands, and there seems to be no conclusive evidence that this revolt against the national government had been encouraged by Charles. Yet the particularist interest of the cities appealed to the particularist interest of the Emperor with a force which he could not resist. The opposition had been engineered by the Fuggers; and Charles’ chronic insolvency rendered him peculiarly susceptible to the arguments which they could best apply; Jacob Fugger had even boasted that to him and his house Charles owed his election as Emperor. So now the deputies undertook that Charles should not lose financially by granting their request, and they also promised his councilors a grateful return for their trouble. Other grounds were alleged; it was hinted that the Princes would use the proceeds of the tax in a way that boded no good to the imperial power in Germany; there was a scheme in hand for the appointment of a King of the Romans who with adequate financial support might reduce the Emperor to a cipher; moreover the Reichsregiment which required this revenue was itself superfluous; if Charles would select a trustworthy Regent and maintain the Kammergericht, that would meet all the exigencies of the case, and his own position in the Empire would be materially strengthened. Finally, to remove Charles’ suspicions of the cities based on their alleged countenance of Lutheranism, they made the somewhat confident assertion that not a syllable of Luther’s works had been printed in their jurisdiction for years, and that it was not with them that Luther and his followers found protection. Satisfied with these assurances Charles intimated that he would take the government into his own hands, appoint a Regent and a fresh Kammergericht, forbid the imposition of the obnoxious tax, and prohibit the Regiment from dealing with monopolies without again asking his consent. The first great blow at the national government had been struck by the Emperor at the instigation of the German cities; another was at the moment being struck by the German nobility and a section of the German Princes.
1522-3] The knights’ war.
Of all the disorderly elements in the German Empire the most dangerous was the Ritterschaft, a class whose characteristics are not adequately denoted by the nearest English equivalent, “knights”. Their bearing towards the government and towards the other Estates of the realm recalls that of the English baronage under Stephen and Henry II, and another parallel to their position may be found in the Polish nobles or “gentlemen” whose success in reducing the other elective monarchy in Europe to anarchy would probably have been repeated by the German Ritterschaft but for the restraining force of the territorial Princes. Like the English barons and the Polish nobles they recognized no superior but their monarch, enjoyed no occupation so much as private war, and resisted every attempt to establish orderly government. They had special grievances in the early part of the sixteenth century; the development of commerce was accompanied by a corresponding agricultural depression; and while wealth in the towns increased and prices rose, the return from rents and services remained stationary unless they were exploited on commercial principles. In France and in England under strong monarchies the lords of the land saved their financial position by sheep-farming, enclosures, and other businesslike pursuits, but in Germany pride, or inadaptability, or special facilities for private war kept the knights from resorting to such expedients, and their main support was wholesale brigandage. They took to robbery as to a trade and considered it rather an honor to be likened to wolves. Like wolves, however, they were generally hungry; the organization of territorial States and the better preservation of peace had, moreover, rendered their trade at once more dangerous and unprofitable; and in 1522 there were knights who lived in peasants’ cottages, and possessed incomes of no more than fourteen crowns a year.
To their poverty fresh burdens were added by the reforms of the national government; the prohibition of private war, the supersession of their ancient feudal customs by the newly-received Roman law, the constant pressure of their powerful neighbors the Princes, drove them into a position of chronic discontent; and in the summer of 1522 the knights of the middle and upper Rhine provinces assembled at Landau and resolved to repudiate the authority of the Reichskammergericht on the ground that it was dominated by the influence of their natural foes, the Princes. They found a leader in the notorious Franz von Sickingen, who has been regarded both as the champion of the poorer classes and as a Gospel pioneer. Probably his motives were mainly personal and he adopted the cause of his fellow-knights only because that rôle suited his private purposes. Charles V had taken him into his service and employed him in the war with France, but Sickingen’s success and rewards had not been commensurate with his hopes, and he sought other means to satisfy the extravagant ambition of becoming Elector of Trier or even a King.
A decent cloak for his private ends and for the class interests of the knights was found in the religious situation. Sickingen was apparently a genuine Lutheran; Bucer lived in his castle, the Ebernburg, Oecolampadius preached to his followers, and four hundred knights had undertaken Luther’s defence at the Diet of Worms. The Reformer was grateful and addressed Sickingen as his especial lord and patron. He looked to the Ritter as a sword of the Gospel, and openly incited them to rise and spoil the unregenerate priests and prelates; while Hütten, whose sympathies were naturally on the knightly side, urged Sickingen to emulate Ziska, and endeavored to enlist the towns in the service of the opposition to their common foe, the territorial Princes. Some of these Princes were, however, already half Lutherans; the Elector of Saxony was Luther’s great patron, the Elector Palatine was full of doubts, and in any case was no friend to the Bishops, and prudence forbade open war in the ranks of the Reformers. An ingenious method of avoiding it, and of combining secular and religious interests under Sickingen’s banner, was found in the proposal to limit the attack to the ecclesiastical Princes whose worldly goods were an offence to Lutheran divines, whose jurisdiction was a perpetual grievance to the cities, and whose territorial powers infringed knightly liberties.
And so, when in August, 1522, Sickingen revived his feud with the Archbishop-Elector of Trier and entered his territory at the head of an army which he had levied nominally for the Emperor’s service, he had some hopes of success. The government put him under the ban of the Empire, but Sickingen laughed at threats and proceeded to carry on the controversy with fire and sword. Unfortunately these arguments were double-edged, and Trier to which he laid siege offered an unexpected resistance. The Archbishop himself evinced a martial valor at least equal to his spiritual zeal, and the knightly emissaries met with no response to their appeals from the people of the city; the traders had suffered too much from the wolves outside to wish to see them, even though they came in sheep’s clothing, encamped within their walls. The allies whom Sickingen expected from Franconia were intercepted, and on September 14 he was forced to raise the siege and to retreat to his stronghold at Landstuhl. Here he thought himself secure against any attack; but his elaborate fortifications were not proof against the new and powerful artillery which the Princes brought into the field. In April, 1523, his walls crumbled before it, he was himself mortally wounded by a splinter of stone, and died soon after his surrender. He was the last of the German Ritter, and the cannon which battered his castle were symbolical of the forces which proved fatal to the independence of his class.
This victory over one of the most formidable disruptive forces in the Empire might have been expected to strengthen the national government, but it was won in spite of, and not by, the Reichsregiment. That body had been unable to keep the peace even in the immediate vicinity of Nurnberg where it sat, and whither its members came in disguise to avoid molestation at the hands of knightly robbers. Still less could it cope with a force like that at Sickingen’s disposal, and the rebellion had been put down by three Princes, the Elector Palatine, the Archbishop of Trier, and the young Landgrave, Philip of Hesse, who had acted on their own responsibility and in conjunction with the Swabian League, an organization embodying within itself prelates, Princes, lesser nobility, and towns, but working in its external relations for the furtherance of the particularist interests of the House of Austria. This alliance had early in the course of the revolt taken matters into its own hands and treated the government with as much contempt as Sickingen had done himself. As a natural result the Reichsregiment began to incline to the knightly side, and Frederick of Saxony came to an agreement with the rebels. Neither event had any effect upon the result of the struggle. After the fall of Landstuhl the three Princes and the Swabian League proceeded to crush the Franconian knights. This was done with little difficulty, their power was broken for ever, and Ulrich von Hütten fled to Switzerland, where he died soon afterwards in the midst of a controversy with his former friend Erasmus. The victors then punished the offenders and divided their spoils without the least reference to the wishes or commands of the government; and the main result of the episode was to exhibit in startling contrast the impotence of the Reichsregiment and the vigor of the territorial power of individual Princes.
The Regiment was visibly tottering to its fall, and in January, 1524, it met the Diet for the last time at Nurnberg. Frederick of Saxony came prepared with a sheaf of reforms, but it was a question of ending and not of mending, and with that determination in their minds the various sections of the opposition gathered in force. The deputies of the towns had returned from Spain bringing the Emperor’s veto on the one practicable means of financing the administration. Charles’ chancellor, Franz Hannart, followed to fan the discontent. The wealth of Germany was ranged against the government which had endeavored to abolish monopolies, to tax trade, and to restrict the operations of capital. Duke George of Saxony had already declined to support an authority which had shown itself so powerless to enforce respect for its decrees, and the three Princes of the Palatinate, of Trier, and of Hesse had withdrawn their representatives from the Reichsregiment. The Swabian League was encouraged to resist encroachments on its autonomy, and the two main supports of the administration, the Electors of Mainz and Saxony, were engaged in personal quarrels. When the Diet opened, one after another of the representatives of the vested interests rose to denounce the government, and a practical vote of censure was carried by the refusal of the Diet to consider any scheme for raising revenue until the administration was changed.
So ended the last attempt to create a national government for the medieval German Empire. The Reichsregiment was indeed continued, but it was removed to Esslingen, where it sat under the shadow of Austrian domination, and was shorn of the little independent authority it had wielded before. Germany was submerged under a flood of constitutional chaos and personal rivalry. Ferdinand was plotting against the Elector of Saxony; many Princes were alienated from Charles by his failure to pay their pensions; and Francis I was seeking to fish in the troubled waters. The experiment of the Reichsregiment had, in fact, been foredoomed to failure from the first; the government contained within itself the seeds of its own disruption because its aims had not been single or disinterested. It was an attempt at national unity dominated by particularist interests. The opposition of the towns and of the knights had not been evoked because the government sought national unity but because it administered the national authority in the interests of territorial Princes; the single city of Nurnberg had for instance been taxed higher than any one of the Electors. Nor would national unity have been secured if the oligarchy of Princes had perpetuated its control of the government, for the individual members would soon have quarreled among themselves. Their dissensions were, indeed, patent even when their collective authority was threatened by common enemies. Each, wrote Hannart to his master, wanted to have the affairs of the Empire regulated according to his individual taste; they all demanded a national government and a national system of judicature, but no one would tolerate the interference of these institutions in his own household and jurisdiction ; everyone in short wished to be master himself.
In such circumstances Charles was perhaps justified in preferring, like the rest, the extension of his own territorial power to every other object. He may have perceived the impossibility of founding national unity on a discredited imperial system. Unity did not come through any of the methods suggested by the reforming Diets; it only came when the imperial decay, which they tried to check, had run its full course and the Emperor's supremacy had succumbed to the principle of territorial monarchy. To the extension of that principle by methods of blood and iron Germany owes her modern unity as England, France, and Spain owed their unity in the sixteenth century. It was the most potent political principle then fermenting in Europe; destroying the old, it led to the construction of the new.
Failure of the Edict of Worms. [1521-3
The failure of the attempt at political reform involved the ruin of all hopes of a religious settlement which should be either peaceful or national, for the only instrument by which such an object could have been achieved was broken in pieces. Each political organism within the Empire was left to work out its own salvation at its own option without the stimulus or control of a central government; and the contrast between the course of the Reformation in Germany and its development in England affords some facilities for comparing the relative advantages and disadvantages of a strong national monarchy. In Germany at all events there can be no pretence that the whole movement was due to the arbitrary caprice of an absolute King. To whatever extent it may have had its roots in the baser passions of mankind, it was at least a popular manifestation. It came from below, and not from above. Charles V was hostile from conviction and from the exigencies of his personal position; the ecclesiastical Princes were hostile from interest if not from conviction; of the temporal Princes only one could be described as friendly, and even Frederick of Saxony was not yet a Lutheran. He was still treasuring a collection of relics and he had spoken severely of Luther's Babylonish Captivity. His attitude towards all religious movements, however extravagant, was rather that of Gamaliel, on whose advice to the Sanhedrim he seems to have modeled his action; if they were of men they would come to nought of themselves, and rather than be found fighting against God he would take his staff in his hand and quit his dominions forever.
But whatever animosity the authorities may have entertained against the movement was neutralized by their impotence. The Edict of Worms left nothing to be desired in the comprehensiveness of its condemnations or in the severity of its penalties, and the Roman hierarchy was particularly gratified by the subjection of the press to rigid censorship and by the relegation of its exercise to the Church. But, while the Edict had been sanctioned by the national Diet, its execution depended entirely upon local authorities who were reluctant to enforce it in face of the almost universal disapproval. The Primate himself, the Archbishop of Mainz, for fear of riots refused his clergy licence even to preach against the outlawed monk; and at Constance, for instance, not only was the publication of the Edict refused, but the imperial commissioners who came to secure its execution were driven out of the city with threats. Both the Edict of Charles and the Bull of Leo remained dead letters in Germany outside the private domains of the House of Habsburg; and the chief effect of the campaign of the allied Pope, Emperor, and King of England against Luther was a bonfire of the heretic's works in London and another at Ghent.
The censorship of the press was never more ludicrously ineffective to stop a revolution. In spite of it the number of books issued from German printing-presses in 1523 was more than twelve times as great as the number issued ten years before, and of these four-fifths were devoted to the cause of the Reformation. It was only with great difficulty that printers could be induced to publish works in defence of the Catholic Church, and they had often to be repaid for the loss in which the limited circulation of such books involved them. On the other hand Luther’s own writings, violent satires like the Karsthans and Neukarsfhans, and Hans Sachs’ Wittenbergische Nachtigall, enjoyed an immense popularity. The effervescence of the national mind evoked a literature vigorous but rude in form and coarse in expression, the common burden of which was invective against the Church, and especially the monastic orders; and this indigenous literature stirred to passion the mass of the lower middle classes which the alien and esoteric ideals of the Humanists had failed to touch. The pencil was scarcely less effective than the pen; Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach were almost as zealous champions of the new ideas as Luther and Hütten, and probably few pictures have had a greater popular influence than Dürer’s portrayal of St John taking precedence of St Peter, and of St Paul as the protector of the Gospel. An English nobleman travelling in Germany in 1523 was amazed by the number of “abominable pictures” ridiculing the friars, though he sent to his King some similar specimens satirizing Murner, on whom Henry had bestowed a hundred pounds for his attack on Luther and for his translation of Henry’s own book.
The motive of all this literature was as yet practical rather than doctrinal, to eradicate the abuses of the ecclesiastical organization rather than to establish any fresh dogmatic system; and the revolutionary tendencies were strongest in the middle classes, which dominated the town life in Germany. Though supported by the knights the Reformation was in the main a bourgeois movement; it was the religious aspect of the advent of the middle classes. They had already emancipated themselves from the medieval feudal system, and they had long been fretting against the trammels which the Church imposed upon their individual and corporate autonomy. Clerical immunities from municipal taxation, episcopal jurisdiction over otherwise free towns produced a never-ceasing source of irritation. To these commercial classes Eberlin of Günzburg’s assertions that the papal Curia cost Germany three hundred thousand crowns a year, and that the friars extracted another million, were irresistible arguments for the elimination of papal control over the German Church and for the dissolution of the friars’ Orders. This predisposition to attack the Church was reinforced by the lingering remnants of the Hussite movement. Some members of that sect had settled on the borders of Silesia and Moravia in the middle of the fifteenth century; and they are claimed as the founders of the later Bohemian Brethren. Wimpheling and Pirkheimer had remarked the recrudescence of the Hussite heresy; and Wolfgang Capito declares that in his youth he had often heard his elders read the writings of the Bohemian Reformers. Luther's words were not entirely novel accents, but the echoes of half-forgotten sounds repeated with a novel force.
So while the Princes held aloof from the movement it progressed with rapid strides in the cities. At Nürnberg under the eyes of the national government the churches of St Lawrence and St Sebald resounded with the new doctrines, and Osiander under the protection of the city authorities began to proselytize not only among the citizens but among the numbers of public officials, from clerks to Princes, who were brought to Nürnberg by the business of the Empire. The Austrian administration of Württemberg closed its churches to the Reformers, but almost all the small imperial cities of Swabia favored the Reformation. Eberlin of Günzburg was the most popular of the Swabian preachers, but Hall, Nördlingen, Reutlingen, Esslingen, and Heilbronn listened to the precepts of Brenz, Billicanus, Alber, Styfel, and Lachmann. Strassburg and the southern cities of the Swabian circle were powerfully influenced by the example of their Swiss neighbors; and in 1524, the year in which Zwingli established control over Zurich, Bucer and Capito effected a similar change in Strasburg, which had already shown its sympathies by committing Murner’s works to the flames, by protecting Matthew Zell from the Bishop, and by exercising the censorship over the press in a way that inflicted no hardship on the Reformers. Elsewhere in Upper Swabia Zwingli's influence was strong; his friend Schappeler, who was to play an important part in the Peasants’ Revolt, preached at Memmingen, and Hummelberg in Ravensburg, while the disposition of Constance had been proved in 1521 by its refusal to publish the Edict of Worms. In Bavaria and Austria the Reformers were naturally less successful, and one was martyred at Rattenberg. But Jacob Strauss and Urbanus Regius preached in the valley of the Inn, Speratus at Salzburg and Vienna, and traces of the Reformed doctrines were found as far south as Tyrol.
In the north the Reformers were not less active. Heinrich Möller of Zutphen, an Augustinian from the Netherlands, prevailed in Bremen against its Archbishop. Hamburg and Lübeck, Stralsund and Greifswald, other cities of the Hanseatic League, followed its example. Bugenhagen, the historian of Pomerania, was also its evangelist. Königsberg became Lutheran under the auspices of Bishop Polenz of Samland, and beyond the limits of the Empire the new doctrines spread to the German colonies at Danzig and Dorpat, Riga and Reval. Hermann Tast laboured in Schleswig, Jurien van der Dare (Georgius Aportanus) in east Friesland; and smaller towns in Mecklenburg, Oldenburg, Luneburg felt the impulse. Magdeburg and Breslau were in close communication with Wittenberg, and at Breslau the object at which the reforming cities were aiming was first achieved when the City Council claimed control over religious instruction on the ground that it built and maintained ecclesiastical edifices. In many cities the result of the struggle between the old faith and the new was indecisive; at Ulm, for instance, the Council determined to maintain a religious neutrality; elsewhere the Catholic clergy retained control of the churches, while Lutheran divines preached to large audiences in the open air.
1522] The religious Orders and Reform.
At first sight it may seem strange that an anti-ecclesiastical movement should have been led by ecclesiastics, but the greatest enemies of a class or order generally come from within it; the most successful leaders of democratic revolutions have usually been aristocrats, and the overthrow of Churches has often been the work of Churchmen. So prominent were members of Luther’s own Order in the agitation against religious Orders that the whole thing was thought at first to be only a squabble between Augustinians and Dominicans, like many another which had already broken out and been suppressed. The movement had been hatched in an Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg, and the first to imitate the Wittenberg monks were their Augustinian brethren at Erfurt. In 1522 a Chapter of the Order declared monastic vows to be no longer binding, and a few months later its vicar abandoned his dignity and took a wife. The Augustinians of Eisleben, Magdeburg, Gotha, and Nürnberg soon followed the example of those of Wittenberg and Erfurt, and left their cloisters to become evangelical preachers or to adopt some secular trade. Two members of the Order were the pioneers of Lutheranism in the Netherlands, and two others were there its protomartyrs.
The German Augustinians in fact adopted Luther’s cause as a body; no other Order followed their example, but that of St Francis produced at least as many leaders of Reform. From Franciscan cloisters came Myconius, the Reformer of Weimar, who in after years travelled to England in the vain hope of strengthening the Anglican Church in the Lutheran faith; John Eberlin of Gunzburg, and Henry of Kettenbach, who worked together at Ulm; Stephen Kempen, the evangelist of Hamburg; John Breismann, the reformer of Kottbus; Gabriel Zwilling, the agitator of Wittenberg; and Conrad Pellican, who translated the Talmud into Latin and impressed with his learning the English Reformers, Whitgift and Jewel, Bradford and Latimer. From among the Dominicans there arose Martin Bucer, a notable name in the history of the German, the Swiss, and the English Reformations; the Brigettines produced Oecolampadius, whose name, like Bucer’s, was familiar on both sides of the English Channel. Otto Brunfels was a Carthusian, and Ambrose Blarer a Benedictine. The Carmelite house at Augsburg was a Lutheran seminary, and Bugenhagen, the Apostle of northern Germany, had been Rector of the Premonstratensian school at Treptow.
From the ranks of the secular priesthood there came few Reformers of eminence, a circumstance which shows that even in their worst days the monastic Orders attracted most of the promising youth. George von Polenz was the only Bishop who openly espoused the Lutheran cause in its early years, though the Bishops of Basel and Breslau, Bamberg and Merseburg were more or less friendly. The halting attitude of the Archbishop of Mainz was due partly to fear and partly to the design he cherished of following the example of Albrecht of Brandenburg and converting his clerical principality into a secular fief.
But the movement, although led by Churchmen, was not the work of the Church or of any other organization. It was a well-nigh universal spontaneous ebullition of lay and clerical discontent with the social, political, and moral condition of the established Catholic Church. There was no one to organize and guide this volume of passion, for Luther, although the mightiest voice that ever spoke the German language, was vox et praeterea nihil. He had none of the practical genius which characterized Calvin or Loyola; and the lack of statesmanlike direction caused the Reforming impulse to break in vain against many of the Catholic strongholds in Germany. Where it succeeded, it owed its success mainly to the fact that its control fell into the hands of a middle-class laity which had already learnt to administer such comprehensive affairs as those of the Hanseatic League. This participation of the laity made the towns the bulwark of the German Reformed faith, and the value of their co-operation was theologically expressed by the enunciation of the doctrine of the universal priesthood of man against the exclusive claims of the Church. Indeed not only were all men priests, but women as well-so declared Matthew Zell, in grateful recognition of the effective aid which women occasionally rendered to the cause of Reform.
That cause had until 1522 been identified with the attempt to remedy those national grievances against worldly priests, high-handed prelates, and a corrupt Italian Papacy, which had been variously expressed in the list of gravamina drawn up by the Diet of Worms and in the furious diatribes of popular literature. But gradually and almost imperceptibly this campaign assumed a theological aspect; Luther and his colleagues began to seek a speculative basis for their practical propaganda, and to trace the evil customs of the time to a polluted doctrinal source. Religion in that theological age consisted largely in belief and very slightly in conduct, and the conversion of a movement for practical reform into a war of creeds was inevitable. But it hindered the practical Reformation and helped to destroy the national unity of Germany. There was scarcely a conservative who did not see and admit the need for a purification of the Church; Murner and Eck and, most notably, Erasmus felt it as much as Luther, Melanchthon, and Hütten; and Duke George of Saxony and Charles V as much as the Elector Frederick. But there was a vast difference between such a recognition and the acknowledgement of Luther’s doctrine of the unfree will, between the admission that the theory of good works had been grossly abused and the assertion that all good works were vain. The division thus initiated was deep and permanent, and whereas the practical aims of the Reformation have commanded a universal assent in theory and an ever-widening assent in practice, Luther's theology commanded only a sectional allegiance even among Reformers of his century and a decreasing allegiance in subsequent generations.
But Luther in spite of his repudiation of scholastic theology never got rid of the results of his scholastic training; he must have a complete and logical theory of the universe, and he sought it in the works of the great Father of the Church on whose precepts Luther’s own Order had been professedly founded. St Augustine’s views on the impotence of the human will had been adopted by the Church in preference to those of his antagonist Pelagius; but in practice their rigor had been mitigated by a host of beneficent dispensations invented to shield mankind from the inevitable effects of its helplessness in the face of original sin. These medieval accretions Luther swept away; he accepted with all its appalling consequences the doctrine of predestination and of the thralldom of mankind to sin, and did not hesitate to make God directly responsible for the evil as well as the good existing in the world. It is a singular phenomenon that a fervent belief in the impotence of the human will should have stimulated one of the most masterful wills which ever affected the destinies of mankind.
The evolution of this doctrine had been but one of the mental activities which occupied Luther during his enforced seclusion at the castle of Wartburg. His abduction had been preconcerted between himself and his friends at the Elector Frederick’s Court on the eve of his departure from Worms; and the secret was so well kept that his followers commonly thought that he had been murdered by papal emissaries. Here in his solitude he was subjected to a repetition of those assaults of the devil which he had experienced in the Augustinian cloister. What assurance had he that he was right and the rest of the Church was wrong? But the faith that was in him saved him from his doubts of himself, and hard work prevented him from becoming a visionary. The news that Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz was intent on a fresh recourse to Indulgences provoked a remarkable illustration of Luther’s influence; in spite of the efforts of well-wishers at the Saxon Court to keep him quiet, he presented an ultimatum to the Archbishop granting a respite of fourteen days within which Albrecht might retract and escape the perils of the Reformer’s fulminations. The Primate of Germany replied with an abject submission.
It was difficult to silence a man who wielded such an authority, and commentaries on the Psalms and the Magnificat, sermons on the Gospels and Epistles for the year, a book on Confession, and an elaborate treatise condemning the validity of monastic vows, flowed with amazing rapidity from his pen. More important was his translation of the New Testament, on which he was engaged during the greater part of his captivity. The old error that versions of the Scriptures in the vernacular tongues were almost unknown before the Reformation has been often exposed, but it is not so often pointed out that these earlier translations were based on the Vulgate and thus reflected the misconceptions of the Church against which the Reformers protested. It was almost as important that translations into the vernacular should be based on original texts as that there should be translations at all, and from a critical point of view the chief merit of Luther’s version is that he sought to embody in it the best results of Greek and Hebrew scholarship. But its success was due not so much to the soundness of its scholarship as to the literary form of the translation, and Luther’s Bible is as much a classic as the English Authorized Version. If he did not create the Neuhochdeutsch which Grimm calls the “Protestant dialect”, he first gave it extensive popular currency, and the language of his version, which was based on the Saxon Kanzleisprache, superseded alike the old Hochdeutsch and Plattdeutsch, which were then the prevalent German dialects. The first edition of the New Testament was issued in September, 1522, and a second two months later; the whole Bible was completed in 1534, and in spite of the facts that a Basel printer translated Luther’s “outlandish words” into South German and that a Plattdeutsch version was also published, the victory of Luther's dialect was soon assured.
Luther’s Bible became the most effective weapon in the armoury of the German Reformers, and to the infallibility of the Church they and later Protestants opposed the infallibility of Holy Scripture. But this was a claim which Luther himself never asserted for the Bible, and still less for his own translation. His often-quoted remark that the Epistle of St James was an “"epistle of straw”, should not be separated from Luther’s own qualification that it was such only in comparison with the Gospel of St John, the Pauline Epistles, and some other books of the New Testament. But his references to that Epistle and to the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation show a very independent attitude towards the Scriptures. Wherever the words of the Canonical Books seemed to conflict with those of Christ, he preferred the latter as an authority, and further difficulties he left to individual interpretation. Let each man, he writes, hold to what his spirit yields him; and he confessed that he could not reconcile himself to the Book of Revelation. He was in fact supremely eclectic in respect to the Scriptures and to the doctrines he deduced from them; he gave the greatest weight to those Books and to those passages which appealed most strongly to his own individuality, while he neglected those which, like St James’ Epistle, did not suit his doctrines. But he could hardly refuse a like liberty to others, and was thus soon involved in a struggle with Reformers who like himself started from the denial of the authority of the Roman Church, but pressed further than he did his own arguments on the freedom of the will and the weight attaching to Scripture.
1521] Carlstadt and Zwilling.
Luther’s seclusion at the Wartburg did not allay the intellectual ferment at Wittenberg or impair the influence it exercised over the rest of Germany. At Wittenberg both the University and the town defied alike the papal Bull and the imperial Edict. Scholars flocked to the University from all quarters, and it became the metropolis of the reforming movement. Melanchthon forsook the Clouds of Aristophanes to devote himself to the Epistles of St Paul; and his Loci Communes formed one of the most effective of Lutheran handbooks. But he lacked the force and decision of character to lead or control the revolutionary tendencies which were gathering strength, and Luther’s place was taken by his old ally Carlstadt. Carlstadt’s was one of those acute intellects which earn for their possessors the reputation of being reckless agitators because they are too far in advance of their age; and the doubts which he entertained of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and of the identity of the Gospels, as they then existed, with their original form, were considered to be evidence of the instability of his character rather than of the soundness of his reasoning faculties. He was not, however, free from personal vanity or jealousy of Luther, and his rival’s absence afforded him the opportunity of appearing as the leader of the movement. Declining an invitation from Christian II to Denmark, he united with Gabriel Zwilling in an attempt to destroy what Luther had left of the papal system. He attacked clerical celibacy in a voluminous treatise, demanding that marriage should be made compulsory for secular priests and optional for monastics. He denounced the whole institution of monachism, and pronounced the adoration of the Eucharist and private masses to be sinful. On December 3, 1521, there was a riot against the Mass, and the University demanded its abolition throughout the country. The Town Council refused its concurrence in this request, but on Christmas-Day Carlstadt administered the Sacrament of the Altar in both elements, omitting the preparatory confession, the elevation of the Host, and the “abominable canon”, which implied that the celebration was a sacrifice. Zwilling next inveighed against the viaticum and extreme unction as being a financial trick on the part of the priests, and entered upon an iconoclastic campaign, inviting his hearers to burn the pictures in churches and to destroy the altars.
Reminiscences of Hussite doctrine may have predisposed the Saxon population living on the borders of Bohemia in favor of Carlstadt’s proceedings, and he was now reinforced by the influx from Zwickau of Nicolaus Storch, Thomas Münzer, Marcus Stubner, and their followers, whose views were of a distinctively Hussite, or rather Taborite, tendency. These prophets believed themselves to be under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, and their immediate intercourse with the source of all truth rendered them independent of any other guidance, even that of the Scriptures. The free interpretation of the Bible which seemed a priceless boon to Luther, was a poor thing to men who believed themselves to be at least as much inspired as its writers. From their repudiation of infant baptism, on the grounds that a sacrament was void without faith, and that infants could not have faith, they were afterwards called Anabaptists, but they also held the tenets of the later Fifth Monarchy men in England. Like Luther they believed in the unfree will, but they carried the doctrine to greater lengths, and unlike him they found inspiration in the Apocalypse. They asserted the imminence of a bloody purification of the Church, and they endeavored to verify their prophecy by beginning with the slaughter of their opponents at Zwickau. The plot was, however, discovered, and Storch, Münzer, and Stübner fled to Wittenberg.
Here they joined hands with Carlstadt and Zwilling. Even Melanchthon was impressed by their arguments, and the Elector Frederick, mindful of Gamaliel’s advice, refused to move against them. Early in 1522 iconoclastic riots broke out; priestly garments and auricular confession were disused; the abolition of the mendicant Orders was demanded, together with the distribution of the property of the religious corporations among the poor. The influence of Taborite dogma was shown by the agitation for closing all places of amusement and the denunciation of schools, universities, and all forms of learning as superfluous in a generation directly informed by the Holy Ghost. The Wittenberg schoolmaster, Mohr, himself besought parents to remove their children from school; students began to desert the University, and the New Learning seemed doomed to end in the domination of fanatical ignorance based on the brute force of the mob.
In the Edict of Worms Luther had been branded rather as a revolutionary than as a heretic, and the burden of the complaints preferred against him by the Catholic humanists was that his methods of seeking a reformation would be fatal to all order, political or ecclesiastical. They painted him as the apostle of revolution, a second Catiline; and the excesses at Wittenberg might well make them think themselves prophets. The moment was a crucial one; it was to decide whether or not the German Reformation was to follow the usual course of revolutions, devour its own children, and go on adopting ever extremer views till the day of reaction came. Of all the elements in revolt from Rome, Luther and his school were the most conservative, and upon the question whether he would prevail against the extreme faction depended the success or failure of the German Reformation.
The initial proceedings of Carlstadt had vexed Luther’s soul, but he was violently antipathetic to the Zwickau enthusiasts. He vehemently repudiated their appeal to force in order to regenerate the Church. He recalled the fact that by spiritual methods alone he had routed Tetzel and his minions and defied with impunity both Emperor and Pope. He probably foresaw that the Reformation would be ruined by its association with the crude social democracy of Münzer and Storch, but in any case his personal instincts would alone have been sufficient to make him hostile; and when he had made up his mind to a course, no considerations of prudence or of his own safety could deter him from pursuing it. Braving the ban of the Empire and disregarding the Elector’s stringent commands he left the Wartburg and reappeared at Wittenberg on March 6, 1522. His action required at least as much courage as his journey to Worms, and the demonstration of his influence was far more striking. In a course of eight sermons he rallied almost the whole of the town to his side. Zwilling confessed his errors; Carlstadt, Münzer, and Stübner soon departed to labor in other fields, and most of the work of destruction was repaired. Luther himself retained his cowl and lived in the Augustinian monastery, and scope was afforded for every man’s scruples regarding the Mass; in one church it was celebrated with all the old Catholic rites, in another the Eucharist was administered in one or in both forms according to individual taste, and in a third the bread and the wine were always given to the laity.
Breach between the Reformers and the humanists.
Luther had vindicated the conservative character of the Reformation as he conceived it; he had checked the swing of the pendulum in one direction, and had thereby moderated the force of its recoil; but he could not prevent it from swinging back altogether. It had gone too far for that under the impetus supplied by himself, and a reaction based upon real conviction was slowly developing itself and coming to the rescue of the storm-tossed Catholic Church. The first force to react under the antagonism produced by the rejection of Catholic dogma was the humanist movement. The body was shattered, and some of its members joined the doctrinal Reformers; but the majority, including the great leader of the movement, took up a more and more hostile position. When Luther was thought to have been killed, many turned to Erasmus as Luther’s successor”. “Give ear, thou knight-errant of Christ”, wrote Dürer, “ride on by the Lord Christ’s side; defend the truth, reach forth to the martyr's crown”. But that was a crown which Erasmus never desired; still less would he seek it in a cause which threatened to ruin his most cherished designs. Theology, he complained, bade fair to absorb all the humanities; and the theology of Luther was as hateful to him as that of Louvain. The dogmas, which appealed to men of the iron cast of Luther and Calvin, repelled cultured men of the world like Erasmus; for scholars and artists are essentially aristocratic in temperament and firmly attached to that doctrine of individual merit which Luther and Calvin denied. While Luther adopted the teaching of St Augustine, Erasmus was regarded at Wittenberg as little better than a Pelagian, and his personal conflict with Hütten was soon followed by a more important encounter with Luther. Urged by Catholics to attack the new theology, Erasmus with intuitive skill selected the doctrine of free will, which he asserted in a treatise of great moderation. Luther’s reply was remarkable for the unflinching way in which he accepted the logical consequences of his favorite dogma. But that did not make it more palatable, and Erasmus' book confirmed not a few in their antipathy to the Lutheran cause.
These were by no means blind partisans of the Papacy. Murner, the scholar and poet; Jerome Emser, the secretary to Duke George of Saxony; Cochlaeus, Heynlin von Stein, Alexander Hegius, Luther's old master Staupitz, Karl von Miltitz, Johann Faber, Pirkheimer, and many another had long desired a reformation of the Church, but they looked to a General Council and legal methods. Revolution and disruption they considered too great a price to pay for reform, and therefore sadly threw in their lot with the forces which were preparing to do battle for the Catholic Church, purified or corrupt. Slowly also a section of the German laity began to range itself on the same side, and from the confused mêlée of public opinion two organized parties gradually emerged. Here and there this or that form of religious belief obtained a decisive predominance and began to control the organization of a city or principality in the interests of one or the other party. An infinity of local circumstances contributed to each local decision; dynastic conditions might assist a Prince to determine with which religious party to side, and relations with a neighboring Bishop or even trading interests might exert a similar influence over the corporate conscience of cities. But with regard to Germany as a whole, and with a few significant exceptions, the frontiers of the Latin Church ultimately coincided to a remarkable extent with those of the old Roman Empire. Where the legions of the Caesars had planted their standards and founded their colonies, where the Latin speech and Latin civilization had permeated the people, there in the sixteenth century the Roman Church retained its hold. The limits of the Roman Empire are in the main the boundaries between Teutonic and Latin Christianity.
But Latin Christianity saved itself in southern Germany only by borrowing some of the weapons of the original opponents of Rome, and the Counter-Reformation owed its success to its adoption of many of the practical proposals and some of the doctrinal ideas of the Reformation. The confiscation of Church property and the limitation of clerical prerogative went on apace in Catholic as well as in Protestant countries, and, while the spiritual prerogatives of the Papacy were magnified at the Council of Trent, its practical power declined. It secured secular aid by making concessions to the secular power. The earliest example of this process was seen in Bavaria. Originally Bavaria had been as hostile to the Church as any other part of Germany, and no attempt was there made to execute the Edict of Worms. But what others sought by hostility to the Papacy, the Dukes of Bavaria won by its conciliation, and between 1521 and 1525 a firm alliance was built up between the Pope and the Dukes on the basis of papal support for the Dukes even against their Bishops. Adrian VI granted them a fifth of all ecclesiastical revenues within their dominions, a source of income which henceforth remained one of the chief pillars of the Bavarian financial system; and another Bull empowered the temporal tribunals to deal with heretics without the concurrence of the Bavarian Bishops, who resented the ducal intrusion into their jurisdictions. The territorial ambition of the Dukes was thus gratified; and the grievances of the laity against the Church were to some extent satisfied by the adoption of measures intended to reform clerical morals; and they both were thus inclined to defend Catholic dogma against Lutheran heresy. A similar grant of Church revenues to the Archduke Ferdinand for use against the Turk facilitated a like result; and Austria and Bavaria became the bulwarks of the Catholic Church in Germany. Other Catholic Princes, like Duke George of Saxony, maintained the faith with more disinterested motives but with less permanent success; while the ecclesiastical Electors of Mainz, Trier, and Cologne, were prevented by Lutheran sympathies in the chapters or in the cities of their dioceses from playing the vigorous part in opposition to the national movement which might otherwise have been expected from them.
A like process of crystallization pervaded the Reforming party. In 1524 Luther effected the final conversion of the Elector Frederick of Saxony, and his brother John who succeeded him in the following year was already a Lutheran. In the same year the youthful and warlike Landgrave Philip of Hesse was won over by Melanchthon and enjoined the preaching of the Gospel throughout his territories. Margrave Casimir of Brandenburg took a similarly decisive step in concurrence with his Estates at Bayreuth in October. The banished Duke Ulrich of Württemberg was also a convert, and Duke Ernest of Luneburg, a nephew of the Elector Frederick, began a reformation at Celle in 1524. Charles V's sister Isabella listened to Osiander’s exhortations at Nürnberg and adopted the new ideas, and her husband, Christian II of Denmark, invited Luther and Carlstadt to preach in his kingdom. He was soon deprived of his throne, but his successor Frederick I adopted a similar religious attitude and promoted the spread of reforming principles in Denmark and in his duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The Grandmaster of the Teutonic Order, Albrecht of Brandenburg, had also been influenced by Osiander, and, turning his new faith to practical account, he converted the possessions of the Order into the hereditary duchy of Prussia, a fief of the Polish Crown, which received at once a purified religion and a new constitution. In the neighboring Duchy of Pomerania the Catholic Bogislav X was succeeded in 1523 by his two sons George and Barnim, of whom the latter was a Lutheran.
Demand for a General Council. [1534
The feeble government established at the Diet of Worms in 1521 was quite unable to control this growing cleavage of the nation into two religious parties; but it made some efforts to steer a middle course and it reflected with some fidelity the national hostility to the papal Curia. It had met the Diet for the first time in February, 1522, and it entertained some hopes that the new Pope, Adrian VI, would do something to meet the long list of gravamina which had been drawn up in the previous year and sent to Rome for consideration; but it was late in the summer before Adrian reached the Vatican, and his policy could not be announced to the Diet until its next meeting in November. The papal Nuncio was Francesco Chieregati, an experienced diplomatist, and he came with a conciliatory message. He said nothing about Luther in his first speech to the Diet, and in an interview with Planitz, the Elector Frederick's Chancellor, he admitted the existence of grave abuses in the Papacy, and the partial responsibility of Leo X for them; nor did he deny that Luther had done good work in bringing these abuses to light; though of course the monk's attacks on the sacraments, on the Fathers of the Church, and on Councils could not be tolerated. But this peaceful atmosphere did not endure. Adrian seems to have come to the conclusion that his instructions to Chieregati did not lay sufficient emphasis on papal dignity, and a brief which he addressed to his Nuncio on November 25 was much more minatory. His threats were conveyed to the Diet by Chieregati’s speech on January 3, 1523; Luther was denounced as worse than the Turk, and was accused of not merely polluting Germany with his heresy but of aiming at the destruction of all order and property. The Estates were reminded of the end of Dathan and Abiram, of Ananias and Sapphira, of Jerome and Hus; if they separated themselves from God’s Holy Church they might incur a similar fate.
Yet the Pope did not deny the abuses of which complaint had been made, and his frank acknowledgement of them supplied the Diet with a cue for their answer. They refused the Nuncio’s demand that the Lutheran preachers of Nürnberg should be seized and sent to Rome, and appointed a committee to deal with the question. This body reported that the Pope’s acknowledgement of the existence of abuses made it impossible to proceed against Luther for pointing them out; and it carried war into the enemy’s territory by demanding that the Pope should surrender German annates to be appropriated to German national purposes, and summon a Council, in which the laity were to be represented, to sit in some German town and deal with the ecclesiastical situation. This report met with some opposition from the Elector Joachim of Brandenburg, Duke George of Saxony, and the Archduke Ferdinand; but the modifications adopted by the Diet did not seriously alter its import. The Elector Frederick was to be asked to restrain Luther, but probably no one anticipated that his efforts, if he made any, would be successful; no steps were to be taken to execute the Edict of Worms or to silence the Reformers; the Diet reiterated its hundred gravamina, and, although no approbation was expressed of Luther and his cause, the outlawed monk had as much reason to be pleased with the results of the Diet as Chieregati had to be discontented.
Before the Diet assembled again the reforming Adrian had gone the way of his predecessors, and popular feeling at Rome towards reform was expressed by the legend inscribed on the door of the dead Pope’s physician Liberatori patriae. Another Medici sat on the throne of Leo X, and religious reform was exchanged for family politics. But even Clement VII felt the necessity of grappling with the German problem, and Lorenzo Campeggio was sent to the Diet which again met at Nürnberg in January, 1524. As he entered Augsburg and gave his benediction to the crowd, he was met with jeers and insults. At Nürnberg, which he reached on March 16, the Princes advised him to make a private entry for fear of hostile demonstrations, and on Maundy Thursday under his very eyes three thousand people, including the Emperor's sister, received the communion in both forms. His mission seemed a forlorn hope, but there were a few breaks in the gloom. The Reichsregiment, which had on the whole been more advanced in religious opinion than the Diets, had lost the respect of the people. The repudiation of its authority by the towns, the knights, and several of the Princes, with the encouragement of the Emperor, indicated the speedy removal of this shield of Lutheranism, and the vote of censure carried against the government seemed to open the door to reaction.
Campeggio accordingly again demanded the execution of the Edict of Worms, and he was supported by Charles V’s Chancellor, Hannart, who had been sent from Spain to aid the cities in their resistance to the financial proposals of the Reichsregiment. But the cities, in spite of their repudiation of Lutheranism in Spain, were now indignant at the idea of enforcing the Edict of Worms, and the Diet itself was angry because Campeggio brought no other answer to its repeated complaints than the statement that the Holy Father could not believe such a document to be the work of the Estates of the Holy Roman Empire. So the old struggle was fought over again, and the inevitable compromise differed only in shades of meaning from that of the previous year. The Edict should, indeed, be executed “as well as they were able, and as far as was possible”; but the Estates did not profess any greater ability than before. A General Council was again demanded, and pending its not very probable or speedy assemblage, a national Synod was to be summoned to meet at Speier in November, and there make an interim settlement of all the practical and doctrinal questions at issue.
The prospect of such a meeting alarmed both Pope and Emperor more than all the demands for a General Council; for in a General Council the Germans would be a minority, and General Councils afforded unlimited scope for delay. But a German Synod would mean business, and its business was not likely to please either Clement or Charles. It would probably organize a German national Church with slight dependence on Rome; it might establish a national government with no more dependence on Charles. Both these threatened interests took action; the Pope instigated Henry VIII to take away from the German merchants of the Steelyard their commercial privileges, and to urge upon Charles the prohibition of the meeting at Speier; he also suggested the deposition of the Elector Frederick as a warning to other rebellious Princes. The Emperor was nothing loth; on July 15 he forbade the proposed assembly at Speier, and, although there is no evidence that he would have proceeded to so dangerous and violent a measure as the deposition of Frederick, he broke off former friendly relations and insulted the whole Saxon House by marrying his sister Catharine to King John of Portugal instead of to Frederick’s nephew, John Frederick, to whom she had been betrothed as the price of the Elector’s support of Charles’ candidature for the Empire in 1519.
Before the news of these steps had reached Germany both sides had begun preparations for the struggle. Campeggio had been empowered, in case of the failure of his mission to the Diet, to organize a sectional gathering of Catholic Princes in order to frustrate the threatened national Council. This assembly, the first indication of the permanent religious disruption of Germany, met at Ratisbon towards the end of June. Its principal members were the Archduke Ferdinand, the two Dukes of Bavaria, and nine bishops of southern Germany; and the anti-national character of the meeting was emphasized by the abstinence of every elector, lay or clerical. It was, however, something more than a particularist gathering; it sought to take the wind out of the sails of the Reformation by reforming the Church from within, and it was in fact a Counter-Reformation in miniature. The spiritual lords consented to pay a fifth of their revenues to the temporal authority as the price of the suppression of Lutheran doctrine. The grievances of the laity with respect to clerical fees and clerical morals were to some extent redressed; the excessive number of saints’ days and holy days was curtailed. The use of excommunication and interdict for trivial matters was forbidden; and while the reading of Lutheran books was prohibited, preachers were enjoined to expound the Scriptures according to the teaching, not of medieval schoolmen, but of the great Fathers of the Church, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, and Gregory. Eck published a collection of Loci Communes to counteract Melanchthon’s, and Emser a version of the Bible to correct Luther’s, and a systematic persecution of heretics was commenced in the territories of the parties to the conference.
Meanwhile, in ignorance of the impending blow, the greater part of Germany was preparing for the national Council or Synod at Speier. The news of the convention at Ratisbon stimulated the Reformers’ zeal. The cities held meetings first at Speier and then at Ulm, where they were joined by representatives of the nobles of the Rhine districts, the Eifel, Wetterau, and Westerwald. They bound themselves to act together, and ordered preachers to confine themselves to the Gospel and the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. These gatherings represented but a fraction of the strength of the party of doctrinal reform. The almost simultaneous adoption of Lutheranism by Prussia, Silesia, and part of Pomerania, by Brandenburg-Culmbach, and by Hesse, Brunswick-Lüneburg, Schleswig, and Holstein proves that the proposed national Council at Speier would have commanded the allegiance of the greater part of north Germany, and might, through its adherents in great cities like Strasburg, Augsburg, and Ulm, have swept even the south within the net of a national revolt from Rome. That consummation was postponed by the united action of Charles, of Clement, and of the Princes and Bishops at Ratisbon; but the Empire was riven in twain, and while the rival parties were debating each other’s destruction, the first rumblings were heard of a storm which threatened to overwhelm them both in a common ruin. The peasant, to whom scores of ballads and satires had lightly appealed as the arbiter of the situation, was coming to claim his own, and the social revolution was at hand.