II. THE DIETS DISAGREE: 1526–41

As internal liberty varies (other things equal) with external security, Protestantism, during its safe period, indulged in the sectarian fragmentation that seemed inherent in the principles of private judgment and the supremacy of conscience. Already in 1525 Luther wrote: “There are nowadays almost as many sects and creeds as there are heads.” 12 Melanchthon was kept grievously busy moderating his master and finding ambiguous formulas for reconciling contradictory certitudes. Catholics pointed gleefully to the mutually recriminating Protestant factions, and predicted that freedom of interpretation and belief would lead to religious anarchy, moral disintegration, and a skepticism abominable to Protestants as well as Catholics.13 In 1525 three artists were banished from Protestant Nuremberg for questioning the divine authorship of the Bible, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and the divinity of Christ.

While Suleiman was preparing the campaign that cut Hungary in half, a Diet of German princes, prelates, and burghers met at Speyer (June 1526) to consider the demands of the Catholics that the Edict of Worms should be enforced, and the counterproposal of the Protestants that religion be left free until a general council under German auspices should adjudicate the disputes. The Protestants prevailed, and the concluding decree of this Diet ruled that—pending such a council—each German state, in religion, “should so live, rule, and bear itself as it thought it could answer to God and the Emperor”; that no one should be punished for past offenses against the Edict of Worms; and that the Word of God should be preached by all parties, none interfering with the others. The Protestants interpreted this “Recess of Speyer”* as sanctioning the establishment of Lutheran churches, the religious autonomy of each territorial prince, and the prohibition of the Mass in Lutheran areas. The Catholics rejected these assumptions, but the Emperor, embroiled with the Pope, accepted them for the time being; and Ferdinand was soon too busy with affairs in Hungary to make any effectual resistance.

Having made his peace with Clement, Charles returned to the natural conservatism of a king, and ordered the Diet of Speyer to reconvene on February 1, 1529. Under the influence of the presiding Archduke and the absent Emperor the new assembly repealed the “Recess” of 1526, and passed a decree permitting Lutheran services—but requiring the toleration of Catholic services—in Lutheran states, completely forbidding Lutheran preaching or ritual in Catholic states, enforcing the Edict of Worms, and outlawing Zwinglian and Anabaptist sects everywhere. On April 25, 1529, the Lutheran minority published a “Protest” declaring that conscience forbade their acceptance of this decree; they appealed to the Emperor for a general council; meanwhile they would adhere to the original Recess of Speyer at whatever cost. The term Protestant was applied by the Catholics to the signers of this Protest, and gradually came into use to designate the German rebels from Rome.

Still needing German unity against the Turks, Charles called another diet, which met at Augsburg (June 20, 1530) under his presidency. During this conference he stayed with Anton Fugger, now head of the firm that had made him emperor. According to an old story, the banker pleased the ruler by lighting a fire with an Imperial certificate of indebtedness.14 As the Fuggers were financially allied with the popes, the gesture may have moved Charles a step nearer to the papacy. Luther did not attend, for he was still under the Imperial ban, and might at any moment be arrested; but he went to Coburg, on the Saxon border, and kept in touch, through messengers, with the Protestant delegation. He compared the assembly to a congregation of jackdaws that chattered and maneuvered before his windows, and he complained that “each bishop brought as many devils” or voters to the Diet “as there are fleas on a dog on St. John’s Day.” 15 It was apparently at this time that he composed the greatest of his hymns—’ “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott”—“A mighty fortress is our God.”

On June 24 Cardinal Campeggio appealed to the Diet for the utter suppression of the Protestant sects. On the twenty-fifth Christian Bayer read to the Emperor and a portion of the assembly the famous Augsburg Confession, which Melanchthon had prepared, and which, with some modifications, was to become the official creed of the Lutheran churches. Partly because he feared a war of the combined Imperial and papal forces against the divided Protestants, partly because he was by temperament inclined to compromise and peace, Melanchthon gave the statement (says a Catholic scholar) “a dignified, moderate, and pacific tone,”16 and strove to minimize the differences between the Catholic and Lutheran views. He expatiated on the heresies that the Evangelicals (as the Lutherans called themselves from their sole reliance on the Gospels or the New Testament) and the Roman Catholics alike condemned; he dissociated the Lutheran from the Zwinglian reform, and left the latter to shift for itself. He softened the doctrines of predestination, “consubstantiation,” and justification by faith; he spoke temperately of the ecclesiastical abuses that Protestantism had abated; he defended with courtesy the administration of the sacrament in both forms, the abolition of monastic vows, the marriage of the clergy; and he appealed to Cardinal Campeggio to accept this Confession in the conciliatory spirit in which it had been composed. Luther regretted some of the concessions, but gave the document his indispensable approval. Zwingli sent his ownRatio fidei to the Emperor, frankly stating his disbelief in the Real Presence. Strasbourg, Constance, Lindau, and Memmingen presented a separate Confession, the Tetrapolitana, in which Capito and Bucer struggled to bridge the gaps among the Lutheran, Zwinglian, and Catholic creeds.

The extreme faction of the Catholics, led by Eck, retorted with a Confutation so intransigeant that the assembly refused to submit it to the Emperor until it had been twice toned down. So revised, it insisted on transubstantiation, seven sacraments, the invocation of saints, clerical celibacy, communion in bread alone, and the Latin Mass. Charles approved this Confutation, and declared that the Protestants must accept it or face war, A milder party of Catholics entered into negotiation with Melanchthon, and offered to permit communion in bread and wine. Melanchthon in return agreed to recognize auricular confession, fasts, episcopal jurisdiction, even, with some provisos, the authority of the popes. But other Protestant leaders refused to go so far; Luther protested that the restoration of episcopal jurisdiction would subject the new ministers to the Roman hierarchy, and would soon liquidate the Reformation. Seeing agreement impossible, several Protestant princes left for their homes.

On November 19 the diminished Diet issued its final Recess or decree. All phases of Protestantism were condemned; the Edict of Worms was to be enforced; the Imperial Chamber of Justice (Reichskammergericht) was to start legal actions against all appropriators of ecclesiastical property; the Protestants were to have until April 15, 1531 to accept the Confutation peaceably. Charles’s signature made this “Recess of Augsburg” an Imperial decree. To the Emperor it must have seemed the height of reasonableness to give the rebels six months to adjust themselves to the will of the Diet. Within that period he offered them immunity from the Edict of Worms. Thereafter, if other duties would allow, he might have to submit the rival theologies to the supreme court of war.

While the Diet was yet in session several states formed a Catholic League for the defense and restoration of the traditional faith. Interpreting this as a martial gesture, Protestant princes and cities organized (March 1531) the Schmalkaldic League, which took its name from its birthplace near Erfurt. When the period of grace ran out, Ferdinand, now “King of the Romans,” proposed to Charles to begin war. But Charles was not yet ready. Suleiman was planning another attack upon Vienna; Suleiman’s confederate, Barbarossa, was raiding Christian commerce in the Mediterranean; and Suleiman’s ally, Francis of France, was waiting to pounce upon Milan the moment Charles became involved in a German civil war. In April 1531, instead of enforcing the Augsburg decree, he suspended it, and asked for Protestant aid against the Turks. Luther and the princes responded loyally; Lutherans and Catholics signed the Peace of Nuremberg (July 23, 1532), pledging united aid to Ferdinand, and mutual religious toleration until a general council should be convened. So numerous an army of Protestant and Catholic Germans, of Spanish and Italian Catholics, gathered under the Emperor’s standard at Vienna that Suleiman found the omens unfavorable and turned back to Constantinople, while the Christian army, drunk with its bloodless victory, plundered Christian towns and homes, “spreading greater disaster,” said eyewitness Thomas Cranmer of England, “than the Turks themselves.” 17

The patriotism of the Protestants gave their movement new dignity and impetus. When Aleander, again papal emissary, offered the Lutheran leaders a hearing at a general council if they would promise submission to the council’s final decisions, they rejected the proposal. A year later (1534) Philip of Hesse, disregarding Luther’s condemnation of any offensive policy, accepted French aid in restoring the Protestant Duke Ulrich to power in Wurttemberg. Ferdinand’s rule there was ended; the churches were pillaged, the monasteries were closed, and their property was taken by the state.18 Circumstances again favored the Protestants: Ferdinand was absorbed in the east, Charles in the west; the Anabaptists were apparently consolidating a communistic revolution in Münster; Jürgen Wullenwever’s radicals captured Lübeck (1535); the Catholic princes now needed Lutheran aid against internal revolt as much as against the Ottomans. Moreover, Scandinavia and England had by this time renounced Rome, and Catholic France was seeking the alliance of Lutheran Germany against Charles V.

Elated with this growing strength, the Schmalkaldic League voted to raise an army of 12,000 men. When the new pope, Paul III, asked on what terms the League would accept a general council, it replied that it would recognize only a council held independently of the pope, composed of the secular as well as the ecclesiastical leaders of Germany, and receiving the Protestants not as heretics but as equal participants.19 It repudiated the Imperial Chamber of Justice, and notified the Emperor’s vice-chancellor that it would not admit the right of Catholics to retain Church property, or to carry on their worship, in the territories of Protestant princes.20 The Catholic states renewed their League, and demanded of Charles full enforcement of the powers given to the Reichskammergericht.He replied with gracious words, but fear of Francis I at his back kept him at bay.

The Protestant tide continued to flow. Says a Catholic historian:

On the 9th of September, 1538, Aleander wrote to the Pope from Linz that the religious condition of Germany was well-nigh ruinous; divine worship and the administration of the sacraments had for the most part ceased; the secular princes, with the exception of Ferdinand I, were either entirely Lutheran, or full of hatred of the priesthood, and greedy of church property. The prelates lived just as extravagantly as before.... The religious orders had dwindled down to handfuls; the secular clergy were not much more numerous, and so immoral and ignorant that the few Catholics shunned them.21

When the Catholic Duke George of Albertine Saxony died he was succeeded by his brother Henry, a Lutheran; Henry in turn was succeeded by Maurice, who was to be the military savior of Protestantism in Germany. In 1539 Joachim II, Elector of Brandenburg, set up in his capital at Berlin a Protestant Church proudly independent of both Rome and Wittenberg. In 1542 the duchy of Cleves, the bishopric of Naumburg, even Albrecht’s see of Halle, were added to the Protestant roster by timely mixtures of politics and war; and in 1543 Count Hermann von Wied, Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, shocked Rome by transforming himself into a Lutheran. The Protestant leaders were so confident that in January 1540, Luther, Melanchthon, and others issued a declaration to the effect that peace could be had only through the renunciation, by the Emperor and the Catholic clergy, of their “idolatry and error,” and by their adoption of the “pure doctrine” of the Augsburg Confession. And the document proceeded: “Even if the Pope were to concede to us our doctrines and ceremonies, we should still be obliged to treat him as a persecutor and an outcast, since in other kingdoms he would not renounce his errors.” “It is all up with the Pope,” said Luther, “as it is with his god, the Devil.” 22

Charles almost agreed, for in April 1540, he took the religious initiative from the Pope, and invited the Catholic and Protestant leaders of Germany to meet in “Christian colloquy” to seek again a peaceful settlement of their differences. “Unless the Pope intervenes decisively,” wrote a papal nuncio, “the whole of Germany will fall a prey to Protestantism.” At a preliminary conference in Worms a long debate between Eck and Melanchthon resulted in the tentative acceptance, by the previously intransigeant Catholic, of the mild positions formulated in the Augsburg Confession.23 Encouraged, Charles summoned the two groups to Ratisbon (Regensburg). There, under his leadership (April 5-May 22, 1541), they made their closest approach to a settlement. Paul III was disposed to peace, and his chief delegate, Cardinal Gasparo Contarini, was a man of good will and high moral character. The Emperor, harassed by threats from France and appeals from Ferdinand for help against the returning Turks, was so anxious for an agreement that many Catholic leaders suspected him of Protestant leanings. The conference concurred in permitting marriage of the clergy and communion in both kinds; but no legerdemain could find a formula at once affirming and denying the religious supremacy of the popes, and transubstantiation in the Eucharist; and Contarini was not amused by a Protestant query whether a mouse that nibbled at a fallen consecrated Host was eating bread or God.24 The conference failed, but Charles, hurrying off to war, gave an interim pledge to the Protestants that there would be no proceedings against them for holding the doctrines of the Augsburg Confession, or for retaining confiscated Church property.

During these years of controversy and growth the new faith had created a new Church. At Luther’s suggestion it called itself Evangelical. He had originally advocated an ecclesiastical democracy, in which each congregation would select its own minister and determine its own ritual and creed; but his increasing dependence on the princes compelled him to surrender these prerogatives to commissions appointed by, and responsible to, the state. In 1525 Elector John of Saxony ordered all churches in his duchy to adopt an Evangelical service as formulated by Melanchthon with Luther’s approval; priests who refused to obey lost their benefices, and obstinate laymen, after a period of grace, were exiled.25 Other Lutheran princes followed a similar procedure. As a doctrinal guide for the new churches Luther drew up a five-page Kleiner Katechismus (1529), consisting of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and brief interpretations of each article. It would have been considered quite orthodox in the first four centuries of Christianity.

The new ministers were generally men of good morals, learned in Scripture, careless of humanistic erudition, and devoted to the tasks of their pastorates. Sunday was observed as the Sabbath; here Luther accepted tradition rather than the Bible. “Divine service” retained much of the Catholic ritual—altar, cross, candles, vestments, and parts of the Mass in German; but a larger role was given to the sermon, and there were no prayers to the Virgin or the saints. Religious paintings and statues were discarded. Church architecture was transformed to bring the worshipers within easier hearing of the preacher; hence galleries became a regular feature of Protestant churches. The most pleasant innovation was the active participation of the congregation in the music of the ceremony. Even the noteless long to sing, and now every voice could fondly hear itself in the protective anonymity of the crowd. Luther became overnight a poet, and wrote didactic, polemical, and inspirational hymns of a rough and masculine power typical of his character. Not only did the worshipers sing these and other Protestant hymns; they were called together during the week to rehearse them; and many families sang them in the home. A worried Jesuit reckoned that “the hymns of Luther killed [converted] more souls than his sermons.” 26 The Protestant music of the Reformation rose to rival the Catholic painting of the Renaissance.

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