A third actor now mounted the stage, and from this moment played through thirty years a major role in the conflict of theologies and states. In a dozen chapters he will impinge upon our narrative.
The future Emperor Charles V began with a royal but tarnished heredity. His paternal grandparents were the Emperor Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold; his maternal grandparents were Ferdinand and Isabella; his father was Philip the Handsome, King of Castile at twenty-six, dead at twenty-eight; his mother was Juana la Loca, who went insane when Charles was six, and survived till he was fifty-five. He was born in Ghent (February 24, 1500), was brought up in Brussels, and remained Flemish in speech and character till his final retirement in Spain; neither Spain nor Germany forgave him. But in time he learned to speak German, Spanish, Italian, and French, and could be silent in five languages. Adrian of Utrecht tried to teach him philosophy, with inconsiderable success. From this good bishop he received a strong infusion of religious orthodoxy, yet he probably imbibed, in middle age, a secret skepticism from his Flemish advisers and courtiers, among whom an Erasmian indifference to dogma was smilingly popular. Some priests complained of the freedom allowed to religious opinion in Charles’s entourage.61 He made a point of piety, but studied carefully the art of war. He read Comines, and learned almost in childhood the tricks of diplomacy and the unmorality of states.
On his father’s death (1506) he inherited Flanders, Holland, Franche-Comté, and a claim to Burgundy. At fifteen he assumed the government, and devoted himself to administration. At sixteen he became Charles I, King of Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, Naples, and Spanish America. At nineteen he aspired to be emperor. Francis I of France sought the same honor at the same time, and the Imperial Electors were pleased with his douceurs; but Charles spent 850,000 florins on the contest, and won (1519). To assemble this heavyTrinkgelt he borrowed 543,000 florins from the Fuggers;62 from that time Charles was for the Fuggers and the Fuggers were for Charles. When he dallied in repaying the loan, Jakob Fugger II sent him a sharp reminder:
It is well known that your Majesty without me might not have acquired the Imperial honor, as I can attest with the written statements of all the delegates.... And in all this I have looked not to my own profit.... My respectful request is that you will graciously .. . order that the money which I have paid out, together with the interest on it, shall be returned without further delay.63
Charles met part of his obligation by giving the Fuggers a lien on the port duties of Antwerp.64 When the Fuggers were almost ruined by Turkish conquests in Hungary, he came to their rescue by turning over to them control of Spanish mines.65 Henceforth the key to much political history would be Cherchez le banquier.
The youth who at nineteen found himself titular head of all Central and Western Europe except England, France, Portugal, and the Papal States was already marked by the feeble health that was to multiply his vicissitudes. Pale, short, homely, with aquiline nose and sharp, challenging chin, feeble in voice and grave of mien, he was kindly and affable by nature, but he soon learned that a ruler must maintain distance and bearing, that silence is half of diplomacy, and that an open sense of humor dims the aura of royalty. Aleander, meeting him in 1520, reported to Leo X: “This prince seems to me well endowed with .... prudence beyond his years, and to have much more at the back of his head than he carries on his face.”66 He was not mentally keen, except in judging men—which is half the battle; he barely rose to the crises that confronted him—but that was much indeed. A conserving indolence of body and mind kept him inert until the situation demanded decision; then he met it with sudden resolution and resourceful pertinacity. Wisdom came to him not by nature but by trials.
On October 23, 1520, Charles V, no older than the century, went to Charlemagne’s Aachen to be crowned. Elector Frederick started out to attend the ceremony, but was stopped at Cologne by gout. There Aleander presented to him another plea for the arrest of Luther. Frederick called in Erasmus and asked his advice. Erasmus defended Luther, pointed out that there were crying abuses in the Church, and argued that efforts to remedy them should not be suppressed. When Frederick asked him what were Luther’s chief errors, he replied: “Two: he attacked the pope in his crown and the monks in their bellies.”67 He questioned the authenticity of the papal bull; it seemed to him irreconcilable with the known gentleness of Leo X.68 Frederick informed the nuncio that Luther had lodged an appeal, and that until its results were known, Luther should remain free.
The Emperor gave the same answer; he had promised the electors, as a condition of his election, that no German would be condemned without a fair trial in Germany. However, his position made orthodoxy imperative. He was more firmly established as King of Spain than as Emperor in a Germany that resented centralized government; and the clergy of Spain would not long bear with a monarch lenient to heretics. Besides, war loomed with France; it would be fought over Milan as the prize; there the support of the pope would be worth an army. The Holy Roman Empire was tied to the papacy in a hundred ways; the fall of one would profoundly injure the other; how could the Emperor rule his scattered and diverse realm without the aid of the Church in moral discipline and political administration? Even now his chief ministers were clergymen. And he needed ecclesiastical funds and influence to protect Hungary from the Turks.
It was with these varied problems in mind, rather than the question of a refractory monk, that Charles summoned an Imperial Diet to meet at Worms. But when the leading nobles and clergy, and representatives of the free cities, assembled there (January 27, 1521), Luther was the chief topic of conversation. The forces that through centuries had been preparing the Reformation came now to a head in one of the most dramatic scenes in European history. “The great body of the German nobles,” says a Catholic historian, “applauded and seconded Luther’s attempts.” 69 Aleander himself reported:
All Germany is up in arms against Rome. All the world is clamoring for a council that shall meet on German soil. Papal bulls of excommunication are laughed at. Numbers of people have ceased to receive the sacrament of penance.... . Martin is pictured with a halo above his head. The people kiss these pictures. Such a quantity has been sold that I am unable to obtain one.... I cannot go out in the streets but the Germans put their hands to their swords and gnash their teeth at me. I hope the Pope will give me a plenary indulgence and look after my brothers and sisters if anything happens to me.70
The excitement was fanned by a whirlwind of antipapal pamphlets; a wagon, mourned Aleander, would not hold all these scurrilous tracts. From Sickingen’s castle of Ebernburg, a few miles from Worms, Hutten issued a frantic attack on the German clergy:
Begone, ye unclean swine! Depart from the sanctuary, ye infamous traffickers! Touch not the altars with your desecrated hands!... How dare you spend the money intended for pious uses in luxury, dissipation, and pomp, while honest men are suffering hunger? The cup is full. See ye not that the breath of liberty is stirring?71
So strong was the sentiment for Luther that the Emperor’s confessor, the Franciscan monk Jean Glapion, privately approached Frederick’s chaplain, Georg Spalatin, in an attempt at conciliation. He professed considerable sympathy for Luther’s early writings, but the Babylonian Captivity had made him feel “as if he had been scourged and pummeled from head to foot.” He pointed out that no system of religious belief could be securely based upon Scripture, for “the Bible is like soft wax, which every man can twist and stretch according to his pleasure.” He admitted urgent need for ecclesiastical reform; indeed, he had warned his Imperial penitent that “God will punish him and all princes if they do not free the Church from such overweening abuses”; and he promised that Charles would accomplish the major reforms within five years. Even now, after those terrible Lutheran blasts, he thought peace possible if Luther would recant.72 Luther, apprised of this at Wittenberg, refused.
On March 3 Aleander presented to the Diet a proposal for the immediate condemnation of Luther. The Diet protested that the monk should not be condemned without a hearing. Charles thereupon invited Luther to come to Worms and testify concerning his teaching and his books. “You need fear no violence or molestation,” he wrote, “for you have our safe-conduct.”73 Luther’s friends begged him not to go, and reminded him of the safe-conduct that the Emperor Sigismund had given Huss. Adrian of Utrecht, now Cardinal of Tortosa, soon to be pope, sent a plea to his former pupil, the Emperor, to ignore the safe-conduct, arrest Luther, and send him to Rome. On April 2 Luther left Wittenberg. At Erfurt a large crowd, including forty professors from the university, hailed him as a hero. When he approached Worms Spalatin rushed a warning to him not to enter, but rather to hurry back to Wittenberg. Luther answered: “Though there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs, I will go there.”74 A band of knights rode out to meet him and escort him into the city (April 16). The streets filled at news of his arrival; 2,000 people gathered around his carriage; all the world came to see him, said Aleander, and even Charles was cast into the shade.
On April 17 Luther, in his monastic garb, appeared before the Diet: the Emperor, six electors, an awesome court of princes, nobles, prelates, and burghers, and Jerome Aleander armed with papal authority, formal documents, and forensic eloquence. On a table near Luther stood a collection of his books. Johann Eck—not he of the Leipzig debate but an official of the archbishop of Trier—asked him were these his compositions, and would he retract all heresies contained in them? For a moment, standing before the assembled dignity of the Empire and the delegated power and majesty of the Church, Luther’s courage failed him. He replied in a low and diffident voice that the books were his, but as to the second question he begged time to consider. Charles granted him a day. Back in his lodging he received a message from Hutten beseeching him to stand fast; and several members of the Diet came privately to encourage him. Many seemed to feel that his final answer would mark a turning point in history.
On April 18 he faced the Diet with fuller confidence. Now the chamber was so crowded that even the electors found it difficult to reach their seats, and most of those present stood. Eck asked him would he repudiate, in whole or in part, the works that he had written. He replied that those portions that dealt with ecclesiastical abuses were by common consent just. The Emperor interrupted him with an explosive “No!”—but Luther went on, and hit at Charles himself: “Should I recant at this point, I would open the door to more tyranny and impiety, and it will be all the worse should it appear that I had done so at the instance of the Holy Roman Empire.” As to the doctrinal passages in his books, he agreed to retract any that should be proved contrary to Scripture. To this Eck, in Latin, made an objection that well expressed the view of the Church:
Martin, your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing but renew the errors of Wyclif and Huss.... . How can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than all of them? You have no right to call into question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the perfect Lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world by the Apostles, sealed by the red blood of martyrs, confirmed by the sacred councils, and defined by the Church .... and which we are forbidden by the Pope and the Emperor to discuss, lest there be no end to debate. I ask you, Martin—answer candidly and without distinctions—do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?75
Luther made his historic response in German:
Since your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without distinctions.... . Unless I am convicted by the testimony of Sacred Scripture or by evident reason (I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.*76
Eck countered that no error could be proved in the doctrinal decrees of the councils; Luther answered that he was prepared to prove such errors, but the Emperor intervened peremptorily: “It is enough; since he has denied councils, we wish to hear no more.”78Luther returned to his lodging weary with the strife, but confident that he had borne good testimony in what Carlyle was to call “the greatest moment in the modern history of man.”79 The Emperor was as shaken as the monk. Born to the purple, and already accustomed to authority, he thought it self-evident that the right of each individual to interpret Scripture, and to accept or reject civil or ecclesiastical decrees according to private judgment and conscience, would soon erode the very foundations of social order, for this seemed to him based on a moral code that in turn derived its strength from the supernatural sanctions of religious belief. On April 19 he called the leading princes to a conference in his own chambers, and presented to them a declaration of faith and intent, written in French, and apparently by himself:
I am descended from a long line of Christian emperors of this noble German nation, of the Catholic kings of Spain, the archdukes of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy. They were all faithful to the death to the Church of Rome, and they defended the Catholic faith and the honor of God. I have resolved to follow in their steps. A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong. Therefore I am resolved to stake my lands, my friends, my body, my blood, my life, and my soul.... After having heard yesterday the obstinate defense of Luther, I regret that I have so long delayed in proceeding against him and his false teaching. I will have no more to do with him. He may return under his safe-conduct, but without preaching or making any tumult. I will proceed against him as a notorious heretic, and I ask you to declare yourselves as you promised me.80
Four electors agreed to this procedure; Frederick of Saxony and Ludwig of the Palatinate abstained. That night—April 19—anonymous persons posted upon the door of the town hall, and elsewhere in Worms, placards bearing the German symbol of social revolution, the peasant’s shoe. Some ecclesiastics were frightened, and privately solicited Luther to make his peace with the Church, but he stood by his statement to the Diet. On April 26 he began his return journey to Wittenberg. Leo X sent orders that the safeconduct should be respected.81 Nevertheless the Elector Frederick, fearful that Imperial police might attempt to arrest Luther after the expiration of the safe-conduct on May 6, arranged, with Luther’s reluctant consent, to have him ambushed en route homeward as if by highwaymen, and taken for concealment to the castle of Wartburg.
On May 6 the Emperor presented to the Diet—now thinned by many departures—the draft that Aleander had prepared of the “Edict of Worms.” It charged that Luther
has sullied marriage, disparaged confession, and denied the body and blood of Our Lord. He makes the sacraments depend upon the faith of the recipient. He is pagan in his denial of free will. This devil in the habit of a monk has brought together ancient errors into one stinking puddle, and has invented new ones. He denies the power of the keys, and encourages the laity to wash their hands in the blood of the clergy. His teaching makes for rebellion, division, war, murder, robbery, arson, and the collapse of Christendom. He lives the life of a beast. He has burned the decretals. He despises alike the ban and the sword. He does more harm to the civil than to the ecclesiastical power. We have labored with him, but he recognizes only the authority of Scripture, which he interprets in his own sense. We have given him twenty-one days, dating from April 15.... . When the time is up, no one is to harbor him. His followers also are to be condemned. His books are to be eradicated from the memory of man.82
Two days after the presentation of this edict Leo X transferred his political support from Francis I to Charles V. The rump Diet agreed to the edict, and on May 26 Charles promulgated it formally. Aleander praised God, and ordered that the books of Luther should be burned wherever found.