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The Reformation; Wars of Charles V.

Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). The Discovery of America to the Peace of Westphalia (1492-1648).
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The law of human progress made the Reformation a needful and inevitable phenomenon. No man can believe exactly as his grandfather believed. He enlarges somewhat, by fresh discovery, his view of the universe, and uncertain belief leads to unsound practice, to error, injustice, and mischief in divers forms, and thus provides material for mental and spiritual revolution. The sublime Catholicism of a Dante becomes, to many minds, incredible in theory, and being further defaced by faithless and dishonest practice, has to be torn asunder by a Luther, as much a hater and breaker of idols as Mohammed was of the wooden gods of his day and country. Protestantism, for good or evil, was the grand root from which branched out all subsequent European history; it was the beginning of a new genuine sovereignty and order. The Reformation was a return to truth and reality in opposition to semblance and falsehood. These utterances of the sage of Chelsea represent the general view of Protestantism in every part of the world. The central fact of the Reformation is the breaking-off from Papal Christianity, from the Catholic Church, of the nations which became known as Protestant, and the ending of an order of things which had existed in Europe from the close of the 8th century. This event has been set forth by historians in many various lights - as a revolt of the laity against the clergy; of the Teutonic races against the Italians; of the kingdoms of Europe against the Papal claims to interfere with monarchs and to tax their subjects in the interest of a caste dwelling in a foreign land. To some it is an outburst of wrath against wealthy and corrupt clerics, a body from whom all spiritual life seemed to have vanished, an order of men who had become grossly unfit to be spiritual guides of the people. Others see in it a renewal of the youth of the Church by a return to primitive forms of doctrine, with the rejection of all additions of theory and practice made since the days of early Christianity. It is certain that among the doctrines and practices of the Church which were attacked as being unscriptural, and as opposed to primitive faith and usage, were the use of images, and of prayers for the intercession of saints: the doctrine of purgatory; the employment of the Latin tongue, now unknown to the laity, in the services; the enforced celibacy of priests; the enforced confession of sins to a priest; and especially the doctrine of the real bodily presence of Christ in the consecrated elements at the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or, in other words, the transubstantiation alleged to be wrought by the priest in the sacrifice of the Mass. The essence of the Reformation lies deeper than all this, and was fraught with mightier consequences than any of these things involved. It was the assertion of the principle of individuality; of the right of private judgment; of true spiritual freedom. Obedience to a clerical caste had been hitherto the first duty of man. Truth, held to be something positive and external, was dealt out to the passive layman by its stewards, the priesthood. The saving virtue of truth lay in its formal and unreasoning acceptance, without regard to its being felt and known by the acceptor to be truth. Outward works - penances and pilgrimages, and charitable gifts - were held to be sources of holiness of heart and life. The Visible Church had become a mere government and hierarchy, with Deity represented in it by an infallible Vicar of God, the Pope; or in the Mass; or in the doctrine of the priest's power to remit sins. All this had ceased to accord with the growing intelligence of mankind, and was suddenly rent in pieces by the convulsion of the Reformation, and flung away by the more progressive peoples of Europe. Henceforth, the individual was to make truth for himself by independent examination and reasoning, and the truth, thus recognised and grasped, was to act from within on the outward life. It was the misfortune of the reformers, one inevitable from human nature and from the circumstances of the time, that the assertors of freedom violated in many cases the very principles on which they had cut themselves off from the Roman Church. They were intolerant of free opinion in others, and they sought to enforce agreement by civil penalties. No faith, on their own principles, could have any value unless it were freely given, and, since they laid no claim to infallibility, and set up human reason as a standard by which revelation should be judged, it was absurd and even criminal to persecute for differences of opinion, to mingle religion with politics, and to allow sovereigns, or the will of the majority, to impose on a whole country a particular form of worship, or, in other words, to set up national Churches, enjoying landed wealth, exclusive political privilege, and the power of coercing those who dissented from the creed or practice of the "establishment." Protestantism was long in learning the lesson of toleration, but the fact of its being happily learnt at last is a noble historical vindication of the principle that freedom is the great cure the only cure, for the evils of newly acquired freedom, and that liberty has wisdom, mercy, and moderation as its assured, final, and permanent fruits (Much of the above is due to Mr. Bryce's masterly standard work, The Holy Roman Empire).

Early in the 15th century Germany was ripe for religious reform, as the country where, outside Italy, every abuse of the medieval Church was seen at its worst, in the ignorance and sensual lives of the clergy, the burdensome Papal exactions, and the shameful traffic in church-benefices. The air was full of explosive matter, and the spark came in the collision of Martin Luther and the Dominican friar John Tetzel. Luther, one of the supremely great men of history, a man of mighty intellect, "whose light was to flame as the beacon over long centuries and epochs of the world," a moral hero of the highest rank, was born in 1483, at Eisleben in Saxony, the son of poor mine-labourers. The incidents of his earlier manhood are well known: his turning to a religious life through the impression made when his friend fell dead by lightning at his feet; his education at the University of Erfurt; his three years' study, as an Augustine monk in the same town, of St. Paul and St. Augustine; his apprehension of the doctrine of "justification by faith." Ordained a priest in 1507, he became, two years later, a lecturer on the Scriptures at the new University of Wittenberg, founded by the Elector Frederick of Saxony, a wise prince and zealous Catholic. The originality of Luther's teaching was soon marked by his hearers, and his influence became widely spread through the distribution in Germany, France, and England of his printed sermons on " salvation by free grace." In 1511 he was sent to Rome on a mission by the authorities of his monastery, and he was greatly moved by the spectacle of Papal corruption at its fountain-head. He ceased to believe in Pope and priest according to the traditional views, and adopted the principle of individual responsibility. In 1516 Tetzel, engaged in selling indulgences, or remissions of the purgatorial punishment for sin, both past and future, appeared in Saxony, and advertised his traffic, as he went about from place to place, in a very shameless way, extolling his certificates above the Papal "bulls," which required repentance as a condition for pardon. The bait took largely with the ignorant and superstitious, and money flowed in freely to the coffers. Luther, now a Doctor of Theology in Wittenberg University, in October, 1517, nailed upon the door of the Castle Church his famous Thesis of 95 propositions, denying that the Pope had power to forgive sins. He also called on the Pope (Leo X.), in bold but respectful terms, to stop the sale of indulgences, and to reform corruptions in the Church. In his writings and discussions the Erfurt monk, in 1518 and 1519, overthrew all opponents in argument - Tetzel himself, Eck, and Cajetan, the Papal legate - displaying an ample store of humour, acuteness, vigour, reasoning, and Biblical learning. He quickly found supporters in many quarters, and the whole of Germany was aroused. Luther's chief fellow-labourer in the work of religious reform was the amiable, profoundly learned Philip Melanchthon (a Greek translation of his real surname Schwarzerd, "black earth"), a master of lucid exposition, who became, in 1518, Professor of Greek at Wittenberg. His moderation of character and expression usefully tempered the vehemence of Luther and his wisdom was of vast service to the cause. Luther had by this time fulfilled his threat of beating a hole in Tetzel's drum. In 1518 Leo at last taking the new movement seriously, ordered Luther to come to Rome and answer for his Wittenberg Thesis. He declined to appear, or to retract his utterances, and in 1520, irresistibly urged on by what lay within, he issued treatises attacking not only the abuses of the Papacy and its claims to supremacy, but also the doctrinal system of the Roman or Western Church. This audacious conduct brought. matters to a head between the reformer and the Pope. A "bull" was launched against Luther s writings and the reformer retorted by burning that document, along with the Papal canons and decrees, in December, 1520, before an assembled multitude of doctors and students of the university, and of citizens, at the Elster Gate of Wittenberg. He was then excommunicated, with all his supporters, and was followed, in this formal separation from the Roman Church, by many German nobles and learned men, and by the University of Wittenberg, which was crowded with students from all parts of Europe.

The Reformation had now fairly begun, and entered, in Germany, on what may be called its political phase, in which Luther's side was taken by many who cared little for theological views or for the justice of his cause. Mere desire to revolt from authority; self-interest, in release from payment of tribute to the Roman See; and a sordid eagerness for plundering the landed and other possessions of the Church, gave him allies in princes and nobles, as well as in patriots and in sincere seekers after truth. It was at this juncture that a new supporter of the Papal cause appeared on the scene in the person of the emperor Charles V., elected in 1519, in succession to his grandfather Maximilian. He was the most powerful monarch of his day or for seven preceding centuries, ruling dominions vaster than any seen under one sway since the days of Karl the Great. By his father Philip's death, he was master of the Netherlands. His grandfather Ferdinand's death in 1516 had given him Spain, southern Italy (Naples and Sicily), and Sardinia, and he had large territories in eastern and southern Germany. Born at Ghent in 1500, he was now 20 years of age. Without being a great man, he was a very able ruler, cool, subtle, prudent, energetic, an excellent judge of men to serve him in every capacity. He failed in the chief purpose of his life, the bringing back of all Germany, by policy or force, into allegiance to the Pope, and his ambition led him into constant and costly warfare. He could not but oppose the reforming movement, though he had no love for the Papacy as a secular power. A sincere Catholic, he was also king, in Spain, of the most bigoted race in Europe. As emperor, he was bound to support the Church, since the Empire and the Church had the same basis, and, on the theory of the " Holy Roman Empire," the secular ruler's chief duty was to maintain the spiritual ruler against every foe. In 1521 Charles presided at the famous Diet of Worms. Luther's books were at once ordered to be burned, and the great offender was summoned to appear before the emperor and princes. Modern European history shows no grander scene than that which ensued. With superhuman courage, Luther eagerly took the opportunity presented to him of confessing the truth before the assembled powers of Germany. True, he was armed with a safe-conduct from Charles, but he had before his eyes the case of Huss, burnt at Constance more than 100 years before, in spite of the safe-conduct from another emperor, the faithless Sigismund. The threats of foes were treated with disdain. The entreaties of friends, riding out from the city to meet him, in the hope of staying his steps in time, were met with the characteristic declaration from one who firmly believed in diabolical existence and power, "I am resolved to enter Worms although as many devils should set at me as there are tiles on the housetops." All Germany had been stirred by his heroism, and his progress to confront the Diet had resembled a triumph. He did enter Worms, and on the morrow, as he went to the hall of assembly, the people, crowding the windows and roofs, adjured him not to recant, with the solemn words, "Whosoever denieth Me before men - !" They had little need to dread the issue. He entered the hall. On the one side sat the world's pomp and power - the emperor, the princes, the Papal nuncio, dignitaries spiritual and temporal; on the other there stood up, in the cause of truth and freedom for the human spirit thenceforth and for ever so long as the world abides, one man, the poor miner's son. His speech, of two hours, was respectful, honest, and wise in tone. He admitted the presence of a large element of human infirmity in his writings. They were, he said, partly his own, partly derived from the Word of God. Not being allowed to defend his opinions in argument, he could not withdraw whatever stood on sound truth and the basis of the Scriptures. "Confute me," he cried in conclusion, "by proofs of Scripture, or else by plain just arguments: I cannot otherwise recant. For it is neither safe nor prudent to do aught against conscience. Here stand I: I can do no other. So help me God. Amen!" On his return from Worms he was seized, in mock indignation and real friendship, by the Elector of Saxony, and carried off, for safety from his foes, to the old castle of the Wartburg, where he abode for about a year, adding to his priceless services to mankind by the noble translation of the Bible which not only aided the cause of the Reformation but enriched German literature. We need not pursue his story much further. He threw aside monasticism in 1524, and in the following year began a happier period of his life by marrying Katharina von Bora, one of nine nuns who, under the influence of his teaching, had renounced their vows. Many of the monasteries in Germany were soon deserted and the priests in Saxony took wives. The edict of Worms prohibited all new doctrines, after Luther had been placed under the ban of the empire, but nothing could now stay the progress of the Reformation.

In 1525 the elector of Saxony, Philip, count of Hesse, and Albert of Brandenburg, duke of Prussia, publicly became "Lutherans," and the new form of religion, with a German liturgy and communion in both kinds, was adopted in many cities and states. The emperor, engaged in war with Francis I. of France, was obliged to let religious affairs drift in Germany, or leave them to his brother Ferdinand, who had been made governor of the Hapsburg lands In 1526 an enactment of the Diet at Speier was favourable to the reformers, but in 1529, when the emperor had triumphed over Francis, Ferdinand and the Catholic party, in a second Speier Diet, decreed the strict execution of the edict of Worms. The protest made by the "evangelicals" or reforming party at the Diet gave rise to the name "Protestants." In 1530, at the Diet of Augsburg, the Protestant faith was presented in the Confession of Augsburg, drawn up by Melanchthon, but the Diet decreed that an end should be made of all religious innovations. The Protestants, on the rejection of what became the chief standard of faith among the Lutheran Churches of the Teutonic nations, and the threat of the "ban of the empire" for all who should disobey the decree, formed the alliance for mutual defence known as the Schmalkaldic League, agreed on by nine Lutheran princes at Schmalkalden in Hesse-Nassau, in April, 1531. Eleven imperial cities joined the League. Civil war was avoided for a time because the emperor, whose German dominions were in danger from the Turks, could obtain no help from the Lutheran princes except on condition of his withdrawing the decree of Augsburg. He accordingly arranged, in 1532, the Religious Peace of Niirnberg (Nuremberg), revoking the obnoxious edict and conceding full freedom of worship to the Lutherans until the meeting of a new Diet or of a General Council of the Church. This closing of the ranks in Germany caused the immediate retreat of the Moslem forces. Charles was, however, resolved to put down heresy in Germany, if he could, and was only biding his time until his foes Francis I. and the Turks were finally disposed of.

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