Day Dawns In Germany

In proportion as the Reformation strengthened at its center in Wittenberg, it was diffused more widely throughout Germany. To the terror of Rome, it seemed to be breaking out on all sides. A number of priests were converted to the reformed faith and preached it to their flocks. The German nation began to emerge from the darkness of ignorance into the dawning of light. “Whilst in the year 1513 only thirty-five publications had appeared, and thirty-seven in 1517, the number of books increased with astonishing rapidity after the appearance of Luther’s theses. In 1518 we find seventy-one different works; in 1519, one hundred and eleven; in 1520, two hundred and eight; in 1521, two hundred and 11; in 1522, three hundred and forty seven; and in 1523, four hundred and ninety eight.” D’Aubigne, History of the Protestant Reformation, book 9, chapter 11. For the most part, these were printed in Wittenberg. Generally they were authored by Luther and his friends. In 1522, while 130 of the Reformer’s writings were published, and in the following year, 183, only 20 Roman Catholic publications appeared.

What Luther and his friends published, others circulated. Monks, convinced of the unlawfulness of the monastic life, became colporteurs carrying the books through the length and breadth of Germany. It was in vain that the emperor and princes published edicts against the writings of the Reformers. As soon as an inquisitorial visit was to be paid, the book dealers, who had received secret information in advance, concealed the books that were proscribed. The eager multitude, who were ever anxious for that which was prohibited, immediately bought them up and read them with great eagerness. Neither was it in Germany alone that such scenes were enacted. Luther’s writings were translated into French, Spanish, English, and Italian and circulated among these nations as well.

Elector Frederick had declared that he would allow the bishops to preach freely in his states and that he would deliver no one into their hands. Consequently, evangelical teachers persecuted in other countries soon found asylum in Saxony. Here they conversed with the Reformers, and at their feet were strengthened in the faith. At the same time, they were able to communicate to their teachers from their own experience the knowledge that they had acquired.

As Luther witnessed the success of the gospel, his confidence increased. He had foreseen nothing of this magnitude when he first opposed Tetzel. Vainly would men seek to explain the movement by mere human circumstances. God, the Author of the work in its minutest detail, was breathing new life into Christianity. The church was passing through a state of transformation and bursting the bonds in which it had so long been confined. Not withstanding the violent and repeated efforts to stifle the progress, the gospel rose with a force that no human power was able to resist.

After the Diet of Worms, Charles had returned to Spain. To conduct the affairs of state during his absence, had had appointed a Diet of Regency to administer from Nuremberg. The main business which brought the diet together was the inroads of the Turks. Soliman’s armies had made progress to a degree that it struck terror to the nations of Europe. At the diet, Chieregato, the papal nuncio, presented himself.

Through Adrian VI, in common with the rest of Europe, was concerned about the Turks, his greater concern, and the one he sought to share with the diet, was for the rapid spread of Lutheranism in Germany. He longed to see them deal with Luther, as before Peter Ananias and Sapphira had been struck with sudden death for lying against God.

On entering Germany, the nuncio found himself met with less than overwhelming enthusiasm. As Chieregato passed along, he raised his two fingers, after the usual manner, to bless the people, only to have them respond by raising theirs, to show how little they cared for either himself or his benediction. Though this was mortifying, greater mortifications awaited him.

Papal Nuncio Chieregato

Arriving in Nuremberg, he found, to his great dismay, that the pulpits were occupied by Protestant preachers and the churches were filled with attentive listeners. Upon presenting the diet with his concerns, they informed him that Nuremberg was a free city and that the magistrates were largely Lutheran. Frustrated, he next intimated that he might take matters into his own hands and, on his own authority, apprehended the ministers himself, in the pontiff’s name. The Archbishop of Mainz, and others, informed him that if he embarked on such a risky course, they would immediately quit the city and leave him to deal with the indignant burghers as best he could.

Greatly baffled and humiliated by the little reverence that he had received, the nuncio approached the diet. He admitted to past abuses by the Church but pointed out that Adrian was sincere in his desire to work reform. He was even ready to admit that corruption extended throughout the whole church; but he went to great lengths to urge that those who would push for reforms with too great haste should have nothing but the stake. He therefore urged the diet to execute the imperial edict of death for heresy upon Luther. As regarding the reforms that Adrian proposed to work out, he would neither move too precipitously nor too extremely; it must be done gently, and by degrees. Luther, in translating the papal brief into German, with marginal notes, interpreted this to mean a few centuries between each step.

The Diet Favors Reform

The diet responded by telling Adrian that the idea of executing the Edict of Worms against Luther would be madness. To put to death the Reformer for advocating the very changes that Adrian admitted of being necessary would be no less unjust than dangerous, as it would certainly deluge Germany in blood. Luther must be refuted from the Scriptures, for his writings were in the hands of the people. They knew of only one way that his controversy could be settled, and that was by a General Council. They therefore called for such a council to be held in a neutral town in Germany within the year and included a demand that both laity, as well as clergy, would have a seat and voice in it. Such an unpalatable request was made even more odious by the addition of “Hundred Grievances,” a terrible catalogue of the exactions, frauds, oppressions, and wrongs that Germany had suffered at the hands of the popes.

Chieregato, sensing that he had overstayed his welcome, promptly left Nuremberg, leaving it with someone else to be the bearer of the unwelcome tidings to the pontiff.

In due time, the decree of the diet reached Rome. The otherwise meek Adrian was beside himself with rage. Not only had the diet refused to execute the Edict of Worms and burn Luther and called for a General Council, but they had enumerated a hundred grievances that needed to be addressed. Only thinly veiled was the threat that if the pope failed to act, there were others who would. Seating himself, Adrian poured forth a torrent of threatenings that was more bitter than anything yet to have emanated from the Vatican. Frederick of Saxony, against whom the denunciation was aimed, placed his hand on the hilt of his sword when he read it. Luther, however, who was the only one of the three who was fully in control of his temper, quietly but firmly insisted that no one was to fight for the gospel. The peace was preserved.

Charles V would gladly have brought the Reformer to the stake, had he the power to do so; but in Germany, he could act only so far as the princes would go with him. Consequently, it was the low countries to which he directed his displeasure. In Brussels, on July 1, 1523, three stakes were erected and the first of many martyrs were burned for their faith. This apparent victory for the powers of darkness was but the signal for its defeat. Luther received the news of their death with thanksgiving, knowing that a cause which had produced martyrs bore the seal of Divine authentication and was sure of victory. In the words of Erasmus, “Wherever the smoke of their burning blew, it bore with it the seeds of heretics.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 1, 490

Adrian’s Policies Reversed

Pope Clement VII

Adrian lived to hear of the death of these youths, but in September of the same year, he died; and with him passed all interest in reforming the Church. Cardinal Guilio de Medici, an unsuccessful contender for the papal crown in the previous election, was more successful this time. Ascending to the pontifical throne under the name of Clement VII, he hastily reversed the policy of his predecessor.

As Clement assumed his duties, wherever the eye might turn, there was trouble. Two powerful kings were fighting in Italy; the Turks were threatening the Austrian frontier; but the most troublesome, and that which caused the greatest concern, was the situation in Wittenberg. Leo X had underestimated the threat. Adrian had thought to blunt it by working reforms in the church, but both had met with signal failure. Clement determined that for his part, he would prove himself an abler pilot; he would act as a statesman and a pope.


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