Death of Frederick

The Death of Frederick

Everywhere the league of princes was triumphant in stamping out the rebellion. The princes, however, did not direct their force of arms at the rebels only, but attacked the Reformation and the revolt alike, making no differentiation between those who had rebelled and in many cases, those who had actually resisted the peasants.  

At the very time the armies of the princes were marching against the rebellion, the aged Frederick, the elector of Saxony, a man who God had raised up to defend the Reformation died. Feeling the rapid approach of death, he destroyed a will he had made some years earlier in which he had commended his soul to the “mother of God” and dictated another in which he sought the forgiveness of his sins and salvation of his soul in Christ alone.

At the same time, letters from Charles V arrived in Germany in which another diet was convoked at Augsburg. Charles real purpose was to give the empire a constitution that would allow himself to marshal the forces of Germany at his good pleasure and he saw in the religious controversy the opportunity he was seeking. He had only to turn loose the Catholics against the followers of the Gospel and when they had exhausted their strength, it only remained for him to step in and easily triumph over both.

Never had the prospects for the Reformation looked so bleak. Then, right at the point when everything pointed to impending overthrow of the gospel, Luther did the unthinkable—he married.

At first glance, Luther’s marriage would seem to have added to the difficulties of the Reformation which was still suffering from the blow it had received through the revolt of the peasants; the sword of the emperor, and its friends, while at the same time, the Landgrave Philip and the new Elector John appeared discouraged and silent. No sooner was Luther married than all Europe was disturbed. Accusations and misrepresentations poured in on him from every direction.

Though initially troubled by all the anger and contempt that was poured upon him, it was not long until Luther saw in the contempt of man, the approval of God.  “ ‘If I did not offend the world,’ said he, ‘I should have cause to fear that what I have done is displeasing to God.’ ” D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 10, chapter 14.

The union proved to be a happy one for Luther. In his wife he found the affection and comfort that were to prove a great source of strength to him. His character became more cheerful and even in times of greatest trial his happy frame of mind never failed him.

At this hour when the intrigues, ambitions, and wars were abounding around Protestantism, the Kings of Spain and France were striving for the possession of Italy. The pope, quite naturally, felt that he had a better right to be master of that country than either of the other two. Being jealous of the other two, he shaped his policy so as to make the power of the one offset that of the other, hoping thus to one day be able to drive out both, if not by force of arms, then by craft. Until, however, that day came his safety depended upon his pretense of friendship to both.

Francis I

All three—the Emperor, the King of France, and the Pope—in whatever else they differed, were enemies of the Reformation. Had they at any time united their force of arms, the strength would have been such that by all human reckoning, they should easily have accomplished their mutual purpose of putting down the Protestant movement. This, however, their personal ambitions would not allow. Each aspired to be the first man of his time and this kept them in perpetual rivalry. The Papal See, still dreaming of the supremacy of past ages under Gregory VII and Innocent III, sought to dictate to both Charles and Francis. These sovereigns, on the other hand, were unwilling to let go the sovereignty they had at last achieved over the Church. This striving for superiority filled the lives of all three with anxiety and their kingdoms with continual misery and war. However, this very rivalry was a wall of defense around the Protestant movement.

Scarcely had Charles thrown down the gage of battle to Protestantism when the storm broke around him. He had no more than issued the edict which was to consign Luther to destruction when a French army crossed the Pyrenees and overran Navarre, a Spanish possession. This led to a war that lasted till 1524 and ended in the expulsion of the French from Milan and Genoa where they had been powerful for more than 50 years.

This did not end the hostilities, however. The emperor, indignant at the invasion of his kingdom and willing to chastise the French king for his impertinence, sent his army onto French soil. The French, rallying around their king, were successful in driving out the Spanish but not satisfied with this accomplishment, they followed the Spanish army into Italy.

The winter of 1525 found the Spanish and French armies facing each other under the walls of Pavia. Two months of siege by the French, using all the engines of war known at that time, had failed to breach the walls. However, by this time, the Spanish garrison had been reduced to extremity and it was clear that the town must fall. Faced with little alternative, they came out and fought with a violence born of desperation.

The battle that ensued, saw the fortunes of the King of France completely reversed. Not only were ten thousand of the French army lost, including many a gallant knight, but the king himself was captured and carried captive to Madrid. Desirous of humiliating his rival and of assuring himself that he would not in the future have the power to again cause him harm, Charles imposed some very hard conditions to the ransom. The French king, having not the slightest intention of abiding my any agreement made under duress, readily agreed to all the stipulations. A part of the agreement was that henceforth they would unite their efforts in the war against heresy.

The hour had now come when, as Charles thought, he could deal his long meditated blow against the Wittenberg heresy. Never had his prospects of success seemed brighter. The victory at Pavia had brought the war in Italy to a more prosperous close than he had dared hope for. France, his former rival, now no longer a thorn in his side, had by the terms of its surrender, been converted into an ally. Moreover, he was on excellent terms with England, and Cardinal Wolsey, himself cherishing hopes of yet ascending the papal throne, which could only be obtained with the help of the emperor’s influence, had a vested interest of the continuing good relations.

The victory at Pavia had left Charles the most powerful monarch in Europe. On all sides was peace and having already vanquished so many foes, it seemed but a small matter to deal with the monk who had neither sword nor army to defend himself with. At no previous time had the emperor been stronger, or his sword so free to execute his purposes, nor with the passing of Frederick, had Luther at any time appeared so defenseless as now. The three princes who stood up in the place of Frederick—the Elector John, Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, and Albert of Prussia—were new to the cause. Moreover, they lacked the influence which Frederick has possessed. Accordingly, Charles now took the fist step in the execution of his plan. Every hour the tempest that threatened to break over Protestantism grew darker.

The only man who did not tremble was Luther. It was not that he did not see the formidable extent of the danger, but that he was able to realize a Defender who others could not see. He knew that if the truth had been stripped of all earthly support, it was not because destruction was imminent, but because a Divine had was about to be stretched out on it’s behalf, revealing that it had a Protector more powerful than all its enemies.

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