The Diet of Augsburg - Part One

Had the Lutherans and Zwinglians at that time united in a defensive league, they could have fielded a powerful army. They could have with ease swept from the field the German princes who remained sided with Rome and even the emperor’s legions would have had difficulty in resisting them. However, to have moved the field of battle from the arena of the mind and the presentation of truth, to the open field of battle would not have contributed to the final triumph of the cause. Without attempting to justify Luther in the tenacity with which he blindly and stubbornly clung to his dogma until he had created a schism that was to live on long after he had passed from the scene, we can recognize that it was allowed to take place that a far more glorious victory might be won than any that might have been achieved on the field of battle. There was a battle to be fought that would be remembered in history, and at which both emperor and pope would be routed and the field of battle was Augsburg.

Clement VII

Despite the appearance of submissive obeisance with which Charles saluted the Pope, and despite the regularity with which he performed his devotions, Charles always placed his personal interests in the first place, and the pope in the second place. To destroy Protestantism would suit Clement admirably; but would it equally benefit Charles? This was the question the emperor had to wrestle with. He was now coming to see that to extinguish Luther would be to leave the Pope without a rival. Clement would then be independent of the sword of Spain which was hardly in Charles’s best interest. The true policy, he concluded, would be to tolerate Wittenberg, but without allowing it to become too strong. He could then, as occasion required, play it off against Rome. He fancied that he could maintain control over Protestantism, keeping a firm grip on the unruly thing. Thus, whenever the pope became difficult to deal with, he would allow more freedom of movement to the Protestant princes, thus reducing Clement’s authority and power. By retaining control of Protestantism rather than eradicating it, Charles would be master.

Nor were Charles counselors united in purpose concerning the course he should pursue.
The emperor was attended on this journey into Germany by two men of great experience and abilities, Campeggio and Gattinara, each advocating opposite policies. Campeggio was for dragging every Protestant to the stake and utterly blotting out Wittenberg. Gattinara, however, sought not to heal the schism in the Christian world with the sword, but through counsel. He suggested that Charles, working in conjunction with the pope, call an assembly of pious men of all nations, and let a free Council determine from the Word of God a doctrine such as might be acceptable to all parties. Thus, the policies of the two counselors stood in marked contrast to each other.

The very thought of a Council has been a source of terror to Popes in all ages, and Clement was no exception. In those ages, when the infallibility was assumed rather than decreed to be the personal attribute of the Popes, no threat was more dreadful than the proposal to assemble a Council. Beyond that, however, Clement had personal reasons for regarding the suggestion with abhorrence. He was of illegitimate birth and the means by which he had gained possession of his chair were very questionable. Moreover, he had squandered the revenues of his see upon his family inheritance of Florence; and he no doubt rightly deemed a Council might prove to be exceedingly inconvenient. Though Luther himself had suddenly entered the council-chamber, Clement could not have been more alarmed and irritated than he was by the proposal of Gattinara..

Cardinal Gattinara

But Gattinara had not made his proposal to Charles, whose policy it suited, without previously having consulted Clement. Charles now rose, and indicated that his views lay in the direction of those of his minister; and the Pope, concealing his true feelings, and perceiving how the wind had set, said that he would give further consideration to the matter, while secretly hoping to work on the mind of the emperor in private.

Meanwhile, the emperor issued a summons for a Diet of the States of Germany to meet at Augsburg  in April. The summons was stated in terms remarkably gracious, and fitted to gain the object the emperor had in view. Inviting the members to put away all discord and to draw together under Christ Jesus, he urged them to strive to seek to come together in one communion and as one Church in unity. There was immediate relief among the Protestants of Germany as the sword was withdrawn and an olive branch extended to them. They could not doubt but that “The heart of kings is in the hand of God.”

There was now but one thing lacking to complete Charles’ grandeur and that was to receive the royal diadem from the hands of the pope. Though he would have preferred to have had the ceremony performed in Rome itself, but the pope it is believed, did not care to place so much honor on Charles in the city which but a short time before, his soldiers had so brutally sacked. Moreover, the city of Bologna lay conveniently close to the emperor’s road to the Diet of Augsburg. Charles had already been crowned as Emperor of Germany but to this was now added the golden crown of Emperor of the Romans. The day it was celebrated was not only his birthday, but also the anniversary of his triumph at Pavia, which he saw as the turning point of his greatness.

Charles received his crown at the foot of the altar. The sovereignty thus gifted was not however absolute; it was conditioned and limited in the manner indicated by the ceremonies that accompanied the investiture, each of which had its meaning. In the great Cathedral of San Petronio were erected two thrones. That destined for the Pope was raised several inches above that which the emperor was to occupy. The Pontiff was the first to take his seat; followed by the emperor,

The first part of the ceremony involved the investiture of the emperor with the office of deacon. The government of those ages being considered a theocracy, it was deemed necessary that the kingdoms of the world be ruled by God in the person of His Vicar, and no one had a valid right to exercise any jurisdiction unless he was part of that sacred class to whom this rule had been committed. Therefore, before he could receive the scepter from the pope, Charles had to become part of the ecclesiastical estate. Following the mass, kneeling before the pope, the emperor received the Sacrament from the Pope’s hands.

The emperor, upon bended knee before Clement VII, was now anointed with oil. Clement then handed Charles a naked sword, with which he was to pursue and smite the enemies of the Church. Next a golden orb was placed in his hands, symbolic of the world which he was, by the grace of the Holy Father, to govern. Lastly, the diadem was placed upon his head, indicating the authority by which all this was done, and which was given him by him who had placed the crown upon his head. Kissing the white cross that decorated the pope’s red slipper, Charles swore to defend with all his powers the rights and liberties of the Church of Rome.

When we consider the symbolism acted out in the Cathedral of Bologna, we see that there was but one head of all government and power, from whom flowed all virtue and graces—the pope, standing as the Vicar of God. It was out of the plentitude of his great office that he appointed monarchs and judges, permitting them to share with him in his Divine jurisdiction. They are, as it were, his vicars just as he is the Vicar of the Eternal Monarch. They govern by him, they rule for him, and they are accountable to him—vassals of his throne. However, it is to him that the power of passing sentence appertains, and to them the humble office of using the sword he has put into their hands in executing it. Ultimately, all authority, rights and liberties reside with the Pope. The State is not a distinct and independent entity: it is absorbed in the Church as the Church is absorbed in her head—occupying the chair of St. Peter. It was against this enormous tyranny that Protestantism rose up. It restored to society the Divine rule of conscience, uprooting the theocracy of Rome and with it the divine right of priests and kings.

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