Divine Deliverance

The storm that had been brewing for sometime appeared ready to burst. The emperor and the pope at the head of confederate kings and subservient princes of the Empire seemed ready to strike the fatal blow. Frederick, who had stood between Luther and the mailed hand of Charles, was now resting in his grave and the horrors of the crusades three centuries earlier, that had swept away the Albigensian confessors, it appeared were now ready to repeat themselves in the eradication of the Protestantism of the sixteenth century. However, despite the portents now so visible, Luther’s confidence that all would go well was not to be disappointed. Just as the tempest seemed ready to break over Wittenberg, it discharged itself with terrible violence on Rome.

Of all the sovereigns of Europe with whom Charles had contracted an alliance, the one he could most certainly have depended on to assist him in the project at hand, one would have thought to have been the pontiff of Rome. In the affair the emperor had set his hand to accomplish, the interest and policy of Charles and Clement were the same. From what other quarter could the pope look to for deliverance from the ever increasing flood of heretics that Germany was sending forth? Yet it was at this moment that Clement suddenly turned against the emperor and wrecked the expedition against Wittenberg that Charles was on the point of beginning.

Charles’ victory at Pavia had essentially brought the north and southern part of Italy under his control, thus hemming in the pontiff. Clement, exceedingly jealous of the emperor’s increasing power. Hoping to govern all of Italy as a temporal monarch, he thought the hour favorable for the execution of his plans. Knowing that many of his countrymen burned with the desire for an independent country, Clement believed that the hour had come to restore the papacy to all its mediaeval glory. Opening negotiations with Louisa of Savoy, who administered the government in the absence of her son Francis during his absence, and then later with upon his release, with Francis himself, Clement sought an alliance against Charles. Approaching England, his project was met with favor. He then sought an alliance with Venice and Milan, and with the Republic of Florence. All parties were alike fearful of the overgrown power of the emperor and willing to enter into league with the Pope against Charles. Blind to everything beyond his immediate goal, the pope without wasting any time sent his army into the Duchy of Milan to begin operations against the Spaniards.

The Diet summoned by Charles to meet at Augsburg had in fact been transferred to Spires and was at that moment in the process of meeting. It had been convoked to see to the execution of the Edict of Worms, and the suppression of Protestantism. However, between the issuing of the summons to the meeting and the convening of the diet, the politics of Europe had substantially changed. When the order had been issued, the political wind was all in favor of the accomplishment of Charles’ goal—the extirpation of heresy. The pope was then the emperor’s staunchest ally, but a sudden shift in the wind had entirely changed the political landscape and now Charles saw that he must play Luther against Clement.

Protestant Princes going to Spires

In the meantime, the Diet assembled at Spires on June 25, 1526. The Reformed princes came in high spirits. They remained fearless in the face of the approaching crisis. The emperor had thundered his ban against them, but they took courage from, and had given their reply in the motto which they had written upon their standards, “The Word of God.”

The Diet began its proceedings with Ferdinand of Austria, the emperor’s brother, presiding. It was suspected that Ferdinand had precise instructions from his brother, as touching the measures he wanted the Diet to adopt. Ferdinand, however, before delivering them, waited to see what direction the Diet would incline. If they held to the straight road, so unmistakably laid out in the Edict of Worms, he would be spared the necessity of delivering the harsh message with which he had been charged; but if the Diet strayed in the direction of Wittenberg, it would fall his lot to make known the emperor’s commands.

The Diet did not go far before it was evident that it had left the road in which Ferdinand and the emperor designed it should go. It was now that the storm burst. Seeing the Diet treading the road to Wittenberg, Ferdinand drew forth the letter written by Charles and dated March 26, 1526. In it Charles commanded that all should act in full accord with the Edict of Worms which meted out to the disciples of Protestantism chains, prison and the stake.

Ferdinand

This check to the hopes of the Protestant princes had come at a time when their hopes were especially high. All Germany seemed on the point of being carried over to the Lutheran side when suddenly, the Protestants were brought up before the man who, as the conqueror of Pavia, had humbled the King of France, and made himself the most powerful man in Europe. In his letter, they could hear the first sound of his advancing legions.

What were the Protestant princes to do? On every hand terrible dangers threatened their cause. The victory at Pavia, having placed Charles at the head of Christianity, what could prevent him from enforcing the Edict of Worms? In Germany, the Ratisbon League was busy extirpating Lutheranism within its territories. Frederick was in his grave and certainly no aid could be expected from the Kings of England or France. The Protestants were hemmed in on every hand.

“It was at that hour that a strange rumor reached their ears. The emperor and the Pope were, it was whispered, at strife! The news was hardly credible. At length came detailed accounts of the league that Clement VII had formed against the emperor, with the King of England at its head. The Protestants, when these tidings reached them, thought they saw a pathway beginning to open through the midst of tremendous dangers. But a little before, they had felt as the Israelites did on the shore of the Red Sea. . . . How they were to escape from this dilemma, save by a return to the obedience of the Pope, they could not at that moment see. . . . They had never looked to Rome or to Spain, yet there it was that they began to see escape opening to them. The emperor and the Pope, they were told, were at variance: so then they were to march through the sundered camp of their enemies. With feelings of wonder and awe, not less lively than those of the Hebrew host when they saw the waves beginning to divide, and a pathway to open from shore to shore, did the Lutheran chiefs and their followers see the host of their foes, gathered in one mighty confederacy to overwhelm them, begin to draw apart, and ultimately form themselves into two opposing camps, leaving a pathway between, by which the little Protestant army, under their banner with its sacred emblazonry—“The Word of the Lord endureth for ever”—might march onwards to a place of safety. The influence that parted the hearts and councils of their enemies, and turned their arms against each other, they no more could see than the Israelites could see the Power that divided the waters and made them stand upright, but that the same Power was at work in the latter as in the former case they could not doubt. The Divine Hand has never been wanting to the Gospel and its friends, but seldom has its interposition been more manifest than at this crisis.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 9, chapter 11

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