A Plea For Loyalty to Rome

In the spring of 1524, Nuremberg was the scene of the second Imperial Diet. The pope’s first concern was to choose the right man to represent the interests of the Church. The man of his choosing was Cardinal Campeggio. An astute envoy, his great ability and experience seemed to qualify him as best. His journey to the northern Italian border was like a triumphal march; but upon crossing the German border, all tokens of public enthusiasm forsook him. Upon his arrival at Nuremberg, he looked in vain for the usual procession of magistrates and clergy to bid him welcome. As an ordinary traveler, the proud representative of Clement made his way, unescorted, through the streets and entered his hotel.

Campeggio’s instructions were to first of all soothe the Elector of Saxony, who was still smarting from Adrian’s furious letter. Second, he was to make any promise necessary and use whatever diplomacy that was required to bring the diet into submission. Having accomplished these preliminary tasks, he was to attend to Luther. If only the monk could be brought to the stake, all would be well.

The papal nuncio presented himself to the diet. In addressing the princes, he alluded to his devotion to Germany, which had led him to accept this difficult mission when all others had declined. He described the tender solicitude of the pope for his flock. He could not, however, refrain from expressing wonderment that so many great and honorable princes should suffer the religion wherein they were born and in which their father’s had died, to be ill-treated and trampled upon. He begged them to consider what the end of such a course must be, namely, a universal uprising by the people against their rulers and the destruction of Germany. As for the Turks, it did not seem necessary that he should say much, as all knew of the threat that they posed to Christianity.

The princes listened with respect and thanked him for his goodwill and kindly counsel. The matter most pressing, however, and that for which they desired an answer, was the matter of the list of grievances which they had submitted to Rome; they would like to know if the pope had returned an answer and what that answer might be.

Feigning surprise, Campeggio replied that, “As to their demands, there had been only three copies of them brought privately to Rome, whereof one had fallen into his hands; but the pope and college of cardinals could not believe that they had been framed by the princes; they thought that some private persons had published them in hatred of the court of Rome; and thus he had no instructions in that particular.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, book 1, 491. Campeggio’s answer was met with mixed indignation and anger.

Charles had been prevented from attending because of his war with France, but he sent his ambassador, John Hunnaart, to complain that the diet had not enforced the Edict of Worms and to demand that it be put to execution—in other words, that Luther be put to death and the gospel proscribed in Germany.

The deputies, realizing the impossibility of such a thing, dissented; but Campeggio and Hunnaart insisted that they should put into effect the edict to which they had been consenting parties. The diet was in a quandary as to what course to pursue.

The Edict of Worms Nullified

Though they did not dare to repeal the edict, they finally hit upon a clever device for appeasing the pope without arousing the wrath of the people. They passed a decree saying that the Edict of Worms should be rigorously enforced as far as possible. For all practical purposes, it was a repeal of the edict, for the majority of the German states had already declared that it was not possible to enforce. While seeming to have gained a victory, Campeggio and Hunnaart had in reality met defeat, the first of more to come.

Undaunted by the signal failure of past councils to be an end in settling abuses and ending all controversies, the princes, having successfully nullified the emperor’s ban, next moved to demand a General Council. The papal legate and the envoy of Charles V both offered stout resistance, but to no avail. They presented to the princes what an affront such a resolve would be to papal authority, what an attack on the prerogatives of the pontiff. The princes, however, remained unchanged in their determination to call for a council and decreed that a diet should assemble at Spires in November. In the mean time, the free towns of Germany were encouraged to express their minds relative to the abuses to be corrected and the reforms to be instituted so that when the council met, the diet might be able to speak in the name of the Fatherland, demanding the reforms that the nation wished.

Sensing a political climate that favored the spread of the gospel, the Protestant preachers continued to preach the gospel with increased zeal. There were two cathedrals in Nuremberg and both were filled to overflowing with attentive audiences. The mass was forsaken, as were images, and the Scriptures were explained according to the early church fathers. The papal legate had the humiliating experience of being jostled in the streets by the throngs hurrying to the Protestant meetings, but there was nothing he could do about it. Germany seemed closer than at any previous time to a national reformation.

It was not only Clement’s authority that was tottering in Germany for if the German states should break away from the Roman faith, the emperor’s influence would be so greatly weakened as to be irreparable damaged. The imperial dignity would be so shorn of its splendor as to threaten the emperor’s schemes, leaving their implementation impracticable.

As alarmed as were the papal nuncio and Charles’s representative, it paled relative to the concern in the Vatican. Clement comprehended at a glance the full extent of the disaster that was threatening the papal throne; the half of his kingdom was about to be torn from him. He determined to leave no stone unturned to prevent at all costs the meeting scheduled to take place at Spires. Meanwhile, all eyes now turned to Spires where the fate of popedom was to be decided.

As preparations for the fateful meeting were in progress, the consternation of the Romish party was in proportion to the success of the princes friendly to the Reformed faith. To meet the challenge, Campeggio adopted the old policy of “divide and conquer.”

The Ratisbon Reformation

Withdrawing from the diet, Campeggio retired to Ratisbon where he set to work to form a party among the princes of Germany. Drawing around him Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria; the Dukes of Bavaria; the Archbishop of Salzburg; the Bishops of Trent and Ratisbon; and later the princes of southern Germany; he represented to them that should Wittenberg triumph, it would spell the end of their power as well as the dissolution of the existing order of things. He assured them that the prosperity of the papacy was closely linked with their own welfare. To avert these terrible evils, the princes passed a resolution that called for a ban on the printing of all of Luther’s books, the recall of all youth from their dominions, and no toleration for changes in the mass or public worship. In short, they determined to wage a war of extermination against the new faith. Offsetting these stern measures, they promised a few mild reforms.

The legate had done his work well, and now the pope urged Charles to act against a threat that was a greater detriment to the throne than was Rome. Charles needed no urging, having been stung to the quick by what he viewed as a usurpation of his authority by the princes in seeking to convene a diet. He informed them in sharp terms that it belonged to him as emperor to demand of the pope that a council be convoked and that he and the pope alone were the judge as to a fitting time to convoke such an assembly. Furthermore, he informed them that until such a council should be summoned, it was their responsibility to confine themselves to enforcing the previous Edict of Worms. He further forbade the meeting of the diet at Spires under penalty of high treason and the ban of the empire. The princes eventually submitted, and the proposed diet never met.

Persecution Renewed

Archduke Ferdinand and the papal legate, journeying together to Vienna, determined that to successfully carry out the league, the sword must be unsheathed. Gaspard Tauber of Vienna was charged with the crime of circulating Luther’s books. The idea was circulated that he was disposed to recant. Two pulpits were erected in the churchyard of St. Stephen’s. From the one Tauber was to read his recantation, while from the other a priest was to magnify the act as a new triumph for the Roman Church. Tauber arose and to the amazement of the waiting crowd, made a bolder confession of his faith than ever before. He was immediately dragged to execution, decapitated, and his body thrown to the flames.

This fanatical rage continued for some time and extended even to some parts of northern Germany. From the humble peasant to magistrate on his bench, there was no safety to be found. The countryside swarmed with spies.

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