During the latter part of the Middle Ages, the desire for reform of the Church was constant. It was strongest and most apparent among laymen, for a famous monastic writer of the fourteenth century testified that the laity led better lives than the clergy. To the bulk of ordinary Christians reform meant morality in the priesthood. It became intolerable to them to see the Sacrament administered habitually by sacrilegious hands, or to let their daughters go to confession to an unclean priest. The discontent was deepest where men were best. They felt that the organisation provided for the salvation of souls was serving for their destruction, and that the more people sought the means of grace in the manner provided, the greater risk they incurred of imbibing corruption. In the days when celibacy was imposed under Gregory VII., it was argued that the validity of orders depended on conduct; and that idea of forfeiture by sin, essentially fatal to the whole hierarchical system, was not yet extinct. People learnt to think of virtue apart from the institutions of the Church, and the way was paved for a change which should reduce the part of the clergy in men's lives, and give them families of their own. The hope that a stricter discipline would be enforced by authority from within died away. When Eugenius IV. directed Cesarini to dissolve the Council of Bâle, the Cardinal replied that if he obeyed they would be thought to be mocking God and men, and to have abandoned the notion of reform, and the laity would have some reason to believe that it was a good deed to destroy, or at least to plunder, the clergy.
The religious influence of the Church was brought low by its record of failure. The scheme for governing the world by the hierarchy, pursued for three centuries, had terminated in disaster. For a whole generation no man knew whether the Papacy was in Italy or in France. The attempt to effect improvement through the Councils had been abandoned after many experiments, and the failure to reconcile the Greeks had established the Ottoman Empire in Europe. With the decline of the Church the State rose in power and prerogative, and exercised rights which for centuries had been claimed by the hierarchy. All this did not suggest Lutheranism to Luther, but it prepared the world for it.
Amidst the abuses and excesses of that epoch of lax discipline and indistinct theology, the point of breaking was supplied by a practice of very recent growth. Indulgences had long existed, and after a time they were applied to souls in purgatory. When, at last, plenary indulgences, that is, total remissions of penalty, were transferred to the dead, it meant that they were straightway released from purgatory and received into heaven. Five churches in Rome enjoyed the privilege that a soul was released as often as mass was said at one of the altars, technically known as privileged altars, or as often as certain prayers were said by persons visiting them. There were privileged altars at St. Peter's, at St. Prassede, at Santa Pudentiana, at the Scala Santa. At one, five masses were required; at another, thirty. In the crypt of St. Sebastian one visit was enough. A particular prayer repeated during forty days remitted one-seventh of the punishment, and on the fortieth day the dead man would appear to his benefactor, to thank him. All the benefits available to a pilgrim visiting Rome could be enjoyed at a distance by the purchase of an indulgence from the friars sent round to sell them. Such an indulgence, published by Julius II. for the construction of St. Peter's, was revived by Leo X. in 1517, half the proceeds to go to the Archbishop of Mintz, that he might pay back a loan to Fugger of Augsburg. The banker's agent went round with the appointed preacher and kept the strong box. Tetzel, a Dominican, preached the indulgence in Saxony, though not in the territory of the elector, and he employed to the utmost the arguments authorised by the custom of the day. Speaking of him and of his colleagues, Benedict XIV. said that they were the cause of all the trouble that followed.
Many people thought the indulgences, as then practised, a mischief, because people took them as equivalent to absolution; and the general of the Augustinians spoke of them as an encouragement to sin. But the extreme point was the theory that payment of a few pence would rescue a soul from purgatory. Therefore, when Luther raised a protest against such propositions, he said no more than what many other people were saying, and less than some. And he had no idea that he was not speaking in thorough harmony with the entire Church, or that the ground he occupied was new. The Dominicans stood by Tetzel and made his cause their own. They were able to say of him that he had only uttered current doctrine, though it had not the sanction of former ages. Three hundred of them were present when he received a degree at Frankfort on the Oder, and the Dominicans at Rome defended even the most extreme and grotesque of the sayings attributed to him.
Leo committed the whole business to Silvester Prierias, Master of the Sacred Palace and official theologian of the Holy See. Prierias was not a reputable defender of any religious cause. In one of his books he advises a judge that he may obtain a confession by a promise of mercy, meaning mercy to the community, and charges the notary to put down in what sense the words were spoken. Accordingly he made the worst possible defence. St. Thomas, discussing indulgences as they were in his time, urges that they may be accepted as they are given by authority. Prierias, an ardent Thornist, regards this as a valid argument for the practices that were now contested. The problem of right is settled by the evidence of fact. The questors, as they were called, acted as legitimate agents of the Holy See. To deny what authority tacitly approves, is to deny authority; and to appeal from the Pope to the Bible, is to appeal from a higher authority to a lower. This was to ignore the difficulty and to make reforms impossible. The reason for this compendious evasion was that Leo, prior to his election, had taken an oath to revoke the indulgence of Julius II., and to supply otherwise the money required for St. Peter's. The capitulation was in March 1513. The breach of the capitulation, in March 1515. It was not desirable to raise a controversy as to the broken oath, or to let Luther appear as the supporter of the cardinals against the Pope, or of the Pope expecting the tiara against the Pope in possession of it. The effect was to deprive Luther of the hope that he was at issue with a too eager subordinate in Saxony, and to transfer his attack to Rome. It was now officially declared that whatever is is right, and that no improvement or reform is wanted in high places.
A graver personage came upon the scene when it was agreed that Luther should appear before the Legate at Augsburg. Cardinal Cajetan was the weightiest divine of the Court of Rome, and a man of original mind, who was denounced in his order as a dangerous innovator, and whose writings could not be reprinted without large omissions. He is commemorated, in political literature, among the advocates of tyrannicide. He was more dexterous than Prierias, although he also refused a revision of current practices. By putting forward a decree of Clement VI., he drove Luther to declare that no papal decree was a sufficient security for him. So that, having assailed authority in that which it tolerated or ignored, he assailed it now in that which it directly affirmed, and was no longer a mere intruder, proffering unwelcome advice, but a barbarian thundering at the gates of Rome. Cajetan dismissed him ungraciously; and having been warned that a Dominican cardinal might be perilous company in the circumstances, he went off secretly and made his way home. He was already a popular figure in Germany, and the Diet of Augsburg had complained that the drain caused by indulgences left no supplies for the Turkish war.
When Luther returned to Wittenberg he was aware that his ideas extended much farther than he had supposed. Since the refusal to listen to his remonstrance, he knew that he was involved in a conflict in which Rome would be against him. He knew also that many of his countrymen would be on his side. The same discovery was unexpectedly made by the next papal emissary, Miltitz, a Saxon layman, who was sent to convey the Golden Rose to Luther's patron, the elector Frederic. It was well understood at Rome that Cajetan, in pushing Luther one step beyond his original Thesis, by transferring the question from the discretion of Tetzel to the authority under which he acted, had mismanaged the affair. Uncompromising rigour having failed, the opposite treatment was now applied. Miltitz, finding the majority of Germans favourable to Luther, deposited the Golden Rose at Nuremberg, and came into his own country with a resolution to be conciliatory. The friends whom he saw on his way informed Luther, and urged him to meet his countryman in the same spirit. Miltitz saw Tetzel and silenced him; and the inauspicious preacher did not long survive his disgrace. Having given this proof that he entertained no adverse prejudice, that on the immediate problem they were in sympathy, Miltitz had a conference with Luther at Altenburg.
Luther followed the advice of his friends at Nuremberg. The specific evil he had denounced was now admitted by the authorised representative of the Holy See. He obtained, through him, a reassuring glimpse of Roman opinion, and the certainty that there were men on the spot, unlike Prierias and Cajetan, whose convictions in regard to unreformed abuses were as clear as his own, and whose opportunities were better. They came to an understanding. Luther was to publish an explanation and then the subject was to drop. It did not mean that he was approved; but dubious points were not pressed, for the sake of those on which the force of his case was felt. He wrote to a friend that he would suppress much rather than offend, and the whole thing would die out of itself. The contrast between Miltitz and Cajetan was such that he had reason to be satisfied. Miltitz also considered that he had done well, and had extinguished a conflagration that might have become serious. He advised the Elector not to send the Wittenberg professor out of the country. More eager spirits were impatient of so tame a conclusion; for there were some to whom plenary indulgences for the living or the dead were a drop of water in an ocean of controversy, whilst others thought that authority had been outraged on one side and surrendered on the other. Before the dispute was reopened Luther wrote a letter to Leo X., saying the ecclesiastical authority must be upheld to the utmost. This saying, of little account in his theology, is significant in his entire system of thought. What he meant was that the papal supremacy in the government of the Church had endured so long that the divine sanction was upon it. He did not trace it much farther back than the twelfth century. But that, he considered, constituted a legitimate claim.
Luther, who was a profound conservative and a reluctant innovator, and who felt the fascination that belongs to lapse of time, employed in behalf of the Papacy an argument by which Dante had defended the Empire. Machiavelli derived right from success, and Luther from duration. In reality he held both doctrines, for he thought Zwingli's death in battle an evident judgment on his low sacramental theory. Promoted at the same time by the two most powerful writers in the world, the idea that heaven is responsible for results acquired immense prestige, and long influenced European thinking. The argument by which he justified the Papacy amounted, in fact, to a negation of its claim to divine institution; and at the time when he produced it, early in 1519, he had come to reject not only the excesses of Tetzel, but the entire scheme of indulgences. Although he held to the Papacy only by an ingenious sophism, beyond the Pope there was the Council; and he might still deem himself a Catholic after the manner of Gerson and the Gallican divines of Constance, who depreciated Rome. That was possible, if nothing in the sequence of his views came into collision with any decree of a General Council.
This was now the question of the day, the question for the summer of 1519. The man who brought it to an issue was John Eck, a theologian of Ingolstadt University, who came to Leipzig to dispute with Luther's colleague Carlstadt, and ended by a disputation with Luther himself. He imagined that Luther did not perceive the consequences. Because he defied the Popes, it did not follow that he would defy the Councils, especially a Council held in Germany, under the protection of a German Emperor a Council zealous for reform and honoured by Germans, as their avenger on the national enemy John Hus. Luther had no special preference for an assembly which burnt an obnoxious professor of theology, and no great interest in reforms which he deemed external, and not making for inward change. He said that there were points on which Hus was right, and the sentence that condemned him wrong. He admitted, in the end, that Councils as well as Popes might be against him, and that the authority by which he stood was the divine revelation. That is how "the Bible, and the Bible only," became the religion of Protestants.
Having succeeded in forcing Luther from his original positions, Eck carried the matter to Rome. A theory so uncertain in its method, so imperfectly tested by the regulated comparison of authorities, might crumble to pieces if all its consequences were made manifest. It was conceivable that a man who had raised such a storm without looking up his books, without weighing the language of Councils or thinking out his thoughts, upon whom the very obvious objections of Cajetan and Eck came as a surprise, who at every step abandoned some previous proposition, might not feel absolutely and finally sure that he was right, or might even recognise the force of the saying that it is well to die for the truth, but not for every truth. Eck joined with Cajetan in urging the strongest measures of repression. A different line of policy suggested itself, in the spirit of Erasmus. It was to hail Luther as an auxiliary, as the most powerful leader in the work of eradicating evils which were a familiar scandal to all religious men, and the constant theme of ineffective Cardinals on every solemn occasion Then they might have confronted whatever was to follow with cleaner hands and a better conscience.
In June 1520, after a year's deliberation, Luther was condemned as the teacher of forty-one heresies; and in January, after he had made a bonfire of the Papal Bull and of the Canon Law, he was excommunicated. According to imperial constitutions three centuries old, the next step was that the civil magistrate, as the favourite phrase was, would send the culprit through the transitory flames of this world to the everlasting flames of the next. If that was not done, it might come to pass that the zeal of Prierias, Cajetan, and Eck would serve to inform the world that the medieval reign was over, and that the pen of an angry, rude, and not very learned monk was stronger than the Papacy and the Empire. It was known from the first that the Elector of Saxony would defend Luther, without being a Lutheran. Indeed, he shocked him by his zeal for indulgences and his collection of 19,000 relics. But he protected Luther as the most famous teacher of his university. They never met, and when the Elector on his deathbed sent for him, Luther was away. Since the Disputation of Leipzig he was the most conspicuously popular man in Germany. What he had said about the use and abuse of indulgences had not inflamed the nation. But the appeal to Scripture was definite and clear, and it met many objections and many causes of opposition.
When Luther was discussing the value of indulgences here and in the other world he meant no more and saw no farther. But now he saw the chasm, and possessed a principle on which to found his theology, his ethics, his politics, his theory of Church and State, and he proceeded to expound his ideas thoroughly in three celebrated works, known as his Reformation Tracts, which appeared in 1520. Luther's fundamental doctrine had come to him in early life, not from books, but from a friend. When all the efforts and resources of monastic criticism had led him only to despair, one of the brethren told him that his own works could not bring relief from the sense of unforgiven sin, but only faith in the merits of Christ. He found such comfort in this idea, which became the doctrine of imputation, and he grasped it with such energy that it has transformed the world. Predestination seemed to follow logically, and the rejection of free-will; and, as the office of the ordained priest became superfluous, the universal priesthood, with the denial of Prelacy. All this was fully worked out in the writings of 1520.
Luther was unconscious at first of the tremendous revolution he was preparing, because he found satisfaction in the strong language of St. Bernard. Under the shadow of the greatest doctor of the medieval church he felt assured of safety. And when he spoke of the Bible only, that was not textually more than had been said by Scotus and others, such as Erasmus, and quite lately the Bishop of Isernia at the Lateran Council. He did not start with a system or an apostolate; but now that his prodigious power as a writer of German had been revealed, he rejoiced in the conflict. He obtained his opportunity at the Diet of Worms. The young Emperor had come over from Spain to receive the crown, and he had accepted the Bull of Leo against Luther. At that moment he was on friendly terms with Rome, but his chancellor, Gattinara, warned him that the people throughout Germany favoured the reformer; and Tunstall wrote to Wolsey that 100,000 men would give their lives rather than let him be sacrificed to the Papacy. Even at Mentz, an episcopal city, the Nuncio Aleander was in danger of being stoned. "The conflicts of Church and State in the Middle Ages," he wrote, "were child's play to this." Therefore, although Luther had been condemned and excommunicated for forty heresies, although he had publicly thrown the Pope's Bull into the fire, and was worthy of death by ecclesiastical and municipal law, the Emperor gave him a free pass to the Diet and back, and sent a herald to arrange the journey.
At Erfurt, on his way, he learnt for the first time how the country was with him. When within sight of the towers and spires of Worms, he was warned by the Saxon minister Spalatin that his life would not be safe; and he returned the famous answer that he would go on if every tile in the city was a devil. At Oppenheim, almost the last stage, Bucer was waiting his arrival with a strange and unexpected message. A French Franciscan, Glapion, was the Emperor's confessor, and he was staying at Sickingen's castle, a few miles off, in company with Sickingen himself, the dreaded free-lance, with Ulrich von Hutten and with the unfrocked Dominican Bucer, who was to prove the ablest of the German reformers next to Luther. He sent Bucer, with an escort of Sickingen's troopers, to invite Luther to visit him there before he proceeded to Worms. It was clear that the Diet would end with a repulse for authority. The very presence there of a man who had written with such violence, and had been so solemnly condemned, was a defiance. Glapion was a reforming Catholic, and desired the assistance of Luther. He was clever enough to find ground in common with Erasmus, Ulrich von Hutten, and Bucer, and he was ready with far-reaching concessions to secure Luther. Then, he thought, his Emperor would be enabled to purify the Church. Bucer was of opinion that there was nothing to prevent agreement if Luther would interpret his contested writings as Bucer had explained them to Glapion. Gattinara was urgent for a reforming Council; the union of so many forces would be enough to invigorate the Italian cardinals, and they could carry Rome with them. It was the party of Reform attempting to conciliate the party of Reformation, that they might co-operate in saving the work of the Renaissance and renewing the Church from within. By renouncing "The Babylonish Captivity" alone of his numerous writings, Luther, who had already revoked so many utterances, might obtain acceptance for his main dogma, and bind the united Humanists and the Imperial government to his cause. Those were the terms of the proposed alliance. They were at once rejected.
Luther owed much to Erasmus, but they could never combine. He looked upon the purpose of the other as essentially rationalistic, Pelagian, and pagan. He foresaw that the coming struggle would be not with the old school, but with the new; that the obstacle to the Reformation was the Renaissance, and the enemy's name Erasmus. The Franciscan's profound and dazzling scheme miscarried, and Luther appeared before the Diet. Prompted by Glapion, the Imperial spokesman took no notice of Luther's own specific views, or of the Papal Bull against them. But he invited him to dissociate himself from Wyclif and John Hus on those matters which had been censured at Constance. That Council was the venerated safeguard of Catholic and Imperial reformers, and the strongest weapon of opposition to Rome. A Council which compelled the Emperor to burn a divine alive, after giving him a safe-conduct, was in no good odour just then with Luther, standing by the waves of Rhine, which swept the ashes of John Hus away into oblivion. They then represented to Luther that the Diet was, on his side, against Roman encroachments and the theory of penance; they praised his writings generally, and proposed that unsettled matters should be left to the decision of a future Council. To this he was willing to agree. But he stipulated that there should be no judgment except by the standard of Scripture. They replied that it stood to reason, and could not be made the object of a special condition. They meant different things, and the discussion came to naught. But important concessions had been made, and many opportunities had been offered, for the Diet was drawing up "the grievances of the German nation," and for that policy he was a desirable ally. Luther declined to concede anything, and a month later the Emperor signed the sentence of outlawry. In his Spanish dominions he was a jealous upholder of the Inquisition, even against the Pope, and of all the princes at Worms, secular or ecclesiastical, he was the most hostile and the most impatient.
Meanwhile Luther had gone back to Saxony, had preached on his way to the Benedictines of Hersfeld, and then disappeared in the Thuringian Forest. It was reported that he was dead; that his body had been found with a sword through it. When Charles V. was dying, a baffled and disappointed man, he is said to have lamented that he kept his word to the turbulent friar who had triumphantly defied him. But Leo X. sent orders that the passport should be respected and that the traveller should depart in peace.
Luther at Worms is the most pregnant and momentous fact in our history, and the problem is to know why he so rigidly repelled the advances of the confessor, of the Chancellor of Baden, and the Elector of Treves. Was it simply the compelling logic of Protestantism, or was there some private saltpetre of his own, a programme drawn from his personality and habits of mind? There was no question at issue which had not either been pronounced by him insufficient for separation, or which was not abandoned afterwards, or modified in a Catholic sense by the moderating hand of Melanchthon. That happened to every leading doctrine at Augsburg, at Ratisbon, or at Leipzig. Predestination was dropped. The necessity of good works, the freedom of the will, the hierarchical constitution, the authority of tradition, the seven sacraments, the Latin mass, were admitted. Melanchthon confessed that he held all Roman doctrine, and that there was no difference except as to the celibacy of the clergy and communion under both kinds; the rest was the work of agitators; and he bitterly resented Luther's tyrannical treatment. As Melanchthon had the making of the official statements of doctrine, it would almost appear as if Luther never became a Lutheran. And the truth is that he held one doctrine which he never succeeded in imposing, and which forbade all approach and all endeavours to explain. For he believed that the Pope was anti-Christ. The idea came to him from Lorenzo Valla, whose tract on the Donation was published in 1518 by Hutten. He became convinced almost immediately after writing to Leo that deferential letter which he had agreed upon with Miltitz. It obliged him to force on a breach at Worms. His main objection to the Confession of Augsburg was that this article was excluded from it.
Under the malediction of Church and State, Luther was lost sight of for some months. He was hidden in the Wartburg, the castle of his Elector, above Eisenach, disguised as a country gentleman. He wore a moustache, dined joyously, carried a sword, and shot a buck. Although his abode was unknown, he did not allow things to drift. The Archbishop of Mentz had been a heavy loser by the arrest of his indulgence, and he took advantage of the aggressor's disappearance to issue a new one. He was friendly to Luther, and repressed preaching against him; and the Elector of Saxony ordered that the controversy should not be revived. Luther replied that he would destroy the Elector rather than obey him; the Thesis had been posted in vain, and the spirit of Tetzel was abroad once more; he gave the Archbishop a fortnight, after which he would let the world see the difference between a bishop and a wolf. The prelate gave way, and having arrested one of his priests, who had married, he consented, at the reformer's request, to release him.
The most important result of the stay at the Wartburg was the translation of the New Testament, which was begun towards the end of the year, and was completed in about three months. There were already eighteen German Bibles, and he knew some of them, for a particular blunder is copied from an edition of 1466. All those that I have seen, and I have seen nearly all in Dr Ginsburg's collection, are unwieldy folios. Luther's translation was published at a florin and a half, and may now be had for sixty guineas. It was reprinted eighty-five times in eleven years. The text as we know it was revised by his friends twenty years later. It was his appeal to the masses, and removed the controversy from the Church and the school to the market-place. The language had to be modified for the people of the South, and almost rewritten for the North; but it ended by impressing central German as the normal type for the whole country. It was the first translation from the Greek, and it was the work of the greatest master of German.
During the eclipse at the Wartburg Leo X. was succeeded by Adrian of Utrecht, the Regent of Spain, a man of learning and devout life, who proceeded to reverse his predecessor's policy. He addressed a Brief to the Diet at Nuremberg, saying that of all those in authority at Rome none were without reproach, and the evils from which the Church was suffering had been caused and propagated by the papal court. To this memorable exhibition of integrity his envoy added that Luther deserved to be idolised if he had been content with the exposure of abuses, and that the real offender was Leo X. This change of front removed the charge from the outer branch to the centre. Luther had been hitting the wrong man. It was now avowed that the transgressor was not an obscure itinerant, but the sovereign pontiff himself, and that Luther's adversaries were in the wrong. Adrian had been Grand Inquisitor in four kingdoms, and he moderated expectation by inviting the Germans to be worthy of the illustrious example set by their ancestors, who burnt John Hus and Jerome of Prague. Therefore Erasmus, when summoned to Rome to advise with him, declined to come. "If they were going to shed blood," he said, "he would not be wanted."
When, at the end of a year, Luther came out of his retirement, he found that the world had changed. The seed that he had scattered was coming up with variations His own Saxon neighbours, led by Carlstadt, were disposed to ride favourite opinions to death, with the exaggeration and exclusiveness of enthusiasts. In Switzerland, Zwingli held doctrines differing widely from his own, with a republican and aggressive spirit that was hateful to him. The Anabaptists started from his impulse, but in their earnest striving after holiness adopted principles which involved a distinct reaction towards medieval religion, and carried the multitude away. Near the Swiss frontier, Zurich encouraged an agitation among the country people, that was fomented by Lutheran and Anabaptist teachers, and broke out soon after into anticipations of 1789. Luther turned from the foe beyond the mountains to the foe within the gates, and employed himself thenceforward in repressing misconceptions of his system to men who were in some sense his disciples. Against Rome the tide was manifestly rising. The danger was on his own side. This is variously called the reversal of original principle, the great surrender, the breach between Reformation and Revolution. Luther was acquiring caution and restraint. The creative period of the Reformation was over. All the ideas by which he so deeply moved the world had been produced in the first five years. Beyond the elementary notions that govern life, he lost interest in the further pursuit of theology. "Abraham," he said, "had faith; therefore Abraham was a good Christian." What else there might be in Christianity mattered less; and nearly all metaphysical inquiry, even on the Trinity, was neglected by the German reformers.
It is the extremity of his Conservatism that has put him wrong, even with those who regard politics as quite distinct from ethics. He defended Passive Obedience; he claimed to be the inventor of Divine Right; and the constitution of the Lutheran Churches contributed even more than the revival of the Civil Law to establish the absolute sovereignty of States. He proclaimed religious liberty, believing that Rome had never persecuted; then he denounced Jews and Anabaptists, and required that there should never be two religions in the same place. He denounced the ruling classes in his country with extreme violence; but when the peasants rose, with their just and reasonable demands, and threatened Saxony, he issued a tract insisting that they should be cut to pieces. He valued the royal prerogative so highly that he made it include polygamy. He advised Henry VIII. that the right way out of his perplexity was to marry a second wife without repudiating the first. And when the Landgrave Philip asked for leave to do the same thing, Luther gave it on condition that it was denied. He insisted on what he called a downright lie. The great fact which we have to recognise is that with all the intensity of his passion for authority he did more than any single man to make modern History the development of revolution.
The Humanists had generally supported Luther almost from the beginning, and Melanchthon, the young Professor of Greek, proved his most useful coadjutor. They applauded his attack on abuses, and on the treatment of Germany by Rome; and it was believed that the Renaissance prepared the Reformation, that Luther had only hatched the Erasmian egg. When the salient points of his system appeared, they began to fall away from him. Nearly all the older men among the leaders died in the Roman communion--Reuchlin, Wimpheling, Mutianus Rufus, Pirkheimer, Zasius, the best jurist in Germany, and Crotus, who wrote the Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum. They were urging the mind of man along all the paths of light open to its effort, and they found the exclusiveness of the new interests an impediment to letters. Younger men remained true to the movement; but when Erasmus defended, as he had always done, the doctrine of free-will, even Melanchthon was convinced, and imputed to his friend and master the fatalism of the Stoics. Like Fisher and More in England, many of Luther's German opponents, such as Eck and Cochlæus, were men of the Renaissance. The breach with Erasmus, the quarrel with Zwingli and his friends in the south-west, the irruption of the Anabaptists, the dispute with Carlstadt, the sacrifice of Luther's popularity among the masses, by his attack on the peasants, produced a recoil. Many of the regular clergy went over, and many towns; but the princes and the common people were uncertain. Therefore the Catholic party gained ground at the Diet of Spires in 1529. They carried measures to prevent any further progress of the Lutherans, and it was against this restriction that certain princes and fourteen towns made the protest from which Protestantism has its name.
In the following year Melanchthon drew up the Confession of Faith for the Diet of Augsburg, while Luther remained behind at the castle of Coburg; his purpose was to explain the essential meaning of Lutheranism, the consecutive order and connection of ideas, so as to exclude the Zwinglians and the Anabaptists, and to reconcile the Catholics. He came to an understanding with the Emperor's secretary, and Stadion, the Bishop of Augsburg, judged that his proposals were acceptable, and thought his own people blind not to coalesce with him. "We are agreed," said the Provost of Coire, "on all the articles of faith." But the divines, interested in the recovery of Church property, would not yield, and their violence had to be restrained by the Emperor. He was a very different personage from the one who had presided at Worms, for he was master now of one-half of Europe, with faculties ripened by a unique experience of affairs. When the Legate Campeggio, the Campeggio of Shakespeare and Blackfriars, exhorted him to punish the heretics with scourges of iron, he replied, "Not iron, but fire." Afterwards he said that they had been represented as worse than devils; but his confessor had told him to see whether they contradicted the Apostles' Creed, and he found that they were no devils at all, and did not dispute any article of faith. This confessor was Cardinal Loaysa, Archbishop of Seville. We possess the letters which he wrote from Rome at the time, entreating Charles to come to terms with the Protestants, and leave them to their religion, provided they were faithful to him. Loaysa even had an auxiliary in Pope Clement, who recommended ways of gentleness, and wished Charles to appear in Germany without an army. The conclusion was a truce until a Council was held--a temporary success for the Protestants, with a prospect of renewed peril, but no concession of principle.
With the Diet of Augsburg the divines ceased to be the leaders of the nation. They had played their part when they produced an accepted statement of their doctrine in its substance, apart from persons and policy. They had displayed energy and moderation, but had shown no power of governing the churches they had founded. They fell into the background, and made way for lay politicians. Questions of fundamental principle disappeared, and questions of management prevailed. Things became less spontaneous and less tumultuous as action was guided by statesmen; and, in defiance of Luther, the governments assumed the direction of affairs, and formed the League of Schmalkalden for the defence of Protestant interests. They were preparing for civil war, and now by degrees most of the German princes went over.