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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 51. The Ecclesiastical Policy of Charles V.


The ecclesiastical policy of Charles was Roman Catholic without being ultramontane. He kept his coronation oath. All his antecedents were in favor of the traditional faith. He was surrounded by ecclesiastics and monks. He was thoroughly imbued with the Spanish type of piety, of which his grandmother is the noblest and purest representative. Isabella the Catholic, the greatest of Spanish sovereigns, "the queen of earthly queens."304304    So Shakespeare calls her, and praises her "sweet gentleness," "saintlike meekness,""wife-like government, obeying in commanding." conquered the Moors, patronized the discoverer of America, expelled the Jews, and established the Inquisition,—all for the glory of the Virgin Mary and the Catholic religion.305305    The inscription on the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella in the Capilla Real of the cathedral at Granada is characteristic: "Mahometice secte prostratores et heretice pervicacie extinctores Ferdinandus Aragonum et Helisabetha Castelle vir et uxor unanimes Catholici appellati Marmores clauduntur hoc tumulo." The sepulcher is wrought in delicate alabaster; on it are extended the life-size marble figures of the Catholic sovereigns; their faces are portraits; Ferdinand wears the garter, Isabella the cross of Santiago; the four doctors of the Church ornament the corners, the twelve apostles the sides. Under the same monument rest the ashes of their unfortunate daughter Joanna and her worthless husband. I have seen no monument which surpasses this in chaste and noble simplicity (unless it be that of King Frederick William III. and Queen Louisa at Charlottenburg), and none which is more suggestive of historical meditation and reflection. A genuine Spaniard believes, with Gonzalo of Oviedo, that "powder against the infidels is incense to the Lord." With him, as with his Moorish antipode, the measure of conviction is the measure of intolerance, and persecution the evidence of zeal. The burning of heretics became in the land of the Inquisition a sacred festival, an "act of faith;"306306    Actus fidei; auto-de-fé in Spanish; auto-da-fé and such horrid spectacles were in the reign of Philip II. as popular as the bull-fights which still flourish in Spain, and administer to the savage taste for blood.

Charles heard the mass daily, listened to a sermon on Sunday and holy days, confessed and communed four times a year, and was sometimes seen in his tent at midnight on his knees before the crucifix. He never had any other conception of Christianity than the Roman-Catholic, and took no time to investigate theological questions.

He fully approved of the Pope’s bull against Luther, and ordered it to be executed in the Netherlands. In his retreat at Yuste, he expressed regret that he had kept his promise of safe-conduct; in other words, that he had not burned the heretic at Worms, as Sigismund had burned Hus at Constance. He never showed the least sympathy with the liberal tendencies of the age, and regarded Protestantism as a rebellion against Church and State. He would have crushed it out if he had had the power; but it was too strong for him, and he needed the Protestant support for his wars against France, and against the Turks. He began in the Netherlands that fearful persecution which was carried on by his more bigoted son, Philip II., but it provoked the uprising of the people, and ended in the establishment of the Dutch Republic.307307    Motley (Dutch Republic, I. 80) says: "Thousands and tens of thousands of virtuous, well-disposed men and women, who had as little sympathy with anabaptistical as with Roman depravity, were butchered in cold blood, under the sanguinary rule of Charles, in the Netherlands. In 1533, Queen Dowager Mary of Hungary, sister of the Emperor, Regent of the provinces, the ’Christian widow’ admired by Erasmus, wrote to her brother, that ’in her opinion, all heretics, whether repentant or not, should be prosecuted with such severity as that error might be at once extinguished, care being only taken that the provinces were not entirely depopulated.’ With this humane limitation, the ’Christian widow’ cheerfully set herself to superintend as foul and wholesale a system of murder as was ever organized. In 1535, an imperial edict was issued at Brussels, condemning all heretics to death; repentant males to be executed with the sword, repentant females to be buried alive, the obstinate, of both sexes, to be burned. This and similar edicts were the law of the land for twenty years, and rigidly enforced." He subdued the Lutheran league in the Schmalkaldian war; pale as death, but trusting in God, he rushed into the hottest of the fight at Mühlberg, and greeted the decisive victory of 1547 with the words: "I came, I saw, and God conquered."308308    "Vine, y vi, y Dios vencio." But it was hardly a battle. Ranke (vol. IV. 377): "Es war keine Schlacht, sondern ein Ansprengen auf der einen, ein Auseinanderstieben auf der anderen Seite; in einem Augenblicke war alles vollendet." He says of the Emperor (p. 376): "Wie ein einbalsamirter Leichnam, wie ein Gespenst rückte er gegen sie [die Protestanten) an." But the height of his power was the beginning of his decline. The same Saxon Elector, Moritz, who had aided him against the Protestant princes, turned against him in 1552, and secured in the treaty of Passau, for the first time, some degree of legal toleration to the Lutherans in Germany.

But while Charles was a strict Roman Catholic from the beginning to the end of his life, he was, nevertheless, by no means a blind and slavish papist. Like his predecessors on the German throne, be maintained the dignity and the sovereignty of the state against the claims of hierarchical supremacy. He hated the French, or neutral, politics of the papal court. His troops even captured Rome, and imprisoned Clement VII., who had formed a league with Francis I. against him (1527). He quarreled with Pope Paul III., who in turn severely protested against his tolerant or hesitating policy towards the Protestants in Germany. He says, in his Autobiography,309309    Ch. VI., in Simpson’s translation, p. 91 sq. that "the Pope’s emissaries, and some ecclesiastics, were incessantly endeavoring to induce him to take up arms against the Protestants (tomar as armas contra os protestantes)," but that he "hesitated on account of the greatness and difficulty of such an enterprise."

Moreover, Charles had a certain zeal for a limited reformation of church discipline on the basis of the Catholic doctrine and the papal hierarchy. He repeatedly urged a general council, against the dilatory policy of the Popes, and exhorted Protestants and Catholics alike to submit to its decisions as final. Speaking of the Diet of Augsburg, held in 1530, he says that he, asked his Holiness to convoke and assemble a general council, as most important and necessary to remedy what was taking place in Germany, and the errors which were being propagated throughout Christendom."310310    Autobiography, p. 19. On p. 73 sqq. he complains of Clement VII. and Paul III., on account of their violation of promise to convoke such a council. He does not conceal his hatred of Paul III. This was likewise consistent with Spanish tradition. Isabella the Catholic, and Cardinal Ximenes, had endeavored to reform the clergy and monks in Spain.311311    Comp. Maurenbrecher, Die Kirchenreformation in Spanien, in his "Studien und Skizzen." pp. 1-40, and his Geschichte der katholischen Reformation (Nördlingen, 1880), vol. I., pp. 37-55. Maurenbrecher shows that there were two reformation-currents in the sixteenth century, one proceeding from Spain, and led by Charles V., which aimed at a restoration of the mediaeval Church in its purity and glory; the other proceeding from Germany, and embodied in Luther, which aimed at an emancipation of the human mind from the authority of Rome, and at a reconstruction of the Church on the inner religiosity of the individual.

This Roman-Catholic reformation was effected by the Council of Trent, but turned out to be a papal counter-reformation, and a weapon against Protestantism in the hands of the Spanish order of the Jesuits.


The Emperor and the Reformer.


Charles and Luther saw each other once, and only once, at the Diet of Worms. The Emperor was disgusted with the monk who dared to set his private judgment and conscience against the time-honored creed of Christendom, and declared that he would never make him a heretic. But Luther wrote him a respectful letter of thanks for his safe-conduct.312312    April 28, 1521; in De Wette, I. 589-594.

Twenty years later, after his victory over John Frederick of Saxony at Mühlberg on the Elbe (April 24, 1547), Charles stood on the grave of Luther in the castle church of Wittenberg, and was advised by the bloodthirsty Duke of Alva to dig up and burn the bones of the arch-heretic, and to scatter the ashes to the winds of heaven; but he declined with the noble words:, I make war on the living, not on the dead." This was his nearest approach to religious toleration. But the interesting incident is not sufficiently authenticated.313313    In his Autobiography (ch. X., 151 sqq.) Charles speaks of the siege and capitulation of Wittenberg, but says nothing of a visit to Luther’s grave, nor does he even mention his name. I looked in vain for an allusion to the fact in Sleidan, and Lindner (in his extensive Appendix to Seckendorf, from 1546 to 1555). Ranke ignores it, though he is very full on this chapter in Charles’s history (vol. IV. 378 sqq.).

For twenty-six years the Emperor and the Reformer stood at the head of Germany, the one as a political, the other as a religious, leader; working in opposite directions,—the one for the preservation of the old, the other for the creation of the new, order of things. The one had the army and treasure of a vast empire at his command; the other had nothing but his faith and pen, and yet made a far deeper and more lasting impression on his and on future ages. Luther died peacefully in his birthplace, trusting in the merits of Christ, and commending his soul to the God who redeemed him. Ten years later Charles ended his life as a monk in Spain, holding a burning candle in the right hand, and pressing with the left the crucifix to his lips, while the Archbishop of Toledo intoned the Psalm De Profundis. The last word of the dying Emperor was "Jesus."



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