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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 57. Private Conferences with Luther. The Emperors Conduct.


On the morning after Luther’s testimony, the Emperor sent a message—a sort of personal confession of faith—written by his own hand in French, to the Estates, informing them, that in consistency with his duty as the successor of the most Christian emperors of Germany and the Catholic kings of Spain, who had always been true to the Roman Church, he would now treat Luther, after sending him home with his safe-conduct, as an obstinate and convicted heretic, and defend with all his might the faith of his forefathers and of the Councils, especially that of Constance.379379    Walch, XV. 2235-2237.

Some of the deputies grew pale at this decision; the Romanists rejoiced. But in view of the state of public sentiment the Diet deemed it expedient to attempt private negotiations for a peaceful settlement, in the hope that Luther might be induced to withdraw or at least to moderate his dissent from the general Councils. The Emperor yielded in spite of Aleander’s protest.

The negotiations were conducted chiefly by Richard von Greiffenklau, Elector and Archbishop of Treves, and at his residence. He was a benevolent and moderate churchman, to whom the Elector Frederick and Baron Miltitz had once desired to submit the controversy. The Elector of Brandenburg, Duke George of Saxony, Dr. Vehus (chancellor of the Margrave of Baden), Dr. Eck of Treves, Dean Cochlaeus of Frankfort,380380    John Cochlaeus (his original name was Dobeneck; b. 1479, at Wendelstein in Franconia, d. at Bresau, 1552) was at first as a humanist an admirer of Luther, but turned against him shortly before the Diet of Worms, and became one of his bitterest literary opponents. He went to Worms unasked, and wished to provoke him to a public disputation. He was employed by the Archbishop of Treves as theological counsel, and by Aleander as a spy. Aleander paid him ten guilders "per sue spese" (see his dispatch of April 29 in Brieger, I. 175). Cochlaeus wrote about 190 books, mostly polemical against the Reformers, and mostly forgotten. Luther treated him with great contempt, and usually calls him "Doctor Rotzlöffel," also "Kochlöffel." See Works, Erl. ed., XXXI. 270 sq., 276 sq., 302 sq.; LXII. 74, 78. Otto, Johann Cochlaeus, der Humanist, Breslau, 1874; Felician Gess, Johannes Cochlaeus, der Gegner Luthers, Oppeln, 1886, IV. 62 pages. and the deputies of Strasburg and Augsburg, likewise took part in the conferences.

These men were just as honest as Luther, but they occupied the standpoint of the mediaeval Church, and could not appreciate his departure from the beaten track. The archbishop was very kind and gracious to Luther, as the latter himself admitted. He simply required that in Christian humility he should withdraw his objections to the Council of Constance, leave the matter for the present with the Emperor and the Diet, and promise to accept the final verdict of a future council unfettered by a previous decision of the Pope. Such a council might re-assert its superiority over the Pope, as the reformatory Councils of the fifteenth century had done.

But Luther had reason to fear the result of such submission, and remained as hard as a rock. He insisted on the supremacy of the word of God over all Councils, and the right of judging for himself according to his conscience.381381    "Gnädiger Herr," he said to the Archbishop of Trier, "ich kann alles leiden, aber die heilige Schrift kann ich nicht übergeben." And again: "Lieber will ich Kopf und Leben verlieren, als das klare Wort Gottes verlassen." He declared at last, that unless convinced by the Scriptures or "clear and evident reasons," he could not yield, no matter what might happen to him; and that he was willing to abide by the test of Gamaliel, "If this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it" (Acts 5:38, 39).382382    See the reports on these useless conferences, in Walch, XV. 2237-2347, 2292-2319; Cochlaeus, Com. de Actis Lutheri, and his Colloquium cum Luthero Wormatiae habitum; the report of Hieronymus Vehus, published by Seidemann, in the "Zeitschrift für histor. Theol.," 1851, p. 80 sqq.; and the report of Aleander in Brieger, I. 157-160. Ranke says (I. 332), one might almost be tempted to wish that Luther had withdrawn his opposition to the councils, and contented himself for the present with the attack upon the abuses of the papacy, in which he had the nation with him; but he significantly adds, that the power of his spirit would have been broken if it had bound itself to any but purely religious considerations. "Der ewig freie Geist bewegt sich in seinen eigenen Bahnen."

He asked the Archbishop, on April 25, to obtain for him the Emperor’s permission to go home. In returning to his lodgings, he made a pastoral visit to a German Knight, and told him in leaving: "To-morrow I go away."

Three hours after the last conference, the Emperor sent him a safe-conduct for twenty-one days, but prohibited him from writing or preaching on the way. Luther returned thanks, and declared that his only aim was to bring about a reformation of the Church through the Scriptures, and that he was ready to suffer all for the Emperor and the empire, provided only he was permitted to confess and teach the word of God. This was his last word to the imperial commissioners. With a shake of hands they took leave of each other, never to meet again in this world.

It is to the credit of Charles, that in spite of contrary counsel, even that of his former teacher and confessor, Cardinal Hadrian, who wished him to deliver Luther to the Pope for just punishment, he respected the eternal principle of truth and honor more than the infamous maxim that no faith should be kept with heretics. He refused to follow the example of his predecessor, Sigismund, who violated the promise of safe-conduct given to Hus, and ordered his execution at the stake after his condemnation by the Council of Constance.383383    It is asserted by Gieseler and Ranke (I. 341) that the Council gave official sanction to this maxim by declaring with regard to Hus: "Nec aliqua sibi [ei] fides aut promissio de jure naturali, divino vel humano fuerit in praejudicium catholicae fidei observanda." Von der Hardt, Conc. Const. IV. 521; Mansi, Concil. XXVII. 791. Hefele (Conciliengeschichte, VII. 227 sq.) charges Gieseler with sinning against the Council and against truth itself, and maintains that this decree, which is only found in the Codex Dorrianus at Vienna, was merely proposed by a member, and not passed by the Council. But the undoubted decree of the 19th Sess., Sept. 23, 1415, declares that a safe-conduct, though it should be observed by him who gave it as far as he was able, affords no protection against the punishment of a heretic if he refuses to recant; and the fact remains that Hus was not permitted to return, and was burned in consequence of his condemnation by the Council and during its session, July 6, 1415. Aeneas Sylvius (afterwards Pope Pius II.) bears to him and Jerome of Prague the testimony: "Nemo philosophorum tam forti animo mortem pertulisse traditur quam isti incendium." The traditional prophecy of Hus: "Now ye burn a goose (anser; Hus in Bohemian means goose); but out of my ashes shall rise a swan (cygnus, Luther), which you shall not be able to burn," is not authentic, and originated in Luther’s time as a vaticinium post eventum. The protection of Luther is the only service which Charles rendered to the Reformation, and the best thing, in a moral point of view, he ever did.384384    Ranke says (vol. V. 308): "Es ist die universalhistorisch grösste Handlung Karls V., dass er damals das gegebene Wort höher stellte als die kirchliche Satzung." Unfortunately, he diminished his merit by his subsequent regret at Yuste.385385    See above, p. 283. He had no other chance to crush the heretic. When he came to Wittenberg in 1547, Luther was in his grave, and the Reformation too deeply rooted to be overthrown by a short-lived victory over a few Protestant princes.

It is interesting to learn Aleander’s speculations about Luther’s intentions immediately after his departure. He reported to Rome, April 29, 1521, that the heretic would seek refuge with the Hussites in Bohemia, and do four "beastly things" (cose bestiali): 1, write lying Acta Wormaciensia, to incite the people to insurrection; 2, abolish the confessional; 3, deny the real presence in the sacrament; 4, deny the divinity of Christ.386386    Brieger, I. 169 sqq. Aleander says in support of the fourth item, that the Lutheran "wretch," Martin Butzer (he calls him Putzer), had already fallen into the diabolical Arian heresy, as he had been told by the Emperor’s confessor, Glapio, who had a conference with Butzer and Sickingen.

Luther did none of these things except the second, and this only in part. To prevent his entering Bohemia, Rome made provision to have him seized on the way.



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