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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 69. The Diets of Nürnberg, a.d. 1522–1524. Adrian VI.


I. Walch, XV. 2504 sqq. Ranke, vol. II. pp. 27–46, 70–100, 244–262. J. Janssen, Vol. II. 256 sqq., 315 sqq. Köstlin, I. 622 sqq.

II. On Adrian VI. Gachard: Correspondance de Charles Quint et d’Adrian VI. Brux., 1859. Moring: Vita Adriani VI., 1536. Burmann: Hadrianus VI., sive Analecta Historica de Hadr. VI. Trajecti 1727 (includes Moring). Ranke: Die röm. Päpste in den letzten vier Jarhh., I., 59–64 (8th ed. 1885). C. Höfler (Rom. Cath.): Wahl und Thronbesteigung des letzten deutschen Papstes, Adrian VI. Wien, 1872; and Der deutsche Kaiser und der letzte deutsche Papst, Carl V. und Adrian VI. Wien, 1876. Fr. Nippold: Die Reformbestrebungen Papst Hadrian VI., und die Ursachen ihres Scheiterns. Leipzig, 1875. H. Bauer: Hadrian VI. Heidelb., 1876. Maurenbrecher: Gesch. der kathol. Reformation, I. 202–225. Nördlingen, 1880. See also the Lit. on Charles V., § 50 (p. 262 sqq.).


We must now turn our attention to the political situation, and the attitude of the German Diet to the church question.

The growing sympathies of the German nation with the Reformation and the political troubles made the execution of the papal bull and the Edict of Worms against Luther more and more impossible. The Emperor was absent in Spain, and fully occupied with the suppression of an insurrection, the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, and the war with France. Germany was threatened by the approach of the Turks, who had conquered Belgrad and the greater part of Hungary. The dangers of the nation were overruled for the progress of Protestantism.

An important change took place in the papacy. Leo X. died Dec. 1, 1521; and Adrian VI. (1459–1523) was unexpectedly elected in his absence, perhaps by the indirect influence of the Emperor, his former pupil. The cardinals hardly knew what they did, and hoped he might decline.

Adrian formed, by his moral earnestness and monastic piety, a striking contrast to the frivolity and worldliness of his predecessors. He was a Dutchman, born at Utrecht, a learned professor of theology in Louvain, then administrator and inquisitor of Spain, and a man of unblemished character.492492    Ranke (Päpste, I. 60): "Adrian war von durchaus unbescholtenem Ruf: rechtschaffen, fromm, thätig; sehr ernsthaft, man sah ihn nie anders als leise mit den Lippen lächeln; aber voll wohlwollender, reiner Absichten: ein wahrer Geistlicher. Welch ein Gegensatz, als er nun dort einzog, wo Leo so prächtig und verschwenderisch Hof gehalten! Es existirt ein Brief von ihm, in welchem er sagt: er möchte lieber in seiner Propstei zu Löwen Gott dienen als Papst sein." Pallavicino calls him "ecclesiastico ottimo, pontifide mediocre." He had openly denied the papal infallibility; but otherwise he was an orthodox Dominican, and opposed to a doctrinal reformation. He had combined with the Louvain professors in the condemnation of Luther, and advised Charles to take rigorous measures against him at Worms. Barefooted and without any ostentation, he entered Rome. He read daily mass at early dawn, took a simple meal, slept on a couch, and lived like a monk. He introduced strict economy in the papal household, and vigorously attacked the grossest abuses. He tried to gain the influence of Erasmus and Zwingli. . But he encountered opposition everywhere.

Under these circumstances the Diet met at Nürnberg, March 23, 1522, and again Nov. 17, under the presidency of Ferdinand, the brother of the Emperor. To avert the danger of the Turks, processions and public prayers were ordered, and a tax imposed; but no army was raised.

Adrian demanded the execution of the Edict of Worms, and compared Luther to Mohammed; but he broke the force of his request by confessing with surprising frankness the corruptions of the Roman court, which loudly called for a radical moral reform of the head and members. Never before had the Curia made such a confession.

"We know," wrote the Pope in the instruction to his legate, Francesco Chieregati, "that for some time many abominations, abuses in ecclesiastical affairs, and violations of rights have taken place in the holy see; and that all things have been perverted into bad. From the head the corruption has passed to the limbs, from the Pope to the prelates: we have all departed; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." He regarded Protestantism as a just punishment for the sins of the prelates. He promised to do all in his power to remedy the evil, and to begin with the Curia whence it arose.493493    "Ut primum curia haec, unde forte omne hoc malum processit, reformetur." See the instruction in Raynaldus, ad ann. 1522, Tom. XI. 363. Luther published it with sarcastic comments. Pallavicino charges Adrian with exaggeration and want of prudence, which he thought was "often more important for the public good than personal holiness." See Hergenröther, III. 43.

The Emperor was likewise in favor of a reform of discipline, though displeased with Adrian for not supporting him in his war with France and his church-spoliation schemes.

The attempt to reform the church morally without touching the dogma had been made by the great Councils of the fifteenth century, and failed. Adrian found no sympathy in Rome, and reigned too short a time (Jan. 9, 1522 to Sept. 14, 1523) to accomplish his desire. It was rumored that he died of poison; but the proof is wanting. Rome rejoiced. His successor, Clement VII. (1523–1534), adopted at once the policy of his cousin, Leo X.

Complaint was made in the Diet against the Elector Frederick, that he tolerated Luther at Wittenberg, and allowed the double communion, the marriage of priests, and the forsaking of convents, but his controlling influence prevented any unfavorable action. The report of the suppression of the radical movements in Wittenberg made a good impression. Lutheran books were freely printed and sold in Nürnberg. Osiander preached openly against the Roman Antichrist.

The Diet, in the answer to the Pope (framed Feb. 8 and published as an edict March 6, 1523), refused to execute the Edict of Worms, and demanded the calling of a free general council in Germany within a year. In the mean time, Luther should keep silence; and the preachers should content themselves with preaching the holy gospel according to the approved writings of the Christian church. At the same time the hundred gravamina of the German nation were repeated.

This edict was a compromise, and did not decide the church question; but it averted the immediate danger to the Reformation, and so far marks a favorable change, as compared with the Edict of Worms. It was the beginning of the political emancipation of Germany from the control of the papacy. Luther was rather pleased with it, except the prohibition of preaching and writing, which he did not obey.

The influence of the edict, however, was weakened by several events which occurred soon afterwards.

At a new Diet at Nürnberg in January, 1524, where the shrewd Pope Clement VII. was represented by Cardinal Campeggio, the resolution was passed to execute the Edict of Worms, though with the elastic clause, "as far as possible."

At the earnest solicitation of the papal nuncio, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and the Dukes William and Louis of Bavaria, together with twelve bishops of South Germany, concluded at Ratisbon, July 6, 1524, a league for the protection of the Roman faith against the Reformation, with the exception of the abolition of some glaring abuses which did not touch doctrines.494494    See details in Ranke, II., 108 sqq. and in Janssen, II., 336 sqq. The Emperor lent it his influence by issuing a stringent edict (July 27, 1524). This was an ominous event. The Romish league called forth a Protestant counter-league of Philip of Hesse and John of Saxony, at Torgau in June, 1526, although against the advice of the Wittenberg Reformers, who feared more evil than good from a union of politics with religion and trusted to the power of the Word of God without any carnal weapons.

Thus the German nation was divided into two hostile camps. From this unhappy division arose the political weakness of the empire, and the terrible calamities of the Smalkaldian and the Thirty Years’ Wars. In 1525 the Peasants’ War broke out, and gave new strength to the reaction, but only for a short time.



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