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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Many of these towns now joined the Schmalkald League


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confederates had confessed the new doctrines, and had published their Confession. They now resolved that they would defend themselves if attacked by litigation or otherwise. There was no attempt to exclude the South German cities; and Charles' expectations that theological differences would prevent Protestant union within Germany were frustrated. Zwingli's heroic death at Cappel (October 11th, 1531) softened all Protestant hearts towards his followers. The South German cities followed the lead of Bucer, who was anxious for union. Many of these towns now joined the Schmalkald League. Brunswick joined. Hamburg and Rostock in the far north, Goslar and Goettingen in the centre, joined. Almost all North Germany and the more important imperial towns in the South were united in one strong confederacy by this Schmalkald League. It became one of the European Powers. Denmark wished to join. Thomas Cromwell was anxious that England should join. The league was necessarily anti-Hapsburg, and the Emperor had to reckon with it.

Its power appeared at the Diet of Nuernberg in 1532. The dreaded day (April 15th, 1531) on which the Protestants were to be reduced by fire and sword passed quietly by. Charles was surrounded with difficulties which made it impossible for him to carry out the threats he had published on November 19th, 1530. The Turks were menacing Vienna and the Duchy of Austria; the Pope was ready to take advantage of any signs of imperial weakness;

France was irreconcilable; England was hostile; and the Bavarian dukes were doing what they could to lessen the Hapsburg power in Germany.

When the Diet met at Nuernberg in 1532, the Emperor knew that he was unable to coerce the Lutherans, and returned to his earlier courteous way of treating them. They were more patriotic than the German Romanists for whom he had done so much. Luther declared roundly that the Turks must be met and driven back, and that all Germans must support the Emperor in repelling the invasion. At the Diet a "recess" was proposed, in which the religious truce was indefinitely extended; the processes against the Protestants in the _Reichskammersgericht_ were to be quashed, and no State was to be proceeded against in matters arising out of religious differences. The Romanist members refused to accept it; the "recess" was never published. But the Protestant States declared that they would trust in the imperial word of honour, and furnished the Emperor with troops for the defence of Vienna, and the invasion was repelled.

The history of the struggle in Germany between the Diet of 1532 and the outbreak of war in 1546 is very intricate, and cannot be told as a simple contest between Reformation and anti-Reformation.

In the sixteenth century, almost all thoughtful and earnest-minded men desired a Reformation of the Church. The Roman Curia was the only opponent to all reforms of any kind. But two different ideas of what Reformation ought to be, divided the men who longed for reforms. The one desired to see the benumbed and formalist mediaeval Church filled with a new religious life, while it retained its notable characteristics of a sacerdotal ministry and a visible external unity under a uniform hierarchy culminating in the Papacy. The other wished to free the human spirit from the fetters of a merely ecclesiastical authority, and to rebuild the Church on the principle of the spiritual priesthood of all believing men and women. In the struggle in Germany the Emperor Charles may be taken as the embodiment of the first, as Luther represented the second. To the one it seemed essential to maintain the external unity and authority of the Church according to the mediaeval ideal; the other could content himself with seeing the Church of the Middle Ages broken up into territorial Churches, each of which he contended was a portion of the one visible Catholic Church. Charles had no difficulty in accepting many changes in doctrine and usages, provided a genuine and lasting compromise could be arrived at which would retain all within the one ecclesiastical organisation. He consented once and again to suspend the struggle; but he would never have made himself responsible for a permanent religious settlement which recognised the Lutheran Churches. He had no objection to a truce, but would never accept a lasting peace. If the Lutherans could not be brought back within the mediaeval Church by compromise, then he was prepared to go to all extremes to compel them to return. Of course, he was the ruler over many lands; he was keen to extend and consolidate the family possessions of his House,--as keen as the most grasping of the petty territorial princes,--and he had to be an opportunist. But he never deviated in the main from his idea of how the religious difficulty should be solved.


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