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

Contemplated secularising their principalities


the same year the new Elector of Brandenburg also came over to the Evangelical side amid the rejoicings of his people; and the two great Romanist States of North Germany, Electoral Brandenburg and Ducal Saxony, became Protestant.

The tide flowed so strongly that the three clerical Electors, the Archbishops of Mainz, Koeln, and Trier, and some of the bishops, contemplated secularising their principalities, and becoming Protestants. This alarmed Charles thoroughly. If the proposed secularisation took place, there would be a large Protestant majority in the Electoral College, and the next Emperor would be a Protestant.

Charles had been anxiously watching the gradual decadence of the power of the Romanist princes in Germany; and reports convinced him that the advance of the Reformation among the people was still more marked. The Roman Catholic Church seemed to be in the agonies of dissolution even in places where it had hitherto been strong. Breslau, once strongly Romanist, was now almost fanatically Lutheran; in Vienna, Bishop Faber wrote, the population was entirely Lutheran, save himself and the Archduke. The Romanist Universities were almost devoid of students. In Bavaria, it was said that there were more monasteries than monks. Candidates for the priesthood had diminished in a very startling way: the nuncio Vergerio reported that he could find none in Bohemia except a few paupers who could not pay their ordination


The policy of the Pope (Paul III., 1534-1549) had disgusted the German Romanist princes. He subordinated the welfare of the Church in their dominions to his anti-Hapsburg Italian schemes, and had actually allied himself with Francis of France, who was intriguing with the Turks, in order to thwart the Emperor! The action and speeches of Henry VIII. had been watched and studied by the German Romanist leaders. Could they not imitate him in Germany, and create a Nationalist Church true to mediaeval doctrine, hierarchy, and ritual, and yet independent of the Pope, who cared so little for them?

All these things made Charles and Ferdinand revise their policy. The Emperor began to consider seriously whether the way out of the religious difficulty might not be, either to grant a prolonged truce to the Lutherans (which might, though he hoped not, become permanent), or to work energetically for the creation of a German National Church, which, by means of some working compromise in doctrines and ceremonies, might be called into existence by a German National Council assembled in defiance of the Pope.

It was with these thoughts in his mind that he sent his Chancellor Held into Germany to strengthen the Romanist cause there. His agent soon abandoned the larger ideas of his master, if he ever comprehended them, and contented himself with announcing publicly that the private promise given by Charles at Nuernberg, and confirmed by Ferdinand at the Peace of Cadan, was withdrawn. The lawsuits brought against the Protestants in the _Reichskammersgericht_ were not to be quashed, but were to be prosecuted to the bitter end. He also contrived at Nuernberg (June 1538) to form a league of Romanist princes, ostensibly for defence, but really to force the Protestants to submit to the decisions of the _Reichskammersgericht_. These measures did not make for peace; they almost produced a civil war, which was only avoided by the direct interposition of the Emperor.

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