תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

he departed this life, A. D. 1522. He was succeeded in the popedom by Adrian VI. who died the next year, and was succeeded by Clement VII. Each pursued, unremittingly, the same course for the extermination, if possible, of the new opinions, and the preservation of the Papal dominion.

Could Luther and his partisans have been firmly united, their success might have been more speedy, if not ultimately greater; but how could it be expected that men, just emerging from the grossest superstitions, should have at once a full, clear, and uniform view of divine truth. In the year 1524, arose a tedious and unhappy controversy between the Reformer, and Carlostadt and Zuinglius, on the sacrament of the supper. While Luther rejected the Popish doctrine of transubstantiation as unscriptural, he still believed that, along with the bread and wine, the partakers received the real body and blood of Christ. Carlostadt, Zuinglius, and the Churches in Switzerland, adopted the truly correct system, “That the body and blood of Christ were not really present in the Eucharist, and that the bread and wine were no more than external signs or symbols, designed to excite in the minds of Christians the remembrance of the sufferings and death of the divine Savior, and of the benefits which arise from them.” The firmness and obstinacy of Luther in this unfortunate contention, was as great as in his attacks upon the Papacy; and friends, who had embarked together in the most important of causes, were ultimately completely severed.

A large body of peasants had rebelled in Germany, about the commencement of the reformation, against the oppressions of the feudal institutions. Their spirit of liberty reached those provinces in which the reformation was established, and immediately demanded a release from all religious domination. But the leaders of the peasants were from the lowest orders of society, and were very ignorant and fanatical. They knew not in what a reformation consisted, beyond plundering monasteries and Churches, and massacreing all persons without discrimination, who upheld the old order of things. Thomas Muncer had acquired an astonishing influence over them. He, with other leaders, Stork, Stubner, and Cellory, professed to have a divine commission, and pretended to visions and revelations. Luther they utterly condemned as no reformer. All men they declared equal; and they viewed it the duty of all to live on an equality and have all things common. Their seditious, levelling, demoralizing spirit, Luther utterly condemned; but it was exceedingly popular, and an immense body, under arms, filled Germany with terror; but they were routed in a pitched battle with the emperor's troops, and Muncer was taken and put to death.

This war of the peasants, which cost Germany more than 50,000 men, was unfavorable to the cause of the reformation; for it gave the Papists occasion to accuse the reformers of the wildest fanaticism, and led the civil powers to connect a revolution in politics with a change in religion.

On the 5th of May, 1525, Luther lost his patron, Frederic the Wise. He had been a very zealous Papist; but his mind had gradually opened to the reception of divine truth; and though he had never formally broken off from the Roman Church, yet he was, for many years, the protector and shield of the reformers. He was succeeded by his brother John, who at once took a decided stand in favor of the reformation; placed himself at the head of the Lutheran Church; provided a new order of public worship, and placed over every congregation well qualified pastors; had the sacrament administered to the laity in the German language, and caused his new regulations to be proclaimed by heralds throughout his dominions. Such decision and boldness brought out other princes and states of Germany in favor of the same worship, discipline, and government; and also drove back all who were not heartily engaged in the cause, or who had not the boldness to wage open war with the Pope, into the bosom of the Church. The line was now clearly drawn, and it was known by all parties, who belonged to the reformed, and who to the papal cause. The increase of evangelical light was great. The call for preachers of the truth was unexpected from every part of Germany, and from distant places in Europe.

But a reformation was not to be effected without the shedding of blood. James Pavan was burnt alive at Paris, in 1525, for his profession of pure Christianity. A German, named Wolfangus Schuch, was condemned to the same dreadful death. One Bernard, also, and John De Becker, obtained the crown of martyrdom from the hands of the Papists. An open rupture seemed unavoidable. In 1526, the Diet assembled at Spire; and the Papal party endeavored to have the sentence of Worms against Luther and his adherents rigorously executed. But the German princes refused to act; declaring that points of doctrine ought to be submit

ted to a general council; and it was finally agreed that the emperor should be requested to assemble a general council without delay, and that in the meantime, the princes and states of the empire should be suffered to manage ecclesiastical affairs in their own dominions, as they should think most expedient, yet so as to be able to give to God and the Emperor, an account of their administration, when it should be demanded of them.

This was probably the most happy termination of the Mi. et, for the Lutherans, that could have taken place. For it at once put it out of the power of Papists to persecute further the reformers, and gave the princes who favored the reformation an opportunity to extend their patronage to the utmost, until Charles V. should be ready to convene a general council; a period evidently far distant, for the troubled state of his immense dominions engrossed all his attention; and the Pope, Clement VII. had entered into confederacy with Francis I. and the Venetians against that prince, and inflamed his resentment and indignation to such a degree, that Charles felt little disposition to do any thing which would injure the Lutherans, and favor the Papal cause.

Soon after the death of his patron, Frederic, Luther was married to Catharine Bore, “a virtuous nun, of noble parentage.” The papists reviled him for this, as a sensualist, and some of his friends thought the time for such a procedure improper; but Luther had openly opposed the celibacy of the clergy, and he said, “ he thought it right to confirm, by his own example, the doctrine he had taught; for he observed many were still pusillanimous, notwithstanding the great light of the Gospel.”

Being anxious, if possible, to gain his adversaries, or at least to soften their asperities, Luther wrote two submissive letters, one to Henry VIII. king of England, and the other to George, duke of Saxony, but they both replied with virulence; whereupon Luther laid down these regulations for his future conduct. “ 1st. In all matters where the ministry of the word of God was not concerned, he would not only submit to his superiors, but was ready to beg pardon even of children. As a private man, he merited nothing but eternal destruction at the divine tribunal. But 2dly. In regard to the ministry, for which he considered himself as having a commission from heaven, there was so much dignity in it, that no man, especially a tyrant, should ever find him give way, submit, or flatter. Lastly, he besought his heavenly Father to enable him to keep his resolution."

Luther was both a musician and a poet; and he circulated a small volume of hymns, containing the main points of Christian doctrine, set to music, which had great effect.

An attempt was made by a Polish Jew, to poison him, but, through the kind care of an overruling Providence, it entirely failed.

For a long time, Luther was engaged in a contest with Erasmus. The Papists had been severely lashed by him, but viewing him as still on their side, and the most able critic in Europe, both the Pope and the king of England importuned him to attack the German Reformer. Flattered by the great, Erasmus became the opponent of Luther, on the doctrines of grace; and the breach between them was very wide.

But the controversy with Zuinglius and Carlostadt, on the Sacrament, which raged with considerable violence in 152627, was far more lamentable.

In the favorable period that succeeded the Diet of Spire, the great reformer was very active, in company with his fel. low laborers, in fixing the principles of the reformation; correcting abuses; inspiring the timid with fortitude; and ex. tending far and wide the light of truth, the knowledge of salvation through faith in Christ.

But this period was to have a termination. The councils of princes change. The Emperor and the Pope became friends. The commotions and troubles of Europe were terminated; and the Emperor had leisure, and alas! the disposition also to lay a heavy hand upon the reformers. He assembled another Diet at Spire, in 1529; and caused the former decree to be repealed, and every change in the doctrine, discipline or worship of the established religion, before the determination of the general council should be known, to be declared unlawful.

Such a proceeding on the part of the Emperor and his Diet, was viewed by the Protestants as iniquitous and intolerable, and designed, if not to crush the infant Churches, at least to prevent their increase; and the elector of Saxony, the marquis of Brandenburgh, the landgrave of Hesse, the dukes of Lunenburgh, the prince of Anhalt, with the deputies of fourteen Imperial or free cities, solemnly protested against it, on the 19th of April, as unjust and impious. On this account they were, and from that time to this, their followers have been denominated PROTESTANTS.

The legates who had the boldness to present this protest

to Charles, were put under arrest. A dark cloud seemed to hang over the affairs of the Protestants. The Emperor and Pope had many interviews at Bologna to devise measures for the extirpation of heresy. Fortunately, Charles was not disposed to accede to the violent proceedings of the Pope. He hoped to reconcile the Protestants by means of a general council. But the Pope dreaded such an assembly. General councils the Pope found factious, ungovernable, presumptuous, and promoters of free inquiry, and civil liberty. Charles, therefore, could not move him, and he proceeded to Augsburg, June, 1530, to the general Diet, resolved there to bring, if possible, all disputes to a termination. But as he could not examine, and decide without knowing the exact sentiments of the Protestants, Charles required Luther to commit to writing the chief points of his religious system. Luther presented seventeen articles of faith, formerly agreed on at Torgaw, which were called the articles of Torgaw. These at the request of the princes assembled at Augsburg, were enlarged by Melancthon, a man of the greatest learning, and most pacific spirit among the reformers. The creed thus completed, formed the famous confession of Augsburg.

This confession did great honor to the pen of Melancthon. It contained twenty-eight chapters, and was a fair expose of the religious opinions of the Protestants, and of the errors and abuses of the Church of Rome. It was read publicly in the Diet.

Another confession was presented to the Diet, by those who adopted the opinions of Zuinglius, in relation to the eucharist.

But a decree was passed against the Lutherans, more violent than that of the Diet of Worms. It condemned their tenets, forbade any person to protect or tolerate such as taught them, enjoined a strict observance of established rites, and prohibited any further innovation, under severe penalties. All orders of men were required to assist in carrying the decree into execution.

This oppressed the feeble spirit of Melancthon, and threw him into a state of deep melancholy. But Luther was never dismayed; and he exhorted the Protestant princes, with great boldness, to unite in defence of the truths which God had revealed. His councils were obeyed, and they assembled at Smalkalde, December 16th, 1530, and formed a league of mutual defence against all aggressors, and resolved to

« הקודםהמשך »