Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

Erasmus & Luther: Their Attitude To Toleration -Robert H. Murray Litt.D.

THE Lutherans could not allow matters to remain in the position in which they had been left in 1529. It behoved them to put their house in order, and they, therefore, set about the task of drawing up a formal statement of their belief to be presented at the Diet of Augsburg, 1530. The Theses, Disputations, and Tracts of Luther obviously dealt with the particular points at issue, but from the consideration of a detail in doctrine to a survey of the whole field proved a long step to take. His ninety-five Theses at Wittenberg, 1517, against the history and practice of Indulgences, his Disputations at Heidelberg, 1518, and at Leipzig, 1519, were all his own. In composing a creed for his communion he received invaluable assistance from the highly capable brain of Philip Melanchthon. Luther reached the common people, Melanchthon the scholars. Luther was forceful and rough, his friend timid and mild. Luther was audacious and prompt, Melanchthon irresolute and inclined to compromise. The scholar’s pen supplemented the prophet’s voice to such a degree that their weakness was halved and their strength doubled. St. Bernard called Abelard Goliath, and Arnold of Brescia his armour-bearer. Luther was the new Goliath, and Melanchthon was his armour-bearer. The latter had, indeed, in 1521 felt the need of a doctrinal system which he had embodied in his Loci Communes, the first statement of Lutheran doctrine. It is amazing to think that its author was not twenty-four, and that Calvin was not twenty-seven when his Christian Institutes appeared. The future of Protestantism depended on political union, and this in turn depended on dogmatic union. Luther had written a popular exposition of the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in 1518. Catechisms had been published by such reformers as Urbanus Rhegius, Loncier, Melanchthon, Brenz, and Lachmann between 1520 and 1523. The Waldensian and Bohemian reformers had used the manuals of the Middle Ages in their books, and in 1523 they presented a Latin copy of one of these to Luther. His own Smaller Catechism, or Enchiridion, 1529, at once attained a pre-eminence which enabled it to outdistance all rivals, including even the Larger Catechism of the same year. In homely question and answer the Enchiridion expounds the Decalogue, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar.

In 1529 a conference was held by the Reformers in which Luther and Melanchthon represented the German, and Zwingli and Œcolampadius the Swiss. The outcome was the Fifteen Articles of the Marburg Conference, 1529. Articles I to XIV on the Trinity, Incarnation, life of Christ, original sin (on which the harmony was partial), redemption, justification by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit by Word and Sacraments, Baptism, good works the fruit of faith, confession and absolution, civil authority, tradition, the necessity of infant baptism, were agreed to without difficulty. Article XV was left incomplete, through disagreement on the meaning of the words Hoc est meum corpus, in the form of three propositions: (1) The Eucharist ought to be received in both kinds; (2) the Sacrifice of the Mass is inadmissible; (3) the Sacrament of the Altar is a sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, and the partaking of it is salutary. It was a happier omen for the future of toleration that the words were added: “And, although we are not at this time agreed as to whether the true Body and Blood of Christ are physically present in the bread and wine, we recommend that each party manifest Christian love to the other, so far as the conscience of every one shall permit, and that both parties entreat Almighty God to confirm us by His Spirit in the right doctrine. Amen.”

A fortnight later the Marburg Articles were revised and enlarged, and presented as the Seventeen Articles of Schwabach at a gathering of Lutheran princes and representatives in that town. They were followed by the supplementary Articles, March 1530, drawn up at Torgau by Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, and Bugenhagen, for the Elector John of Saxony, with a view to presentation in the interests of Catholic reunion at the forthcoming Diet at Augsburg. The Articles of Schwabach are pacific in tone and positive in doctrine. The Articles of Torgau are controversial in tone, dealing with clerical marriage, communion in both kinds, the Mass, confession, invocation of saints, the superiority of faith to works, and the like. These two sets of Articles form the basis of the first and second portions of the great Augsburg Confession of 1530, which remains the classical statement of the doctrine of the German Reformation.

Luther was under ban, and therefore could not be present at the Diet. On Melanchthon devolved the responsibility of composing the Augsburg Confession. It was, however, based on the Articles of Schwabach and Torgau, and these were essentially Lutheran in thought and expression. The two men were in constant correspondence, and were intimate friends. Consequently the understanding between them was remarkably complete. When Luther saw the draft for revision he informed the Elector: “It pleases me well, and I know of nothing by which I could better it or change it, nor would it be becoming, for I cannot move so softly and gently.” Melanchthon was anxious for peace: hence Luther did not quite like the leniency or silence of the Confession on the subjects of purgatory, saint-worship, and the papal Antichrist, a matter on which he held extremely pronounced views.

The twenty-one articles of its first part state the main doctrines held by the Lutherans: (1) In common with Roman Catholics, the doctrine of the Catholic creeds; (2) in common with the Augustinians, against Pelagianism and Donatism; (3) in opposition to Romanists, on justification by faith, the exclusive mediatorship of Christ, Church, ministry, and rites; and (4) in distinction from Zwinglians and Anabaptists (the former are not named), upon the meaning and administration of the sacraments, on confession, and on the millennium. The seven articles of the second part condemn the chief Roman abuses: (1) the withholding of the Cup; (2) compulsory celibacy of the clergy; (3) the Mass a sacrifice; (4) compulsory confession; (5) festivals and fasts; (6) monastic vows; (7) secular domination by bishops, to the spiritual disadvantage and corruption of the Church.

In part one Article VII teaches that the Church “is the congregation of the saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught, and the Sacraments rightly administered: unto the true unity of the Church it is sufficient to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacrament: nor is it necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by men should be alike everywhere; as St. Paul saith: ‘There is one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.’ ” The XIIth Article of the Schwabach Articles of 1529 explains the nature of the Church. There is “no doubt that there is and ever will be on earth a holy Christian Church until the end of the world, as Christ saith in Matthew 28:20.… This Church is nothing else than the believers in Christ, who hold, believe, and teach the foregoing articles and provisions (i.e. of the Schwabach Confession), and who, for this reason, are persecuted and tormented in this world. For where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments duly administered, there is the holy Christian Church, bound by no laws and outward ritual to place or time, people or ceremonies.” According to the Schwabach Visitation Convention of 1528 “the power of the Churches only extends to the choosing of ministers and the enforcement of the Christian ban” and the care of the poor: “all other power belongs either to Christ in heaven or to the secular authorities on earth.”

The defence of the Augsburg Confession lays down that “the Church is not only a commonwealth of outer things and rites like other institutions, but is also a society of hearts in faith and the Holy Ghost. Still, she has visible signs by which she may be recognized, viz. the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments in agreement with Christ’s Gospel.” According to the Schmalkald Articles of 1537 to 1538 “the Churches must have the power to call, choose, and ordain the ministers of the Church, and such power is, in fact, bestowed on the Church by God.… The words of Peter, ‘Ye are a royal priesthood,’ refer only to the true Church, which, since she alone has the priesthood, must also have the power to choose and ordain ministers.”

Article X of the Augsburg Confession, of the Lord’s Supper, affirms that “the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are communicated to those that eat in the Lord’s supper”; but there is no explanation furnished of the manner in which they are related to the elements, a silence illustrating the desire of the reformers not to make the breach in the unity of the Church irreparable. The text of this article is: “On the Lord’s Supper we teach that the Body and the Blood of Christ are truly present (vere adsint), and are given to those who eat them (distribuantur escentibus), in the Lord’s Supper; and we condemn the contrary doctrine (secus docentes).” In 1540 Melanchthon modified it in important respects, suppressing the words vere adsint and the condemnation of contrary doctrines, and replacing the word distribuantur by the words vere exhibeantur. It then read: “On the Lord’s Supper we teach that, with the bread and the wine are truly offered (vere exhibeantur) the Body and the Blood of Christ to those who eat them in the Lord’s Supper.”

Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, of Ecclesiastical Orders, teaches “that no man should publicly in the Church teach or administer the Sacraments, except he be duly called.” Of course the Church has the command of God to appoint preachers.

Article XVI, of Civil Affairs, teaches “that such civil ordinances as are lawful are good works of God; Christians may lawfully bear civil office, sit in judgments, determine matters by the Imperial laws … appoint just punishments, engage in just war, act as soldiers, make legal bargains and contracts, hold property, take an oath when the magistrates require it, marry a wife or be given in marriage.” It condemns the Anabaptists who forbid Christians to assume these civil offices, also “those who place the perfection of the Gospel, not in the fear of God and in faith, but in forsaking civil offices, inasmuch the Gospel teacheth an everlasting righteousness of the heart.… Christians must necessarily obey their magistrates and laws, save only when they command any sin; for then they must rather obey God than men (Acts 5:29).”

Even in this brief summary it is clear that on the whole the document was meant as an eirenicon: points of agreement are emphasized and points of difference are slurred over. It was intended as a via media, but as such it failed in its purpose. An official refutation of it was issued, which, in turn, was answered by Melanchthon’s Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 1531. These numerous documents with their numerous divisions do not suggest for a moment that their authors had conceived that they had issued truth in a final form. “If aught shall be found wanting,” so runs the closing sentence, “in this Confession, we are ready, God willing, to set forth further truth in harmony with the Scriptures.”

Luther and Melanchthon differed widely in their conception of the Mass and of the Church. Nevertheless, in spite of certain incidents their friendship stood firm. The brethren of Bohemia admitted only the real presence in the Mass, and Luther did not cut them off from fellowship. In 1525 Brenz had drawn up the Würtemburg Confession, called the Syngramma, containing contentious views, yet Luther wrote: “The little book pleases me wonderfully well.” At the agreement of Wittenberg in 1536 Bucer refused to allow the reprobate to come to the Sacrament, and Luther remarked, “On that we are not willing to dispute.”

In the short thesis of 1530, entitled Ettlich Artickelstück so M. L. erhalten wil, wider die gantze Satans Schüle uñ alle Pforten der Hellen, Luther once more sets forth his views on the uselessness of good works, holding that the Christian Church is devoid of the least power to issue an order concerning them. The ministers or bishops are not the whole of the Church, for the priesthood is the privilege of all believers. They can exhort the Church to sanction fasts, feasts, prayers, and the like. He concedes larger functions to the State, whose rules bind all. If the sovereign commands a fast-day, all are to obey. Even if the German prince-bishops issue such an order, they are to obey them as princes, not as bishops.

There was sharp division among the reformers on the degree of toleration to be extended to the Roman Catholics who lived in districts ruled by reformed princes. Exile had been their lot. Charles V interfered on their behalf. His motives were as much political as religious. According to Bucer the Emperor declared that “rather would he renounce his life than tolerate the insubordination of these cities.” “He understood very well that the intention was to teach him a new religion; however this was not a question of a new religion, but of fists, and the event would show who was the stronger.” The Elector John of Saxony requested the opinion of his theologians on the interference of the Emperor. Luther professed his satisfaction with the expulsion of the Roman Catholics. Melanchthon urged the application of corporal penalties, for was it not the duty of the civil power to promulgate and uphold the law of God?

Zwingli maintained that in case of need the massacre of bishops and priests was a work commended by God. Martin Bucer drove these principles to a logical conclusion in his Dialogues. Were not, he advocated, the Pope and the bishops damning eternal souls by their idolatry and blasphemy, which the secular authority must root out? Men urge that Christ did not employ force. Why? Is it not obvious, he points out, that as the civil magistrate had not accepted the Gospel, Christ had no force at his command? Any interference with the free course of the Gospel is nothing short of putting the Saviour out of existence—yea, crucifying Him and slaying Him afresh. “The Augsburg Confession must endure as the true and unadulterated Word of God until the great judgment day. The Council could be accepted only on the condition that the Confession be acknowledged as true apart from any conciliar authority.”

The reforming party were not the only set of men to consider the functions of the State in effecting religious change. During the negotiations of the Peace of Barcelona, 1529, the Pope and the Emperor had anxiously considered the question of the application of force. Gentle means were at first to be adopted. If, however, they failed, arms were to be used in the suppression of a schism which gave rise to so many insurrections. In the interview of the two potentates at Bologna there was a fresh consideration of the matter. Cardinal Campeggio advised recourse to arms, and the Emperor leant to his opinion. His wars with Francis I and with the Turks had crippled his finances. Just as the contests and intrigues of Mary of Scotland and Philip II of Spain averted the dangers of the parsimonious policy of Elizabeth, so the contests and intrigues, east and west, averted the dangers of the Protestants. There were then dangers abroad, and there were dangers at home. A hundred thousand had perished in the Peasants’ Revolt just five years before, and there was the probability that those who took the sword to put down heresy might perish by the sword in the attempt to put down sedition. Might not the Turks seize such a golden opportunity for another advance? Charles knew he could not reckon on any support from the majority of the Roman Catholic Estates. Only two secular rulers, the Elector Joachim of Brandenburg and Duke George of Saxony, advocated forcible measures. Among the prelates, men like the Archbishop Albert of Mayence, Archbishop Hermann of Cologne, and Christoph von Stadion, Bishop of Augsburg, were in favour of the Lutherans.

During the negotiations regarding the Augsburg Confession Melanchthon begged Campeggio to tolerate Protestant peculiarities on the ground that they were “insignificant matters which might be allowed or passed over in silence.” Here lay a ray of hope for the Emperor. “Some pretext might easily be found for tolerating them, at least until a Council should be summoned.” All his efforts after a settlement were subject to the “Proviso of the Gospel” as propounded by Luther and his friends in his letters from the Coburg. Only concessions not militating against the truth of the Evangel could be made. “Once we have evaded coercion,” Luther informed Melanchthon, “and obtained peace, then it will be an easy matter to amend our wiles and slips because God’s mercy watches over us.”

“All our concessions,” lamented Melanchthon, “are so much hampered with concessions that I apprehend the bishops will suspect we are offering them chaff instead of grain. But what else could we do?” Take an instance. Brenz, like Melanchthon, wanted to retain the jurisdiction of the bishops. He thinks such jurisdiction will not harm his side, so long as the bishops “agree to our via media and conditions.” His hope is that they will become new men under the influence of the Gospel, “for always and everywhere we insist upon the proviso of freedom and purity of doctrine. Having this, what reason would you have to grumble at the jurisdiction of the bishops?” It will be of the greatest service in preserving them against the might of the secular power. The main matter is, Brenz concludes, that only thus can we hope to secure “toleration for our doctrine.” Pressure was brought to bear on Luther, and consequently he spoke out against the concessions Melanchthon was offering. The latter withdrew more and more from the middle position he had taken up. He refused to agree with the Emperor’s suggestion that Roman Catholics living in Protestant territories should be left free to practise their religion. The divines of the Elector of Saxony, together with Melanchthon, in a memorandum to their sovereign maintained that it was not sufficient for ministers to preach against the Mass, but that the prince must also refuse to sanction it, and must forbid it. “Were we only to say that the prince might abstain from forbidding it, and that preachers only were to declaim against it, one could well foresee what (small) effect the doctrine and denunciations of the preachers would have.”

In the theological sub-committee dealing with the attempts to effect a reconciliation Eck, Wimpina, and Cochlæus represented the one side, and Melanchthon, Brenz, and Schnepf the other. The fundamental matters at issue were the authority of the Church and the Mass, and these were, for a time at any rate, left aside. The articles of the Augsburg Confession were examined in detail, and were found more acceptable to both sides than was believed possible. The sentence of outlawry prevented the attendance of Luther, and in the interests of peace his retreat at the Coburg was a desirable place for him. Anxious consideration was bestowed upon the authority of the bishop. Was he to remain a prince? Was he to unite secular and spiritual government? Did not this union lead to the employment of force? The question of the two swords, which bulks so largely in mediæval discussions, once more appeared. On these matters the influence of Melanchthon induced an agreement. He was so afraid of anarchy that he was willing to make generous concessions. In the Erasmian spirit he contended that “inordinate discussions are very prejudicial to public peace,” and he argued against the continuance of the schism. He and Brenz admitted that the prince ought to have no authority in the internal affairs of the Church. The representatives of the Imperial cities, especially those from Nürnberg, and the princes, especially Philip of Hesse, resolutely opposed all attempts to restore episcopal authority. According to Holy Writ the blessing of the peacemaker is that he shall be called the child of God, but Jerome Baumgartner plainly regarded Melanchthon as the child of the devil. The extremists of the party, then as always, interposed formidable obstacles in the way of reconciliation. The Swiss reformers were intriguing with Philip of Hesse. “Our cause would not be so generally detested,” complained Melanchthon, “were it not for the baneful influence of the Zwinglians, who not only preach insufferable doctrine, but are hatching seditious plots against the Emperor. They boast that they will make an irruption into the Empire. Their intrigues can only lead to a fearful destruction of the Church, and of all forms of government.”

The Saxon jurists and Philip of Hesse pressed that not only the present, but also the future, adherents of the Augsburg creed should be included in the treaty, and that the Roman Catholic rulers should permit the ready promulgation of the new doctrines. Anxious that the prospects of an agreement might not come to an end, Luther wrote to the Elector of Saxony, pointing out that “the first of all these demands would never be agreed to by the opposite party. It was not advisable, therefore, to wrangle about it at the risk of upsetting the peace negotiations altogether, especially as it might be passed over without any injury to consciences.” They could offer the Gospel to others, and let them accept it at their own risk, as the princes and the towns had done. Besides, “to insist on this stipulation was to lay themselves open to the suspicions of wishing to draw away subjects from the other princes and by this means to direct the whole of the Empire from the Emperor to their own side.” On the second point Luther proved equally reasonable. “We ought not,” he pleaded, “to do to others what we should not like others to do to us. Now, as no rulers of this party would like to be forced by neighbouring princes to allow their subjects to continue the observance of the old religion, so it follows that we have no right to compel the rulers of the opposite party to allow their subjects the exercise of the new religion.” The Elector John of Saxony followed this course.

The outcome of the deliberations of the Diet of Augsburg, 1530, was that the Protestants were to be allowed to exist until April 15, 1531, and were then to be put down by force. In the meantime they were ordered to make no more innovations in worship and doctrine; they were to refrain from molesting the Romanists within their territories; and they were to aid the Emperor and the Romanist princes in stamping out the partisans of Zwingli and the Anabaptists. This resolution gave rise to a second Protest signed by the Lutheran princes and fourteen cities. Cardinal Campeggio insisted that armed force, and armed force alone, was the only method to be employed with the heretics. The Sacred College agreed with him that this was the only resource. Charles allowed a strict censorship of the Press. The spiritual and secular authorities were to appoint men to supervise lampoons, caricatures, and the like. More the Emperor was unwilling to execute. He continued his preference for peaceful methods. “Force,” he admitted to his ambassador in Rome, on September 4, 1530, “would certainly be the most productive of results, but the necessary weapons are not forthcoming.” In other words, he could only reckon on the support of two princes, and the task was too enormous to be undertaken single-handed, especially by one whose heart was more wrapped up in Madrid than in Augsburg. The irresoluteness of Clement weakened any leaning of Charles in the direction of resolution.

An amusing comedy was played at Augsburg in the presence of the Emperor and his Court, parodying quite neatly the birth and progress of the Renaissance and the Reformation. A man clothed in the robe of a doctor threw on the stage a bundle of sticks, some straight, some crooked, and retired. This was Reuchlin. Another entered, endeavouring to arrange them side by side, but, not succeeding, he gathered them into the shape of a pile, then fled. He was Erasmus. An Augustinian monk came next with a burning chafing-dish, flung the crooked sticks into the fire, and blew into it to make a blaze. He was called Luther. A new man, bearing the Imperial insignia, tried to extinguish the fire with his sword, which naturally kindled the flames all the more. This was the Emperor. Last of all came one with pontifical robe and triple crown. Startled by the blaze he looked about and saw two buckets, the one filled with oil, the other with water. He seized the water first, but emptied in mistake the oil on the fire, which naturally assumed such enormous proportions that he fled in dismay. This was Leo X. The picture requires no interpreter. The Court officials endeavoured to find the actors who had taken part in this comedy: they had disappeared the moment the acting ceased.

At the Diet of Augsburg neither Luther nor his rival was present. The former was still under the ban of the Empire. At the Diet of Worms, 1521, Erasmus refused to intervene. In 1526 he refused to intervene when the Diet of Spires met, and once more he stands aside. His health was feeble. Besides, the Emperor had not asked him, and he followed the maxim of Cato, who held that one ought not to go to an assembly to which one was not summoned. Faithful to this maxim Erasmus did not attend, but many of his friends were present. To them he proffered counsels of moderation to which his correspondence was constantly inviting the attention of all its readers. In favour of toleration, in favour of peace he wrote to Christoph von Stadion, the Bishop of Augsburg; the Bishop of Würzburg; Christopher, the Chancellor of Poland; the Cardinal of Trent; Cardinal Campeggio, and the pontifical legate. To all Erasmus represented that peace was the greatest of benefits, and that they must not despair of seeing it again. Did not the Church emerge from a crisis equally formidable in the time of the Emperor Theodosius, when it was struggling at the same time with the pagans and the Arians? But it was certainly not by measures of force that they would appease the Divine wrath. Lutheranism had struck its roots too deeply, so deeply that no harsh methods could suppress it. They must pray to God that all the princes and even the Emperor himself would submit to the Pope, and inspire the Pope only to think of the interests of the Catholic Church.

The moderation of Erasmus is all the more wonderful when set alongside the conduct of Luther. The reformer’s Apology against George of Saxony, in particular, seemed to Erasmus a detestable mass of calumny. In September 1530, no less than six outrageous pamphlets appeared against Erasmus. His counsels to Cardinal Campeggio were known and published, and in 1531 appeared a pamphlet in German setting forth “the reasons why Erasmus thought it was not right to repress Lutheranism by the sword.” The rumour ran that the humanist had written to the Emperor advocating a policy of conciliation. This rumour was not founded on fact, though Charles V probably was aware of the pacific ideas developed in the letter to Cardinal Campeggio. At all events Melanchthon testified to Erasmus his gratitude for the wisdom with which he gave proof and begged him not to desist from such conduct. Men saw that the author of the defence of free will was not the hardened papist that Luther cursed on every occasion.

Melanchthon in conjunction with Bucer recognized that Clement VII evinced a disposition to make concessions, and in their work on Counsel they manifest a conciliatory spirit. Melanchthon was willing to entrust the disciplinary reform to the care of the Pope. Though he refused to accept the principle of clerical celibacy, he accepted monasticism if the vows were not perpetual, and if the monastery became a training school for the priesthood. Fasting is accepted, though it is to be a counsel, not an obligation. Melanchthon regarded the liturgy and worship as matters in themselves indifferent. Luther himself had recognized the necessity of conforming to popular custom and of meddling with extreme care in the regular forms of piety. His Mass carefully preserved many of the old rites. Melanchthon was anxious that the prayers and hymns should be borrowed more directly from the Bible, especially the Psalms. Here Clement VII was in thorough agreement. Had he not ordered Cardinal Quiñones in 1532 to undertake the duty of correction of the missal, and to replace some of the prayers and hymns by Psalms? Even in doctrinal questions time had softened some of the bitterness excited in 1520. Then Luther had emphasized the doctrine of justification by faith and the free gift of salvation. Behind him stood his conception of human nature, which denied that man was capable of good works, regarding his nature as wholly corrupt, and made grace a mechanical act. The humanist culture and the broad mind of Melanchthon altered his attitude to these questions, and he increasingly felt the need of a synthesis: the dualism of Luther was abhorrent to Melanchthon. In 1520 he heartily agreed with Luther. In the next decade he learnt much. He read Aristotle’s Ethics and Cicero’s De Officiis again, and their influence is perceptible in the letter he wrote to the Chancellor of Bavaria, Eck: “You are quite right in thinking that it is in the public interest that Aristotle be preserved, be taught in the schools.… Without him, we cannot keep true philosophy, and we have no good method for either teaching or learning.”.

Melanchthon could not read Aristotle or Cicero without bestowing thought on the law of nature. Its influence appears in the new edition of his Loci Communes, which appeared in 1535, though it was begun in 1533. The humanist lays stress on the worth of the moral law and the existence of natural virtues. The doctrine of the invincibility of sin retires to the background of his mental scheme, and he even allows that there is free will, though in a feeble form. “Virtues and good deeds are pleasing to God.” This approximation to the Erasmian position was powerfully aided by the restrictive sphere assigned to good works by not only Luther, but also by Sadoleto, Contarini, and Lefèvre d’Étaples. There was an eagerness to get rid of the dualism between grace and liberty, works and faith. On the question of authority it was scarcely possible to expect Luther to manifest how much the relations between Church and State, since 1525, had helped him to realize that the papacy stood out as a protest that there was a spiritual authority as well as a temporal one. Melanchthon, however, informed Camerarius on June 19, 1530, and Campeggio on July 6, that popes and bishops are “necessary institutions.” “If there were no bishops, we should be obliged to create them.” Melanchthon agreed that the saints pray for us. Bucer and he suggest as a way out of the difficulty that there should be a return to the traditions of the primitive Church and the suppression of all idolatry. Images might be kept: so might saints’ days. There must, however, be no praying to saints, no pilgrimages, no vows to them: in a word, there must be no hint of the Ora pro nobis doctrine. The ground taken is that the fathers betray no sign of such practices, and therefore they reject them. This was in complete agreement with the position of Luther, who never adopted the view of the Swiss reformers that the Bible and the Bible alone was the test by which every ceremony stood or fell.

The Mass was the all-important matter, and here Melanchthon and Bucer failed to come to an agreement, because the reformers themselves were deeply divided. It was easy to admit that confession was quite permissible, provided men did not teach the remission of sins as a consequence. They spoke vaguely of a real presence: they did not insist on the doctrine of transubstantiation. Melanchthon’s plan was, pending the meeting of the Council, to settle preliminary points. For example, he proposed the reduction in the number of private Masses: they did not exist in the Greek Church. Why should not the Pope allow communion in two kinds? He had allowed it to the Bohemians with good results. Could not the meaning of the word sacrifice be ascertained? In any case the form of the Mass can be kept. The hopes of both Melanchthon and Bucer rested on the convocation of a General Council. The book concluded with the optimistic outlook of Melanchthon. “Perhaps,” he wrote, “some one will object that we are dreaming of the city of Plato when we speak thus of the purity of the Church? I do not mean to take away every failure from human affairs: I seek only to soften discord, and these remedies are at least possible, if the Pope and the kings mean to apply them.” Had the reformers been actuated by this spirit agreement would have been easy. Such a spirit was, indeed, the primary condition, but it was absent. The Swiss and French reformers would have none of it. In Germany Melanchthon had only secured for his council the signatures of six ministers, and of these one only came from Saxony. Representatives, like Brenz, Jonas, and Pomeranus, did not sign. At Augsburg the Counsel gave rise to a fierce discussion, and Luther was begged not to allow Melanchthon to proceed to France in this matter.

During the course of these attempts at mediation Luther preserved silence. None knew better than he how much his position depended on an agreement with Francis, and obviously his friend’s book strengthened this alliance. Bullinger suspected the duplicity of Francis: he suspected the duplicity of the Papists, and he expressed this suspicion. Melanchthon winced at this wound, for such indeed it was. On August 28, 1535, he wrote to Du Bellay, “I have received blows in the cause of peace: men denounce me as too broad or too timid.” To Sturm and to Camerarius he once more unbosomed himself. To the former he wrote in true Erasmian spirit on August 28, 1535, “Would to God that it was reserved for specialists only to speak in these weighty matters! Now on both sides alike, it is democracy, it is mere numbers, it is the tyranny of the ignorant who oblige us to squabble over the merest theological trifles. I am, on account of my consultation, and others with me, in the gravest danger. But in civil strife it is the lot of the moderate to be abused by both sides.… At least, my will is suspected by my conscience.”

Erasmus confided to Cardinal Campeggio on August 18, 1530, his hopes and his fears: “I do not doubt that the mind of a great king leans to peace, mildness, and tranquillity, but in some way opposed to his intentions war upon war is sprung upon us. How long? How wretchedly is Italy harried! and France! where a new war is springing up. At present things look as if the greatest part of the world would be deluged with blood. And as the chance of all war is doubtful, there is a danger that this tumult may tend to the destruction of the whole Church. Especially when the people are persuaded that this business is authorized by the Pope himself, and that the bishops and abbots are largely responsible. And so I fear that the Emperor himself will not escape danger. (May the gods avert this omen!) I know and hate the impudence of those who join and favour sects. But at present we must consider the peace of the Church, not the deserts of heretics. And we must not despair of the Church. It was formerly disturbed by greater storms under Arcadius and Theodosius. What was the condition of the world then? The same State had Arians, Pagans, and Orthodox. The Donatists raged in Africa and the Circumcelliones, in many places the heresy of the Manichæans flourished, and the infection of Marcionism and the incursions of the barbarians. And yet the Emperor held the reins without bloodshed, and gradually weeded out the heretics. Time itself is sometimes a remedy for obstinate diseases. If the sects were permitted under certain conditions (as the Bohemians are winked at) it would be a serious evil, but better than war. In this state of things I should love to be in Italy, but the fates call me elsewhere. But wherever they call me, it will not be from the counsels of peace. But I know that I have enemies in the Emperor’s household.”

Clement suggested the following eight conditions for the plan Erasmus favoured: The Council should be a free and general one, such as those the Fathers had attended; the members thereof must faithfully promise to submit to its decisions, otherwise it was a waste of time; those unable to attend must send representatives, empowered to act for them; until the end of the deliberations no further innovations were to be introduced. The sittings were to be held at Mantua, Piacenza, or Bologna; in spite of the absence of any prince the Council was to proceed; if any should attempt to hinder the work, the Emperor and the other princes must support the Pope in maintaining its existence; six months after the receipt of answers acquiescing in these conditions the Pope would issue writs to summon the Council, which would then meet in the space of twelve months. The Elector of Saxony asked the opinion of Luther, Melanchthon, Justus Jonas, and Bugenhagen, and they were prompt to point out “if we agree to these preliminary articles, it will be as good as retracting and repudiating our confession and apology, annulling and dishonouring all that we have hitherto thought and done, and, above all, confirming and countenancing the Pope in all his abominations.”

This danger stared them in the face and scared them. If they attended the Council, under Clement’s conditions, their cause was beaten before it was even considered; and if they did not attend it was simple to raise the cry that they were afraid to submit their case to learned scrutiny. It was an awkward dilemma, though not less awkward for the Pope. If he allowed the Council, the tale of financial abuses, sure to be brought forward by the German delegates, was not pleasant hearing. If he did not allow it, it was easy to say that he was the enemy of all reform. Melanchthon was broad-minded enough to seize the difficulties of the two dilemmas, though even he objected to the stipulation that his party should promise beforehand to submit to the decisions of the Council. The question of the ultimate authority always lay within the background. Implicitly in the proposals of Clement lay the idea that the judgment of the Pope was final, and no less implicitly in the proposals of Luther and Melanchthon lay the idea that the Bible was also final. The nuncio was unable to extract any declaration in favour of the Council from Francis I or Henry VIII.

In 1530 the Pope ingeniously worked out political objections to the holding of a Council. He was astonished, he informed the Emperor’s confessor, Loaysa, who was then in Rome, that the Emperor was not weighing the attitude of Francis, who would as inevitably employ it as a means of stirring up his seditious subjects against him as the King of France had employed the Diet of Augsburg. Moreover, he added, if the rebels were to return to the orthodox faith there must ensue a considerable increase of the Emperor’s power, which was already a source of envy to the King; whereas if they persisted in heresy he reckoned that a civil war must break out in Germany.

The considerations the Pope placed before the Emperor were all present to the mind of the French King. Francis thought fit to assure Melanchthon that he especially approved of his doctrine of justification by faith, of his views on the Sacraments and on the slavery of the human will. It is significant that the mistress of this royal theologian, Anna de Pisselieu, Duchess of Etampes, and his sister, Margaret of Angoulême, were as ardent Protestants as Maria, the sister of Charles V. Francis I admitted that the French theologians were battling on behalf of the doctrine of transubstantiation; but he, Francis, was sole ruler in his own kingdom. He was just as determined as Henry VIII to be supreme in Church and State. Did he not hold the opinion that the Pope held his primacy not by Divine right, but by human investiture? These, however, were the ideas of Francis as a private individual: they were not those held by the King of France. The contest with the house of Austria tended to force him to realize how much the interests of the German reformers coincided with his own. The truth is that the duel between him and Charles V was as implacable as that between Louis XIV and William III. The Peace of Cambrai, 1529, gave Burgundy to France, and also gave Francis his children. This peace, like that of Amiens, was no more than a lull in the duel. It left France still encircled by the territories of her formidable opponent. How could she renounce the Milanese, the one way out of the grip between which she was clamped, as in a vice, between two arms? Nor was the situation abroad unfavourable. The victory of Mohacz, 1526, had established the Turks in Hungary, and they were again pressing the Austrians.

The foe on the borders was reinforced by the foe within. The German cities and the German princes were forming the League of Schmalkald. Henry VIII was on the eve of his rupture with the Pope, and in self-defence he must ally himself with Francis I against the uncle of his wife. The German Protestants and the English King were both eager for reasons, cogent reasons, of their own to stretch out friendly hands to the French King. Already we notice the beginnings of the policy of Henry IV and of Richelieu, the keynote of which was the support of Catholicism at home, of Protestantism abroad At the very moment Francis was seeking an alliance with the League of Schmalkald he was persecuting the unfortunate Huguenots in his dominions. Just as Cardinal Richelieu aided the German Protestants in his day, so Francis aided them in his. His clear policy was to unite the enemies of Charles V, and to divide the friends. On the one hand he supported the Pope when he was unwilling to fall under the control of the Emperor, on the other he supported the reformers. On the one hand he supported the Catholic princes in his own land and, on the other, the Protestant princes in Germany.

Luther’s Reformation had been faith in life: it was fast becoming force in politics. It had once moved consciences: it was now serving interests. The situation was not unlike that of the early Church when Constantine extended his Imperial protection to it. The union of Church and State was as fraught with far-reaching consequences in the sixteenth as in the fourth century. In each case, as the Church became more worldly, it lost spiritually. The problem remains: Could the Church either in the fourth or the sixteenth century have stood apart? If she could, would she have survived? In Luther’s day the secularization of ecclesiastical property, the control exercised by the prince over the clergy, stood on a lower level than his early belief in the priesthood of all believers.

In 1530 Francis I sent to Germany a diplomatist and a theologian, Gervais Wain, who was a German by birth. Through his capable ambassador, Guillaume du Bellay, he promised the German confederates help on behalf of German freedom. Du Bellay was ordered to promote the holding of a Council: only it must be national, not œcumenical. He was to influence Germany and England steadily in this direction. It was an argument likely to appeal to one so German as Luther and to one like Henry, who discerned in this standpoint the readiest method of securing his right to marry as he pleased. On February 16, 1531, Melanchthon, at the instigation of the German princes and towns, sued for the support of both Francis and Henry. The encouragement from Paris was so great that on March 29, 1531, the Schmalkald League was formally concluded. This League shivered the unity of the Empire into a thousand territorial fragments.

The French King so dreaded the holding of a Council that he put forward the plea that the disturbed condition of Europe proved the unsuitableness of the project. It was not Clement VII, Charles V told his nobles, who was to blame for the postponement of the Council, but the King of France, with whom, in spite of all the dispatches and deputations, they had not been able to arrange the time and the place of meeting. To this procrastination of France Clement, in his letter to Garcia de Loaysa, added another obstacle, and that was the policy England was pursuing. Francis I, however, was the real obstacle, for he was afraid that if the Council met it would terminate the religious schism, and that would in no wise suit his policy. Clement was also afraid of it, entertaining a lively sense of the assaults it might make either on his authority or on the financial abuses. He, no more than Leo X, realized the gravity of the crisis in Germany, and believed the promises which Francis readily made to him at the Marseilles interview in 1533. The Venetian Ambassador, Marino Giustiniani, expressed the exact truth when he remarked, “Whereas the schism in the faith has resulted in the heretics almost entirely withdrawing their obedience from the Emperor, the French King fears that if unanimity of religious opinion is restored by means of a Council, Germany will unite again in submission to Charles V.” Instead of this, Francis had divided Germany in two from the Alps to the Elbe, and the western portion was entirely under his influence. Divide et impera was his maxim: it was also the maxim of the Lutherans. For example, the Suabian League had been the main support of the Emperor from its foundation in 1488. Charles and his brother, King Ferdinand, naturally upheld it. Its existence was renewed from time to time. It was obviously to the interests of Francis and the Lutheran princes, notably Philip of Hesse, to prevent its renewal. They stirred up internal jealousy within its ranks. It had been renewed in 1523 for eleven years, but the machinations of Francis of France and Philip of Hesse brought its existence to an end.

The French King was as successful in the west as he had been in the east, as triumphant with the Lutherans as he was with Henry. From 1520 to 1525 England had been hostile. The Battle of Pavia and the Treaty of Madrid wrought such a transformation of the balance of power that Henry was forced to reconsider his policy. Wolsey sought a closer alliance with Francis, and in May 1526 the League of Cognac was signed. The treaties of the April and May of the following year cemented this alliance. The rupture given to the equilibrium of Europe was healed, and in 1528 Francis organized another expedition to Italy. National interests bound Wolsey to take the side of France: the private interests of Henry equally bound him—if he were to marry Anne Boleyn. It is significant that Europe attached importance to the political, not the religious, aspect of the divorce. Francis was delighted at the turn events were taking. If Henry sent Catherine away, did it not mean the termination of all possibility of any alliance between England and Germany? Therefore he supported Henry with all the forces at his disposal. He endeavoured to create a favourable literary opinion by bringing pressure to bear on the faculties of theology in order to secure a favourable reply from them. In April 1530, the faculty of theology of Orleans; in May, that of Bourges; and in September, those of Angers and Toulouse expressed their judgment that Henry was entitled to hold the view that Cranmer put before him. Francis obliged so conservative and reactionary a university as Paris to share the general judgment.

Strongly as the French King exerted himself at home, he exerted himself even more strongly abroad. In Rome he lavished his diplomatic resources on the side of Henry. Cardinals are approached, and some, Cardinal Trivulzio, for example, prove friendly. Above all the Medici Pope is influenced, or at least seems to be.

The links in the encircling of Charles V were almost complete. Within Germany the French king had secured an alliance with the League of Schmalkald. On its eastern border Suleiman I was pressing on with his hordes. Switzerland was on the side of France. The Swiss reformers, in imitation of the German, contracted a league with Constance, Zürich, Berne, Saint Gall, Bâle, and Strassburg among its members, in 1528. This league, like the German one, aimed at the restoration of Helvetic liberty. As the Roman Catholic cantons adhered to Austria, the Protestant cantons were thrown into the necessity of seeking an alliance with France. In Switzerland there was a miniature contest between France and Austria fought out. The only link required for the completion of the chain was the papacy, and here the temporal interests of Clement VII helped the French king. For the Pope, like Leo X, was animated in his foreign policy by family considerations. To him Charles, not Francis, was the foe to be dreaded. Francis asked for his son Henry, Duke of Orleans, the hand in marriage of the young Duchess of Urbino, Catherine de’Medici, who was the Pope’s niece à la mode de Bretagne.

It was fortunate for Francis that dynastic reasons actuated Clement so powerfully. Another difficulty remained. The French King was the staunch ally of the German Protestants and of the schismatic King of England. How was he to persuade the Pope that his alliances did not run contrary to the plans conceived for the reformation of the Church? Cifuentes, the Imperial Ambassador, urged these obvious arguments. Moreover, Suleiman in February 1532 was about to recommence his victorious march. Was it not well known that Francis, the most Christian King, was the ally of the Mohammedan conqueror? The diplomacy of France was extraordinarily clever. Francis put forward his plea that the leaders of the Lutherans, the Elector of Saxony, the Duke of Würtemburg, and the others, were dependent on him. He would, therefore, do all in his power to persuade them to agree to the meeting of a Council in such a manner as had been customary in the Church from antiquity, though if Clement knew the history of the fourth century this assurance was not so satisfactory as it sounded. He probably did not. He wanted to hold a Council in order to reform the Church—provided his power was not shorn. Francis relieved him of this anxiety. At the same time that Francis was writing to the Pope in this strain, he was assuring Philip of Hesse that nothing would induce him to agree to the proposal he had just made to Clement. The Pope informed the Emperor of the goodwill of the French King: the agreement of the two greatest rulers in Christendom rendered the success of the Council inevitable.

Since 1529 Charles had made every effort to secure a solution of the religious difficulty by the holding of a Council. At Bologna at the time of his coronation the Pope gave him a promise that he would convoke one. In December 1530, briefs ad been issued. Francis never formally refused to signify his assent. He was a past master in the art of raising rumours and difficulties. It was easy to suggest all sorts of interested motives on the part of the negotiators. Technical points were not hard to raise. What were the articles to be passed by the Council? This opened up a large field. What was to be the place of meeting? Mantua and Piacenza were proposed by the Roman Curia, but to both places Francis found plausible objections. He returned to the question of principle. The Council must be universal and free. How were this universality and freedom to be assured? On second thoughts, was it necessary? Could not the princes and skilled theologians meet and settle the matter? Once the argument of the princes was employed, Francis pointed out to Clement that it rested with him to secure the presence of the Lutheran nobility. What power possessed the widely diffused political influence of France? Such arguments weighed with the irresolute mind of Clement. He wavered and hesitated to take the plunge. To the dismay of the French Court, Clement granted Charles an interview at Bologna in January 1533. The latter was able to urge strong considerations for believing that Francis did not mean to agree to the meeting of the Council. The Emperor wrote to Francis on February 1, 1531, and received no reply till March 28. In it the French King laid down the condition that the agreement of all the princes to the holding of the Council should first of all be invited. In other words, Francis imposed an impossible condition, clearly intimating his unalterable hostility to all attempts at reform.

At the Bologna interview the Pope promised the Emperor not to proceed with the English divorce, to maintain the status quo in Italy, and not to treat separately with France. For the moment Charles had gained a diplomatic victory, a decisive victory if Clement had only been resolute. On February 24, 1533, Clement sent a circular letter to the princes announcing the meeting of the Council at Mantua.

Much was lost for France, but all was not lost. Francis dispatched the Cardinals de Gramont and de Tournon to Bologna in January 1533. They complained as fiercely as Luther himself of the exactions of the Roman Curia. They mentioned the delay of the Pope in granting tithes, the sums the Curia extracted from France, the partiality shown to Austria, and the like. From complaint they proceeded to menace. What Germany had carried through, what England was carrying through, their sovereign might also undertake. He was determined that the Council must be national. Behind him stood not only the Lutheran princes, but also Henry VIII, Switzerland, and, he might have added, Suleiman I. If the Pope agreed with the policy of Charles that the Council should be general, then all money from France to Rome came to an end. Ecclesiastical censures did not weigh in the least with him. In the last resort the King could absolve himself, for was he not one of the faithful, in fact the Most Christian King?

The vacillations of Clement were steadied by these threats, and he promised to grant the King an interview, which took place at Marseilles on October 11, 1533. The main question discussed in this interview was the Council. Was it to be œcumenical, as Charles urged? Was it to be national, as the King urged? The irresolute Clement was torn in different directions. The circumstance that his family interests were more French than German was not without consideration. The uncle could secure the brilliant alliance of the Duke of Orleans for his niece Catherine. As the Pope must decide, he adhered to the French solution of the religious problem. There were other matters discussed, but this was the one of cardinal importance. In turn the King promised that he would take no part in the troubles in England, though he refused to withdraw from his alliance with Henry. His German alliance was useful to Clement, for was it not the method of securing the presence of the Lutheran princes at the National Council? The Most Christian King promised to put down heresy in his own kingdom. The interview was a complete triumph for Francis. Philip de Commines had noted the fact that “the English often win in battle, but the French always win in diplomacy.” Substitute for English Charles, and there is the reading of the situation after the interview of Marseilles. The last link in the chain was complete and Charles was encircled. His rival ruled over compact France, and had alliances ramifying over Europe from Constantinople to London. The western side of Germany from the Alps to the Elbe was an important sphere of his influence, and its destinies were controlled by him. Now, the crown of all was that the head of the Church had at last come over to his side. What power did Charles now exercise over France? The student of the growth of toleration may ask another question, What power did Charles now exercise over the Lutherans? Where were his triumphs at Diets? What was the value of the Edict of Worms?

For the benefit of Charles, Cardinal Cajetan drew up six objections to the meeting of a Council. There was the obvious danger of precedent if the heretics were allowed to raise fresh discussions of errors that had already been condemned by several councils. Such discussions served the Protestants by affording another opportunity for spreading their doctrines, and gave them the advantage of the presence of secular judges who listened to views on matters of faith on which the Church had pronounced. If they refused to acknowledge the authority of previous Councils, was it likely that they would submit to the one asked for? If the Protestants adhered to the authority of the Bible and rejected that of the Fathers and the Councils, what basis was there for discussion? Did not the Diet of Augsburg prove that the object of the heretics was to gain time in the hope that the Council might be dissolved without arriving at any decision? The old controversy as to the supremacy of the Pope or Council was certain to revive with disastrous results to the authority not only of the Pope, but also to that of the Emperor. It was a question whether the other princes would attend a Council held under the protection of the Imperial power, while the Pope could only preside if such protection were given. Gambara, Bishop of Tortona, brought these objections before Charles in January 1531. He also laid before him five conditions for the convening of the contemplated Council. Its business was to be sharply defined. The reconciliation of the Lutherans, the extirpation of heresies, the adequate punishment of the contumacious, and the war with the Turks were to be the matters taken in hand. The Emperor was to attend the Council in person, and when he left it was ipso facto to dissolve. It was to be held in Italy and nowhere else, and the Pope was to select the city of meeting. Only those canonically qualified were to have a decisive vote. The Lutherans were to sue formally before the Council and to send their representatives with proper mandates. These conditions, in the language of Roman law, resembled a leonine contract by which the Church grasped everything and gave nothing. It is evident that, though Clement VII desired the reform of the Church, he felt afraid that a Council would afford the Emperor opportunity of exercising such a preponderating influence as to annul the independence of the Holy See. He used to say that a Council was always good when the matter at issue was anything but papal authority: when that was called in question nothing was more dangerous. In former times a Council proved a source of strength to the Pope, whereas now it was a source of weakness. This view, of course, implied that Clement was above Councils and above all authority. He was as much an absolute ruler in the Church as the Elector of Saxony was in the State. Councils like those of Constance and Bâle would shake his authority. Francis I shared these apprehensions, for he opposed the meeting of the Council with all his power. The strife between Emperor and Pope, between Emperor and King, afforded a breathing space to the Lutherans which proved of the utmost importance to them. Protestants wanted to send not merely their princes, but their preachers, and could the Pope be asked to preside over an assembly in part composed of heretics?

The resolution of the Diet of Augsburg caused grave searchings of heart to the Lutherans, who believed in a policy of non-resistance. After April 15, 1531, they were to find force employed against them, and this fact urged them to reconsider their attitude. The Court lawyers, the most conservative of men, altered their minds, and this alteration weighed strongly with Luther. The councillors of the Saxon electorate, with Chancellor Brück at their head, thought that whatever sentences the Reichsgericht might pronounce, in virtue of the Imperial edict of Augsburg, might be disregarded. This change of opinion on the part of the lawyers and councillors influenced John, Elector of Saxony, though for a time he continued to regard resistance as unlawful. He left Augsburg, and in Nürnberg he met Wenceslaus Link, a friend of Luther, and said to him, “Should one of my neighbours, or any one else, attack me on account of the Evangel, I should resist him with all the force at my command, but should the Emperor come and attack me, he is my liege lord, and I must yield to him, and what were more honourable than to be exterminated on account of the Word of God?” The examples at home, and that of Philip of Hesse, gradually weakened his determination to obey the commands of the Diet.

Precedents were consulted. St. Austin mentions Nero as an example of the worst type of ruler, but adds that even such rulers receive their power through the providence of God when he judges that any nation may require such governors. Gregory the Great emphasizes the doctrine of the sanctity and Divine authority of the sovereign. He traces the authority of the sovereigns direct to God. Naturally they must not under any circumstances be resisted. In a commentary by Bishop Atto of Vercelli, which was written during the second half of the tenth century, there is a strong statement of the Divine authority of the secular ruler, whether he be Christian or pagan. He thinks it is impious to resist the King, even though he is unjust and wicked. Peter Damian, in the middle of the following century, holds that the authority of the secular ruler in administering justice and punishing crime is derived from God. It is obvious that the Imperialist writers held such views, but even an extreme papalist, Gerhoh of Reichersberg, an important witness of the middle of the twelfth century, asserted them in clear language. Another critic of the Imperialist school, Manegold of Lautenbach, conceives that the office of the King is sacred, though the holder of this office may have justly forfeited his authority. Though Honorius of Augsburg held that the authority of man over man was not primitive, being established to restrain men’s sinful passions, yet he is also clear that it was established by God. John of Salisbury is equally positive that the authority of the prince comes from God and has the Divine sanction.

When men make up their minds to pursue a given policy suitable precedents are at hand. Philip of Hesse addressed himself to the task of winning over Luther to a change in his views, and he employed skilful arguments. For instance, may not force be tried as “His Majesty is determined to re-establish the devil’s doctrine?” This appealed to the mighty power Luther always ascribed to Satan. Nine days later he reminded the reformer that Charles V “took the oath to his princes at his election, just as much as they did to him.… Hence if the Emperor does not keep his oath to us, he reduces himself to the rank of any other man, and must no longer be regarded as a real Emperor, but as a mere breaker of the peace.” Had not God come to the aid of the Bohemians and of “many others, too, against emperors and such like, who treated their subjects with unjust violence”? The legal and the historical line of argument made an impression on Luther. On October 28, 1530, he says to Philip that he hopes no blood will be shed. He adds he intends “in any case to publish a booklet shortly … admonishing all consciences that no subject was bound to render obedience should His Imperial Majesty persist.” He will prove that the Emperor’s demands are “blasphemous, murderous, and diabolical,” but his booklet was not to be called “seditious.” At Torgau he protested that the question did not concern him, since as a theologian his business was to teach Christ only. In secular matters he could only counsel compliance with the law, and any action taken should be in keeping with the “written laws.” “But what these laws were he neither knew nor cared.”

The lawyers laid more stress on the canon law than on the opinion of such men as Manegold of Lautenbach. Employing canonical precedents, they prove that it was right to resist the Emperor by force, since “he proceeds and acts contrary to law,” as he is not a competent judge in religious affairs. Even if he were such a judge, the appeal to the General Council stops his action. Should they not “obey God and evangelical truth rather than men?” The councillors assumed the same standpoint. They assumed that the Pope was subordinate to a Council, and they assumed the right of appeal from the Pope to the Council. They assumed that the doctrines of Luther had not been finally rejected by the Church, and that the Diet of Augsburg “admitted and allowed” that such doctrines should come before the next Council. This document was laid before the theologians, who were most unwilling to give a decision. Luther was embarrassed by his old opinions contained in such books as that On the Secular Power. He and his friends replied that they stood outside the question, since the councillors had decided independently of them in favour of armed resistance on the ground of the secular Imperial law. The theologians of Brandenburg opposed resistance. They thought that it was a question of the supreme secular majesty, not of a judge who was subservient to a higher secular power: hence the supposition of the lawyers would not stand examination.

At the end of October 1530 a change in the opinions of Luther, Melanchthon, and Jonas was evident in the memorandum they signed. It was quite true that hitherto they had taught “that the authorities must on no account be resisted,” but they had not known “that the authorities’ own laws, which we have always taught must be diligently obeyed, sanctioned this.” The lawyers, however, have proved that it is lawful to resist the authorities, and the Scripture does not disprove this, when self-defence is called for, even though it should be against the Emperor himself. Arming then is necessary, for “any day other cases may arise where it would be essential to be ready to defend oneself, not only from worldly motives, but from duty and constraint of conscience.”

There was a conference on the matter which took steps eventually leading to the formation of the defensive League of Schmalkald. Naturally the envoys from the Saxon electorate laid due stress on the memorandum of the Wittenberg divines, and they carried the day against those of Brandenburg. The League of Schmalkald was first drawn up and subscribed to by John, Elector of Saxony, and Ernest, Duke of Brunswick, on February 27, 1531. Philip of Hesse was the chief agent in bringing together the league. Other subscribers were Prince Wolfgang of Anhalt, Counts Gebhard and Albert of Mansfield, and the cities of Strassburg, Ulm, Constance, Reutlingen, Memmingen, Lindau, Biberach, Isny, Lübeck, Magdeburg, and Bremen. The obligation, to which members of the league pledged themselves by oath, was “that when one party is attacked or suffers violence for the Word of God or for causes arising from it, or on any other pretext, each one shall treat the matter in no other way than as though he were himself attacked, and shall therefore, without even waiting for the others, come to the assistance of the party suffering violence, and succour him to the utmost of his power.” There was succour for their fellow-members: there was none for the Emperor, engaged in fierce contest with the Turks. The alliance was first concluded for six years: it was repeatedly renewed later, and strengthened by the accession of new members.

The League of Schmalkald exercised a strong constraint on the widening of the policy of persecution. At the Diet of Nürnberg, 1532, toleration was granted on the personal responsibility of the Emperor till the summoning of a General Council. Charles V agreed to a further extension of the amnesty to the Elector of Saxony and his allies, and that the Imperial Chamber should harass no one by prosecution on account of religion. The confessor of the Emperor, Loaysa, had in July 1530 written to his master recommending force as the true rhubarb for German as for Spanish heresy. But in a letter of June 8, 1532, he advised either a truce between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, which would leave each party to believe as they pleased, or else an agreement that until the future Council they should all live under their respective rites without molesting one another. If, by the fault of the Pope, the Council should not meet within three years, thenceforth the Lutherans might live freely, and continue in their own form of belief without hindrance from princes or diets: all this the Church might grant, without blame, on condition that the reformers might save it from the common enemy, the Turk. This advice from a Spanish cardinal clearly faced the possibility of a permanent toleration—a point at which Charles himself never quite arrived.

Such proposals made the orthodox pamphleteers furious. In their opinion Erasmus, the friend of toleration, was still a heretic and worse, if possible, than Luther. Such was the opinion of Latomus, Laurent Ruffus, Vincent of Haarlem, and Nicolas des Clercs. The hatred of the Prince of Carpi had lost none of its fervour. The Spaniards Sepulveda and Caranza surpassed the violence of Stunica. Gacho tarnished his name in Savoy, Standish in England. But the deaths of Zwingli and Œcolampadius had removed two able men, and a season of mildness set in.

In 1532 Erasmus issued his Precatio ad dominum Jesum propace Ecclesiæ. “O Christ,” he pleaded, “… in this tempest which puts in peril not only so many lives, but innumerable souls … we beseech thee, awaken. Thoughts of men cry to thee: Save us, we perish. The waves have overcome our human strength; all the efforts undertaken to calm them turn against us. O Jesus … we have need of thy voice.… Thou art the king of peace, inspire in us a mutual love.” In France the Sorbonne turned a deaf ear to prayers like this, displaying a fierce zeal for orthodoxy. On February 1, 1532, it refused its imprimatur to Erasmus’s editions of Ambrose and Augustine. It now gave forth its 1527 decision on his errors, and on April 3, 1532, forbade the booksellers, on pain of the secular arm, to print, receive, or sell any reply the scholar might make. This condemnation was in no wise confined to humanists, who were always a fair mark. In June 1530 the Sorbonne had censured the Quodlibeta of Cajetan, and, for the same purpose, its syndic Beda placed before his colleagues the commentaries of the Cardinal on the Psalms and the New Testament. A commission was appointed to deal with the matter. The Pope had honoured a work of the Cajetan with a brief: the Sorbonne sought a suspension of it from Parlement. Nor did this member of the Sacred College stand alone in the pillory. By the order of Clement VII Cardinal Quiñones had corrected hymns and the breviary, and his work suffered the same treatment.

In 1534, Wicel of Augsburg, a correspondent of Erasmus, published an urgent appeal in favour of the holding of a Council. The next year he sent forth his Dialogue on the Council, foreshadowing the reforms the Church required. In 1537 he wrote his Method to obtain Peace in the Church. Its keynote was the necessity of a reformation, not of a dissolution.

Erasmus, sanguine to the end, dreamt that Christian concord might at last appear. The means to establish it was the calling of a Council, and Wicel now demanded the support of the Archbishop of Mayence for this plan. Luther had little belief in it and consequently less enthusiasm for it. He feared that such an assembly would give a verdict unfavourable to the Reformation. “A Council according to the use employed at this time, like that of Constance and many others, is a Council repugnant to the Word of God,” such was his conviction; “it is in accordance with pride and human spite.” Therefore he declined to admit any compromise between what he considered Divine truths and doctrines of the devil. A Council in 1521 was one matter: now it wore a completely different aspect. His opposition Church was then an incoherent body; now it was coherent in creed. It was then in want of political support, whereas now many princes stood behind it. His Church had fought and bled, reckoning on its bede-roll its martyrs and prophets.

As usual Erasmus proved the supporter of the party of conciliation. Wicel plied him with honeyed words on the services he could render: he would fight for the faith, he would stand for the old orthodoxy. He would act the part of a moderator, and would be unanimously revered as another Solon. In October 1533, Erasmus drew up a book on the re-establishment of concord in the Church, De sarcienda Ecclesiæ concordia. In it he asks for an agreement founded on reciprocal concessions. Let people eat meat or fish at the command of their conscience or their stomach; but let them not trouble the public order, and let them charge a Council to take, in agreement with the lay authorities, measures leading to peace and religious unity, which with all the ardour of his soul he desired. In the shape of an exposition of Psalm 84 he gave counsel how best to restore the unity of the Church and to root out abuses. He upholds in it the duty of submitting to the Church, but recommends both sides to be ready to pursue a policy of give and take. His ideal was that of Melanchthon, of Bucer, of Sadoleto, of Budé: restraint forms no part of their plan. With the same end in view he composed practical booklets on religion and worship. Among these was a sort of catechism, the Expositio Symboli, 1533. In it he only admits the doctrines on which Lutherans and Roman Catholics are agreed. Luther, therefore, deems that it was “slyly planned” to undermine all respect for Christian doctrine, and that for this purpose Erasmus was befooling his readers, as the serpent did in Paradise. “Erasmus makes use of ambiguities,” in the opinion of Luther, “intentionally and with malice.”

In July 1533 Erasmus wrote a booklet on De amabili Eccllesiæ concordia. Both sides were to make concessions. Let the Church suppress in her creed, in her worship, in her Christian life, everything savouring of superstition. On the other hand, let the reformers duly recognize the rights of tradition. Let the theologians, leaving to the one side questions as useless as those of the schoolmen, agree on the definition of necessary matters, e.g. grace, nature, the faith which justifies, the works required for salvation, the great love of God which excludes neither reward nor merit. Let the faithful, attending to their duties to their country, allow the bishops and doctors the care of interpreting the Bible. Let all, people and clergy alike, beware of injuring, libelling, excluding, and cursing. Surely God then will take pity on this common effort towards humility, love, and Christian renunciation on both sides. So Erasmus strove to maintain unity without sacrificing intellectual liberty, so he strove to conciliate men without compelling them.

With this belief in religion was combined much superstition. Humanists and theologians, artists and statesmen, exhibit the most profound confidence in the influence of the stars on the destiny of man. Nicholas Machiavelli has as fervent a faith in this influence as Benvenuto Cellini. “There are,” maintains Guicciardini, “aerial beings who converse with men: I know it by experience.” The philosophers of the school of Marsilio Ficino admit the invisible presence of spirits who manifest themselves by omens and dreams. Neither the irony of Petrarch, nor the critical sense of the two Villani, nor Pico della Mirandola’s book Against the Astrologers had been able to cure the Medici of their credulity. Had not Marsilio Ficino predicted that Giovanni would sit in the seat of St. Peter? As this prediction was fulfilled, the credulity of Leo X became increased. In striking language both Savonarola and Pico della Mirandola condemned astrology. Pomponazzi denied the immortality of the soul, nevertheless he believed in magic. The occult sciences, alchemy, chiromancy, divination, passed from Trevisano to Paracelsus, from Jerome Cardan to Della Porta. They call up the spirits of the dead, they converse with demons. Melanchthon records in his letters events as marvellous as any related by Livy. Marcello Palingenio met in the campagna of Rome four supernatural beings who arrived from the moon, giving them information on Clement VII. The cool common sense of Rabelais was one day to act as a charm in laying these spirits. The Pantagruéline prognostication is a bold parody of the predictions of the “Aftrophiles, Hypernephéliftes, Anemophylaces, Uranopetes et Ombrophores.”

The uncommon sense of the French humanist was outside the reformer. Luther fought against the devil, whose voice resembles, according to him, the grunts of a pig: he threw his inkstand at his head. He mixes, in his Table-talk, monastic legends on the devil, old German beliefs in familiar spirits, hobgoblins, and fairies. In his solitude at the Wartburg, demons enter his room and break hazel-nuts on the joists of the ceiling. His master, St. Austin, in his vivid description of temptation, lays much stress on the share taken by the devil. It is noteworthy that Erasmus gives a serious account of the devil burning a small town in Germany on Shrove Tuesday, 1533.

In his attitude to science Luther was not a whit more advanced than the peasants from whom he sprang. Copernicus did not print his De orbium celestium revolutionibus till 1543. On June 4, 1539, conversation at Luther’s table turned on this astronomer’s new theory of the revolution of the earth. The reformer at once dismissed it with the remark that Joshua commanded the sun, not the earth, to stand still. To him it appeared that this “astrologer” aimed at upsetting the whole art of astronomy.

Luther issued a challenge to Erasmus and to all Erasmians, including Egranus, generally, who had broken with him. His business was to “purify the Church from the brood of Erasmus.” This brood included Wicel, Crotus Rubianus, and Campanus. Erasmus had already seduced Zwingli, and he had also “converted Egranus, who believed just as much as he,” and that is nothing. On another occasion Luther remarks, “The only foundation of all his teaching is his desire to gain the applause of the world; he weighs the scales with ignorance and malice.” “What is the good of reproaching him with being on the same road as Epicurus, Lucian, and the sceptics? By doing so I merely succeeded in rousing the viper, and in its fury against me it gave birth to the Viperaspides (i.e. the Hyperaspistes). In Italy and at Rome he sucked in the milk of the Lamiæ and Megaræ, and now no medicine is of any avail.” “This man learned his infidelity in Rome”; therefore he wishes “to have his Epicureanism praised.” Even in what Erasmus says on the creed we see the mouth and organ of Satan. He may be compared with the enemy of the Gospel, who, while men slept, sowed tares in the field. We can understand how Sacramentarians, Donatists, Arians, Anabaptists, Epicureans, and the like have again made their appearance. He sowed the seed and then disappeared. And yet he stands in high honour with Pope and prince. “Who would have believed that the hatred of Luther was so strong? A poor man is made great simply through Luther.” In this letter to Nicholas Amsdorf he is thinking of leaving the humanist to dissolve in smoke like Eck and others. He also warned Amsdorf that if he were tempted to write against Erasmus he ought not to allege anything that was not certain. There is moderation in the preface he wrote for Anton Vorvinus’s reply to Erasmus’s proposals for restoring unity to the Church. According to him the chief obstacle to reunion is the weight attached by his opponents to the Church. To an individualist like him their perpetual cry of “the Church, the Church, the Church,” was repellent.

In spite of this attempt at moderation, it seems as if Luther could not control himself when he thought of what he had hoped from Erasmus, and of how those hopes had been disappointed. Erasmus “might have been of great service to the cause of the evangel: often he was exhorted to this end.… But he considered it better that the Gospel should perish and not be preached than that all Germany should be convulsed and all the princes troubled with risings.” He is the worst foe of Christ that has arisen for the last thousand years.

To him the humanist was another Epicurus. Even what was doubtful in his writings had to be taken in the worst sense, and he would be unable to believe this serpent if he came to him with the most outspoken confession of Christianity. Did not Erasmus say that the Redeemer had come into the world simply as an example of holiness? Did he not also describe the Incarnation in obscene and blasphemous language? Was he indeed a believer at all? “He regards the Christian religion and doctrine as a comedy or a tragedy.” To this “incarnate scoundrel, God—the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—is merely ludicrous.” Like Democritus, the cynical heathen philosopher, he looks on our whole theology as nothing better than a fairytale. All this Luther wrote with the utmost conviction as though it were absolutely true.

Luther was so anxious for progress that he sometimes forgot order. Erasmus was so anxious for order that he sometimes forgot progress. How far apart they had drifted is plain from the letter Luther wrote to Amsdorf. “It is better to ruin letters than religion, if letters are unwilling to serve, but tread Christ underfoot.” It is not matter of surprise that Erasmus should remark, “You descend to pure calumny, abuse, and threats, and yet you wish to be esteemed free from guile, pure, and led by the Spirit of God, not by human passion.” “Can the Evangel,” he pertinently asks, “then be preached in so unevangelical a manner?” “Have all the laws of propriety been abrogated by the new-born Evangel, so that each one is at liberty to make use of any method of attack either in word or writing? Is this the liberty which you restore to us?”

Erasmus wrote: “You wish to be taken for a teacher of the Gospel. In that case, however, would it not better beseem you not to repel all the prudent and well-meaning by your vituperation, not to incite men to strife and revolt in these already troubled times?” “You snarl at me as an Epicurean. Had I been an Epicurean and lived in the time of the Apostles, and heard them proclaim the Gospel with such invective, then I fear I should have remained an Epicurean.… Whoever is conscious of teaching a holy doctrine should not behave with such insolence and delight in malicious misrepresentation.” “To what class of spirits does yours belong, if indeed it be a spirit at all? And what unevangelical way is this of inculcating the Holy Gospel? Has perchance the risen Gospel done away with all the laws of public order so that now any one may say and write anything against any one? Does the freedom you are bringing back to us spell no more than this?”

On the Feast of the Assumption, 1534, seven men vowed a vow on the height of Montmartre, and their leader, Ignatius Loyola, was one day to present the answer of the Society of Jesus to this freedom. Amerbach had judged Luther’s attack insane: Erasmus for his part addressed his reply to “one not sober.” Others, he says, might well explain it as a mental aberration or due to the influence of some evil demon. Point by point he meets the accusations of Luther. He shows that the passage concerning the creed being a mere fable had been invented by Luther himself by means of deliberate distortion and shameful misrepresentation. Luther had also said that “whoever tells untruths lies even when he speaks the truth,” and that he would refuse to believe Erasmus even were he to make an orthodox confession of faith. The reply of the scholar is: “Whoever spoke this bit of wisdom was assuredly out of his senses and stood in need of hellebore.” As for the charge of deliberately leading others into infidelity, “he will find it easier to persuade all that he has gone mad out of hatred, and is suffering from some other form of mental malady, or is led by some evil genius.” As for his alleged blasphemy concerning the birth of Christ from the Virgin Mary, he protests, “I can swear I never said anything of the kind either in a letter, as Luther makes out, though he fails to say which, or in any of my writings.” Moreover, he confesses to some surprise at finding Luther, whose own language was not remarkable for modesty, suddenly transformed into a champion of cleanliness of speech. The licence of the reformer’s speech he never liked, and he liked much less the licence of appeal. The few were the only capable judges of the questions behind the Reformation. He came to regard the appeal to the average man as alien to the spirit of Christianity: it might be The Freedom of a Christian Man, but of this he had considerable doubts. “Your object,” he forcibly protests, “is to raise revolt, and you are perfectly well aware that this has been often the result of your writings. Not thus did the Apostles act. You drag our controversial opinions before the tribunal of the unlearned.”

The last months of the life of Erasmus were gloomy. He despaired about the progress of human learning. He renewed his old confidence in Melanchthon, and they shared their fears for the future. “As I see no remedy for these disorders,” he told Melanchthon, “I give all my care to letters, of which I think I foresee the ruin.” When Shimei cast stones at David and cursed him, the king said, “Let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.” In a letter written shortly before his death, Erasmus mentioned these words to Melanchthon, “I apply to myself the words of David when he was attacked with stones, and with curses harder than any stone: ‘Dominus præcipit illis ut maledicerent mihi: quis scit an misereatur mei?’ ”

The minds of Erasmus and Melanchthon were essentially moderate. Both showed far more leaning to humanism than to theology. “Agreement,” Melanchthon saw in 1533, “cannot be established by arms if men do not first of all respect conscience; no peace is permanent when minds are divided.” The order and organization of the Church were almost as much to him as they were to Erasmus, and he took the part of those who were unwilling to make a clean sweep of tradition. To him, as to Sir Thomas Browne, the extreme age of an opinion vouched for its truth. Both humanists eagerly and passionately desired unity. It has been lost, nevertheless Melanchthon constantly catches glimpses of it. The fear of the anarchy, the excesses of the prophets, the denials of the rites of the Sacraments, the decay of learning—all stirred his heart deeply. The desire of unity came to him with renewed force. The religious divisions threatened the dissolution of Christianity, and the more threatening their aspect the warmer became his desire for reunion. “We have no dogma,” so he told Campeggio, “contrary to that of the Roman Church. We are ready to obey her … if she is ready not to contest or refuse permission to certain matters which we cannot change, even if we would.”

He welcomed every attempt towards agreement. “I endeavour as much as possible,” he wrote, “to soften the quarrels of religion.” He tried “to heal the anguished conscience, to tear light from darkness and to render the glory of God shining.” To the Bishop of Cracow Erasmus wrote: “By various kinds of punishment about twenty-four have been destroyed at Paris: very many have fled in fear, among whom are not a few noblemen. Some of these the King, who has now become somewhat milder, has recalled, restored to them their goods and permitted them the right of pronouncement of dogmas (as they say) on condition, however, that they do not attack the constitution of the realm. They say that the originator of this moderation is the King of England and Paul III. In England you will learn what happened to the Bishop of Rochester and Thomas More (than which pair of men England never had any more holy or better) from the fragment of a letter which I send you. In More I feel I am myself destroyed, such oneness of soul (as Pythagoras said) was in us two.”

Among the new cardinals appointed in 1536 by Paul III were many sympathetic to Erasmus. There were Fisher, his friend, and Sadoleto, his correspondent. There were Jean du Bellay, who was the enemy of the reactionary Sorbonne, and Reginald Pole, a humanist, as much after his own heart as Fisher himself. He would have liked Contarini, for was not his theological outlook a mediating one? Did he not aim at reconciling the doctrine of justification and of grace, and a reconciler was a man who always secured the admiration of the thinker? He would have welcomed Carafa, the founder of the Theatines, for he was a man of holy life. The Pope offered the red hat also to Erasmus, and the honour has never been better deserved: a more faithful servant the Church never possessed. The honour was enhanced by the means of delivery; for a correspondent of Erasmus, Louis Ber, brought the news personally. In reply to a letter from Freiburg the Pope answered most graciously. Paul III pays a generous tribute to the labours of the scholar, and at that moment Erasmus’s services in the cause of peace were more in his mind. He tells the humanist that the dream of his life is about to be realized, for there is to be a Council and Erasmus is to be a member of it. It is too late. He is now in his seventieth year without the strength either to fight or to write. The membership of the Council and the membership of the Sacred College are no longer for him. “There is nothing now for me except to grow old from day to day. I expect neither dignities nor pension.” Nevertheless his heart and his head were gratified; his heart because he appreciated the honour of the cardinal his head because he no less keenly felt that at last his ideas were to prevail. He had confidence that the new pope was one of the greatest who ever wore the papal tiara, the ablest statesman Erasmus had met in the course of his varied life, and the scholar had met or corresponded with all the important men of his day.

The year 1535 was in some respects almost as memorable as the year 1492. In spite of his alliance with the Lutherans, Francis on January 19, 1535, at length declared himself hostile to German theology—in France—and executed some of his own subjects who did not hold the doctrine—so convenient to sovereigns—of cujus regio, ejus religio. That year Calvin was writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion, an amazing production for a man of his years. There was no room for him in his native country, France, or indeed in Strassburg. He set out for Geneva there to wield a power, secular as much as ecclesiastical, which even Paul III might envy. As the French revolutionaries offered assistance to all peoples desirous of freedom, so Calvin offered his pen and the men he inspired. To the Low Countries he sent that powerful apostle of toleration, Marnix; to England he sent Peter Martyr, and to Scotland he sent John Knox, three forerunners of three revolutions.

Literature in 1535 is just as pregnant with meaning as life. That year Robert Olivétan translated the Bible into French. He was a sound Hebrew scholar, acquainted with the Jewish commentators of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the Apocryphal books, and in the New Testament, he employs Lefèvre’s translation, and when he differs from this scholar the difference is due to Erasmus’s Latin translation. Olivétan’s was as much the favourite version of the French reformers as Tyndale’s was that of the English. It was perused by candle-light at night, in secret by families; it was read in prisons and caves. It was burnt at the stake and the auto de fé. The year 1535 also saw Coverdale’s translation of the Bible, from the Latin and German, appear with the approval of Henry VIII and Cromwell. At Lyons appeared another work, La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua, père de Pantagruel, jadis composée par l’abstracteur de quintessence, livre plein de pantagruélisme. It is an encyclopædia covering many sides of life with as much merriment as Erasmus’s Moriæ Encomium, and with as much joviality as fitted Luther with enjoyment of life. Rabelais became as hostile to Calvin as Erasmus was to Luther, and for the same reasons. He removed from his books expressions he had formerly employed, and among them were sorbonistes, sorbonagres, sorbonicoles. The removal is typical of much in the mind of Rabelais. The Protestant vanishes: the Gallican remains. Little as he realized it, he and Calvin were proceeding—though on different roads—to the goal leading to freedom of conscience.

Paul III was meditating in 1535 the convocation of a Council which was to heal the diseases of the Church. He sent Vergerio to Germany as his ambassador to Luther, and the reformer and the nuncio met. It was indeed time to take action, for in 1535 events were moving fast in England. In January the Act of Supremacy proclaimed Henry Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England. Two significant books appeared this year. In his De Unitate Reginald Pole attacked the new title, and in his De Vera Obedientia Stephen Gardiner expounded the nature and the limits of the duty of a subject to his sovereign.

The North witnesses the progress of the Reformation, the South the beginnings of the counter-Reformation. The leaders of the progressive party, Carafa, Contarini, Pole, Sadoleto, become cardinals; the honour is offered to Erasmus, though he refuses it. They draw up a report which formed the basis of the reforms inaugurated by the Council of Trent. The Pope was no less fortunate in the Society of Jesus, founded the preceding year, than in his Sacred College. Reformers were required, but so were men to carry out the reforms. Ignatius Loyala and his fellow-students, Bobadilla, Faber, Lainez, Rodriguez, Salmeron, and Xavier were the very men for this mission. The men in favour of stern measures increased in influence at Rome as at Paris. In 1535 a decree of the Spanish Inquisition ordered the excommunication of every possessor of Lutheran books. It was no new policy in the favourite home of Charles V. Almost half a century earlier, Torquemada had burnt Hebrew Bibles simply because they were the works of Jews. The dilemma attributed to the Caliph Omar is always a favourite one with the persecutor. It was fitting that the founder of the Jesuits was a Spaniard. It may well be that Erasmus, now in his sixty-ninth year, did not grasp the significance of 1535.

With men of good feeling death invariably softens feelings of animosity. It was not so with Luther. Erasmus passed away in 1536. Eight years afterwards Luther could say that he desired that the annotations of the New Testament by the humanist should not be further disseminated “because they contained Epicureanism and other poison.” Erasmus had destroyed many “in body, soul, and spirit.” He had injured the Gospel as much as he had furthered the interests of learning. “He was a terrible man, and Zwingli was led astray by him. Egranus he had also perverted, and he now believes just as much as Erasmus.” How could he bear to say that “his end was sine crux et sine lux”?

Lefèvre passed away in the spring of 1536, and Erasmus on July 12. That very year, had these two scholars been able to perceive it, Calvin published at Strassburg his Institutes of the Christian Religion, the book of all books which marked the parting of the ways between humanism and reform.

Erasmus belongs to that select band of men of whom Pericles declared the whole world to be the tomb. As the best of men and wisest of rulers, Antoninus Pius, lay dying in his home at Lorium in Etruria, he gave the last password to the officer of the guard: it was Æquanimitas. It had been the inspiration of the life of the humanist, the secret of his failures no less than of his successes. In his noble plea for toleration, the Areopagitica Milton recalls in the Egyptian story how Typhon and his fellow-conspirators dealt with the god Osiris. They took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds of heaven; and as the Puritan points out, “from that time ever since the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitated the careful search that Isis made for the strangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all.” Some Erasmus found, and not the least valuable was that zeal for truth, that method in its investigation, which was one day to open the path to toleration.

Like Erasmus, Edmund Burke was anxious to see the men, to see the things, to take the circumstances into consideration. Both men were the products of circumstance, governing their conduct by the distinguishing colour, the discriminating effect time gave to the event. Both are wrongly accused of a fundamental change of attitude. Just as Erasmus altered the direction of his sympathies with the Lutheran revolt after the year 1519, so Burke altered his after the year 1789. Nevertheless, the alteration was more in appearance than in reality. The thought of the two men was the same, though circumstances had modified its application. Just as Erasmus saw in the Lutherans the menace to balance, harmony, organic unity, so Burke saw in the French revolutionists precisely the same danger. When Erasmus wrote his Novum Instrumentum he wished the ploughboy to read it. The Peasants’ Revolt changed him as the outbreak of 1789 changed Burke. In his early days Erasmus bestowed a thought upon India, where he desired to secure readers. Later he came to hold with Burke that it was the duty of the multitude to bow before the powers-that-be, for were they not ordained of God?

The student in the closet can suspend his judgment: the statesman cannot afford delay. Time refuses to allow it. Erasmus, in spite of his Æquanimitas, was forced to come to a decision on many matters he desired to leave open. In the untying of the tangled knot of events he, no less than Burke, emphasized the need of prudence, that φρόνησις which Aristotle glorifies. Both knew “how many a weary step is to be taken before they (i.e. the people) can form themselves into a mass which has a truly politic personality,” for they were familiar with the slow process of the discipline of nature as it operates through the centuries. Erasmus feared the “red ruin and the breaking up of laws in the Church” just as much as Burke feared them in the State. An individual may fall in a moment: the Church and the State may similarly be bereft of the results of the ages. With the example of Russia fresh in our memories, this is not so improbable as it at one time might have seemed. Undoubtedly Erasmus believed that the madness of the revolutionary might destroy the treasures of countless years. Burke and he perceived that human nature was more apt to feel grievances than to prescribe remedies therefor, and these remedies might perchance prove poisonous to true life. Deaf to Erasmus’s counsels, Luther alienated humanism from reform, to the lasting loss of both. Deaf to Erasmus’s counsels, the papacy condemned Luther and lost a continent. Deaf to Burke’s counsels, England tried to assert her right and also lost a continent. Neglect of the advice of these sages tempts us to agree with Schiller and Hegel that the history of the world is the judgment of the world.

Erasmus and Burke are as convinced that man is naturally religious as Aristotle was that he was naturally political. Both realized that his life is “the known march of the ordinary providence of God.” They fervently believed that “religion is the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and of all comfort.” Reformation was necessary, but the price of it was too high if it meant the destruction of the unity of Europe. In days of peace, Erasmus and Burke believed in freedom of discussion. When the days of war arrived, they thought more about the limits within which discussion was to turn. The reason is obvious. Circumstances had changed. What was permissible when Erasmus was with More in Lord Mountjoy’s home by the Thames in 1500 was no longer permissible by the Rhine in 1520. Burke puts the case with almost irresistible force. “I must first beg leave just to hint,” he remarks at Bristol in 1780, “to you that we may suffer very great detriment by being open to every talker. It is not to be imagined how much of service is lost from spirits full of activity, and full of energy, who are pressing, who are rushing forward to great and capital issues, when you oblige them to be continually looking back. Whilst they are defending one service, they defraud you of a hundred. Applaud us when we run; console us when we fall; cheer us when we recover; but let us pass on—for God’s sake, let us pass on.” Erasmus experienced the force of such considerations. He had been the friend of toleration, of freedom of discussion. At the same time he recognized that the fanatic, by his inability to desist in time, was imperilling the cause he had at heart. Like Cromwell, he thought that there were some fundamentals which the wisdom of the ages had reached, and these he refused to call in question. “I will not,” spoke Burke on February 6, 1772, “enter into the question how much truth is preferable to peace. Perhaps truth may be far better. But as we have scarcely ever the same contained in the one we have in the other, I would—unless the truth were evident indeed—hold fast to peace, which has in her company charity, the highest of virtues.” Plainly he was ready in 1772 to sacrifice truth to peace.

Erasmus and Burke were passionately convinced that Church and State had their foundations in religious faith, and that they could not survive its disintegration. To them there was no question of the relations between Church and State. Such relationship presupposed that they were two bodies in their nature distinct and independent, whereas “in a Christian commonwealth, the Church and the State are one and the same thing, being different integral parts of the same whole.” Plato declares that it is vain to expect any man to be a great statesman unless he cares for something greater than politics. Erasmus and Burke were then great statesmen, for they cared for the deepest matter in human nature, the life of the soul. That life was eminently an orderly one, and for order Erasmus and Burke evinced the most passionate enthusiasm. “The liberty,” avowed the latter in 1774, “the only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order.” Richelieu, Cromwell, and Charles III of Spain were all rulers who appealed to him, for they shared his delight in good and orderly government.

Goethe wished that the Reformation had been conducted by a man like Erasmus rather than by a man like Luther. His wish was a vain one. It is true that nature does not normally take a leap; it is no less true that she has her earthquakes as well as her still slow processes, her Etnas as well as her Jungfraus. In times when vast forces are called into being, the eruption of a volcano may accomplish in a week what the silent processes of nature may not accomplish in an age. Erasmus could never have left the impression on the world which Luther left. The arguments of the scholar were cogent: the arguments of the reformer were compelling. Here is the gulf that yawned between the two men.

The echoes of the past within his brain

The sunrise of the future on his face

—these are the qualities of the great statesman. Unmistakably the echoes of the past resounded in the minds of Erasmus and Burke. Did the sunrise of the future irradiate their faces? Both felt such an unwavering conviction in the soundness of the existing regime, when it had been somewhat modified, that they thought that human insight was barely capable of arriving at such a pitch of excellence, save after the lapse of countless ages. “Perhaps,” remarked Burke, “the only moral trust with any certainty in our hands is the care of our time.” The past they knew with loving intimacy, the present they came to fear. In the issue, faith in the future now and then failed them. Erasmus, however, retained to the end his belief in truth, his conviction that in its progress lay the hope of mankind.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com