CHAPTER VI. HENRY VIII (ii), 1509-32 - BIRTH OF THE REFORMATION
In 1517 Pope Leo X. was in want of money: and one of the recognised methods of obtaining it was the sale of Indulgences - that is to say, remissions in the duration of Purgatorial sufferings, ratified by His Holiness, and purchasable for cash. The whole thing being simply a commercial transaction, the Indulgences were offered at popular prices. There was nothing new in the method. The Lay Princes had no objections to the sale in their territories, since they could demand a share in the profits as the condition of their permission. The system moreover had been held up to ridicule before. But on this occasion, there were two novel features: one, the unprecedented scale on which the transaction was to be worked, the other the nature of the opposition it aroused. Doctor Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and Professor at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony had been coming to the conclusion that the practices of the Church were not what they should be, and that much of her teaching was false. The affair of the Indulgences brought things to a head; and when Tetzel the Papal Commissioner was approaching Saxony, Luther drew up a counterblast in the form of a series of propositions which he nailed up publicly on the Church doors. Moreover he received unexpected support from the "Good Elector" Frederick, who forbade Tetzel to enter his dominions.
[Luther's defiance, 1520]
Leo was occupied with political affairs, which seemed for the time to be more important than the heretical vagaries of an obscure monk. Wolsey's diplomacy was working up to the point at which in 1518 he attached France to England in the alliance which culminated in the "Universal Peace," the Cardinal having supplanted the Pope as the moderator in the disputes of the great Powers. Then Maximilian died, and the Imperial Election absorbed political attention, with the ensuing complications described in a previous chapter. Meantime however, Luther was waxing increasingly determined; instead of quailing at threats, he was fully resolved to maintain his convictions and fight the matter out. As to what he had done, he appealed to a General Council; what he was going to do he made clear by exhorting the German Princes to stop their tributes to Rome. The advice had a natural attraction for the German Princes though they might lack enthusiasm on questions of theology. Leo issued a Bull condemning Luther. Luther answered by publicly burning the Bull (December 10th, 1520).
[The Diet of Worms, 1521]
The young Emperor, fresh from his coronation at Aachen, was about to hold the Diet of the Empire at Worms. It was his policy to maintain friendly relations with Rome; and Luther was summoned to the Diet under a safe-conduct. The precedent of Huss showed how little such a safe-conduct was worth; but the great Reformer was undaunted. Frederick of Saxony, encouraged by Erasmus, was known to be on his side. He faced the Diet, reaffirmed his heresies, and emphasised his flat repudiation of Papal Authority. He had fiery supporters and fiery opponents. His life was in the gravest danger, and his death would have been followed by a bloody collision between the two parties. The disaster was averted by the Elector Frederick who kidnapped him for his own sake and carried him off to a secure retreat in the Wartburg: where he remained for nearly a year, working at his translation of the Bible. The Diet however confirmed an edict condemning Luther and his doctrines. The English King moreover, who accounted himself no mean theologian, issued a refutation of the Lutheran heresies which won for him from Pope Leo the title of Defender of the Faith.
At this time, and for some time to come, the Papacy regarded Francis I. with hostility, and looked upon his Italian ambitions as dangerous to itself. Hence there was a natural tendency to alliance between Rome and the Emperor. 1521 was the year of the ineffectual Conference of Calais, followed by the death of Leo X., the election of the (Imperial) Pope Adrian in the next year, and the embroilment of England in the European wars. Charles was sufficiently occupied with these high political matters, and was personally withdrawn from Germany, whose affairs were more or less controlled by an Imperial Council in which Frederick of Saxony was the guiding spirit; popular sentiment was on Luther's side, and the Worms edict was practically a dead letter. But the seclusion of the great Reformer threw the movement largely into the hands of extremists such as Carlstadt and Münzer to whose anarchical theories he was opposed as vehemently as to Rome.
[1524 The German peasant rising]
Now we shall presently see that in England itself there was strong ground for discontent with the prevailing social order and the relations between the peasantry and the landed classes: but in Germany matters were very much worse. In England there had always been a tendency for the religious reformers to associate their movements with demands for social reform; and so it was now to an exaggerated degree in Germany. Social revolution was no part of the scheme of Luther and his lieutenant Melanchthon; but in defying the authority of Rome they had awakened the revolutionary spirit. Fired with religious fanaticism, the demagogues acquired a new character, a devouring zeal, a reckless courage. At last in 1524 the peasants rose demanding redress for their grievances. What they asked was indeed bare justice according to any intelligent modern view; yet the granting of their demands would have been completely subversive of the existing social order. The upper classes were united against them, Luther and his associates denounced them. The fiercest passions broke loose: there were ghastly massacres and ghastly reprisals, ending in the slaughter of scores of thousands of peasants, and the complete suppression of the rising.
[Its effect in England]