Page images
PDF
EPUB

elector's permission, he left his retreat, and forgetting the danger to which he was exposed, seemed only concerned for his cause. This shows the greatness of his mind and faith; to brave in such a manner the fury of a frowning world, and to rush into the most imminent danger, rather than lie safely concealed in an inglorious retreat.

Many indeed were the enemies of Luther and his doctrine ; for while the most mighty princes and their edicts threatened without the disputes about doctrinal points, the extravagance of fanaticks and revolting peasants, tended to sap the foundation within. But many were also the patrons and favourers of the reformed doctrine and mode of worship; and the example of a progressive and gradual reformation adopted in Saxony, was followed by many countries of the Germanick empire and other parts of Europe.

In the year 1526, Luther was married to Catharine A. Bore, a nun of noble family, who had thrown off the veil and fled from the cloister. He has been censured for it as intemperate, and breaking through the bonds of chastity and monastick order. He maintained, however, by that act, the natural right of marriage for the whole succeeding clergy of his party, which they had been deprived of before, contrary to the law of nature and revelation, by the presumptive power of the pope.

Origin of the name of Lutherans and Protestants; and

further progress of the Reformation.

Eccius, Luther's inveterate antagonist, was the first who used the name Lutherans, to denote the followers of that great reformer; and though he meant to express by it a refractory sect and party, separating from the established church, in the progress of time it became honourable and characteristic. Luther was always averse to introducing his own or any other name into the church, which could give rise to distinctions ; which he considered injurious to the bonds of brotherly love, and repugnant to the spirit of religion. He would have his disciples call themselves christians; for, said he, our only master is Christ.

But the origin and design of the name of protestants requires a minute investigation. During the long absence of Charles in Italy, the party of Luther had gained so much ground, that the new form of worship was established, and the rites of the Romish church suppressed in the territories of many imperial cities. A diet had been held in the year 1526, when a decree passed, which was almost equivalent to a toleration of Luther's opinions. But by another decree of the diet of Spires, where Ferdinand presided, in the year 1529, matters were differently decided. It was decreed, that where the edict of Worms had been received and obeyed, none should change the old religion; that the Romans should have every where a free exercise of religion, but no one be permitted to embrace the new heresy; and that no farther innovation in religion should be attempted before the meeting of a general council. But six evangelical princes, and fourteen free and imperial states and cities, entered a solemn protest against this decree, and were on that account distinguished by the name of protestants ; which in progress of time has been applied to all denominations which have separated from the Roman See.

Not less memorable are the proceedings of the diet assembled at Augsburg, June, 1530. The emperor made his publick entry with great pomp; and when Campeggio, the legate of the pope, who was in his suite, gave the benediction, all the Roman princes, with the emperor, fell down upon their knees, but the protestant princes stood erect. The elector of Saxony, successor to Frederick, who died, 1524, espoused the same cause with the same zeal and prudence: he would not permit Luther to accompany him to Augsburg, but left him at a castle in Coburg; where a correspondence was kept up, in which every thing was communicated to Lu. ther, who endeavoured to confirm and animate his party by several treatises and letters.

Melanchthon had drawn up a confession of faith in the name of the protestants, which was read June 25th, both in German and Latin, before the emperor and the whole assembly; by which means many were better informed relative to the doctrine of the protestants. This creed, which is known by the name of the Confession of Augsburg, consists of twenty-eight articles, and is the first symbolical book of the Lutherans. Melanchthon, who was of a gentle and pacifick disposition, altered some arti. cles in it, after it was delivered into the hands of the emperor. It was soon printed and translated into

. different languages.

The emperor insisted upon the return of the protestant princes to the mother church, and in case of resistance, threatened to take rigorous measures against such obstinate hereticks. There were now so many marks of distinction established between the two contending parties, that all hopes of union disappeared. A severe decree of the diet was issued against the protestants, which almost amounted to a full prohibition of their religious liberty; and contained even encroachments upon their rights as states and citizens of the empire. Charles himself

. acceded to the combination of popish princes

for the maintenance of the established religion. This alarmed the protestant princes, and they were convinced of the necessity of a similar union for their own safety, as well as for the success of their cause. Accordingly, they assembled at Smalkalden, in Dec. 1530, and concluded a treaty of mutual defence against all aggressors; by which they became a regular political body, and implored the kings of France and England to assist their new confederacy. Luther was not quite satisfied with this league ; and often expressed his apprehension, that if the princes depended on the force of arms, or made the first attacks, the flames of a religious war would be kindled all over Germany, not easily to be extinguished. The prediction was fulfilled after his death.

Luther made his attack upon the popish system with such formidable impetuosity, that the very foundation of the papal authority was shaken. The minds of men were roused to shake off that yoke to which they had hitherto submitted, and to assert their liberties both as men and christians. A spirit of innovation broke out in different parts of Europe, and penetrated even into those provinces which acknowledged the papal supremacy.

As early as the year 1518, Ulrich Zwinglius of Switzerland, publickly remonstrated against the scandalous sale of indulgences. Luther had the happiness to see his cause espoused by vast multiudes of people of every rank, not only in the provinces of Germany, but in the most powerful kingdoms of Europe. In France, the number of converts in a short time were so great, that they ventured to contend for superiority : but under the name of Hugonots, they were persecuted in a most shocking manner.

Henry VIII. of England remained zealously attached to the Romish church, and was so exasperated against Luther, that he wrote the book on the seven sacraments, in answer to his opponent's treatise on the Babylonish captivity ; for which Leo X., as a testimony of gratitude, conferred on him the title of defender of the faith. But when he was opposed by the pope, in his claim to a divorce with his queen, he threw off his yoke of allegiance to the holy father, and acted upon the same principles (though not with the same wisdom) as Luther, in reforming the errors and abuses of the church, and striking at the root of papal dominion in his kingdom. Denmark, Sweden, and other northern countries, were soon brought over to the same system; and even in Italy, Spain, and other bigotted countries, the protestant doctrine gained many proselytes.

Many commotions ensued in all those countries between contending parties. The Romans, thinking themselves exclusively possessed of truth, and relying on the pope as the pretended vicar of Christ, and only supreme judge and arbiter in religion, persecuted the protestants with a cruelty, unheard of even in the pagan world. Human nature recoils at the recollection of tortures and cruelties which were committed by that hydra, the inquisition, against innocent and defenceless protestants. The history of France is stained with the treacherous and bloody massacre of all the protestants, at the marriage of Henry, in the year 1572. Nor was the religious liberty of England bought without blood. The flames of Smithfield in London, the Irish Massacre, the Gunpowder Treason, may convince us of the open attacks, and secret machinations of popery, to overturn the effects of the reformation ; until it was established in the reign of queen Elizabeth.

Germany was for near a century the theatre of war and bloodshed.

No sooner had Luther closed his eyes, than the confederates of Smalkalden were involved in a war ; in which the leader of the protestant party, the elector of Saxony, was taken prisoner. Charles V. by a stretch of his imperial power, deprived that unfortunate but generous prince of his electoral dignity, and transferred it to Maurice, a Saxon prince of another branch of the family; who

« PreviousContinue »