Proposed Compromise With Luther
No sooner had the consent of the emperor been obtained, than an attempt was made to effect a compromise with Luther. The archbishop of Treves, a staunch Romanist and an intimate friend of the Elector Frederic, undertook the office of mediator. The Reformer was summoned to the residence of this prelate, where were assembled several dignitaries of the church, with secular nobles and deputies, among the rest one Cochlaeus, who was there simply as a spy for the pope's legate.
The spokesman of the company was himself desirous of a reformation in the church, and was therefore favorably disposed toward Luther. With great kindness he addressed the Reformer, assuring him that all the princes present were in earnest to save him, but if he persisted in setting up his own judgment against that of the church and the councils, he would be banished from the empire, and would then have no shelter.
To this appeal Luther made answer: "It is impossible to preach the gospel of Christ without offense. Why, then, should any such fear separate me from the Lord and that divine word which alone is truth? No; rather will I give up body, blood, and life itself."
Again he was urged to submit to the judgment of the emperor, and then he would have nothing to fear. "I consent," said he in reply, "with all my heart, to the emperor, the princes, and even the humblest Christian's examining and judging of my writings; but on one single condition; namely, that they take God's word for their guide. Men have nothing to do but render obedience to that. My conscience is in dependence upon that word, and I am the bounden subject of its authority."
The company soon broke up and withdrew. Two or three remained, however, greatly desiring to accomplish their object. But Luther was firm as a rock. "The pope," said he, "is no judge in things pertaining to the word of the Lord. It is the duty of every Christian to see and understand how to live and die."
The failure of this effort was communicated to the diet by the archbishop of Treves. The surprise of the young emperor was equaled only by his indignation. "It is high time," he said, "to put an end to this business." The archbishop pleaded for two days more, and all the diet uniting in the request, the emperor consented, much against the will of the legate.
Another effort was made to effect a compromise. Cochlaeus was ambitious to accomplish what kings and prelates had failed to do. Dining with Luther at his hotel, he in a friendly manner urged him to retract. Luther shook his head. Several persons at the table expressed their indignation that the papists, instead of convincing Luther by arguments, should seek to control him by force. Cochlaeus then offered to dispute with him publicly, provided he would forego his safe-conduct. A public discussion was what Luther most desired; but he well knew that to forego his safe-conduct would be to imperil his life. The guests suspected that the proposition of Cochlaeus was a stratagem of popery for delivering Luther into the hands of those who sought his destruction, and in their indignation they seized the terrified priest, and hurled him out of doors.
The archbishop of Treves desired another interview, and invited to supper the persons who attended the previous conference, hoping that in the midst of familiar intercourse the parties would be more disposed to a reconciliation. These repeated efforts to move Luther from his steadfastness remind one of Balak conducting Balaam from one point to another, in the vain hope that he might be induced to change the blessing of Israel into a curse. The bishop succeeded no better than did the king of Moab. Human applause and the fear of man were alike powerless to shake the Reformer's decision. He was sustained by a divine power.
Still another trial was made. Two officials of high rank, one of whom had manifested much affection for Luther, called upon him at his hotel. The elector sent two of his counselors to be present at this interview. The two first mentioned were desirous, at any sacrifice, to prevent the great division that seemed about to rend the church. Earnestly they entreated Luther to commit the matter to their hands, assuring him that it should be settled in a Christian spirit.
"I answer at once," said Luther, "I consent to forego my safe-conduct, and resign my person and my life to the emperor's disposal; but as to the word of God . . . . Never!" One of Frederic's counselors then stood up and said to the envoys, "Is not that enough? Is not such a sacrifice sufficient?" and after protesting that he would hear no more, he withdrew.
The two envoys did not even yet understand the inflexible firmness of the man with whom they had to deal. Thinking that they could more easily succeed with him alone, they seated themselves by his side, and again urged him to submit to the diet. He met these solicitations as Christ met his great adversary,--with the word of God. Said Luther, "It is written, 'Cursed is he that trusteth in man.'" They pressed him more and more, until Luther, weary and disgusted, arose and signified to them to retire, saying, "I will allow no man to exalt himself above God's word."
At evening they returned with a new proposition,--a general council. They asked him only to consent to the proposition, without entering into details. "I consent," said he, "but on condition that the council decide according to the Holy Scriptures."
Thinking that this would of course be accepted, they hastened joyfully to the archbishop of Treves, and informed him that Dr. Luther would submit his writings to the judgment of a council.
The archbishop was on the point of communicating the glad tidings to the emperor when a doubt crossed his mind. He had found Luther so firm and confident in his faith, that he decided it would be safest to hear the statement from his own lips. He accordingly sent for him.
"Dear Doctor," said the archbishop with much kindness, "my doctors assure me that you consent to submit your cause without reserve to the decision of a council."
"My lord," said Luther, "I can endure anything except to abandon the Holy Scriptures."
The archbishop saw that his messengers had not fully explained the facts. Never would Rome give her consent to a council which should take the inspired word alone for its guide. "Well then," said the venerable prelate, "let me hear your own remedy for the evil."
Luther was silent for a moment. Then he spoke with respect and great solemnity: "I know of none but what is found in the counsel of Gamaliel: 'If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught. But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God!' Let the emperor, the electors, and the States of the empire, return that answer to the pope."
The archbishop was at last convinced that further effort was useless. Luther had set his feet upon the sure foundation, and he could not be moved.
The Reformer was convinced that there was nothing to be gained by a longer stay at Worms. Before retiring from the presence of the archbishop he said, "My lord, I beg you to request his majesty to send me the safe-conduct necessary for my return whence I came."
"I will attend to it," said the archbishop, and they parted.
Luther had refused to exchange the yoke of Christ for the yoke of popery. This was his only offense; but it was sufficient to imperil his life. The attention of the whole empire had been directed to this one man, and all their threats and entreaties had failed to shake his fidelity to God and his word. Luther had not without help maintained his steadfastness. A greater than Luther was with him, controlling his mind, sanctifying his judgment, and imparting to him wisdom in every hour of peril.
Had the Reformer yielded a single point, Satan and his hosts would have gained the victory. But Luther's unwavering firmness under the iron hand of the pope was the means of emancipating the church and beginning a new and better era. The influence of this one man, who had dared to think and act for himself in religious matters, was to affect the church and the world not only in his own time, but to all future generations. His firmness and fidelity would strengthen all who should pass through a similar experience, to the close of time. This was the work of God. Luther's defense before the diet of Worms was one of the grandest scenes recorded in history. The power and majesty of God stand forth above the counsel of men, above the mighty power of Satan. Shortly after Luther's return to his hotel, two high officers of State, accompanied by a notary, presented themselves. The imperial chancellor addressed him, stating that the emperor, the electors and princes, having vainly exhorted him, his imperial majesty, as defender of the Catholic faith, found himself compelled to resort to other measures. He commanded Luther to return home in the space of twenty-one days, and on the way to refrain from disturbing the public peace by preaching or writing.
Luther was aware that this message would speedily be followed by his condemnation. He answered mildly, "It has happened unto me according to the will of the Eternal. Blessed be his name!" He continued: "And first I humbly, and from the bottom of my heart, thank his majesty, the electors, princes, and States of the empire, that they have given me so gracious a hearing. I neither have, nor ever have had, a wish but for one thing; to wit, a reformation of the church according to the Holy Scriptures. I am ready to do or to suffer all things for obedience to the emperor's will. Life or death, honor or dishonor, I will bear. I make but one reservation, the preaching of the gospel; for, says ST. Paul, the word of God is not to be bound.