Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

VII
Luther and the Council
(1533–39)

1. INITIAL CATHOLIC PROBES AND
EVANGELICAL REACTIONS

After the Religious Peace of Nuremberg in 1532, Luther had little occasion to concern himself about political matters in the empire or in Europe. The agreement achieved by the emperor, however, could not obscure the fact that irreconcilable differences with the papacy continued to exist.1 Moreover, the peace was to be in effect only until a council met. In December 1532, Charles V and Pope Clement VII met in Bologna. The emperor again insisted that the proposed council be held soon. The pope agreed, although, as before, he had little interest in one. In advance, however, the approval of the European princes was to be obtained. The task of doing this in Germany was assigned to the bishop of Reggio, Ugo Rangoni, accompanied by the imperial orator, Lambert of Briaerde. The nuncio’s instructions stated that the council was in accord with the pope’s wishes. It was to be a “free” one, held “according to the usual practice of the church.” The participants had to promise in advance to submit to its decisions. At the beginning of June 1533, the mission came to Weimar, and somewhat later to Wittenberg.2 From then on, the council was a topic that concerned the evangelical estates, and Luther as well, for years. The momentous question was whether it would finally bring about the reform of the whole church or whether the council would simply serve as the pope’s instrument for crushing the evangelicals.

After the Wittenbergers became aware of the conditions, Luther and Melanchthon prepared several opinions in which they basically advocated participating. There was no question of any other sort of reaction, since they had been demanding a council for so long. Nevertheless, they did not fail to point out unclarities and problems in the preconditions. The council should be conducted “in accordance with God’s Word and work.” The mention of the “usual practice” could also include the abuses. It was impossible to accept the decisions of the council in advance. There was no question of the pope’s serving as the judge, for he himself was one of the accused parties. Luther assumed that the pope would not allow a council to meet, even under these conditions, but he was quite concerned that the evangelicals not be the ones who refused.

-173-

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