The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V.
NATIONAL OPPOSITION TO ROME IN GERMANY.

THROUGH all the political and religious confusion, which distracted Germany during the period from the Diet of Worms to the Peasants' War, there runs one thread which gives to the story at least a semblance of unity; and that is the attempt and failure of a central government to keep the nation together on the path towards a practical reform in Church and in State. The reform was no less imperative than the obstacles to it were formidable. Germany was little more than a geographical expression, and a vague one withal; it was not a State, it could hardly be called a nation, so deep were its class divisions. Horizontal as well as vertical lines traversed it in every part, and its social strata were no more fused into one nation than its political sections were welded into one organised State. Rival ambitions and conflicting interests might set Prince against Prince, knight against knight, and town against town, but deeper antagonisms ranged knights against Princes and cities, or cities against Princes and knights; they might all conspire against Caesar, or the peasant might rise up against them. Imperial authority was an ineffective shadow brooding over the troubled waters and unable to still the storm. Separatism in every variety of permutation and combination was erected into a principle, and on it was based the Germanic political system.

Yet this warring concourse of atoms felt once and again a common impulse, and adopted on rare occasions a common line of action. With few exceptions the German people were bent on reform of the Church, and with one voice they welcomed the election of Charles V. Nor for the moment was the hope of political salvation entirely quenched. The efforts of Berthold of Mainz and Frederick of Saxony to evolve order out of the chaos had been foiled by the skill of the Emperor Maximilian, and the advent of Luther had been the signal for a fresh eruption of discord. But the urgency of the need produced a correspondingly strong demand for national unity; and at his election Charles was pledged to renew the attempt to create a national government, to maintain a national judicature, and to pursue a national policy. Un-

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