the ruler of islam saves protestantism -- 8/5/16

Today's selection -- from Martin Luther by Scott H. Hendrix. In 1517, a monk named Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church and started a revolution called the Protestant Reformation. In the early years of this movement, the pervasive power and wealth of the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor could have "nipped the Lutheran movement in the bud," except for the actions of the ruler of Islam:

"The Holy Roman Empire of the German nation had become the major power in Central Europe before Charles, scion of the House of Habsburg, was elected emperor at the age of nineteen. In addition to Austria and Hungary, the Habsburgs had gained control over the Low Countries and Spain through strategic marriages that made Charles the grandson of Spain's rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella. After Charles was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, he was so preoccupied with Italy and Spain that he returned to Germany only once during the next eleven years. At Worms in 1521 Charles presided over the governing convention of the empire, called a diet, attended by the rulers of German cities and territories. ... At the Diet of Worms, which condemned [Martin] Luther, he and Emperor Charles V met face-to-face for the only time. Soon thereafter Charles ceded the rule of Austria to his younger brother, Archduke Ferdinand, and made him the emperor's representative in Germany.

Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877

"It was a bad time for the emperor to be absent. The aggressive Ottoman rulers of the Islamic state in Turkey, known to Europeans simply as 'the Turks,' became a serious threat to Central Europe. A clever and ambitious new sultan, Suleyman, only four years older than Charles, had consolidated his rule of the Balkans by taking Belgrade. In 1522, a brutal six-month siege enabled Suleyman's army to overrun the citadel of the Knights of St. John at Rhodes, the last bastion of Christendom in the eastern Mediterranean. Then, four years later, after the king of France requested Suleyman's support against his archrivals Charles and Ferdinand, the Turkish sultan marched westward toward Austria and Germany. In the summer of 1526, at Mohács on the plains of the Danube, Ottoman forces cut down King Louis of Hungary, the brother-in-law of Ferdinand and Charles, and his vastly outnumbered troops. Ten days later, Suleyman was in Buda taking posses­sion of the royal palace and enjoying the view from high above the Danube. It would now be up to Austria to repel the Turks, while the fate of Germany hung in the balance.

Suleiman in a portrait attributed to Titian c.1530

"The Turkish threat gave Luther and the German Reformation breathing room. By 1526 large territories and important cities had become Lutheran and demanded the right to stay that way. When Ferdinand asked them for money and troops to stop the Turks, the Lutheran rulers realized they had leverage: their support could be exchanged for legal recognition of the reformation. Emperor Charles (if he had returned to Germany) and Archduke Ferdinand, both loyal Catholics, could have nipped the Lutheran movement in the bud, but now it was too late. They needed Lutheran support and, in 1526, the diet of the empire voted to allow each city and territory temporarily to set its own religious policy, Lutheran or Catholic. Luther did not, however, celebrate the Turkish victory or its favorable impact on German Protestantism. While he doubted that the Hungarian king had died at Mohács, he presumed that if it was true, it was another portent of the Last Day. The Turks did not overrun Germany and the Last Day did not arrive; but the Turkish threat and other pressures made Emperor Charles hesitant to attack the Lutherans and weaken his empire. It would take almost thirty years to settle the fate of the Lutheran move­ment but, during the critical decade of the 1520s, Martin Luther and the German Reformation owed their survival to the Islamic threat and to the neglect of Germany by Emperor Charles."


Scott H. Hendrix


Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer


Yale University Press


Copyright 2015 Yale University


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