On October 26, 1520, Emperor Charles V and all the princes of the empire gathered at Cologne Germany for his coronation. Following in the footsteps of Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V vowed to be a protector of the papacy and the Roman Church.
The pope’s representative, an intelligent and refined man named Aleander, was there to congratulate the new emperor and explain his duties to the pope. Aleander told Charles that he must enforce the pope’s bull and burn all Luther’s books where ever they were found in the empire. He also said that Luther must be arrested. Charles hesitated. He told Aleander that first he would ask Frederick about the matter.
Aleander met with Frederick and told him he had two requirements: 1. That he burn Luther’s writings, and 2. That he punish Luther as a heretic or send him to Rome for punishment. Frederick wisely answered that he needed time to consider the matter.
Frederick was upset that the pope had not carefully examined Luther’s case and dealt fairly with him. He was upset that the pope had condemned Luther without even giving him a chance to explain himself. Frederick, who had established and supported the University of Wittenberg, was displeased with Eck for having threatened the university and having presented the papal bull there. Above all, Frederick felt that Luther was being unfairly treated by the church.
Frederick sent an answer to Aleander on November 4. He said that no one had ever refuted any of Luther’s teachings and he requested a safe conduct, a promise of protection for travel, for Luther to attend a fair hearing of his case.
Aleander’s pride was hurt. He said, “We will execute the bull. We will hunt out and burn Luther’s writings.”[i]
Charles: Policy Over Truth
Charles V was in no hurry to deal with Luther. Frederick was Luther’s protector, but he was also Charles’ respected uncle and Charles did not want to offend him. On the other hand, Charles wanted to keep the pope on his side because the pope’s support could be important to him, also. So, Charles waffled. The truth didn’t seem to matter much to him. He was more concerned about doing what he thought was best for his sovereignty and the empire.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 336.