The pope’s second bull had condemned Luther and all his followers. But Emperor Charles had not taken action. The pope ordered Charles to put the bull into effect and told him that it was useful to be emperor and have armies if he wouldn’t use them. He wrote, “To no purpose will God have invested you with the sword of the supreme power if you do not employ it, not only against infidels (someone who opposes Christianity), but against heretics also, who are far worse than they.”
Suleiman the Magnificent, emperor of the Ottoman Empire, was attacking Charles’ empire and the people feared an invasion of Europe. Most likely, the pope referred to Suleiman and his army as “infidels.”
A heretic is someone who believes differently than others. In other words, Luther and his followers were branded as heretics because they wanted to worship God according to the Bible’s teachings rather than the pope’s teachings. Because they spoke out against corruption in the church and religious ceremonies that strayed from the Bible, the pope condemned them, calling them worse than infidels (the Turks) and demanded that Charles use the sword against them.
On a day when the princes of the empire were getting ready to enjoy a tournament, Charles put an end to the fun by calling them to his imperial palace. Charles had the pope’s bull read and ordered that it be carried out immediately. The princes were surprised and disturbed. Luther had still not been tried.
Charles introduced Cardinal Aleander to convince the council. Aleander laid out Luther’s writings and the papal bulls. For three hours, he accused Luther of sins and crimes. He said Luther sinned against:
- The dead because he said there was no such place as purgatory,
- Heaven because he would not believe an angel from heaven,
- The Roman Church because he said all Christians are priests,
- The saints because he did not believe their writings,
- Councils because he said the Council of Constance was an assembly of devils,
- The world because he said no one should be killed if they have not committed a deadly sin.
Aleander told Emperor Charles not to worry about religious things but to simply carry out the pope’s orders. He claimed, “In Luther’s errors there is enough to burn a hundred thousand heretics.”[i] Aleander insulted the Lutherans, calling them “a crew of insolent pedagogues (rude teachers), corrupt priests, dissolute (sinful) monks, ignorant lawyers, and degraded (ruined) nobles, with the common people, who they have misled and perverted.” On the other hand, Aleander presented the Catholics as “far superior to them…in number, ability, and power.” The council members were moved by the speech of the pope’s representative.
Several days later, though, Duke George, Luther’s enemy, stood up in the council. He didn’t like Luther, but he believed that Luther was right about the church needing reform and he wasn’t willing to let Aleander lump Luther together with the need for reform and throw them both out.
Duke George recited a long list of abuses in the Church. He said every day the Roman Church invented some new way to make money. The sins of the rich were tolerated while the poor were unmercifully punished. He said companies bought from Rome the right to sell indulgences, then paid a bishop to set up the sale of indulgences in his territories. The bishops collected money from the poor for the same kinds of sins that church leaders committed and were not punished for. Finally, Duke George cried out, “All shame has been put aside, and their only object is…money! money! money!” He said the preachers preached lies “because the greater their lies, the greater their gain.” Duke George demanded a council be assembled to bring about reform in the church.
A committee was assembled that presented a list of 101 complaints against the Roman Church. Charles recalled his command to burn Luther’s writings. Instead, he said Luther’s writings should be put under arrest.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.