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Career of Charlemagne, by Guizot, Francois P. G.

Life of Charlemagne

World History Center

Holy Roman Empire, The
Book: Chapter XVIII: The Reformation And Its Effects Upon The Empire.
Author: Bryce, James
Date: 1901

Page Eighteen

Chapter XVIII: The Reformation And Its Effects Upon The Empire.

The Reformation falls to be mentioned here, of course, not as a religious
movement, but as the cause of political changes, which still further rent the
Empire, and struck at the root of the theory by which it had been created and
upheld. Luther completed the work of Hildebrand. Hitherto it had seemed not
impossible to strengthen the German state into a monarchy, compact if not
despotic; the very Diet of Worms, where the monk of Wittenberg proclaimed to
an astonished church and Emperor that the day of spiritual tyranny was past,
had framed and presented a fresh scheme for the construction of a central
council of government. The great religious schism put an end to all such
hopes, for it became a source of political disunion far more serious and
permanent than any that had existed before, and it taught the two factions
into which Germany was henceforth divided to regard each other with feelings
more bitter than those of hostile nations.

The breach came at the most unfortunate time possible. After an
election, more memorable than any preceding, an election in which Francis the
First of France and Henry the Eighth of England had been his competitors, a
prince had just ascended the imperial throne who united dominions vaster than
any Europe had seen since the days of his great namesake. Spain and Naples,
Flanders, and other parts of the Burgundian lands, as well as large regions in
eastern Germany, obeyed Charles: he drew inexhaustible revenues from a new
empire beyond the Atlantic. Such a power, directed by a mind more resolute
and profound than that of Maximilian his grandfather, might have well been
able, despite the stringency of his coronation engagements ^1 and the
watchfulness of the electors ^2, to override their usurped privileges, and
make himself practically as well as officially the head of the nation. Charles
the Fifth, though from the coldness of his manner ^3 and his Flemish speech
never a favourite among the Germans, was in point of fact far stronger than
Maximilian or any other Emperor who had reigned for three centuries. In Italy
he succeeded, after long struggles with the Pope and the French, in rendering
himself supreme: England he knew how to lead, by flattering Henry and cajoling
Wolsey: from no state but France had he serious opposition to fear. To this
strength his imperial dignity was indeed a mere accident: its sources were the
infantry of Spain, the looms of Flanders, the sierras of Peru. But the
conquest once achieved, might could lose itself in right; and as an earlier
Charles had veiled the terror of the Frankish sword under the mask of Roman
election, so might his successor sway a hundred provinces with the sole name
of Roman Emperor, and transmit to his race a dominion as wide and more

[Footnote 1: The so-called 'Wahlcapitulation.']

[Footnote 2: The electors long refused to elect Charles, dreading his great
hereditary power, and were at last induced to do so only by their
overmastering fear of the Turks.]

[Footnote 3: Nearly all the Hapsburgs seem to have wanted that sort of genial
heartiness which, apt as it is to be stifled by education in the purple, has
nevertheless been possessed by several other royal lines, greatly contributing
to their vitality; as for instance by more than one prince of the houses of
Brunswick and Hohenzollern.]

One is tempted to speculate as to what might have happened had Charles
espoused the reforming cause. His reverence for the Pope's person is
sufficiently seen in the sack of Rome and the captivity of Clement; the
traditions of his office might have led him to tread in the steps of the
Henrys and the Fredericks, into which even the timid Lewis the Fourth and the
unstable Sigismund had sometimes ventured; the awakening zeal of the German
people, exasperated by the exactions of the Romish court, would have
strengthened his hands, and enabled him, while moderating the excesses of
change, to fix his throne on the deep foundations of national love. It may
well be doubted - Englishmen at least have reason for the doubt - whether the
Reformation would not have lost as much as it could have gained by being
entangled in the meshes of royal patronage. But, setting aside Charles's
personal leaning to the old faith, and forgetting that he was king of the most
bigoted race of Europe, his position as Emperor made him almost perforce the
Pope's ally. The Empire had been called into being by Rome, had vaunted the
protection of the Apostolic. See as its highest earthly privilege, had
latterly been wont, especially in Hapsburg hands, to lean on the Papacy for
support. Itself founded entirely on prescription and the traditions of
immemorial reverence, how could it abandon the cause which the longest
prescription and the most solemn authority had combined to consecrate? With
the German clergy, despite occasional quarrels, it had been on better terms
than with the lay aristocracy; their heads had been the chief ministers of the
crown; the advocacies of their abbeys were the last source of imperial revenue
to disappear. To turn against them now, when furiously assailed by heretics;
to abrogate claims hallowed by antiquity and a hundred laws, would be to
pronounce its own sentence, and the fall of the eternal city's spiritual
dominion must involve the fall of what still professed to be her temporal.
Charles would have been glad to see some abuses corrected; but a broad line of
policy was called for, and he cast in his lot with the Catholics ^1.

[Footnote 1: See this brought out with great force in the very interesting
work of Padre Tosti, Prolegomeni alla Storia Universale della Chiesa, from
which I quote one passage, which bears directly on the matter in hand: 'Il
grido della riforma clericale aveva un eco terribile in tutta la compagnia
civile dei popoli: essa percuoteva le cime del laicale potere, e rimbalzava
per tutta la gerarchia sociale. Se l' imperadore Sigismondo nel consilio di
Costanza non avesse fiutate queste consequenze nella eresia di Hus e di
Girolamo di Praga, forse non avrebbe con tanto zelo mandati alle fiamme que'
novatori. Rotto da Lutero il vincolo di suggezione al Papa ed ai preti in
fatti di religione, avvenne che anche quello che sommetteva il vassallo al
barone, il barone al imperadore si allentasse. Il popolo con la Bibbia in
mano era prete, vescovo, e papa; e se prima contristato della prepotenza di
chi gli soprastava, ricorreva al successore di San Pietro, ora ricorreva a se
stesso, avendogli commesse Fra Martino le chiavi del regno dei Cieli.' - vol.
ii. pp. 398, 9.]

Of many momentous results only a few need be noticed here. The
reconstruction of the old imperial system, upon the basis of Hapsburg power,
proved in the end impossible. Yet for some years it had seemed actually
accomplished. When the Smalkaldic league had been dissolved and its leaders
captured, the whole country lay prostrate before Charles. He overawed the
Diet at Augsburg by his Spanish soldiery: he forced formularies of doctrine
upon the vanquished Protestants: he set up and pulled down whom he would
throughout Germany, amid the muttered discontent of his own partisans. Then,
as in the beginning of the year 1552, he lay at Innsbruck, fondly dreaming
that his work was done, waiting the spring weather to cross to Trent, where
the Catholic fathers had again met to settle the world's faith for it, news
was suddenly brought that North Germany was in arms, and that the revolted
Maurice of Saxony had seized Donauwerth, and was hurrying through the Bavarian
Alps to surprise his sovereign ^1. Charles rose and fled south over the snows
of the Brenner, then eastwards, under the blood-red cliffs of dolomite that
wall in the Pusterthal, far away into the silent valleys of Carinthia: the
council of Trent broke up in consternation: Europe saw and the Emperor
acknowledged that in his fancied triumph over the spirit of revolution he had
done no more than block up for the moment an irresistible torrent. When this
last effort to produce religious uniformity by violence had failed as
hopelessly as the previous devices of holding discussions of doctrine and
calling a general council, a sort of armistice was agreed to in 1555, which
lasted in mutual fear and suspicion for more than sixty years. Four years
after this disappointment of the hopes and projects which had occupied his
busy life, Charles, weighed down by cares and with the shadow of coming death
already upon him, resigned the sovereignty of Spain and the Indies, of
Flanders and Naples, into the hands of his son Philip the Second; while the
imperial sceptre passed to his brother Ferdinand, who had been some time
before (1531) chosen King of the Romans. Ferdinand was content to leave
things much as he found them, and the amiable Maximilian II, who succeeded
him, though personally well inclined to the Protestants, found himself
fettered by his position and his allies, and could do little or nothing to
quench the flame of religious and political hatred. Germany remained divided
into two omnipresent factions, and so further than ever from harmonious
action, or a tightening of the long-loosened bond of feudal allegiance. The
states of either creed being gathered into a league, there could no longer be
a recognized centre of authority for judicial or administrative purposes.
Least of all could a centre be sought in the Emperor, the leader of the papal
party, the suspected foe of every Protestant. Too closely watched to do
anything of his own authority, too much committed to one party to be accepted
as a mediator by the other, he was driven to attain his own objects by falling
in with the schemes and furthering the selfish ends of his adherents, by
becoming the accomplice or the tool of the Jesuits. The Lutheran princes
addressed themselves to reduce a power of which they had still an
over-sensitive dread, and found when they exacted from each successive
sovereign engagements more stringent than his predecessor's, that in this, and
this alone, their Catholic brethren were not unwilling to join them. Thus
obliged to strip himself one by one of the ancient privileges of his crown,
the Emperor came to have little influence on the government except that which
his intrigues might exercise. Nay, it became almost impossible to maintain a
government at all. For when the Reformers found themselves outvoted at the
Diet, they declared that in matters of religion a majority ought not to bind a
minority. As the measures were few which did not admit of being reduced to
this category, for whatever benefited the Emperor or any other Catholic prince
injured the Protestants, nothing could be done save by the assent of two
bitterly hostile factions. Thus scarce anything was done; and even the courts
of justice were stopped by the disputes that attended the appointment of every
judge or assessor.

[Footnote 1: Maurice is reported to have been just as well pleased at Charles'
escape. 'I have no cage big enough,' said he, 'for such a bird.']

In the foreign politics of Germany another result followed. Inferior in
military force and organization, the Protestant princes at first provided for
their safety by forming leagues among themselves. The device was an old one,
and had been employed by the monarch himself before now, in despair at the
effete and cumbrous forms of the imperial system. Soon they began to look
beyond the Vosges, and found that France, burning heretics at home, was only
too happy to smile on free opinions elsewhere. The alliance was easily
struck; Henry the Second assumed in 1552 the title of 'Protector of the
Germanic liberties,' and a pretext for interference was never wanting in

These were some of the visible political consequences of the great
religious schism of the sixteenth century. But beyond and above them there
was a change far more momentous than any of its immediate results. There is
perhaps no event in history which has been represented in so great a variety
of lights as the Reformation. It has been called a revolt of the laity
against the clergy, or of the Teutonic races against the Italians, or of the
kingdoms of Europe against the universal monarchy of the Popes. Some have
seen in it only a burst of long-repressed anger at the luxury of the prelates
and the manifold abuses of the ecclesiastical system; others a renewal of the
youth of the church by a return to primitive forms of doctrine. All these
indeed to some extent it was; but it was also something more profound, and
fraught with mightier consequences than any of them. It was in its essence
the assertion of the principle of individuality - that is to say, of true
spiritual freedom. Hitherto the personal consciousness had been a faint and
broken reflection of the universal; obedience had been held the first of
religious duties; truth had been conceived as a something external and
positive, which the priesthood who were its stewards were to communicate to
the passive layman, and whose saving virtue lay not in its being felt and
known by him to be truth, but in a purely formal and unreasoning acceptance.
The great principles which mediaeval Christianity still cherished were
obscured by the limited, rigid, almost sensuous forms which had been forced on
them in times of ignorance and barbarism. That which was in its nature
abstract, had been able to survive only by taking a concrete expression. The
universal consciousness became the Visible Church: the Visible Church hardened
into a government and degenerated into a hierarchy. Holiness of heart and
life was sought by outward works, by penances and pilgrimages, by gifts to the
poor and to the clergy, wherein there dwelt often little enough of a
charitable mind. The presence of divine truth among men was symbolized under
one aspect by the existence on earth of an infallible Vicar of God, the Pope;
under another, by the reception of the present Deity in the sacrifice of the
mass; in a third, by the doctrine that the priest's power to remit sins and
administer the sacraments depended upon a transmission of miraculous gifts
which can hardly be called other than physical. All this system of doctrine,
which might, but for the position of the church as a worldly and therefore
obstructive power, have expanded, renewed, and purified itself during the four
centuries that had elapsed since its completion ^1, and thus remained in
harmony with the growing intelligence of mankind, was suddenly rent in pieces
by the convulsion of the Reformation, and flung away by the more religious and
more progressive peoples of Europe. That which was external and concrete, was
in all things to be superseded by that which was inward and spiritual. It was
proclaimed that the individual spirit, while it continued to mirror itself in
the world-spirit, had nevertheless an independent existence as a centre of
self-issuing force, and was to be in all things active rather than passive.
Truth was no longer to be truth to the soul until it should have been by the
soul recognized, and in some measure even created; but when so recognized and
felt, it is able under the form of faith to transcend outward works and to
transform the dogmas of the understanding; it becomes the living principle
within each man's breast, infinite itself, and expressing itself infinitely
through his thoughts and acts. He who as a spiritual being was delivered from
the priest, and brought into direct relation with the Divinity, needed not, as
heretofore, to be enrolled a member of a visible congregation of his fellows,
that he might live a pure and useful life among them. Thus by the Reformation
the Visible Church as well as the priesthood lost that paramount importance
which had hitherto belonged to it, and sank from being the depositary of all
religious tradition, the source and centre of religious life, the arbiter of
eternal happiness or misery, into a mere association of Christian men, for the
expression of mutual sympathy and the better attainment of certain common
ends. Like those other doctrines which were now assailed by the Reformation,
this mediaeval view of the nature of the Visible Church had been naturally,
and so, it may be said, necessarily developed between the third and the
twelfth century, and must therefore have represented the thoughts and
satisfied the wants of those times. By the Visible Church the flickering lamp
of knowledge and literary culture, as well as of religion, had been fed and
tended through the long night of the Dark Ages. But, like the whole
theological fabric of which it formed a part, it was now hard and unfruitful,
identified with its own worst abuses, capable apparently of no further
development, and unable to satisfy minds which in growing stronger had grown
more conscious of their strength. Before the awakened zeal of the northern
nations it stood a cold and lifeless system, whose organization as a hierarchy
checked the free activity of thought, whose bestowal of worldly power and
wealth on spiritual pastors drew them away from their proper duties, and which
by maintaining alongside of the civil magistracy a co-ordinate and rival
government, maintained also that separation of the spiritual element in man
from the secular, which had been so complete and so pernicious during the
Middle Ages, which debases life, and severs religion from morality.

[Footnote 1: It was not till the end of the eleventh century that
transubstantiation was definitely established as a dogma.]

The Reformation, it may be said, was a religious movement: and it is the
Empire, not the Church, that we have here to consider. The distinction is
only apparent. The Holy Empire is but another name for the Visible Church. It
has been shewn already how mediaeval theory constructed the State on the model
of the Church; how the Roman Empire was the shadow of the Popedom - designed
to rule men's bodies as the pontiff ruled their souls. Both alike claimed
obedience on the ground that Truth is One, and that where there is One faith
there must be One government ^1. And, therefore, since it was this very
principle of Formal Unity that the Reformation overthrew, it became a revolt
against despotism of every kind; it erected the standard of civil as well as
of religious liberty, since both of them are needed, though needed in a
different measure, for the worthy development of the individual spirit. The
Empire had never been conspicuously the antagonist of popular freedom, and
was, even under Charles the Fifth, far less formidable to the commonalty than
were the petty princes of Germany. But submission, and submission on the
ground of indefeasible transmitted right, upon the ground of Catholic
traditions and the duty of the Christian magistrate to suffer heresy and
schism as little as the parallel sins of treason and rebellion, had been its
constant claim and watchword. Since the days of Julius Caesar it had passed
through many phases, but in none of them had it ever been a constitutional
monarchy, pledged to the recognition of popular rights. And hence the
indirect tendency of the Reformation to narrow the province of government and
exalt the privileges of the subject was as plainly adverse to the Empire as
the Protestant claim of the right of private judgment was to the pretensions
of the Papacy and the priesthood.

[Footnote 1: See the passages quoted in note (m), p. 98; and note (g), p.

The remark must not be omitted in passing, how much less than might have
been expected the religious movement did at first actually effect in the way
of promoting either political progress or freedom of conscience. The habits
of centuries were not to be unlearnt in a few years, and it was natural that
ideas struggling into existence and activity should work erringly and
imperfectly for a time. By a few inflammable minds liberty was carried into
antinomianism, and produced the wildest excesses of life and doctrine. Several
fantastic sects arose, refusing to conform to the ordinary rules without which
human society could not subsist. But these commotions neither spread widely
nor lasted long. Far more pervading and more remarkable was the other error,
if that can be called an error which was the almost unavoidable result of the
circumstances of the time. The principles which had led the Protestants to
sever themselves from the Roman Church, should have taught them to bear with
the opinions of others, and warned them from the attempt to connect agreement
in doctrine or manner of worship with the necessary forms of civil government.
Still less ought they to have enforced that agreement by civil penalties; for
faith, upon their own shewing, had no value save when it was freely given. A
church which does not claim to be infallible is bound to allow that some part
of the truth may possibly be with its adversaries: a church which permits or
encourages human reason to apply itself to revelation has no right first to
argue with people and then to punish them if they are not convinced. But
whether it was that men only half saw what they had done, or that finding it
hard enough to unrivet priestly fetters, they welcomed all the aid a temporal
prince could give, the result was that religion, or rather religious creeds,
began to be involved with politics more closely than had ever been the case
before. Through the greater part of Christendom wars of religion raged for a
century or more, and down to our own days feelings of theological antipathy
continue to affect the relations of the powers of Europe. In almost every
country the form of doctrine which triumphed associated itself with the state,
and maintained the despotic system of the Middle Ages, while it forsook the
grounds on which that system had been based. It was thus that there arose
National Churches, which were to be to the several Protestant countries of
Europe that which the Church Catholic had been to the world at large;
churches, that is to say, each of which was to be co-extensive with its
respective state, was to enjoy landed wealth and exclusive political
privilege, and was to be armed with coercive powers against recusants. It was
not altogether easy to find a set of theoretical principles on which such
churches might be made to rest, for they could not, like the old church, point
to the historical transmission of their doctrines; they could not claim to
have in any one man or body of men an infallible organ of divine truth; they
could not even fall back upon general councils, or the argument, whatever it
may be worth, 'Securus iudicat orbis terrarum.' But in practice these
difficulties were soon got over, for the dominant party in each state, if it
was not infallible, was at any rate quite sure that it was right, and could
attribute the resistance of other sects to nothing but moral obliquity. The
will of the sovereign, as in England, or the will of the majority, as in
Holland, Scandinavia, and Scotland, imposed upon each country a peculiar form
of worship, and kept up the practices of mediaeval intolerance without their
justification. Persecution, which might be at least excused in an infallible
Catholic and Apostolic Church, was peculiarly odious when practised by those
who were not catholic, who were no more apostolic than their neighbours, and
who had just revolted from the most ancient and venerable authority in the
name of rights which they now denied to others. If union with the visible
church by participation in a material sacrament be necessary to eternal life,
persecution may be held a duty, a kindness to perishing souls. But if the
kingdom of heaven be in every sense a kingdom of the spirit, if saving faith
be possible out of one visible body and under a diversity of external forms,
persecution becomes at once a crime and a folly. Therefore the intolerance of
Protestants, if the forms it took were less cruel than those practised by the
Roman Catholics, was also far less defensible; for it had seldom anything
better to allege on its behalf than motives of political expediency, or, more
often, the mere headstrong passion of a ruler or a faction to silence the
expressions of any opinions but their own. To enlarge upon this theme, did
space permit it, would not be to digress from the proper subject of this
narrative. For the Empire, as has been said more than once already, was far
less an institution than a theory or doctrine. And hence it is not too much
to say, that the ideas which have but recently ceased to prevail regarding the
duty of the magistrate to compel uniformity in doctrine and worship by the
civil arm, may all be traced to the relation which that theory established
between the Roman Church and the Roman Empire; to the conception, in fact, of
an Empire Church itself.

Two of the ways in which the Reformation affected the Empire have been
now described: its immediate political results, and its far more profound
doctrinal importance, as implanting new ideas regarding the nature of freedom
and the province of government. A third, though apparently almost
superficial, cannot be omitted. Its name and its traditions, little as they
retained of their former magic power, were still such as to excite the
antipathy of the German reformers. The form which the doctrine of the supreme
importance of one faith and one body of the faithful had taken was the
dominion of the ancient capital of the world through her spiritual head, the
Roman bishop, and her temporal head, the Emperor. As the names of Roman and
Christian had been once convertible, so long afterwards were those of Roman
and Catholic. The Reformation, separating into its parts what had hitherto
been one conception, attacked Romanism but not Catholicity, and formed
religious communities which, while continuing to call themselves Christian,
repudiated the form with which Christianity had been so long identified in the
West. As the Empire was founded upon the assumption that the limits of Church
and State are exactly co-extensive, a change which withdrew half of its
subjects from the one body while they remained members of the other,
transformed it utterly, destroyed the meaning and value of its old
arrangements, and forced the Emperor into a strange and incongruous position.
To his Protestant subjects he was merely the head of the administration, to
the Catholics he was also the Defender and Advocate of their church. Thus
from being chief of the whole state he became the chief of a party within it,
the Corpus Catholicorum, as opposed to the Corpus Evangelicorum; he lost what
had been hitherto his most holy claim to the obedience of the subject; the
awakened feeling of German nationality was driven into hostility to an
institution whose title and history bound it to the centre of foreign tyranny.
After exulting for seven centuries in the heritage of Roman rule, the Teutonic
nations cherished again the feeling with which their ancestors had resisted
Julius Caesar and Germanicus. Two mutually repugnant systems could not exist
side by side without striving to destroy one another. The instincts of
theological sympathy overcame the duties of political allegiance, and men who
were subjects both of the Emperor and of their local prince, gave all their
loyalty to him who espoused their doctrines and protected their worship. For
in North Germany princes as well as people were mostly Lutheran: in the
southern and especially the south-eastern lands, where the magnates held to
the old faith, Protestants were scarcely to be found except in the free
cities. The same causes which injured the Emperor's position in Germany swept
away the last semblance of his authority through other countries. In the
great struggle which followed, the Protestants of England and France, of
Holland and Sweden, thought of him only as the ally of Spain, of the Vatican,
of the Jesuits; and he of whom it had been believed a century before that by
nothing but his existence was the coming of Antichrist on earth delayed, was
in the eyes of the northern divines either Antichrist himself or Antichrist's
foremost champion. The earthquake that opened a chasm in Germany was felt
through Europe; its states and peoples marshalled themselves under two hostile
banners, and with the Empire's expiring power vanished that united Christendom
it had been created to lead ^1.

[Footnote 1: Henry VIII of England when he rebelled against the Pope called
himself King of Ireland (his predecessors had used only the title 'Dominus
Hiberniae') without asking the Emperor's permission, in order to shew that he
repudiated the temporal as well as the spiritual dominion of Rome.

So the Statute of Appeals is careful to deny and reject the authority of
'other foreign potentates,' meaning, no doubt, the Emperor as well as the

Some of the effects thus sketched began to shew themselves as early as
that famous Diet of Worms, from Luther's appearance at which, in A.D. 1521, we
may date the beginning of the Reformation. But just as the end of the
religious conflict in England can hardly be placed earlier than the Revolution
in 1688, nor in France than the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, so
it was not till after more than a century of doubtful strife that the new
order of things was fully and finally established in Germany. The
arrangements of Augsburg, like most treaties on the basis of uti possidetis,
were no better than a hollow truce, satisfying no one, and consciously made to
be broken. The church lands which Protestants had seized, and Jesuit
confessors urged the Catholic princes to reclaim, furnished an unceasing
ground of quarrel: neither party yet knew the strength of its antagonists
sufficiently to abstain from insulting or persecuting their modes of worship,
and the smouldering hate of half a century was kindled by the troubles of
Bohemia into the Thirty Years' War.

The imperial sceptre had now passed from the indolent and vacillating
Rudolf II (1576-1612), the corrupt and reckless policy of whose ministers had
done much to exasperate the already suspicious minds of the Protestants, into
the firmer grasp of Ferdinand the Second ^1. Jealous, bigoted, implacable,
skillful in forming and concealing his plans, resolute to obstinacy in
carrying them out in action, the house of Hapsburg could have had no abler and
no more unpopular leader in their second attempt to turn the German Empire
into an Austrian military monarchy. They seemed for a time as near to the
accomplishment of the project as Charles the Fifth had been. Leagued with
Spain, backed by the Catholics of Germany, served by such a leader as
Wallenstein, Ferdinand proposed nothing less than the extension of the Empire
to its old limits, and the recovery of his crown's full prerogative over all
its vassals. Denmark and Holland were to be attacked by sea and land: Italy
to be reconquered with the help of Spain: Maximilian of Bavaria and
Wallenstein to be rewarded with principalities in Pomerania and Mecklenburg.
The latter general was all but master of Northern Germany when the successful
resistance of Stralsund turned the wavering balance of the war. Soon after
(A.D. 1630), Gustavus Adolphus crossed the Baltic, and saved Europe from an
impending reign of the Jesuits. Ferdinand's high-handed proceedings had
already alarmed even the Catholic princes. Of his own authority he had put
the Elector Palatine and other magnates to the ban of the Empire: he had
transferred an electoral vote to Bavaria; had treated the districts overrun by
his generals as spoil of war, to be portioned out at his pleasure; had
unsettled all possession by requiring the restitution of church property
occupied since A.D. 1555. The Protestants were helpless; the Catholics,
though they complained of the flagrant illegality of such conduct, did not
dare to oppose it: the rescue of Germany was the work of the Swedish king. In
four campaigns he destroyed the armies and the prestige of the Emperor;
devastated his lands, emptied his treasury, and left him at last so enfeebled
that no subsequent successes could make him again formidable. Such,
nevertheless, was the selfishness and apathy of the Protestant princes,
divided by the mutual jealousy of the Lutheran and the Calvinist party - some,
like the Saxon elector, most inglorious of his inglorious house, bribed by the
cunning Austrian; others afraid to stir lest a reverse should expose them
unprotected to his vengeance - that the issue of the long protracted contest
would have gone against them but for the interference of France. It was the
leading principle of Richelieu's policy to depress the house of Hapsburg and
keep Germany disunited: hence he fostered Protestantism abroad while trampling
it down at home. The triumph he did not live to see was sealed in A.D. 1648,
on the utter exhaustion of all the combatants, and the treaties of Munster and
Osnabruck were thenceforward the basis of the Germanic constitution.

[Footnote 1: Matthias, brother of Rudolf II, reigned from 1612 till 1619.]