Trickery was brought into requisition to entrap Luther’s defenders by a secret proposal to compromise. Luther was given great credit and right, except that he had gone a little too far, and it was only necessary to restrain him from further demonstrations. Rome compromise with a man she had doubly excommunicated and anathematized! Rome make terms with an outlaw whom she had infallibly doomed to eternal execration! Yet with these proposals the emperor’s confessor approached Chancellor Brueck. But the chancellor’s head was too clear to be caught by such treachery.
Then it was moved to refer the matter to a commission of arbitrators. This met with so much favor that the pope’s legate, Aleander, was alarmed lest Luther should thereby escape, and hence set himself with unwonted energy to incite the emperor to decisive measures.
Charles was persuaded to make a demonstration, but demanded that the legate should first “convince the Diet.” Aleander was the most famous orator Rome had, and he rejoiced in his opportunity. He went before the assembly in a prepared speech of three hours in length to show up Luther as a pestilent heretic, and the necessity of getting rid of him and his books and principles at once to prevent the world from being plunged into barbarism and utter desolation. He made a deep impression by his effort. It was only by the unexpected and crushing speech of Duke George of Saxony, Luther’s bitter personal enemy, that the train of things, so energetically wrought up, was turned.
Not in defence of Luther, whom he disliked, but in defence of the German nation, he piled up before the door of the hierarchy such an overwhelming array of its oppressions, robberies, and scandals, and exposed with such an unsparing hand the falsities, profligacies, cupidity, and beastly indecencies of the Roman clergy and officials, that the emperor hastened to recall the edict he had already signed, and yielded consent for Luther to be called to answer for himself.
In vain the pope’s legate protested that it was not lawful thus to bring the decrees of the sovereign pontiff into question, or pleaded that Luther’s daring genius, flashing eyes, electric speech, and thrilling spirit would engender tumult and violence. On March 6th the emperor signed a summons and safe-conduct for the Reformer to appear in Worms within twenty-one days, to answer concerning his doctrines and writings.
So far the thunders of the Vatican were blank.
With all the anxious fears which such a summons would naturally engender, Luther resolved to obey it.
The pope’s adherents fumed in their helplessness when they learned that he was coming—coming, too, under the safe-conduct of the empire, coming to have a hearing before the Diet!—he whom the infallible Vicar of Heaven had condemned and anathematized! Whither was the world drifting?