THE VICTIMS OF CHARLES THE FIFTH. (1529-1535.)
Charles the Fifth continued to prosecute his schemes. Each of the numerous countries which he united under his scepter had its destination in accordance with the private views of its master. The Netherlands were to be the field for the display of his arbitrary authority and his cruel despotism. The emperor had already given proof of his fierce disposition in the treaty of Madrid; but he now gave further evidence of the same. On the 29th of January, 1529, he concluded, at Barcelona, an alliance with the pope which was worthy of both of them. It was therein declared that ‘many persons having completely deviated from Christian doctrine, the emperor and his brother would make use of their power against those who should obstinately persist in their errors.’ All the princes were invited to join this ‘holy alliance.’ On the 5th of August of the same year the emperor confirmed, by the treaty of Cambray, his determination to extirpate evangelical doctrine; and the same year a new placard, dated from Brussels, October 14, was everywhere posted up, which ordered that all those who dwelt in the country should, before November 25, deliver into the hands of the prefect of the place all books and manuscripts conformed to the opinions of Luther. Whosoever failed to do so, and whosoever should receive heretics into his house, should be punished both with confiscation and with death. ‘Nevertheless,’ it was added, ‘that we may manifest to all with what compassion we are moved, those who before the said date shall confess and abjure their errors should be reconciled to the Church.’ Relapsed persons and prisoners were, however, excepted. The relapsed were condemned to the flames; and with respect to other heretics, the men were to be beheaded, and the women condemned to the pit, i.e. to be buried alive. Half of the goods of accused persons was promised to the informers. Such was the compassion with which, according to the assurance which he gave, the heart of Charles the Fifth was moved. Was the atrocious penalty pronounced against women consequent on the fact that they usually showed more piety and gave greater provocation by their zeal to the satellites of Charles? This is possible; and at all events the fact is greatly to their honor.
The emperor was not the only oppressor of the evangelicals of the Netherlands. Charles of Egmont, Duke of Guelderland, who was at this time residing in the ancient palace of his town of Arnheim, on the right bank of the Rhine, indulged without restraint his wrath against the Reformation. Two men were the objects of his especial detestation. One of these was Gerhard Goldenhauer of Nimeguen, a correspondent of Erasmus, who had brought many of the inhabitants of Guelderland to the knowledge of Christ.
The other was Adolph Clarenbach, a learned and eloquent man, who had courageously proclaimed evangelical truth. Shortly after the conclusion of the alliance between the emperor and the pope, the duke determined to do everything in his power for the purpose of crushing the enemies of the pope. ‘I will have,’ said he, ‘all those who are tainted with the Lutheran heresy, young and old, natives and foreigners, men and women, all who, either within the privacy of their own houses, or in hostelries, or in conventicles, shall have said or done anything which savors of heresy, deprived without mercy and without respect of persons of their property and their lives. One third of their fortune shall be mine, another third shall go to the towns or other places where the offense has been committed, and the remaining third shall go to the informer.’ The ducal fanatic had signed with his own hand an edict embodying these barbarous stipulations. He did not confine himself to threats. At Arnheim, Nimeguen, and elsewhere, he caused men, women, and even monks, to be arrested; and after having examined them, had some of them drowned, others beheaded, and many banished. With respect to evangelical books, he ordered them all to be burnt. In the palace where these orders were signed and discussed there was a young man not very friendly to popery, whose heart these cruel proceedings filled with sorrow. This was Charles, a son of the duke by a noble lady, and a much better man than his father, leading a virtuous life, and dear to all good men. But nothing could stay the violence of the wretched Egmont. Perpetually restless, gloomy and fierce, he could not lay hands on Clarenbach and Goldenhauer; but the former, immovable in his avowal of the truth, was burnt alive on the 20th of September, of this same year, 1529, at Cologne. Goldenhauer withdrew to Strasburg, and was afterwards called to Marburg as professor of theology. f792 Nothing could check the course of the government of Charles the Fifth. On the contrary, it hastened on. Six days after the publication of the last placard, William, a Christian man of Zwoll, was struck. He had been one of the ministers of Christian of Denmark, and had come into Belgium with this prince. Ere long, certain theologians of Louvain, irritated by his profession of evangelical doctrine, had him arrested. They then went to him and said — ‘Here are certain articles on which we require your opinion. We gave you twelve days to reply to us; and if you refuse to do so,’ they added in a threatening tone, ‘we shall proceed against you as we think proper.’
William read the articles, eight in number, and feeling that there was no need to take twelve days to answer them, he immediately made a confession of his faith. f793 ‘Reverend doctors,’ he said to the theologians, ‘I believe, with respect to the pope, that if he be minded to wield the temporal sword, to refuse obedience to the lawful magistrate, rather than confine himself to the spiritual sword which is the word of God, he has no power either to bind or to loose consciences. With respect to purgatory, every Christian knows perfectly well that after death he will be blessed. With respect to the invocation of saints, we have in heaven Christ alone as mediator, and it is to Him that I cling. With respect to the mass, it is certainly not a sacrifice; for the blood of Christ shed upon the cross suffices for the salvation of the faithful. With respect to Luther’s books, I admit that I have read them, not however out of contempt for His imperial Majesty, but in order that by learning and knowing the truth I may reject every untruth.’
The doctors of Louvain, noted for their hatred of the gospel, listened with abhorrence to this candid confession, in which piety so singular shone forth. For such a confession, they said, the man who makes it assuredly deserves to be condemned to death. A stake was therefore prepared at Mechlin, and William was burnt alive amidst the lamentations of pious men who all mourned the death of this Christian martyr. f796 A young man of Naarden, on the Zuyder Zee, not far from Amsterdam, studied at the university of Louvain. Endowed with a certain good nature, lively but not diligent, he voluntarily forsook his studies, disregarded rules, laughed, drank and spent his money. He returned to Holland and to his father’s house. The influences of home appear to have been salutary, and he began to reflect on his conduct. One day as he was walking near the seashore, he suddenly fell down as if he had been struck by lightning, and lay stretched upon the ground. Was this collapse purely physical, or were moral causes in operation? The remembrance of his misdeeds had doubtless something to do with it. The young Dutchman had so completely lost consciousness that the people who ran to his assistance and lifted him up thought that he was dead, and carried the body home. He was laid on a bed, and gradually he came to himself; but he was changed.
He felt that the severe blow which the hand of God had struck him was necessary to subdue him to obedience. He was in distress; but the mercy of Christ consoled him, and henceforth he walked uprightly. When he had been cast down, like Paul on the road to Damascus, he had, like him, heard the voice of the Savior. He diffused light around him, going from place to place preaching the gospel. These events occurred in 1530. The imperial governor sent him orders to appear at the Hague. He went voluntarily; but he was so simple and so true that he was dismissed. The same thing happened a second time. But on a third occasion he was sent to prison. He excited, however, so much interest in those about him, that they offered him the means of escape. He refused the offer, and was condemned to death. He went quite joyfully to execution, with a heart full of love for God and for men. He was heard singing a hymn to the praise of the Lord who called him to himself by a death which was made sweet to him. He had nothing about him, not even the smallest coin; but, seeing near the scaffold some poor people entirely destitute, he took off with great simplicity his shoes and stockings, and gave these to them. The victims of Charles were men of this sort.
A change which took place in the government of this prince seemed likely to effect a change with respect to evangelical Christians, and the friends of the Reformation indulged lively hope from it. Margaret, aunt of the emperor, who for ten years had governed the Netherlands with wisdom but with severity, died in 1531, and was succeeded by Mary, queen of Hungary, the sister of Charles. This princess was a great lover and student of literature. ‘Verily,’ said Erasmus, speaking of her, ‘the world is turned upside down; monks are ignorant and women are educated.’ She was a clever woman, of heroic spirit, and a great huntress. But when she went to the hunt she carried the gospels in her pocket. We have already met with her in Hungary, and have not forgotten the words of consolation which Luther gave her after the death of the king her husband.
At the Diet of Augsburg she had had the gospel preached in her own house, and had won the hearts of the Protestants, who admired her moderation and her piety. She loves the evangelicals, they used to say, and has often allayed the wrath of the emperor. She pleads their cause with him, although with moderation and timidity. She was thus an object of suspicion to the pope and his adherents, and they accused her of heresy.
The pope, when he had learnt her conduct, instructed his legate to complain of her to the emperor. ‘She secretly favors,’ said the nuncio to Charles, ‘the Lutheran faction; she lowers the Catholic cause, and opposes the measures of your ministers.’ She was charged even with having dissuaded the elector of Treves from joining the Catholic alliance, and with having prevented the bishop of Lavaur, envoy of Francis I., from going into Germany for the purpose of taking counsel with the Romish party.
Mary of Hungary arrived at Brussels, and took up her abode in the palace of the court. Little reflection was needed to discover how difficult was the position assigned her. Although she was not a fully enlightened Christian and disciple of the Reformation, she nevertheless loved the gospel and felt pity for the persecuted evangelicals. On the other hand, she was sent by her brother to execute his laws against the Protestants, laws which the emperor did not fail to sanction and often to aggravate by new ones. What should Mary do? How escape from this cruel dilemma? She ought to have refused the government with which her brother had invested her; but this office gave to the widowed queen a rank among the princes of Europe, and Charles was not one of those whose favors it was easy to refuse. He had set her in a false position, and unhappily she remained there. She proposed to steer her course between two contrary currents; and, while carrying out the orders of her lord and brother, while endeavoring also to retain his favor and to dissipate his suspicions by severe letters against the Protestants, she strove as much as she could to alleviate their sufferings.
Some have believed that as Governess of the Netherlands, she had renounced the religious sentiments which she had held as queen. This, we think, is a mistake. Her life was a tissue of inconsistencies and contradictions; but she held to the last sentiments which were suspected at Rome. This was shown by the determination of Philip II., who, when he resolved to execute in these provinces’ his sanguinary designs, recalled his aunt to Spain. Poor woman, poor princess! What inward struggles she had to undergo! Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the torments which she suffered in her own heart were the penalty of her ambition and her cowardice. By the course which she took she did harm even to the cause which she had wished to promote. Her leaning to the gospel, accompanied by the sanction which she gave to the death of those whom in her own conscience she honored, frequently added to the distress of pious men, and increased the weakness and humiliation of the Reformation. Hope deceived weighs down and disheartens.
Meanwhile evangelical meetings multiplied under Mary’s government.
They were held sometimes in the open air, and sometimes in concealed retreats; and their attendants were counted by thousands. Among all the towns of Holland, Amsterdam was distinguished by the number of its inhabitants, its commercial activity, and the abundance of its wealth.
Evangelical doctrine had early been proclaimed there, either by some of its inhabitants who cultivated literature and read the Greek Testament of Erasmus, or by such of its burgesses as went to Germany on matters of business and brought the gospel back with them, or by pious foreigners who came amongst them for the sake of their trade. There was a priest, by name Cornelius Crocus, a learned man who taught the belles-lettres, but at the same time, being full of zeal for the papacy, addicted himself to all the Romish practices, and despised the Reformation. It was, however, silently making progress around him, and he suddenly found himself encompassed with evangelicals. His kinsfolk, his acquaintances, and his former disciples had embraced the doctrine of Luther and Oecolampadius, and were aiming, he thought, to corrupt those who were still pure in faith, he was alarmed. The peril which was hemming him round took up his thoughts and tormented him night and day. Nevertheless, full of confidence in himself, he fancied that if only he could write a book the danger would be dispelled. But he saw one obstacle in his way, and only one. As a member of the Minorite order, he had every day so ninny prayers to read that not a single moment was left him for composition. Only a month, he thought, one month of leisure would accomplish the task. The book would be written, and Lutheranism destroyed. He resolved to apply to episcopal authority; and on the eve of the Epiphany, 1531, he wrote to the official of Utrecht, delegate of the bishop, to exercise his jurisdiction in this matter; — ‘I most earnestly entreat you to permit me to break off my prayers for one month only, in order that I may compose a work adapted to turn away men’s minds from Luther and Oecolampadius, and to prevent the corruption of those who are as yet unaffected. I am obliged to make all the more haste because some of those whom I have in view are to set sail next month on a voyage to the East, according to the custom at Amsterdam.’ Amsterdam, already famous for its maritime expeditions, was even then privileged to bear afar in its vessels the doctrine of the gospel.
There was especially one evangelical at Amsterdam whom Crocus in his alarm did not lose sight of. This was John Sartorius, who was, as it appears, his colleague in teaching the belles-lettres. Born in this town in 1500, endowed with remarkable ability and a strong character, he had much distinguished himself as a student. On a visit to Delft, he had made the acquaintance of Walter, a Dominican of Utrecht, who, being proscribed by his own party, had taken refuge in this town. This monk was the first to impart to Sartorius a taste for the truth. Afterwards, Sartorius having become intimate with Angelo Merula, pastor of Heenvliet, he gained, by intercourse with this pious man, a solid knowledge of the truths of the faith. f802 Sartorius was master of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; and being charged with the teaching of the learned languages, he obtained permission of the magistrates to, give his pupils a course of Hebrew lessons, which, as we know, was at this time almost a heresy. Ere long he gave yet more convincing proof of his religious sentiments. While engaged on philology, he endeavored to implant in the minds of his pupils the fundamental principles of the gospel; and the doctrine on which he most dwelt was that of faith alone, because he was certain, like all the reformers, that it was the surest means of filling a Christian’s life with good works. Crocus, while mechanically reading his long prayers, was thinking of something else; and, being carried away by the violence of his passion, uttered loud cries. He resolved to attack Sartorius, confident that he should crush him at the first blow. He therefore composed and printed at Antwerp a work entitled Concerning Faith and Works, against John Sartorius. Crocus was joined by Alard, another divine of Amsterdam. ‘This man,’ said he, ‘has a cultivated mind, but he has unfortunately chosen the worst of all preceptors, presumption.’ Sartorius, though sharply assailed, did not waver. Immovable in his faith, he courageously defended it, and without flinching contended against the enemy. He was not afraid of the superstitious, and was determined to resist them. He wrote successively — On justifying faith, against Crocus, and On the holy Eucharist; and in these works, aiming to call things by their true names, he fearlessly made use of expressions rather too strong. He published also Assertions of the faith, addressed to the satellites of Satan. But while he remained immovable in his convictions, he was obliged frequently to change his place of residence. We find him at Norwic, at Haarlem, and at Basel. Other evangelical Christians were compelled like him to quit their native land.
John Timann, having tasted the truth and finding that he could not freely teach it to his fellow-citizens, took refuge at Bremen, where he labored as a faithful minister for thirty years, and there died. It was no unimportant matter that the civil power should thus deprive the Christian people of their guides, and this it was to learn one day to its own cost. Sartorius could not endure exile, and he afterwards returned to his native land, where Longtemps tourmente par un destin cruel, Rend son corps a la terre et son esprit au ciel.
These are the last two lines of his epitaph, written by himself. f805 Sartorius was one of the noblest combatants of the Reformation.
Although the doctors had to take their flight, the Holy Scriptures and the Christian books remained. It is even possible that Mary of Hungary secretly promoted the printing of the Bible. This sacred book was eagerly read in the Netherlands. ‘Ah,’ people used to say, ‘it is because many of the dogmas taught by the clergy are not to be found in the oracles of God, that the reading of them is so rigorously prohibited.’ Thus the wrath of Charles and of his councilors was kindled against the authors, the printers, and the readers of these books which contradicted Rome; and a new placard made its appearance (1531), drawn up with a refinement of cruelty. It was posted up in all the provinces, and ran thus — ‘It is forbidden to write, to print, or to cause to be printed or written any book whatsoever without permission of the bishops. If anyone do so, he shall be put in the pillory; the executioner shall take a cross of iron, he shall heat it red-hot, and applying it to his person shall brand him; or he shall pluck out one of his eyes, or cut off one of his hands, at the discretion of the judge.’ The papacy in the sixteenth century was not in favor of freedom of the press.
At the same time, orders were given for the promulgation, every six months, without delay, of the edict of 1529. There were some things the remembrance of which Charles V. was not willing that his faithful ones, as he called them, should for one moment lose. Men were bound always to keep in mind the sword, women the pit, and the relapsed the fire. Three good thoughts these were, fit to keep alive the fidelity of the faithful. The government did not restrict itself to words. A little while after, the agents of the imperial authority at Amsterdam, entering by night into certain houses, which they had marked during the day, crept noiselessly to the bed-sides of those whom they sought, seized nine men, ordered them to put on their hose immediately and without murmuring, and then carried them off to the Hague. There, by the command of the emperor, they were beheaded.
They were suspected of preferring the baptism of adults to that of infants. f808 These executions produced profound irritation among the free population of the Netherlands, and in some places they offered resistance to the caprices of the autocrat. Deventer contained many evangelicals.
Consequently, some envoys of the emperor received instructions, in 1532, to make an inquiry concerning those suspected of Lutheranism. It was intended to place the unhappy town under the regime of the fire, the sword, and the pit. When the envoys of Charles arrived at the gates of the city their entrance was prohibited. f809 They were amazed to see the townsmen sending away the deputies of their sovereign. ‘We demand admission of you in the name of the emperor,’ repeated the imperial officers. The senate and the tribunes of the people assembled. The question was hardly discussed. The ancient Dutch immunities still lived in the hearts of these citizens, and they intended to put in practice the right of free manifestation of conscience. The deputies of the senate therefore went to the gates of the city and said to the envoys of Charles — ‘We cannot by any means consent that foreign commissioners should usurp the rights which you claim. If you have any complaint to make, carry it before the burgomaster or before the delegates of the senate.’ Noble and courageous town, whose generous example is to be held in honor!
All magistrates were not so bold. At Limburg, a small town in the province of Liege, many of the townsmen had been converted to the gospel without being exposed to any interference on the part of the magistrates. Among these converts was one family, all of whose members were consecrated to God. There were six of them: the father and mother, two daughters and their husbands. Called one after another to the knowledge of the Savior, they had taken their lamps in their hands in order to show to others the path of life; and truly their upright and holy life enlightened those who were witnesses of it. Some emissaries of the emperor arrived (1532), and no one stopped them at the gates. The home of this family was immediately pointed out to them. They entered the house, and seized father and mother, sons and daughters. Sobs and groans were now heard in this abode, which used before to resound with the singing of psalms. In the midst of their great trial, however, these six Christians had one consolation — they were not separated from each other, but were condemned to be all burnt at the same fire. The pile was constructed outside the town, near the heights of Rotfeld. While they were being led to execution, the father and mother, the two daughters, and the sons-in-law felt, it is said, a kind of holy transport, and uttered cries of joy. It appears, however, that some among them showed signs of momentary weakness. Therefore, desirous of strengthening each other, they began to sing together their beautiful psalms — ‘God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death.’ Thus they reached the place of execution; and each of them breathed his last calling upon the Lord Jesus. This blessed family had been removed to heaven all together, and without any painful separation.
Persecution did not slacken. In 1533, four men accused of holding evangelical doctrines were put to death at Bois-le-Duc. Five men and one woman, terrified at the prospect of death, abjured their faith and were condemned to walk in procession before the host, carrying lighted tapers, to cast their Lutheran books into the fire, and to wear constantly on their garments a yellow cross. One man, named Sikke Snyder, was beheaded at Leeuwarden for having received baptism as an adult; and not long before, a woman, for the same crime, had been thrown into the lake of Haarlem. This was the most expeditious way to get rid of her; but they did her husband the honor of burning him alive, with two of his friends, at the Hague.
The like crimes marked the year 1534. A potter of Bois-le-Duc lost his head for the crime of being an evangelical. William Wiggertson suffered the same fate, but secretly, in the fortress of Schagen; and Schol, priest of Amsterdam, distinguished for his eloquence and his virtues, was condemned to the flames at Brussels. f814 These horrors — and there were many besides those we have described — could not but produce a fatal reaction. The persecutions which befell the adherents of the reformed faith in those lands in which the change was most thorough, in the Netherlands, in France, in England, and in Scotland, were to exert a lasting influence. It is felt even to the present day. It may be said that the martyr-fires are hardly yet extinguished, that the bell of Saint Bartholomew’s Day is still resounding, and that there are yet visible the last of those numerous bands of prisoners and of refugees, defiling some of them to the galleys, others into exile. In the Lutheran countries, and especially in Germany, where the blood of the martyrs was not spilt at all, or to a very small extent, there is a certain moderation, and even some kindliness in the intercourse between Roman Catholics and Protestants. The conflict there is scientific only. But it is otherwise in the countries of the reformed or Calvinistic faith. There people do not forget the fire and the sword, and the two parties appear to be irreconcilable. If this is the present result of cruelties perpetrated more than three centuries ago, we may imagine what the effect must have been on contemporaries.
They filled the hearts of pious men with sorrow and distress.
As early as 1531, was generally acknowledged that the whole body of the people would embrace the Reformation if persecution ceased. Those who were not guided by the fear of God were exasperated and enraged with the persecutors. Nor was this the worst; the want of spiritual leaders left the field open to enthusiasts who believed themselves inspired, and to impostors who pretended to be so. If the pastors are set aside, fools or knaves set themselves up as prophets, and, instead of instructing the people, lead them astray. It appears that some of the disciples of the enthusiastic divines whom Luther and Zwinglius had strenuously opposed, when driven out of Germany and Switzerland, brought their visions into the Netherlands. They knew that these lands had long been in the enjoyment of liberty, and hoped that they should be able to propagate their system there without disturbance. The persecutions of the Romish clergy threw many evangelicals into their arms. The system of these enthusiasts was altogether opposed to that of the reformers. They differed, in particular, as to the doctrine of the powerlessness of the soul for good. They consequently separated into two parties. Man, said some of their doctors, is able by his own power to obtain salvation. For these, Christ was a schoolmaster rather than a Savior; and some of them, Kaetzer, for example, positively denied his divinity. ‘He redeems us,’ they said, ‘by pointing out the path that we ought to pursue.’ Others asserted that the flesh alone was subject to sin, that the spirit was not affected, and that it had no share in the fall. All of them looked upon the evangelical church and its institutions as a new papacy. Both alike, they affirmed, the new and the old, were about to be destroyed, and a great transformation of the world was about to be effected. It would begin by depriving kings and magistrates, and by putting pastors and priests to death.
These so-called prophets frequently made their appearance without anyone’s knowing whence they came or whither they went. They began by saluting in the name of the Lord. Then they spoke of the corruption of the world. They announced the end of all things, naming even the day and the hour, and they styled themselves the messengers of God to seal the elect with the seal of the covenant. All those who were sealed were about to be gathered together from the four quarters of the world, and all the ungodly would be destroyed. They especially addressed themselves to artisans, and in them they found men more intelligent than the peasants of the rural districts, men wearied with their laborious occupations, bitter about their low wages, and full of eager desire for a better position. The principal leaders were tailors, shoemakers, and bakers. The majority of these respectable classes stood aloof from the dreams of the fanatics, and continued to earn their livelihood by honest means. But the enthusiasts among them in Switzerland, in Alsace, in Germany, in the Netherlands, and elsewhere, proposed to form a great international league, by means of which they would live in pleasure and have nothing to do. Professing themselves inspired of God for the accomplishment of His purposes, they gave themselves up ere long to the most shameful passions and the most cruel actions. It has been remarked that the most signal example of fanaticism recorded in the pages of history was inspired by an exaggerated devotion to the papal system; and those citizens of Paris have become famous, who on the night of Saint Bartholomew, assassinated, butchered, and tore to pieces those of their fellow-citizens who did not go to mass.
History, however, does present to us a fanaticism yet more disgusting, if it be not more cruel. It was that of a sect which was neither Romanist nor Protestant — the enthusiasts of whom we speak. And if we consider their relations, whether with Rome or with Protestantism, it seems to us that it is no deviation from a wise impartiality to say that the cruelties of the imperial government, frequently supported by the priests, essentially contributed to plunge these unfortunate men into their extravagances and cruelties; while the Protestant divines earnestly contended against them with the pen, and the princes with the sword.
If the fire of fanaticism was sometimes brought from Germany into the Netherlands, it was most frequently kindled there without foreign aid. The fermentation which took place in certain rude and coarse natures, and the persecutions of Rome, developed there an unwholesome heat which irritated men’s tempers and inflamed their imaginations. There was no need here of Stork, of Munzer, or of Manz.
In 1533, agents of the Government discovered arms in the possession of some of the enthusiasts. ‘Assuredly,’ said Queen Mary, ‘this is not far from sedition.’ Melchior Hoffmann, a Suabian fur-trader, a clever, eloquent, and audacious man, had before this time spent some years at Embden, in East Friesland, and had given himself out as one called of God to contend against the doctrines of the pope, of Luther, and of Zwinglius, and to manifest the truth to the world. John Matthison, a Haarlem baker, an acute, daring, and immoral man, now at Amsterdam, had enthusiastic raptures, and asserted himself to be Enoch. He pretended that as such he was charged to announce the coming of the kingdom of God; he predicted sufferings so horrible against those who refused to believe him, that the poor people in their terror fancied they already saw hell opened before them, and subdued by alarm they blindly believed everything that Enoch told them. Among his disciples was one John Beckhold, a Leyden tailor, whom he ordained, and whom he sent out with eleven others (twelve apostles!) to preach the new gospel. The restitution of all things is at hand, said these new prophets. A spiritual and temporal reign of Christ is approaching. None will be admitted but the righteous; the ungodly must be destroyed beforehand. Even ministers must take the sword and establish the new kingdom by force. Then, desirous of assigning to each his part, they declared that ‘Luther and the pope were, indeed, both of them false prophets, but that Luther was the worse.’ ‘The times of persecution are ended,’ cried they, in the midst of the populations terrified by the cruelties of Charles the Fifth; ‘you have nothing more to fear. The moment is come in which the faithful will triumph over the whole earth, and will render unto tyrants double for the evil which they have done them.’ If anyone hesitated to believe the prophets, they charged him with resisting the Spirit of God; called him Korah, Abiram, or Jambres; and the poor people, afraid of opposing a divine mission, accepted with trembling the promises which were to put an end to their sufferings. The tailor Beckhold preached thus at Amsterdam, Enkhuysen Alkmaar, Rotterdam, and elsewhere, establishing in all these places small communities of the faithful, numbering from ten to twenty persons.
The thought that the cruel tyranny of Charles was about to be brought to judgment, and that it was necessary to hasten the end, took possession of men’s minds. They became restless, and had no thought but of taking vengeance on those whose instruments were the pit, the fire, and the sword.
One. night, in a solitary spot in the province of Groningen, a man rose in the midst of a great multitude which had come together from all quarters.
He was naked to the waist, his soul was troubled, his intellect disordered, his thoughts incoherent; and, in a state of the strangest hallucination, he cried out with an unsteady and inharmonious voice, ‘I am God the Father.
Kill, kill the priests and the monks; kill the magistrates of the whole world, but especially those who govern us. Repent ye, repent ye! Behold, your deliverance is at hand.’ This maniac, whose name was Hermann, gave utterance to terrible groans and vociferations, f820 and heated and inflamed as he was, he drank great draughts of wine to allay his thirst.
The rumor was continually gaining ground that the hour of judgment was approaching, that all the faithful would be saved, but that unbelievers would perish under severe chastisements. More than three hundred men hurried together in a single night, filled with alarm, and demanded with loud cries the baptism which was to shelter them from the judgments of heaven, and they received it, convinced that all those who had not received it were going to perish.
A spirit of darkness was more and more diffusing itself among the poor and ignorant men who were terrified by the executions. It seized even upon the most vulgar classes, worked them up to a state of fatal fear, and subjected them to the force of extravagant imaginations. One night, a young gardener got up and went to the bedside of Hermann, who gave himself out as the Father eternal, and said to him, ‘I am the Son of God.’
Then, filled with pity for the wretched ones who were persecuted by the agents of the emperor and of the priests, and who did not believe in the deliverance proclaimed, he cried out, ‘O Father, have pity on the people have pity! and pardon.’ A great crowd had assembled; he took a cupful of strong drink and drank it, intending to honor the Holy Spirit; then mounting on a chair, he uttered piercing cries, proclaiming himself the Son of God. Seeing his mother in the crowd, he turned to her ‘Dost thou not believe,’ he said before them all, ‘and dost thou not confess that thou hast brought forth the Son of God?’ The poor woman, astonished and alarmed, not knowing what had happened to her son, replied quite simply that she did not. The deluded man then flew into a rage and so terrified his poor mother that she stammered out, tremblingly, that she did believe it. But one of the men who were present, having declared that he for his part did not believe it at all, the demoniac seized him and hurled him violently into the filth of a dunghill that lay near a cow-shed. ‘Behold,’ he said, ‘thou art lying in the abyss of hell.’ A robust man, who had good sense and was indignant at these fooleries, now seized him and threw him down. Others, not very tolerant, threw themselves upon the raving maniac and overwhelmed him with blows; so that the unfortunate man had much difficulty in making his escape by flight from the hands of those who so roughly chastised him. As to Hermann, he was arrested by order of the magistrate, conducted to Groningen, and cast into prison. The atrocious cruelties of Louis XIV. also gave rise to similar acts on the part of enthusiasts. But there is no room for comparison between the sincere and often pious Camisards and the coarse and impure fanatics of the Netherlands. These facts of different kinds agree only in showing the fatal consequences of the criminal persecutions of the papacy. The sect of the enthusiasts, however, became purer in course of time.
At the same time an important change was gradually effected among the evangelicals who remained faithful to the Word of God. A profound acquaintance with the history of the Netherlands in the sixteenth century has not in all cases excluded a mistake — not, however, very widely spread — as to the origin of the Reformation in these provinces. It has been asserted that it had found its way thither, not through Germany, but through France, by means of the Huguenots. f822 We have seen that it came direct from Wittenberg, and that at the very beginning of the movement.
From what took place at Antwerp and in other towns, there is no room for doubt on the subject. But after those mad, fierce displays of fanaticism, that portion of the evangelicals which had continued sane (and this formed the great majority), sided by preference with the French and Swiss Reformation; and step by step the Netherlands, which had apparently embraced the Reformation of Luther, attached themselves to that of Calvin. Geneva took the place of Wittenberg. Viglius, who was appointed by Charles the Fifth president of the great council at Mechlin, said — ‘There are but few who adhere to the confession of Augsburg; Calvinism has taken possession of almost all hearts.’ To assert that the sole cause of this movement was the fanaticism which passed from the banks of the Rhine into the Netherlands would be an exaggeration. There were other causes at work in this transformation; but the enthusiasm, the disgust, and the alarm which it aroused went for much. This fact is no disparagement to Lutheranism, for Luther and his adherents were at this time the most vigorous censurers of these disorderly proceedings.’ One other cause besides might be assigned for the change, so remarkable and almost unique, which was brought about in the Netherlands. It was in this country that the most furious persecution raged. Now, it has been remarked that those Reformed parties which were the objects of violent persecution were those which rejected images, crucifixes, and everything which tradition has bequeathed to some Protestant churches, and resolved to maintain the conflict according to the teaching of the Scriptures, only by the word of their testimony and by the blood of the Lamb. This remark is worthy of some attention; but it must not be forgotten that no one drew more strength than Luther did from the arsenal of the Word of God.