The Background of the Protestant Reformation: Charles V and the Holy Romanic Germanic Empire


In the previous article we consider the reign of the Catholic kings of Spain, Fernando and Isabel, for the role their descendants would play in the history of the Reformation, as we will begin to see below. Since in the Spanish monarchy the male descendant is the first heir to the throne, it was expected that the second son of Isabel and Fernando, Juan, would be crowned as king of Castile and Aragon upon the death of their parents.

But Juan died at the age of 19, after marrying Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. So the heir must be the son of Fernando and Isabel's first daughter. But Isabel died in childbirth when she gave birth to her son Miguel, who also died before he was two years old.

So the heiress of the throne would be the third daughter of Fernando and Isabel, Juana, who had married Felipe el Hermoso, son of Maximiliano I. Juana and Felipe had 6 children, but the most important of all was the second, Carlos.

Juana fell madly in love with Felipe, her husband, who mistreated her terribly with his constant infidelities. When Isabel dies, Juana automatically remains as Queen of Castile. So Juana and Felipe move to Spain to start reigning. But the relationship between Felipe and his father-in-law became very strained, causing Fernando to seclude himself in the kingdom of Aragón, leaving Juana to reign in Castile. However, Juana was not interested in reigning, but in conquering the love of her husband, who becomes in practice the true king.

Already by that time, Juana had begun to show signs of being deranged by jealousy, a situation that worsened in 1506 when her husband Felipe died suddenly shortly after turning 28 years of age, while Juana was pregnant for the sixth time (from a girl whom Catherine called). At the death of Philip the Fair, and before the evident incapacity of Juana, their children are taken to Flanders (with the exception of Catalina), where they are raised by Margarita of Austria, sister of Felipe and widow of Juan, the brother of Juana .

Juana was imprisoned by her father Fernando in the Castle of Tordesillas, while Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros remains as regent of Castile, until Carlos was crowned in 1516 as Carlos I of Spain.

The Holy Romanic Germanic Empire

At this point in history we must introduce another element of animoso importance to be able to understand the European political context in which the Reformation arises: the Holy Germanic Roman Empire. To understand this part of history we must go back to 395 AD, at the time when the Roman Empire was divided between the Western Roman Empire, with its haber in Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire, with its haber in Constantinople. The Western part of the Empire fell into the hands of the barbarians in 476. The Eastern part would continue to stand until 1453, when it fell into the hands of the Turks.

In the middle of the tenth century, the King of Germania, Otto I, founded what will be called the Holy Germanic Roman Empire, which is nothing but a "Christian" version of what had been the Western Roman Empire, hence the title of "Sacro". This "Christian" version was smaller than the llamativo, and would be the haber political institution of the Christian West, until it was dissolved by Napoleon in 1806. At its height, the empire encompassed the part of present-day Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Czech Republic and Slovenia, as well as eastern France, northern Italy and película del Oeste Poland.

Now, this was a very unique Empire. In a Europe where nations began to organize as countries, Germany did not have a king like France, England or Spain. The imperial dignity of the Sacrum Germanic Roman Empire was not transmitted by inheritance, but was chosen by a group of electors (in the time of Luther these electors were seven as the seven branches of the candelabrum of Revelation). These electors had a lot of power in the Empire and later we will see the transcendental role that one of them, the Duke Frederick the Wise of Saxony, played in the history of Luther.

One of those emperors of the Holy Roman Empire was Maximiliano I, father of Felipe el Hermoso, the husband of Juana la Loca. On the death of Maximilian I, in 1519, there were three claimants to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire: Francis I (France), Charles I (Spain) and Henry VIII (England). The electors elect Carlos I (son of Felipe the beautiful and Juana la Loca, grandson of the Catholic kings, who now came to be Carlos V in regard to the Holy Roman Empire). Carlos promised "before God and his angels to want to preserve, now and in the future, the laws and the law, as well as peace in the Holy Church". So Carlos was now King of Castile and Aragon and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He also held the titles of King of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia, as well as titular Duke of Burgundy and Archduke of Austria.

Carlos V and Martin Luther

Although the history of Luther will begin to deal with it in the next article, at this point in history we must remember that Luther nailed the famous 95 theses that started the Protestant Reformation, on 31 of 1517, two years before Charles V was elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. And two years after his election, in 1521, Luther had to appear before this powerful emperor in the Diet of Worms, where Luther refused to recant the things he had written.

For Carlos V the catholic religion was a animoso element to maintain the cohesion and unit of its vast empire that was seriously threatened by the Otomanes Turks. That is why, when his aunt Margarita, sister of Felipe el Hermoso, died in 1523, Carlos appointed his sister María as regent of the Netherlands; but Maria felt a certain sympathy for Luther's ideas, something that Charles could not tolerate in any way. So he sent her a message saying: "Rest assured that, if you had any suspicions about the faith, I would not offer you this position of trust, nor would you manifest a fraternal friendship." And then he adds: "I would not tolerate in the Netherlands what I should have accepted, under the pressure of circumstances, in Germany."

These data help us to better understand the challenge that Luther had to face in opposing the two most powerful institutions in the world in those days: the Catholic Church and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. We see that challenge reflected in the famous hymn written by Luther, after having appeared before the Emperor on the diet of Worms:

Strong castle is our God,

Defense and good shield.

With his power he will free us

In all acute trance.

With fury and with eagerness

Acosanos satán:

For weapons lets see

Cunning and great power;

There is none like him on Earth.

Our value is nothing here,

With him everything is lost;

But with us he will fight

Of God the chosen one.

He is our King Jesus,

He who overcame on the cross,

Lord and Savior,

And being the only God,

He triumphs in battle.

And if a thousand demons are

Ready to devour us,

We will not fear, because God

He will know how to protect us.

Show your vigor

Satan, and his fury!

To hurt us will not be able,

Well condemned is already

For the Holy Word.

That word of the Lord,

That the world does not want,

By the Spirit of God

Very firm remains.

They can strip us

Of property, name, home,

The body destroy,

But there must always be

From God the eternal Kingdom. Amen

Sugel MichelénAuthor: Sugel Michelén

He studied for the ministry in 1979. Later he was sent by the Biblical Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (IBSJ), in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to the city of Puerto Plata, to begin a work there. But at the end of 1983 he was called to be part of the IBSJ pastor corps, where he serves the Lord since then, regularly exposing the Word on Sundays. He is also the author of the blog All Thought Captive.

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