Wednesday, September 21

What Does It Profit A Man?

"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?" (Luke 9:25)

Charles V was one of the most remarkable men in history serving as king of the Spanish realms of Castille and Aragon, the Austrian dominions, and the Netherlands as well as Holy Roman emperor for some forty years. He very nearly succeeded in uniting the world into a vast Roman Catholic fiefdom--stretching from the Americas to the frontiers of Asia.

He was born with the most royal pedigree of any man since the time of the Caesars: he the son of Philip I, king of Castile; maternal grandson of Ferdinand V of Castile and Isabella I; paternal grandson of the Habsburg Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I; and great-grandson of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. On the death of his father in 1506, he inherited the Burgundian realm; following the death of Ferdinand in 1516, he became ruler of the vast interconnected Spanish kingdoms and colonial possessions; and when Maximilian died in 1519, he gained all the varied Habsburg lands in central Europe, where his younger brother, Ferdinand, later Emperor Ferdinand I, was governor. Also in 1519, Charles, having bribed the electors, was designated Holy Roman emperor.

Thus, before his twentieth birthday, Charles was by far the most powerful sovereign in Christendom. His inherited lands far exceeded those of the Frankish emperor Charlemagne. His territory included the Spanish realms of Aragon and Castile; the Netherlands; the Italian states of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia; Spanish conquests in America and Africa; and all the Habsburg lands of the Germanies and the Central European Slavic realms.

Yet, his hegemony was not without challenges. He ascended the imperial throne at a time when all the German kingdoms, principalities, and duchies were agitated by Martin Luther and his dramatic grassroots Protestant reformation. In an unsuccessful attempt to restore centralized authority and absolute jurisdiction, a great diet was held in Worms in 1521, before which Luther made his memorable defense of the Gospel of sovereign grace. The diet rejected his position, and Charles subsequently issued an edict condemning Luther--but the reformer enjoyed the protection of several German electors and the masses of the people as well as the blessing of Providence.

Meanwhile, Charles was distracted by the rivalry between England, France, and the various Spanish kingdoms over the fractured Italian provinces, city states, and counties. War resulted, so Charles was unable to prosecute his assault on the Lutherans. And as if that were not bad enough, the Ottoman Turks, under the able leadership of Sultan Suleiman, were threatening to overrun Europe. The Turks already controlled the Balkan Peninsula, and in 1526, the Moslem hoard swept over the Hapsburg lands of Hungary. Then just three years later, the Turks laid siege to Vienna.

Though Charles was finally able to quell the rivalries in Europe and hold Suleiman at bay, the ever expanding decentralization of authority wrought by the Reformation emboldened the German princes to seek autonomy for their states. The peasants took advantage of the turmoil in 1524 and revolted.

In the end, it seemed that one thing or another would always conspire against his attempt to unite all of Christendom into a single Imperial See once again. Weary of the constant struggles and heavy responsibilities of his scattered realms, Charles in 1555 resigned the Netherlands and, in 1556, Castille and Aragon, to his son Philip II. In 1556 Charles announced his intention to abdicate the imperial crown in favor of his brother, Ferdinand I, who officially became emperor in 1558. Now a broken man, Charles retired that year to the monastery of San Jerónimo de Yuste in Extremadura, Castille, where he died alone, despised, and rejected on this day in 1558.

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