A history lesson on loyalty for Merkel

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am


As Europe's debt crisis gathers momentum, threatening to spin the euro-denominated world back into the Dark Ages, you might want to recall that the Edict of Worms was never enforced.

That edict was issued in May 1521 by Charles V, banning the writings of Martin Luther and labelling him a heretic and an enemy of the Holy Roman Empire, of which Charles was the head and Luther a subject.

Pope Leo X would have loved to sink his claws into the rebellious monk. If his order for Luther to be taken to Rome had not, like the edict, been ignored Luther would have landed up in the Tiber, with the others who likened 16th century Rome to Sodom and Babylon.

However, the ruler of what is now Germany refused to hand Luther over to the pope's emissaries.

That's because Luther had friends in high places - wealthy princes weary of the trade in papal indulgences that Luther had ridiculed.

Leo needed this trade to fund his new basilica, the same one from which the current pope reads out sermons at Christmas time.

The princes' sympathy for Luther's principles may have been sincere, but we can be sure that their disinclination to hand over hard-earned money to a corrupt and wasteful pan-European institution persuaded them to keep Luther out of the pope's clutches.

Almost 500 years later something similar may be about to happen in Europe, with rich northerners wondering out loud about the fairness of bailing out their idle southern and/or Catholic neighbours.

For now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is adhering to the script. The Holy Roman Empress is being loyal to the Vatican, an institution which is being emulated by the European Union's financial institutions. But for how much longer? If German taxpayers say enough has been enough, who will be the new Luther to lead Europe out of this vile mess?

Alex Lo is on leave.