Martin Luther: Founder of Lutheranism
Martin Luther: Founder of Lutheranism
Martin Luther (1483–1546) is one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity (a religion founded by Jesus of Nazareth, also called Jesus Christ). Luther is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation, a movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church (a Christian faith based in Rome, Italy) that resulted in a worldwide revolution. Before turning to how Luther sparked the Reformation, however, it is necessary to consider the state of the Catholic Church in the early 1500s, when Luther called for reforms. By this time the church had dominated Europe for more than eight hundred years. The pope, the supreme head of the church, was one of the most powerful figures in the world. He was considered Earth's vicar, or representative, of Jesus Christ, as well as the lawgiver and judge for followers of the Catholic faith. The pope and other church officials were involved in virtually every aspect of religious, social, political, and economic life in Europe. Nevertheless, the church itself was highly unstable and corrupt. In fact, it had nearly been torn apart by two bitter conflicts, the Babylonian captivity (1306–76) and the Great Schism (1348–1417), which had taken place in the two centuries prior to Luther's life.
The Babylonian Captivity
The events leading up to the Babylonian captivity began in 1294, when church leaders were embroiled in a crisis over the selection of a pope. For eighteen months, since the death of Pope Nicholas IV (1227–1292; reigned 1288–92), the sacred college of cardinals (a committee composed of cardinals, the highest-ranking church officials, who elect the pope) had been divided into two opposing sides and could not reach an agreement on the election of the next pope. Neither side would recognize the legitimacy of the other. A schism, or division, of the church seemed inevitable. Then Pietro da Morrone (c. 1209–1296), an elderly Benedictine (member of a religious order founded by Saint Benedict), wrote the college a letter promising severe divine judgment if a pope was not elected soon. Terrified of God's wrath, the dean of the college called for Morrone to be elected pope. The cardinals agreed and quickly approved the decision. Morrone became Pope Celestine V (reigned 1294).
As a Benedictine, Celestine had been a hermit, a member of a religious order who retires from society and lives in solitude. He soon found that his new responsibilities did not allow the quiet, reflective life he had been leading before his election. He refused to move to the loud, congested city of Rome, where the papacy had traditionally been centered. Instead, he had a special wooden cell built at the papal castle located in Naples, Italy, so he could escape the constant attention of cardinals, bishops, and other officials of the church. Celestine became so depressed that he asked for advice from Benedetto Caetani (1240–1303), a respected member of the church and one of the cardinals who had elected him. Caetani, who had aspirations of his own, suggested that Celestine resign. On December 13, 1294, after only fifteen weeks as pope, Celestine stepped down.
On December 23 the college of cardinals met once again in Naples and elected Caetani the new pope. Taking the name of Boniface VIII, he returned the center of the papacy to Rome. Boniface focused on expanding his secular, or nonreligious, authority. In 1296 he found himself in conflict with King Philip IV of France (1268–1314; ruled 1285–1314) and King Edward I of England (1239–1307; ruled 1272–1307). Both kings had begun taxing clergymen in order to finance the Hundred Years' War, a conflict between England and France over the French throne (see "Hundred Years' War" in Chapter 6). This taxation had been started without the permission of Boniface. Outraged, the pope issued a decree (statement), known as the Clericus laicos, which forbade the taxation of clergy members without the permission of the papacy. The penalty for defying the order would be excommunication (forced to leave) from the church. Threats of excommunication had been used several times by popes to persuade monarchs to change their countries' political policies to those of the church. By the late thirteenth century, however, such threats carried less weight. Because the monarchs were supported by their nobles, Philip and Edward both refused to give in to Boniface's demands. The pope attempted to strike a compromise, but he was forced to back down when Philip stopped all French money collected for the papacy from leaving his kingdom and being sent to Rome.
In 1300 thousands of religious pilgrims flocked to Rome for a great church event called the jubilee celebration. The jubilee celebration was normally held every twenty-five years by order of the pope, and it was a time of formal celebrations and prayer. Boniface issued another decree, this one known as Unam Sanctam. The order stated that all human beings, regardless of religion or country, were subjects of the pope. In other words, all of Europe was now under the control of one man, the Roman Catholic pope in Rome. Philip was outraged by this claim. Gathering his nobles around him, he publicly accused Boniface of crimes such as committing murder, practicing black magic (use of supernatural evil forces), and keeping a demon (evil spirit) as his personal pet. For years prior, such stories had been spread by men loyal to Philip, thus making it easy for Philip's accusations to take hold. Boniface was soon seen as an evil pope attempting to overthrow a legitimate king. In 1303 Philip sent armed French soldiers to confront Boniface at his private home in Agnan, Italy. The soldiers ransacked the house, stealing everything of value. They attempted to force Boniface to return to France in order to stand trial. After three days, the pope was rescued from the soldiers. The ordeal proved to be too much for the aging Boniface. A few weeks later he died, suffering terribly from the humiliation and shock of the events.
Papacy moved to France
A new pope was soon elected. This time Bertrand de Got (pronounced deh GOH; c. 1260–1314), a Frenchman, was elevated to the highest post in the church and took the name Clement V (reigned 1304–14). King Philip and Clement, probably because they were fellow countrymen, had a good relationship. In 1306 Clement moved the headquarters of the papacy once again, this time to the city of Avignon in France, a Papal State (territory under the direct control of the pope) in his native country. The papacy remained in Avignon for seventy years. Since the city had not been equipped to house the papacy in the manner that popes had enjoyed in Rome, massive building projects commenced. Yet the papacy ran into considerable problems by moving the center of religious authority. Opposition to the move was sometimes violent in central Italy, and the popes serving during this period had to raise money for the troops needed to reclaim control there. Other Papal States lost money because of the move, and the various popes who served during this time were forced to find ways to return the lost revenue.
The massive financial pressure required the Avignon popes to rely on a practice known as simony, or the selling of church offices. Any nobleman who had enough money could become a bishop. For instance, Pope Clement VI (c. 1290–1352; reigned 1342–52) was once heard saying that he would make a donkey bishop if the donkey had enough money. The financial worries of the church began to take a heavy toll on the spiritual authority of the pope. One pope, John XXII (c. 1235–1334; reigned 1316–34), did try to raise money in ways that did not damage the respectability of the church. Although he had some success, the church's reputation had already been severely weakened. Furthermore, Rome was still regarded by many as the rightful home of the papacy. With the papacy (office of the pope) centered in Avignon, it was widely believed that church interests were controlled by the French monarchy.
The Italian humanist scholar Petrarch, one of the founders of the Renaissance, wrote extensively about conditions in the church. He declared Avignon to be the "Babylon of the West." He was referring to the story about Jews being held in captivity in Babylonia (an ancient country in Asia, located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers), which appears in the Old Testament of the Bible. According to Petrarch, Catholics were being held captive in Avignon just as the Jews were held against their will by the Babylonians. During the "Babylonian captivity" in Avignon, there were several attempts to move the papacy back to Rome, but arguments among church officials always prevented it from happening. Finally, in 1376, Pope Gregory XI (1329–1378; reigned 1370–78) returned the papacy to Rome because of mounting pressure from important Catholics. Avignon had been the center of Roman Catholic worship for seventy years, the same length of time as the original Babylonian captivity. Upon returning to Rome, Gregory was horrified to discover extensive corruption in the Italian church. He made plans to return to Avignon, but he died before he could carry them out. Mob rioting forced the sacred college of cardinals to elect an Italian pope, Urban VI (c. 1318–1389; reigned 1378–89), in 1378.
The Great Schism
Pope Urban was determined to end the corrupt practices and extreme wealth of the cardinals. Fearing Urban's reform efforts, the French cardinals declared that his election was invalid because of the pressure put on the college by the mobs. In 1378 they elected as the new pope Robert of Geneva (1342–1394), who became Clement VII (reigned 1378–94). He had been a cardinal from the French-speaking city of Geneva, a city in southwestern Switzerland that was surrounded by French territory. The cardinals returned to Avignon with Clement, who was called an antipope because Urban was still the pope in Rome. While Clement intended to establish Avignon as the center of papal authority once again, Urban refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new pope and excommunicated Clement and the French cardinals. Urban then appointed new cardinals to replace those who had been banished. For thirty-seven years, the rival camps in Rome and Avignon each elected new popes and hurled accusations of heresy at one another. This dispute is known as the Great Schism (also called the Schism of the West).
The Roman Catholic Church was now deeply divided as each camp claimed to be the rightful heir to Saint Peter (the first pope) and the legitimate authority for Catholicism. All of western Europe was divided as well. With Catholicism as the only form of Christianity, a choice had to be made by monarchs of Catholic countries: Would they support the popes of Avignon or Rome? France recognized the popes of Avignon, as did Scotland, Sicily (an island off the coast of Italy), and Portugal. England, which was fighting the Hundred Years' War against France, supported the popes of Rome. The papacy in Rome was also recognized in parts of the Holy Roman Empire, northern and central Italy, and Ireland. Loyalty to the two camps was dependent on the individual interests and needs of a country, often changing when these interests were met by one side and not by the other.
Catholics confused about loyalties
During this turmoil Catholics across western Europe began to discuss questions concerning the fate of an individual's soul. Many wondered if they would be saved from damnation (being sent to hell after death) if they were represented by a false priest and a false pope. As time dragged on and it seemed that a compromise would never be reached, some Catholics suggested that a general council of church leaders should meet to provide a solution. Yet the popes at Avignon and Rome would not agree to be judged by followers from the other side. In 1409 the situation became even more complicated when a group of five hundred high-ranking bishops, called prelates, met in a council at Pisa, Italy. The prelates decided that both popes should be removed and a new one should be elected. The popes of Avignon and Rome would not accept this solution, and for a while there were three popes claiming to be the legitimate ruler of the Roman Catholic Church.
Sigismund of Luxembourg, the king of Hungary (1368–1437; ruled 1387–1437) and king of the Romans (1410–37; Holy Roman Emperor 1433–37), wanted the papacy to be controlled by a council, not by a pope who made his own decisions. This idea had been suggested years earlier but had not been accepted by church officials. This time Sigismund hoped to get enough backing to accomplish his goals. In 1414 he called a number of important churchmen to the Swiss town of Constance for a meeting. The council met until 1417, when it was decided that all of the existing popes should be removed and a new one elected. Pope Martin V (1368–1431; reigned 1417–31) was then named the only rightful leader of the Roman Catholic faith. The other three popes did not want to step down, but none of them had enough support to stay in power. Although the Council of Constance ended the Great Schism, the question remained whether future popes would be required to meet with councils before making decisions about church policy.
Church corruption causes protests
By 1500 the papacy had become so corrupted by power that most of its energies were exhausted by selling church offices, raising taxes and tithes (one-tenth of church members' income) to support its standing army. Simultaneously, the Black Death (1348–1700s; a widespread epidemic of a disease called the plague) had devastated Europe. The plague had destroyed the social and spiritual lives of Europe's peasant and working classes, whose faith in the church's earthly power was needed for Catholicism itself to survive. To make matters even worse, two of Europe's great political and religious powers, France and England, were engaged in the Hundred Years' War, which brought further turmoil. Indeed, it seemed to many in Christendom (the name then given to Europe) that the Roman church had failed and that the time was ripe for a "reformation" of both the church and the political powers that helped implement its policies.
The most influential supporters of reform were Meister (Johannes) Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1327), John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384), Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), and John Calvin (1509–1564). The protest movement that eventually became known as the Protestant Reformation is best understood through their works. In addition, the invention of "moveable type" and the mass production of the Gutenberg Bible in the mid-fifteenth century spread word concerning a key aspect of Protestant ideology: that every person might individually, without the help of a priest, discover Christian salvation through his or her own understanding of the Bible. Wycliffe, for instance, was a principal figure in the Protestant movement. He was the first person to translate the Bible from Latin into English so that lay readers—those outside the church—could read it. Wycliffe, whose followers were called Lollards, also rejected the Catholic belief in communion (a ceremony in which wine and bread represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ) as a "miracle." Eckhart, a German Dominican mystic (one who has intense spiritual experiences), put forth the idea of conversion through one's personal rapport with God. Because of the power of the Catholic Church at this point, both Wycliffe and Eckhart were quickly condemned as heretics (those who violate the laws of God and the church), as were many of those Protestants who followed them. Indeed, the growing schism, or break, between Catholics and non-Catholics would create a bitter and unresolved crisis in both religion and politics. Much more so than today, church and state were almost indistinguishable from each other in their function and power. For instance, the Holy Roman Empire, which had been founded in 962 as a uniting force in Europe, was closely allied with the church.
Luther starts Reformation
The early protests against the Roman Catholic Church did not really attract a popular following until Luther's lifetime. To understand the Protestant Reformation, one must first learn about Luther, the man who began the Reformation with a single defiant act: he dared to publicly criticize the church. At various points in his life Luther was an author, a professor, a friar (member of a religious order), a priest, a father, and a husband—in fact, he was so busy and so productive that many people claimed he must have seven heads. For some, Luther was a hero and the father of the most important religious revolution in Western (non-Asian) history, but to others he was a heretic who endangered the future of Christianity. Who, then, was this man who not only challenged the corrupt religious practices of the church, but also changed the course of human history?
Luther's early life
Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony (a duchy in northwest Germany) on November 10, 1483, the son of Hans and Margaret Luther. His parents were of peasant stock, but his father had worked hard to raise the family's social status. Hans Luther began his career as a miner, then became the owner of several small mines that brought the family a fair degree of financial comfort. This process took nearly a decade, however, and life for the nine Luther children (five boys and four girls) was sometimes difficult. Young Martin was severely beaten by both his mother and his father for relatively minor offenses. This type of discipline was common at the time, and the Luther children grew up in a family that firmly believed in "tough love." Around 1490 Martin was sent to the Latin school at Mansfeld, Germany. Seven years later he was sent to a better school in Magdeburg, Germany. In 1498, after he had shown academic excellence, he enrolled in a school located in Eisenach, Germany. Here he met Johann Braun, a dedicated cleric who became his role model.
Luther's early education was typical of late-fifteenth-century practices. To a young man in his circumstances, only the law and the church offered likely avenues to success. His parents believed that the financial success of their children would guarantee the elder Luthers comfort in their old age. Hans Luther had a dislike for the priesthood, a feeling that probably influenced his decision that Martin should be a lawyer. Hans believed that if Martin became a lawyer, he would be able to increase the Luther family's prosperity. Martin was enrolled at the University of Erfurt in 1501. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1502 and a master of arts degree in 1505. In the same year he enrolled in the faculty of law, giving every sign of being a dutiful and possibly wealthy son. Although Martin seemed poised for a prosperous future in the legal field, he privately yearned to become a priest.
Religious conversion changes his life
The years between 1503 and 1505 were filled with religious crises that would take Luther away from the study of law forever. He was extremely pious, a quality that was instilled in him by his parents and early teachers. Aware that the material world was extremely close to the supernatural world, he believed the forces of good and evil had a direct effect on the everyday lives of human beings. A series of events would confirm this for young Martin and change his life. A serious accident in 1503 and the death of a friend a little later began to affect Martin's religious development. Then, on July 2, 1505, while Luther was returning to Erfurt after visiting home, he was caught in a severe thunderstorm. He fell to the ground in terror, and he suddenly vowed that he would become a monk if he survived. This episode, as important in Christian history as the equally famous (and parallel) scene of Saint Paul's conversion, changed the course of Luther's life. Two weeks later, against the opposition of his father and to the dismay of his friends, Luther entered the Reformed Congregation of the Eremetical Order of Saint Augustine at Erfurt.
Luther took his vows in 1506 and was ordained a priest in 1507. Upon ordination, a nervous Luther conducted his first mass, a worship service at which communion is taken. In attendance at the service was Hans Luther, who was still angered by his son's choice of vocation. Martin felt he was unworthy to be a messenger of Christ, but he explained to his father that he had to enter the monastery because of his experience in the thunderstorm. Martin was determined to prove himself to his father, and he dedicated himself to the rigorous life of a monk. His supervisor, Johann von Staupitz (1469–1524), recognized that Martin was academically brilliant, Staupitz urged him to become a teacher. Having reconciled with his father, Martin was selected for advanced theological (philosophy of religion) study at the University of Erfurt, which had connections with his monastery.
Luther at Wittenberg
In 1508 Luther was sent to the University of Wittenberg (founded in 1502) to lecture in arts. Like a modern graduate student, he was also preparing for his doctorate degree in theology while he taught. He lectured on the standard medieval texts, such as the Book of Sentences by the Italian religious scholar Peter Lombard (c. 1095–1160), a collection of teachings of early church fathers and the opinions of theologians. Luther also read for the first time the works of Saint Augustine (a.d. 354–430), one of the great champions of early Christianity. In 1510 Staupitz sent Luther to Rome as an official representative of the Eremetical Order of Saint Augustine. On October 19, 1512, Luther received his doctorate in theology. After completion of his degree came the second significant turn in Luther's career: he was appointed to succeed Staupitz as professor of theology at Wittenberg. Luther was to teach throughout the rest of his life. Whatever fame and notoriety his later writings and statements were to bring him, Luther's true work was teaching, a duty he fulfilled diligently until his death. By 1550, due to the efforts of Luther and his colleague Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560), Wittenberg was to become the most popular university in Germany. In 1512, however, it lacked the prestige of Erfurt and Leipzig and was insignificant in the eyes of the greatest of the old universities, the University of Paris. Wittenberg was not the place for an academic who aspired to a prominent career, but Luther was dedicated to being a teacher, not to being financially successful. His rapid rise came from his native ability, his boundless energy, and his dedication to the religious life. Luther had a good relationship with the Duke of Saxony, also known as Frederick the Wise (1463–1525), who gave his full financial support while he attended the university. This relationship led to Luther becoming one of the most prestigious professors at Wittenberg, even before publishing his works on grace (a divine virtue given by God) and beginning the infamous indulgence controversy.
Continues to face religious questions
Luther had been exposed to two competing philosophical systems during his education: scholasticism and nominalism. Scholasticism was derived from the philosophies of the Italian religious scholar Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), who had in turn borrowed ideas from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 b.c.). The main concept of scholasticism was that rigorous formal logic (thinking based on reason) should be used in all philosophical and theological inquiries. Any question could be answered by studying and thinking about it in a logical, organized way. Nominalism, on the other hand, was derived from the philosophies of the English scholastic William of Ockham (c. 1285–c. 1349) and his successors, and it was drastically different from scholasticism. Those who followed nominalism maintained that God was infinitely remote, or removed, from humans, and that the human intellect could not understand the majesty of God. Luther believed both of these philosophies held merit.
Luther dedicated himself to his studies, but he remained continuously afraid of God's wrath and power. While at the monastery he began to experience new religious crises that were based upon his acute awareness of the need for spiritual perfection and his equally strong conviction of his own human frailty. These conflicts caused him almost to despair before the overwhelming majesty and wrath of God. Nevertheless, Luther was a productive writer and he published his lectures on Peter Lombard in 1509. He went on to publish his lectures on the Bible: the Psalms (1513–15), Saint Paul's Epistle (Letter) to the Romans (1515–16), and the epistles to the Galatians and Hebrews (1516–18). During these years, his biblical studies became more and more important to him. Besides teaching and study, however, Luther had other duties. Beginning in 1514 he preached in the parish church and served as regent (member of the governing board) of the monastery school. In 1515 he became the supervisor of eleven other monasteries. Overwhelmed by his duties, Luther worried about the state of his soul.
Good deeds versus faith
Luther's crisis of conscience centered upon his fears of imperfection. He wondered how his personal efforts could begin to satisfy a wrathful God. These fears were intensified in 1519 when he began to closely study the works of Saint Paul. Luther began to despair while attempting to interpret the passage in Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which says that the justice of God is revealed in the Gospels (four books in the New Testament that tell the story of Christ and his teachings). How can mankind satisfy this angry God, he asked himself. Soon he felt he had found the answer in Saint Paul's text. Luther claimed that God had to punish humanity because people were inherently sinful, yet because God was righteous he gave the gift of faith to those who would take it. Only faith in God's mercy, according to Luther, could save man. Good works became less important to him than faith. Luther used the term "works" to refer to both church liturgy and the more general sense of "doing good." According to Luther, the rituals of the Catholic Church should be secondary to the belief in God and his mercy. The idea that faith was more important than deeds was not new. An estimated forty-three other theologians, including Staupitz and Saint Augustine, had come to conclusions similar to Luther's. What was new, however, was Luther's relationship with God: unlike traditional Christians, he no longer found himself afraid of God, whom he believed to be a loving deity.
These new beliefs, which Luther formulated between 1515 and 1519, caused him to ask new theological questions, as well as to challenge certain elements of church life. The most famous of these is the controversy over indulgences (pardons for sins). In 1513 a great effort to dispense indulgences was proclaimed throughout Germany. In spite of reservations about this practice, indulgences were believed to be a way to escape punishment in the afterlife. This belief was held not only in Germany, but also across Catholic Europe. As Luther became more and more convinced that indulgences were a threat to true faith, his comments about the issue brought him into direct conflict with the pope.
Indulgences began as gifts of money given to the clergy in appreciation or gratitude for forgiveness. Soon, however, indulgences began to represent an outward showing of grief for sins. People would pay for indulgences to prove to the church and others that they were truly repentant for their sins. The medieval church distinguished between guilt and punishment for a sin: a person could atone for guilt through Jesus Christ, but penance, or penalties, for sins could be ordered by a priest. Indulgences, therefore, could be used to reduce the penalties for sin. In the thirteenth century, the Catholic Church formulated what was called the "treasury of merits," which was a spiritual bank of sorts that "contained" the good works performed by Jesus Christ, the saints, and all pious Christians. In other words, because Jesus and the saints had lived better lives than necessary to get into heaven, their good deeds had been left on Earth in the treasury of merits. Good deeds from this treasury could be redistributed in the form of indulgences. One would give money to his or her clergyman, who would in turn make a "withdrawal" from the spiritual bank. This system was supposed to reduce the punishments one suffered in purgatory (the place where believers feel the dead go to atone for their sins before either going to heaven or being cast into hell), but many did not understand it. Some thought they could buy their way out of hell and into heaven. By the fifteenth century many had begun purchasing indulgences for family members who were already dead. It was widely believed that people could sin as much as possible and still buy their way into heaven.
Can one man change a powerful institution?
In 1517 Pope Leo X (1475–1521; reigned 1513–21) announced his intentions to commission the building of a basilica, or church, over the supposed grave of Saint Peter in Rome. The church is now known as Saint Peter's Basilica. Leo sanctioned the sale of indulgences to raise money for the construction. That same year, an experienced indulgence salesman, a Dominican friar named Johan Tetzel (1465–1519), arrived in a town not far from Wittenberg to begin raising money for the construction. Luther wrote a letter of protest to his archbishop, Albrecht von Bradenburg. Initially, Luther's protest fell on deaf ears, for the archbishop was sharing the profits of indulgence sales with the pope. Luther attached his Ninety-Five Theses, or propositions for debate, to the letter. He questioned the value of indulgence sales and reprimanded the church for its financial exploitation of Germany. As quoted in James Kittleson's Luther the Reformer, Luther asked why Pope Leo did not "build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers." Contrary to popular legend, Luther did not nail his theses to the door of the church.
Academic debates about theological questions were commonplace at Wittenberg, and had someone not translated Luther's theses from Latin into German they might have gone unnoticed. The translation made them accessible to theologians, scholars, and anyone else who could read German. Soon the theses gained worldwide attention. Most modern scholars agree that Luther never intended to begin a worldwide reform movement within the Catholic Church. He merely wanted to spark academic debate about a serious issue. In April 1518 Luther attended a convention of Augustine monks in Heidelberg, Germany. He had condensed his Ninety-Five Theses down to "Twenty-Eight Theses on Indulgences" and was excited about engaging in academic debate on the importance of salvation through faith. Luther wanted to put forth the idea that the Scriptures (the text of the Bible) are the sole authority for Christianity. He was warmly received by his fellow Augustine monks, who openly gave their support with cheers. Many of those in attendance would later become the first generation of Luther's followers. Among them were Martin Bucer (pronounced BUHT-zer; 1491–1551), who would head the reformation movement in Strasbourg, France, and Johannes Brenz (1499–1570), then a student at Heidelberg, who would later lead reform efforts in Württemberg (a province in central Germany). Luther quickly became a German folk hero, spearheading the campaign to end religious corruption.
Meanwhile, back at the Vatican, Pope Leo X—notorious for hobbies (such as hunting and traveling) that kept him away from his papal duties—realized that Luther's condemnation of indulgences represented a threat to the church's source of income. Leo, who was the son of the influential Italian banker Lorenzo de' Medici (see "Florence" in Chapter 2), intended to stop Luther from making more noise about the issue. He ordered a meeting for August 7, 1518. Luther asked his prince and supporter, Frederick the Wise, for guidance. Having already sought council from his own advisor, Frederick did not believe Luther to be a heretic and allowed him to stay at Wittenberg. As one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Emperor (electors were German princes entitled to vote for an Emperor) and a leading Christian, Frederick put pressure on the Vatican for the hearing to be on German soil. Pope Leo X agreed and sent his envoy, Cardinal Cajetan (1469–1534) to Augsburg in October 1518.
Although nervous about the meeting, Luther was also excited to meet such a revered theologian. Luther was well versed in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, on which Cajetan was a leading expert. Luther hoped the two would be able to discuss Aquinas, which would serve as a launching point to dialogue about the new opinions of Luther. Upon meeting at the palace of the Fuggers (a wealthy banking family), the two men took an instant disliking to one another. While Luther looked for debate, Cajetan wanted Luther to submit to the authority of the church. Luther refused, and the two parted on bad terms. Hearing that he was to be arrested, Luther fled from Augsburg to the safety of Nuremberg. After a while, Luther returned to Wittenberg, where Frederick the Wise allowed him to continue teaching. Frederick hoped that the controversy would go away, and Luther agreed to stop writing or speaking publicly about his opinions on indulgences. Neither of them could foresee the controversy that was about to be unleashed.
Luther's troubles begin
In 1519 Luther agreed to a debate with the theologian Johann Eck (1484–1543) to be held at the University of Leipzig. Eck was a professor at the University of Ingolstadt and an extremely skilled debater. Eck realized he could earn celebrity and win favor with Rome by dismantling Luther's theological positions. A staunch supporter of the church, he was determined to defend the sacred institution. The debate, held in early July, was originally scheduled to take place between Eck and Luther's colleague Andreas von Karlstadt (1480–1541). When Eck quickly demolished all of Karlstadt's arguments, it was Luther's turn to join the debate. Eck outwitted Luther by challenging his positions, claiming they were similar to those of Jan Hus. Hus was a priest from Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) who had been excommunicated from, or kicked out of, the church and executed in 1414 by the Council of Constance, a committee of Catholic officials meeting in the town of Constance, Switzerland (see "Bohemia" in Chapter 4). One of his crimes was criticizing the practice of selling indulgences. Hus angered many church leaders and state officials, who often split the money raised from indulgences. After Hus was executed he became a national hero and his followers went on to stage the Hussite Revolt (1420–34). He is now considered one of the forefathers of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther was pushed into a corner, and he was forced to declare that the Council of Constance had been wrong in its condemnation of Hus. The University of Leipzig had been founded by student and faculty refugees who had fled from Prague during the height of the Hussite Revolt, and Luther's position proved unpopular with the audience. Luther refused to accept any reading of the
Luther's prince and supporter, Frederick the Wise, was one of seven electors responsible for choosing a new emperor after the death of Maximilian I (1459–1519; ruled 1493–1519) on January 12, 1519. Three candidates were put forth: King Charles I of Spain (1500–1558), King Francis I of France (1494–1547), and King Henry VIII of England (1491–1547). Charles was a member of the house of Habsburg, a family of rulers based in Austria and in Spain. All Holy Roman Emperors were Habsburgs, so the family controlled not only their own vast territories but also the Holy Roman Empire. Charles had inherited the throne of Spain from his grandparents, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, and had also inherited his rule over the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg). Many politicians, the pope among them, felt that the naming of Charles to the throne would give too much power to the house of Habsburg. The same was true of Francis I of France, who belonged to the house of Valois. If made ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, the Frenchman would have a kingdom as large as that of Charlemagne, a ninth-century Frankish king who ruled much of Europe. Henry VIII, a Tudor, was not taken seriously because he had little support among the German princes.
Pope Leo was extremely worried about the election of a Habsburg or a Valois because each house controlled an Italian city-state that was close to Rome. Charles was king of Naples, and Francis ruled Milan, so either man would be ideally positioned to overtake the papacy. The pope asked Frederick the Wise to name himself as a candidate. Leo was certain that Frederick, a Saxon who was fiercely devoted to the church, was no threat to the papacy. Trying to be even more persuasive, Leo promised that if Frederick should be elected, he could chose any person he wanted to be made an archbishop. Leo was assuming that Frederick would choose Martin Luther for the post. Had Frederick chosen Luther, two problems could have been solved for Leo: he would have an emperor who did not want papal territory, and the condemnations of the church would stop; he assumed that if Luther were given a high-ranking position within the church, he would hesitate to publicly criticize the institution. Frederick was uninterested in the job, however, and he politely declined. Advisors of King Charles I of Spain bribed the electors and Charles was named Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Charles promised to respect the traditions of Germany, and he appointed only Germans to imperial offices.
Scripture that was decided by a council. (Luther's later movement, which grew out of this position, essentially ended the practice of convening church councils, known as conciliarism.) Luther lost the debate by an overwhelming margin. Luther's statements had been extremely dangerous, and he opened himself up to charges of heresy. Eck immediately began to capitalize on his victory, writing the Exsurge Domine (Arise Lord), the document that the pope later used as a basis for excommunicating Luther from the Church.
Luther, God, and Death
For years Luther was tormented by doubts about his ability to meet the demands of a righteous God. In 1545, a few months before his death, he wrote about this problem in a preface to an edition of his Latin works. He noted that after the disastrous debate in Leipzig in 1519, he studied the Psalms (a book in the Bible) and felt the joyful assurance that God did not demand righteousness from human beings. Instead, humans were made righteous by God's gift of Jesus Christ, a gift that was to be accepted by faith. Earlier Luther had taught that Christians who feared death were guilty of insufficient belief. He asked how one could be a Christian and doubt that God could raise the dead. After 1519, however, Luther taught that horror before death was a natural part of the human condition because death was a penalty for sin. According to Luther, a Christian could be terrified of death and yet trust God's graciousness despite this doubt and uncertainty.
Continues assaults on the church
In 1520 Luther realized that he was intensely at odds with the church, but he felt it was his duty to defend his views and protect his growing group of supporters. He wrote powerful assaults on the papacy. In his An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation (Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation), he asked the princes to take the duty of church reform over from the pope. He said that there was a "universal priesthood of all believers," who had a direct relationship with God. Those who were baptized in the faith were of equal standing with priests and had every right to address concerns about the state of their religion. He further argued that the clergy should be allowed to marry, a belief that shook Christendom to its foundations. In De captivitat Babylonica ecclesiae (Babylonian captivity of the church), he rejected the Catholic sacraments, or holy rites, of confirmation, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction (the act of anointing a person with oil before death). He claimed they had no scriptural basis and were merely conspiracies to keep Christians trapped within control of the church. He redefined penance to be a mutual assurance of divine forgiveness between Christians, and he argued for keeping only the traditional rites of baptism (the ceremony in which a person is blessed as a Christian) and communion.
At this time, there was considerable controversy among reformers about communion. Many debated whether there was a real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine that was partaken during the ritual. Luther believed that the body and blood of Christ were combined with the substance of the bread and wine (known as consubstantiation), instead of the wine and bread being transformed into the actual body and blood (known as transubstantiation). In Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (The freedom of the Christian), Luther held that the true Christian did good works not because of heavenly reward, but out of spontaneous gratitude to God for salvation.
In 1520 Pope Leo issued Exsurge domine, the bull (decree) written by Eck. The bull threatened Luther with excommunication if he did not recant his writings. On January 3, 1521, the pope issued another bull, titled Decet Romanum Pontifecem (It is fitting that the pope), and Luther was officially excommunicated from the church. Leo fully expected that the new Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, would support the decree. Charles knew that the pope had objected to his election, and he wanted to gain favor with the church. On the other hand, Charles did not want to offend Frederick the Wise, Luther's supporter, or any other German prince. The emperor needed their help in his war against France (see "Italian Wars dominate Renaissance" Chapter 2). He was also worried about the Ottoman Empire invading his Austrian lands (see "Ottoman Empire" in Chapter 1). Wanting to gain as much German favor as possible, Charles agreed to Frederick's request that Luther be given a hearing at the Imperial Diet of Worms.
Luther arrived in Worms and began studying with Jewish scholars to improve his Hebrew. He was working on a translation of the Old Testament, and he found that translating a Hebrew text directly to German would be more accurate than using a Greek translation as his master source. Luther was a firm believer in using original sources, a major theme of Renaissance humanism. When Luther presented himself before the council at Worms at 4 P. M. on April 17, 1521, he expected a theological debate. What he encountered was not what he had expected.
Luther was led to a room in which his collected writings were piled on a table. He was ordered to renounce them. He asked for time to consider, then left the room. He returned the next day to appear before Charles V. Luther gave this response to the council's command to renounce his views: "Unless I am proved wrong by the testimony of Scripture or by evident reason I am bound in conscience and held fast to the Word of God. Therefore I cannot and will not retract anything, for it is neither safe nor salutary to act against one's conscience. God help me. Amen." Luther felt strongly that his beliefs were completely supported by the Scriptures, and he refused to renounce them. One of Luther's students described his teacher at this period: "He was a man of middle stature, with a voice which combined sharpness and softness: it was soft in tone, sharp in the enunciation of syllables, words, and sentences. He spoke neither too quickly nor too slowly, but at an even pace, without hesitation, and very clearly… If even the fiercest enemies of the Gospel had been among his hearers, they would have confessed from the force of what they heard, that they had witnessed, not a man, but a spirit."
Charles was unmoved by Luther's statements, seeing them as a threat to the stability of the church. Nevertheless, Charles waited to condemn Luther publicly until after he had secured enough financial support to continue his military campaigns against the French and the Ottomans. Charles had been advised that Luther was extremely popular with the German masses, as well as with scholars throughout Europe, so he knew he had to bide his time. Finally, after receiving assurances from his allies, Charles issued an edict on May 26, 1521, that declared Luther to be an outlaw. The emperor forbade any of his subjects from helping Luther or his supporters. Luther, however, firmly believed that he was neither a troublemaker nor a heretic since he had never opposed indulgences or the papacy by using force. Instead, he stated that it was God's Word—meaning the scriptures—which Luther had taught, preached, and wrote about that actually weakened the papacy.
Occupied by threats from the Turks, the French, and rebels against his rule in Spain, Charles was unable to stop agents of Frederick the Wise from secretly taking Luther to Wartburg Castle. Luther hid there for almost a year, disguised as Knight George. Luther stayed in the castle and wrote many of the works that would define his career. In his treatise De votis monasticis (On monastic vows), he claimed that vows taken by Catholic monks and nuns were not binding, and he questioned the value of monks living in solitude and contemplation. In solitude, Luther thought, the Christian was open to attacks from Satan, the Christian concept of evil. While hiding in Wartburg castle, Luther also began translating the New Testament into German. The first edition appeared in September 1522 with prefaces explaining each book according to Luther's own views. His Old Testament translation was completed a decade later. Luther's German Bible became one of the influences on the modern German language.
Return to Wittenberg
Unrest in Wittenberg made Luther return there in March 1522. The discontent was caused by men, like Luther's former debate partner Andreas von Karlstadt, who had pushed to the limit Luther's idea that all religious authority came from the Bible. Since the Bible states that God condemned image worship and called upon prophets to destroy these objects, many people saw themselves as prophets called by God to destroy Catholic crucifixes (carved images of the crucified Christ on the cross) and statues of saints. The resulting violence and destruction threatened social order. Supported by Frederick, Luther decided to put a stop to it. Luther convinced Karlstadt that the Reformation would best be served by gradual and reasoned opposition to the church. Karlstadt, who had publicly declared that things were moving too slowly, heeded Luther's advice. Luther calmed down the mood at Wittenberg and returned to Wartburg Castle. In March 1522, Karlstadt began to once again spread a more radical doctrine than Luther, and Luther was forced to return to Wittenberg. He took over leadership of the Reformation in Wittenberg, and Karlstadt retreated to Orlamünde, Germany, where he led a more radical reform movement without the interference of Luther or Frederick. Luther, realizing that his message had been well received but badly interpreted, decided to start his own church.
The Knights' Revolt
Although Luther spoke out strongly against the corruptions and practices of the Catholic Church, he did not believe in violence as a solution to the problem. Luther wanted order to be maintained, both within society and within the church, and he did not advocate violent methods to achieve peace and harmony. Luther was alarmed that some wanted to use the sword to spread reform. Men like Franz von Sickingen (1481–1523) disagreed with Luther. Sickingen started the rebellion called the Knights' Revolt. (Under the system of feudalism during the Middle Ages, knights were warriors who swore allegiance to lords and kings and followed a strict code of honor called chivalry; see "Feudalism" in Chapter 1. Knighthood continued in many parts of Europe during the Renaissance and Reformation period.)
Sickingen and Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523), a humanist knight who later helped write the Letters of the Obscure Men, were both lower nobles of the Holy Roman Empire. Like many nobles, they believed that the papacy should be under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor. They had watched helplessly as their land holdings declined in the economic turbulence of early sixteenth-century Europe. As the cost of living continued to increase due to inflation, many nobles began to attack merchants' caravans. Some of these robber knights, including Sickingen, started hiring themselves out as mercenaries (soldiers paid to fight in wars). In 1515 Emperor Maximilian I declared Sickingen to be an outlaw. Maximilian was afraid to punish his friends in the lower nobility and was unwilling to lose his military experts, so he did not take proper action to support his declaration. In 1521 Sickingen sold his services to Charles of Spain (the future Emperor Charles V) in the war against King Francis I of France, a move that proved to be disastrous. Sickingen's military campaign was a dismal failure, and the Spanish government did
Different Interpretations, Different Problems
When Luther returned to Wittenberg from Wartburg Castle in December 1521, his message had already begun to take hold in religious practice. Greek scholar and Renaissance humanist Philip Melanchthon performed the Lord's Supper by distributing the ceremonial wine and bread to the laity (unordained church members). Melanchthon administered the ceremony in the spirit of Luther's concept of consubstantiation. Luther believed that, according to Scripture, the body and blood of Jesus of Nazareth (called the Christ) are present in the bread and wine taken during the service. This view was similar to the Roman Catholic teaching, known as transubstantiation, which holds that the bread and wine are transformed when held aloft by the priest during the service. The difference between Luther's theory and the Catholic teaching was that Luther refused to accept the role of the priest in changing the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He felt that only the world of God, as found in the Scripture, mad this change possible. The liturgy of Melanchthon's ceremony was similar to that of the traditional Catholic ceremony, but Melanchthon performed the first distinctly Protestant service. Other supporters of Luther, however, took more radical and experimental views. Marcus Stübner, one of Luther's former students, and two illiterate weavers from the town of Zwickau formulated their own interpretations of Luther's message. Seeing themselves as prophets, the three began preaching on the streets of Zwickau. While Luther did not deny that God could speak through common men, the fact that the three were proven to be alcoholics and liars did not help Luther's message. Luther spoke out against the Zwickau "prophets," and reemphasized his message about scriptural authority. This event, coupled with his disagreements with Karlstadt, led to Luther forming his own church.
not pay the 76,000 gulden Sickingen had been promised. He was forced to send many of his troops home without payment. Later that year, Sickingen was introduced to the ideas of Luther by Hutten. Moved by Luther's religious beliefs, Sickingen attempted to present his sword (a token of a knight' oath of loyalty) to Luther at the Diet of Worms. Although he politely declined the gesture, Luther did dedicate a later writing to Sickingen.
Luther's refusal of the sword did not curb Sickingen's own religious zeal. He was determined to spread the gospel (the word of God delivered by Jesus Christ) by waging war. In 1522 Sickingen attacked the western German city of Trier, including the home of the local archbishop. The military governor (known as a margrave), Philip of Hesse (known as Philip the Magnanimous; 1504–1567), was a strong supporter of Luther and did not agree with Sickingen's methods. Seeing violence as a threat to property and spirituality, Philip joined with the archbishop of Trier in seeking assistance from the Swabian League. The league was an alliance of cities, princes, knights, and church officials in Swabia, a region in southwestern Germany. It had been formed in the fourteenth century to protect trade and maintain peace in the region. Sickingen and his forces were driven out of the city and toward their own homes. One by one, the castles, or homes, of Sickingen and other knights fell under attacks from Swabian League forces. Sickingen was killed in 1523 when his castle was destroyed.
Hutten fled to Zurich, Switzerland, where he died of syphilis (a contagious disease spread by sexual contact or inherited from an infected parent). In the summer of 1523 the Swabian League continued to attack the castles of the robber knights, destroying a total of thirty castles. The actions of the Swabian League would serve as a rehearsal for the much more destructive Peasants' War of the mid-1520s.
A new pope and the Diet of Nuremberg
Meanwhile, Pope Leo X had died in 1521 and Adrian of Utrecht (1459–1523) became Pope Adrian VI (reigned 1522–23). A reform-minded native of the Low Countries, Adrian VI was the only non-Italian pope elected in the sixteenth century. (The next non-Italian pope was John Paul of Poland, who was elected in 1978.) Although Adrian had supported Luther's excommunication, Adrian agreed with some of Luther's charges against the Catholic Church. Adrian appointed a Reform Commission and indicated he would act on their recommendations. After only twenty months as pope, Adrian died of the plague, and with him died the hopes of peaceful reform within the Catholic Church. Many Catholics celebrated the death of Adrian, fearing the changes he had been poised to introduce. Clement VII (1478–1534; reigned 1523–34), a Medici, was named as Adrian's successor, but he never had the courage to implement reform in the church.
During the reign of Adrian VI and the early years of Clement's reign, a series of three Imperial Diets were held in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1522 and 1524. One of the central aims of the Diets was to discuss Luther and how to enforce the Edict of Worms declaring Luther an outlaw. The issue soon became secondary to the impending threat of the Ottomans. The city of Belgrade (present-day capital of Serbia) was an important fortress city in the Balkans (countries in eastern Europe) and had been sacked in 1521. When the island of Rhodes in the eastern Mediterranean was overtaken by the Ottomans, attention shifted from Luther to the potential fall of the Holy Roman Empire. Archduke Ferdinand (1503–1564) of Austria, the younger brother of Charles V and the future Holy Roman Emperor (Ferdinand I; reigned 1558–64), had been granted Habsburg lands in Germany. Ferdinand found it difficult to persuade the German princes and nobles to take definitive measures against Luther and his followers. In 1524, when Ferdinand insisted upon action, officials at the diet produced a document citing grievances against the church. A general council was called, and it issued an order stating that Catholic traditions would be observed until a church council met and made a final decision. Without a firm action or decree against them, Luther and his followers were able to continue winning supporters.
Lutheranism spreads into Nuremberg
Nuremberg was the site of three Imperial Diets as well as the seat of the Imperial Supreme Court (highest court of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Imperial Council of Regency (representative assembly of the Holy Roman Empire). The city was therefore essentially the center of the Holy Roman Empire. Nuremberg was also important to the humanist movement. A number of prominent humanistic thinkers lived there. Luther had visited the city twice in 1518, so many there had received early exposure to his ideas. The popularity of his message began to increase, and between 1520 and 1522 the city hired a number of church officials who had been Luther's students at Wittenberg. As Lutheranism continued to become more popular, city officials saw a chance to break from the authority of the Catholic Church. Having been given full rights to decisions regarding the city's churches by Pope Leo X in 1514, Nuremberg all but sealed its authority in religious matters by officially adopting Lutheranism in 1525. The city government already controlled the social aspects of life in Nuremberg and felt that control of the church was a logical next step. Nuremberg's decision to adopt Lutheranism served to fan the flames of reform, which quickly spread across all of Europe.
The German Peasants' War
The German Peasants' War was the greatest uprising of early German history. The conflict involved most of south Germany and parts of central Germany. Its high point was from January to June 1525, but preliminary activity and aftershocks extended from May 1524 to July 1526. Until April 1525 the rebellion was not based on military action; it was more a form of social protest than a call to violent conflict. Large gatherings and marches of commoners supported an armed boycott of clerical and lay lords. While there were scattered attacks on monasteries and castles, the aim was to acquire goods and money, not to kill or capture. To fully understand the German Peasants's War, the social, religious, and economic realities of the period have to be examined.
Most of the unrest was centered in the urbanized regions of the Holy Roman Empire, where a majority of the empire's food was grown. For years, noble landlords and clerics had been overworking and exploiting peasants who worked on farms, violating their rights and village customs. Artisans and common workers complained they were kept from markets of their choice by nobles and forced to sell food to their overlords at extremely low prices. In areas of upper Germany, populations were rapidly increasing while crops had been failing for more than two decades. With barely enough food to feed the population, misery and frustration spread. While crops were failing in some areas, most of western Europe had been experiencing an economic upswing since 1450. This fact did little to improve the life of the common landowner, but it increased the wealth of the nobility. A sharp division among the social classes quickly emerged. Landholding peasants controlled village government, dominated landless peasants, and subjugated common workers. In turn, however, the incomes of landholding peasants were reduced by landlords who collected rent, government officials who took taxes, and churchmen who expected tithes. (Peasants were allowed to hold land, but they could not own it.) Money was kept by the clerics, aristocrats, and nobles. Peasant landowners were given certain rights and privileges, but they were tightly controlled by those at the top. At the bottom was the common worker, who barely had enough to feed his family and had no personal wealth. As these injustices continued to mount, groups of peasant landowners across southern and central Germany began to unite in protest.
Peasants stage uprisings
The peasants had a number of complaints against the nobility. Local, self-ruled governments were rapidly being replaced by district officials. Towns and urban areas were being absorbed into larger territories and placed under the Holy Roman Empire. Wishing to create uniform rule and custom, officials of the empire replaced local laws with Roman law. In some areas, the practice of serfdom was once again instituted. Serfdom was a part of feudalism, a social and economic system in the Middle Ages, which required peasants to work all their lives for a landowner with no possibility of being freed (see "Feudalism" in Chapter 1). This change angered many peasants, who were also upset that noblemen were attempting to exclude them from hunting game in the local forests and meadows and from fishing in the local waterways. Selling game and fish was a traditional source of extra income for peasants, and the nobles' attempts to stop peasants from hunting and fishing directly affected the economic situation of many commoners. Peasants were also subjected to additional labor by the aristocrats who owned the land, keeping many peasants from making additional money to feed their families. Others objected to the excessive rents charged to live on the aristocrats' lands, and to the arbitrary penalties for offenses not mentioned in the law. New taxes on wine, beer, milling, and the slaughtering of farm animals greatly angered the peasants, who were also expected to pay the church a tithe, even when crops had failed. Overtaxed and overworked, underpaid and underfed, the peasants began to revolt.
In the early 1520s peasants staged armed uprisings against monasteries and castles. In the Black Forest, Upper Swabia, and Alsace, attacks were made on monastic landlords, demonstrating the widespread anger toward tithes. Other uprisings, also centered on monastic orders, occurred in 1523 and 1524. On May 30, 1524 peasants in the Black Forest region rebelled against the overlord, claiming they would no longer provide feudal services or pay feudal dues. In June laborers stopped working in the southern region of the Black Forest. Here the peasants were angered by the recent limits placed on local government, and when the local ruler would not negotiate, peasant groups began to march through the Black Forest and called for rebellion. The movement soon began to gain support and increase in size.
The military phase of the Peasants' War, from April 1525 onward, was largely one-sided. Violence was usually squelched by the Swabian League and German princes. During this phase the rebel bands were successful in stealing the wealth of various monasteries, as well as destroying a number of castles belonging to aristocratic nobles. Some towns were forcibly occupied, but executions of nobles were extremely rare. The battles were usually slaughters in which commoners were killed. In May 1525, six thousand people were killed in Frankenhausen, Thuringia; eighteen thousand were killed in Alsace. Limited peasant uprisings continued into the seventeenth century, but the main rebellion essentially ended in 1525.
The Twelve Articles and the Federal Ordinance
Many factors contributed to the violence of the German Peasants' War. As already noted, anger toward the church and aristocratic nobles was central to the rebels' discontent. Several written works voiced these concerns and were adopted by the movement. The most significant were the Twelve Articles and the Federal Ordinance.
The Twelve Articles were written in March 1525, one month before the armed uprisings took place. This work expressed an opposition to tithes, and the authors used scriptural references to support their argument. The opening part of the Twelve Articles made the same point Luther had made years earlier, that any disorder resulting from the preaching of the gospel (that is, Lutheran gospel) should be blamed on those who resist it, not on those who preach it. According to this view, any violence or unrest that resulted from the Peasants' War was not the fault of the peasants. Instead, those who refused to hear their complaints were responsible. The peasants believed they were charged by God to rebel and fight for their rights. In addition to the Twelve Articles, there were other Reformation pamphlets that called for an end to the tithe and demanded that parishes have the right to choose and dismiss pastors. They insisted that pastors preach the Scripture as written in the Bible and not as it is interpreted by church officials.
The Federal Ordinance was a more complicated document because there were so many different versions. Some of these versions expressed different ideas about how the existing social and political structures should be changed. In versions found in Upper Swabia and the Black Forest, the authors wanted self-governing groups, or confederations, of local communities ("towns, villages, and rural regions") to be formed. Such a political and social organization was patterned on the Swiss Confederation of neighboring Switzerland (see "Switzerland" in Chapter 4). Switzerland had grown in size and power by absorbing smaller neighboring confederations on its borders. Some Germans even hoped to break away from Germany completely and become part of the Swiss Confederation. In larger territories, such as Württemberg or Tyrol, the authors wanted to have a peasants' estate join nobles and townsmen in the already established representative assemblies. In this system, peasants who owned land would be able to participate in the local government, essentially making them equal to the nobles and aristocrats who sat on the assemblies. (It was unusual, but by no means unheard of, for peasants to participate in representative assemblies during this time.) The rebels were not united under a common political goal; their ideas varied from region to region, and therefore there was not a united movement to change the political structure of Europe as a whole. Concerns were more regional, and desires for reform were usually tied to that region.
Religious concerns were also addressed in the Federal Ordinance. An appeal was made to fourteen leading Reformation theologians, such as Luther, Melanchthon, and Zwingli, to decide if the rebels had scriptural support for their rebellion. Thomas Müntzer (1490–1525) was the only prominent Reformation theologian to side with the rebels. Luther denounced them passionately, claiming they had not correctly interpreted his beliefs or the gospel itself. When the rebels refused to stop fighting, Luther wrote Against the Robbing and Murdering Horde of Peasants in May 1525. Luther called for authorities to end the rebellion by any means necessary. Some peasants felt that Luther had betrayed them and returned to the Catholic Church. While Luther felt the peasants had legitimate concerns and complaints, he felt the solution was to be found in the Gospels, not through violence. He thought that if a leader was to become a better Christian, he would become a better ruler. Despite his public statements against the rebellion, most German princes (both Lutheran and Roman Catholic) connected the Lutheranism movement with the German Peasants' War. Early opponents of Luther had claimed that his appeal to the princes and the nobility to rebel against clerical authority would cause anarchy (total lack of order) across Europe. These opponents had also said that Luther's ideas would challenge the very rule of the princes and nobles he asked to support him. With the uprisings of 1525, many German princes believed these predictions were coming true. As a result, princes of all religious affiliations began to take greater control over the religious practices within their realms. As criticism of the movement increased, Lutheranism was required to become more organized to defend itself against the attacks of opponents.
Thomas Müntzer (1490–1525) was born at Stolberg in the Harz mountains of Germany. Little is known about his family background. He studied at the universities of Leipzig (1506) and Frankfort on the Oder (1512). Between 1517 and 1519 he was at Wittenberg, where he came into contact with Martin Luther. Müntzer was influenced by both Renaissance humanism and medieval mysticism (a religion based on intense spiritual experiences), and elements of both could be found in his writings. In 1520 and 1521 he preached at Zwickau. While in Zwickau, Müntzer became increasingly frustrated that the reform movement was moving too slowly. In April 1521 his radical beliefs caused him to be removed from his position as preacher at Zwickau. Later in 1521 he traveled to Bohemia; he preached at Prague and in November wrote his Prager Manifest (Prague protest), the first of his surviving documents. On Easter 1523 Müntzer became pastor of the church of Saint John in the small market town of Allstedt in Saxony. At Allstedt, Müntzer married the former nun Ottilie von Gersen. Here he also introduced the first liturgy (text used in worship services) written in German (the Catholic liturgy was written in Latin, the official language of the church, and could not be understood by common people). His Allstedt reform program was successful, and he soon enjoyed a wide following in the town and surrounding countryside, which led to conflict with local Catholic lords.
By the end of 1523, following an investigation into his reforms, Müntzer completely broke with Luther. In March 1524 a group of Müntzer's followers burned the small pilgrimage chapel at nearby Mallerbach. Müntzer defended the action and stopped the prosecution of the rebels by local officials. On July 13, 1524, he preached his famous Fürstenpredigt (Sermon to the princes; or, an exposition of the second chapter of Daniel) at the Allstedt castle before Saxon rulers and officials. These authorities called Müntzer and members of the Allstedt council for a hearing and ordered him to stop spreading his ideas. As a result, Müntzer fled Allstedt for Mühlhausen, a free imperial city in Thuringia, Germany, where he joined another radical reformer, Heinrich Pfeiffer. In late September 1524 city authorities expelled both reformers following their involvement in a rebellion. Later that fall, Müntzer's final writings against Luther were secretly printed in Nuremberg. Müntzer traveled to southwest Germany at this time, where he made contact with fellow radicals and preached to peasants who had risen in rebellion in the Klettgau and Hegaus regions of Germany. In early 1525 Müntzer returned to Mühlhausen. In March a new revolution in the city led to the formation of a new government. When the Peasants's War swept Saxony and Thuringia in April, Mühlhausen became an important urban center supporting the rebellion. Müntzer and Pfeiffer campaigned with rebel bands and worked hard to promote the cause of the commoner. Following the defeat of the peasants at the battle of Frankerhausen, Müntzer was captured. After interrogation and torture, he was beheaded outside the walls of Mühlhausen on May 27, 1525.
Luther gets married
During the Peasants' War, Luther met Katherine von Bora (1499–1552), a former nun. At the age of ten she had been placed in a convent by her father after he remarried. Young girls who were not wanted by their parents were frequently placed in convents to become "brides of Christ." Katherine did not find spiritual fulfillment in the church, however, and when she read Luther's writing against taking clerical vows she decided to flee the convent. Along with twelve other nuns, she hid in an empty barrel used to transport smoked herring (a kind of fish) and escaped on the eve of Easter 1523. Three of the nuns who had escaped were accepted back by their families, but Katherine and the eight remaining nuns could not return home. They found refuge at Wittenberg, where Luther was teaching. Their situation was typical of a mounting problem: former nuns who were not wealthy and did not live with their families could not find husbands to support them. After two years, Luther decided to marry Katherine himself. Luther regarded the decision as having two benefits: he could please his father by taking a wife and upset the pope by getting married while he was still a priest.
Luther quickly settled into married life. The couple had six children, and Luther proved to be a tender husband and father. He was one of the first reformers to publicly support marriage for priests, and he greatly admired his wife. Katherine had a talent for stretching her husband's meager income. She also started a boarding house and ran a successful farm. She brewed an excellent beer, which Luther greatly enjoyed, and she was not afraid to voice her opinion to her husband. Although always respectful, Katherine was known to openly disagree with Luther. As his respect for his wife and daughters grew, Luther became more vocal in his recognition of women's talents. He was one of the first advocates of schooling for girls, helping qualified women find jobs as elementary teachers. Although he supported the right to education, Luther still believed that women should take care of the home and children and should not be allowed to be ministers or accept public responsibilities.
The Diets of Speyer: 1526 and 1529
The unstable political situation in the Holy Roman Empire contributed to the success of the Reformation movement. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was continually threatened by the Ottoman Turks, so his military forces were busy fighting the war against the Turks in eastern Europe and were not available to keep order during the revolts in Germany. Some historians argue that if Charles had not been so preoccupied with the Ottomans, he would have stopped the reform movement. Political and military events of 1526 were therefore important to the continued spread of the Reformation throughout Europe.
In late June 1526 officials of the Holy Roman Empire met in the German Rhineland town of Speyer. Once again Charles V's brother, Archduke Ferdinand, presided in the emperor's absence. While they were meeting, reports of continued Ottoman aggression reached the council. Imperial officials were forced to make a decision regarding the empire's official stance towards the Reformation movement. So many churches and towns had turned "evangelical" (a term used to refer to the Reformation movement in Germany; those who practiced the new religion were called "evangelicals") that Ferdinand was forced to allow people to practice their chosen religion. In other words, the council decided that people should follow their own conscience as long as they did not break the laws of God and the emperor. Although this was neither a condemnation nor an approval of the evangelicals, the council declared it would be the official policy until the general church council was able to meet and establish more specific rules and regulations. Ferdinand and Charles both knew that taking a harsh stand against the evangelical movement could result in loss of support for their campaign against the Ottomans. The Turks were threatening Hungary, which was ruled by Ferdinand's brother-in-law, Louis II, and the council needed to act quickly. At the Diet of Speyer it was decided that twenty-four thousand troops would be sent to assist Louis against the Ottomans. These efforts came too late, however, and the Hungarians were demolished by the Turkish forces (see "Hungary" in Chapter 4). Louis was killed on August 29, along with nearly twenty thousand troops and five hundred nobles. The Turks were unable to continue their campaign, however, because most of their forces were made up of noblemen who had to return home and attend to their own estates.
While the Turks were distracting Charles in eastern Europe, the evangelical movement was winning thousands of converts in Germany. Luther continued writing pamphlets that publicized the Lutheran cause. He also composed hymns that were based on the Psalms. These hymns made evangelical worship services more inspiring and attracted additional followers. (Luther's best-known hymn is probably "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," which is based on Psalm 46. It is still sung in many Protestant churches today.) In the summer of 1527, as the evangelical movement presented mounting threats against the Catholic Church, an important event strengthened the ties between the emperor and the pope. Soldiers in Charles V's army sacked Rome when they had not been paid for their services. The mercenaries essentially held the city and Pope Clement VII captive until peace was restored. Charles was embarrassed by the actions of his men and the overall lack of discipline within his army. Nevertheless, he used the situation to promise protection to the pope, who had been opposed to Charles's efforts to bring Italy into the empire. In return, the pope had to give Charles control of Rome and the Papal States (territories ruled by the pope in central and northern Italy). After the new alliance was formed between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, the second Speyer meeting was held in March 1529. Both Charles and Clement were determined to strike a blow against the evangelical movement and its leaders.
By 1529 the evangelical movement had been weakened by internal fighting. Philip of Hesse and Duke John of Saxony (1468–1532) were both avid supporters of the Reformation, and they had been using their political positions to bring pressure on the Holy Roman Empire. They announced that they would withdraw support for the empire's campaign against the Ottomans if the Catholic Church did not respect the religious rights of the evangelicals. By 1529, however, the threat of Ottoman aggression had reached an alarming level. Philip and John of Saxony lost support, and with the evangelical movement splitting into different groups, imperial officials decided to act. On April 30, 1529, they repealed the Diet of Speyer compromise of 1526 and called for a return to the Catholic faith in all German provinces. Evangelical worship was no longer supported or allowed within the Holy Roman Empire.
A number of evangelicals protested the new policy, but both Ferdinand and Charles V rejected any compromise. It is because of these objections, or protests, that those allied with the evangelical movement became known as "Protestants." When a group of evangelicals who had gone to Spain to speak with Charles were placed under house arrest, it became clear that compromise was out of the question. Philip of Hesse and other supporters began to plan a Protestant military alliance. Philip realized that the only way political unity among the Protestants could be achieved would be if there were theological unity as well. Philip invited the leading Protestant theologians of the Roman Empire and Switzerland to his town of Marburg (present-day Maribor, Yugoslavia) for a meeting to be held on October 1, 1529. Luther, Melanchthon, and Zwingli all accepted. The meeting was the first time Luther had met Zwingli, who had started a successful reform movement in Switzerland and in parts of the Holy Roman Empire. After great debate, the two men were able to agree on many key issues. They still held differing views about the meaning of communion, however, and were unable to reach a compromise. Luther was adamant about there being a real presence of Jesus in the wine and bread used in the ceremony. Zwingli felt the ceremony was symbolic and nothing more. They agreed to disagree, but neither man ever trusted the other again. By the time the Holy Roman Empire announced another Imperial Diet in 1530, the Protestant movement had not become unified either politically or theologically.
The Augsburg Confession: 1530
In the fall of 1529, the Ottomans had launched a full-scale attack against Vienna, Austria. The city was well-fortified and withstood the attack. After failing to take Vienna, the Ottomans focused their attention on conquering the remainder of Hungary. Ferdinand, who had presided over the previous three Imperial Diets for his brother Charles V, had been named the new king of Hungary. Charles announced that he would personally preside over the next meeting of the Imperial Diet, to be held in Augsburg, Germany. Outwardly, it seemed as though Charles was going to be more tolerant of the Protestants. He claimed he would be respectful of the Protestant theologians. While many Protestants still did not trust him, others hoped Charles would listen to their complaints, realize they were acting out of true faith, and leave them to practice their religion in peace. Charles had no intention of doing so. Permitting the Protestants to reject the authority of the pope would be the same as allowing them to reject the authority of the emperor. Like his grandfather Maximilian, Charles saw himself as a representative of Christ, and he would not allow his holy authority to be challenged.
Those who believed Charles had good intentions decided to take the invitation seriously. The Protestants were ordered to write a "confession," or statement, of their beliefs. The man charged with writing the confession was Philip Melanchthon, Luther's old friend. He was a respected theologian and the first priest to perform a Protestant communion. In 1521 Melanchthon had published the loci communes, (commonplaces) a well-respected text for the teaching of basic Protestant theology. He proved to be a good writer, and Luther respected his abilities. Luther was still an outlaw and was hiding in the safety of a Saxon castle, so he was unable to attend the Diet at Augsburg. He trusted Melanchthon to do a good job of representing Protestant beliefs.
Melanchthon's confession was not nearly so radical as many had expected. Charles V himself was surprised at the mild tone of the document. The situation became difficult, however, when followers of Zwingli and other theologians presented their own confessions, which were more unorthodox. Upset that the Protestants had been unable to come up with a single statement, Charles refused to address each of the confessions. Instead, he appointed a team of theologians to examine the Lutheran confession written by Melanchthon. The committee was headed by Johann Eck, Luther's opponent in the Leipzig debates. After two weeks, Eck returned with a 351-page commentary on Melanchthon's confession. Eck's statement was so mean-spirited and unfair that Charles ordered Eck to rewrite it. Charles would not let the Lutherans see the manuscript until Eck had toned it down. The emperor had a reason for adopting this strategy: although the Ottoman threat was less severe by that time, he still needed Protestant support for his campaign against the Turks. On August 3, 1530, Eck presented Charles with a 31-page report, called the Confutation, which supported the decision of the 1529 Diet of Speyer. Charles insisted that the Protestants accept the Confutation. He ordered them to renounce their beliefs and return to the Roman Catholic Church. Failure to do so would result in the wrath of the empire. The Protestant theologians and diplomats claimed they needed time to read the Confutation and form an official response, but Charles refused to grant their request.
Officials of the Holy Roman Empire tried to divide the Protestants by sending some individuals expensive gifts to woo them back to the Catholic Church. These tactics did not work. Protestants such as John of Saxony left the Diet of Augsburg early out of frustration, while others stayed and participated. Although the council voted to supply Charles with forty thousand infantry (foot soldiers) and eight thousand cavalry (soldiers mounted on horses) in the war against the Ottomans, Protestants refused to abandon their religion. The emperor had set a deadline of April 15, 1531, for them to comply with the orders in the Confutation. Many feared the emperor might use military force against them. The threat of violence only strengthened the belief among most Protestants that they were right and the emperor was wrong.
The Schmalkaldic League
The Diet of Augsburg had been an effort to settle religious tensions within the Holy Roman Empire, but the meeting only intensified an already difficult situation. Frustrated and angry Protestants decided the time had come to form a military alliance. Philip of Hesse and others believed they could resist the emperor. They felt they were within their rights to do so, since they were rulers of their own areas. Those close to Luther were attempting to convince him that, whether he wanted it or not, conflict may be inevitable. As a pacifist, Luther did not advocate the use of violence under any circumstances. His beliefs were not shared by most Protestants. In late 1530 they gathered in the town of Schmalkalden, Germany, and formed the Schmalkaldic League for protection against Catholic forces. Philip of Hesse and seven other princes agreed that if one city-state were attacked, the remaining would come to its aid. Nuremberg, a large and important city, refused to join the Schmalkaldic League, as did neighboring Brandenberg-Ansbach. Despite these abstentions, many Protestants hoped the cities would eventually join the cause.
At the Diet of Nuremberg in the summer of 1532, the league was so strong that Charles was forced to agree to a truce that continued the toleration of Lutheranism indefinitely. Philip of Hesse then took the offensive, and in 1534 he defeated the imperial troops, restoring Lutheranism to the territory of Württemberg. In northern Germany more princes and towns became Lutheran, including part of Saxony, which had been staunchly Catholic. Philip brought dishonor on himself in 1540, however, when he married a second time without divorcing his first wife. Other Protestant princes condemned him for embarrassing the cause. Philip was now at the mercy of the emperor for having violated a fundamental civil and moral law. Charles forced him to
Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) was born in the trading center of Bretten, Germany, to Georg and Barbara Reuter Melanchthon. Showing a talent for language, Melanchthon mastered Latin and Greek at the age of twelve. By the time he was fourteen, he received his bachelor's degree of arts from the University of Heidelberg. He earned his master of arts at the University of Tübingen in 1514. In 1518 he became the first professor of Greek at Wittenberg University, which was still a relatively new school. At the beginning of the school year he gave his inaugural address, in which he proposed reform of the university curriculum. Melanchthon had been strongly influenced by humanism, and he wanted the new curriculum to be formed along humanist lines. He also proposed an emphasis on Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and on such disciplines as rhetoric (the art of speaking or writing effectively), dialectics (conversation based on discussion and reasoning), and history. Throughout his career at Wittenberg, he was successful in changing the general course of study for theology students. He came to be recognized as one of the greatest experts in Latin.
In 1519 he achieved the first theological degree, the baccalaureus biblicus, (bachelor of the Bible) at Wittenberg. By this time Melanchthon was a supporter of Martin Luther, having assisted the reformer in the Leipzig debates against John Eck. By 1527 many felt that evangelical theology would destroy the humanist movement. In response, Melanchthon wrote an important work titled Encomium eloquentiae (Praise of eloquence), in which he claimed that the gospel and humanism were both gifts from God. He emphasized that all students, including those studying theology, needed to be educated in languages and classical literature. Two years earlier he had been instrumental in founding a new Latin school in Nuremberg. In 1528 Luther and Melanchthon teamed up to write an explanation of the curriculum of local Protestant schools. He also made contributions in the area of rhetoric and revolutionized the use of oratory (public speaking). Throughout his life, Melanchthon published numerous works, mostly in Latin, and was widely regarded as a leading Reformation theologian, humanist, and scholar. Although his humanism was sometimes at odds with evangelical theology, scholars now maintain that Melanchthon was as important to Luther as Luther was to Melanchthon. Melanchthon lived in Wittenberg until his death in 1560.
restrain the Schmalkaldic League, which became sharply divided between militant and moderate factions, or opposing sides. Nevertheless, the Protestant forces remained strong and at another Diet of Speyer in 1544, Charles promised that all religious questions would be solved in the future by a German church council in which the Lutherans would be given a full voice. In 1545 another theological meeting was held at Regensburg, but when Catholics and Protestants failed to reach agreement, relations between the two groups worsened.
The Diet of Regensburg of 1546 was boycotted by members of the Schmalkaldic League, and Charles finally withdrew his earlier concessions. He won over Philip of Hesse's Protestant son-in-law, Maurice of Saxony (1521–1553), and declared war on the league. At first the Protestants were successful, but in April 1547, Charles captured John Frederick of Saxony (1503–1554). A short time later he also took Philip of Hesse captive, under promise of good treatment. He forced several recently converted Protestants to return to the Catholic Church, and he compelled other Protestant states to accept his authority. At the Diet of Augsburg in 1548, Charles issued the Augsburg Interim, which granted concessions to the Protestants, including the right of priests to marry, subject to papal approval. Most of the Protestant leaders were forced to accept the document, but they considered it unsatisfactory. The Augsburg Interim was largely ignored in the next few years, as resentment against Charles slowly built up. In 1551 Maurice, angry at the continued imprisonment of his father-inlaw, organized a new Protestant League with French support. The league was successful. Charles was forced to release Philip and John Frederick and to issue another recess of the diet. Disgusted with the German situation, Charles left for the Netherlands and gave Ferdinand authority to conclude a settlement.
Luther's last years
Luther had aged rapidly during his hectic life. The stress of continual work and constant conflict with both Catholics and Protestants had taken a toll on him. After both of his parents died in 1530, he fell into a deep depression and his health declined. When the Schmalkaldic League formed in January 1531, Charles agreed to stop prosecution of Protestants who had not obeyed the Confutation. Once again the emperor needed the support of Protestants in his defense of Vienna against the Ottomans. The Protestant provided aid that helped the imperial forces defeat the Ottomans, and in June1532 the Ottomans agreed to a peace treaty with the Holy Roman Empire. Even this turn of events did not lessen Luther's depression. His mood temporarily improved when he finally completed his translation of the German Bible in 1534. Until this point, German had been a clumsy language with many different spoken and written dialects. Luther's Bible became so popular that his style of German became the basis of a unified German language.
Martin Luther and Philip of Hesse
Philip of Hesse was instrumental in the formation of the Schmalkaldic League, as well as in the spread of Protestantism. He was a close friend of Martin Luther's and frequently sought religious advice from him. Philip was married to Christina, the daughter of Duke George of Saxony. Christina was a Catholic, and by 1540, the two had been married for sixteen years. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and Philip frequently complained to Luther that his wife was a cold, bitter alcoholic. Philip was a man with great sexual appetites, and he had been having affairs with ladies in his royal court for years. He often felt guilty about his behavior and confided this to Luther. In late 1539 he had contracted a dangerous sexually transmitted disease, syphilis, which had killed his father years before. He had also fallen in love with a seventeen-year-old member of his court, Margaret von der Saal, and wished to marry her. Philip went to Luther for advice. In 1526 Philip had wanted to marry another of his court ladies, and Luther had refused to allow it. But when Philip met with Luther and several other Protestant ministers in 1539, the aging Luther agreed to the request. He and his colleagues felt that a bigamous (married to more than one woman at the same time) marriage was better than a divorce. They supported their claim by referring to men in the Old Testament who were married to several women at the same time. Bigamy was against imperial law, however, and Philip was told to keep his second marriage a secret. By 1540, news of the marriage became public, as did Luther's knowledge and support of it. Charles forced Philip to give up any positions within Protestant groups, promising Philip he would not be tried in court for bigamy. As a result the Schmalkaldic League lost one of its most important members, and Luther became linked with a scandal.
Luther soon lapsed into despair again. He was greatly troubled that he had done little to stop the sinful behavior of man. He felt that he had given clear guidelines for peace and brotherhood through his teachings, but few accepted the truth that he had given them. During the last two decades of his life Luther spent as much time arguing with other Reformation leaders as with his Catholic opponents. He longed for Christian unity, yet he could not accept differing views. In 1542, when his daughter Magdalena died from the plague, he publicly declared that he wished all his children would die. He was convinced the final judgment of God was coming and that the world would be destroyed. Luther began to write attacks against the Ottomans, the papacy, the Anabaptists (a Protestant group that opposed baptism of infants), and other religious groups. He was critical of the Council of Trent, one of the most important steps toward peace between Protestants and Catholics since the beginning of the Reformation.
Luther also began attacking Jews. In 1542 he wrote Against the Jews and Their Lies, calling upon authorities to burn Jewish synagogues (houses of worship) and to expel Jews if they did not convert to Christianity. These attacks were a drastic departure from Luther's earlier views. As a young man, he had studied with Jewish theologians when translating the Old Testament into German. In an age when most Catholics blamed Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, Luther had written a pamphlet titled "That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew," which defended the Jews against these charges. At the end of his life, however, he became one of their harshest opponents. Luther did nothing to stop John Frederick of Saxony, the son of John of Saxony, from expelling the Jews from his lands in 1536. In his last sermon, on February 15, 1546, Luther publicly declared that "the Jews are our enemies, who do not cease to defame Christ and would gladly kill us if they could." Despite these harsh words, he urged Christians to treat Jews with love and pray for their conversions. Three days after delivering the sermon, Luther died of a heart attack at the age of sixty-three.