Martin Luther was born at Eisleben in Saxony on November 10, 1483. The next year his father Hans, who worked in mining, moved to Mansfield where he served on the local council. He wanted his oldest son Martin to be a lawyer and sent him to Latin schools where he was often disciplined by caning. In 1497 Martin attended a school run by the Brethren of the Common Life. He went to the University of Erfurt in 1501 and received his master’s degree in 1505. Martin quickly dropped out of law school because he wanted to study theology. When scared by a lightning bolt during a thunderstorm on July 2, 1505, he cried out that he would become a monk, and he joined an Augustinian friary on July 17.
Martin Luther was ordained a priest in April 1507, and the next year he began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. Johann von Staupitz was vicar general of the German Augustinians, and he chose Luther to go to Rome in 1510 to present an appeal of some dissidents. The young man was shocked to see extravagant wealth and moral corruption where he had expected to find a religious spirit. In October 1512 Luther earned his doctorate in theology and was accepted into the senate of the theological faculty. He succeeded Staupitz in the chair of biblical theology at Wittenberg. Luther lectured on the Psalms 1513-15, and he began preaching in the parish church in 1514. By April 1515 Luther had become prior and district vicar over eleven other monasteries in Meissen and Thuringia.
Plenary indulgences began with the first crusade in 1095, and Thomas Aquinas developed the theory of the pope dispensing the merit of Christ and the saints for those who help the Church. John Wycliffe and Jan Huss denied the efficacy of indulgences. On March 31, 1515 Pope Leo X issued the Sacrosanctis bull offering indulgence for those contributing to the building of St. Peter’s Basilica at Rome. The Church at this time often promised indulgences to pay for sins for people who donated to help Church projects such as hospitals. The sale of indulgences had become such big business that negotiations were supervised by the Fugger banking house of Augsburg that advanced money and made a profit. In the jubilee indulgence for St. Peter’s half the German proceeds secretly went to pay the debt of young Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg who had paid for his high ecclesiastical offices. Though Luther did not learn this until later, this bartering away the penalties of sins bothered him.
On October 31, 1517 Luther posted on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg a copy of his “95 Theses for the Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Here are some of the theses:
5. The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit
any penalties beyond those imposed
either at his own discretion or by canon law.
21. Hence those who preach indulgences are in error
when they say that a man is absolved
and saved from every penalty by the pope’s indulgences.
27. There is no divine authority for preaching that
the soul flies out of purgatory
immediately the money chinks in the bottom of the chest.
28. It is certainly possible that
when the money chinks in the bottom of the chest
avarice and greed increase;
but when the church offers intercession,
all depends on the will of God.
36. Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant,
enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt,
and this is given him without letters of indulgence.
38. Yet the Pope’s remission and dispensation
are in no way to be despised, for, as already said,
they proclaim the divine remission.
41. Papal indulgences should only be preached with caution,
lest people gain a wrong understanding, and think that
they are preferable to other good works: those of love.
43. Christians should be taught that
one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy,
does a better action than if he purchases indulgences;
44. Because by works of love, love grows,
and a man becomes a better man;
whereas by indulgences, he does not become a better man,
but only escapes certain penalties.
62. The true treasure of the church is the Holy Gospel
of the glory and the grace of God.
86. Again: Since the pope’s income today
is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men,
why does he not build this one church of St. Peter
with his own money,
rather than with the money of indigent believers?1
He also sent a letter on indulgences with the “95 Theses” to Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg. Albrecht in December forwarded them to Pope Leo X, and in January 1518 they were printed and circulated in both Latin and German. Dominicans engaged in a pamphlet war to defend Johann Tetzel who had been an inquisitor and fathered two illegitimate children and was now preaching for the indulgences in Magdeburg.
In April 1518 Luther responded by publishing the Resolutiones brochure and sending copies to his bishop and Pope Leo X. He affirmed that an ecumenical council is better than the Pope, criticized relics and pilgrimages, denied the extra merits of saints, and rejected indulgences and other innovations of the last three centuries. He walked and then rode in a cart to a disputation at Heidelberg University where he won over the young scholar Martin Bucer. Bishop Lorenz von Bibra gave Luther a safe conduct. In a sermon on May 16 Luther questioned the power of excommunication, and Pope Leo X sent to scholarly Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg a summons for Luther to come to Rome which he received on August 7. The next day Luther sent a plea to Georg Spalatin to intercede with his Prince Friedrich III who negotiated with Cajetan. In his papal brief on August 23 Leo X ordered Cajetan to arrest Luther. On the 25th the humanist Philip Melanchthon was made professor of Greek at Wittenberg, and a few days later he delivered his inaugural address on educational reform.
Philip Schwartzerd was born on February 16, 1497, and his education was guided by his grandmother’s brother, the famous humanist Johann Reuchlin, who urged him to change his name to Melanchthon, the Greek form of “black earth.” Philip earned his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Heidelberg in 1511 and a master of arts at Tübingen University in 1514. Melanchthon began teaching the classics and published a book on Greek grammar in 1518, the year he became professor of Greek at Wittenberg University.
Staupitz released Luther from his monastic obedience so that he would have freedom of action. Luther asked for a safe conduct, and in the Fugger mansion on October 12-14 Luther met with Cajetan who dismissed the monk and advised him to stay away until he recanted. On the 16th Luther wrote his famous appeal to Pope Leo X, had it notarized by witnesses, and posted it on the door of the Augsburg cathedral. Warned by rumors that he might be taken to Rome in chains, Luther fled from Augsburg on the 20th. On November 9 the papal bull Cum postquam clarified that indulgences only apply to penalty, not to guilt, and only on Earth, not in purgatory and hell. On the 28th Luther appealed to Friedrich for an ecumenical council so that he could defend his views. On December 18 Friedrich sent a message to Cajetan requesting a debate on Luther’s concerns. He indicated he would not banish Luther or send him to Rome unless he was convicted of heresy.
In his Treatise on the Marriage Estate Luther wrote that raising children is much better than going on pilgrimages, building churches, and endowing masses. He also condemned usury and blamed the Fuggers for demanding 20% interest on loans. Luther wanted stricter laws against luxuries, and he called for reforms to help the poor and improve the schools.
In January 1519 Luther met with the papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz and promised he would remain silent if his opponents did the same; but the theologian Johann Maier von Eck from the University of Ingolstadt wanted to dispute Luther’s ideas and arranged a debate at Leipzig against Andreas Karlstadt and Luther. In July 1518 Karlstadt had published 379 theses against Eck. Luther went with Karlstadt, Melanchthon, and 200 students on foot armed with spears and halberds to debate Johann Eck at Leipzig University, Wittenberg’s rival. They debated for eighteen days in June and July. First Karlstadt debated Eck, and then Luther met Eck. Luther had written thirteen propositions, and Eck challenged the one that denied the supremacy of the Pope. In the discussion Luther praised Jan Hus who had been burned as a heretic in 1415. He agreed with Hus that there is only one universal church and that articles of faith can be established only on Holy Scripture. Melanchthon wrote a description of the debate, and then Eck defended himself against Melanchthon who earned his bachelor of divinity in September 1519 and defended 24 theological theses which showed he agreed with Luther. Melanchthon criticized Aristotelian scholasticism and wrote A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.
After the death of Emperor Maximilian on January 12, 1519, the imperial electors demanded 850,000 florins from German financiers. The Fuggers offered 543,000 and the Welsers 143,000. Italian bankers promised the difference, and Charles V was unanimously elected the Holy Roman Emperor on June 28, 1520. Before the vote, he signed election capitulations, agreeing to rule Germany according to its own laws and customs and to limit the price cartels of the big merchants. German and Latin were the only official languages, and no foreigner could be employed in the imperial offices, and no foreign troops were to be permitted in Germany. He recognized a new Imperial Governing Council; but they only ruled when he was not in Germany, and after the return of Charles in 1530 the Council no longer functioned. The Swabian League kept order in southern Germany. When Duke Ulrich tried to take the free city of Reutlingen in 1519, the Swabian armies occupied Württemberg.
Fugger capital increased from 200,000 florins in 1510 to 2,000,000 in 1526 and reached a peak of 5,000,000 in 1546. In the first period the Fuggers averaged more than 50% annual profit, but after 1546 it was less than 6%. People complained about monopolies, and “Fuggerei” was blamed for increasing prices. In the 1520s the Welsers were allowed to exploit the colony of Venezuela, but after 1550 they had to write off their investment. By then the growth of the German economy was not keeping up with the increase of the population.
The faculties of the Catholic universities at Cologne and Louvain condemned Luther’s teaching, and the news reached Saxony in March 1520. Eck had also won over Elector Joachim of Brandenburg who become the religious ally of Duke Georg. Luther wrote his “Sermon on Good Works” in May and based his ethics on his interpretation of the Ten Commandments. He believed that only the works God has commanded are good and that only those God has forbidden are sinful. The greatest work is trusting in God and that means having faith in Christ. Christendom is a spiritual community, and the true head is Christ in heaven, not the Pope. Jesus did not make Peter a tyrant but told him to “feed my sheep,” which Luther interpreted as preaching to them.
Silvester Prierias wrote three volumes against Luther and published the third volume as Epitoma responsionis ad Lutherum in which he declared the Pope’s doctrinal decisions are all infallible, and opposition to them deserves temporal and eternal punishment. Luther reacted in “The Papacy at Rome” in June, asking if robbers are punished by the sword and heretics by fire, then should they arrest the cardinals, popes, and mob of the Roman Sodom and spill their blood? On June 15 Pope Leo accused Luther of heresy in 41 articles in his Exsurge Domine bull, and he had sixty days to recant. Anyone defending Luther or promoting his writings could also be excommunicated, and all his writings were to be burned. On July 8 the Pope wrote to Friedrich asking him to arrest Luther if he did not recant on the 41 heretical sentences. On July 17 the Pope appointed his librarian Hieronymus Aleander and Johann Eck as nuncios to carry out the ban, but it only had impact in Meissen, Merseburg, and Brandenburg. Although Leipzig University was supported by Duke Georg, they refused to promulgate the ban.
Luther published his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation which came off the press in August 1520 in Wittenberg and sold 4,000 copies in 18 days. Luther complained that all Christendom and especially Germany were oppressed and afflicted. He sought to remove the following three walls from the Christian religion: 1) that that the temporal powers have no jurisdiction over the clergy, 2) that only the Pope can interpret scripture, and 3) that only the Pope can summon a council. He argued that the Pope practiced knavery and corruption behind the protection of these walls which prevented him from being held to account. He complained that the Pope was greedy for worldly gain and used benefices and other legal devices to increase his wealth at the expense of others and that these benefices and other techniques should be abolished. He urged the nobles and their subjects to refuse to make annual payments to Rome. He proposed that bishops be confirmed by an archbishop or neighboring bishops as advised by the Council of Nicaea rather than by the Pope. No temporal matters should be referred to Rome. The number of people in the Pope’s household should be reduced. Bishops should no longer be compelled to take oaths to the Pope.
The Pope should have no authority over the Emperor except to anoint and crown him. The Pope should give up his claim to the kingdom of Naples and Sicily because it was based on the forged “Donation of Constantine.” Kissing the Pope’s feet is unchristian. Pilgrimages to Rome and other places should be ended. Luther opposed the building of any more mendicant houses, and the Pope should not found or endorse orders. Luther proposed that priests should be allowed to marry or not. He wanted to abolish masses for the dead. Many punishments in canon law such as the interdict should also be abolished, and excommunication should not be used for material advantage. He would also stop the canonization of saints. Luther argued that whatever one buys from the Pope is no good because what comes from God is always free. He urged reconciliation with the Bohemians. Luther also wanted to reform the universities by modernizing the curriculum. Luther also suggested ways of reforming the secular governments by reducing luxuries and the abuses of eating and drinking. He opposed tolerating brothels, but he rejected chastity and other vows except for the voluntary vows of monks. Festivals should be limited to Sundays. He called for a girls school in every town so that they could be taught the Gospel. He accused Germans of excessive “gorging and boozing” which results in crimes.
Luther urged the secular leaders to convene a reforming council because the Pope had offended Christendom. Luther’s attempt to purify the Church by confining it to spiritual concerns would result in empowering the secular states. He believed that Christians do not need a human mediator to have a relationship with God and that God does not need intermediaries to communicate with humans. Thus he encouraged every Christian to proclaim the word of God. He argued that the believers could call a council, and he wanted to reduce the number of cardinals. He exposed the corruption of the Church by comparing the lives of the popes and prelates to Jesus. He argued that heresies should be overcome with books, not by burning heretics. Also in August 1520 Luther appealed to the recently installed Emperor Charles V who had borrowed 543,000 florins from the Fuggers to gain his position. On August 28 Staupitz avoided the issue of whether to condemn Luther’s teaching by resigning.
Luther wrote his next treatise, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in Latin for the clergy and scholars, and it came out on October 6. He complained that Christians had been carried away from the scriptures and were subjected to the tyranny of the Pope. He threatened a revolution in the Christian religion by proposing to reduce the seven sacraments of the Church to three—baptism, communion, and penance. Confirmation, weddings, and extreme unction could be retained without giving the Church authority over the youth, marriages, and the dying. Extreme unction came from James 5:14-15 and originally referred to the sick, not the dying. Ordination gave the Church authority over priests, but Luther favored a priesthood of all believers. He denounced rituals and priestly authorities because he believed the holy scriptures and individual conscience should be supreme. Although he valued penance, he concluded it is not a sacrament because it lacks a material sign. The Church had raised penance or confession to a sacrament in 1215. This sacrament should not be abused to extoll the despotic power of pontiffs. Luther argued that the Christ did not speak of power but of faith.
In regard to the Lord’s Supper he objected to the cup being withheld from the laity, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass. Transubstantiation also became dogma in 1215; but Luther preferred the older concept that the bread and wine remained that though the body and blood of Christ are present in them. He believed that the testimony of the Christ has more power than the ritual. Luther argued that no vow should be taken beyond the baptismal vow. Those baptizing do so in God’s name. Luther argued that God, not priests, absolves sins. He advised that Christians could hear each other’s confessions without the presence of a priest. Grace comes from God, not from a church. He charged that the sacraments had been used for the captivity of Christians by turning them into merchandise for a profit-making business. Ultimately Luther believed that Christ is the only sacrament. He argued again that all vows in religious orders or for pilgrimages should be avoided or abolished. The Captivity book shocked many people, and it was suppressed by the Duke of Saxony, the imperial council at Worms, and at the imperial diet in February 1521. Yet this book won over many Christians such as John Bugenhagen who previously had considered Luther a reckless heretic. He was from Pomerania and spread Luther’s reformation in northern Germany and Denmark. England’s Henry VIII reacted by writing The Assertion of Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther, and the Pope gave him the title Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith).
Luther’s third great treatise of 1520 published in November is On the Liberty of the Christian Man, and here he emphasized again his ethics of justification by faith. A German edition of this Latin book was dedicated to Mayor Hermann Mühlphordt of Zwickau. The book includes an open letter to Pope Leo X, offering him advice. Luther admits he has despised the Roman Curia, but he does not attack Leo personally. He urged him and his cardinals to remedy the evils he believed had become worse than Babylon or Sodom. He believed the pope had become more like the Antichrist and an idol than the Christ. He noted that Bernard of Clairvaux wrote On Consideration to Pope Eugenius more than three centuries before to try to purify the corruption of the Roman See that was not nearly as bad then.
Luther believed that the word of God teaches freedom. He accepted the paradox that a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all who is subject to no one while being a perfectly dutiful servant of all subject to everyone. Thus a Christian is perfectly free inwardly, but a dutiful servant outwardly. A Christian gives oneself as a Christ to one’s neighbor just as Christ has been given to the Christian. The Christian lives in Christ and in one’s neighbor. No outward thing can make a person free or just, but these come from faith within. The second key to freedom is being truthful and trustworthy. In the third stage the soul becomes married to Christ. For Luther the true Christian is as free as a king and is a priest forever. A result of the spirit of faith is the experience of joy in the laws of God. A good person does good works, and a wicked person does evil deeds. Luther concluded that a Christian does not live in oneself but in Christ through faith and in one’s neighbor through love. By faith one is able to transcend oneself into God, and by love one goes beyond oneself into one’s neighbor. Luther stimulated the number of books being published in German which went from 150 in 1519 to 570 in 1520 and reached 990 in 1524.
Archbishop Jerome Aleander as ambassador for Pope Leo X on September 28 had persuaded Emperor Charles V in Antwerp to issue an edict against Luther’s heresies in Burgundy, and Luther’s books were formally burned in Louvain on October 8 and in Liege one week later. Louvain also expelled Erasmus from their faculty. Erasmus wrote to Cardinal Campeggio urging justice for Luther, and he pleaded that for the sake of the truth every person ought to be able to speak freely without fear. On November 12 at Cologne the executioner refused to burn Luther’s books until Aleander made him. At Mainz a throng shouted “No!” when the executioner asked them if they should be burned. Friedrich notified Aleander that he would not submit because Luther had not been convicted of any error.
Luther received the Exsurge Domine bull on October 10, and he had sixty days to submit. He replied by writing Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist. He noted that the bull never referred to scripture, but he backed up his assertions from the Bible. Before being crowned at Aachen on October 23 Emperor Charles V promised he would not put the imperial ban on any German without cause and without a hearing. He met with Friedrich at Cologne in November. Friedrich declined to see Aleander but asked for the opinion of the humanist Erasmus who made him laugh by saying that Luther had attacked the crown of the Pope and the bellies of the monks. On the 17th Luther renewed his appeal to the Pope for a council, and he also appealed to the Emperor, his prince, and the German people. On the 25th Melanchthon married. On November 28 Charles told Friedrich to invite Luther to the Diet at Worms so that he may be investigated; but on December 17 the Emperor rescinded the invitation. On December 10 Melanchthon posted a notice at the university that godless books would be burned, and students built a bonfire at the gates of Wittenberg to burn the works by Eck. Luther tossed in the fire the Exsurge Domine bull and the entire papal law. The next day he began lecturing to 400 students in German instead of in Latin. Instead of burning books he recommended burning the papal see to reject that kingdom. He complained that canon law idolized the pope.
On January 3, 1521 Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther. The Diet at Worms opened on January 27, and the agenda included complaints about how the papacy was treating the oppressed German nation. On February 6 Emperor Charles V received Luther’s appeal and tore it up, but on March 11 the Emperor wrote to Luther inviting him again to attend the Diet at Worms within 21 days to answer charges about his teaching. On April 15 Paris theologians published their condemnation of 104 statements by Luther. Melanchthon would publish his defense of Luther against these charges in October.
In March 1521 Luther wrote a response to the Italian Dominican Ambrose Catharinus in which he demonstrated that the Pope was the Antichrist prophesied in the book of Daniel, but it was not published until June. On April 2 Luther began his journey to the imperial Diet at Worms, and he arrived in a wagon two weeks later followed by a hundred nobles on horses, mostly from Saxony. When asked the next day if he repudiated all 20 volumes of his writings, Luther gained time by differentiating his works. On April 18 even more people crowded into a larger room. Luther refused to repudiate works no one condemned; but he also denied that the complaints he had made against the popes and papists were not true because many people agreed with him. When asked finally if he would repudiate his books, he declared,
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—
I do not accept the authority of popes and councils,
for they have contradicted each other—
my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
I cannot and I will not recant anything,
for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.
Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.2
The next day Emperor Charles V read his statement in French in which he concluded that a single friar going against the Catholic faith of a thousand years must be wrong. He allowed him to return under his safe conduct but without preaching, and he promised that he would proceed against him “as a notorious heretic.” On April 20 the German electors met, and four of the six agreed with the Emperor. Ludwig of the Palatinate and Friedrich of Saxony dissented. Many left the diet, and the Edict of Worms was signed on May 6; but it was not issued until the last day of the Diet on May 25 when the Elector Joachim of Brandenburg declared its approval by the imperial estates. The Edict blamed Luther for damaging marriage, confession, and other sacraments. He was accused of denying free will like a pagan, of rejecting the power of the keys, and with his teaching of fomenting “rebellion, division, war, murder, robbery, arson, and the collapse of Christendom.” He was accused of harming the civil power even more than the ecclesiastical. He was given 21 days from April 15 and was called a “convicted heretic.” His followers were also to be condemned; his writings were to be eradicated; it was made a crime to help him, and he was to be turned over to the Emperor. Yet Friedrich seems to have gained permission from Charles not to serve the mandate against Luther.
On April 25 Luther was ordered to leave Worms, and he was guaranteed 25 days of safe conduct. The next day with an escort of twenty horsemen he traveled through Frankfurt, dismissing the imperial herald at Freiberg in Hesse. He ignored a provision of the safe conduct when he began preaching on May 2 before dawn at Hersfeld. The next day he preached in Eisenach even though the local pastor protested before a notary. On May 4 Luther had only two companions when horsemen sent by Friedrich came and took him to Wartburg castle that night. He was kept there for ten months and let his hair and beard grow so that he would appear to be “Knight Georg.”
Meanwhile Karlstadt in Wittenberg was arguing that priests and monks should be allowed to marry. Three men renounced their vows and got married, and Albrecht of Mainz had them imprisoned. Jacob Seidler was executed, and Melanchthon wrote a defense of Bartholomew Bernhard who believed he was following the traditions of the Old and New Testaments. Melanchthon’s defense was translated into German and published as Priests May Take Wives. He gave communion with bread and wine on September 29, but he refused to be ordained. Melanchthon’s major work Common Places in Theology or Fundamental Doctrinal Themes (called Loci Communes) had been published in Latin in April, and two more editions came out that year. This book systematized the basic ideas of Luther’s reformation based on the scriptures. He hoped to lead students away from Aristotle to the teachings of the Christ.
Luther was allowed to write extensively and wrote his “Refutation of the argument of Latomus,” and he translated Erasmus’s second edition of the Greek New Testament into German with help from Melanchthon. Luther in his Interpretation of the Magnificat denied that Mary could intercede for the faithful, but he accepted the doctrines of the immaculate conception and the virgin birth of Jesus.
Luther wrote On Confession, asking if the Pope had the power to require it and complaining that priests used it to increase their income. In The Misuse of the Mass Luther criticized private masses, especially those paid for the souls of the dead. Gabriel Zwilling opposed the concept of sacrifice and instituted agape meals in Wittenberg. On October 13 the mass was replaced by preaching.
In October violence erupted in the streets and churches of Wittenberg. Ulrich von Hutten, whom Emperor Maximilian had named poet laureate in July 1517, had been writing satires and criticisms of the Pope and favoring independence from Rome. He urged Elector Friedrich to achieve freedom by appropriating monastic wealth and stopping money going to Rome. Hutten was prepared to use force against force on behalf of the reforms and was protected in the castles of the knight Franz von Sickingen; but Luther rejected his proposal of armed revolution for the teachings of the Gospels. He believed that the word of God had conquered the world and preserved the Church and that it would also reform the Church. He noted that the Antichrist had been established without weapons, and he believed he would be overthrown by the Word without armed force. Luther wrote The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows in November, but Spalatin did not publish it until February 1522. Luther considered it abominable to make a vow to earn salvation, and he wanted to free young people from the curse of taking a vow of celibacy.
Albrecht of Mainz wanted money for his lavish way of living and displayed his collection of relics at Halle, promising indulgences to visitors. Luther wrote Against the Idol of Halle, but Spalatin refused to print it. Luther wrote to Albrecht again, and he wrote back and said he had eliminated the cause of the trouble. Luther was allowed to visit Wittenberg on December 4 to persuade Spalatin to publishing his writing. On that day students destroyed the altars at the Franciscan monastery in Wittenberg. Luther urged the Augustinians to begin returning to the world in the new year, and they decided to let monks leave and to abolish begging. Luther preached that each person has to believe oneself in one’s own mind and that no one should be intimidated by violence. He criticized those who demolished altars, smashed images, and dragged away priests. When he returned to Wartburg, he wrote A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard against Insurrection and Rebellion. He argued that insurrection lacks discretion and usually harms the innocent more than the guilty, and thus it can never be right. He wrote,
I am and always will be on the side of those
against whom insurrection is directed,
no matter how unjust their cause;
I am opposed to those who rise in insurrection,
no matter how just their cause,
because there can be no insurrection
without hurting the innocent and shedding their blood.5
In this book Luther objected to people being called “Lutherans” because they are Christians. He was not crucified for anyone, and they are the teachings of the Christ, not Luther’s.
Karlstadt on Christmas Day dressed as a layman and speaking in German administered both the bread and the wine in communion as 2,000 people gathered in Castle Church. Gabriel Zwilling led the Augustinians and urged people to burn pictures and destroy altars. On the 27th three prophets from Zwickau arrived in Wittenberg. Nicholas Storch and Marcus Stübner claimed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and advised not baptizing people until they are mature. They prophesied that priests would be killed and that the reign of God would bring communism. They impressed Karlstadt and Melanchthon.
On January 6, 1522 Augustinian monks met in Wittenberg and resolved to abolish private masses, and they decreed that anyone could leave the monastery. On the 11th Karlstadt led a mob that destroyed altars in the old convent church and burned oil used in extreme unction. Karlstadt married a 16-year-old girl on January 19. He wrote denouncing vows and masses and even images while demanding a vernacular liturgy. He published the pamphlet On the Abolition of Images with Adam and Eve shown naked on the title page. Karlstadt gained control of Wittenberg University and the town, and he urged a movement back to the land. On January 24, 1522 the town council issued ordinances to regulate religion, public morals, and relieve the poor. Begging was forbidden as a common fund was maintained for those really poor. Prostitution was banned, and images were removed from churches on February 6.
On February 13 Prince Friedrich decreed that images were to be left alone, that masses were to be kept, that Karlstadt was forbidden to preach, and that begging was to be examined. He wanted reforms to be by territories, not by towns. Karlstadt agreed not to preach, and Zwilling left Wittenberg.
Luther left Wartburg and returned to Wittenberg on March 6, explaining his reasons in a letter to Prince Friedrich. Dressed as an Augustinian monk he preached from the pulpit eight sermons deploring violence and urging the teachings of the Gospels as the orderly way of reform. He advised that only images that were venerated needed to be put away by those in authority, and he warned that the fanatical destruction of images would only increase their adoration. He blamed the devil for the unrest in Wittenberg and wrote a letter to the court advising them not to use force against the radicals. Luther declared that he would preach, speak, and write, but he would not use force to compel anyone. He admitted that he could have started something at Worms to shake the Emperor’s position, but he believed it would have been mad and would have corrupted body and soul. After his preaching, people calmed down, and students returned to their classrooms. He published his Personal Prayer Book in May. This included his modernized versions of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer which he prayed daily. Luther began making liturgical changes and started with baptism.
The Franciscan Thomas Murner of Alsace satirized the immorality of the times from the nobles to the monks. He published his poem On the Great Lutheran Fool in 1522 and a Shrovetide play about Luther that satirized the marriages that might take place according to Luther’s teaching. Because of the reformation he left Strasbourg and moved to Lucerne in Switzerland in 1526.
On January 20, 1522 the imperial government at Nuremberg ordered rulers to take strong action against the innovations. The first Diet at Nuremberg began on March 22 and extended into 1523. Pope Adrian VI demanded that they arrest Luther. They discussed Luther but declined to suppress the evangelical preachers while calling for a reforming national council. On July 15 Luther sent a letter to the Bohemian estates to inform them that he approved of the Bohemian disobedience to Rome, and he hoped they would unite with the Germans despite their differences. He published a pamphlet criticizing the false order of the Pope and the bishops.
Luther’s translation of The New Testament in German with 21 illustrations by Lucas Cranach the Elder for The Revelation of John was published in September 1522. This and later the Bible completed in 1534 established the New High German of Upper Saxony as the literary language of Germany. In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans Luther translated it that “man is justified by faith alone” even though the word sola for “alone” is not in the original. They printed 3,000 or 5,000, and each copy cost as much as a good horse; but Luther never accepted any money for his writings. On November 5 the sale of Luther’s books was banned in Nuremberg, and two days later Duke Georg prohibited the sale of his New Testament in the half of Saxony that he ruled.
Luther responded in January 1523 by writing On Secular Authority and How Far One Should Be Obedient to It, arguing that rulers had no jurisdiction over things of the Spirit. He agreed with Augustine that no one should be compelled to believe. He advised nonresistance if authorities came to take their New Testaments by force. He distinguished spiritual from temporal government and emphasized obedience to lawful authorities. One should not serve the state out of one’s own need but so that others may be protected and so that the wicked will not become worse. Luther followed the logic of Ockham and recommended acting based on reason in the earthly kingdom. The duty of the temporal power is to bring about peace and prevent evil deeds, and so the spiritual power needs the secular power to restrain evil. Yet the temporal power should not presume to prescribe laws for the soul which would only mislead souls. No one can be compelled to believe something by force, and it is useless to try to do so. Only God has authority over souls. Humans can only extend their laws over earthly things, and Christians should be subject to no authority but only to each other.
The Christian prince should not rule with force, for all works not done in love are cursed. No man is to be trusted, but all are to be given a hearing to see through whom God will speak. Luther considered the rulers of Meissen, Bavaria, and Brandenburg the current enemies of the gospel. The highest law is the good of one’s subjects, and like Christ the prince should serve them; but one should not punish wrong with greater wrong. Luther suggested specific principles for war. First, war is not allowed against one’s own government. Second, war is allowed against equals or foreigners only if an offer of peace has been rejected. Third, subjects must commit their lives and property to such a war. Fourth, if the ruler is in the wrong, Christians must refuse to follow him. Luther went so far as to argue when war is allowed, the Christian should “kill, rob, and pillage the enemy” until one has conquered. They must not sin by violating women. When victory comes, they should offer mercy and peace to those who surrender.
Luther wrote that Christian congregations have the right and power to appoint and dismiss teachers because of the scripture, and this tract was widely circulated in 1523. On April 7 Luther gave refuge to nine nuns who had fled from the Nimbschen convent, and he endeavored to find husbands for them. He wrote the short “That Jesus Was Born a Jew” to defend himself against Catholic charges that he hated Jews and to urge them to convert. Jews in the empire were only allowed to live in Worms, Frankfurt am Main, and Prague. Luther would get help from Jews in working on his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew. Luther wrote hymns and prepared a hymnbook for Germans by the end of 1523. Hundreds of monks were leaving the monasteries. Bucer helped convert Strasbourg and Ulm.
In 1522 Ulrich of Hutten and Franz von Sickingen organized in Landau a union of Rhenish, Swabian, and Franconian nobles for self-defense, and they elected Franz von Sickingen their leader. On August 13 at Landau he recruited an army of knights he paid, and he sent manifestos to Trier and challenged their Archbishop Elector Albrecht of Mainz who promised Sickingen safe passage across the Rhine. They besieged Trier, but the Archbishop’s troops beat them back five times. Sickingen returned to his castle at Landstuhl, and neighboring princes helped Albrecht storm the castle. On October 1 the Imperial Governing Council declared Sickingen an outlaw. On May 7, 1523 Sickingen was mortally wounded trying to defend his castle. Ulrich of Hutten wrote an elegy on Sickingen’s struggle, but he died of illness on August 29 in exile in Switzerland. The lesser nobility were discouraged by Sickingen’s defeat, and the peasants began storming the knights’ castles.
On July 1 former Augustinian monks Heinrich Vos and Johan van den Eschen were burned at the stake in the marketplace at Brussels. Luther wrote a letter to the Christians in the Netherlands venerating the first Lutheran martyrs and included his first hymn. He had 24 of his hymns published in 1524 and 36 all together. Most of the music was composed by his friend Johann Walter. In January of that year Pope Clement VII sent Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio to the Diet at Nuremberg renewing the request to arrest Luther, but he had to enter the city secretly to avoid hostile demonstrations. Luther wrote a tract urging all the city councils in Germany to establish and maintain Christian schools. In February he advised the persecuted Miltenbergers not to resort to insurrection because force would not help them. The Christ prohibits vengeance. In May he encouraged the visiting Teutonic Order’s Grand Master Albrecht of Brandenburg to have the knights put aside false chastity and take up the chastity of wedlock. That summer Luther published On Trade and Usury. Melanchthon sent his Summary of the Renovated Christian Doctrine to Philip of Hesse in October 1524, and on February 25, 1525 Philip declared himself for the reformation. That year Nuremberg implemented the reformation.
In 1488 The Prognostication of Johann of Lichtenberg was published in Latin predicting great disturbances for the year 1524 when Jupiter and Saturn were conjunct in the sign of Pisces. Actually in February from the 13th to the 26th Mercury, the sun, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, and Mars were all in Pisces. Because Pisces is a water sign, many astrologers of the time predicted floods, and later this erroneous prediction was used to refute astrology. Yet the Piscean Age based on the precession of the equinoxes is the 2,156-year era that correlates with the influential Christian religion. Thus this massive conjunction in 1524 could be interpreted as a time when the Christian religion might be undergoing a major change. In 1499 Johann Stoffler predicted in his almanac that great changes would come in 25 years. Scholars have found 56 authors who published in books such predictions for the year 1524. After this was proved fairly accurate, Stephan Roth republished the 1488 book in his German translation in 1527.
Melanchthon wrote his Enchiridion elementorum puerilium on childhood education and made a speech On the Dignity of Astrology arguing that it is a true science and is of practical value for understanding the influence of the cosmic environment, though it is not deterministic. Melanchthon agreed with Erasmus that humans have the ability to choose God’s gift of salvation. In October 1524 Melanchthon was invited to organize a new high school at Nuremberg, and he gave the inaugural address on May 23, 1526. He implemented humanistic studies in Leipzig and Tübingen and in the founding of new universities at Marburg, Konigsberg, and Jena.
Thomas Müntzer had been recommended by Luther and began preaching at St. Mary’s church in Zwickau in May 1520; but the city council dismissed him on April 16, 1521, and he went to Prague where he wrote a manifesto in November. Because of his radical speeches he was expelled from Prague before the end of 1521. In June 1523 he became a pastor at Allstedt in Thuringia where he married a former nun and formed a “league of the elect” that soon had 500 members. On July 13, 1524 he delivered a sermon to the princes, comparing himself to Daniel who advised royalty. Müntzer believed in the kingdom of the Holy Spirit prophesied by Joachim of Fiore in the 12th century. He appealed to the poor and advocated revolution so that God would rid the world of its shame.
In July 1524 Luther warned authorities about Müntzer and Karlstadt in his Letter to the Princes of Saxony on the Rebellious Spirit. Müntzer had refused to debate Luther who believed he could win him over with his interpretation of the Bible. Duke Johann of Saxony summoned Müntzer and others to Weimar for a hearing on July 31, but on August 7 Müntzer fled, leaving his wife with a baby as he went to the imperial city of Mühlhausen in Thuringia. On the 24th Hans Müller organized Stühlingen peasants into the Evangelical Brotherhood, and they pledged to free farmers in Germany. In September craftsmen and Müntzer produced the Eleven Mühlhausen Articles calling for the dissolution of the town council to be replaced by an “eternal council” based on the word of God. Müntzer and the radical priest Heinrich Pfeiffer were expelled from Mühlhausen on September 27, but they came back in February 1525 and on March 17 held an election for the Eternal League of God to replace the council the citizens had terminated. Some complained that Müntzer ruled there like a king. They worked to set up a communist experiment, and Müntzer wrote to Allstedt urging them to join the uprising. He published two pamphlets that criticized Luther for leading people into a carnal yoke rather than to God. Müntzer claimed he received a commission from God to gather the elect in an eternal union. He urged a general revolution.
In a letter on July 4, 1524 Luther had accused Karlstadt of taking up arms, though no evidence shows that he supported Müntzer’s cause. Karlstadt met with Luther at Jena on August 22, and Luther admitted Karlstadt had not rebelled and gave him money and urged him to write a tract against himself. Yet Luther urged Friedrich of Saxony to expel Karlstadt, and he was banished on September 18. Müntzer and Karlstadt both published pamphlets criticizing Luther who answered them by writing Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments. He accused them of seeking their own glory rather than the salvation of souls. He argued that images could be tolerated as memorials and witnesses, though he praised their destruction at pilgrimage sites. Luther believed that the commandments against worshipping images and keeping the Sabbath were abrogated in the New Testament. Karlstadt wrote rebuttals to Luther who tried to set up a debate, but the Elector Friedrich would not give Karlstadt a safe conduct. Karlstadt moved to Rothenburg, but he was driven out of the city by the Peasants’ War. He sent a public apology to Luther and hid in his house in June and July 1525.
Since 1518 there had been several revolts by peasants in the Black Forest and Swabia. On July 19, 1524 the major Peasants’ Rebellion broke out in the Black Forest as they rose up against the Abbot of Reichenau. Thousands of peasants surrounded the town of Tenger. They demanded their medieval rights with the game and forest laws and with tithes. Their emblem was the Bundschuh, the low shoe of the peasant compared to the boot of the nobles. They referred to the theology of Luther and of Zwingli.
In the fall of 1524 peasants around the Lake of Constance rose up. On October 24 peasants of Stühlingen gathered and moved to Waldshut led by Hans Müller of Bulgenbach where they joined with the urban middle class that was upset with the Upper Austrian rulers because they had been persecuting their preacher, Balthasar Hubmaier, a disciple of Thomas Müntzer. Their numbers increased to 3,500, and nobles with 17,000 agreed to an armistice in their camp at Eratingen. The peasants formulated sixteen articles asking for the abolition of hunting rights, serf labor, excessive taxes, and feudal privileges with protection against arbitrary arrests and partisan courts. After the peasants went home, the nobles refused to change. The peasants assembled again, and Georg Truchsess of Waldburg negotiated with peasant chiefs. In December the peasants protested against the noble’s court proceedings at Stockach. Archduke Ferdinand armed with money from Welser of Augsburg and the Swabian Union imposed a special tax to support troops. The people with Müller displayed a black, red, and white flag. Whoever refused to join them was banished from their community. To compel the lords to submit they broke into granaries, emptied cellars, demolished castles, and burned the convents. Images were defaced, and icons were broken into pieces. Armed women threatened monks.
The insurrection spread from Swabia to the Rhenish provinces of Franconia, Thuringia, and Saxony by the end of the year. Princes hired mercenaries who attacked peasants near Donaueschingen in December. By January 1525 the country between the Danube, the Rhine, and the Lech was aroused, and on February 9 in Ried above Ulm 10,000 peasants rose up with a red flag led by Ulrich Schmid. On the 25th about 7,000 troops of Upper Allgäu assembled at Schusser, and the same number from Lower Allgaeu camped near Wurzach. By early March about 35,000 peasants of Upper Swabia were in six camps with weapons, but some of them were vagabonds who came and went.
The cities of Memmingen and Kaufbeuren joined the peasants, and representatives of the Swabian peasants met at Memmingen on March 6, 1525 and formed the Christian Association. Two weeks later they agreed to “The Twelve Articles” which were written by the furrier and merchant Sebastian Lotzer and the pastor Christoph Schappeler, a disciple of Zwingli. They printed thousands of copies and distributed them widely in Germany. They asserted their right to elect or remove preachers and pay them with tithes with the surplus going to help the poor or for a war tax. They refused to be “villains” anymore because the Christ had freed them. They claimed the right to hunt game and catch fish. They called for the woods to be given back to the municipality and the commons. They abolished the death tax that left widows and orphans without their inheritance. The last article affirmed that they would decide everything based on the word of God. In the spring peasants sacked several monasteries and raided the wine cellars. They wanted a community of goods, but they used the sword and executed their enemies.
Truchsess moved against Duke Ulrich of Württemburg and besieged Stuttgart, forcing him to leave on March 17. He wanted to attack the peasants, but the Lansquenets refused. Truchsess moved his army to Ulm. The revolutionaries agreed on “Letters of Articles” that called for killing their oppressors, burning castles, confiscating monasteries and endowments, and selling their jewels. In a general meeting at Geisbeuren the Allgäu, Baltringen, and Lake peasants organized four divisions in columns. In Franconia the peasants elected the revolutionary Anton Forner their mayor, and uprisings began in the first days of April. Also that week peasants in Anspach revolted, and the rebellion spread to Bavaria. In Rothenburg peasants had been armed by March 22, and by the end of the month peasants revolted in Urach, Münsingen, Balingen, and Rosenfeld. On the 27th peasants attacked the cathedral in Rothenburg.
On April 2, Judica Sunday, the peasants submitted their demands in the Twelve Articles. The priest Jakob Wehe led 3,000 peasants who captured Leipheim near Ulm; but they were defeated by the Swabian League on April 4, and Wehe and four other leaders were beheaded. On that day in the Odenwald peasants followed the innkeeper Georg Metzler who led an attack on the monastery of Schoenthal. Peasants from the Neckar valley joined them. Wendell Hipler led peasants who took Oehringen. Hipler argued in his Divine Evangelical Reformation that merchant companies such as those of the Fuggers, Hochstetters, and Welsers should be abolished. The Common Gay Troop burned the Hohenstaufen castle and monasteries, compelling peasants and nobles to join them. On April 11 the people of Bamberg rebelled against their bishop and pillaged his castles and the homes of the Catholics. By the end of April about 300,000 peasants were armed.
The Swabian League was led by Truchsess who was called “the peasant hunter,” but on April 22 the League made an agreement with the peasants in Bodensee and Allgäu. Truchsess led the fight against the insurrections at Leipheim on April 4, Baltringen peasants on the 17th, Gaeu peasants at Boeblingen on May 12 during an armistice, and against the Franks at Konigshofen on June 2.
Count Ludwig von Helfenstein, a magistrate from Württemburg, ordered peasants they captured executed and moved into Weinsberg. On April 15 (Good Friday) Metzler, Jacklein Rohrbach, and Florian Geyer led the Black Host that stormed the castle. Rohrbach was leading a slaughter until Metzler stopped it. Helfenstein was captured, and after a trial on the 17th Rohrbach forced him and seventeen others to run a gauntlet that killed them. The Black Host marched through the Neckar region and Würzburg destroying castles and priests. Peasants took over the city of Heilbronn and were given 12,000 guilders but only pillaged the possessions of the clergy and the Teutonic Order. The knight Goetz von Berlichingen and Metzler led the aroused peasants in Main, and they compelled nobles to join them and spared their castles. Hans Berlin persuaded councils and chiefs to accept a modification of the Twelve Articles.
Luther read “The Twelve Articles” in April and published his “Admonition to Peace” analyzing them, supporting the just complaints, criticizing the princes while repudiating Christian rebellion, and urging discussion and arbitration. Luther tried to refrain from judging the peasants and believed his task was to educate the conscience. On May 3 he advised Duke Johann of Weimar to oppose the peasants, and he approved Count Albrecht of Mansfield when he attacked peasants in the village of Osterhausen. The next day Luther wrote in Against the Murdering and Thieving Hordes of Peasants, “Have mercy on these poor people! Let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.”3 He believed the peasants were being terrorized by their leaders and that the nobles should fight to free them. He accused them of rebelling against their rulers, of robbing and plundering convents, and of claiming their crimes were done for the Gospel. He argued that the disciples and apostles voluntarily shared their possessions but that the peasants using force were stealing. Melanchthon completed his Confutation of the Articles of the Peasants in early June, and he agreed the peasants were committing crimes and that the princes should restore order.
About 6,000 peasants took over Stuttgart on April 25. Four days later Matern Feuerbacher with his men marched against these Gaildorf troops and forced them to withdraw from Württemburg. Goetz Berlichingen was trapped and led rebel forces into Würtzburg on May 7. Spires, the Palatinate, Alsace, and Hesse adopted “The Twelve Articles,” and the peasants threatened Bavaria, Westphalia, Tyrol, Saxony, and Lorraine. On April 28 about 20,000 peasants attacked Zabern and destroyed the monastery of the bishop of Strasbourg. Then on May 13 they took over the town and forced a fourth of the men to join them. Metzler and Wendel Hipler managed to keep 2,000 peasants together and led them towards Kautheim. They had 8,000 men when they withdrew toward Koenigshofen where on June 2 they were attacked by the army of Truchsess that killed all 300 middle-class men from Koenigshofen.
Prince Friedrich of Saxony died on May 5, 1525 and was succeeded by Johann of Saxony who was called “Steadfast” because he continued the policies of his brother who had supported Luther’s reforms. However, Johann believed that his brother had been too lenient, and he joined with Duke Heinrich of Brunswick and Philip of Hesse in the attack on Mühlhausen.
That spring Müntzer and others led the Thuringian peasants in a violent uprising. Landgrave Philip of Hesse assembled an army and defeated the Fulda peasants at Frauenberg on May 3, 1525. Then he joined with Saxon troops and took Eisenach and Langensalza. At Frankenhausen on May 15 Müntzer led about 8,000 peasants, but he failed to provide powder for his cannons. He stirred the people with his words. When they saw a rainbow, they took it as a sign of their movement. Philip signaled the attack, and the peasants sang the hymn, “Come, Holy Spirit.” The peasants had sent the following appeal to the rulers:
We confess Jesus Christ.
We are not here to harm anyone (John 2),
but to maintain divine justice.
Thus we are not here to shed blood.
If you are of the same mind,
we do not want to do anything to you.
Let everyone preserve this.6
When the artillery breached the crude fortification of wagons on a hill, the peasants fled and were slaughtered. About 5,000 peasants and 6 men in the princes’ army were killed. Only 600 peasants were taken prisoner, and Philip ordered more than a hundred killed with the sword.
Pfeiffer with 1,200 soldiers tried to defend Mühlhausen to no avail, and Mühlhausen surrendered on May 25. Müntzer was captured, tortured, and confessed before he was beheaded on May 27 along with Pfeiffer and other leaders. The citizens were spared because they paid a ransom of 40,000 guilders. Before the execution Luther had published four of Müntzer’s letters given him by Mansfielders under the title A Dreadful Story and a Judgment of God Against Thomas Müntzer. At Halle 4,000 peasants were led by Brentz but fled before 600 citizens. Friedrich Myconius at Ichterhausen managed to persuade peasants to abandon their purpose. Johannes Agricola and Melanchthon also wrote pamphlets urging repentance. Rothenberg fell on June 20.
Margrave Casimir the Hohenzollern kept the peasant revolt in check by burning their villages and hanging them. Peasants led by Gregor von Burg-Bergsheim defeated Casimir at Windsheim on May 29, but Truchsess defeated them at Sulzdorf. His army then surrounded Würzburg on June 7. Peasants were disarmed, and the leaders were arrested. Casimir had 80 of them decapitated, and 69 had their eyes put out or fingers cut off. The bishop of Würzburg marched through his region pillaging and burning, and he ordered 269 rebels beheaded. Bishop Wilhelm von Strassburg restored order while executing only four men. After an agreement was broken in Frankfort 8,000 peasants gathered and burned monasteries and castles. The Archbishop of Trier had helped the Marshal of Zabern defeat them at Pfedersheim on May 23; 82 were executed, and the revolt there ended with the capture of Weissenburg on July 7.
Casimir captured Rothenburg on June 28, but Karlstadt and other revolutionary leaders escaped. The city of Freiburg in Breisgau turned against the peasant union on July 17, and an agreement was reached on September 18. Peasants in the Black Forest were stopped in October and made an agreement on November 13, and the last rebel stronghold at Walzhut fell in the Upper Rhine on December 6.
Peasants in Austria had revolted in the spring of 1525, and the Archbishop did not restore order until December. Michael Gaismaier had been an episcopal secretary; but after a truce was broken, he led peasants in a siege of Radstadt in May 1526. That spring they defeated Bavarian, Austrian, and Swabian Union troops. He eventually fled to Switzerland, and the Archbishop paid a bandit who killed him in 1527. On May 27 the Bavarian Chancellor Leonard von Eck reported that Duke Anthony of Lorraine had killed 20,000 peasants in Elsass. For all of Germany the estimate was that 100,000 died. The Swabian Union executed about 10,000. Other rulers killed Lutherans in their territories. Luther had defended his aggressive rhetoric in June 1525 in his “Epistle on the Hard Little Book against the Peasants.” The peasants lived in such poverty that those who survived lost little in the war. The clergy suffered the most along with nobles who had their castles destroyed. Other nobles gained by the secularization of church estates, but the princes gained the most power.
On June 13, 1525 Luther married the former nun, Katherina von Bora. He had helped her and other nuns escape from a convent, and they took refuge in Wittenberg in April 1523. He tried to find husbands and families for them. Katherina had rejected other men but said she would wed Luther. He once admitted that he was not infatuated nor did he lust for his wife, but he “cherished her.” Yet he confessed that sex relieved his fear of the devil. The three reasons he gave for his marriage were to please his father, to spite the Pope and the devil, and to complete his testimony before martyrdom. Between 1526 and 1534 she bore six children. Luther abhorred adultery and believed that adulterers should be put to death. He opposed radicals who permitted women to preach. For Luther the three principal estates are the priesthood, marriage and family which involve economics, and civil government. After he was married, some of Luther’s table talk was written down, and it was eventually published in 1566. He once said, “God uses lust to impel men to marriage, ambition to office, avarice to earning, and fear to faith.” He said, “Printing is God’s latest and best work to spread the true religion throughout the world.”4
The great humanist Erasmus loved peace and hoped for moderation and reconciliation, but he was upset by the polemic that Luther had written against Henry VIII. After replying to an attack by Ulrich von Hutten, Erasmus in September 1524 wrote A Discourse on Free Will to criticize Luther’s doctrine of the enslaved will. He sent a copy to Pope Clement VII who sent back 200 florins. Erasmus defined freedom of will as the power of the human will to choose or not choose that which leads to salvation. He cites scripture to back up his argument. He noted that in Ecclesiasticus 15:18 God set before man life and death, good and evil, and what he chooses is given to him. God created and restored free will. Without free will the concepts of good and evil would have no meaning.
Luther reacted by publishing The Bondage of the Will in December 1525. Luther believed that because God is omnipotent and omniscient his will is “immutable, eternal, and infallible.” Thus humans have freedom only in things inferior to themselves in their own kingdom. In rebuttal Erasmus wrote Hyperaspistes, and Duke Georg of Saxony liked it so much he had it translated into German. Erasmus hoped that he could endure the Church until it improved, and he pleaded for moderation in all things.
In the fall Luther wrote Thoughts of How the Present Unrest May Be Quieted. He persuaded the Teutonic Knights’ Grand Master Albrecht of Prussia to abandon his monastic vows, get married, and secularize the Teutonic lands; in 1525 he made himself Duke of Prussia. By the end of 1525 the German Mass had been adopted in Wittenberg, and the Elector Johann of Saxony mandated it in February 1526. Later that year Luther wrote Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved. He argued that only a defensive war between equals to preserve peace is justified. Warmongering should be prohibited, and war should be the last resort. Nobles concerned about attacks from the peasants formed the Gotha Alliance formed on May 4, 1526 at Torgau, and at Magdeburg on June 12 others joined.
The Diet of Speyer opened on June 25, 1526, and Philip of Hesse marched in with two hundred horsemen. On August 27 they decided that a general council should be convened, and until then each state would decide how to live “to answer before God and his imperial Majesty.” This allowed evangelical princes to establish territorial churches. In the next three years most of northern Germany became Lutheran along with the southern cities of Strasbourg, Augsburg, Ulm, and Nuremberg.
In 1527 the Lutheran Church was established in Ernestine Saxony with the Elector Johann as chief bishop. In 1523 Luther had written That a Christian Assembly or Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Teaching. Yet many congregations could not pay their pastors an adequate salary, and the Peasants’ War persuaded Luther that the masses could not govern themselves. By 1527 the territorial ruler was supervising the churches’ elections. Melanchthon believed that princes were turning to the Lutherans so that they would be free to control the bishops. A Protestant university was founded at Marburg. After visiting Rome in 1524 Burkard Waldis left his monastery at Riga, married, and wrote a polemical defense of Lutheranism in his book on the parable of the prodigal son in 1527. He published his own versions of Aesop’s fables in 1548.
On Easter in 1527 German mercenaries helped Emperor Charles V take over Italy by storming Rome. In February 1528 Duke Georg’s Vice Chancellor Otto von Pack informed Philip of Hesse that in May at Breslau an alliance had been formed by Friedrich of Austria, Joachim of Brandenburg, Cardinal Albrecht, dukes of Bavaria, and bishops from southern Germany to crush heresy. One year later Philip and the Elector Johann of Saxony organized a counter-alliance. By March 9 they had gathered 26,000 men for battle. Philip asked for the advice of Luther and Melanchthon, and they came to Torgau on May 15. They told him that self-defense is justified but not an offensive attack. Melanchthon wrote to the Elector pleading that he avoid war for the sake of his soul, his children, his country, and his people. Johann held back, but Philip attacked the bishoprics of Würzburg and Bamberg, forcing them to pay 40,000 and 20,000 gulden as indemnities. Finally Duke Georg announced that Pack’s document was a forgery. Also in 1528 Luther and Melanchthon persuaded Johann of Saxony to prohibit Zwinglian and Anabaptist literature, teaching, or doctrines with severe penalties.
Universities had stopped conferring degrees in 1523, but they resumed again in 1528. From 1527 to 1529 Luther and Zwingli argued over the meaning of the words in the Lord’s Supper. During that period Wittenberg suffered a plague. Luther refused to leave the city because he believed that public servants including preachers should remain to take care of the neighbors of the sick. He stayed there again during another epidemic in the summer of 1542. Luther’s own health began to decline in July 1527 when he suffered a serious depression. For the rest of his life he often complained of pressure in his heart and a painful buzzing in his ears. Luther wanted to help the poor, and to guide acts of charity he wrote Concerning the Villainous Tricks of the False Beggars in 1528.
On June 9, 1527 Philip of Hesse persuaded Elector Johann of Weimar to support his plan for a preemptive war; but Luther managed to dissuade Johann, and he withdrew from the Weimar government. In April 1528 Luther and Melanchthon went to Weimar and urged the princes to negotiate a settlement, and on April 16 the Imperial Council of Regency ordered that peace be maintained. Duke Georg published a book against Luther’s writings in December, but Luther was able to reply in Concerning Secret and Stolen Books by the New Year’s Day market in Leipzig. In his services Luther asked God to help the princes and bishops. Reckless business practices caused the Hochstetters to become bankrupt in 1528.
The reformers sent out visitors to guide their teaching and church practices, and in 1528 Melanchthon wrote Visitors’ Instructions to the Clergy of Electoral Saxony. Having organized schools in Nuremberg in 1524 and in Eisleben in 1525, he visited the schools of Thuringia in 1527. The next year Melanchthon published a school plan that was implemented in Saxony, creating the first public school system since ancient Roman emperors. More than 56 schools asked for his advice, and he helped them with textbooks, training teachers to reorganize German schools. He helped found the universities of Konigsberg, Jena, and Marburg while reforming those in Greifswald, Wittenberg, Cologne, Tübingen, Leipzig, Heidelberg, Rostock, and Frankfort-on-the-Oder.
In early 1529 at the Second Imperial Diet of Speyer the Emperor Charles and the Catholic estates rescinded the 1526 Diet. Lutherans were to be tolerated in areas where they could not easily be suppressed, and those areas would have religious liberty; but in Catholic territories the Lutherans did not have religious freedom. The Zwinglians and the Lutherans opposed this, protesting the unfair decision of the majority. Six princes and representatives of fourteen cities signed the protest that resulted in their being called “Protestants” for the first time. Philip of Hesse invited theologians to his Marburg castle, and those attending included Luther and Melanchthon from Saxony, Zwingli from Zurich, Oecolampadius from Basel, and Bucer from Strasbourg. They discussed how they might be unified but argued over the Lord’s Supper. They all agreed to 14 of the Marburg Articles, but they differed on the 15th article on the Lord’s Supper. Luther insisted on interpreting the Bible literally and refused to tolerate Zwingli’s interpretation that the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine was symbolic of their unity in Christ.
In 1529 Luther wrote about war against the Turks because in the spring they were threatening the gates of Vienna with an army of 200,000 men. He called for resistance, not as a crusade, but to defend Germany. In April he published the instructional German Catechism which included the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The Large Catechism was for adults and included much on marriage, and the Small Catechism was for children. He once said that no one can believe how powerful prayer is until one has put it into effect and learned by experience. Luther published On War Against the Turks in April and then his Army Sermon Against the Turks. Also in 1529 Luther published The Order of Marriage for Common Pastors, followed by more definite guidelines in On Marriage Matters in January 1530.
On January 21, 1530 Emperor Charles V issued a summons to the Diet of Augsburg which was to begin on April 8, and Elector Johann received it on March 11. Pope Clement VII crowned Charles V at Bologna on February 24, the last time a pope would crown an emperor, and on June 29 they signed an “eternal” alliance. Charles came and stayed with the financier Anton Fugger. Luther traveled in April with Melanchthon, Justus Jonas, Georg Spalatin, and Johannes Agricola toward Augsburg; but because he was still under the imperial ban, Luther remained in the fortress at Coburg and communicated with them by letters. Once again to hide his identity he let his beard grow, and he remained in the fortress for 165 days. The Emperor remonstrated with Elector Johann of Saxony for failing to obey the Edict of Worms, and he demanded that preaching cease. On May 11 the Elector Johann sent his Apologia to Luther while it was still being revised.
Luther kept busy translating the Psalms and Aesop’s Fables, but the latter were not published until after his death. Concerned about the threatening Turks, he wrote his Exhortation to All Clergy Assembled at Augsburg. The first 500 copies reached Augsburg on June 7 and sold well until by the imperial order the city council banned the work. He also wrote The Beautiful Confitemini on Psalm 118 in June, and his Sermon on Keeping Children in School was published in August. During this time Luther prayed three hours a day.
The first public reading of the Augsburg Confession was on June 25, and it was signed by the Elector Johann, Margrave Georg of Brandenburg-Ansbach, Duke Ernest of Lüneburg, Landgrave Philip of Hesse, Duke Wolfgang of Anhalt, and the cities of Nuremberg and Reutlingen. On July 6 Luther wrote an open letter to Archbishop Albrecht as a step toward a settlement. Melanchthon was the main author of the Augsburg Confession, and it was approved by Luther. The emphasis was on justification based on faith alone, that forgiveness and righteousness come only by the grace of God and not by “merit, work, or satisfactions.” The Swiss could not agree and submitted their own statement as did those from Strasbourg. The Anabaptists were not even given a hearing. The four cities of Strasbourg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau joined in their own confession prepared by Bucer on July 11. The Catholic Confutation of the Augsburg Confession was approved by the Emperor, and it was read publicly on August 3. Three days later Landgrave Philip left Augsburg without getting permission from Emperor Charles V who made other princes promise to remain. On September 7 he announced that the issue of faith would be decided by a council, and until then the old practices were to be restored. The Emperor gave the evangelicals until April 1531 to submit or face war.
Melanchthon edited the Torgau Articles and Schwabach Articles into a draft of the Augsburg Confession on September 22, but he did not include the Zwinglians. Luther complained that the rejection of purgatory had been left out, and he wrote A Refutation of Purgatory. He encouraged Melanchthon not to make too many concessions. Elector Johann and the theologians came to see Luther at Coburg on October 1. Luther agreed with Johann that no concessions should be made beyond the Augsburg Confession, and he published his Warning to His Dear German People and his Commentary on the Alleged Imperial Edict. Duke Georg responded to Luther anonymously with his Counter-warning. Luther got an early copy and replied with his Against the Assassin at Dresden in time for the Leipzig Easter fair. Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz reintroduced the Catholic mass in Halle and persecuted the evangelicals.
Luther’s works had been publicly burned in Lübeck in 1528, but two years later the people got the town council to ban Catholic services in the churches and drove the burgomaster out of the city as the Protestants were granted religious liberty. By 1530 the Lutheran faith had been adopted by Hamburg, Bremen, Rostock, Lübeck, Stralsund, Danzig, Dorpat, Riga, Reval, and by most of the imperial cities in Swabia. The provinces of East Friesland, Silesia, Schleswig, and Holstein also became Protestant.
On January 5, 1531 Ferdinand, the younger brother of Emperor Charles V, was elected King of the Romans and thus heir to the empire with only the Saxony Elector voting against him. On February 27 evangelical reformers and jurists from Saxony, Hesse, and northern Germany meeting at Schmalkalden formed the Schmalkaldic League. In April the Emperor suspended the Augsburg decree; but he was worried about the Turks and agreed to a religious peace until a council could be called. Then he left Germany for a second absence of nine years. When Zwingli died fighting with a sword in the second Kappel War, Luther considered it a judgment for a minister. In the spring Melanchthon released his revised Augsburg Confession to the press. Luther preached again that it is not permitted for Christians to use force because of Matthew 5:38-42. Sebastian Franck of Donauworth in Bavaria agreed with Erasmus that humans have freedom and that the Christ is the wisest teacher whose actions and words revealed the nature of religion. In 1531 Franck published a universal history, followed by a cosmography in 1534 and a German history in 1538.
On March 30, 1532 negotiations for a religious peace began in Schweinfurt, but they moved to Nuremberg in June. That spring at Schweinfurt the Schmalkaldic League adopted a constitution. Elector Johann suffered a stroke on August 15 at his Schweinitz castle and died the next day; his body was buried in the Wittenberg castle church, and Luther preached the funeral sermon. The Elector was succeeded by his son Johann Friedrich who co-ruled with his half brother Johann Ernst until 1542 when the latter ceded Franconia. Charles V offered terms the reformers could accept, and on August 2, 1532 the Peace of Nuremberg went into effect and gave the evangelicals time to make progress. About 80,000 men assembled at Vienna to fight for Charles and Ferdinand against the Turks, and Nuremberg sent twice their quota.
As Luther once wrote to Melanchthon in 1532, he believed that one also serves God by resting. Luther rejected the communism proposed by peasants, but he said Christians must be ready to surrender their possessions for the Gospel. He believed it is a sin to accumulate goods without concern for one’s neighbor. Luther shared his salary with refugees and those in need. He defined usury as lending money at interest, but he allowed those who had nothing to spare to charge 4% interest. Luther recommended Christian education in all German cities for girls as well as for boys. He supported the establishment of libraries with better books, and he emphasized the importance of history. In 1533 he wrote The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests, which was criticized by many adversaries. In June of that year Pope Clement VII sent his legate with an imperial envoy to invite church leaders to a council, but the members of the Schmalkaldic League did not believe it would be free and declined. Ill health delayed the publication of Luther’s Vindication against Duke Georg’s Charge of Rebellion until July, and he included another letter of consolation to the Leipzig exiles.
In 1533 Erasmus tried to bridge the widening the gap between the Protestants and Catholics by writing On Mending the Peace of the Church; but his tolerance was not accepted by either side, and some even thought he was suggesting a third Church. His tolerance was based on his belief that the Christ triumphed by truth and thus does not suppress truth. The papal nuncio Vergerio to King Ferdinand sent a German translation to Pope Clement VII. Luther considered the book Arian, and it was eventually condemned by the University of Louvain. Yet the Erasmian tolerance seemed to be what was needed during this time of extreme dogmatism.
Philip of Hesse gathered troops at Wimpfen and invaded Würtemberg, defeating the Austrian army at Lauffen on May 12, 1534. Elector Johann of Saxony held back from the war and mediated the peace that reinstated Duke Ulrich of Württemberg but left the territory under fief to Austria, and the Peace of Kadan on June 17 recognized the right of Ulrich to reform the Church in his territory.
Luther’s translation of the complete Bible into German was first published in 1534, and it included more illustrations from woodcuts. He kept revising it until his death. The publisher Hans Lufft printed about 100,000 copies, and the number of pirated editions may have put as many as a million in circulation.
Erasmus struggled in the face of criticism from both sides to plead for peace and tolerance of differences within the Church. He advised Pope Adrian VI to refrain from punishing anyone and encouraged him to reform the abuses against which many had been protesting. Ill and upset by attacks made on him by Protestants and Catholics, Erasmus returned to Basel in 1535 and died there of dysentery on July 12, 1536 without the sacraments of the Church but repeating the names of Mary and Christ. His legacy went to help the sick, the old, girls needing dowries, and youths with their schooling.
In 1535 the Hanseatic League met at Hamburg and confirmed the Lutheran Catechism. The Anabaptists were besieged in Münster which fell in July. Joachim died on July 11, and his son Joachim II (1535-71) made Brandenburg Lutheran. Justus Jonas took the Reformation to Halle. Luther published his treatise Against the Antinomians. He suggested they call their new church Evangelical. Pope Paul III (1534-49) sent his nuncio Vergerio, and he met with Luther on November 7 at Wittenberg. Luther invited the Pope to come to Wittenberg, and in 1536 he wrote the Schmalkaldic Articles. On June 2 Paul III summoned a council for May 23, 1537. On January 18, 1537 the Augsburg town council banned Catholic worship and banished those who would not accept the new religion. Luther drafted articles, and a conference began at Schmalkalden on February 10 but rejected his more aggressive articles. They included the Augsburg Confession with its Apology and Melanchthon’s tract on the pope.
On February 24, 1537 Luther’s articles were signed at Schmalkalden by several theologians. Everyone approved Melanchthon’s Tractatus, and it was accepted by the League at the final recess of the Diet. Luther completed On the Councils and the Churches in March 1539. Because of the threat of war from the Turks and the Papists he published his Warning to All Pastors, arguing that one could defend oneself against “mad dogs.” While justifying defense he reminded them to love their enemies. Duke Georg died on April 17, and his brother Heinrich accepted the reformation in ducal Saxony.
The Roman Catholic princes met secretly at Nuremberg on June 10, 1538 and formed the Holy League to counter the Protestant League of Schmalkalden. Philip of Hesse learned of it and called for war. The Landgrave brought 400 men to a conference with Melanchthon and the Saxony Elector at Frankfort. Both sides negotiated but could not agree until April 19, 1539 when they promised to keep the peace for fifteen months.
Landgrave Philip of Hesse had syphilis, and his health broke down in 1539, causing him to leave the negotiations at Frankfurt. His sister, the Duchess of Rochlitz, persuaded him to engage in an extra-marital relationship with her lady-in-waiting Margaret of Saale; but her mother demanded at least a secondary marriage. In December 1539 he asked Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer to approve his marrying Margaret because the patriarchs were polygamous. The theologians advised Philip to do it secretly if he was determined. Philip married her on March 4, 1540, and Melanchthon and Bucer were witnesses. When the marriage became known, the reformers were criticized. Philip asked for an imperial pardon, and on June 13, 1541 the Imperial Diet of Regensburg gave him one on the condition that he would keep the Schmalkaldic League from allying with England and France and reject Karl Wilhelm of Kleve’s admission into the league. The imperial Chancellor Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle proposed the Regensburg Interim to accommodate religious differences. After another absence of nine years Emperor Charles returned to Germany for a Diet that recessed on July 29, 1541, confirming the Diet of Augsburg and extending the Nuremberg Peace for eighteen months. The Reformation spread to Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast.
The next Imperial Diet of Regensburg began in February 1542 but was only concerned with preparing for war against the invading Turks. The Schmalkaldic confederation helped the Saxony Elector drive Duke Heinrich out of Brunswick, and three years later Heinrich failed to regain his territory and was imprisoned. In 1543 Karl Wilhelm attacked Philip and forced him to abandon his church reforms. Charles V made concessions to the Schmalkaldic League at the Diet of Speyer on June 10, 1544. That year Friedrich II became Elector Palatine of the Rhine and allowed the Protestants religious liberty during his twelve years as ruler. The German mass was introduced in the Upper Palatinate. The University of Konigsberg began in 1544. By 1545 all of northern Germany had become Protestant. That year Catholics began working on their own reformation in the Council of Trent, a German town south of the Alps. Otto Truchsess von Waldburg was elected prince and bishop of Augsburg in 1544, and Pope Paul III appointed him a cardinal. He would remain loyal to the popes and emperors until his death in 1573.
On August 6, 1536 Elector Johann Friedrich of Saxony had decreed that Jews would no longer be tolerated in the territory. Josel von Rosheim, a leader of the German Jews, appealed to Luther, but on June 11, 1537 he declined to help them. In March 1538 Luther wrote Against the Sabbatarians in which he argued that the law of Moses had been invalidated by the coming of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem. He urged Jews to go to Palestine but doubted there was a divine promise for that. He believed that God had abandoned the Jews and that they were no longer God’s chosen people. He received a rebuttal in May 1542 and wrote angrily against the Jews. He gave up his attempts to convert them in On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543. He accused them of practicing usury and letting others work for them. Luther advised burning synagogues, destroying their homes, confiscating their prayer books and the Talmud, not letting rabbis teach, refusing them safe conduct and prohibiting their businesses, banning usury and confiscating money they gained from it, and putting them to work. Luther wanted the civil authorities to do this duty, and he condemned private acts of revenge. He urged people to avoid Jews because they could not be compelled to believe.
From 1510 to his death Luther preached about 3,000 sermons, and about 2,000 were written down. He made sermons rather than rituals the center of church services. He kept revising his translations of scripture, and the 5th edition of his Bible was published in 1545 and is the standard edition. His last book in 1545, Against the Papacy of Rome, founded by the Devil, maligned Pope Paul III and was satirically illustrated by Lucas Cranach. Luther suffered from bladder and kidney stones, abscessed ears, ulcers, gout, arthritis, and angina, and he died of a stroke on February 18, 1546. By then more than half of Germany and four of the seven Electors of the Empire had become Lutherans. Although the Protestants freed themselves from much Catholic dogma and rituals, they replaced them with a dogmatic belief in the Bible.
In May 1546 Emperor Charles V mobilized an army of Spanish, Italian, German, and Dutch troops under the Duke of Alba. The Imperial Diet of Regensburg that began on June 5 took up the issues of religion, peace, and rights. Two days later the Emperor signed treaties with Pope Paul III and Bavaria. On June 13 the Protestants rejected the Catholic Council of Trent and demanded a national council. The Schmalkaldic War began in Swabia where a Lutheran army from imperial cities took over the Catholic town of Füssen. Charles also made an alliance with Duke Moritz (Maurice) of Saxony who promised to accept the decisions of the Council of Trent. On July 20 the Emperor put the Elector Johann of Ernestine Saxony and Landgrave Philip under the imperial ban, but in August they joined forces with burghers under Schertlin and Württemburg led by Hans von Heidek to gather an army of 47,000 against 9,000 with the Emperor. The Fuggers offered financial support, and Charles united forces on the Danube in September. Johann Friedrich in December recovered most of his territory and invaded Albertine Saxony. Frankfort submitted to the Emperor by the end of the year, and Augsburg and Strasbourg did so in January 1547. Ulrich of Württemberg paid an indemnity of 300,000 crowns.
Charles V marched north, and on April 24 Moritz with his army defeated the Lutherans at Mühlberg, capturing Johann Friedrich and Philip. On that day Moritz became Elector of Saxony, and Johann Friedrich was reduced to a duke. Wittenberg capitulated on May 19; the university was dissolved, and Melanchthon fled with his family. However, on May 23 Christopher of Oldenburg and Albrecht of Mansfeld defeated the imperial army at Drakenburg an der Weser, saving northern Germany. Philip of Hesse submitted to the Emperor on June 20 and was arrested as was Johann Friedrich and the painter Lucas Cranach. The city of Magdeburg was put under imperial ban on July 27. Charles gained control of southern Germany and the Rhineland, but he did not make political changes. Only in Cologne was the Elector-Archbishop deposed as the Protestant reforms were cancelled.
In the spring of 1547 King François of France died and was succeeded by his son Henri II who sided with Pope Paul III against Emperor Charles. Ferdinand made a truce with Sultan Suleyman and promised to send him an annual gift of 30,000 gold coins.
On September 1, 1547 Charles V opened the “iron-clad” Imperial Diet in Augsburg, and he intimidated princes by threatening to billet Spanish and Italian soldiers. On May 15, 1548 he made an Interim decree on the observance of religion, but Pope Paul III objected to his encroachment and sent out three nuncios to grant dispensations. Reformers were removed from the councils of Augsburg and Ulm and were replaced by Catholic merchants such as the rich Fuggers and Welsers. After the Schmalkaldic League accepted the Interim, Spanish troops conquered Constance for Austria.
Bucer was dismissed for writing A Summary of the Christian Religion as Taught at Strasbourg. Melanchthon opposed the Augsburg Interim that the Emperor tried to impose on Saxony to end religious differences. He and other Protestant theologians wrote the Leipzig Interim for Elector Moritz; but most princes disapproved as both Catholics and Protestants disliked it. Melanchthon continued his educational reforms, and by 1550 revived Wittenberg had become Germany’s most popular university. Protestant envoys were given limited access to the Council of Trent in 1551, but they could not revise its decrees.
In February 1550 Margrave Hans of Cüstrin, Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg, and Duke Albrecht of Prussia formed a defensive league. Moritz won over the troops of Duke Georg of Mecklenburg in September and besieged Magdeburg which did not capitulate until November 4, 1551. Moritz and other German princes made a secret treaty with France’s King Henri II on January 15, 1552. On May 18 Moritz opened a way toward Tyrol. He wanted to restore the free empire of the Germans with a functioning diet that excluded foreign troops. He criticized Charles for bringing Spaniards and Italians into Germany. Moritz marched on Innsbruck, and 3,000 Austrians fell fighting for the Ehrenberg passes. Henri managed to take over Toul and Metz.
On August 2, 1552 Moritz turned against Charles V and ended the Interim by signing the Treaty of Passau that released Philip of Hesse and Johann Friedrich of Saxony while granting Lutherans and Catholics equal protection. Landgrave William of Hesse accepted the treaty, but Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades of Brandenburg-Bayreuth refused and plundered central Germany. Charles besieged Metz in October, but on January 1, 1553 the Emperor raised the siege. He was nearly captured at Innsbruck and left Germany forever. In March 1553 Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria (1550-79) and the young Duke Christoph of Württemberg (1550-68) led the forming of the Heidelberg Union which included the Palatinate, Mainz, Trier, and Cleves as neutral. Christoph implemented 31 ordinances to regulate politics, religion, education, marriage, business, weights and measures, sheep raising, and even the drinking bouts of journeymen. Albrecht V claimed that he brought 10,000 subjects back to the Catholic faith in his first four years.
On July 9, 1553 the armies of Moritz and Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades met in a fierce battle at Sievershausen. The side of Moritz was victorious, but he was killed and was succeeded by his brother Augustus who ruled Saxony until 1586. He started with a debt of two million florins but his economic polices were so productive that he left his successor a treasury with 1,825,000 florins. When the knight Wilhelm von Grumbach of Franconia quarreled with Bishop Melchior von Zobel of Würzburg, Margrave Albrecht Alcibiades seized Grumbach’s estates. Duke Heinrich of Brunswick took command and defeated Albrecht Alcibiades at Steterburg on September 12 and again at Schwarzach on June 13, 1554. The Heidelberg Union was joined by the electors of the Palatinate, Mainz, and Trier, and by the Duke of Jülich.
On February 5, 1555 Ferdinand, on behalf of his brother Charles V, opened the Diet at Augsburg which met until September 25 when the Peace of Augsburg was published. Even more German princes had already met in March at the Lutheran Convention in Naumburg. The Lutheran states of this Confession and the Catholic states recognized a truce until a union could be attained, but others such as Calvinists were not included. They adopted the maxim “Cujus regio ejus religio.” Each city would have the religion chosen by its ruler, and subjects must conform or emigrate; except in the imperial cities Catholic minorities were to be tolerated. If a Catholic prince became a Protestant, he was to be deposed by a successor who would remain in the Church; but Lutherans there would be allowed to practice their religion, and Ferdinand privately promised to tolerate Protestants in those lands. All church estates confiscated before 1552 were to be kept by who took them, but those seized since were to be restored. In imperial towns with both religions ecclesiastical properties were to be retained in proportion to their numbers. As a result the princes dominated, and the people disagreeing had no religious freedom.
Emperor Charles V gave the Netherlands to his son Felipe in 1555 and his Hapsburg possessions in Germany to his brother Ferdinand. In 1556 Ferdinand summoned a Committee of Diets for the five duchies of Upper and Lower Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, and he instituted a military council. Felipe ruled the Spanish empire, Naples, Milan, and part of Burgundy. Charles abdicated in January 1556 and spent his last two years in a Spanish monastery. The Imperial Diet did not recognize Ferdinand as Holy Roman Emperor until May 3, 1558.
Princes east of the Weser River in Electoral Saxony, Brandenburg, and Pomerania secularized Church property by establishing the Lutheran religion, and in 1555 they began to absorb bishoprics and abbeys. In 1556 the Elector Otto-Heinrich of the Upper Palatinate supervised the reform of the Palatinate territory. In 1552 Ferdinand had summoned Canisius (Peter Kanes) who was the first German Jesuit priest, and he taught and preached in Vienna, Ingolstadt, and Augsburg. Emperor Ferdinand commissioned Canisius to create a new Catholic catechism in Latin in 1555 and in German in 1560. He was one of the Catholic theologians at the Colloquy of Worms in 1557 who debated the Protestants led by Melanchthon.
In 1557 Jorg Wickram in his novel The Golden Thread satirized the decadence of the knights by contrasting them to the Protestant work ethics of the middle class. Elector Johann Friedrich had founded a university at Jena in 1548, but it did not open until 1558. Their foremost Lutheran teacher was Matthias Flacius from Illyricus, and he began publishing a Protestant church history in his 13-volume Magdeburg Centuries in 1559. Johann Friedrich raided Würzburg in 1558, killing the bishop. The fighting went on, and in 1563 the Emperor put Grumbach under the imperial ban. Augustus of Saxony led an army of 16,000 men, and Gotha surrendered on April 15, 1567; Grumbach was executed in the marketplace, and Johann Friedrich was imprisoned in Austria until his death in 1595.
Jesuits helped Archbishop Daniel Brendel von Homburg who was the Elector of Mainz 1555-82. Archbishop Johann von der Leyden was the Elector of Trier 1556-67. Canisius brought the Catholic reformation there when he directed the Jesuit order in the upper German province from 1556 to 1569. In June 1558 Emperor Ferdinand formed the Landsberg League with the Catholic princes of Bavaria, Salzburg, and Augsburg.
French Calvinists began coming to the Palatinate in 1559, and Dutch refugees also spread into Nassau, Hesse, and the Lower Rhine Valley. In 1559 the Imperial monetary ordinance (Reichsmünzordnung) tried to maintain unity in the empire. By 1560 the Protestant religion had taken over three-quarters of Germany, all of Scandinavia, much of England, Poland, and Switzerland, and some of Austria, Hungary, and the Netherlands. Lutherans met again at Naumburg in January 1561, and they confirmed their opposition to Calvinism. In 1562 Hesse sent 6,000 men to help the Huguenots in France. Also in 1562 the new Archbishop Anton Brus of Prague crowned Maximilian for the Estates of Bohemia, and on November 28 he was named King of the Romans.
The third conference of the Council of Trent began in 1562. The 25th and last session in December 1563 of 255 clerics included 168 bishops and 25 archbishops. They failed to resolve the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, but the Catholics recognized some of their needs for reform and agreed to important decrees. They rejected Luther’s “justification by faith alone” and declared that humans do have some freedom. They acknowledged that humans can be corrupt but asserted they are capable of being educated and improved morally. They affirmed the integrity of marriage and human families. Whereas Protestants had appealed to the exclusive authority of the Bible, the Catholics offered traditions both oral and written that have extended from before scriptures were written and since. They were guided by the militant Jesuits, and in January 26, 1564 Pope Pius IV (1559-65) in his Benedictus Deus bull ordered all Catholics to obey its decrees or be excommunicated. They ignored the political problems of Emperor Ferdinand who died in Vienna on July 25, 1564. The Palatine Elector Friedrich III (1559-76) left the Lutheran faith to become a Calvinist. and in January 1563 he issued the Heidelberg Catechism of the Reformed Church.
Emperor Ferdinand of Austria was succeeded by his son Maximilian II (1564-76) who also ruled Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. To gain the title Maximilian promised to pay an annual tribute of 300,000 guilders to Prince Johann Sigismund of Transylvania. Maximilian tried to preserve what was left of the Catholic Church in Germany. He raised an army of 100,000, and in 1566 Sultan Suleyman was defeated and killed. Maximilian dissolved his army and let the Turks keep Szigeth. In March 1566 he opened the Diet at Augsburg to get aid against the Turks. The Palatine Elector Friedrich III helped strengthen Calvinism at Heidelberg University with help from the preacher Caspar Olevianus and the professor Zacharias Ursinus, but Maximilian warned him to renounce the Heidelberg Catechism and to adopt the Augsburg Confession. In May at Augsburg they accused Friedrich of violating the Treaty of Augsburg. However, Friedrich defended Calvinism and continued to organize the Reformed Church. In December 1567 Johann Casimir led 8,000 mercenaries into France to help the Calvinists. During a controversy over Church discipline at Heidelberg in June 1568 Thomas Erastus criticized Olevianus and Ursinus, but he withheld from publication his “Seventy-five Theses on Excommunication” which was not published until after his 1583 death in London in 1589. He argued that the state should control religion and punish sins, and this view became known as Erastianism. In December 1572 the pastor Johann Sylvan was beheaded at Heidelberg for his Anti-Trinitarian beliefs.
Pope Pius V (1566-72) was focused on the salvation of souls and brought economy and frugality to the papal court. In 1570 monks of the Fulda monastery elected young Balthasar von Dernbach abbot, believing he was a Lutheran. However, in 1571 he brought in Jesuits and founded a college for them in 1573. He prohibited Protestant services, but the reformers asserted their right to practice their religion. The Catholics argued that the assurance of the previous Emperor Ferdinand was no longer valid, and other lords banned Protestant services too.
In September 1575 English money helped Casimir raise an army of 16,000 German and Swiss mercenaries to support the Huguenots in France where they arrived in December. In 1576 Prince Julius of Brunswick founded the University of Helmstedt and promoted the Protestant religion. In 1573 Abbot Balthasar Gravel began introducing Jesuits into the Fulda seminary, and by 1576 the famous abbey was once again Catholic. The Archbishop of Trier and the Bishop of Worms were also suppressing Protestant services. Prince-Bishop Julius of Würzburg governed from 1573 to 1617 driving out hundreds of Protestant preachers while imposing the Catholic dogma.
Maximilian II opened the Diet of Regensburg on June 25, 1576; but he died on October 12, and Friedrich III died two weeks later. His son Ludwig (1576-83) brought the Palatinate back to Lutheranism. When Rudolf II (1576-1612) became Emperor, conflict between the Lutheran and Calvinist electors enabled him to refuse to follow the condition agreed upon by his predecessor to guarantee Protestant rights in Catholic realms. Electoral Saxony, Württemberg, and Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel accepted the Formula concordiae in 1577, and Saxony prevented the Calvinist Johann Casimir of the Palatinate-Simmern from forming a Protestant league. They also sent out a decree that all nobles should avoid intemperate drinking. A meeting at Frankfort of Protestant representatives from several countries in September 1577 failed to achieve unity. In 1579 Archduke Charles of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola ordered 12,000 German Bibles and books by Luther burned publicly at Graetz, and Lutheran preachers were replaced by Catholic clergy.
The standard doctrines of the Lutheran Church were set in 1580 when 3 electors, 20 princes, 14 counts, and 38 cities signed the Book of Concord which excluded Calvinists, radical Flacians, and Philipists who followed Melanchthon. By then Protestants gained a majority of the city council of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and began expelling Catholics. In 1581 Theodore Beza and Jean François Salvard published the Harmony of Confessions that showed the similarity of fifteen Protestant confessions. Friedrich III had been succeeded by his son Ludwig VI who deposed and expelled 600 Calvinist professors. Many Reformed teachers fled to Neustadt where Ludwig’s brother Johann Casimir ruled in support of Calvinism. In 1582 Olevianus helped found the Calvinist university at Herborn.
Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) supervised calendar reform because the Julian calendar had become several days off from the Earth’s position in its annual orbits around the sun. To correct the error the last day of the Julian calendar was October 4, 1582, and the next day became October 15 as the first day of the Gregorian calendar. Christopher Clavius, a Jesuit from Bamberg in Bavaria explained the Gregorian Calendar in his Apologia in 1588 and Explicatio in 1603. Three less leap years were planned in each 400 years to make the correction permanent. Catholic nations in Europe and the Dutch Republic adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582 while Protestant nations waited until 1700 or 1752. Russia held out until 1918.
Archbishop Gebhard of Cologne announced his conversion to Calvinism in December 1582. In March 1583 Pope Gregory XIII excommunicated Gebhard and appointed the Bavarian prince Ernst who was elected in January 1585 to succeed him in the electoral college. Gebhard had wanted to secularize his diocese so that he could marry. He put his troops under Casimir, but he was not helped by Lutheran princes and was defeated in 1584 and withdrew to Holland and then to Strasbourg. In 1585 Ernst got military aid from Spanish forces in the Netherlands under Duke Alexander Farnese of Parma. The war over Cologne went on, and in 1586 Neuss was destroyed.
Hamburg was the only city in the Hanseatic League that continued to trade successfully with England and Amsterdam. The guild system adapted to capitalist financing as employers used mass production. The manufacture of gunpowder and fire-arms replaced the knights of the nobility with mercenary foot soldiers. The German nobles made money in agriculture and commerce by speculating in wool, wine, wood, and grain. They monopolized mining privileges, leased coinage rights, pawned their aristocratic domains, and sold secularized Church properties. Courts set up laboratories to try to synthesize gold with Emperor Rudolf II employing two hundred alchemists. Princes loved to hunt and disregarded the property rights of peasants. Princes hired artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Albrecht Altdorfer, Heinrich Aldegrever, and the Beham brothers. Literature flourished with poetry and fantastic novels. Wealthy Germans hired French tutors or sent their sons to universities in Paris, Orléans, or Montpellier. Catholic universities were founded in Germany at Dillingen in 1549, Olmütz in 1574, Würzburg in 1582, and Graz in 1586.
The mysterious doctor Johann Faust died about 1540, but he was little known until Johann Spies published the story of his experiments with magic in 1587. The devil had been often mentioned by Luther and became a prominent figure in German Teufelsliteratur. Witchcraft was a popular subject, and the Latin book on sorcery and demonology by the Calvinist Johann Weyer was published in German in 1565. The Catholic Church quickly put it on the Index of forbidden books. Johann Fischart published a centenary edition of the Witches’ Hammer in 1588.
1. The Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, Volume 1, The Basis of the Protestant Reformation tr. Bertram Lee Woolf, p. 32-42.
2. Quoted in Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton, p. 185.
3. Ibid., p. 280.
4. Ibid., p. 295.
5. Quoted in Martin Luther: The Man and His Work by Walther von Loewenich, p. 218.
6. Thomas Müntzer by Otto H. Brandt, p. 79 quoted in The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, p. 226.