Intolerance then entered into the councils of the Reformation. . . Whoever did not believe in his doctrines was denounced as a rebel.
Today’s installment concludes Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany,
the name of our combined selection from Julius Koestlin and Jean-M.-Vincent Audin. The concluding installment, by Jean-M.-Vincent Audin from Life of Luther, was published in 1839.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed thirteen thousand words from great works of history. Congratulations!
Previously in Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany.
If the triumph of the peasants in the fields of Thuringia might have been an irreparable misfortune to Germany and to Christianity, we cannot deny that Luther’s appeal to the secular arm, to suppress the rebellion, may have thoroughly altered the character of the first Reformation. Till then it had been established by preaching; but from the moment of that bloody episode it required the civil authority to move it. The sword, therefore, took the place of the Word; and to perpetuate itself the Reformation was bound to exaggerate the theory of passive obedience. One of the distinguished historians of Heidelberg, Carl Hagen, has recently favored us with some portions of the political code in which Protestantism commands subjects to be obedient to the civil power, even when it commands them to commit sin.
Thus the democratic element, first developed by the Reformation, was effaced to become absorbed in the despotic. It was no longer the people, but the prince, who chose or rejected the Protestant minister. When the Landgrave of Hesse consulted Melanchthon, in 1525, as to the line he should pursue in the appointment of a pastor, the doctor told him that he had the right to interfere in the election of the ministers, and that, if he surmounted the struggles in which the Word of God had involved him, he ought not to commit that sacred Word but to such preacher as seemed best to him; in other terms, observes the historian, to him whom the civil power thinks competent. And Martin Bucer contrived to extend Melanchthon’s theory by constituting the civil power supreme judge of religious orthodoxy, by conferring on it the right of ultimate decision in questions of heresy, and of punishing, if necessary by fire and sword innovators, who are a thousand times more culpable, he says, than the robber or murderer, who only steal the material bread and slay the body, while the heretic steals the bread of life and kills the soul.
Intolerance then entered into the councils of the Reformation. It was no longer with the peasants that Luther declared war. Whoever did not believe in his doctrines was denounced as a rebel; in the Saxon’s eyes, the peasant was only an enemy to be despised; the real Satan was Karlstadt, Zwingli, and Krautwald.
His disciples were no longer satisfied with plundering the monasteries — they desired to live in ease; they must have servants, a fine house, a well-supplied table, and plenty of money. The struggle then was no longer with piety and knowledge, but with power and influence. Every city and town had its own Lutheran pope. At Nuremberg, Osiander was a regular pacha. Those who among the Protestants endeavored to reprove his scandalous ostentation were abused and maligned. When he ascended the pulpit, his fingers were adorned with diamonds which dazzled the eyes of his hearers.
The religious disputes which disturbed men’s minds in Germany retarded, rather than advanced, the march of intellect. Blind people who fought furiously with each other could not find the road to truth. These quarrels were only another disease of the human mind. Although printing served to disseminate the principles of the reformers, the sudden progress of Lutheranism, and the zeal with which it was embraced, prove that reason and reflection had no part in their development.
Villers has drawn a brilliant sketch of the influence which the Reformation exercised over biblical criticism. “It may be said that criticism of the Scripture text was unknown previous to the time of Luther; and if by this is meant that captious, whimsical, and shuffling criticism which DeWette has so justly condemned–certainly so. But that which relates to languages, antiquities, the knowledge of times, places, authors–in a word, hermeneutics–was known and practised in our schools before the Reformation, as is proved by the works of Cajetan and Sadoletus, and a multitude of learned men whom Leo X had encouraged and rewarded. We have seen besides, in the history of the Reformation, what that vain science has produced. It was by means of his critical researches that, from the time of Luther, Karlstadt found such a meaning of ‘Semen immolare Moloch,’ as made his disciples shrug their shoulders; that Muenzer preached community of goods and wives; that Melanchthon taught that the dogma of the Trinity deprives our mind of all liberty; that at a later period Ammon asserted that the resurrection of the dead could not be deduced from the New Testament; Veter, that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses; that the history of the Jews to the time of the Judges is only a popular tradition; Bretschneider, that the Psalms cannot be looked upon as inspired; Augusti, that the true doctrine of Jesus Christ has not been preserved intact in the New Testament; and Geisse, that not one of the four gospels was written by the evangelist whose name it bears.
“Since the days of Semler, Germany presents a singular spectacle: every ten years, or nearly so, its theological literature undergoes a complete revolution. What was admired during the one decennial period is rejected in the next, and the image which they adored is burned to make way for new divinities; the dogmas which were held in honor fall into discredit; the classical treatise of morality is banished among the old books out of date; criticism overturns criticism; and the commentary of yesterday ridicules that of the previous day.”
Julius Koestlin begins here.
This ends our series of passages on Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany by Julius Koestlin and Jean M. Vincent Audin from their books Life of Luther and the book| History of the Life, the Works and the Doctrines of Luther published in 1839 and 1883 respectively. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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