The Reformation has been unfavorable to the fine arts, and has very much restrained the exercise of them.
Continuing Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany,
our selection from Life of Luther by Jean-M.-Vincent Audin published in 1839. The selection is presented in 4 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany.
When a gorgeous worship requires magnificent temples, imposing ceremonies, and striking solemnities; when religion presents to the eye sensible images as objects of public veneration; when earth and heaven are peopled with supernatural beings, to whom imagination can lend a sensible form — then it is that the arts, encouraged and ennobled, reach the zenith of their splendor and perfection. The architect, raised to honors and fortune, conceives the plans of those basilicas and cathedrals whose aspect strikes us with religious awe, and whose richly adorned walls are ornamented with the finest efforts of art. Those temples and altars are decorated with marbles and precious metals, which sculpture has fashioned into the similitude of angels, saints, and the images of illustrious men. The choirs, the jubes, the chapels, and sacristies are hung with pictures on all sides. Here Jesus expires on the cross; there he is transfigured on Mount Tabor. Art, the friend of imagination, which delights only in heaven, finds there the most sublime creations–a St. John, a Cecilia, above all a Mary, that patroness of tender hearts, that virgin model to all mothers, that mediatrix of graces, placed between man and his God, that august and amiable being, of whom no other religion presents either the resemblance or the model. During the solemnities, the most costly stuffs, precious stones, and embroidery cover the altars, vessels, priests, and even the very walls of the sanctuary. Music completes the charm by the most exquisite strains, by the harmony of the choir. These powerful incentives are repeated in a hundred different places; the metropolises, parishes, the numerous religious houses, the simple oratories, sparkle with emulation to captivate all the powers of the religious and devout mind. Thus a taste for the arts becomes general by means of so potent a lever, and artists increase in number and rivalry. Under this influence the celebrated schools of Italy and Flanders flourished; and the finest works which now remain to us testify the splendid encouragement which the Catholic religion lavished upon them.
After this natural progress of events, it cannot be doubted that the Reformation has been unfavorable to the fine arts, and has very much restrained the exercise of them. It has severed the bonds which united them to religion, which sanctified them, and secured for them a place in the veneration of the people. The Protestant worship tends to disenchant the material imagination; it makes fine churches and statues and paintings unnecessary; it renders them unpopular, and takes from them one of their most active springs.
The peasants’ war was soon succeeded by the spoliation of the monasteries; “an invasion of the most sacred of all rights, more important, in certain respects, than liberty itself–property.” From that time not a day passed without Luther preaching up the robbery of the religious houses. To excite the greed of the princes whom he wished to secure to his views, he loved to direct their attention to the treasures which the abbeys, cloisters, sacristies, and sanctuaries contained. “Take them,” he said; “all these are your own–all belong to you.” Luther was convinced that to the value of the golden remonstrances which shone on the Catholic altars he was indebted for more than one conversion. In a moment of humor he said: “The gentry and princes are the best Lutherans; they willingly accept both monasteries and chapters, and appropriate their treasures.”
The Landgrave of Hesse, to obtain authority for giving his arm to two lawful wives, took care to make the wealth of the monasteries glitter in the eyes of the Church of Wittenberg, so that as the price of their permission he was willing to give it to the Saxon ministers. The plunder of church property, preached by Luther, will be the eternal condemnation of the Protestants. Though Naboth’s vineyard may serve as a bait or reward for apostasy, it cannot justify crime.
A laureate of the Institute of France has discovered grounds for palliating this blow to property. He congratulates the princes who embraced the Reformation for having, by means of the ecclesiastical property, filled their coffers, paid their debts, applied the confiscated wealth to useful establishments, clubs, universities, hospitals, orphanages, retreats, and rewards for the old servants of the state. But Luther himself took care, on more than one occasion, to denounce the avarice of the princes who, when once masters of the monastic property, employed its revenues for the support of mistresses and packs of hounds. We remember the eloquent complaints which he uttered in his old age against these carnal men, who left the Protestant clergy in destitution, and did not even pay the schoolmasters their salaries. He mourned them, but it was too late. Sometimes the chastisement of heaven fell, even in this life, on the spoiler; and Luther has mentioned instances of several of those iron hands, who, after having enriched themselves by the plunder of a monastery, church, or abbey, fell into abject poverty. Besides, we will admit that Luther never thought of consoling the plundered monks by asserting, like Charles Villers, that “one of the finest effects of these terrible commotions which unsettle all properties, the fruits of social institutions, is to substitute for them greatness of mind, virtues, and talents, the fruits of nature exclusively.”
Julius Koestlin begins here.
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