Vol. 7, Chapter VI. Propagation and Persecution of Protestantism in Germany till 1530

91. Causes and Means of Progress

The Reformation spread over Germany with the spontaneous and irresistible impulse of a great historical movement that struck its roots deep in the wants and necessities of the church. The only propaganda of Luther was the word and the pen, but these he used to the utmost of his time and strength. “There was no need of an arrangement,” says Ranke, “or of a concerted agreement, or of any special mission. As at the first favor of the vernal sun the seed sprouts from the ploughed field, so the new convictions, which were prepared by all what men had experienced and heard, made their appearance on the slightest occasion, wherever the German language was spoken.”

The chief causes of progress were the general discontent with papal tyranny and corruption; the desire for light, liberty, and peace of conscience; the thirst for the pure word of God. The chief agencies were the German Bible, which spoke with Divine authority to the reason and conscience, and overawed the human authority of the pope; the German hymns, which sang the comforting doctrines of grace into the hearts of the people; and the writings of Luther, who discussed every question of the day with commanding ability and abundant knowledge, assuring the faith of friends, and crushing the opposition of foes. The force and fertility of his genius as a polemic are amazing, and without a parallel among fathers, schoolmen, and modern divines. He ruled like an absolute monarch in the realm of German theology and religion; and, with the gospel for his shield and weapon, he was always sure of victory.

What Luther did for the people, Melanchthon accomplished, in his gentle and moderate way, for scholars. In their united labors they were more than a match for all the learning, skill, and material resources of the champions of Rome.

No such progress of new ideas and principles had taken place since the first introduction of Christianity. No power of pope or emperor, no council or diet, could arrest it. The very obstacles were turned into helps. Had the Emperor and his brother favored the cause of progress, all Germany might have become nominally Lutheran. But it was better that Protestantism should succeed, in spite of their opposition, by its intellectual and moral force. A Protestant Constantine or Charlemagne would have extended the territory, but endangered the purity, of the Reformation.

Secular and selfish motives and passions were mingled with the pure enthusiasm for the gospel. Violence, intrigues, and gross injustice were sometimes employed in the suppression of the old, and the introduction of the new, faith. But, human sin and imperfection enter into all great movements of history. Wherever God builds a church, the Devil is sure to build a chapel close by. The Devil is mighty; but God is almighty, and overrules the wrath and outwits the wit of his great enemy. Nothing but the power of truth and conviction could break down the tyranny of the papacy, which for so many centuries had controlled church and state, house and home, from the cradle to the grave, and held the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is an insult to reason and faith to deny the all-ruling and overruling supremacy of God in the history of the world and the church.


92. The Printing-Press and the Reformation

The art of printing, which was one of the providential preparations for the Reformation, became the mightiest lever of Protestantism and modern culture.

The books before the Reformation were, for the most part, ponderous and costly folios and quartos in Latin, for limited circulation. The rarity of complete Bibles is shown by the fact that copies in the libraries were secured by a chain against theft. Now small and portable books and leaflets were printed in the vernacular for the millions.

The statistics of the book trade in the sixteenth century reveal an extraordinary increase since Luther. In the year 1513, there appeared only ninety prints in Germany; in 1514, one hundred and six; in 1515, one hundred and forty-five; in 1516, one hundred and five; in 1517, eighty-one. They are mostly little devotional tracts, flying newspapers, official notices, medical prescriptions, stories, and satirical exposures of clerical and monastic corruptions. In 1518 the number rose to one hundred and forty-six; in 1519, to two hundred and fifty-two; in 1520, to five hundred and seventy-one; in 1521, to five hundred and twenty-three; in 1522, to six hundred and seventy-seven; in 1523, to nine hundred and forty-four. Thus the total number of prints in the five years preceding the Reformation amounted only to five hundred and twenty-seven; in the six years after the Reformation, it rose to three thousand one hundred and thirteen.

These works are distributed over fifty different cities of Germany. Of all the works printed between 1518 and 1523 no less than six hundred appeared in Wittenberg; the others mostly in Nürnberg, Leipzig, Cologne, Strassburg, Hagenau, Augsburg, Basel, Halberstadt, and Magdeburg. Luther created the book-trade in Northern Germany, and made the little town of Wittenberg one of the principal book-marts, and a successful rival of neighboring Leipzig as long as this remained Catholic. In the year 1523 more than four-fifths of all the books published were on the side of the Reformation, while only about twenty books were decidedly Roman Catholic. Erasmus, hitherto the undisputed monarch in the realm of letters, complained that the people would read and buy no other books than Luther’s. He prevailed upon Froben not to publish any more of them. “Here in Basel,” he wrote to King Henry VIII., “nobody dares to print a word against Luther, but you may write as much as you please against the pope.” Romish authors, as we learn from Cochlaeus and Wizel, could scarcely find a publisher, except at their own expense; and the Leipzig publishers complained that their books were unsalable.

The strongest impulse was given to the book trade by Luther’s German New Testament. Of the first edition, Sept. 22, 1522, five thousand copies were printed and sold before December of the same year, at the high price of one guilder and a half per copy (about twenty-five marks of the present value). Hans Luft printed a hundred thousand copies on his press in Wittenberg. Adam Petri in Basel published seven editions between 1522 and 1525; Thomas Wolf of the same city, five editions between 1523 and 1525. Duke George commanded that all copies should be delivered up at cost, but few were returned. The precious little volume, which contains the wisdom of the whole world, made its way with lightning speed into the palaces of princes, the castles of knights, the convents of monks, the studies of priests, the houses of citizens, the huts of peasants. Mechanics, peasants, and women carried the New Testament in their pockets, and dared to dispute with priests and doctors of theology about the gospel.

As there was no copyright at that time, the works of the Reformers were multiplied by reprints in Nürnberg, Augsburg, Strassburg, Basel. Republication was considered a legitimate and honorable business. Luther complained, not of the business itself, but of the reckless and scandalous character of many reprints of his books, which were so full of blunders that he could hardly recognize them. Sometimes the printers stole his manuscript, and published it elsewhere. He was not hindered by any censorship, except that he received occasionally a gentle warning from the Elector when he did not spare the princes. He took no honorarium for his books, and was satisfied with a number of free copies for friends. Authors were usually supported by a professorship, and considered it beneath their dignity, or as ungentlemanlike, to receive a royalty, but were indirectly rewarded by free copies or other presents of the publishers or rich patrons, in return for dedications, which were originally, as they are now, nothing more than public testimonies of regard or gratitude, though often used, especially during the seventeenth century, for selfish purposes. Cash payments to authors were, down to the eighteenth century, rare and very low. Few could make a decent living from writing books; and, we may add, few publishers acquired wealth from their trade, which is very uncertain, and subject to great losses. “Habent sua fata libelli.”

But, while the progressive Reformation gave wings to the printing-press, the conservative re-action matured gradually a system of restriction, which, under the name of censorship and under the direction of book-censors, assumed the control of the publishing business with authority to prevent or suppress the publication and sale of books, pamphlets, and newspapers hostile to the prevailing religious, moral, or political sentiments. The Peasants’ War, which was kindled by inflammatory books, and threatened a general overthrow of social order, strengthened the reactionary tendencies of Protestant, as well as Roman Catholic, governments.

The burning of obnoxious books by public authority of church or state is indeed as old as the book-trade. A work of Protagoras, in which he doubted the existence of the Greek gods, was burned at the stake in Athens about twenty years after the death of Pericles. The Emperor Augustus subjected slanderous publications (libelli famosi) to legal prosecution and destruction by fire. Christian emperors employed their authority against heathen, heretical, and infidel books. Constantine the Great, backed by the Council of Nicaea, issued an edict against the writings of Porphyry and Arius; Accadius, against the books of the Eunomians (398); Theodosius, against the books of the Nestorians (435). Justinian commanded the destruction of sundry obnoxious works, and forbade their re-issue on pain of losing the right arm (536). The ecumenical synod of 680 at Constantinople burned the books which it had condemned, including the letters of the Monothelitic Pope Honorius.

Papal Rome inherited this practice, and improved upon it. Leo I. caused a large number of Manichaean books to be burnt (446). The popes claimed the right and duty to superintend the religious and moral literature of Christendom. They transferred the right in the thirteenth century to the universities, but they found little to do until the art of printing facilitated the publication of books. The Council of Constance condemned the books of Wiclif and Hus, and ordered the bishops to burn all the copies they could seize (1415).

The invention of the printing-press (c. 1450) called forth sharper measures in the very city where the inventor, John Gutenberg, lived and died (1400-1467). It gave rise also to the preventive policy of book-censorship which still exists in some despotic countries of Europe. Berthold, Archbishop of Mainz, took the lead in the restriction of the press. He prohibited, Jan. 10, 1486, the sale of all unauthorized German translations of Greek and Latin works, on the plea of the inefficiency of the German language, but with a hostile aim at the German Bible. In the same year Pope Innocent VIII. issued a bull against the printers of bad books. The infamous Pope Alexander VI. prohibited in 1498, on pain of excommunication, the printing and reading of heretical books; and in a bull of June 1, 1501, which was aimed chiefly against Germany, he subjected all kinds of literary publications to episcopal supervision and censorship, and required the four archbishops of Cöln, Mainz, Trier, and Magdeburg, or their officials, carefully to examine all manuscripts before giving permission to print them. He also ordered that books already printed should be examined, and burnt if they contained any thing contrary to the Catholic religion. This bull forms the basis of all subsequent prohibitions and restrictions of the press by papal, imperial, or other authority.

Leo X., who personally cared more for heathen art than Christian literature, went further, and prohibited, in a bull of March 3, 1515, the publication of any book in Rome without the imprimatur of the magister sacri palatii (the book-censor), and in other states and dioceses without the imprimatur of the bishop or the inquisitor of heretical depravity. Offenders were to be punished by the confiscation and public burning of their books, a fine of one hundred ducats, and excommunication. Archbishop and Elector Albrecht of Mainz was the first, and it seems the only, German prince who gave force to this bull for his own large diocese by a mandate of May 17, 1517, a few months before the outbreak of the Reformation. The papal bull of excommunication, June 15, 1520, consistently ordered the burning of “all the books of Luther.” But he laughed it to scorn, and burned in revenge the pope’s bull, with all his decretals, Dec. 10, 1520.

Thus, with the freedom of conscience, was born the freedom of the press. But it had to pass through a severe ordeal, even in Protestant countries, and was constantly checked by Roman authorities as far as their power extended. The German Empire, by the Edict of Worms, made itself an ally of the pope against free thought and free press, and continued so until it died of old age in 1806. Fortunately, the weakness of the empire and the want of centralization prevented the execution of the prohibition of Protestant books, except in strictly papal countries, as Bavaria and Austria. But unfortunately, the Protestants themselves, who used the utmost freedom of the press against the Papists, denied it to each other; the Lutherans to the Reformed, and both to the Anabaptists, Schwenkfeldians and Socinians. Protestant princes liked to control the press to protect themselves against popery, or the charges of robbery of church property and other attacks. The Elector John Frederick was as narrow and intolerant as Duke George on the opposite side. But these petty restrictions are nothing compared with the radical and systematic crusade of the Papists against the freedom of the press. King Ferdinand of Austria ordered, July 24, 1528, all printers and sellers of sectarian books to be drowned, and their books to be burnt. The wholesale burning of Protestant books, including Protestant Bibles, was a favorite and very effective measure of the Jesuitical reaction which set in before the middle of the sixteenth century, and was promoted by the political arm, and the internecine wars of the Protestants. Pope Paul IV. published in 1557 and 1559 the first official Index Librorum prohibitorum; Pius IV. in 1564, an enlarged edition, generally known as Index Tridentinus, as it was made by order of the Council of Trent. It contains a list of all the books forbidden by Rome, good, bad, and indifferent. This list has been growing ever since in size (1590, 1596, 1607, 1664, 1758, 1819, etc.), but declining in authority, till it became, like the bull against the comet, an anachronism and a brutum fulmen.


93. Protestantism in Saxony

H. G. Hasse: Meissnisch-Albertinisch-Sächsische Kirchengesch. Leipz. 1847, 2 parts. Fr. Seifert: Die Reformation in Leipzig, Leipz. 1881. G. Lechler: Die Vorgeschichte der Reform. Leipzigs, 1885. See also the literary references in Köstlin, II. 426 and 672.

Electoral Saxony was the first conquest of the Reformation. Wittenberg was the centre of the whole movement, with Luther as the general in chief, Melanchthon, Jonas, Bugenhagen, as his aids. The gradual growth of Lutheranism in this land of its birth is identical with the early history of the Reformation, and has been traced already.

In close connection with the Electorate is the Duchy of Saxony, and may here be considered, although it followed the movement much later. The Duchy included the important cities of Dresden (the residence of the present kingdom of Saxony) and Leipzig with its famous university. Duke George kept the Reformation back by force during his long reign from 1500 to 1539. He hated the papal extortions, and advocated a reform of discipline by a council, but had no sympathy whatever with Luther. He took a dislike to him at the disputation in Leipzig, forbade his Bible, issued a rival version of the New Testament by Emser, sent all the Lutherans out of the land, and kept a close watch on the booksellers. He executed the Edict of Worms to the extent of his power, and would have rejoiced in the burning of Luther, who in turn abused him most unmercifully by his pen as a slave of the pope and the devil, though he prayed for his conversion.

George made provision for the perpetuation of Romanism in his dominion but his sons died one after another. His brother and heir, Heinrich the Pious, was a Lutheran (as was his wife). Though old and weak, he introduced the Reformation by means of a church visitation after the Wittenberg model and with Wittenberg aid. The Elector of Saxony, Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger were present at the inaugural festivities in Leipzig, May, 1539. Luther had the satisfaction of preaching at Pentecost before an immense audience in the city, where twenty years before he had disputed with Eck, and provoked the wrath of Duke George. Yet he was by no means quite pleased with the new state of things, and complained bitterly of the concealed malice of the semi-popish clergy, and the overbearing and avaricious conduct of the nobles and courtiers.

Nevertheless, the change was general and permanent. Leipzig became the chief Lutheran university, and the center of the Protestant book-trade, and remains so to this day. Joachim Camerarius (Kammermeister), an intimate friend and correspondent of Melanchthon, labored there as professor from 1541-1546 for the prosperity of the university, and for the promotion of classical learning and evangelical piety.

We briefly allude to the subsequent changes. Moritz, the son and heir of Heinrich, was a shrewd politician, a master in the art of dissimulation, and a double traitor, who from selfish motives in turn first ruined and then saved the cause of the Reformation. He professed the Lutheran faith, but betrayed his allies by aiding the Emperor in the Smalcaldian war for the price of the Electoral dignity of his cousin (1547); a few years later be betrayed the Emperor (1552), and thereby prepared the way for the treaty of Passau and the peace of Augsburg, which secured temporary rest to the Lutherans (1555).

His next successors, Augustus I. (his brother, 1553-1586). Christian I. (1586-1591), and Christian II. (1591-1611), were intolerant Lutherans, and suppressed Crypto-Calvinism and every other creed. Frederick Augustus I. (1694-1733) sold the faith of his ancestors for the crown of Poland. Since that time the rulers of Saxony have been Roman Catholics, while the people remained Lutheran, but gradually grew more liberal than their ancestors. Freedom of worship was granted to the Roman Church in 1807, to the German Reformed in 1818, and more recently (since 1866) to other communions.


94. The Reformation in Nürnberg

Priem: Geschichte von Nürnberg, 1874. F Roth: Die Einführung der Reformation in Nürnberg, 1517-28, Würzburg, 1885 (pp. 271).

The imperial cities (Reichsstädte) of the old German Empire, such as Nürnberg, Augsburg, Frankfurt, Strassburg, enjoyed a larger measure of liberty than other cities. They had the sovereignty over their territory, with a constitutional government, and seat and vote in the Diet (Reichstag). They were the centres of intelligence, wealth, and influence. For this reason the Reformation made from the beginning rapid progress in them, though not without commotion and opposition.

Nürnberg (Nuremberg), the most picturesque medieval city of Germany, was at that time the metropolis of German commerce, politics, letters, and art, and of an unusual constellation of distinguished men, most of whom sympathized with Erasmus and Luther. Pirkheimer, the Maecenas of Nürnberg (1475-1530), prepared the way, although he afterwards withdrew, like his friend Erasmus and other humanists. Albrecht Dürer, the famous painter (1471-1528), admired the heroic stand of Luther at Worms, and lamented his supposed death when removed out of sight; but during the eucharistic controversy he inclined to the view of Zwingli. Hans Sachs (1494-1576), the “Mastersinger” and shoemaker-poet, saluted the “Nightingale” of Wittenberg (1523). Wenzeslaus Link, an Augustinian monk and intimate friend and correspondent of Luther, was sent by Staupitz from Wittenberg to the Augustinian convent at Nürnberg in 1518, and promoted the cause by his popular evangelical sermons. The preachers of the two splendid churches of St. Sebaldus and St. Lorenz followed the movement. The mass was abolished in 1524. The most effective promoters of the Reformation besides Link were Spengler, a layman, and Osiander, the preacher of St. Lorenz.

Lazarus Spengler (1479-1534), secretary of the magistrate, an admirer of Staupitz, wrote an apology of Luther, 1519, and a popular hymn on justification by faith (“Durch Adam’s Fall ist ganz verderbt”), helped to found an evangelical college, and left a confession of faith in his testament which Luther published with a preface, 1535. Joachim Camerarius, on the recommendation of Melanchthon, was called to the new college in 1526, as professor of history and Greek literature, and remained there till 1535, when he was called to the University of Tübingen, and afterwards (1541) to Leipzig.

Andreas Osiander (1498-1552), an able and learned, but opinionated and quarrelsome theologian, preached in St. Lorenz against the Roman Antichrist after 1522, fought as violently against Zwinglianism, married in 1525, attended the colloquy at Marburg, 1529, and the convent at Smalcald, 1537. He published a mechanical Gospel Harmony (1537), at the request of Archbishop Cranmer, who had married his niece (1532). He left Nürnberg in 1549, and became professor of theology at the newly founded university of Königsberg. There he stirred up a bitter theological controversy with the Wittenberg divines by his mystical doctrine of an effective and progressive justification by the indwelling of Christ (1551).

At Nürnberg several Diets were held during the Reformation period, and a temporary peace was concluded between Protestants and Roman Catholics in 1532.


95. The Reformation in Strassburg. Martin Bucer

Joh. W. Baum: Capito und Butzer, Elberfeld, 1860 (partly from MSS. See a complete chronological list of Bucer’s works, pp. 577-611). W. Krafft: art. “Butzer” in Herzog’s Encykl.2, vol. III. 35-46 (abridged in Schaff-Herzog). Tim. W. Röhrich: Gesch. der Reformation in Elsass und besonders in Strassburg, Strassb. 1830-32, 3 vols. A. Erichson: L’Église française de Strasbourg au seizième siècle d’après des monuments inédits. Stasb. 1885. Max Lenz: Briefwechsel Landgraf Philipps mit Bucer, Leipzig, 1880 and 1887, 2 vols. Ad. Baum: Magistrat und Reformation in Strassburg. Strassb. 1887 (212 pages).

Strassburg, the capital of the Alsace, celebrated for its Gothic cathedral, university, and libraries, had been long before the Reformation the scene of the mystic revival preacher Tauler and the Friends of God. It was a thoroughly German city before Louis XIV. incorporated it with France (1681), and was re-conquered by Germany in 1870.

The Reformation began there in 1523. Zell, Bucer, Capito (Köpfel), Hedio (Heil), and for a few years Calvin also (1538 to 1541), labored there with great success. The magistrate abolished the mass, 1528, and favored the Protestant cause under the lead of Jacob Sturm, an enlightened patriot, who represented the city in all important transactions at home, in the Diet, and in conferences with the Romanists, till his death (1553). He urged the establishment of a Christian college, where classical learning and evangelical piety should be cultivated. His namesake, Johann Sturm, an eminent pedagogue, was called from Paris to preside over this college (1537), which grew into an academy, and ultimately into a university. Both were moderate men, and agreed with Capito and Bucer. The church of Strassburg was much disturbed by the Peasants’ War, the Anabaptists, and still more by the unfortunate sacramental controversies.

The chief reformer of Strassburg was Martin Bucer (1491-1552). He was a native of Alsace, a Dominican monk, and ordained to the priesthood. He received a deep impression from Luther at the disputation in Heidelberg, 1518; obtained papal dispensation from his monastic vows (1521); left the Roman Church; found refuge in the castle of Francis of Sickingen; married a nun, and accepted a call to Strassburg in 1523.

Here he labored as minister for twenty-five years, and had a hand in many important movements connected with the Reformation. He attended the colloquy at Marburg (1529); wrote, with Capito, the Confessio Tetrapolitana (1530); brought about an artificial and short-lived armistice between Luther and Zwingli by the Wittenberg Concordia (1536); connived, unfortunately, at the bigamy of Philip of Hesse; and took a leading part, with Melanchthon, in the unsuccessful reformation of Archbishop Herrmann of Cologne (1542). Serious political troubles, and his resistance to the semi-popish Interim, made his stay in Strassburg dangerous, and at last impossible. Melanchthon in Wittenberg, Myconius in Basel, and Calvin in Geneva, offered him an asylum; but be accepted, with his younger colleague Fagius, a call of Cranmer to England (1549). He aided him in his reforms; was highly esteemed by the archbisbop and King Edward VI., and ended his labors as professor of theology in Cambridge. His bones were exhumed in the reign of Bloody Mary (1556), but his memory was honorably restored by Queen Elizabeth (1560).

Bucer figures largely in the history of his age as the third (next to Luther and Melanchthon) among the Reformers of Germany, as a learned theologian and diplomatist, and especially as a unionist and peacemaker between the Lutherans and Zwinglians. He forms also a connecting link between Germany and England, and exerted some influence in framing the Anglican standards of doctrine and worship. His motto was: “We believe in Christ, not in the church.”

He impressed his character upon the church of Strassburg, which occupied a middle ground between Wittenberg and Zürich, and gave shelter to Calvin and the Reformed refugees of France. Strict Lutheranism triumphed for a period, but his irenical catholicity revived in the practical pietism of Spener, who was likewise an Alsacian. In recent times the Strassburg professors, under the lead of Dr. Reuss, mediated between the Protestant theology of Germany and that of France, in both languages, and furnished the best edition of the works of John Calvin.


96. The Reformation in North Germany

In Magdeburg the doctrines of Luther were preached in 1522 by Melchior Mirisch, an Augustinian prior, who had studied at Wittenberg. The magistrate shook off the authority of Archbishop Albrecht, invited Luther to preach in 1524, and secured the services of his friend Nicolaus von Amsdorf, who became superintendent, and introduced the necessary changes. During the Interim troubles the city was a stronghold of the Lutheran party headed by Flacius, and laid under the imperial ban (1548). In the Thirty Years’ War it was burnt by Tilly (1631), but rose anew from destruction.

In Magdeburg appeared the first Protestant church history, 1559-1574, in thirteen folio volumes, edited by Flacius, under the title “The Magdeburg Centuries,” — a work of colossal industry, but utilizing history for sectarian purposes against popery. It called forth the Annales of Baronius in the opposite interest.

Breslau and Silesia were reformed chiefly by John Hess, who studied at Wittenberg, 1519, a friend of Luther and Melanchthon. He held a successful disputation in Breslau in defense of the Protestant doctrines, 1524.

Kaspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1490-1561), a nobleman in the service of the Duke Frederick II. of Liegnitz, was one of the earliest promoters of the Reformation in Silesia, but fell out with Luther in the eucharistic controversy (1524). He had peculiar views on the sacraments, similar to those of the Quakers. He also taught that the flesh of Christ was deified. He founded a new sect, which was persecuted in Germany, but is perpetuated among the Schwenkfeldian congregations in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Among the later leaders of the Protestant cause in Breslau must be mentioned Crato von Crafftheim (d. 1585), who studied at Wittenberg six years as an inmate of Luther’s household, and became an eminent physician of the Emperor Maximilian II. His younger friend, Zacharias Ursinus (d. 1583), is one of the two authors of the Heidelberg Catechism. Crato belonged to the Melanchthonian school, in distinction from the rigid Lutheranism which triumphed in the Formula of Concord.

Bremen accepted Protestantism in November, 1522, by calling Heinrich Moller, better known as Heinrich von Zütphen (1468-1524), to the parish of Ansgari, and afterwards two other Protestant preachers. Moller had studied at Wittenberg, 1515, and taken a degree in 1521 under Melanchthon. He was prior of an Augustinian convent at Dort, and preached there and in Antwerp the doctrines of the Reformation, but had to flee for his life. He followed an invitation to preach in Ditmar, but met with opposition, and was burnt to death by a fanatical and drunken mob excited by the monks. Luther published an account of his death, and dedicated it to the Christians in Bremen, with an exposition of the tenth Psalm. He rejoiced in the return of the spirit of martyrdom, which, he says, “is horrible to behold before the world, but precious in the sight of God.”

In 1527 all the churches of Bremen were in charge of Protestant pastors, and afterwards divided between the Lutheran and Reformed Confessions. The convents were turned into schools and hospitals.

Hamburg, which shares with Bremen the supremacy in the North German and maritime commerce, followed in 1523. Five years later Dr. Bugenhagen, called Pomeranus (1485-1558), was called from Wittenberg to superintend the changes. This Reformer, Luther’s faithful friend and pastor, had a special gift of government, and was the principal organizer of the Lutheran churches in Northern Germany and Denmark. For this purpose he labored in the cities of Braunschweig (1528), Hamburg (1529), Lübeck (1530-1532), in his native Pomerania (1534), and in Denmark, where he spent nearly five years (1537-1542). His church constitutions were models.

Lübeck, a rich commercial city, and capital of the Hanseatic League, expelled the first Lutheran preachers, but recalled them, and removed the priests in 1529. Bugenhagen completed the work.

In Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Duke Ernst the Confessor favored the new doctrines in 1527, and committed the prosecution of the work to Urbanus Rhegius, whom he met at the Diet of Augsburg, 1530.

Rhegius (1489-1541) belongs to the second class of Reformers. He was the son of a priest on the Lake of Constance, educated at Lindau, Freiburg-i.-B. (in the house of Zasius), and Ingolstadt under Dr. Eck, and ordained priest at Constance (1519). He joined the humanistic school, entered into correspondence with Erasmus, Faber, and Zwingli, and became an imperial orator and poet-laureate, though his poetry is stiff and conventional. He acquired the doctorate of divinity at Basel. He was called to Augsburg by the magistrate, and labored as preacher in the Dome from 1523 to 1530. He passed from Romanism to Lutheranism, from Lutheranism to Zwinglianism, and back to a moderate Lutheranism. He sympathized most with Bucer, and labored afterwards for the Wittenberg Concordia. The imperial prohibition of Protestant preaching, June 16, 1530, terminated his career in Augsburg, though he remained till Aug. 26, and conferred much with Bucer and Melanchthon.

He now entered upon his more important and permanent labors as general superintendent of Lüneberg, and took the leading part in the Reformation of Celle, Hannover, Minden, Soest, Lemgo, and other places; but he gives a doleful description of the moral condition. He attended the colloquy at Hagenau, and died soon after his return, May 27, 1541.

He wrote two catechisms and several devotional books. In his earlier career he was vain, changeable, and factious. He lacked originality, but had the talent of utilizing and popularizing the new ideas of others. Luther gives him the testimony: “He hated not only the popish abominations, but also all sectaries; he sincerely loved the pure word, and handled it with all diligence and faithfulness, as his writings abundantly show.”

The Dukes of Mecklenburg, Heinrich and Albrecht, applied to Luther in 1524 for “evangelists,” and Luther sent them two Augustinian monks. Heinrich favored the Reformation, but very cautiously. The university of Rostock, founded 1419, became at a later period a school of strict Lutheran orthodoxy.


97. Protestantism in Augsburg and South Germany

Augsburg, first known twelve years before Christ as a Roman colony (Augusta Vindelicorum), and during the middle ages an imperial city (since 1276), the seat of a bishop, the chief emporium for the trade of Northern Europe with the Mediterranean and the East, and the home of princely merchants and bankers (the Fuggers and Welsers), figures prominently in the early history of the Reformation, and gave the name to the standard confession of the Lutheran Church in 1530, and to the treaty of peace in 1555. Luther was there in 1518 at a conference with Cardinal Cajetan, and lodged with the Carmelite friar Frosch, who remained faithful to him. Peutinger, the bishop (Christoph von Stadium), and two canons (Adelmann) were friendly to reform, at least for a time. Urbanus Rhegius preached there from 1523 to 1530, and exerted great influence. He distributed, with Frosch, the communion with the cup at Christmas, 1524. Both married in 1526.

But the Zwinglians, under the lead of Michael Keller, gradually gained the upper hand among influential men. Zwingli took advantage of the situation in his famous letter to Alber, Nov. 16, 1524, in which he first fully developed his theory. Even Rhegius, who had written before against Carstadt and Zwingli, became a Zwinglian, though only for a short period.

The Anabaptist leaders, Hubmaier, Denck, Hetzer, Hut, likewise appeared in Augsburg, and gathered a congregation of eleven hundred members. They held a general synod in 1527. They baptized by immersion. Rhegius stirred up the magistrate against them: the leaders were imprisoned, and some executed.

The confusion and strife among the Protestants strengthened the Roman party. The people did not know what to believe, and the magistrate hesitated. The moral condition of the city, as described by Rhegius, Musculus, and other preachers, was deplorable, and worse than under the papal rule. During the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, the Emperor prohibited all Protestant preaching in public: the magistrate made no objection, and dismissed the preachers. But the Augsburg Confession left a permanent impression on the place.

The South-German cities of Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau were, like Augsburg, influenced by Zwingli as well as Luther, and united with Strassburg in the Tetrapolitan Confession, which Bucer and Capito prepared in great haste during the Diet of Augsburg as a document of union between the two wings of Protestantism. It failed to meet the approval of the Diet, and was, like Zwingli’s Confession, not even allowed to be read; but Bucer adhered to it to the end.

The most important and permanent conquest which the Reformation made in South Germany was that of the duchy (now kingdom) of Württemberg under Duke Ulrich, through the labors of Brenz, Blaurer, and Schnepf, after 1534. The University of Tübingen (founded 1477) became one of the most fruitful nurseries of Protestant theology, in all its phases, from the strictest orthodoxy to the most radical criticism.


98. The Reformation in Hesse, and the Synod of Homberg. Philip of Hesse, and Lambert of Avignon

I. Lambertus Avenionensis: Paradoxa quae Fr. L. A. apud sanctam Hessorum Synodum Hombergi congregatam pro Ecclesiarum Reformatione e Dei Verbo disputanda et definienda proposuit, Erphordiae, 1527. (Reprinted in Sculteti Annales, p. 68; in Hardt, Hist. Lit. Ref. V. 98; an extract in Henke’s N. Kirchengesch., I. 101 sqq.) N. L. Richter: Die Kirchenordnungen des 16ten Jahrh., Weimar, 1846, vol. I. 56-69 (the Homberg Constitution). C. A. Credner: Philipp des Grossmüthigen hessische Kirchenreformations-Ordnung. Aus schriftlichen Quellen herausgegeben, übersetzt, und mit Rücksicht auf die Gegenwart bevorwortet, Giessen, 1852 (123 pp.)

II. F. W. Hassencamp: Hessische Kirchengesch. seit dem Zeitalter der Reformation, Marburg, 1852 and 1855. W. Kolbe: Die Einführung der Reformation in Marburg, Marburg, 1871. H. L. J. Heppe: Kirchengesch. beider Hessen, Marburg, 1876. (He wrote several other works on the church history of Hesse and of the Reformation generally, in the interest of Melanchthonianism and of the Reformed Church.) E, L. Henke: Neuere Kirchengesch. (ed. by Gass, Halle, 1874), I. 98-109. Mejer: Homberger Synode, in Herzog2, VI. 268 sqq. Köstlin: M. L., II. 48 sqq.

III. Works on Philip of Hesse by Rommel (Philipp der Grossmüthige, Landgraf von Hessen, Giessen, 1830, 3 vols.), and Wille (Philipp der Grossmüthige und die Restitution Herzog Ulrichs von Würtemberg, Tübingen, 1882). Max Lenz: Zwingli und Landgraf Philip, in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte,” 1879; and Briefwechsel Landgraf Philipps mit Bucer, Leipz. 1880, vol. 2d, 1887 (important for the political and ecclesiastical history of Germany between 1541 and 1547). The history of Philip is interwoven in Ranke’s Geschichte (vols. I. to VI.), and in Janssen’s Geschichte (vol. III.). Against Janssen is directed G. Bossert: Württemberg und Ianssen, Halle, 1884, 2 parts.

IV. Biographies of Lambert of Avignon by Baum (Strassb. 1840), Hassencamp (Elberfeld, 1860), Ruffet (Paris, 1873), and a sketch by Wagenmann in Herzog2, VIII. 371 sqq. (1881). The writings of Lambert of Avignon, mostly Theses and Commentaries, are very scarce, and have never been collected. His letters (some of them begging letters to the Elector of Saxony and Spalatin) are published by Herminjard in Correspondance des Réformateurs, vol. I. 112, 114, 118, 123, 131, 138, 142, 144, 146, 328, 344, 347, 371; vol. II. 239. Luther refers to him in several letters to Spalatin (see below).

Hesse or Hessia, in Middle Germany, was Christianized by St. Boniface in the eighth century, and subject to the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Mainz. It numbered in the sixteenth century fifty convents, and more than a thousand monks and nuns.

Hesse became, next to Saxony, the chief theater of the Reformation in its early history; and its chief patron among the princes, next to Elector John, was Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, surnamed the “Magnanimous” (1504-1567). He figures prominently in the political history of Germany from 1525, when he aided in the suppression of the Peasants’ War, till 1547, when he was defeated by the Emperor in the Smalcaldian War, and kept a prisoner for five years (1547-1552). The last years of his life were quiet and conciliatory, but his moral force was broken by his misconduct and the failure of his political combinations.

His connection with the Reformation presents two different aspects, which make it difficult to decide whether it was more beneficial or more injurious. He made the acquaintance of Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521), and asked and received instruction from Melanchthon, whom be met at Heidelberg (1524). He declared in 1525, that he would rather lose body and life, land and people, than depart from the word of God, and urged the ministers to preach it in its purity. He openly embraced the Reformation in 1526, and remained faithful to it in his conviction and policy, though not in his moral conduct. He boldly and bravely defended it with a degree of theological knowledge which is rare among princes, and with a conciliatory liberality in regard to doctrinal controversies which was in advance of prevailing narrowness. He brought about the Marburg Colloquy with the noble aim of uniting the Protestant forces of Germany and Switzerland against the common foe (1529). By restoring Württemberg to Duke Ulrich in the brilliant victory at Laufen, he opened the way for the introduction of the Reformation into that country (1534). But, on the other hand, he repeatedly endangered the Protestant cause by his rashness, and injured it and himself most seriously by his licentiousness, which culminated in the open scandal of bigamy (1540). He resembles in many respects Henry VIII. of England.

The Landgrave was the first prince who took advantage of the recess of the Diet of Speier, Aug. 27, 1526, and construed it into a legal permission for the introduction of the Reformation into his own territory. For this purpose he convened a synod in the little Hessian town of Homberg. It consisted of the clergy, the nobility, and the representatives of cities, and was held Oct. 20-22, 1526. He himself was present, and his chancellor Feige presided over the deliberations. The synod is remarkable for a premature scheme of democratic church government and discipline, which failed for the time, but contained fruitful germs for the future and for other countries. It was suggested by the disputations which had been held at Zürich for the introduction of the Zwinglican Reformation.

The leading spirit of this synod was Francis Lambert of Avignon (1487-1530), the first French monk converted to Protestantism and one of the secondary reformers. He had been formerly a distinguished and efficient traveling preacher of the Franciscan order in the South of France. But he could find no peace in severe ascetic exercises; and, when he became acquainted with some tracts of Luther in a French translation, he took advantage of a commission of his convent to deliver letters to a superior of his order in Germany, and left his native land never to return. He traveled on a mule through Geneva, Bern, Zürich, Basel, Eisenach, to Wittenberg, as a seeker after light on the great question of the day. He was half converted by Zwingli in a public disputation (July, 1522), and more fully by Luther in Wittenberg, where he arrived in January, 1523. Luther, who was often deceived by unworthy ex-priests and ex-monks, distrusted him at first, but became convinced of his integrity, and aided him. At his request Lambert delivered exegetical lectures in the university, translated reformatory tracts into French and Italian, and published a book in defense of his leaving the convent (February, 1523), and a commentary on the rule of the Minorites to which Luther wrote a preface (March, 1523). He advocated the transformation of convents into schools. He married a Saxon maiden (July 15, 1523), anticipating herein the Reformer, and lived with her happily, but in great poverty, which obliged him to beg for assistance. He spent over a year in Wittenberg; but, finding no prospect of a permanent situation on account of his ignorance of the German language, he suddenly left for Metz, against the advice of Luther and Melanchthon, on invitation of a few secret friends of the Reformation (March 24, 1524). He addressed a letter to the king of France to gain him for the Reformation, and announced a public disputation; but the clergy prevented it, and the magistrate advised him to leave Metz. He then proceeded to Strassburg (April, 1524), was kindly received by Bucer, and presented with the right of citizenship by the magistrate. He published practical commentaries on the Canticles, the Minor Prophets, a book against Erasmus, on free-will, and a sort of dogmatic compend. He was highly recommended to the Landgrave, who took him into his service soon after the Diet of Speier (1526), and made him one of the reformers of Hesse.

Lambert prepared for the Synod of Homberg, at the request of the Landgrave, a hundred and fifty-eight Theses (Paradoxa), as a basis for the reformation of doctrine, worship, and discipline. He advocated them with fiery and passionate eloquence in a long Latin speech. Adam Kraft spoke in German more moderately.

His leading ideas are these. Every thing which has been deformed must be reformed by the Word of God. This is the only rule of faith and practice. All true Christians are priests, and form the church. They have the power of self-government, and the right and duty to exercise discipline, according to Mat_18:15-18, and to exclude persons who give offense by immorality or false doctrine. The bishops (i.e., pastors) are elected and supported by the congregation, and are aided by deacons who attend to the temporalities. The general government resides in a synod, which should meet annually, and consist of the pastors and lay representatives of all the parishes. The executive body between the meetings of synod is a commission of thirteen persons. Three visitors, to be appointed first by the prince, and afterwards by the synod, should visit the churches once a year, examine, ordain, and install candidates. Papists and heretics are not to be tolerated, and should be sent out of the land. A school for training of ministers is to be established in Marburg.

It is a matter of dispute, whether Lambert originated these views, or derived them from the Franciscan, or Waldensian, or Zwinglian, or Lutheran suggestions. The last is most probable. It is certain that Luther in his earlier writings (1523) expressed similar views on church government and the ministry. They are legitimately developed from his doctrine of the general priesthood of believers.

On the basis of these principles a church constitution was prepared in three days by a synodical commission, no doubt chiefly by Lambert himself. It is a combination of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism. Its leading features are congregational self-government, synodical supervision, and strict discipline. The directions for worship are based on Luther’s “Deutsche Messe,” 1526.

The constitution, with the exception of a few minor features, remained a dead letter. The Landgrave was rather pleased with it, but Luther, whom he consulted, advised postponement; he did not object to its principles, but thought that the times and the people were not ripe for it, and that laws in advance of public opinion rarely succeed. Luther learned a bitter lesson from the Peasants’ War and from the visitation of the churches in Saxony. Lambert himself, in his letters, complained of the prevailing corruptions and the abuse of evangelical liberty. A good reason both for the necessity and difficulty of discipline, which should have begun with the prince. But self-government must be acquired by actual trial and experience. Nobody can learn to swim without going into the water.

The Landgrave put himself at the head of the church, and reformed it after the Saxon model. He abolished the mass and the canon law, confiscated the property of the convents, endowed hospitals and schools, arranged church visitations, and appointed six superintendents (1531).

The combination of Lutheran and Reformed elements in the Hessian reformation explains the confessional complication and confusion in the subsequent history, and the present status of the Protestant Church in Hesse, which is claimed by both denominations.

The best service which the Landgrave did to the cause of learning and religion, was the founding of the University of Marburg, which was opened July 1, 1527, with a hundred and four students. It became the second nursery of the Protestant ministry, next to Wittenberg, and remains to this day an important institution. Francis Lambert, Adam Kraft, Erhard Schnepf, and Hermann Busch were its first theological professors.

Lambert now had, after a roaming life of great poverty, a settled situation with a decent support. He lectured on his favorite books, the Canticles, the Prophets, and the Apocalypse; but he had few hearers, was not popular with his German colleagues, and felt unhappy. He attended the eucharistic Colloquy at Marburg in October, 1529, as a spectator, became a convert to the view of Zwingli, and defended it in his last work. This must have made his position more uncomfortable. He wished to find “some little town in Switzerland where he could teach the people what he had received from the Lord.” But before this wish could be fulfilled, he died with his wife and daughter, of the pestilence, April 18, 1530. He was an original, but eccentric and erratic genius, with an over-sanguine temperament, with more zeal and eloquence than wisdom and discretion. His chief importance lies in the advocacy of the principle of ecclesiastical self-government and discipline. His writings are thoughtful; and the style is clear, precise, vivacious, and direct, as may be expected from a Frenchman.

Lambert seems to have had a remote influence on Scotland, where principles of church government somewhat similar to his own were carried into practice after the model of the Reformed Church of Geneva. For among his pupils was Patrick Hamilton, the proto-martyr of the Scotch Reformation, who was burned at St. Andrews, Feb. 29, 1528. According to the usual view, William Tyndale also, the pioneer of the English Bible Version, studied at Marburg about the same time; for several of his tracts contain on the titlepage or in the colophon the imprint, Hans Luft at Marborow (Marburg) in the land of Hesse.”