Johannes Janssen.

History of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) online

. (page 3 of 45)
Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 3 of 45)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wrong but virtuous. Especially is this the case with
greed and avarice. No prince, no count, no nobleman,
no burgher or peasant is any longer avaricious ; all
are honest and good. It can be said of all : That 's an
exemplary man, that 's a sensible man, he thinks of
making provision for himself.^

' So it is with other sins ; pride must not be called
pride, nor sinful ; it is a sense of honour. If a man is
haughty it is said of him : That 's an honourable man,
he comports himself with dignity, he will make a name
for his race. Anger and envy must not be called anger
and envy, or condemned as sins : they are justice, zeal,
virtue. If a man flies into a rage, shows envy or hatred,

' Collected Works, Erlangen edition, xxxix. 249.


it is said of him : He is so eager, so much in earnest, so
keen after justice, he has good reason to be angry, he has
met with violence and injustice, &c. And so there are
no more sinners in the world, and God be praised, the
earth is full of saints. Seneca says : " Ibi deest remedii
locus, ubi vitia honores fiunt " (Where vice is honoured,
there is no remedy). When vice is decked out as virtue,
all 's up with the world.' ^

' The Pharisees and the rich man cared nothing,
just as to-day our squires-, peasants, burghers, nobles,
care nothing, whatever may be preached and said about
them. Has it not come to this, that the coarsest vices,
drinking and gorging, are no longer considered dis-
graceful, but drmikenness must now be called joviality ?
And just as all vices have become virtues, so, too, is it
with avarice, so that I no longer know a single avaricious
prince, count, noble, burgher, or peasant ; and yet if they
could sell a bushel of corn in the market for four gulden
they would do it. Everybody scrapes, rakes, scratches,
fleeces, and flays from princes down to maid-servants.
In short, everybody is devoured with avarice, and yet
nobody must be called avaricious.'

' And as with avarice so with all other vices.
What can we do? If we preach against them they
laugh at and ridicule us, will not recognise their sins or
allow that they have done wrong, they only want to go
straight on in the way that took the rich man of the
parable to hell. . . . Well, if they will have it so let
them go to the pit of hell. We cannot help it, if they
will not submit to punishment, or go to confession and
reform themselves.' ~

' Collected Works, Frankfort edition, v. 254-255.
2 Ibid. Frankfort edition, v. 256, 257.


' The whole world is nothing else than a topsy-turvy
decalogue, and the devil's mask and counterfeit ; there 's
nothing but contempt of God, blasphemy of God, dis-
obedience, harlotry, vanity, thieving, murder, &c.
Prepare the world for the shambles ; the devil fares
better with us than with Turks, Pope, soldiers, and
sects.* 1

* But worse still than avarice, whoring, and im-
morahty, which had the upper hand everywhere
nowadays,' wrote Luther in 1532, * was the general
contempt of the Gospel/ ' Avarice, whoring, and
immoraUty are great and terrible sins, and our Lord
God punishes them with famine and pestilence ; but all
the same the land and the people are left standing.
But this sin of contempt of the Gospel is not a human
but a deviUsh sin, so fearful is it to despise, laugh at
and mock the great mercy of the fatherly visitation of
God.' 2

* How full the world is of people who are ungrateful
for the evangel, we see plainly before our eyes, not only
in those who intentionally persecute the known truth
of the Gospel, but also among us who accept it and make
our boast of it ; the great masses are also so abominably
unthankful that it would be no wonder if God were to
come down upon us with thunder and hghtning, yea,
verily, with all the Turks and devils from hell. So
quickly have we forgotten how we w^ere plagued under
the papacy and, as it were, overwhelmed with a sin-flood,
with so many strange doctrines which put our consciences
to torture. But now that through God's grace we are
free from all that, we show our thankfulness in a way

' Collected Works, Erlangen edition, Ivii. 308.
^ Ibid. Frankfort edition, iv. 6.


calculated to bring down God's wratli upon us still
more heavily. For let each one consider what unpardon-
able wickedness it is, when we have received from God
such great, sure, immeasurable bounty as forgiveness
of all our sins, and being made partakers of the Kingdom
of Heaven, that we will not even make Him such slight
return as to think about it, and on this account to forgive
our neighbour a trifling word from our hearts, not to
speak of the duty laid upon us to help and serve our
neighbour. We have got the Evangel, God be praised !
that nobody can deny ; but what do we do for it ? We
are content to talk about it, nothing more comes of it ;
we do not trouble ourselves to act up to it. But we
do trouble ourselves a great deal if we should chance
to lose one or two guldens ; we are very anxious and
fearful lest our money should be stolen from us, but we
can do without the Gospel for a whole year. God will
not leave unavenged this shameful contempt of His
Word, and He will not be long in avenging Himself.' ^

' The more one preaches,' said Luther in 1553, * the
more quarrelsome and unruly they become, and they do
worse and worse things out of sheer defiance. Justices
and official people are just as bad. When the pastor
admonishes them and says, This is the commandment of
God, they answer : I 'm not going to do what the parson
tells me ; it 's no business of his how I conduct myself ;
is he going to lord it over me ? ' -

Eight years later he wrote : ' It 's come now to this,
and can scarcely go further, that in some of the towns

' Dollinger, Reformation, i. 297-298. Numerous other passages about
the contempt of the Gospel and its ministers arc chronologically ai'ranged
by Pastor in his Reimionsbeslrebungen, 112 If.

- Collected Works, Frankfort edition, vi. 8.



and villages the people threaten their pastors and
preachers that, if they go on rebuking them for their
sins from the pulpit, they will drive them away ; more-
over, anyone who can take anything from these parsons
and preachers is canonised. If they complain to the
officials they are called avaricious people whom no one
can satisfy. " Ei," they say; "formerly a pastor had
30 guldens and was well content ; now they want 90
and 100/' But if the officials are avaricious, thievish,
and dishonest, then it is Christian sanctity." ^

Aheady in 1537 Luther no longer had any doubt
that the Day of Judgment was not far distant, although
the highly cultm-ed and hyper-reasonable world was not
in the least concerned about it. ' Certainly they did not
see it, although their cultured intellect should tell them
that, if a just God exists, pimishment cannot be delayed
much longer. Are there not in Scripture the examples
of Sodom and others ? It is an old prediction, reiterated
by numbers of teachers, that, after the coming of the
Antichrist, people will become so wicked that they will
no longer hear about or beheve in any God, but each
one will do as he hkes, as the devil or his flesh leads
him. Such a time we now see before our eyes. For
since, tlu'ough God's wonderful and special grace, the
horrible lying and misleading of the Antichrist or the
papacy have been shown up and have come to the hght
of day, the people are beginning to beheve nothing
more. And whereas they feel themselves free and
released from the bonds and chains of the papacy they
want also to be free and released from the evangel and
from all God's commandments, and everything hence-
forth that they feel and wish to do is to be considered

' Collected Works, Erlangen edition, xxxM. 78,


good and right. This mil certtiinly be the end of the
song, God willing.' i

The older Lnther grew the more frequent were
his complaints of the moral anarchy in social hfe, and
of the increase of vice even in his own immediate
neighbourhood. On September 8, 1541, he wrote
to Link at Nuremberg, who had complained of the
' contempt of the Word ' in that .town, that he might
comfort himself with the thought that the worst of
all evils was now reigning, unbridled licentiousness
of hfe without law or religion: 'Our people will
now neither hear nor heed the Word of God, a state
of things which cannot fail to produce vice.' Two
months later he sent a wail to the preacher Anton
Lauterbach in Pirna : ' I have well nigh given up all
hope for Germany, for greed, usury, tyramiy, discord,
and the whole host of dishonesty, wickedness, and
roguery are reigning everywhere — at the courts, in the
towns and villages, and added to all else contempt of
the Word and ingratitude.' Of the same date is a letter
of complaint to Justus Jonas concerning the ' quite
Satanic contempt of the Word.'- 'This unspeakable
contempt of the Word,' wrote, in the same year, the
originator of the Church spht in Germany, ' and the
unutterable sighs of the pious show that the world is
at its last gasp, and that the day of its destruction and
our salvation is drawing near. Amen, so be it. Amen.
Thus was it with tlie world before the sin-flood, thus

' Collected Works, Erlangen edition, Ixiii. 345-346.

2 De Wette, v. 398, 407. On January 23, 1542, Luther wrote again
to Jonas about the godless assurance of the great masses, who were now
so reckless that tliey not only despised the daily outpoured wonders of
the evangel, but also the fury of the devil ; Lc. 429. Cf. Dollinger,
Reformation, i. 348 ff.



before the destruction of Sodom, tlius before the Baby-
loinsli captivity, thus before the fall of Jerusalem, tlius
before the sack of Rome, thus before the misfortunes
of Greece and Hungary, thus will it be, thus indeed it is,
before the downfall of Germany.' The idea that the
end of the world must be at hand, on account of the
general depravity, occurs more and more frequently in
Luther's letters of this period. All vices, * greed and
usury, animosity, drunkenness, envy, pride, godlessness,
blasphemy, had increased to such an extent that the
Lord would certainly not spare Germany any longer.'
' I am weary,' he said in a letter to Amsdorf of October
29, 1542, ' I am weary of living in this abominable
Sodom, or ever of seeing anything of it. The Day of
Judgment is at hand, the world deserves destruction.'
Again on April 2, 1513 : ' Ah, that this same day of
our redemption would come and make an end of this
great misery and diabolical state of things ! ' Repeatedly
at this period Luther expressed the wish that not he
alone, but all belonging to him might be snatched by a
speedy death out of this ' Satanic age ' ; even if God
were now to take away his dearest daughter Margareta,
it would not cause him very great grief. The cradle of
the new evangel, Wittenberg, seemed to him a second
Sodom, and the zealous, new-rehgionist Leipzig, with its
pride and its avarice, still worse than Sodom. ' They
wish to be damned,' he wrote to Amsdorf six weeks
before his death, ' well, then, so be it ; let them have
their wish.'i

That Luther with his gloomy pictures by no means
exaggerated is shown by countless utterances of his

' De Wette, v. 602-503, 552, 703, 772. DoUinger, Reformation, i.
319, 348 ff. See also present work, vol. vi. 276.


friends and helpers which are no less dismal than those
of the leader himself. The lament over the general
increase of licentiousness and depravity and of contempt
of the Gospel forms the basis also of Melanchthon's
letters and writings. What sort of conditions had
come in under the rule of the new evangel, Melanchthon
had already experienced in 1527 on the occasion of a
Church spht in Thuringia. Justus Jonas had at the
time lost a son ; Melanchthon comforted him by pointing
liim to the sadness of the times. ' I think you now see
better at Wittenberg what depth of ruin threatens all
that is good, how great is the hatred of men towards
each other, how intensely all that is honourable is
despised, how gross is the ignorance of those who are
set over the churches, and besides all this how godless
the princes are.' ^ All through Melanchthon's private
correspondence runs the complaint of the growing
demoralisation of the times. Whenever he has to
administer consolation he almost invariably says that
death is to him a haven of rest from the unendurable
conditions of hfe. Above all, into the bosom of his
intimate friend Camerarius did he pour forth his
unspeakable grief, his bitter sighs.^ ' I am seized with
agony beyond all conception,' he wTote in June 1528,
' when I contemplate the conditions of our times.
Nobody hates the evangel more bitterly than the very
people who pretend to be of our party. The wickedness
of the peasants is intolerable, and it has reached
its chmax ; more quickly than we could wish they will
have to expiate their godlessness in terrible guise.'
Again and again he declares that the sins and vices

' Corp. Rpf. i. 888.

- Ibid. i. 913, 1000, 1110 ; iii. 58 ; v. 241 ; viii. 674, 832.


of tlie Protestant princes, preachers, and people
cause him more anxiety than the onslaughts of the

In 1545 Melanchthon divided the Protestant party
into fom: classes. * The first class,' he said, * consists of
those who love the Gospel in a natural way, i.e. they
detest the bonds of Church laws and usages and prefer
the dissolution of all discipline. Since it is their opinion
that the teaching of the Gospel is the quickest way to the
attainment of this hcence, this throwing off of all that
is burdensome, they turn to it with blind love. In this
first class we may include the greater part of the common
people who understand nothing of the grounds of the
teaching and the sources of the dissensions, and who
look on the course of the evangel as the ox watches the
new gate. The second class are the grandees and the
nobles who know how to order and direct their rehgious
opinions according to the opinions and inchnations
of the rulers of the moment. There are many such
nowadays at the courts, who approve this or that
rehgion, not because of conviction, but because they do
not wish to oppose the princes. The third class consists
of people who make a great pretence of piety and of
quite especial zeal, but under this cloak they seek only
to gratify their own lusts. To this class belong many
hght-minded people. Finally, the fourth class is those
whose convictions are based on their own understanding ;
but of these there are few.' ^

* The majority of Germans,' wrote Melanchthon in
1548, ' hate the Word of God as much as they hate us.' ^

• See the passages in DoUinger, Reformation, i. 373 ff. For Melanch-
thon's complaints of the princes see present work, vol. vi. 244.

2 Corpus Ref. v. 725-726. Dollinger, i. 377-378.

3 Corp. Ref. vi. 778.


Unendurable was the tyranny of the princes and the
nobles, the quarrelsomeness and backbiting of the
preachers, lamentable the decay of learning, appalling
the licentiousness of the people. Exactly like Luther
he complained especially of the contempt, neglect, and
starving-out of the preachers, of the general demoralisa-
tion, of the complete disappearance of godfearingness, and
of the prevalent rehgious light-mindedness.^ Added to all
this was the disagreement among the new religionists even
on essential matters. In respect to all these conditions
Melanchthon^s letters grow more and more dolorous and
wailing. ' Had I as many tears as the waters of the
Elbe," he wrote in September 1545, ' still they would
not cease to flow.' Later on, the Elbe was not enough for
him, he could weep * as much as the Elbe and the Weser
together.* ^ He stood helpless before the prospect of
universal decay ; hke Luther he tried to explain the
horrors of the situation by the workings of the devil ;
then again he summoned astrology to his help, or pointed
to the nearness of the last day : ' Woe, woe ! in these
latter days the world is growing boundlessly insolent ;
the majority of people are so licentious, they will
submit to no restraint whatever." ^ There is no end to
the lamentations in his letters. * This most miserable
anarchy," he says again, ' causes me such anguish that
I would gladly leave this life. The princes by incon-
ceivable iniquity are driving wounds into the Church,
and with the Church dignities they also carry off Church
property ; only a few of them support the ministers
of the Church and of learning with their own generosity.
Anarchy strengthens the presumption of the wicked,

' Bollinger, i. 376 ff., 395 ff. ^ (7^^^^ ji^j^ y^ 852 ; vii. 543.

•' Melanchthon's Comment, in Matthaeum.


and the neglect of learning threatens to bring on another
age of darkness and of barbarism. The present is full
of crime and fury and more intent on sycophantism than
former ages were. Contempt of religion parades quite
openly. In the times of our forefathers love of enjoy-
ment did not rule as it does with us nowadays. This is
the cause of all the wars and plunderings, and all other
dire calamities which afflict the land; all vie with
one another in boundless licence to gratify all their
desires.' ^

In exact correspondence to the language of Luther
and Melanchthon was that of the other Fathers of the
innovation in Saxony, Spalatin, Lange, Jonas, Amsdorf,
Bugenhagen, and Cruciger, concerning the moral condi-
tions that had prevailed since the poHtico-rehgious
revolution. Justus Jonas said as early as 1530 : ' Those
who call themselves evangelical seek, in great measure,
only carnal freedom from the evangel. As to the fruits
which ought to follow the Gospel they are quite indifferent,
and not only is there no longer any fear of God among
them, but also no outward disciphne ; they are sick
and weary of preaching, they look down on pastors and
preachers as on the dirt and dust of the roads, and
would gladly trample them and the evangel under foot.
Besides which peasants and burghers despise all art and
learning ; however much they are screamed at and
admonished to maintain schools for the training of
children, they pay no attention, and nobody will help,
for the love of God, to keep up such useful institutions,
for they all prefer to spend their money on their own
stomachs. And besides all this the common people are
growing so turbulent, so coarse and wild as if the evangel

* See the motto to the third vol. (EngUsh v. and vi.) of the present work.


had only come to give lewd rascals scope and freedom
for their vices/ ^

' Our people/ wrote Bugenhagen in 1531, ' will hear
nothing else but the evangel ; but they do not improve
on it, rather they grow wild and reckless/ Amsdorf
acknowledged in 1554 that : ' The worst of vices are
now in full swing ; things have reached the highest
pitch and can go no further; the world is deluged with
iniquity as with a sin-flood, and among those who make
their boast of the evangel, vices are no longer considered
sinful, but honourable, praiseworthy deeds/ -

Complaints and nothing but complaints of this sort
emanated also from the remaining co-operators in the
rehgious revolution. The Hamburg preacher iEpinus
died in the conviction that a reign of epicureanism
would shortly set in under which people would shame-
lessly and unscrupulously shower contempt and ridicule
on all religion and faith. The Hamburg preacher
Westphal complained in 1553 that it ' was not the
common people only who abused evangehcal freedom, who
shamelessly gratified their passions, who were destitute
of all fear of God, and plunged headlong into sin and
wickedness, but the upper classes also lived in boundless
license according to the prompting of their lusts.* If
the preachers did not completely close their eyes and
only touched the sores with their Httle fingers, they
were rated as agitators and traitors. A year earlier
Hermann Bonnus had said in Liibeck : ' When the Gospel
is preached, it happens for the most part that tlie

' Dollingor, ii. 1 1 5. Sco present work, vol. v. 08, 99. Sen aluo < ho
remarkable document sent by J. Jonas to the Princes of Anhalt, May 10,
1.538, in Kawerau, Briefwechsel des J. Jonas, i. 283 IT.

- Bollinger, ii. 145, 123.


hearers, caught with the false notion of evangehcal
freedom, lead carnal lives and think they are at liberty
to do whatever they like, as though they were no longer
boimd by any laws and no longer needed to do any good
works/ ^

A Church hymn by Erasmus Alber says :

Worse it has never been
Since tlie world began ;
Each one may now behold
What Clirist Himself foretold.

No love or faith on earth remains,
Trickery in each one reigns,
The rich oppress the poor,
They sweat them more and more,
And only think of gains. -

The Hessian pastor Justus Alber spoke exactly
to the same efiect. Another Hessian preacher, John
Rosenweber, pastor at Marburg, made the following
confession in 1542 : ' If we turn to the evangehcals
we find among the greater number nothing else than
carnal security, abuse of Christian freedom, egotism,
self-glorification, and above all, gross ingratitude,
blasphemy and contempt of the AVord, and extreme
solicitude for temporal maintenance.' ' So great is
the contempt of rehgion,' complains a third Hessian
preacher, ' so much is virtue trampled under foot,
that we cannot regard these people as Christians, but
as inhuman barbarians.' Bucer himself wrote to his
Landgrave in 1544 about the ' offence which the extra-
vagance, the scandalous hving, and the immorahty of the
new religionists occasioned.' A year later he said,
' One saw not a few papists who, in reverence towards
God, in morality of Hfe, in honesty, faith, and peaceable-

' DoUinger, Reformation, ii. 486, 495, 498. - Wackemagel, 220, 231.


ness towards their neighbours, and in benevolence
to the poor far exceeded the evangehcals/ Capito
in Strasburg said 'the world had exchanged the
"semblance of sanctity" for open denial of God's
providence and for the most vicious epicureanism.
The masses, accustomed to Hcence, have now grown
completely ungovernable ; it is as though with the
destruction of papal authority we had also annihilated
the force of the Sacraments and of the whole ministerial
office. For the people exclaim : I understand the
evangel well enough ; I can read it for myself ; why
should I want your help ? Preach to those who are
ready to hsten to you, and leave them the choice of
accepting what they like.' i

The depravity of the young generation growing
up under the rule of the new doctrines is pointed out
emphatically by the Wiirtemberg pastor John Klopfer :

* There is now no shame or modesty left, no discipline,
no honour, yea, verily, not a spark of godfearingness
among this luckless young generation, and the young
will neither submit to punishment nor to guidance.'
The Nuremberg preacher Althamer also said that
young people had never been so vicious as at the present
time. The Wiirtemberg theologian Brenz, in the preface
to his sermons, spoke as follows of the Lutherans :

* They have now for a number of years heard the
pure evangel preached to the point of satiety and
loathing, but are not by one hair's breadth the better
for it ; on the contrary, they plunge ever more and more
headlong into the most scandalous wickedness. Their
godlessness far surpasses that of the Sodomites and

' Diillin^for, Reformation, ii. 207-208, 223 ; xiv. 33, 45 IT. Sco present
work, vol. vi. 244.


time fails me to tell of all the vices of the present timevS,
for there are as many cliiTerent kinds as there are men
and women in the world. From day to day audacity
increases, and shame and modesty decrease in pro-
portion. It was not only one and another here
and there who transgressed all laws, human and divine,
but everywhere, everybody went their way in nudti-
tudes to confuse and upset all ideas of right and wrong.
But all this even was outdone by the abomination
of overweening contempt for the evangel.' The
Augsburg preacher Caspar Huberin had begun as
early as 1531 to despair of the condition of things
brought on by the religious innovation : the more
people wrote, taught, and preached, he said, the worse

Online LibraryJohannes JanssenHistory of the German people at the close of the middle ages (Volume 16) → online text (page 3 of 45)