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Martin Luther and the reformation in Germany until the close of the Diet of Worms online

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Germany was slowly moving towards the anarchy of the
Thirty Years' War, and the territorial disintegration of the
century that foUow^ed it. But in 1520 patriotism was still
a living force, for it compelled, as we have seen, venal electors
to choose an emperor who, whatever liis other disqualifica-
tions, was at least of German blood.

The man who more than any other represents this phase of
national feeling is Ulrich von Hutten. He returned from Italy
to Germany in June 1517, and after a few months' interval,
during which he prepared for the press Laurentius Valla's
work On the Donation of Constantinc, entered for the second
time the service of Albert of Mainz. In the spring of 1519
he eagerly took part in the campaign against Duke Ulrich of
Wiirtemberg, with whom he had a private blood feud. This
was the turning-point of his career. During the short war he
contracted a close intimacy with Franz von Sickingen, the cele-
brated partisan leader, whose history sheds so strange a light
on the political disorganisation of Germany at this time, and-
induced him so to throw the shield of his protection over
Eeuchlin as for the moment to bring the Dominicans of Koln
to their knees. In January 1520 he was again with Sickingen
in his castle of Landstuhl, and endeavoured to win him to the
side of Luther, as he had already won him for Eeuchlin. The



result was a letter from Hutten to Melanchtlion, followed by
another a month later, written on the supposition that tlie first
had miscarried, in which, on Sickingen's behalf, lie offered
Luther a refuge in his castle of Ebernburg. A similar letter
reached the Eeformer, perhaps before Sickingen's, from Sylves-
ter von Schaumburg, a Franconian nobleman, who, sooner than
he should fly to Bohemia, as common report a^'erred that he
was meditating, offered him the protection of a hundred of his
own order. Luther's letters to both these new friends are no
longer extant, but there is evidence enough that they put a
fresh courage into him. " Schaumburg and Sickingen," he says to
Spalatin, " have made me secure from the fear of men." He
wishes' the Elector to let the Cardinal of St. George know that
if he is driven from Wittenberg it will only make matters
worse, for he will then take refuge, not in heretical Boliemia,
but in the midst of Germany, where there are those who are
willing and able to protect him. It is the policy of the hour ;
Hutten urges it ; Crotus writes from Bamberg to recommend
it. Wliether Luther ever seriously thought of adopting it,
we do not know ; as it was, the Elector's friendship never
failed him.^

Franz von Sickingen was one of the independent nobles of
the Ehineland, who, from small beginnings, had become a
power in the German Empire. By services at the court of
the Elector Palatine, by a system of family alliances and joint
heirships, and by bold " fighting for their own hand," the Sick-
ingens had won a position of considerable influence ; and
Schwicker von Sickingen, Franz's father, was lord of three fast-
nesses, Landstuhl, Ebernburg, and Hohenburg, each with many
attached fiefs. He was as fierce a robber knight as any of his
mediaeval forefathers, as may be inferred from the fact that
he laid a plot for surprising Koln and murdering its chief
inhabitants, because in that city his dagger, which he was
wearing in defiance of municipal laws, had been taken from
him. From this beginning of the family fortunes, Franz, who
had an undoubted faculty as a leader of men, went far. He
carried on a great feud with the city of Worms. He led

^ Oiyp. Hutteni, ed. Bockinj,', vol. i. 1942 ; De Wette, pp. 448, 451, 460, 469,
pp. 320, 324, -^40 ; Walch, vol. xv. p. 470.



border raids into France. He was put under the ban of the
Empire by Maximilian, and by Maximilian again reconciled
with it. When the contest for the Empire began, both candi-
dates, Charles and Francis, strove to bind to their service, by
pensions and honours, a leader who could bring into the field
some thousands of disciplined men, and was willing to fly at
any quarry, however high. He and liis troops formed an
important part of the expedition into Wiirtemberg, which
deposed Duke Ulrich, and, as they lay not yet disbanded in
the neighbourhood of Frankfurt, were a significant hint to the
Electors not to choose the foreign candidate. At the moment
of which we are speaking, Sickingen had been formally taken
into the Imperial service : not that he and his men were part
of any regular army, or had specific military duties to perform,
but that they were bound to throw their weight into the
Emperor's scale should the necessity arise. They were an
impcrmm in imperio, an irregular military assemblage, held
together by common interests and the ascendancy of a leader's
character, but only imperfectly subordinated to the sujDreme
authority in the State.

Some rude spirit of patriotism, partly inspired perhaps by
Hutten, mingled with Sickingen's ambition. He regarded
himself as the representative and champion of the lesser
nobility, whose independence was threatened, and whose rights
were invaded by the growing power of the princes. These
robber nobles, for they were little better, had always been on
terms of enmity with the Free Cities, whose burghers they
thought it no shame to plunder upon the highway. There
were indeed formalities to be observed, some colourable cause
of quarrel to be found, a letter of feud to be delivered ; but
this done, the roads were no longer safe for the merchants of
the offending community. In Hutten's dialog ue Insp icientes,
whi ch was pub lished in 1520, after his friendship with
Sickingen had been formed, there is Vliterary defence of this
state of things, wdiich suggests the theory of the origin of
society which Eousseau made popular two hundred years
afterwards. The cities and their inhabitants are the fruits of
a corrupt civilisation. They and their trade are the centres
from which an enervating luxury diffuses itself It can never


be well with Germany so long as their power is maintained
and increases. On the other hand, the nobles, each living in
his own castle, content with the produce of his own land,
reproduce the conditions of a time when the country was
great, prosperous, and happy. What inference could be
plainer than that when Sickingen intercepted a convoy of
merchants from Worms, and carried off their wares to tlie
Ebernburg, he was not guilty of any vulgar robbery, but
striking a blow for the restoration of a pure and primitive
state of society ? The same kind of blood ran in Hutten's
veins as in Sickingen's, and there is no reason to suppose that
he was anythmg but perfectly sincere in this apology. Nor
was it difficult for Sickingen to persuade himself that he was
working not only against the overweening power of the
princes, but for the consolidation of Imperial rule, although
indeed such armed organisations, as that of which he was the
head, were fatal to all settled government. He hardly rose
to the dignity of a revolutionary element in German politics ;
for revolution implies some fixed outlook towards the future,
and Sickingen and his allies were a survival of the past.
Princes and cities alike were too strong for him. It was too
late to prevent the territorial disintegration of the Empire.
It was too late to treat Augsburg and Niirnberg as anachron-
isms of civilisation.

Sickingen and Hutten were well qualified to meet on
equal terms of friendship. The former was the older by
seven years, but his life had been spent in castles and camps,
and Hutten, with his eager rhetoric, his quick satiric wit, his
acquaintance with the new learning, soon became the intellec-
tual force that guided the mailed hand. Probably Sickingen,
in his rough martial way, was of the two the more suscept-
ible of a purely religious impression ; he seems afterwards
to have conceived a real admiration of the Eeformer, to whom
he was at first willing to extend a somewhat careless protec-
tion. Hutten, on the contrary, always appears to desire
Luther's alliance on the political side. The motives which
swayed him were not of the religious order. Even when he
substitutes the Biblical phrases of the new school for the
classical allusions familiar to the humanists they sound unreal.


But of his passionate hatred of Eome, as the power that at
once plundered, oppressed, and despised Germany, there can
be no doubt. Here he was in fullest accord with Luther,
whom he would gladly have carried with him more com-
pletely than was actually the case, in his methods of action.
Tor nearly three years after his return from Italy, he is as it
were groping after a vocation. He writes satirical dialogues
in the manner of Lucian. He exhorts the German princes
to unite in war against the Turks. He is the busy political
agent of Albert of Mainz. Presently, in April 1520, he
publishes two dialogues, Vadiscus, or the Roman Trinity, and
Insjjicientes, The Onloohers, which may be taken as his formal
declaration of war against Eome. Henceforth all his writings
bear a gage of battle in the motto " Jacta est alea," or its
German equivalent, " Ich hab's gewagt."

Vadiscus is a dialogue supposed to take place at Frankfurt
between himself and his friend Ernhold. There is nothing
dramatic in it; it is simply a bitter epigrammatic invective
against Eome, in which accusation is heaped on accusation
with a wonderful cumulative force. Whatever Hutten has tcu=
tell of Eome is cast into the form of a triad. Three things
in Eome are without number — strumpets, priests, and scribes.
Three things are banished from Eome — simplicity, moderation,
and purity. Three things pilgrims are wont to bring back from
Eome — unclean consciences, bad digestions, and empty purses.
Three things Eome chiefly fears — that the princes should be
agreed, that the people's eyes should be opened, and that its
own deceit should come to light. Three things only will
reform Eome — that the princes should be in earnest, the people
impatient, and a Turkish army at the gates. And so he
goes on, putting the same intense conviction of tlie moral
corruption of Eome into an endless variety of triads, so
arranged that one seems to arise inevitably out of the other
in the natural course of conversation. Tlie Onloohers is much
more after the true Lucianic model. Sol stops his chariot
over the city of Augsburg at the time of the Diet of 1518,
and having drawn aside the intervening canopy of cloud,
converses upon what he sees there with his son Phaethon,
who has sown his wild oats, and is a kind of assistant whip


to his father. Perhaps it is the Germans who, in this
dialogue, are made to feel the sharpest lash of satire ; their
drunken habits are stigmatised in the severest terms, and,
with then- general stupidity, are assigned as the reason why
they suffer themselves to be robbed and trampled upon by the
wily Italians. At the end of the dialogue Cardinal Cajetan
is made to enter into colloquy with the celestial speakers, and,
in virtue of the unbounded powers which he has received from
the Pope, claims to be able to excommunicate tlie Sun

This, then, was the Germany in which through the year
1520 Luther became more and more a chief motive power. The
year began and ended for him in controversy. Every month
bears its own witness to the fact that his intellectual activity was
strained to the highest point, and a less energetic, a less tough,
a less buoyant nature than his must have broken down under
the incessant pressure. Wlien the year began he had been busy
for some time with a series of " Postills," or exegetical comments
on the Gospels and Epistles, a work which he had undertaken
at the request of the Elector, who desu'ed to withdraw him from
the controversies which were taking up so much of his time
and strength, to the quieter labours of his professorship. The
task hardly had the desired effect, for 1520 was a year of per-
petual struggle, but he persevered in its performance, and these
Latin Postills, which were a prelude to a more important work
of the same kind in German, were finally dedicated to the
Elector, in a letter dated March 3d, 1521, and then given to
the world. But however vehement was Luther's controversial
spirit, and how little, in the opinion of some of his friends,
under due regulation, it never diverted him from tlie work of
building up the religious life of those who looked to him for
guidance. Two or three little books, published at the begin-
ning of 1520, one of them not much more than a broadslieet,
expounded the Lord's Prayer, the Commandments, tlie Belief,
for simple folk.^ They were the foundation of the catechetical

^ 0pp. Hulteni, ed. Booking, vol. Vatcr Unscrs, vor sich nnd hintfr sich,

iv. pp. 145-269. For Hutten and Erl. D. S. vol. xlv. p. 208 ; Weimar ed.

Sickingen I may refer in general to vol. vi. p. 20 ; /Curzt' Form dcr zdun

D. F. Strauss, Ulrich vu)i Hutten, and Gebote, dfs Glauhciui, und des l\Ucr

to H. Ulmann, Franz von Sickingen. Unscrs, ibid. vol. .xxii. i>. 1 ; conf.

- Kurze Auslegung des heiligen 0pp. Ex. vol. xii. p. 219.


works, by means of which Luther afterwards exercised so wide
and deep an influence on the German people. To these must be
counted the great Sermon on Good Works, on which he laboured
during the first months of the year, and which he dedicated on
the 29 th of March to Duke John. It was more than an
ordinary sermon ; " it grew," he said, " in his hands into a not
small volume," and became a treatise on a cardinal point of his
doctrine — the relation of good works to faith. Like all his
German works, it had a prompt and large popularity ; eight
editions appeared in 1520, five more before 1525, while the
Latin translation also was not without its numerous readers.^

The suggestion which Luther had made in his Sermon on
the Sacrament, that it would be well to restore the cup to the
laity, had excited an opposition quite out of proportion to the
intrinsic importance of the subject. But it was characteristic
of the Bohemian Church to administer the Communion in both
kinds, and popular prejudice always eagerly fastens upon a
visible sign of heresy. It might be difficult to draw the line
between orthodoxy and heterodoxy in the matter of indulgences ;
but to give the cup to a layman, was a proof of radical un-
soundness which no one could mistake. In the last days of
December 1519, Duke George wrote to his kinsman, the Elector
Frederick, a very strong letter, in which he said that a book of
Dr. Martin Luther's had fallen into his hands of which the
doctrine was " almost Pragish." The word "■ Bohemian " was
repeated again and again ; he identified Luther with the heretics
whom Germany most feared and hated ; he called upon his
cousin, as "the oldest and most Christian Elector," to stay a
plague which threatened the dominions of both of them alike.
Frederick replied in his usual calm, cautious way ; " he does
not undertake to defend Luther, as he has already made clear
to Cardinal Cajetan, and to Miltitz; but he hears that his doctrine
is held to be Christian by many learned and understanding
men, and he knows that he is ready to submit his case for trial
to commissioners appointed by the Pope." Indeed the accusa-
tion of Bohemianism, first started by Eck at the Leipzig

1 (PosHlle) De Wette, vol. i. pp. Erl. ed. D. S. vol. xvi. p. 118 scq. ; **.'
366, 376, 378, 405, 453, 563; [Sermon of Weimar ed. vol. vi. p. 196 seq.
Good Works), ibid. vol. i. pp. 434, 447 ;


disputation, seems by this time to have spread far and wide.
The story ran that Luther had been born in Bohemia, brought
up in Prag, and instructed in Wiclif's books ; an accusation of
Hussite heresy was even manufactured out of the engraved title-
page, which, without his knowledge or sanction, the printer had
prefixed to his sermon. It is curious to note how Luther thinks
it necessary to deny all this, not only m a letter to Spalatin,
but in an Explanation of some Articles in his Sermon on the Holy
Sacrament — a tract, in German, which he published about the
middle of January. But it is very characteristic of him that
he will not yield to common orthodox prejudice in the matter
of the Bohemians. In so far as the communion in both kinds <
is concerned he declares that they may be schismatics, but/
certainly are not heretics. And all that he himself has said is
that a change back to the ancient practice might well be made
by a lawfully constituted council of the Church.^

But the matter was not allowed to rest here. The Bishop
of Meissen issued a mandate on the 24th of January, dated
from Stolpe, and sealed with the official seal, in which he
inhibited Luther's sermon, and declared its doctrine to be con-
trary to that laid down by councils of the Church. Luther,
justly irritated by this unmistakable attempt to brand him as
a heretic, quickly replied in an "Answer to the Placard," ^
which has been issued under the seal of the official at Stolpe.
He chose to believe that such a document, so unguarded, so
calumnious, so malicious, could not have been published with
the knowledge and consent of the Bishop, and accordingly
assumed a bearing towards its supposed author which would
not have been respectful to a Father of the Church. He
pointed out with unanswerable logic that his only offence had
been to desire that a change might be introduced on the
authority of a council, and vehemently denied the heresy
imputed to him of believing that the Body and Blood of
Christ were not to be partaken of under either species. But
the contention was waxing somewhat warm, and Frederick, or
Spalatin for him, became alarmed. How moderate this im-

1 Loscher, vol. iii. p. 920 scq. ; De ^ Erl. D. S. vol. xxvii. p. 77 seq.;

Wette, vol. i. p. 390. Erl. D. S. vol. Latin, Ojjp. v. a. vol. iv. p. 136 ;

xxvii. p. Id seq.; Weimar eel. vol. vi. p. Weimar ed. vol. vi. pp. 135 scq., 142

76 seq. scq.


petuous theologian, who seemed bent upon making the line
of policy which the Elector was still willmg to pursue
impossible ? Luther's letters make it plain that he was
assailed by frequent remonstrances from Spalatin on what
the latter thinks his violence and contentiousness ; while the
chaplain is especially shocked that he should so unsparingly
criticise an episcopal mandate. In some respects, Luther is
not unwilling to excuse himself : " I am certainly," he says to
his friend,^ " of a quick hand and a ready memory, so that
what I write rather flows from me than is deliberately put
forth. Even so, I am not sufficient for the occasion ; what
happens to others who are slower, I wonder." Again, a little
later : ^ " I cannot deny that I am somewhat more vehement
than I ought to be ; and as my opponents know it they
should not provoke the dog. How difficult it is to temper
heat and pen you may learn even from your own case. This
is the reason why I am always vexed 'to be involved in public
affairs ; and the more I am vexed the more I am involved
against my will. And that not without the cruellest accusa-
tions, directed against myself and the Word of God : whereby
it happens, that if I were carried away neither by heat nor
by pen, even a stony mind might be moved to arms by the
very indignity of the thing — and how much more I who am
hot and have a pen that is not altogether blunt ? By these
monsters I am. borne beyond the decorum of modesty. And at
the same time I wonder whence that new religion has arisen,
according to which whatever is said against an adversary is
called an insult. What do you think of Christ ? Was He an
utterer of insults when He called the Jews an adulterous and
perverse generation, the offspring of vipers, hypocrites, children
of the devil ? And then Paul ? " "I beseech you," he says
in the same letter,^ " if you think rightly of the Gospel, not to
suppose that it can be promoted without tumult, scandal,
sedition. You will not make a pen out of a sword, or peace
out of war ; the word of God is a sword, is war, is ruin, is
scandal, is perdition, is poison ; and, as Amos says, it meets
the sons of Ephraim like a bear in the way and a lioness in
the wood. I wrote much more vehemently against Emser,
1 De AVette, vol. i. p. 405. - Ibid. p. 418. ^ ^j^vz. p. 417.


Eck, Tetzel, and you did not complain." Other passages of
the same kind might be quoted ; but though Luther felt the
danger of an ungoverned pen, he was not disposed to yield
an inch to remonstrance. "I have delivered and oflered
myself in the name of the Lord : His will be done. Who
asked Him to make me a Doctor ? If He has made me one,
let Him have me for Himself, or again destroy me, if He
repents having created me. . . . This alone I care for, that
the Lord may be propitious to me in those causes of mine
which are between me and Himself." ^

Nevertheless Luther, probably at Spalatin's instigation,
made another attempt to conciliate his ecclesiastical superiors.
On the 4th of February he wrote two letters, one to the
Archbishox3 of Mainz, the other to the Bishop of Merseburg,
the prelate who had attempted to prevent the disputation at
Leipzig. They were couched in respectful, but at the same
time manly terms, asking that his books might be read and
fairly judged, and professing his readiness to be instructed.
Probably the most remarkable thing about the correspondence
is the courteous moderation of the answers which he received ;
both prelates, indeed, gently reprove him for the vehemence
of his way of writing on difficult and disputed matters, but
neither ventures to condemn him as a stiff-necked heretic.
Perhaps they were waiting for the decision which they knew
that Piome was preparing to take ; but meanwhile it is easy
to read between the lines that the Augustinian monk is now
a power in the land, in treating with whom at least a show
of courtesy is to be preserved. But in truth the conflict was
deepening day by day. In the Preface to the first edition of
his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, published in
September 1519, Luther had given strong expression to the
resentment against Eome, which the proceedings of the Diet
of Augsburg, and we may suppose the catalogue of grievances
presented by the Bishop of Liege, had awakened in his mind.
He did indeed draw a distinction, which was at this time a
very real one to him, between the Eoman Church and the
Ptoman Curia, the first of which it is not lawful to oppose,
while the second ought to be more stoutly resisted by all kings
1 De Wette, vol. i. p. 391.


and princes than the Turks themselves ; but Hutten himself,
in his bitterest mood of patriotism, never said anything
stronger of the contempt in which the German nation was
held by the Italian ecclesiastics who deceived and plundered it.
Now, just before the 24tli of February, he first saw Hutten's
republication of Laurentius Valla's book on the Donation of
Constantinc. Its exposure of the legendary basis on which
the temporal power of the Pope rested made a great impres-
sion upon his mind. He is all but con\dnced by it that the
Pope is that veritable Antichrist whom the world expects ;
everything in his life, sayings, doings, decrees, answers to that
supposition. It is like a revelation to liim, that the power
which is exercised with such utter disregard of righteousness
should be founded on a lie. Every day some scruple is
lightened or removed, and he becomes a rebel with a quieter

Sometime in the spring or early summer of this year —
the precise date is not easy to fix — Valentine von Teutleben,
a Saxon nobleman at Ptome, who was also a canon of Mainz,
wrote to the Elector to tell him that on account of the protec-
tion which he extended to Luther he was ill looked upon by
the Holy See. This, with a letter of similar import from the
Cardinal of St. George, Frederick sent to Luther, with a request
that he would advise as to the answer which should be given to
them. He respectfully put the task aside ; but in comparing
the two letters which he wrote to Spalatin on the subject with
the Elector's answer to Teutleben, it is easy to see that he in-
spired, if he did not actually write, the latter. It contains
two passages which deserve careful notice. In the first

Online LibraryCharles BeardMartin Luther and the reformation in Germany until the close of the Diet of Worms → online text (page 35 of 48)