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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Jak Upland and Hans Mattock Karsthans


the Revelation "flying through

the mid-heaven with the everlasting Gospel in his hands," the national champion who was brought to Worms to be silenced, and yet was heard by Emperor, princes, and papal nuncios. Some of the authors were still inclined to make Erasmus their leader, and declared that they were fighting under the banner of that "Knight of Christ"; others looked on Erasmus and Luther as fellow-workers, and one homely pamphlet compares Erasmus to the miller who grinds the flour, and Luther to the baker who bakes it into bread to feed the people. Perhaps the most striking feature of the times was the appearance of numberless anonymous pamphlets, purporting to be written by the unlearned for the unlearned. They are mostly in the form of dialogues, and the scene of the conversations recorded was often the village alehouse, where burghers, peasants, weavers, tailors, and shoemakers attack and vanquish in argument priests, monks, and even bishops. One striking feature of this new popular literature is the glorification of the German peasant. He is always represented as an upright, simple-minded, reflective, and intelligent person skilled in Bible lore, and even in Church history, and knowing as much of Christian doctrine "as three priests and more." He may be compared with the idealised peasant of the pre-revolution literature in France, although he lacks the refinement, and knows nothing of high-flown moral sentiment; but he is much liker the Jak Upland or Piers Plowman of the days of the English Lollards.
Jak Upland and Hans Mattock (_Karsthans_), both hate the clergy and abominate the monks and the begging friars, but the German exhibits much more ferocity than the Englishman. The Lollard describes the fat friar of the earlier English days with his swollen dewlap wagging under his chin "like a great goose-egg," and contrasts him with the pale, poverty-stricken peasant and his wife, going shoeless to work over ice-bound roads, their steps marked with the blood which oozed from the cut feet; the German pamphleteer pours out an endless variety of savage nicknames--cheese-hunters, sausage-villains, begging-sacks, sourmilk crocks, the devil's fat pigs, etc. etc. It is interesting to note that most of this coarse controversial literature, which appeared between 1518 and 1523, came from those regions in South Germany where the social revolution had found an almost permanent establishment from the year 1503. It was the sign that the old spirit of communist and religious enthusiasm, which had shown itself spasmodically since the movement under Hans Boehm, had never been extinguished, and it was a symptom that a peasants' war might not be far off. Very little was needed to kindle afresh the smouldering hatred of the peasant against the priests. When German patriots declaimed against the exactions of the Roman Curia, the peasant thought of the great and lesser tithes, of the marriage, baptismal, and burial fees demanded from him by his own parish priest. When Reformers and popular preachers denounced the scandals and corruptions in the Church, the peasant applied them to some drunken, evil-living, careless priest whom he knew. It should be remembered that the character _Karsthans_ was invented in 1520, not by a Lutheran sympathiser, but by Thomas Murner, one of Luther's most determined opponents,(301) when he was still engaged in writing against the clerical disorders of the times. This virulent attack on priests and monks had other sources than the sympathy for Luther.(302) It was the awakening of old memories, prompted partly by an underground ceaseless Hussite propaganda, and partly, no doubt, by the new ideas so universally prevalent.

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