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

Altogether apart from its personal effects on Luther


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for himself, the Peasants' War imprinted in him a deep distrust of all who had any connection with the rising. He had not forgotten Carlstadt's action at Wittenberg in 1521-1522, and when Carlstadt was found attempting to preach the insurrection in Franconia and Swabia, Luther never forgave him. His deep-rooted and unquenchable suspicion of Zwingli may be traced back to his discovery that friends of the Zurich Reformer had been at Memmingen, had aided the revolutionary delegates to draft the Twelve Articles, and had induced them to shelter themselves under the shield of a religious Reformation. What is perhaps more important, the Peasants' War gave to Luther a deep and abiding distrust of the "common man" which was altogether lacking in the earlier stages of his career, which made him prevent every effort to give anything like a democratic ecclesiastical organisation to the Evangelical Church, and which led him to bind his Reformation in the chains of secular control to the extent of regarding the secular authority as possessing a quasi-episcopal function.(325) It is probably true that he saved the Reformation in Germany by cutting it loose from the revolutionary movement; but the wrench left marks on his own character as well as on that of the movement he headed. Luther's enemies were quick to make capital out of his relations with the peasants, and Einser compared him to Pilate, who washed his hands after betraying Jesus to the Jews.

style="text-align: justify;">? 7. Germany divided into two separate Camps.

The insurrection, altogether apart from its personal effects on Luther, had a profound influence on the whole of the German Reformation. Some princes who had hitherto favoured the Romanist side were confirmed in their opposition; others who had hesitated, definitely abandoned the cause of Reform. For both, it seemed that a social revolution of a desperate kind lay behind the Protestant Reformation. Many an innocent preacher of the new faith perished in the disturbances--sought out and slain by the princes as an instigator of the rebellion. Duke Anthony of Lorraine, for example, in his suppression of the revolt in Elsass, made no concealment of his belief that evangelical preachers were the cause of the rising, and butchered them without mercy when he could discover them. The Curia found that the Peasants' War was an admirable text to preach from when they insisted that Luther was another Huss, and that the movement which he led was a revival of the ecclesiastical and social communism of the extreme Hussites (Taborites); that all who attacked the Church of Rome were engaged in attempting to destroy the bases of society. It was after the Peasants' War that the Roman Catholic League of princes grew strong in numbers and in cohesion.

The result of the war also showed that the one strong political element in Germany was the princedom. The _Reichsregiment_, which still preserved a precarious existence, had shown that it had no power to cope with the disturbances, and its attempts at mediation had been treated with contempt. From this year, 1525, the political destiny of the land was distinctly seen to be definitely shaping for territorial centralisation round the greater princes and nobles. It was inevitable that the conservative religious Reformation should follow the lines of political growth, with the result that there could not be a National Evangelical Church of Germany. It could only find outcome in territorial Churches under the rule and protection of those princes who from motives of religion and conscience had adopted the principles which Luther preached.

The more radical religious movement broke up into fragments, and reappeared in the guise of the maligned and persecuted Anabaptists,--a name which embraced a very wide variety of religious opinions,--some of whom appropriated to themselves the aspirations of the social revolution which had been crushed by the princes. The conservative and Lutheran Reformation found its main elements of strength in the middle classes of Germany; while the Anabaptists had their largest following among the artisans and working men of the towns.


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