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

Ducal Saxony and Wuertemberg in the centre and south


justify;">Luther died in his sixty-third year--twenty-eight and a half years after he had, greatly daring, nailed his Theses to the door of All Saints' in Wittenberg, twenty-seven after he had discovered the meaning of his Theses during the memorable days when he faced Eck at Leipzig, and twenty-five after he had stood before the Emperor and Diet at Worms, while all Germany had hailed him as its champion against the Pope and the Spaniard. The years between 1519 and 1524 were, from an external point of view, the most glorious of Luther's life. He dominated and led his nation, and gave a unity to that distracted and divided country which it had never enjoyed until then. He spoke and felt like a prophet. "I have the gospel, not from men, but from heaven through our Lord Jesus Christ, so that I might have described myself and have glorified in being a minister and an evangelist." The position had come to him in no sudden visionary way. He had been led into it step by step, forced forward slowly by a power stronger than his own; and the knowledge had kept him humble before his God. During these years it seemed as if his dream--an expectation shared by his wise Elector, the most experienced statesman in Germany--of a Germany united under one National Church, separated from the bondage of Rome, repudiating her blasphemies, rejecting her traditions which had corrupted the religion of the ancient and purer days, and disowning her presumptuous encroachments on the domain of the civil power ordained of God, was about to come true.

Then came the disillusionment of the Peasants' War, when the dragon's teeth were sown broadcast over Germany, and produced their crop of gloomy suspicions and black fears. After the insurrection had spent itself, and in spite of the almost irretrievable damage which it, and the use made of it by papal diplomatists, did to the Reformation movement, Luther regained his serene courage, and recovered much of the ground which had been lost. But the crushing blow had left its mark upon him. He had the same trust in God, but much more distrust of man, fearing the "tumult," resolute to have nothing to do with anyone who had any connection, however slight, with those who had instigated the misguided peasants. He rallied the forces of the Reformation, and brought them back to discipline by the faith they had in himself as their leader. His personality dominated those kinglets of Germany, possessed with as strong a sense of their dignity and autocratic rights as any Tudor or Valois, and they submitted to be led by him. Electoral Saxony, Hesse, Lueneburg, Anhalt, East Prussia, and Mansfeld, and some score of imperial cities, had followed him loyally from the first; and as the years passed, Ducal Saxony and Wuertemberg in the centre and south, and Brandenburg in the north, had declared themselves Protestant States. These larger principalities brought in their train all the smaller satellite States which clustered round them. It may be said that before Luther's death the much larger portion of the German Empire had been won for evangelical religion,--a territory to be roughly described as a great triangle, whose base was the shores of the Baltic Sea from the Netherlands on the west to the eastern limits of East Prussia, and whose apex was Switzerland. Part of this land was occupied by ecclesiastical principalities which had remained Roman Catholic,--the districts surrounding Koeln on the west, and the territories of Paderborn, Fulda, and many others in the centre,--but, on the other hand, many stoutly Protestant cities, like Nuernberg, Constance, and Augsburg, were planted on territories which were outside these limits. The extent and power of this Protestant Germany was sufficient to resist any attempt on the part of the Emperor and the Catholic princes to overcome it by force of arms, provided only its rulers remained true to each other.


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