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

The Visitation of the one circle of Wittenberg


Saxon Visitation was the model for similar ones made in almost every evangelical principality, and its reports serve to show what need there was for inquiry and reorganisation. The lands of Electoral Saxony were divided into four "circles," and a commission of theologians and lawyers was appointed to undertake the duties in each circle. The Visitation of the one "circle" of Wittenberg, with its thirty-eight parishes, may be taken as an example of how the work was done, and what kinds of alterations were suggested. The commissioners or Visitors were Martin Luther and Justus Jonas, theologians, with Hans Metzsch, Benedict Pauli, and Johann v. Taubenheim, jurists. They began in October 1528, and spent two months over their task. It was a strictly business proceeding. There is no account of either Luther or Jonas preaching while on tour. The Visitors went about their work with great energy, holding conferences with the parish priests and with the representatives of the community. They questioned the priests about the religious condition of the people--whether there was any gross and open immorality, whether the people were regular in their attendance at church and in coining to the communion. They asked the people how the priests did their work among them--in the towns their conferences were with the _Rath_, and in the country districts and villages with the male heads of families. Their common work was to find out what was being done for the "cure of souls," the instruction of the
youth, and the care of the poor. By "cure of souls" (_Seelsorge_) they meant preaching, dispensation of the sacraments, catechetical instruction, and the pastoral visitation of the sick. It belonged to the theologians to estimate the capacities of the pastors, and to the jurists to estimate the available income, to look into all legal difficulties that might arise, and especially to clear the entanglements caused by the supposed jurisdiction of convents over many of the parishes.

This small district was made up of three outlying portions of the three dioceses of Brandenburg, Magdeburg, and Meissen. It had not been inspected within the memory of man, and the results of episcopal negligence were manifest. At Klebitz the peasants had driven away the parish clerk and put the village herd in his house. At Buelzig there was neither parsonage nor house for parish clerk, and the priest was non-resident. So at Danna; where the priest held a benefice at Coswig, and was, besides, a chaplain at Wittenberg, while the clerk lived at Zahna. The parsonages were all in a bad state of repair, and the local authorities could not be got to do anything. Roofs were leaking, walls were crumbling, it was believed that the next winter's frost would bring some down bodily. At Pratau the priest had built all himself--parsonage, out-houses, stable, and byre. All these things were duly noted to be reported upon. As for the priests, the complaints made against them were very few indeed. In one case the people said that their priest drank, and was continually seen in the public-house. Generally, however, the complaints, when there were any, were that the priest was too old for his work, or was so utterly uneducated that he could do little more than mumble the Mass. There was scanty evidence that the people understood very clearly the evangelical theology. Partaking the Lord's Supper in both "kinds," or in one only, was the distinction recognised and appreciated between the new and the old teaching; and when they had the choice the people universally preferred the new. In one case the parishioners complained that their priest insisted

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