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

A true brotherhood spreads its table for its poorer members


Carthusian monk of Cologne,

and it speedily became popular. Frederick the Wise was one of its patrons, his secretary, Dr. Pfeffinger, one of its supporters; it numbered its associates by the thousand; its praises were sung in a quaint old German hymn.(96) No money dues were exacted from its members. The only duty exacted was to pray regularly, and to learn to better one's life through the power of prayer. This was one type of the pious brotherhoods of the fifteenth century. It was the best known of its kind, and there were many others. But among the brotherhoods which bear testimony to the spread of a non-ecclesiastical piety none are more important than the confraternities which went by the names of _Kalands_ or _Kalandsgilden_ in North Germany and _Zechen_ in Austria. These associations were useful in a variety of ways. They were unions for the practice of religion; for mutual aid in times of sickness; for defence in attack; and they also served the purpose of insurance societies and of burial clubs. It is with their religious side that we have here to do. It was part of the bond of association that all the brethren and sisters (for women were commonly admitted) should meet together at stated times for a common religious service. The brotherhood selected the church in which this was held, and so far as we can see the chapels of the Franciscans or of the Augustinian Eremites were generally chosen. Sometimes an altar was relegated to their exclusive use; sometimes, if the church was a large one, a special
chapel. The interesting thing to be noticed is that the rules and the modes of conducting the religious services of the association were entirely in the hands of the brotherhood itself, and that these laymen insisted on regulating them in their own way. Luther has a very interesting sermon, entitled _Sermon upon the venerable Sacrament of the holy true Body of Christ and of the Brotherhoods_, the latter half of which is devoted to a contrast between good brotherhoods and evil ones. Those brotherhoods are evil, says Luther, in which the religion of the brethren is expressed in hearing a Mass on one or two days of the year, while by guzzling and drinking continually at the meetings of the brotherhood, they contrive to serve the devil the greater part of their time. A true brotherhood spreads its table for its poorer members, it aids those who are sick or infirm, it provides marriage portions for worthy young members of the association. He ends with a comparison between the true brotherhood and the Church of Christ. Theodore Kolde remarks that a careful monograph on the brotherhoods of the end of the fifteenth century in the light of this sermon of Luther's would afford great information about the popular religion of the period. Unfortunately, no one has yet attempted the task, but German archaeologists are slowly preparing the way by printing, chiefly from MS. sources, accounts of the constitution and practices of many of these Kalands.

From all this it may be seen that there was in these last decades of the fifteenth and in the earlier of the sixteenth centuries the growth of what may be called a non-ecclesiastical piety, which was quietly determined to bring within the sphere of the laity very much that had been supposed to belong exclusively to the clergy. The _jus episcopale_ which Luther claimed for the civil authorities in his tract on the _Liberty of the Christian Man_, had, in part at least, been claimed and exercised in several of the German principalities and municipalities; the practice of Christian charity and its management were being taken out of the hands of the clergy and entrusted to the laity; and the brotherhoods were making it apparent that men could mark out their religious duties in a way deemed most suitable for themselves without asking any aid from the Church, further than to engage a priest whom they trusted to conduct divine service and say the Masses they had arranged for.


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