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

The boy Luther went to the village school in Mansfeld


the earlier years, when Luther was a child, the family life was one of grinding poverty, and Luther often recalled the hard struggles of his parents. He had often seen his mother carrying the wood for the family fire from the forest on her poor shoulders. The child grew up among the hard, grimy, coarse surroundings of the German working-class life, protected from much that was evil by the wise severity of his parents. He imbibed its simple political and ecclesiastical ideas. He learned that the Emperor was God's ruler on earth, who would protect poor people against the Turk, and that the Church was the "Pope's House," in which the Bishop of Rome was the house-father. He was taught the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. He sang such simple evangelical hymns as "Ein Kindelein so lobelich," "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist," and "Crist ist erstanden." He was a dreamy, contemplative child; and the unseen world was never out of his thoughts. He knew that some of the miners practised sorcery in dark corners below the earth. He feared an old woman who lived near; she was a witch, and the priest himself was afraid of her. He was taught about Hell and Purgatory and the Judgment to come. He shivered whenever he looked at the stained-glass window in the parish church and saw the frowning face of Jesus, who, seated on a rainbow and with a flaming sword in His hand, was coming to judge him, he knew not when. He saw the crowds of pilgrims who streamed past Mansfeld, carrying
their crucifixes high, and chanting their pilgrim songs, going to the Bruno Quertfort chapel or to the old church at Wimmelberg. He saw paralytics and maimed folk carried along the roads, going to embrace the wooden cross at Kyffhaueser, and find a miraculous cure; and sick people on their way to the cloister church at Wimmelberg to be cured by the sound of the blessed bells.

The boy Luther went to the village school in Mansfeld, and endured the cruelties of a merciless pedagogue. He was sent for a year, in 1497, to a school of the Brethren of the Common Lot in Magdeburg. Then he went to St. George's school in Eisenach, where he remained three years. He was a "poor scholar," which meant a boy who received his lodging and education free, was obliged to sing in the church choir, and was allowed to sing in the streets, begging for food. The whole town was under the spell of St. Elizabeth, the pious landgravine, who had given up family life and all earthly comforts to earn a mediaeval saintship. It contained nine monasteries and nunneries, many of them dating back to the days of St. Elizabeth; her good deeds were emblazoned on the windows of the church in which Luther sang as choir-boy; he had long conversations with the monks who belonged to her foundations. The boy was being almost insensibly attracted to that revival of the mediaeval religious life which was the popular religious force of these days. He had glimpses of the old homely evangelical piety, this time accompanied by a refinement of manners Luther had hitherto been unacquainted with, in the house of a lady who is identified by biographers with a certain Frau Cotta. The boy enjoyed it intensely, and his naturally sunny nature expanded under its influence. But it did not touch him religiously. He has recorded that it was with incredulous surprise that he heard his hostess say that there was nothing on earth more lovely than the love of husband and wife, when it is in the fear of the Lord.

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