The German reformation.indd - Pearson Schools and FE Colleges

The German reformation.indd - Pearson Schools and FE Colleges

KEY ISSUES This first chapter provides an important background to the Reformation which will help gain an understanding of all four Key Issues (see pag...

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KEY ISSUES This first chapter provides an important background to the Reformation which will help gain an understanding of all four Key Issues (see page 4).

CHAPTER 1 What was the nature of the PreReformation Church in Germany? INTRODUCTION

KEY TERMS The Pope in Rome The Catholic Church regards the Pope as the successor of St. Peter (head of the Apostles) and, as such, he has full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the Church in matters of faith and discipline. Indeed, the Pope is regarded as infallible on most matters of faith and morals. That is to say that any doctrinal decision he makes is binding on the whole Church. The Pope is elected by a college of cardinals and sits at the top of a strict hierarchy consisting of cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests. During the early modern period, the Pope had great political power and influence, in part as a consequence of the Papal States in Italy over which he ruled. Primer A primer was a devotional book that included the psalms and the litany of saints. Dating back to the 14th century, primers were often seen as religious textbooks to teach and instruct children and adults alike. Abuses should be seen as the corrupt practices of the Catholic clergy. An example of an abuse might be the buying or selling of a clerical post or title, a practice known as simony.

In 1500 there was only one faith in western Europe, namely Catholicism. At the head of the Catholic Church was the Pope residing in Rome. The Church played a central role in the lives of ordinary people. Their loyalty and devotion can be seen in the large amounts of money left to the Church in wills or the considerable sale of primers and prayer books. However, one must be careful not to generalise and, in some parts of Europe during the early 16th century, the Church was seen to be failing in its spiritual duties. Abuses were prevalent within the late medieval Catholic Church, although the extent of corruption varied from region to region. It might also be added that such abuses had been taking place for decades and were nothing new. It is therefore crucial to take a close look at the state of the Church before the Reformation in order to understand why Martin Luther became such a significant figure in European history. HOW WAS GERMANY GOVERNED IN 1500? Across Europe the Catholic Church was a very powerful institution, not only in religious terms but also politically and militarily. In kingdoms such as France and Spain rulers took steps to guard the independence of their churches from Rome, giving themselves rights to appoint bishops and collect taxes. The Pope remained the spiritual head of the Church, but his political influence was curbed by such measures. In Germany the political environment was more decentralised, which made it easier for the papacy to intervene in religious and political affairs. One key reason why Luther was so successful in challenging the power of Rome in Germany was a growing dissatisfaction with the papal exploitation of German lands. Luther was also fortunate that the political landscape of Germany was

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


favourable, and he gained important and influential supporters from amongst the nobility. It is crucial, therefore, that we examine how Germany was governed in the 1500s, and the role of the Church within that structure: • The Holy Roman Empire comprised over 350 semiautonomous states, part of which were German lands. Germany as a nation state did not exist in the sixteenth century. • In theory these lands were ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Since 1440, only members of the House of Habsburg had been elected Emperors. Habsburg lands were in Austria, so effectively the princes elected a foreigner. Yet, in practice, real power lay with the princes or bishops who ruled over each state. This arrangement suited both parties nicely. The Habsburgs gained the prestige that came with the grand title of Holy Roman Emperor while the princes were able to protect their territorial rights and privileges without the fear of one of their own becoming Emperor and disrupting the balance of power. • The seven leading princes of the Empire were known as Electors, as they alone had the right to vote for a new Emperor. They were the Elector Palatinate, the Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, the Archbishop Electors of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, and the King of Bohemia. Some of these princes, such as the Archbishop Elector of Mainz, ruled over both Church and state giving them enormous power in their locality. • Within the Holy Roman Empire there were eighty-five Imperial Free Cities which were not ruled by princes. Some of these cities, such as Augsburg and Nuremberg, were centres of trade, and all of them guarded their independence fiercely. • There was an imperial Parliament of sorts called the Diet, at which supposedly binding decisions were made for the whole of the Empire. In practice, the princes and representatives of the cities who attended the Diet often returned to their respective states and continued to do their own thing and look after their own interests.


The German Reformation 1517–55

Conclusion The power of the Emperor within the Holy Roman Empire was weak, and political influence rested predominantly with the princes. The fact that Habsburg power was so diluted helped Luther when it became clear that some of the princes supported his movement in the late 1520s. KEY PEOPLE Martin Luther (1483–1546) Born the son of a copper miner in Eisleben in 1483. He attended school at Magdeburg and Eisenbach before studying at the University of Erfurt from which he graduated in 1505. The next three years were spent at an Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. In 1507, Luther was ordained as a priest and in 1508 he entered the University of Wittenberg where, in 1512, he became Professor of Biblical Exegesis, a post he held until his death. Before this appointment, in 1510, Luther visited Rome, where he reported on the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church. It was during this mission that Luther encountered the practice of indulgence selling, the criticism of which formed the basis of Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517. Luther is rightly regarded as the father of the European Reformation due to the way in which he successfully challenged the Catholic Church.

WAS THE PRE-REFORMATION CHURCH IN GOOD HEALTH? It is possible to outline two interpretations of the state of the Catholic Church on the eve of the Reformation. • One interpretation views the Catholic Church as being on the brink of collapse: a Church so riddled with abuses and corruption that it could no longer cater for the spiritual needs of the people. In short, a Church in need of reform but incapable of or unwilling to reform from within its own structure. This line of argument certainly has its advantages in that it neatly explains Martin Luther’s success: a German reformer faces an inadequate Catholic Church – no contest.

Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder. What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


However, history is rarely that straightforward. • A second line of argument presents the Catholic Church in a relatively healthy state: a Church that generally fulfilled the needs of the people and operated effectively despite isolated cases of ill behaviour and ignorance among the clergy; a Church linked to the people socially, religiously and economically. In short, a thriving Church. As is so often the case, the historian must look to find a middle ground on this issue. Undoubtedly, the corruption of the Catholic Church has been exaggerated in the past. However, one thing is clear: by 1555, the Holy Roman Empire was bi-confessional (two faiths were being practised: Catholicism and Lutherism). From a religious perspective, the old belief of ‘one faith, one law and one king’ no longer rang true. Martin Luther and his ideas were a success in many parts of Germany and, by the end of the 16th century, Protestantism had spread in some form or another to most corners of western Europe. Challenges to the teachings and structure of the Catholic Church had, in the past, come from men such as Jan Hus, the Bohemian reformer, but had always ended in failure. For Luther to be a success, the circumstances in Germany had

Jan Hus preaching. German engraving c.1850. 10

The German Reformation 1517–55

Jan Hus (1369–1415) was born in Husinec, which is now part of the Czech Republic. Having studied at Prague University, he soon became well known for his lectures and preaching on the theology and corrupt practices of the Catholic Church. In 1408, Hus defied a papal bull forbidding him to preach. Excommunication followed in 1411, and three years later he was called before the Council of Constance where he denied the supremacy of the Pope and defended the teachings of the English reformer John Wyclif. He also refused to recant his many works, the most famous of which was entitled De Ecclesia and written in 1413. In 1415, Hus was burned at the stake, having been found guilty of heresy. This event sparked the Hussite wars in Bohemia in which supporters of the reformer fought for his views and principles. Hus is still revered in the Czech Republic today as a national icon, symbolised by his imposing statue in Prague’s Old Town Square.

to be favourable and, in that part of Europe, the Catholic Church cannot have been as healthy as in others. It is clear, therefore, that the Catholic Church continued to operate effectively in some areas, while in others it was stagnant and in need of reform. THE POSITION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SOCIETY For the people of late medieval Europe, religion was of great importance. The Church played a central role in their lives, not just spiritually but also socially and economically. There were few non-believers in the practices and teachings of Catholicism. People generally believed that the Church provided all the right answers and that it was only through the Catholic Church that salvation could be attained. The people were linked to the Church in various ways. • Spiritually, through the seven sacraments and the road to salvation. The seven sacraments (listed on page 10) were seen as a way of participating in the mystery of Christ through symbolic actions. Salvation was regarded as the deliverance from sin and admission into heaven brought about by Christ. The fear of what awaited them after death was a very real one for early modern people, and the wish to attain salvation and enter heaven often guided their actions on earth. • Economically, through taxation, the upkeep of the Church, and wills. • Socially, through active participation in festivals and processions. • Pastorally, through confession, penance and the cult of saints. Confession was a practice for early modern Catholics, during which the participant would acknowledge his sins to a priest. In order to make up or atone for sins that had been committed, penance often had to be carried out. Penance might be regarded as a form of punishment for sins that had been committed and, depending on how serious the transgression had been, the form of punishment varied from fasts and the carrying out of pilgrimages, to flogging and imprisonment. Yet absolution from one’s sins was crucial What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


to the laity, as many feared dying and suffering for unatoned sins. • The cult of saints was the practice of worshipping the remains of saints. Saints were seen as being close to God and capable of communicating with God on our behalf: therefore, through the saints, divine power could be accessed. Often, the laity picked out particular saints to worship, believing them to be capable of looking after their interests and protecting them from evil. Reformers such as Luther condemned the worshipping of saints because, for them, such practice blurred the unique status of Christ. • Educationally, through the learning of doctrine. Doctrine can be regarded as a principle of religious belief. Such theology was taught to children and adults through Church services, primers and catechisms. A catechism was a comprehensive account of Catholic doctrine, including the Apostles’ Creed, Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer and the Seven Sacraments. However, one should not forget that the Bible was in Latin, an edition known as the Vulgate which had been translated by St Jerome, and was therefore inaccessible to the majority of the laity. • Politically, through the activities and policies of the local bishop. The Sacraments Unquestionably, the most important link between the Catholic Church and the people was the spiritual one. For the people of late medieval Europe, the path to salvation and heaven was found by following the teachings of the Church and this meant following the seven sacraments: 1 Baptism 2 Eucharist 3 Penance 4 Confirmation 5 Matrimony 6 Extreme Unction 7 Ordination


The German Reformation 1517–55

K E Y T E RM S Catholic Mass The Mass refers to the prayers and ceremonies that make up the service of the Eucharist. It is important to recognise that the ordinary people might attend mass on a regular basis but only take communion (or Eucharist) once a year. The Mass and Communion are the visible bond between people, priest, and bishop, who are all one body who share the one Bread. Eucharist The Eucharist was a sacrament and miracle celebrating Christ’s sacrifice and the Cross. The priest would consecrate the bread and wine at the altar, and they would then become the body and blood of Christ. Transubstantiation is the Catholic belief that in the Mass, the bread and the wine were entirely transformed miraculously into the body and blood of Christ.

The Eucharist Of these seven sacraments, it was the Mass, or celebration of the Eucharist, that was of crucial importance to Catholics. While a person was baptised only once, married once and died once, the hearing of Mass was a weekly, if not daily, event. By attending Mass, the people were recognising the visual embodiment of Christ and celebrating his ascension to heaven. The Catholic understanding of the Mass was based around transubstantiation. This idea was, and is, at the heart of Catholicism. In the Mass, the priest will bless or consecrate the bread and wine as part of the service. Through this process, Catholics believe that the consecrated elements of the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. One cannot underestimate how powerful this service was. The people truly believed that to celebrate the Mass was to witness a miracle and that it was only through attending Mass that salvation could be reached. It is unlikely that the ordinary people would understand the whispered Latin verse of the priest, yet they did understand the significance of the ritual. Penance and sin Also important to the belief of Catholics was, and is, the idea of sin. A sin is committing an offence against God. One could not receive the Eucharist in sin unless one repented (admitted guilt) and confessed one’s sins. Repentance was therefore of great importance, especially because death was a major concern for the people of late medieval Europe (not surprising, given the regular outbreaks of war, plague and famine). Every Catholic wanted to be prepared for death, to have repented of sin before entering heaven. Catholics believed that to enter purgatory (the place in which souls were cleansed before entering heaven) would result in considerable suffering for the individual. This issue was a preoccupation of Catholics, and they had a number of strategies for dealing with it. However, the vast majority of the laity actually took communion (participated in the taking of bread and wine) only once a year – at Easter. • Prayers and Masses for the dead were said in order to release loved ones from purgatory.

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


• Religious guilds existed in which lay people (non-priests) could say prayers and Masses for the dead. • One’s own time in purgatory might be reduced through the purchase of indulgences. Indulgences were pieces of parchment sold by the clergy and signed by the Pope offering a general pardon for sin and thereby releasing the faithful from purgatory. One can see why indulgences were a highly attractive proposition. Participation In general, religion in late medieval Europe was about participation and activity. • Feast days and saints’ days: Religious processions and pilgrimages to local shrines were popular, while feast days and saints’ days attracted large crowds and were observed universally by the people. For example, thousands of pilgrims flocked to Wilsnack in northern Germany over the course of the fifteenth century to witness the miraculous bleeding hosts there. The town became wealthy on the back of the cult of the Precious Blood and soon Wilsnack was home to a very grand church. The church was a most important social centre for the people – a natural gathering point in what was predominantly a rural society. • The decoration of churches: The loyalty and devotion of the people can be seen first through the building and decoration of churches. For example, the German village of Balgach had a newly built chapel in 1424. The money to build and adorn such churches came from the villagers themselves. This financial commitment came out of either a genuine devotion or merely from the hope that salvation might be attained through such good deeds. Yet the sheer number of roods surely illustrates a devotion to Christ, while the reliance upon saints throughout Europe indicates more than merely a pragmatic attachment to Catholicism. Indeed, images and paintings of saints were commonplace in the churches of Europe. • Devotion to saints: There was a widespread belief that miracles were performed at the shrines of saints, and most people adopted a saint who they believed looked after them through curing illness or protecting crops. 12

The German Reformation 1517–55

KEY TERMS A reliquary is a container for relics. Given the holy nature of relics, reliquaries were often highly ornate and beautiful objects.

KEY TERMS Roods are replicas of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Generally, roods were raised on a beam near the altar. Pragmatic is when something is done for reasons of common sense.

Saints were influential in the world of sixteenth-century Germany, and some represented particular causes. Rupert of Bingen, for example, was believed to protect pilgrims on their travels. In a period of great uncertainty, religion brought stability and solace. The most popular image was that of Our Lady, Mary, mother of Jesus. Throughout Europe, people paid for her image to beam down from windows or to inspire through statues. Even after death, men and women would leave money to pay for candles to be lit before their favourite saint. Churchwardens’ accounts from across Europe reveal the amount of money contributed by a community towards the upkeep, maintenance and expansion of churches during this period. Ornately gilded churches, glitteringly adorned with figures of saints, were in some ways testament to the devotion of the people. • Relics: Most people believed in the power and importance of religious relics. Holy relics, such as thorns from the crown of Christ or splinters from the True Cross, were bought or venerated (worshipped). Pilgrims travelled hundreds of miles to view and touch such holy relics. Sceptics noted enough nails from the True Cross to make thousands of crosses, yet for the vast majority of believers such ideas did not cross their mind. They were content with what the Church had provided. • Financial payments: Large amounts of money were left in wills to the Church and the laity also regularly paid taxes to the Church, often in the form of the tithe, which amounted to a tenth of all income and produce. Moreover, mortuary dues (money paid when people died), the Peter’s Pence (a tax payable to the papacy) and the buying of indulgences represent other economic links between the laity and the Church. The taxes were regularly paid with little resentment. All of the above suggest that, on the eve of the Reformation, the Catholic Church was in a strong and healthy state. Indeed, in many ways, it was the unifying bond of the community.

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


WHY WAS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NEED OF REFORM? Despite the strength of the Catholic Church explained above, there were aspects of the Church that had fallen into disrepair. This was noticeable across Europe, particularly in some of the German states. Corruption and abuse of position as a member of the Church was not uncommon among the higher ranks of the Catholic clergy. Such corruption existed at the very top. The problems of the Papacy Even the Pope in Rome hardly set a fine example. In 1500 the papacy was a powerful institution politically and spiritually. The Pope was generally Italian and, although technically an elected position, it had become dominated through bribery by aristocratic Italian families such as the Medicis. Furthermore, a papal schism (split) in the 14th century (1309–77) had resulted in two popes, one based in Avignon the other in Rome. Although this was resolved by the beginning of the 15th century, successive popes seemed to care more about wealth and prestige than spiritual leadership. Top of most historians’ lists of badly behaved popes comes Alexander VI (1431–1503). Formerly Rodrigo Borgia, Alexander VI was made a cardinal by his uncle, Pope Calixtus III in 1455, before becoming Pope himself in 1492 on the death of Innocent VIII. It was widely recognised that Alexander owed his position to the widespread bribery of the College of Cardinals. Although Alexander started brightly by restoring order in Rome and challenging the authority of the Italian princes, he soon held a string of mistresses and fathered a number of illegitimate children, most of whom were looked after with clerical titles and income. In total, Alexander appointed 47 cardinals, including his teenage son Cesare. The luxury of the Alexandrian papal court knew no bounds while, as a patron of the arts, Alexander grew in stature, even commissioning Michelangelo to draw up plans for the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Political manoeuvring and the furthering of his family were more important to Alexander than spiritual matters although, in 14

The German Reformation 1517–55

KEY PEOPLE Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) was a religious and political reformer in Italy in the 15th century. He argued in favour of a moral reform of the Church. In Florence he insisted that gambling was forbidden and all costly clothes burned. However, Savonarola claimed he was a prophet and this led him into conflict with the Church. In 1498 he was executed, hanged and burned.

KE Y E V E N T S Habsburg–Valois Conflict Between the years 1521 and 1559, the royal houses of Habsburg and Valois were in conflict, with the chief protagonists in this struggle being Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Francis I, King of France. These two men were primarily fighting over dynastic claims and in particular the dominion of Italy. The significance of the conflict with regard to the Reformation was that, initially, Pope Leo X (1513–21) resented Habsburg intrusion into Italy and attempted to prevent Charles from becoming Emperor. In the long term, it took the attention of Charles V away from Germany, and Francis I, despite being Catholic, offered military and financial aid to the German Protestants in order to disadvantage Charles.

1498, he did oversee the burning of Girolamo Savonarola, who had been convicted of denying papal authority and preaching heretical doctrine. In 1503, Alexander died when he accidentally took poison at a dinner party hosted by Cardinal de Corneto. The poison had been intended Contemporary drawing of for the host! Julius II Pope Leo X (1513–21) by (1503–13), the Warrior Sebastiano del Piombo. Pope, cared more about preserving his position in Europe amid aggression from France and the Empire, while his successor Leo X (1513–21) was obsessed with the building of the grandest church in Christendom, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. During the 16th century, the Pope’s position in central Italy came increasingly under threat from the Habsburg and Valois expansions. Therefore, in order to strengthen his defences, the Pope looked to exploit the wealth of his subjects. Increased taxation and dispensations for marriage, as well as the sale of offices, all contributed to the wealth of the Curia (see page 45). Indeed, it was to the decentralised and easily exploitable German states that Rome looked to exploit most keenly. The papacy could extract large sums of money from German nobles when they wished to purchase Church positions for their younger sons. The scope for financial gain was great, as nearly one fifth of Germany was under the control of semi-independent archbishops and bishops. Clerical office brought prestige and political power. At the highest end of the spectrum were the posts of the spiritual electors of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, but there were also hundreds of other lucrative positions within the Church which could be sold. Younger sons barred from inheritance rights could be set up for life. If they were still under-age, a further papal dispensation could be purchased allowing

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


them to take up office immediately. Additionally, papal dispensations could be purchased allowing for more than one clerical office to be held at the same time. Only the Pope had the power to issue such exemptions from normal Church laws. Over the course of the fifteenth century there is evidence to suggest that the papacy withdrew large amounts of money from the German states. Princes also benefited from papal ambition, as demonstrated when Eugenius IV (1383-1447) attained princely support by allowing the collection of papal taxes for a period of time, which more or less amounts to an act of bribery. Bishops and clergy Furthermore, there was some evidence that such abuses filtered down into the ranks of the clergy. Complaints against archbishops, bishops and priests were various, such as: • Simony: the buying or selling of a benefice. • Nepotism: the securing of a benefice or post for one’s family. • Pluralism: the holding of more than one benefice at the same time. • Absenteeism: the inability to be present in one’s benefice in order to look after one’s flock. • Clerical marriage: priests were not allowed to marry and they were ordered to take a vow of celibacy. Yet many were unable to stick to their vows and gave in to lustful desires. Some clergy had mistresses and often bishops would maintain illegitimate children by providing them with positions in the Church. • Illiteracy: ignorance of the Old and New Testaments and consequent inability to spiritually administer to their flock. The picture thus described is of a clergy that had lost its true sense of vocation, and ensuing resentment from the masses would seem inevitable. Yet, while such corruption did make the Church more vulnerable to attack in some areas, these abuses were exceptional and not necessarily widespread. However, given a certain set of circumstances, such low moral standards could certainly promote support for relatively radical reform. 16

The German Reformation 1517–55

WHO HAD PREVIOUSLY CHALLENGED THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH? Jan Hus Few had attempted to challenge the 'one true faith' because to do so might lead to a charge of heresy, and to be found guilty of such a crime would mean death, usually by fire. Yet some celebrated examples do exist. One such man was Jan Hus (1369–1415; see page 8), who was burned alive on the order of the Pope because of his heretical views. Hus criticised the Catholic practice of communion, asserting that both the laity and the clergy should receive the bread and the wine, rather than the laity receiving only the bread. He also attacked the corrupt nature of the Church and the supreme authority of the Pope. Hus was summoned before Pope John XXIII at the Council of Constance in 1415 and, on refusing to recant his views, was found guilty of heresy. He was executed in 1415, as was his companion John of Prague the following year. Yet after his death, a small group of followers known as Hussites existed, and fought in the name of their reformer until the mid-17th century. Hus, like his fellow reformer in England, John Wyclif (1320-84), is often seen as a precursor of Luther. Both challenged the authority of the Catholic Church and both advanced the idea that the Holy Scriptures were the only valid source of truth and authority. Wyclif even undertook an early translation of the Bible into English. As such, Luther’s subsequent translation of the Bible into German echoes the actions of Wyclif over a century before. The point here is that Luther’s ideas were not new. One key factor, however, sets Luther apart. Hus and Wyclif both led popular movements (Hussites and Lollards), but neither was able to form a rival Church in the way that Luther did, suggesting once again that Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century presented a specific set of conditions that allowed Lutheranism to develop.

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


GERMANY ON THE EVE OF THE REFORMATION The success of Luther in Germany was in no way predictable. There remains much evidence to suggest that German people were tied to the beliefs and rituals of the Catholic Church. Participation in pilgrimages, unstinting devotion to saints and the popularity of devotional literature such as Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ all show that loyalty to the Catholic Church remained high. There was no tradition of dissent in Germany, and there had been no heresy trials since the 1470s. To argue that Luther based his success on a growing sense of anticlericalism and discontent is therefore too simplistic. That said there are some specific examples of an underlying resentment of Rome and of anticlerical sentiment which are worth noting, if only to suggest a sense of spiritual anxiety amongst the laity. One must also remember that this was a laity with growing expectations of the Church resulting from increased access to education and increasing literacy rates. The clergy were often unable to meet such expectations. • No other territory in Western Europe was exploited by the papacy to the extent that the German lands of the Holy Roman Empire were. Germany had no central authority to restrict papal authority. This meant that papal taxation was high, and the appointment of foreign nobles by Rome to German Sees was rife. Anti-papalism existed in Germany long before Luther. • Over the course of the fifteenth century numerous proposals for the reform of the Church were put forward. For example, the Reformatio Sigismundi (c1438) was a reform manifesto which attacked the greed of the papacy and the quality of the clergy. Grievances were also drawn up on a regular basis by the German Estates (made up of the princes), entitled Grievances of the German Nation and listing the abuses of the Church while highlighting the tyranny of Rome. Such agendas for change were largely limited to the literate elites. • The peasantry in Germany felt the burden of clerical taxation most acutely. On top of rents and dues owed to landlords, the clerical tax or tithe was an unwelcome 18

The German Reformation 1517–55

K E Y T E RM S Renaissance From the French meaning rebirth, the Renaissance is seen to centre around Italy, with the effects encompassing all of Europe. The period 1370–1527 is often deemed to be that in which literary and artistic talents such as Petrarch, Dante, Bruni and Boccaccio were allowed to flourish and a new wave of learning and thinking entered Europe. Whether such a period can actually be defined is a contentious issue, but the significance for the Reformation was that ancient, classical texts were re-evaluated and scripture re-translated. Also, Christian Humanism emerged from the literary and scholastic environment of the Renaissance.

imposition. In 1476 Hans Bohm, the so called Drummer of Niklashausen, incited radical revolution amongst the peasants in protest at noble and clerical oppression. Bohm proclaimed an apocalyptic message to his followers, predicting the end of the world and the Second Coming. He raised expectations of a just and equal society in which the common man would stand alone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bohm was burned as a heretic by the Bishop of Wurzburg. Still, there was an ingrained sense of injustice amongst the peasantry which carried through to Luther’s arrival at Worms in 1521. En route to the Imperial Diet Luther was confronted by images of the Bundschuch, or clog, on the doors and walls of houses – a sign of peasant support for a man they believed might bring lasting change. • Popular culture was steeped in mysticism and a belief in prophecy. Joachim of Fiore (1132–1202) was an Italian Cistercian monk who believed that he was living in the Age of the Son after the coming of Christ. He prophesied that at some time after his demise the Age of the Spirit would arrive. In the Age of the Spirit, the old order would die out and a period of spiritual renewal would begin, overseen by a monk like himself. Fiore’s prophecies remained popular in Germany in the sixteenth century, and many viewed Luther as the prophet of renewal to herald Fiore’s Age of the Spirit. WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF THE RENAISSANCE ON CATHOLICISM? The Renaissance was important in the context of Church reform because it encouraged a new intellectual outlook and a re-examination of accepted ideas. The Renaissance fostered Christian humanism, an intellectual movement in which some important academics became preoccupied with studying, understanding and translating the original scriptures. Through this study of the original scriptures, it was believed that authoritative interpretations could be made and old mistranslations put right. Furthermore, this fresh outlook also involved discussion of a reform of the practices of the clergy. Three men in particular are worth noting in any discussion on humanism.

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


• Desiderius Erasmus (c.1466–1536). The foremost humanist in Europe was Desiderius Erasmus, from Rotterdam. He talked about a restoration, by which he meant an improvement of Christianity through the translation and interpretation of sacred texts. Erasmus himself translated the New Testament into Greek in 1516 and into Latin in 1519. Although one would never label Erasmus as a revolutionary, there is little doubt that such translations paved the way for later German editions overseen by Luther. Moreover, moral criticism of the corrupt and worldly clergy from Erasmus in his Praise of Folly (1509) further weakened the Church. Erasmus, it must be stressed, was not like Hus or Wyclif. He did not propose a split from the Catholic Church and he was not opposing its fundamental doctrines. He was putting forward ideas to make people better Christians and to reform the Catholic Church from within. Indeed Erasmus demonstrated his conservatism when, after initially supporting the radical Luther, he then condemned him in his work of 1524 entitled On the Freedom of the Will. Luther responded with De Servo Arbitro, or On the Bondage of the Will, and the split was sealed.

Painting of Desiderius Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger, etched by Lefort. 20

The German Reformation 1517–55

KEY TERMS Anticlericalism refers to criticism of the Catholic Church often based on the immoral actions of the Catholic clergy.

KE Y T H E M E S Moral and Spiritual renewal based around Scripture Both Erasmus and Luther called for greater standards of education amongst the clergy and less worldly/material principles. In Praise of Folly and Julius Exclusus attack corruption and ignorance. This idea was popular at an academic level and may have filtered down to the masses but essentially Erasmus and More (Utopia) were scholars and academics working from within the boundaries of the Church. Luther was able to build on latent anticlericalism within Germany which had deep rooted social/economic origins. Re-translation of the Scriptures The translation of the New Testament into Greek by Erasmus (1516) provides the basis for Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German in 1521. Vernacular translations were more radical as they make the Word of God more accessible to the common people. The intellectual foundation of Lutheranism is clearly in evidence here. Luther would later use the authority of scripture to reinforce his doctrine (for example faith alone comes from Epistles to St Paul).

• Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522) was a German humanist trained in the law and noted for his exposition and understanding of Hebrew texts. His De Arte Cabalistica (1517) was seen as an important contribution to unravelling the ancient Jewish tradition of mystic interpretation of the Bible. Reuchlin was, until his death, a Roman Catholic, but the controversy caused by his work in Rome made him an intellectual forerunner for Luther and in some ways paved the way for the criticisms made by the Wittenberg reformer. • Ulrich von Hutten (1488–1523). In Germany, humanists such as Ulrich von Hutten were to include a patriotic tone in their writings. He and others made clear their nationalist resentment of a foreign pope as is shown in von Hutten’s work entitled Vadiscus (1520). It can be argued that von Hutten laid the foundations for Luther’s challenge. Von Hutten even pledged military support for Luther in the early years of the movement, thus suggesting a more radical stance than Erasmus. In some ways, these men – and perhaps especially Erasmus – were therefore academic forerunners to Luther, especially in their endorsement of original scripture. Yet they were no threat to the Catholic Church; indeed they were very much a part of it. HOW FAR DID CHRISTIAN HUMANISM PAVE THE WAY FOR LUTHERANISM? In some respects the Christian humanist movement did indeed lay the foundations for Lutheranism in two important respects. The Christian humanist calls for moral and spiritual renewal promoted anticlericalism, and the re-translation of the Scriptures provided a model for later vernacular efforts. However it is crucial that we understand the limitations to this argument. Most Christian humanists and certainly Erasmus were doctrinally and politically conservative. As Lutheranism showed its true colours after 1520, any sympathy from Erasmus disappeared. Added to this is the idea that Christian humanist thought was at a specifically academic level, whereas had Lutheranism developed into a genuinely popular movement by the 1520s.

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


Therefore Christian humanism is important in paving the way for Luther’s more radical ideas, especially in the scriptural context. It is also important to remember that Luther’s doctrine was not really original; Hus and Wyclif had both raised these ideas before, and were an important influence on Luther himself. There is no doubt that humanist activity made Luther’s translations easier and showed him the influence of the printing press. Yet circumstance and the German environment would catapult Lutheranism beyond the scholarly boundaries of Christian humanism. CONCLUSION There is little evidence to suggest that the Church was becoming more unstable as it entered the 16th century. • Corruption and abuse among the clergy had been occurring for centuries, and again it should be stressed that such behaviour was generally isolated and localised. • In many ways, abuses among the higher echelons of the clergy were accepted as the norm. • while the Church remained the single means of grace and salvation, it was becoming vulnerable. • The Church had set itself on a pedestal by claiming to be the sole interpreter of the Bible, and the issue of papal supremacy also implied a special and superior status. Such authority was accepted by the masses in 1500. Yet just over half a century later the Holy Roman Empire would house two faiths. • The challenge from Luther was a relatively radical one, which paid scant respect to existing Church laws and beliefs. Clearly the German environment, and in particular the anti-clerical sentiment which existed there, aided his struggle. ACTIVITY Below are some exam style questions on this first chapter. Please note that you will not be asked questions in the OCR examination on the period before 1517 but it is important to understand the background to the events of 22

The German Reformation 1517–55

the Reformation. These first activities give you an opportunity to discover the types of questions that you will find in the examination. Help and advice on answering exam questions as well as sample student answers are available in the Exam Café section from page 97. The Pre-Reformation Church (a) Study Sources D and E Compare these Sources as evidence for the condition of the Pre-Reformation Church in the Holy Roman Empire. (b) Study all the Sources Use your own knowledge to assess how far the Sources support the interpretation that people were dissatisfied with the Church in the Holy Roman Empire on the eve of the Reformation. Source A: Thomas à Kempis was a Renaissance Catholic

monk and author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the best known Christian books on devotion. Here he writes on the sacrament of the Eucharist. O, wonderful and hidden grace of this sacrament, which only the faithful of Christ know, but which unbelievers and those who serve sin cannot experience! In this sacrament is conferred spiritual grace, the virtue lost is repaired in the soul, and the beauty comes back which had been disfigured by sin. And so great sometimes is this grace, that from the abundance of the devotion which is granted, not only the mind, but the frail body also, feels fuller strength bestowed on it. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 1418 Source B:

Johannes Herolt (d1486) was a Dominican Friar from Basel. Here he writes about the wondrous appeal of the Virgin Mary.

There was a certain clerk who did nothing good, but rather was full of vices. Only was there this good in him that he What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany


regularly and devoutly said the Hours of the Virgin Mary. But when one day he was crossing a river intending to gratify his desires, because he had not offered his morning praises, he began to say ‘Hail, Mary, full of Grace’ and then fell into deep water, and after that uttered no more salutations, but when he came to the words ‘The Lord with thee’ he was drowned and seized by demons. But in spite of them he was defended by the Blessed Virgin and through her merits brought before Christ for trial, where after much disputing the Virgin Mary asserted: ‘My son, Thou hast said Where I find thee, there will I judge thee’. Johannes Herlot, Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1435–40) Source C:

Erasmus was the leading Christian Humanist in Europe. Here he writes about the importance of the Bible in the vernacular.

I strongly disagree with the people who do not want the Bible, after it has been translated into everyday language, to be read by the uneducated. Did Christ teach such complex doctrines that only a handful of theologians can understand them? Is Christianity strong in proportion to how ignorant men are of it? I want the lowliest woman to read the Gospels and Paul’s letters. I want them translated into every language…I would like to hear a farmer sing scripture as he ploughs, a weaver to keep time to his moving shuttle by humming the Bible. Erasmus on the importance of Scripture in the vernacular, 1516 Source D: The Reformatio Sigismundi was written in c1438

and published in eight editions between 1476 and 1522. This work highlights the corruption and decay that existed in the Holy Roman Empire. The hour will come for all faithful Christians to witness the establishment of the rightful order. Let everyone join the ranks of the pious who will pledge themselves to observe it. It is plain that the Holy Father, the Pope and all our princes have abandoned the task set them by God. It may be that God has appointed a new man to set things right. Let no one, neither


The German Reformation 1517–55

princes nor cities, make excuses for not heeding God’s warnings. The Reformatio Sigismundi, c1438 Source E the following account lists the grievances of the

craft guilds of Cologne in 1513 Clerical persons should from now on bear the same civic burdens as burghers…Let the clergy pay taxes on the wine they tap for themselves…The council should instruct the preachers of the four regular orders to preach nothing but the true word of God and to utter no lies or fables. The Craft Guilds of Cologne, 1513

What was the nature of the Pre-Reformation Church in Germany