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tion, Luther appeared upon the scene, and tinate and the young Landgrave Philip of in an extended interview with the authori- Hesse, both of them already favorably inties of the town tried to convince them of clined toward Luther and his cause. the error of their ways. They defended Sickingen's campaign was a complete themselves warmly, insisting they were failure. He was obliged to return to his truer to the word of God than he. If stronghold, the Landstuhl, where he was to be true to it means to follow it slav- besieged in the spring of 1523, and where ishly in all its parts, they were certainly he died of his wounds on the seventh of right. But in contrast with their nar- May, just after the castle was taken by his row literalism, Luther's moderation and enemies. His defeat foreshadowed the common sense appear to great advantage. speedy dissolution of the knights' revoluHe would not allow himself to be carried tionary party, and their influence in Gerto fanatical extremes even by his own man affairs was permanently broken. principle of loyalty to the Bible. In the Ulrich von Hutten, who had done much course of the discussion, a shoemaker justi- to encourage the formation of the party, fied the destruction of images by a Scrip- survived his old friend and protector only tural argument so picturesque and far- a few months. He left before the beginfetched that Luther was nearly overcome ning of Sickingen's last campaign, and in with laughter and was quite unable to August, 1523, after wandering from place answer. As a matter of fact, he produced to place, died in poverty at Zurich, beno impression upon his interlocutors, and friended by the Swiss reformer Zwingli, only confirmed them in the opinion that but deserted by all his old friends. Mehe was inconsistent and half-hearted in the lanchthon spoke bitterly and contemptuwork of reformation. He wrote after- ously of him after his death. Happily, so ward: "I was glad enough not to be far as we are aware, Luther did not foldriven out of Orlamünde with stones and low his example, but one searches his writmud, for some of them blessed me with ings in vain for an expression of regret the words, 'Get out, in the name of a at the death of his erstwhile champion and thousand devils, and break your neck be- confidant. The cause meant so much to fore you leave!'”

him that he found it difficult to think Meanwhile there occurred an event kindly of any one who hindered or brought which served only to confirm Luther in disrepute upon it, as Hutten's incendiary his attitude toward violence and anarchy. writings and final loss of prestige had Franz von Sickingen, whose offers of sup- done. port had meant a great deal to him not It was well Sickingen's attempt mislong before, and to whom he had dedi- carried. His success would have meant cated a book on the confessional, written at least a partial return to a state of soin the early days of his stay at the Wart- ciety already largely outgrown and quite burg, began war in the summer of 1522 unsuited to the demands of the new age; upon an old enemy, the Elector and and had the Reformation become identiArchbishop of Treves. The campaign fied with the class interests of the nobles, was intended to be only the beginning it would have perished with them in the of a general struggle to curtail the power fall that was bound to come ultimately, if of the great princes of the realm and not then. restore the nobles to their rapidly wan- Naturally, the affair was used by ing influence. Its controlling motive Luther's enemies to discredit the whole was certainly political and economic, but Reformation movement. The confident Sickingen claimed to be a champion of the expectation was expressed that now the Reformation, interested to promote the rival emperor was fallen, the anti-pope true gospel, and announced his intention would soon follow. There was some to revolutionize ecclesiastical and religious apparent justification for this attitude. conditions. He undoubtedly hoped thus Luther's famous address to the German to enlist the support of Luther's sympa- nobility, written in 1520, and his occathizers, but the hope proved vain. The sional warlike declarations of the same real significance of the affair was gen- year, which still echoed in the dedication erally understood, and the Archbishop of of his book on the confessional, had led Treves was supported by the Count Pala- many to identify his cause with that of the nobles, and Sickingen's avowed plan to This greatest tragedy of the age had been promote the Reformation was taken to long preparing. Frequently during recent mean he had Luther's support, and was generations the unhappy conditions of the fighting the reformer's battles as well as peasant class had led to more or less serihis own.

ous outbreaks, but none of them compared Melanchthon complained of this as early in importance with the tremendous moveas January, 1523, denouncing Sickingen's ment of 1525. Luther was not responsible campaign as a dishonorable act of rob- for it, nor did it begin among his disciples. bery and declaring that Luther was It was only the repetition on a large scale greatly distressed by it. Luther himself of many similar attempts, and the interests had very little to say on the subject. In a underlying all of them were not religious, letter of December, 1522, to his friend as with him, but economic. At the same Link, he wrote: “Franz von Sickingen has time it was due in no small part to him declared war against the Palatinate. It that this particular uprising surpassed in will be a very bad affair.” Beyond this magnitude any seen in Germany before or casual remark we have no reference to the since. His attacks upon many features of matter in his writings; but when a rumor the existing order, his criticisms of the of Sickingen's death reached him, he wrote growing luxury of the wealthier classes, Spalatin he hoped it was false; and upon his denunciations of the rapacity and greed its confirmation a day or two later, he of great commercial magnates and of the added: “The true and miserable his- tyranny and corruption of rulers both civil tory of Franz Sickingen I heard and read and ecclesiastical, all tended to inflame the yesterday. God is a just but wonderful populace and spread impatience and disjudge."

content. His gospel of Christian liberty Despite the effort of his opponents to also had its effect. For the spiritual freehold Luther responsible for Sickingen's dom he taught, multitudes substituted abortive attempt, its controlling motive freedom from political oppression, from was too apparent and too completely in social injustice, and from economic burline with the warlike knight's entire ca- dens. Then, too, the extraordinary rereer to furnish an adequate ground for a sponse he had met with, the confusion serious attack upon the reformer, and all Germany had been thrown into by probably the affair lost him few friends or the Reformation, and the wide-spread supporters. On the other hand, it very weakening of respect for traditional aulikely affected his own attitude, serving thority resulting therefrom, made this to confirm his conviction that the preach- seem a peculiarly favorable time for the ing of the gospel is incompatible with peasants to press their claims. the use of physical force. He saw more Early in 1525 a series of twelve brief clearly than ever the undesirability and articles was published in southwestern impossibility of promoting the Reforma- Germany, containing a very moderate tion by the sword. It may be, had statement of the demands of the peasants, Sickingen been victorious, Luther would as, for instance, the privilege of electing have seen the hand of God in his vic- their own pastors, the abolition of villeintory, as he did in his defeat, and would age, freedom to hunt and fish and to suphave been led to tolerate, if not actively to ply themselves with fuel from the forest, favor, such warlike measures. His some

reduction of exorbitant rents, extra paywhat inconsistent utterances seem to show ment for extra labor, and restoration to that while feeling the unchristian charac- the community of lands unjustly approter of war and violence, he was yet not priated by private persons. With such sure it might not be God's will in the demands as these no one could justly find present juncture, as occasionally in the past, fault. They involved social reform only, to put an end to existing evils by the not revolution, and looked for the most sword. But if he was really in doubt, part simply to the more equitable adjustSickingen's fate settled the question for ment of existing conditions. him. Thenceforth he insisted always on At first there was apparently no thought the use of peaceful measures only.

of violence. The peasants were a harmless Much more disastrous in its effect upon and peaceable folk. But here and there the Reformation was the Peasants' War. they gathered in large numbers to present their grievances and impress the rulers themselves his followers, and declared it with the magnitude of the movement. their purpose to put his principles into Unfortunately, instead of listening sym- practice. And whatever was true of the pathetically to their complaints, some of leaders, by the great mass of the peasants the princes, fearing the effects of such themselves it was doubtless honestly bedemonstrations, treated the assembled peas- lieved that Luther was with them, and ants as insurrectionists and dispersed them that they could count on his sympathy and with the sword, maltreating and killing support. them without mercy. Their violence and But they utterly mistook their man. cruelty added fuel to the flames, and the For a while he paid no attention to the inevitable result was a rapid growth of more or less spasmodic outbreaks in differrevolutionary sentiment and the spread of ent parts of the country; but as they began a desire for retaliation. The demands of to grow serious, he came out in April, the peasants became more extreme and un- 1525, with a brief tract entitled, “An Exreasonable, and their peaceful intentions hortation to Peace in Response to the widely gave way to thoughts of war. Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants.” Their minds became filled with fantastic Had he been a demagogue, he would have and impossible notions of a society wherein catered to popular passion and spurred they should be in complete control. Com- the excited peasants on to war.

Had he munistic ideas of a radical type gained cur- been a politician, he would have kept still rency, and the desire grew to overthrow and refrained from taking sides until he the whole social structure and destroy all saw what the outcome was to be. But he inequalities in property, employment, and was neither the one nor the other, and he rank. Thomas Münzer and other fanati- spoke his mind in frankest fashion, sparing cal religious leaders threw themselves into neither prince nor peasant. Both sides he the movement, and preached a new social declared were alike in the wrong, and with order in which there should be no rulers his usual vigor and fearlessness he called or subjects, no rich or poor, no cities or them both sharply to account, the former commerce, no art or science, but all should for their tyranny and oppression, the latter live in primitive simplicity and equality for their threats of violence. He inWhat was more, they summoned the peas- formed the princes that God was against ants and the proletariate of the cities to them, not merely the peasants, and if they bring in the new order by the sword. In did not cease exploiting their subjects, fiery and impassioned discourse they told they would suffer the divine vengeance. the people it was God's will they should On the other hand, he exhorted the peaseverywhere kill and destroy without mercy ants to present their grievances in an oruntil all the mighty were laid low and derly way, without uproar or show of the promised kingdom of God established. force. Their complaints might be well Social and religious ideals became inextri- founded, but violence was not thereby juscably mingled. Counting confidently tified. Only the constituted authorities upon supernatural aid, multitudes without have the right to use the sword, and he discipline or adequate military preparation who attacks them on any ground whatever threw themselves blindly into a conflict is worse than those whom he attacks. The for which, as the event proved, they were doctrine of the divine right of civil rulers, wholly unequipped.

already stated more than once by Luther, During all this time the peasants' atti- here again finds emphatic expression. tude toward Luther was very diverse. It was still worse of the peasants, it Münzer and many other radicals hated seemed to him, to seek justification for him, and could not say enough against their conduct in the gospel of Christ. If him; but there were also those who re- they wished to fight for their rights like garded him as the great prophet of the ordinary men, well and good, but he new era of social justice and economic would not stand by in silence while they well-being they were trying to usher in. used Christ's name in support of their His was a

name to conjure with, and course and brought scandal upon the gosthey made the most of it. They appealed pel. Christianity comports only with pasto his gospel and quoted his writings in sive resistance. If they really wished to support of their programs. They called follow Christ, they would drop the sword and resort to prayer. The gospel has to But in Luther's mind there was no doubt. do with spiritual, not temporal, affairs. Consistently with the principle frequently Even to condemn slavery on Christian laid down and reiterated in the previous grounds is to turn spiritual freedom into tract, he denounced the peasants in unphysical, and reduce the gospel to a fleshly sparing terms for their resort to arms. thing. Earthly society cannot exist with- More than three years before, in his out inequalities; the true Christian finds protest against uproar and violence, he his Christian liberty and his opportunity had said he would support the side atfor Christian service in the midst of them tacked, however bad it might be, rather and in spite of them. To this familiar than those who attacked, however good Pauline point of view Luther always re- their cause. Now he suited his action to mained true.

his words, and turned upon the peasants But he did not stop with this summary with a fury all his own. treatment of the matter, dismissing the The pamphlet opened with the strong whole thing with a mere exhortation to words: Christian resignation. Recognizing the justice of many of the peasants' complaints,

In my previous book I did not judge the he went on to propose that their griev- peasants, for they offered to listen to inances be submitted to arbitration, both

struction and yield to the right. But before they and their rulers agreeing to abide by

I could do anything, forgetting their offer, the result. The suggestion was eminently

they rushed forward and plunged into the wise, but it showed how little sympathy

affair with clenched fists. They rob and he had with social revolution or recon

rage and act like mad dogs. It is easy struction. At best, arbitration could do

enough to see now what they had in their no more than promote justice in the work

false minds. The proposals they made in

the twelve articles on the basis of the gospel ing of the existing system. It could not effect its overthrow. Had Lutber's advice

were evidently nothing but lies. been followed, much bloodshed would have been avoided and the more moderate And a little later: "Our peasants want demands of the peasants might have had to share the goods of others and keep their some chance of satisfaction.

But it was

own. Fine Christians they are! I doubt wholly disregarded. Whatever was true whether there are any devils left in hell, of the princes, and some of them actually for they all seem to have entered into the did show themselves ready enough to re- peasants, and passion has gone beyond all dress the worst grievances, the peasants bounds." were by this time too much inflamed and He called upon the rulers, to whom their leaders far too radical to listen to God had intrusted the sword for the punsuch counsel. Their violence and the ishment of the wicked, to put down the depredations committed by them have warring rebels with a stern hand. They without doubt been grossly exaggerated; were public enemies, and, like mad dogs, but they were bad enough, as it was, and were to be killed without mercy. He even consternation and alarm were spreading went so far in the violence of his wrath as rapidly among the middle and upper to declare that if any ruler, actuated with classes.

the desire of doing God's will in the matIn the course of an extended tour ter, died in the attempt to suppress the through Thuringia, when the excitement uprising, he was a true martyr and enwas at its height, Luther saw many evi- titled to eternal bliss, while the warring dences of the riotous activities of the in- peasant was doomed to hell. To be sure, surrectionists, and outraged by what he not all were to be treated with equal witnessed, he came out early in May with severity. Mercy was to be shown to another and still more powerful pamphlet those deluded and misled by others, and “Against the Murderous and Thieving if they surrendered, they were to be parMobs of Peasants.” In some quarters doned, and spared. But the ringleaders rulers were in doubt as to their duty. The and those responsible for violence and uppeasants' appeal to the gospel and to the roar were to be visited with speedy venword of God perplexed them, and they geance, and at any cost the rebellion was were at a loss how to meet the situation. to be summarily crushed.

The tract seemed over-violent and cruel whether the era of social amelioration in even to many of his friends, and a few which modern reformers are profoundly weeks later he defended his attitude in an and justly interested would thereby have open letter to the Chancellor of Mansfeld, been hastened. Freedom from the tradiwho had addressed him upon the subject. tional religious and ecclesiastical bondage The letter is much longer than the tract was a necessary condition of liberty in itself, and discusses the whole matter in other spheres. Had it been subordinated detail, but there is no change of position to alien ends, or made only one feature of at any point, and the language is, if any a larger program, it would perhaps have thing, even more severe. “People say,” remained unrealized. Not the peasants he remarked, "there you see Luther's alone, but all classes of the population, spirit. He teaches bloodshed without must become convinced that religion was mercy: The devil must speak through possible apart from Rome before the old him. Well and good. If I were not ac- absolutism could be permanently broken, customed to be judged and condemned, I and anything less than exclusive attention might be troubled by such words." He to the inculcation of that lesson might well then goes on: “If any one says I am un- have resulted in failure. But this is kind and unmerciful, I answer, mercy neither here nor there. The fact remains, has nothing to do with the matter. We lament it as many may, that Luther was a speak now concerning the word of God. religious, not a social, reformer. Despite He will have honor shown the king and his temporary venture into another field will have rebels destroyed, and yet He is in the summer of 1520, he now recognized, certainly as merciful as we are.” "It is as he had for some years, that he was better to cut off a member without any called to work in the religious field alone. mercy than to let the whole body perish.” Whether rightly or wrongly, he had be

His indignation at the peasants led him come firmly convinced the Christian spirit to speak of them in very contemptuous could be trusted to work out all needed terms, as, for instance: “What is more social changes. In the meantime he was ill-mannered than a foolish peasant or a interested only to insure free course common man when he has enough and is for that spirit. To this end he subordifull and gets power in his hands?” “The nated everything else, and his treatment of severity and rigor of the sword are as the peasants, when riot and bloodshed had necessary for the people as eating and taken the place of peaceful measures, far drinking, yes, as life itself.” “The ass from being unworthy of him and revealing needs to be beaten, and the populace needs inconsistency and selfish policy on his part, to be controlled with a strong hand. God exhibited in the strongest light his native knew this well, and therefore He gave the independence and strength of character. rulers not a fox's tail, but a sword.” Order must be restored, he felt, at any

Luther's treatment of the peasants has hazard. Not religion alone was imperiled, brought upon him severer criticism than but the necessary sanctions of all human any other act of his life, but the criticism is life were threatened with destruction, and in part at least misplaced. It must be recog- every sane and right-thinking man must nized, to be sure, and we may reproach hurry to the rescue. him for it, if we please, that he had very Had he sympathized adequately with little interest in social reform. He was so the wrongs of the peasants, it may be absorbed in religion that he failed ade- thought he could have prevented affairs quately to realize the social and economic from reaching such a pass and could evils of the day, and his calling and asso- have kept the movement from degeneraciations had been such as to give him sym- ting into anarchy. However that may be, pathy with the middle rather than with and his experience with the fanatics at the lower classes of society, with the bour- Orlamünde and elsewhere gives little geoisie rather than with the proletariate ground for the supposition, at any rate, and peasantry. Had he appreciated the the situation being what it was in his part evil conditions under which the latter of the world in Vlay, 1525, he did the one lived, and set himself earnestly at work to thing needed, and he did it with his usual improve them, he might have accomplished vigor and effectiveness. As always, he was much. But it may fairly be doubted unnecessarily violent in his language. But

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