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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
FROM THE PAINTING BY TITIAN
to criticize his choice of words in such a alienate great masses of those hitherto decrisis is ridiculous. His attitude in the voted to him, without hesitating for a existing situation was essentially sound moment he spoke the word needed to unite and does credit both to his wisdom and his the forces of conservation and bring order courage. At a time when weakness and out of chaos. He was right when he dehesitancy marked the conduct of most of clared that firm and united action on the those who should have acted promptly and part of the authorities at the very beginfirmly, unblinded by sentiment and un- ning of the uprising would have spared moved by personal considerations, he came much bloodshed. He was right, too, in out boldly and decisively for the one course doing what he could to secure that action possible in the circumstances. Though he at the earliest possible moment. When knew it would cost him his popularity and the princes took the matter jointly in
hand, the rebellion was quickly crushed. peasantry and proletariate would certainly Here and there trouble continued for have meant its speedy extinction. months, but the movement as a whole was Upon Luther himself the effects were suppressed before the end of the summer. permanent. He was hardened and emIt was put down in many places with a bittered. He had to endure the chaheavy hand, as Luther had advised, while grin of seeing thousands of his supporters the mercy he recommended was turn away from him, many driven into fortunately not always shown to those Catholicism by the apparent demonstrawho capitulated.
tion of the destructive effects of his work, A lamentable tragedy it was. The de- many into anabaptism by what seemed his struction of prop
recreancy to the erty both at the
common cause and hands of the ma
his cruel desertion rauding
Diegrundtlihen und rechten peasants
of his own disand of the aveng
baupt Artidd/alle Baürsdrafft vnnd
byndarles der Gyskichas vnnd ing soldiery was
ciples. He ceased Weldidan berteytent/ønn
to be the popular very great. Large wddha ficfidh bachwers
hero of Germany, districts of coun
and became to multry devas
titudes, especially tated, and thou
in the south and sands lost their
west, an object of lives. As is apt to
hatred and execrahappen when vio
tion. He never relence and uproar
gretted his action. get control, the
He had done what general movement
the crisis demanded, toward the amelio
and would have ration of the lower
done the same classes was tem
again in like cirporarily retarded.
cumstances. It was not wholly
the tragedy sobered checked, to be sure.
him and took from In some places
him some of his great and perma
earlier buoyancy nent advances were
and hopefulness. made. And de
His confidence in spite the wide
the people was spread disrepute From the copy of the book in the Royal Library in Munich
permanently shatbrought upon the TITLE-PAGE OF THE “TWELVE ARTICLES," tered, and thencecause by the war, SETTING FORTH THE GRIEVANCES
forth it always and the strengthOF THE PEASANTS' WAR
seemed necessary ening of the ruling
to hold them firmly classes by their all too easy victory, the in check and control them with a strong uprising was undoubtedly, after all, only hand. The culminating event in a succesa step in the progress of democracy. sion of similar experiences covering more
It seems a lasting pity that by the fail- than three years, the war led him to realure of its leaders to show sympathy with ize the dangers of radicalism and to draw the peasants in their struggle the Reforma- more narrowly the bounds within which tion permanently alienated multitudes of the Reformation was thenceforth to move. them and became almost exclusively iden- We may be thankful he was able to disentified with the interests of the middle and tangle his movement from the dangerous upper strata of society. But they were alliance with radicalism and uproar and to not necessarily to blame. The class divi- carry it forward despite friends and foes ; sion was, perhaps, in the circumstances, but the disentanglement cost both him and unavoidable, and if so, the identification Protestantism dear, and we may well deof the new religious movement with the plore the situation which made it necessary.
(To be continued)