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                    November 27, 1992


Peter Blickle

T. A. Brady, Jr.

                  Submitted by Peter D. S. Krey

                   History: Peasants and State Building in Central Europe 1300-1800


1. Introduction    The task of this paper charted

The communal reformation in a nutshell

2. Section I       Biographical background of Luther

during the Peasants’ War

Luther’s abortive Campaign

3. Section II       Pre-History of Luther and

                        the 28 Articles of Erfurt

4. Section III     Luther’s response to the articles

Luther’s work with “communal”

election  of pastors

Other articles

Article 6, the eternal council

Community, village, city council,

parishes, and pastoral election

Other articles with responses

5. Section IV      Luther explodes in his afterword

Luther against communalism

Luther and social change

Inconsistently separating

Spiritual power and

political coercion

6. Appendices      Luther’s Oculi Sermon

                    28 Erfurter Articles

             MARTIN LUTHER, the PEASANTS’ WAR, the


The Task of this Paper

This paper is an inquiry into Martin Luther’s relationship with the communal reformation, mostly by means of his response to the 28 Erfurter Articles. Peter Blickle’s thesis concerning the communal reformation of the 1520’s achieving a critical mass in the German Peasants’ War of 1525 will be briefly presented. Some biographical information about Luther will give us a window into his mentality during this time, especially his abortive campaign to squelch the uprising. Before looking at the articles themselves and Luther’s response to them, their context in Erfurt will also be described.


Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) controversial stand in the great Peasants’ War of 1524-1525 is well known and has been thoroughly investigated. We certainly know Luther’s well balanced and perceptive pamphlet, “Admonition to Peace on the Twelve Articles of the Peasants of Swabia,” as well as his harsh rejection of the “other” peasants[1] written thereafter in: “Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants.” Not so well known is his “Response to the 28 Articles of the City of Erfurt,” which he wrote in the aftermath of the Peasants’ War. These articles were first sent by that revolutionary council of that city to Luther on May 9, 1525, during the Peasants’ War, for the purpose of review and improvement.[2] After a long delay, Luther sent a hostile and terse reply on September 21, 1525.[3]  This reply to the 28 Articles is important, because it gives us a window through which to view Luther and his relationship to what Peter Blickle calls the “communal reformation.”

According to Thomas A. Brady, Jr., the communal theory is one of four interpretations of the Reformation. The early bourgeois revolution, the inheritance of late medieval theological and religious thought, and the origin of confessionalism, are the other three.[4]  According to Peter Blickle’s thesis, communalism, as it was already practiced in southwest of Germany, was now advancing into Thuringia – (as indeed it was spreading into many other areas, but the city of Erfurt, which is our concern, is in Thuringia). According to the thesis, this communal reformation reached its critical mass in the Great German Peasants’ War.[5] In a sense, Blickle’s thesis is like the Marxist early bourgeois revolution interpretation of the Reformation, in that it features a political and social movement oriented in the German Peasants’ War, rather than the traditional religious movement that launched the Protestant faith.

Blickle argued that the communal reformation was a historical process in which the “common man,” i.e., the peasants and the burghers, had been gradually gaining some limited self-government after their liege Lords had absented themselves from their feudal manors and had representatives collect rents and fees from their peasants, freemen and serfs. In the absence of their lords, the peasants were able to come together as a community, choose committees of Fours, Sixes, Eights, etc., agree on their laws, and control their lower courts. (At this time the peasants were not yet subjects of a state, as much as members of one of the three feudal legal estates of the medieval order.) They devised strategies to improve their inheritance rights, make grievances, regulate village questions in costomols (Weistumer), coordinate collective use of the commons, forests, baths, etc. Their values were congenial to biblical teachings: common good, neighborly love and the value of an adequate livelihood for each household (Hausnotdurft).

Then in the communal reformation of the 1520’s, culminating in the Peasants’ War, the peasants and the burghers, i.e. the common man, tried to reform their villages, towns and cities by demanding the right to elect and dismiss their own pastors, who were to preach the pure and untarnished word of God for them. They wanted to have the responsibility to take care of their local parishes. They had a vision of building Christian city republics like the one in Zurich, but with peasant parliaments. Their reformation took place in the spirit of Huldrich Zwingli (1484-1531). They rose up in a grass roots movement, because this communal reformation was one from below. When they became militant and revolutionary, they were crushed by the territorial princes in the battles of the Peasants’ War. After they were crushed, their movement was followed by the fateful magisterial reformation controlled by the princes of the territorial state from above.[6]

The question needs to be asked about the nature of Luther’s relationship with the communal reformation in these stormy years of the Reformation. It can come into bold relief by analyzing Luther’s response to the 28 Articles of the city council of Erfurt, prepared by the peasants, burghers, and craftsmen, i.e. the common man, in this arena of the Peasants’ War. It is important to focus on Luther’s responses to the common folk. What demands, petitions, grievances and aims were the peasants and burghers, i.e. the “common man,” addressing to Luther? If their demands fit into what Luther was preaching, why did he fight them? If they did not, then we need ask what the difference was between Luther’s understanding of the movement and that of the common folk. It may be possible then to place the arguments of the common people and Luther’s close enough together to ascertain what is striking about each from a theological point of view.


Biographical Background: Luther and the Peasants‘ War

Martin Luther’s mentality was quite stressed in this period of the second half of the Peasants’ War; that did not, however, reduce his prolific production of commentaries, treatises, pamphlets and books, nor his preaching at the university church, nor even his professorial duties. But after a poignant sermon pleading for an end to the hostilities of the war on Oculi (March 24, 1525), he published a pamphlet entitled, “A Lesson Against the Gangster Spirits and What Position the Worldly Authorities Should Take to Them from the First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy.”[7] Then Luther preached on Easter, April 16th, while all at the same time in Weingarten, – the Lake Peasant Band, and the Allgäu Peasant Bands were in a stand-off with Georg Truchsess, Freelord of Waldburg, the general of the forces of the Swabian League; and in Weinberg, Jäckeline Rohrbach was about to make eleven members of the nobility run the gauntlet after capturing them. In the terror that followed, many Lords and nobles accepted the 12 Articles of the Peasants of Swabia and swore allegiance to the peasants. The tide was soon to turn, however, and the peasants were massacred mercilessly by their rulers and lords.

Meanwhile Luther, after his Easter sermon, left Wittenberg with Philip Melanchthon for Eisleben, to embark on a preaching campaign to “bring the peasants to their senses.” Luther was not a fearful person. He did not hold up his finger to the wind to see which way it was blowing, to be on the winning side. He took his stand against them when the peasants were winning the day.

Luther had been called by the Count Albrecht of Mansfeld to open a Latin school in Eisleben under the direction of Johannes Agricola. He and Melanchthon finally arrived in Eisleben on April 19th where they stayed until the 20th. Here in the garden of the Chancellor of Mansfeld, Johann Dürr, Luther began to write “Admonition to Peace,” his response to the “12 Articles of the Peasants of Upper Swabia.”  From here he made forays into the riot torn areas preaching against the uprising. “You peasants are being mislead by false prophets!”[8] he preached. But his sermons were hissed, and in Nordhausen the peasants sympathizing with Müntzer rang the church bells to drown out his words.[9]  About this campaign Luther later states “How (God) had saved him in the recent uprising, where he had to risk injury to his body and endanger his life more than once.”[10]

Luther may well have thought his preaching campaign through Thüringia could produce the same effect as his Eight Invocavit Sermons, which had succeeded in quieting the Wittenberg Disturbances of 1521-1522. But these were not to be compared with the upheaval which now engulfed two thirds of Germany as well as spilling over into other countries of the Empire. In the words of Hans Zeiss, Schosser of Allstedt in a letter to the Elector on May 1st:

Doctor Luther is in Mansfeld lands, but he cannot avert such an uprising nor prevent the people from streaming to it from the lands of Mansfeld. So it goes from Sangerhausen and on top of that from Duke George’s country as well. What will become of it, only God knows.[11]

When the Elector was on his deathbed, he sent for Luther requesting communion in both kinds. Luther, to whom the elector had never given a personal audience, brought his campaign to an abrupt end. But Frederick the Wise died before Luther could get back, assigning Luther the sad chore of preaching two funeral sermons. In Frederick the Wise, not only Luther but also the peasants lost an important friend.  Friedrich Weigandt wrote in a letter to Wendel Hippler:

Because Duke Frederick the Wise of Saxony, the Father of all evangelicals, has passed away, with that, I believe, for our part, we have lost a great comfort.[12]

Frederick the Wise had taken no initiatives to suppress the rebellion. In a letter to John the Steadfast he wrote:

If God wishes that the common man should rule, then it will come to pass. But if it is not his divine will, and (the uprising) has not been embarked on to his praise, then everything will soon change.[13]

Luther must have written his harsh pamphlet against the peasants, either just before or a little after the date of Frederick’s death (May 5, 1525). The precise date of this angry outburst is impossible to determine, but because its tone is so close to Luther’s letter to his relative, John Rühel, and the Mansfeld Council of May 4th, it might have been written close to this time. The ominous rejection of him by the peasants must have been fresh in his mind, or perhaps the news of the death of his protector, Frederick the Wise, pressed upon him, as well as his returning to Wittenberg from an abortive campaign. The timing in which his pamphlet was published could not have been worse, because his harsh words came out when the peasants were already defeated and needed mercy.


Before analyzing Luther’s “approval of the 28 Articles of the community, his letter “To the Council at Erfurt,”  it would be helpful to have an understanding of the context of the 28 Articles, to describe the course of events leading to the reformation of that city, to which Luther had such a close relationship.

Erfurt, at the time was a troubled city. With 20,000 inhabitants, it was the size of Augsburg and had become about the fifth largest city in the Empire. Not counting Sömmerda, it numbered 83 villages in its territory.[14] 1509 was for Erfurt the “year of madness.” Luther was a monk, a young priest, 26 years old, studying and teaching at its university. Most likely, during all the trouble, he set out for Rome on a mission for his Erfurt Augustinian monastery (1510-1511). In the city an uprising of the burghers had just taken place to protest what they considered the mismanagement of the city council. Then in the same year, 1509, the city plunged into a seven year war with Saxony. The council of Erfurt played off Saxony against Mainz, to whose spiritual/temporal territory Erfurt belonged. Erfurt was striving to become a city immediately under the emperor. The uprising of the burghers took place when a debt of 600,000 florins came to light. The burghers blamed it on the mismanagement of the council. The city, unable to keep up even with its interest payments, became bankrupt. They owed most of their debt to the clerical estate of Mainz. An internecine conflict between the faction that was influenced by the ecclesiastical holdings of Mainz struggled with that of Saxony, and the city went down in chaos, until the faction that adhered to the Mainz grew strong enough to restore order. But this city, which had been so prosperous, now waned steadily. In 1523 1,000 houses lay empty in the city.[15]

If Luther experienced this dreadful revolution in Erfurt, it may well have had a very negative impact upon him, making him react against all revolutions thereafter: the Wittenberg Disturbances, the Rebellion of the Knights under von Sickingen, and of course for our purposes, it may help to explain his vehement stand against the Peasants’ War.

In April 1521, en route to the Diet of Worms, Luther stopped in Erfurt, where he was welcomed formally by the council and fêted by the university.[16] Attempts by the clergy to discipline Luther’s supporters provoked students and craftsmen to participate in a Pfaffenstorm, a “Parson’s Storm”, in which they plundered and destroyed the homes of the priests of the city. The city council with an eye to the church’s wealth and cognizant of their great indebtedness, stood idly by and did not intervene.[17] Luther, absorbed in the drama at Wormes, and plucked away suddenly immediately thereafter, was informed about the disturbances in Erfurt, which followed his short visit. Luther was distraught and very critical of them. It showed that “we are not yet worthy before God to be servants of the Word.”[18]

Two years later in 1523, Luther admonished the council to proceed slowly, but his advice seems to have had the opposite effect.[19]  Unauthorized preachers were soon active in and around the city bringing talk of refusing to pay tithes and of the Gospel releasing subjects from obedience to their magistrates. In June 1523 outbreaks of violence took place in town and country. When village parsonages were stormed, there were several deaths. In 1524, the council expelled Simon Hoffmann, a fiery spirit who later joined with Müntzer.[20]

The Lutherans monopolized the churches by the aid of the powerful Lutheran councilman, Adolar Huttener, who succeeded in closing those churches in which the mass was still held. The monasteries emptied, and the pastors began to marry.

The city had already lost its luster, and the university was no longer a popular place to study. Then the Peasants’ War broke out and 4,000 Thüringian peasants besieged the gates of the city. After having carefully inventoried the wealth of the monasteries, stashing it into their “protection” and promising to guard the monasteries from the peasants, the city council nonetheless opened the gates to the peasants, having convinced them that they had a common enemy in the faction that adhered to the spiritual jurisdiction of Mainz. They allowed the peasants to destroy the monasteries and all the buildings and property that belonged to the jurisdiction of Mainz.[21] The city council, however, had underestimated the power of the peasants. They toppled the council and established an “eternal council” – according to Thomas Brady, the German term, “eternal council,” has no religious or apocalyptic significance,[22] – but it was so named because it met continuously or perhaps, the members had life-long terms.[23] The peasants, craftsmen, and burghers made common cause, having deposed the old council, the committees of the community met in the Erfurt city hall, while those of the peasants met in the Petersberg. Both committees thrashed out their demands, and the 28 Articles represent their final draft, which they presented to the reassembled council, which they now named the “eternal council” of the city. The council members bound themselves by oath to these articles in the presence of the revolutionary peasants. On May 9th, Luther and Melanchthon were invited to evaluate and approve the articles, which however, left out peasant concerns. The latter articles concerned such items as labor dues (Fronen) and the sheep farms of the nobility. The articles included represented the commercial interests of the burghers.[24] Both theologians refused to accept the invitation. After the Battle of Frankenhausen on May 15th, the eternal council was again deposed and the old council reinstated.

The council, however, had been devious and that not only by directing the peasants to destroy the customs house and other official buildings of their creditors. It had led the common people to believe it had really changed the city’s seal to the one the peasants had given it: the image of the risen Christ seated on a rainbow with the inscription: “Judge justly, Sons of Men, lest ye be judged.”[25] But the council was “pursuing a policy of cynical deception.”[26] They still sent the old seal of the honorable council on their letters to the elector. And when the tide turned against the peasants, they broke all agreements which they had made.

Luther still had the 28 Articles of the city of Erfurt on his desk four months later, when he finally answered them with a good measure of ridicule, and, for the most part, he made only glosses in the margins. He probably considered them unworthy of a reply. It is peculiar that he should have still answered them or that they would have still wanted an approval for such articles. Luther was hostile. It galled him to think that he needed to take this “eternal council” seriously. In fact overturned, deposed and reinstated, the devious city council of Erfurt was still composed of many of the same members.[27]

The most important articles among the 28 had been raised by the peasants in the last minute.[28] They wanted an “eternal council,” which should give an annual accounting and report to the representatives of the city districts, and the craftsmen of the community. (Article 6) New fees and taxes should not be levied without the knowledge and consent of the whole community and country folk. (Article 21) No peasant or burgher was to be arrested, except in the case of a capital crime (Leib und Leben). (Article 18) Interest payments were nullified (Articles 2 and 3). The 12 Articles were included only in the elections of the pastors (Article 1) and the right to the common use of the meadows again (Alemende)(Article 28). Actually, the articles show that the guilds had lost their power, and the non-guild craftsmen had come to power. These articles did not feature the demands of the peasants, because around Erfurt, the peasants were rather well off.[29]


Luther’s “approval” of the Erfurter Articles is really filled with ridicule and amounts to a hostile denunciation of this kind of a constitution for a council. His, September 21, 1525, terse and harsh response to the 28 Articles of the “Eternal Council” of the city of Erfurt, provides sufficient evidence.[30]

In Article 1, on the election of pastors by the community, Luther answers briefly:

The council should have the ultimate authority to know, who holds the offices in the city.[31]

If Luther’s response here means that other magistrates in the city are responsible for election of the pastors, then he is a rejecting what he himself established biblically in what is called his “Leisnig Pamphlet.” There he supports the Leisnig community for it to elect its own pastor.[32] What should be investigated, however, is if the community had one parish or was Leisnig like Erfurt, a city council, with a great many parishes, which would make a difference in Luther’s decision.

In order to check whether or not Luther is being inconsistent in his response to the Erfurter articles, it is necessary to understand that the term “community” had various meanings and there were differences between city communities and those of the town and country. In 1522-1523 Luther took one position when he was struggling to place the first evangelical pastors into various communities, whose number of parishes in relation to the city community, we do not know.  He faced a very different political situation, however, leading up to and after the Peasants’ War late in 1525.

There is also an ambiguity in the German word, “Gemeinde.” It can mean the political community or the worshiping congregation, the parish.[33] But it would be a mistake to interpret Luther’s meaning in his tract (for the Leisnig community in 1523) in the latter sense. His use of both words “assembly” (Versammelung) and “community” (Gemeinde) seems to cover both meanings. Blickle points out that in every case the political community was involved in this choice of pastor and furthered the reformation, even if reforms might have begun in the parish because of the evangelical preaching, which in turn, then brought about the wish to choose or replace parish priests.[34] Blickle also notes that for the peasants no distinction could be made between the political community and religious parish, because, for example, in the Twelve Articles, it was the same entire community which demanded the right to elect the pastor, and reclaim the forests.[35]

Franziska Conrad makes an important distinction between the southwestern German city and village communities that is not only relevant to the election of pastors, but also presents a complication that the burghers faced within their community and that the peasants faced only outside of their community. “When the peasants rose up,” she states, “they did not confront – as in the city – the authorities within their association, but the village lords who threatened the autonomy of the community from the outside.”[36] The bid of the peasants to choose their own pastor in a village was up against the right of the Lord to do so, while the city community already chose its own magistrates, and now the parishes of the city wanted to choose their pastors.[37] Luther made the point that a city council also needed a voice in the election of pastors in the various parishes of the city. A conflict could exist between the city council of the whole commune and the many communities or parishes in it.

The assertion that the community had the right to elect the pastor was not a clear statement. Parishes in the city could conflict with the city council over pastoral elections, especially in a city like Erfurt, where the politics of the council first forced Lutheran elections, then because of the fear of reprisal and loss of independence, retreated to a neutral position. But “community” could also mean the city council representing the community, or a parish or congregation trying to elect a pastor for itself[38] in opposition to a monastery, a city council, a bishop, lord, or prince, who had the right of patronage, i.e., had the right for the election.

Gert Haendler relates how Luther helped a community  represented by the city council, whose population had become evangelical, to elect its own pastor despite the catholic provost who had patronage and wanted to designate his own candidate.[39] That was in April, 1522. Again on July 29th in the same year, Luther became concerned with the election of an evangelical pastor by St. Michael’s Church in Erfurt. Luther takes the position that the ruling prince ought not oppose the choice of the congregation.[40] For Leisnig, the community for which Luther had written his important pamphlet, Luther supports their election of a pastor against a monastery which had the right of patronage. In August 1524, Luther battled with Karlstadt over his call and election to the pastorate in Orlamünde. Karlstadt had left Wittenberg, had driven out the officiating pastor, and had himself elected by this congregation. Luther, worried by Karlstadt’s peasant garb, radical stance, and his agitation for an iconoclastic campaign, opposed his election by the community. Luther feared another disturbance:

one can see very well that when God orders the congregation to do something, and names the people, he does not want it done by the mob (Pöbel) without the authorities, but by the authorities (Obrigkeit) with the people, so that the dog does not learn to eat leather to escape his leash – that is, use [the destruction of] images to become accustomed to rebelling against the authorities as well.[41]

Luther considered an image-breaking binge no work of righteousness, but a riot inspired by the devil.[42] He anticipated as much with Karlstadt, who became involved in the Peasants’ War, as well as having just observed the events in Erfurt. The latter explain his anger at the Erfurt council while responding to their articles.  He wrote his response in September 1525, after all the buildings belonging to the jurisdiction of Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz were destroyed.  He anticipated that the progression from an iconoclastic riot, went to the pillaging of monasteries, then to the burning castles, and finally to toppling the government.

This frame of reference, this context throws light on Luther’s response to the first article:

But the town council should have ultimate authority over who holds office in the town.[43]

And on his angry words in the afterword:

And is it not seditious that the parishes want to elect and dismiss their own parsons, without the oversight of the council, as if it were no concern of the council, as the authority, what the parsons did in the city?[44]

He certainly changed his position; the context, however, is the aftermath of the great Peasants’ War and the ambiguity remains about the meaning of community for a city, whether it included the will of the council or excluded it. These considerations should also be taken into account.

The first article is also very difficult to unravel.[45]

Luther’s response, therefore, to this article does not represent a blatant contradiction, nor does it show his complete rejection of communalism, which he himself taught in his Leisnig pamphlet a few years before. Although the article seems to reflect Luther’s position accurately, we should take into account, however, the many parishes within the city community itself and the right of the magistrates of the city council representing the community to nominate a pastor. Luther now required the parish to recognize the rights of the city council in the call, election, and dismissal of pastors.[46]

In the second article the townspeople and the peasants are

upset about paying “intolerable” interest on loans, and maintain that they will only pay back the principal without interest. Luther seems to hold them responsible for interest payments as well.

In article four, the commune wants to rule about property like wood and water removed from its land. Luther says not the commune, i.e. community should take charge of this, but the authorities, who should distribute it or sell it for the common good of the city. The council wanted to take the legacies and endowments away from the clergy, but Luther does not permit it. Let the Old Believing clergy enjoy these until they die. If the endowments are free, the council should put them into the common chest. If their original contributors are poor and needy, they should be returned to them. The article had wanted to take these away from the clergy out of hand. Luther is not anti-clerical here, nor will he stand for plundering the church’s wealth.

Luther does appreciate article 23 which wants to search out ways to revive the university. He stands with the authorities and will not allow them to shirk taxes and fees in several articles.    Concerning other articles, Luther holds that they lie outside his competence as a theologian, and he therefore leaves them to the council to decide for itself. He had stated the same thing in his response to some of the Twelve Articles in his “Admonition” and reiterates it here. His point is that jurisprudence based on solid reason is more competent than theology in ruling these matters. This is a telling point against clericalism.

Article 6 deserves more attention, because it concerns establishing an eternal council which is to answer to the representatives of the community. In this way it mirrors article 1. Where article 1 expands communalism to the election of pastors, article 6 tries to limit the powers of the city council by communal oversight. That members of the council would be elected is only implied by the article. It reaps Luther’s irony:

If one does not trust the town council, why set one up? Why have one at all?[47]

This article has the word,  “vierteln” in it, the way the preface to the article contains “viertel der Stadt.” It can be translated: “city quarters” or “districts of the city.”[48] Erfurt like many cities had two lines crossing through its center, dividing the city into quarters, which can also be called districts. The fact that the peasant committee met in the Petersberg and the burgher committees, in the City Hall, means that revolutionary committees had formed in the villages and city districts of Erfurt. That the craftsmen are also always mentioned seems to indicate that they, too, were represented by a committee. In this revolutionary atmosphere the Fours, Eights, and Twelves seem to have been the committees from the craftsmen, city districts, and villages.

Article 6 requires that the “eternal council give an annual account to its guardians, the districts, and the craftsmen of the community, who are not on the council, as far as this is useful.”[49]

The communal nature of this reconstitution of the council can be seen in a decree that it issued on May 6, 1525:

We, (the eternal council) together with the guardians and delegates of the city districts, craftsmen, and countryside regard as good and unanimously decide that each of our burghers and country folk not withhold or take for their own use (eigen nutz) all or any possessions that belonged to the spiritual estate or the faction of Mainz….”[50]

In this decree, it is obvious that the council is “immature” without the guardianship of the communal organs of representation.

Article 6 states that the council is required to account for itself annually before its guardians acting in behalf of the districts and craftsmen of the community.

Article 7, which is closely associated with article 6, states:

That the present council give account for all expenditures and income.

This article is a very important advance of communalism, because a decree or decision by the eternal council can only be made with the approval of the craftsmen, city districts, and peasants from the countryside. This means that any taxes and fees can be levied only with the knowledge and consent of the common people. The article nearly gives the people the power over financial appropriations, with which they can very effectively control their city government. How important this is for future parliamentarianism goes without saying.

Luther insults the council in response to this article:

Indeed, that the council should not be a council, but that the mob rule everything.[51]

Luther sees the common people trying to gain control over the city council. These common people are burghers, craftsmen, i.e., those in or outside of the guilds, and perhaps country folk and peasants, whom he calls “rabble.” He did not take kindly their attempt to monitor the council and hold it responsible in its expenditures to the people. He could not understand communalism here, nor feel that giving the common people a share and voice in their government was anything more than asking for another riot.

In considering the contrast between articles 1 and 6, it is peculiar that Luther wrote his pamphlet allowing the Christian assembly or community to elect its own pastor, but he could not envision that possibility at all for a community to elect a city council, an eternal council. Was the critical issue that of election?

When the revolutionary peasants entered Erfurt in May, they deposed the old council and drafted these articles. It does not say how the eternal council was filled, whether by election, or the reappointment of the old council, having sworn to effect the 28 Articles.[52]  The peasant bands did elect their military captains, and their representation from their communes. But here the election does not play a role so much as the consent of the representatives of the community. Perhaps Luther saw the communal organs as a duplication of the council, and with the real locus of power in the former, and he felt the latter was being transformed into a rubber stamp, despite its being renamed an “eternal council.” This seems to make sense of his criticism in the afterword, where he insists the new council will be powerless, i.e., the cart drawing the horses.

Luther makes a separation between the political community and the church community. In the former he espoused elections, and in the latter he wanted the common people to accept the authority of the magisterial council. The problem or the opportunity for the peasants, depending on one’s point of view, develops because there was no distinction for them between their political and church community.[53] Luther began to make this distinction in his sermons of 1522 and published it in his pamphlet of 1523, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” calling it the theory of the two regiments. But the social identity of the congregation and community for the peasants in the villages and countryside made this distinction completely contradictory to them, and truthfully, also violated their social reality.

To cover some other articles briefly:

In articles 8-10, the burghers seem to want an open market, and Luther tells them they are thereby benefiting only the rich. In article 11, craftsmen outside the guilds are trying to get the right to ply their trade without hindrance by the guilds. Luther feels that this needs to be decided by the council, which he also states for articles 12 and 13. But he criticizes them sharply for their not wanting to pay the house of Saxony protection money. Likewise when they do not want to pay the safe conduct fee to Saxony, Luther states:

Indeed, may God allow us to injure princes and cities, as long as we have our own way![54]

This last comment is very patriarchal. It is much like a father speaking to a child, the prince to his subjects.

Luther seems to be humorous in 16-17 that the knaves and wenches should no longer be tolerated, nor debtors to the council. “Both go well together.” he quips.

In article 18 Luther is not helpful.

In all earnest we request and desire, as do the country folk, that no sworn citizen should be imprisoned without a hearing, unless it be for a capital offense.

Luther responds: “If the council deems it good.” Luther gets softer to the citizens that have been exiled during and after the rebellion, the ones who protest their innocence. Luther here agrees that it is fair that they be allowed to put their case.(20) Also it is surprising that Luther is lenient and supports understanding in article 24 which states:

No one should be placed in jeopardy by this revolt.

And in article 28: “Everyone should be able to use the commons without hindrance to his neighbor.” Luther states: This is up to the town council.


             Luther breaks loose in the Afterword

Luther is not naturally a man of few words. He has been holding back his anger. In his concluding remarks he explodes:

But one article has been left out: that an honorable council do nothing, have no power, nor be trusted with anything, but sit there like a powerless puppet, like a zero, and kowtow to the commune like a child, govern with its hands and feet tied, and pull the wagon like a horse, while the coachman is reining in and pulling the horses [back]. That’s how it will be according to the praiseworthy model of these articles.[55]

Luther continues not containing his hostility, claiming:

the articles have been composed by those, who have it too good, and who believe that there is no one in heaven and on earth that is not afraid of them. If I had power over Erfurt, I would not allow one article to stand, even if some are good. But must we for punishment bear and suffer this unheard of pretentiousness and mischief, and hear a repetition of all these articles? Nothing else is sought in these articles other than everyone’s own interest (nutz) and having their own way, that the bottom goes to the top, and everything turns upside down, that the council fear the community and be its servant, and again the community be the lord and master, and fear no one, which is against God and reason.[56]

According to Luther, the pretentiousness of these people should be punished, because of all the damage these articles will do.

In the torrent of words at the end, the old Luther is again himself, but not to our liking. He tries to persuade the Erfurters to become an honorable council. Otherwise he threatens them: or perhaps the authorities will have to march into the city and drive out the trash (Kutzel).

Is that evangelical, to but your head through a wall, without any humility and prayer, as if Erfurt did not need God. There is not one article about how one should first fear God, search, pray, and commit one’s cause to him. … And so I move some of you: is it not seditious that the parishes (pfarren) want to elect and dismiss parsons themselves, without the oversight of the council, as if it was no concern of the council, as the authority, what the parsons did in the city? And you hope they will pay taxes voluntarily. [57]

He addresses the council at the end by, your Majesty, and saying that he will nevertheless still serve them and commends them to God.

Luther understands authority only from the top down. A council is to be filled with magistrates, and not with craftsmen, and common people, who are burghers and peasants. The council should be nobility ruling over the common people. Luther must have already sealed off the temporal rulers, lords or councils into the other kingdom. Why would not the saying of Jesus occur to him:

You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant…[58]

Luther became uncomfortable over the point that parishes should choose their own pastor, feeling the city council should have a strong hand in electing them, or the common people could become seditious. Luther was fearful and quite hostile to the assertion of power by the people from below.[59] He claims the council will become paralyzed, will not be able to function or govern effectively.[60] His image above is that of the cart before the horse, and the horse bridling and leading the rider, instead of vice versa. The people overrate themselves, pretend to be a size larger than they are – in other places he says – they want to be lords instead of common people. Luther taught spiritual democracy, of course, with his slogan, “the priesthood of all believers;” but he did not integrate political democracy into his teaching. He lived in a city in Saxony under the territorial rule of an elector of the empire.

Luther has a very low regard for “Herr Omnes”, the common people. They are mostly knaves and whores (see his Oculi Sermon in the Appendix!) and need to be ruled by a heavy hand from above. They have to be governed like a dumb animal, a horse; bridled and ridden by the government. This image is more demeaning than the patriarchal one he uses of the Father to the child: “You just have to have your way!”

In contrast the governing council, an honorable council, needs to be a real god with divine power. The communal control by the consent of the common people, makes the council into a wooden idol, which can do nothing having its hands and feet tied. The revolutionary eternal council is like a zero. It lets itself be sold to the community like a child. For Luther the council should be the parent and the community the child. For the common people in communal reformation the governing council, the rulers, are the child and the people are the guardians, are the parents.

“Nothing is sought in these articles than that everyone seek his own good (nutz) and live according to their own will.” For Luther this is not good because he believes in the bondage of the will. “So the bottom goes to the top, everything turns upside down, the council fears the community, and the community becomes its lord and master…and the community fears no one, which is against God and reason.”[61]

The clash here is between “Obrigkeit” and “Unterkeit,”[62] authority from above and authority from below. But revolution from the top down does not necessarily proceed with good order, nor does change initiated from the bottom, communalism, necessarily result in chaos.[63] The first seems to try to preempt the healthy resolve, will, strength, and creativity of the people. The second need not destroy positive authority that seeks to carry out the will of the people or even their correction if warranted, by a common sense of justice.

Problematically, Luther labels a communally-guided-governing body a powerless puppet, and implies that authority from the top down is divine. But power from the bottom up can be just as divine or both can be just as devilish. Perhaps as yet in the course of human history, there can be no guarantee, except in mutual checks and balances, which is the least bad arrangement that can be struck.

That Luther asks for religious articles in the charter seems to contradict his own two regiment theory, which assigned politics to reason and compromise, and spiritual things to the church and congregation. That the revolutionary peasants designed the new seal of the eternal council, described above, is certainly religious. Perhaps Luther did not know about the peasants’ seal, because the council never made use of it.  But Luther to be consistent would have to criticize any religious articles contained in temporal rule rather than call for them.

Luther seemed oblivious to the peasants’ experience of the concrete identity of their social, political and religious community. The peasants could not understand his refusal to allow the Gospel to be used for direct political action and social change. He says this forcefully in the Oculi Sermon, a portion of which is quoted at length in an Appendix.  His thought had a dialectic of human and divine agency, and only the latter through the word could affect social and political improvement.

To make changes and actually improve conditions are two different things: one is in human hands and God’s ordaining. The other is in God’s hands and his gracious majesty.[64]

The problem cannot be easily resolved by saying the peasants and Luther wanted the same goals and agreed theologically, but they had a political quarrel. The critical issue even invades the term “reformation”, and what the peasants meant by it was very different from what even Zwingli meant by it, even if he was much closer to them than Luther. The communal reformation of the peasants was genuine, and they were forced into a military solution (for the most part) by Leonhard von Eck, the chancellor of Bavaria, the strong man over the forces of the Swabian League. It would be hypocritical to maintain that the peasants were not also overcome by the temptations of looting the monasteries, the wealth of the clerical estate. But for the most part, they would have welcomed the resolution of their conflicts with treaties. They made many – but the Swabian League would not tolerate them nor any negotiations at the end. Erfurt also had to pay for all damages, restore the buildings, which they had torn down, that belonged to the jurisdiction under Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz, and give up six villages, which by oath they had subjected to themselves. They too had to revert back to being the subjects of Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz.[65]

The problem becomes how to accomplish political and revolutionary change. For Luther a revolution in the church was one thing, a revolution against the structures of the political society was quite another. The latter could not be accomplished without bloodshed. Luther’s blistering writings made the clerical estate evaporate. With their rationale pulled out from underneath them, the wealthy monasteries lay naked ready to be violated and destroyed. But that merely exposed the nobility and the castles to the peasant view. The powerful nobility in that society were not going to evaporate and the bloodshed became that of the peasants, because it was such an unequal battle. Their hope for communal self-government had no self-defense, except the traditional one, belonging to those in whose interests it was to subjugate them. They had no viable military defense, really, of their own.

Luther wanted the changeover filling the churches and communities with new evangelical pastors to be accomplished by Christian methods, martyrium, flight, or if workable by legal methods.[66] Otherwise the authorities needed to be convinced to help. To mount a violent campaign to reform the church and the society forfeits the grace of the Gospel, by long Christian tradition. Arnold Toynbee states

But the conversion of the first generation of Christians from the way of violence to the way of gentleness had to be purchased at the price of a shuttering blow to their material hopes.[67]

Perhaps the historical considerations which I have included along with Luther’s harsh reactionary statements will soften our judgment upon him somewhat. To be able to see through the chaos, a new communal order proposed by the revolutionary peasants, was not given to him.

Luther tried to make a distinction between material and spiritual power. The gospel aligned with the latter, and laws, rationality, compromise, and negotiation were appropriate for the former. Where reason is a whore before God, according to him, it was a queen of regal majesty in temporal affairs. Luther assigned the temporal rule of material conditions to the secular governing authorities, but himself still felt in charge of the spiritual affairs around him. Call him a pope, if you will, but he tried to separate his spiritual power from coercion – not very consistently in this chapter of his life, however.

But then in threatening the Erfurters with an invasion by the Elector of Saxony, he contradicted his own highest principle. In calling the ruling militia to smite stab and slay the raging peasants in a holy war, as he did in his harsh little book against the radical peasants, seems very much to show him well outside the Kingdom of Love in which he was to be the spiritual head. Granted he had a precondition. There had to be some semblance of order, or the Gospel could not be preached. He also argues that in his Oculi Sermon. But that then mandates a political order as a precondition of promulgating the Gospel, and that may contradict his division of the two governments, spiritual and temporal.

Often Luther had Anfechtungen in which he ran through horrendous doubts. Could he be the only one right and all the believers before him wrong? And he would overcome it – but if he had understood communalism, perhaps he could have a complementary horizontal aid to his lonely vertical doubts. Not that Luther was not a man of the people. But sadly, he here withdrew from the people.


But after a poignant sermon pleading for an end to the hostilities on Oculi (March 24, 1525), he published in a pamphlet entitled, “A Lesson Against the Gangster Spirits and what position the Worldly Authorities should take to them from the First Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy,”[68] Luther says nothing can be done unless Christ does it through us. We are but the masks of God. The fighting by the peasants is the foolishness of hard gangster spirits. They are pretentious and do not know themselves. They are puffed up in their own eyes and don’t have a good conscience. They are suffering shipwreck in their faith, and are not accomplishing anything, because they want to propel this cause with their understanding alone.

Now their pretentiousness is dangerous in an external way, but much more so in a spiritual way. Pray God that you do not overrate yourself by Scripture – because God wants a humble and crushed spirit for Christ to strengthen and encourage. They think they have to accomplish it, or it will be lost. They should give it over to God and commit their cause to him…throw the keys at his feet, i.e. put him in charge and say: “Lord, if you don’t do it, then it is undone. Lord, if you don’t do it then I will go down in shame – the cause is not mine, so I will not have my honor in it. I will gladly be your mask, so that you alone go to battle and fight.

This is something that the bands never want, but insist on banging their head through the wall now – according to their reason, and no one has called them, they force their way in as if they were mad, as if God needs them and has to have them – that’s why they have lost their faith. Learn knowledge before God, commit everything to his care, and watch that you cleave to Christ your head.

The gangster spirits have become our enemies: the closer the friend, the more nasty an enemy he has become. God does not give power of coercion (Gewalt) to everyone – but alone to great spirits who know how to use it. Because should everyone have it, then one would eat the other, and you would give me the devil, and I give it back to you.

Pray for them in authority – because the world cannot be governed with the gospel, because the world is too little and too narrow, grasps little, even the thousandth man refuses it too – therefore one cannot arrange an external government with it. The Holy Spirit has a small band, the others are all whores and knaves, who need a worldly sword. Where worldly government does not use its office strictly and firmly, everyone grabs what he can, and murder, war, rape of wife and children follows, so that no one can live in security.[69] The common man is not a Christian.  The king, ruler and lord must use the sword, take off the head, punishment must be, so that the others are held down by fear, and the pious can hear the gospel and await their work, so that everyone becomes quiet and at rest. The apostles had great awe and fear for the temporal sword.

So now we have dire need to pray for the authorities, because we have neither king nor emperor. The authorities are lazy and withdrawn. The overlords do not punish the lower lords. All the rulers are at loggerheads and with that the uproar is growing. It seems as if God is mixing us all up into one batter and is about to fix us a piece of cake so that we all swim in blood. So we should pray God that peace is restored. That God gives the emperor so much grace that he bridles the rulers, the rulers the nobility and the cities, and so on the overlords take control of the lower lords, and visit them until their thick skins squeak (die Schwart krachte), and so on, also with the officials – that peace spreads everywhere – it is a lamentable situation that so much domestic uproar has arisen. What we need to do, we who are called Christians, is the earnestly beg God that the authorities carry out their office correctly, the prayer is big, but our God is bigger, and he will also hear us. If the sword were stern enough, and a right regiment prevailed, then the Gospel could well be preached, but it can’t be helped. Amen.


The Erfurt “Peasant,” Articles, 9th of May, 1525[70]

[The Erfurt Articles are one of the most important documents of the urban popular movements in the Saxon-Thuringia area, and were composed at the beginning of May 1525 by a committee drawn from the urban opposition and the peasantry in the Erfurt territory. Although called “peasant articles,” they reflect predominantly urban concerns. At the request of the town council, Luther wrote his opinion of them on the 21st of September, here indicated in italics after each article. Some articles have been omitted.]

Here follows the list of articles that all quartets of the city of Erfurt, and the guilds belonging thereto, have discussed for further improvement.

1. Concerning the parishes, it is thought good that these should be re-divided into parishes [of a size] more suitable to the town, and that the community of each parish should appoint and dismiss its own pastor. These appointed pastors should present the pure Word of God clearly and without addition of any human commands, regulations, or doctrines affecting the conscience.

But the town council should have authority over who holds office in the town.

2. On intolerable interest payments, by which we mean the redeemable loans or usury, where the sum repaid often exceeds the capital: these we will pay no longer. Where the capital sum has not yet been repaid, the balance outstanding shall be settled within a period to be agreed, so that a fair mean may be found. We also request that the exchange rates and coinage be investigated.

Indeed, nothing better than that one should pay interest on the sum with which it is secured in Erfurt.

4. On property removed from the commune, such as wood, water, etc. this should be returned to the use of the commune at once and a control instituted so that nothing further can be done without the consent of the commune.

That is not to be, but [if so] the authorities should do it, or purchase it for the common good of the town.

5. On legacies and endowments of altars. Where these are already established, the clergy should no longer receive them, but the heirs and the descendants of those who founded them. Where the heirs and descendants can no longer be traced, such endowments should be placed in a common chest.

The persons who now hold them should be allowed to enjoy them until they die, where such persona and monies stand under the town council’s control, or else let one entrust them to God [i.e. put them in the common chest], [except] in so far as the heirs are quite poor and needy.

6. On the town council: we should have an eternal council, which should present an annual accounting to the guardians [acting] on behalf of the quarters and the commune, in so far as this can be seen as useful.

If one does not trust the council, why set one up? Why have one at all?

7. The current council should present an account of all income and expenditure.

Indeed, that the council should not be a council, but that the mob should rule everything.

8. All forms of commercial activity should be free to every citizen who so desires.

So that no poor man should [be able to] stand before the rich or able to nourish himself.

9. Every citizen who has a house and home and resides therein should be free to brew.

So that the rich alone can be brewers!

10. The full quarter-measure [of beer and wine] should be given for the money.

Has that not always been the case?

11. Each person who fulfills civic duties and who conducts himself honorably and decently should be permitted to work at his trade unhindered by the guilds.

I leave that to the decision of the town council.

12. All matters placed before the town council for judgment according to the town statutes should be settled without delay within fourteen days, at the citizen’s plea presented in person. Where the citizen is unable to plead his own case, the town council should appoint someone from its own ranks to plead his case, without further cost to the citizen.

That is also a secular matter, and does not fall within my competence.

13. The city chancery should be investigated, so that no one will be deceived, as has hitherto occurred.


14. Negotiations should be held with the house of Saxony to obtain a gracious remission of protection fees [paid to the princes of Saxony in return for the military protection of the town].

Indeed, so that no one will defend the city of Erfurt, or that the princes should outlay cash in its defense. I should like to know if Erfurt will then spend the money to buy peace and protection!

15. Since the citizens and country folk are heavily burdened with the safe-conduct [fees], the matter should graciously be reviewed.

Indeed, may God allow us to injure princes and cities, as long as we have our own way!

16-17. Henceforth notorious knaves and wenches of all classes should no longer be tolerated, nor the house of common women. Also all those who are in arrears to the town council, whoever they are, should be firmly requested [to pay up].

Both go well together!

18. In all earnest we request and desire, as do the country folk, that no sworn citizen should be imprisoned without a hearing, unless it be for a capital offense.

Where the town council sees that as desirable.

19. All citizens held in Erfurt should be released on verbal sureties.

According to the pleasure of the town council.

20. Where some citizens have been exiled during and after the rebellion, and protest their innocence, they should be allowed to put their case.

That is fair.

21. The town council should henceforth levy no imposts without the will and knowledge of the entire commune and country folk.

It would then be necessary to pay the people!

22. Those living [in the suburbs] before the gates request the permission to sell their home-grown wine in the suburbs.

The town council will see to whatever is best.

23. It is our request that one should consider whether the illustrious university, such as it was until now, might not be revived.

That is best of all.

24. No one should be placed in jeopardy by this [revolt].

That is also good, for many perhaps mean well; the others should be given the benefit of the doubt and should be admonished to desist from their designs.

25. Although all excises and impositions are [declared to be] abolished, the council should see to it that meat and bread are sold at fair prices.

The council should normally do this as a duty of their office.

26. Foreign bakers and butchers should be allowed to sell twice weekly.

The council will see to it.

27. All properties taken from the common city and town council – i.e. taxation, rents, labor services, or whatever – should be returned to the city as before, namely, such as [those from the village of Melchendorf, Gispersleben, half of Kiliani.

God help the council thereto.

28. Every citizen should be able to use the common without hindrance to his neighbor.

That is up to the town council.

But one article was left out, that the council should do nothing, have no power entrusted to it, but must sit there like a ninny and kowtow to the commune like a child, govern with hands and feet tied, and pull the wagon like a horse while the driver reins in and pulls the horse [back]. Thus it would be according to the illustrious model of these articles.


Blickle, Peter. Gemeindereformation. München: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1987.

______________. Communal Reformation. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1992.

Conrad, Franziska. Reformation in der Bäuerlichen Gesellschaft. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden, GMBH, 1984.

Franz, Günther. Der deutsche Bauernkrieg 1525. Berlin: Deutsche Buch Gemeinschaft,1926.

————–. Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg. 4. Auflage. Darmstadt: Hermann Gentner Verlag, 1956.

Fuchs, Walther Peter. Akten zur Geschichte des Bauernkriegs in Mitteldeutschland, Zwei Bände in 3 Teilen, Vol. II Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964.

Haendler, Gert. Luther on Ministerial Office and Congregational Function. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981.

Kirchner, Hubert. Luther and the Peasants’ War. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972.

Kirn, Paul. Friedrich der Weise und die Kirche. Habilitationsschrift vor der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Leipzig, 28. April 1926.

Köhler, Hans-Joachim. Flugschriften des Frühen 16. Jahrhunderts. Microfiche Serie 1978: 41 Nr.109 in 8/Box No 1.

——————–.            144 Nr. 121     ”      .

Lindsay, Thomas M. A History of the Reformation, Vol. I, Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1922.

D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kitische Gesamtausgabe, Band 18. Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1908.

Martin Luther, Ausgewählte Werke, Calwer Ausgabe, Vol 3, Stuttgart: Calwer’s Buchhandelung, 1933.

Luthers Werke, Vol. 5. München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1936.

Möller, Bernd. Imperial Cities and the Reformation. Durham, North Carolina: The Labyrinth Press, 1982.

Robisheaux. Rural Society and the Search for Order in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Scribner, R. W. Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany. London: The Hambledon Press, 1987.

Scribner, Bob and Benecke, Gerhard. The German Peasants’ War: New View Points. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.

Toynbee, Arnold. A Study of History, Abridged vols. I-VI. New York: Oxford University Press, 1946.

Weiss, Ulman. Ein fruchtbar Bethlehem. Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1982.

Williams, George Hunston. The Radical Reformation. Philadelphia:        Westminister Press, 1962.

     [1] The best interpretation here is that the “Admonition” is to the peasants under Zwingli’s influence, and the other peasants are those under Thomas Müntzer, or very radical like his.

     [2]See Walther Peter Fuchs, Akten zur Geschichte des Bauernkriegs in Mitteldeutschland, Zwei Bände in 3 Teilen, Vol. II, Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964), p. 252, document #1390a and page 261, #1404. The council wrote directly to Luther and Melanchthon on May 10, 1525. They requested a Gutachten, which is an approval for the articles.

     [3] D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 18, (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1908), p. 531 – 540. Hereafter this edition of Luther’s Works will be referred to as Weimar Ausgabe or W.A.

     [4]Thomas A. Brady, Jr., “The Protestant Reformation in German History,” with a comment by Heinz Schilling, Occasional Paper #22 of the German Historical Institute, (Washington, D.C., 1997), page 26. This paper is in the Internet.

     [5] Peter Blickle, Gemeindereformation, (München: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1987), p. 205.

     [6]Now I have misgivings about the concept of the magisterial reformation. It is a term that makes sense from the point of view of the peasants and Anabaptists, but not for the Reformation as such. See Bernd Moeller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation, translated and edited by H.C. Erik Midelfort and Mark U. Edwards, Jr., (Durham, North Carolina: Labyrinth Press, 1982), page 61: “For the most part, however, the magistrates were anything but the motive force behind the Reformation. They were more of a brake.” (A note added to this paper on April 27, 2012.)

     [7] Hans-Joachim Köhler Flugschriften des Frühen 16. Jahrhunderts, Microfiche Serie 1978: 41 Nr.109 in 8/Box No 1. “Ain Lectiõ wider die Rottengayster/ und wie sich weltlich oberkayt halten sol/ aus der ersten epistle S. Pauli zu Timotheo/ an Freytag nach Oculi.” See the appendix at the end of this paper for a translation of the end of his sermon. It provides a look at Luther’s mentality during this time. (WA To be determined.)

     [8] WA, Vol 17, Part 1, xxxi.

     [9] Thomas M. Lindsay, A History of the Reformation, Vol. I, (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark, 1922), p. 336. Lindsay gives an itinerary for Luther in this campaign placing Luther in Erfurt on April 28th, which is the day the councilman, Huttener, let the peasants into the gates of the city. Because this visit is not at all mentioned, not even in the letter the eternal council wrote to Luther shortly thereafter on May 9th, it must be based on an erroneous source: see W.A., Vol 17, Part 1, xxxi f. Perhaps there is a confusion with a journey of Luther’s to Orlamünde of the year before.

     [10] WA, Vol 17, Part 1, xxxi f. Luther is here quoted concerning his trip from “A Warning to My Dear Germans.”

     [11] Walther Peter Fuchs, Akten zur Geschichte des Bauernkriegs in Mitteldeutschland, Zwei Bände in 3 Teilen, Vol. II, Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964), p. 163.

     [12] Günther Franz, Der deutsche Bauernkrieg 1525, (Berlin: Deutsche Buch Gemeinschaft,1926),p. 277.

     [13]Paul Kirn, Friedrich der Weise und die Kirche, (Habilitationsschrift vor der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Leipzig, 28. April 1926), p. 162.

     [14] Ulman Weiss, Ein fruchtbar Bethlehem, (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1982), p.7.

     [15]Günter Franz, (1956), page 246.

     [16] R. W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany, (London: The Hambledon Press, 1987), p. 195.

     [17] WA, Vol XVIII, p. 531.

     [18] Ulman Weiss, Ein fruchtbar Bethlehem, (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1982), p.71. Weiss is quoting WA Letters, Vol. II, No. 406. On pages 68-70 Weiss tells of Luther being fêted by the city and describes the students looting and destroying 44 houses of the curia in the conflict afterward.

     [19]R. W. Scribner, op. cit., p. 197.

     [20]Ibid., p. 198.

     [21]R.W. Scribner, op. cit., p. 201.

     [22] George Hunston Williams, in The Radical Reformation, (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1962), p. 77; finds that such a council might have an eschatological character referring to Peter Kamerau’s book entitled, Melchior Hoffman (Haarlem, 1954), 85,88; which book was not yet available for this paper. But Kamerow speaks of a “Council of the Endtime” as opposed to an “eternal council.”  Thomas Müntzer and Heinrich Pfeiffer named their new council in Mühlhausen an “eternal council”. G. Franz relates that this was also the case for Nordhausen.

T. A. Brady, Jr., in responding to my paper, finds Williams’ suggestion unconvincing. He argues that the term “ewig” often meant “perpetual,” as opposed to having a limited term. Thus a perpetual rent (“ewig“) is one that is not limited to the life of the debtor. The term “ewig,” he argues, “has nothing to do with apocalypticism or eternity.” It would be interesting to see whether in other regions of the conflict, cities taken by the peasants, or city councils toppled by the peasants, were given such a designation.

     [23] R.W. Scribner, op. cit., p. 202.

     [24] G. Franz, (1956), op. cit., p. 247. also see Blickle, Communal Reformation, op. cit., p. 90. He notes that another set of articles representing the peasants’ interests may have become lost.

     [25] R. W. Scribner, op. cit., p. 202.

     [26] Ibid.

     [27] Ibid., p. 202.

     [28] According to Günther Franz, Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg (1956). See pages 245-248 for an account of how the Peasants’ War transpired in that city and how the 28 Articles were written.

     [29]Günther Franz, Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg, (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1956),p.247-8.

     [30] WA, Vol XVIII, p. 531.

     [31] WA, op. cit.,p. 534. These following remarks are translated from the WA pages 534-540.

     [32] “That a Christian Gathering or Community has the Right and Power to Evaluate All Teaching, call teachers, to elect and also to dismiss them: the Basis and Reason taken from the Scripture,” January, 1523. Hans-Joachim Köhler Flugschriften des Frühen 16. Jahrhunderts, Microfiche Serie 1978: 144 Nr.121 in 8/Box No 1. Also see WA 11: 408-416 and LW 39: 303-314.

     [33]Gert Haendler, Luther on Ministerial Office and Congregational Function, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 57. Ruth Gritsch translates G. Haendler i. e., Luther: “That a Christian Assembly or Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proven by Scripture.” At this early date in 1523, a communal principle cannot yet be differentiated from a congregational one. G. Haendler is distinguishing a congregational principle from the higher authority of the office of ministry represented by the priests, bishops, abbots, archbishops, and popes, i. e., the hierarchical principle.

     [34]Peter Blickle, Communal Reformation, op. cit., p.101.

     [35] Ibid.

     [36]Franziska Conrad, Reformation in der Bäuerlichen Gesellschaft, ( Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden, GMBH, 1984.) p. 115.

     [37]In a response to my paper, Thomas Brady wrote: AConrad is talking about villages in southwestern Germany, whereas…urban communes and regimes [are the issue here]. The point is that a commune elects its magistrates (council), but a village does not select its own seigneur. Further, at Erfurt, with its immense number of parishes, no parish is identical with the commune (at Ulm, not much smaller, there was only one parish). [Comparing] the rural example [with] the Erfurt situation, it would suggest that each parish ought to select its own pastor. In a sense, Luther’s rule is similar to the seigneurial right to nominate to a parish. [This connection needs to be thought through.]

     [38]Even today only a powerful congregation attains the privilege of choosing its own pastor independently. Some denominations have a stronger congregational principle, but most congregations have to negotiate with a bishop or even accept his or her appointment.

     [39] Gert. Haendler, op. cit., p. 55-56.

     [40] Gert Haendler, op. cit., p. 64.

     [41]Gert Haendler, op. cit. page 72-73.

     [42]Martin Luther, Ausgewählte Werke, Calwer Ausgabe, Vol 3, (Stuttgart: Calwer’s Buchhandelung, 1933), p.167.

     [43] Tom Scott and W.R. Scribner in The German Peasants’ War, (New Jersey: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1991), p. 174.

     [44] Ibid.

     [45] The first article itself has grammatical problems which makes it difficult to translate and understand. It speaks of parishes (pfarner), parish (pfarr), parson (pfarrer), and that the community (gemein) should have the right to appoint or dismiss the parsons (pfarrer) of the said parish (pfarr). It reads:

Concerning the parishes, it is deemed good, that they should be divided into particular parishes (Pfarr) (of a size) most suitable for the town, and that an assembly (gemein) of each parish should elect and dismiss its own pastors. These appointed pastors should present the pure word of God clearly and without addition, for any and all human commands, regulations and teachings, affecting the conscience.

Walther Peter Fuchs, Akten zur Geschichte des Bauernkriegs in Mitteldeutschland, Zwei Bände in 3 Teilen, Vol. II, Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964),p. 250. My translation is helped by that of Tom Scott and W.R. Scribner in The German Peasants’ War ( New Jersey: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1991), p. 174.

     [46] It would be interesting to know how Luther would have reacted to a catholic city council electing its priest over the wish of a community for an evangelical pastor. He would certainly have upheld the communal principle in such a case. I wonder if Luther would have upheld the communal principle if an evangelical city council wanted to overrule a community of old believers? Would Luther have helped force this change on the community? I wonder.

     [47] Scott and Scribner, op. cit., p. 175.

     [48]Peter Blickle, Communal Reformation, translated by Thomas Dunlap, (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1192), p. 89, endnote 21.

Siegfried Hoyer makes the interesting point that when the towns people were mobilizing for battle, “The armed men of the towns were organized by quarters or districts (Vierteln).” This may well be the explanation for the term here used. Siegfried Hoyer in Bob Scribner and Gerhard Benecke, The German Peasants’ War: New View Points, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979), p. 101.

     [49]W.P.Fuchs, Akten, Vol. II, op. cit., p.250.

     [50] Ibid., p. 211. Peter Blickle in Communal Reformation (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1992), p. 66 explains that the “countryside” always referred to the peasants.

     [51]WA, Vol. 18, p. 535.

     [52] Tom Scott and Bob Scribner, editors and translators, The German Peasants’ War, (New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1991), p. 145-6.Because they themselves wanted seats on the eternal council, when Thomas Müntzer and Heinrich Pfeiffer deposed the old council of Mühlhausen, they had a vote in their church but only on the question whether or not to depose the old council. This won by 660 to 204 votes. Then the preachers, along with the committee of Eight, took the offices of the old council and named themselves life-time council members of their new eternal council. But no election is mentioned for them.

     [53]Bernd Möller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation, (Durham, North Carolina: The Labyrinth Press, 1982), p. 89. Here Möller states “the essence of the theological evolution of Zwingli and Bucer was the increasingly clear conception of church and civic community as one body.” “In logically linking the concept of church to justification by grace alone and by faith alone, [Luther] had exploded the unity of the medieval town.” Also see page 73 in the same book: “For [Luther] the communal relationship was not the central idea but only one of second rank…..the town in the Middle Ages thought of the individual primarily as a member of the community…..Luther rejected this kind of thinking. For him the Christian, as far as salvation was concerned, stood alone before God. One could not reach God by membership in a town or by an oath of citizenship. Instead, a twofold personal requirement was set: baptism and faith….With this conclusion the ancient and simple identification of the parish with the town became impossible.”

     [54] Ibid.

     [55] WA, Vol XVIII, p. 539. I used Tom Scott and Bob Scribner’s, The German Peasants‘ War, page 176, for help with this translation.

     [56]Ibid. My translation.

     [57] W.A., Vol 18, p. 540.

     [58] Matthew 20: 25-26.

     [59] The council of Erfurt was rather devious and some consideration has to be given for Luther’s belief that he had to counter them angrily and also with a devious attitude. Remember that the council played off Saxony against Mainz, to whose spiritual/temporal territory Erfurt belonged, striving to become an imperial city. They had the peasants destroy the buildings of the clerical estate of Mainz, in order to get out of repaying their debt. Remember that the high official of the council (Oberstratsmeister Hüttner) let the 4,000 peasants into the city on April 28th, after having given them five kegs of beer and five wagon loads of bread the day before. He quartered the orderly peasants in the courts of the monasteries and had them destroy the signs of the government of Mainz: the customs house, the salt store, and the hangman’s building. The idea was to continue secularizing the wealth of the spiritual estate to get out from under the spiritual dominion of Mainz. The peasants were really manipulated into continuing the policy of the city against Saxony and Mainz. Günter Franz, (1956), page 247.

     [60] Rereading my words from before, I now would see more nuances in my judgment of Luther. Here in California, the legislature passes laws and then all the voters can pass propositions, like proposition 13, that effectively prevents any increase in taxes and decimated educational funding. How does representative democracy and participatory democracy better harmonize together?

     [61]WA XVIII, page 539.

     [62]Luther uses this term often in his commentary of Psalm 101, but defines it differently from the way this study uses the term: See WA, Vol. 51, p. 239 ff.

     [63]Thomas Brady commented on my paper here: “You touch briefly on what seems to me to be the essential point, so far as the explanation of Luther’s positions is concerned. Communalism, as it was practiced in the southwest and was advancing in Thuringia, implied a capacity for uniting common need with sound judgment, which in turn depended on the accumulation of competence through long participation in self-government. That is how self-governing villages worked.”

     [64] Luthers Werke, Vol. 5,(München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1936), p. 428. Today in the Arab Spring, we can see that a popular uprising does not automatically make things better; they can become much worse. [This note was added April 30, 2012.)

     [65] Günter Franz, (1956), page 248.

     [66]From Luther’s response to the First Article in “Admonition to Peace…”, WA, Vol 18, p. 325.

     [67]Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (Abridged vols. I-VI), (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 379.

     [68] Hans-Joachim Köhler Flugschriften des Frühen 16. Jahrhunderts, Microfiche Serie 1978: 41 Nr.109 in 8/Box No 1. “Ain Lectiõ wider die Rottengayster/ und wie sich weltlich oberkayt halten sol/ aus der ersten epistle S. Pauli zu Timotheo/ an Freytag nach Oculi.”

     [69]Luther is Thomas Hobbes versus John Locke. Hobbes position: a year of anarchy is worse than 1,000 years of tyranny. John Locke: a year of tyranny is worse than 1,000 years of anarchy. The truth of each depends upon whether the people are wolves waiting for the chance to tear each other up or civilized like sheep, who can’t wait to benefit and support each other.

     [70]From Tom Scott and Bob Scribner, The German Peasants‘ War, pages 174-176.

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