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Archive for the ‘Luther and the Peasants’ War of 1525’ Category

Blogging my thoughts: the Social Justification by Faith

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Blogging my thoughts:

In packing boxes while getting ready to move, I found some notes jotted down during the writing of my dissertation that I did not throw away:

In my dissertation, I worked with four of Luther’s most popular pamphlets: Sermon on the Ban, Sermon on Good Works, The New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass, and the Freedom of a Christian. In analyzing these pamphlets I found that they follow the same regular pattern in critiquing the church of that day for the wealth and power of the hierarchy, the exclusion of the Christian laity from the spiritual estate, the fact that cardinals, bishops and priests did not consider it their duty to preach, unless called to do so with a different call above sacramental ordination. These factors, among others, brought opposition to the hierarchy of the spiritual estate.

In the Great Peasants’ War of 1525, the peasants were looking to improve their lot. They could work as peasants on the level of being feudal serfs but they could also work as peasants, like farmers as the equals of burghers and the common man.

Patrick Collinson, in The Religion of the Protestants[1] works with the concept of elective affinity comparing laws. He wrote that the many laws of that day were not like the ones the Puritans would have attempted – for a severe and legally enforced religious and moral discipline. The laws in Luther’s days amounted to an unjust legally enforced exploitation of the peasants. A complicity of the laity and clergy existed in undermining the severity of the Christian moral mandate. Karl Holl would also have argued that the legal practice of the church ban was not used for moral discipline. It was used for debt collection for the spiritual estate and control of the laity.

I think that Holl is convincing in arguing that Luther emphasized the conscience and the intensification of the Christian moral mandate. But Luther’s mandate is more than that of a religion of conscience. With conscientia – according to Steven Ozment, heart, soul, and spirit have to be included as well, to grasp Luther’s anthropological concepts referring to the whole person,[2] (and I add) in terms of maturity and creativity as well. Luther’s concept of spontaneity refers to being moved personally, but who cannot see that it is involved with initiating and sparking social movement for justice as well – rather than merely the justification of the person? Thus Luther’s theology should also include shalom or the Russian concept of sobornost. This idea is not one of a collective emotionalism or an enhancement of religious pleasure, but the experience of a new social and personal harmony and creativity in the further approximations of the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community – or what Luther describes as “the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance” – (to patch in some of my later work)[3] – while realizing that the Christian state is a historical problem not yet at all solved. Basing it as Luther does on reason and law, rather than a particular faith and Gospel, should not preclude greater and greater approximations of justice.

How can justification merely apply to an individual person? That ignores the historical reality of the social dynamism unleashed by Luther: the Wittenberg Disturbances came first, then the Knights’ Rebellion, and then the Peasants’ War or the Revolution of the Common Man as Peter Blickle would have it.

I like to relate Henri Bergson’s first order feelings and reactive ones.[4] A charismatic social movement as well as a charismatic personal response can issue from a first order “feeling,” that is, not a reactive feeling – but a feeling that initiates new thoughts, feelings, and actions.

So Luther experienced justification by faith as an individual; the peasants wanted justification by faith in terms of social justice. I was thinking in those terms when I wrote against systematic racism and justification not by race, but by grace.[5] What would constitute justification on a social level? The way a whole and mature person can be described as self-aware, autonomous, with quality relationships, etc., the basic ingredients of social justification should also be worked out, as Luther attempts to do in the third part of his pamphlet on Christian Freedom.


[1] Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: the Church and English Society 1559-1625, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 241.

[2] Luther’s thinking is holistic. When he refers to the anima, soul, cor, heart, spiritus, spirit, and conscientia, conscience, he always refers to the whole human being from a certain aspect. Steven Ozment notes that for Luther this totus homo is operationally united. Ozment, Steven, Homo Spiritualis: a Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson, and Martin Luther (1509-1516) in the Context of their Theological Thought, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), pages 89, 95, and 100.

[3] See the Third Mini-Lecture On Christian Freedom for Our Redeemer in South San Francisco. The existential rapture also applies to individuals and in face of personal realities can seem far-fetched. It is some flight of the imagination to take it to a collective level.

[4] Bergson, Henri, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1935, 1954).

[5] See my writing: Luther’s Justification is not by Race and my Social Ethics developed from Luther’s Theology.

Book Review: Martin Luther, On the Freedom of a Christian by Tryntje Helfferich

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Book Review with Translation Issuesby Peter D. S. Krey

Tryntje Helfferich, On the Freedom of a Christian with Related Texts, edited, translated, and with Introductions by the author. (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2013), 132 pages with a 21 page introduction and important introductions before each translated text, a two page bibliography for further reading, and an index slightly longer than seven pages. The footnotes are well researched, informative, filled with background and biographical notes, and very helpful for the reader as an introduction to this material.


It is always welcome to see Luther texts presented for readers today, especially with the coming Luther Decade and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation October 31, 2017. I was surprised that not the Latin, but the popular German version of Luther’s most popular pamphlet was translated by Tryntje Helfferich, because I had just translated it for Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), in an anthology for The Classics of Western Spirituality edited by my brother Philip D.W. Krey and me. Translation is such a challenging art, so I read Tryntje’s work avidly to compare her translation decisions with mine.

First to the contents of this short book and then to translation issues with what I hope is constructive criticism and a help for future translations.

Perhaps the title of the book should not read “with Related Texts,” but “with Opposing Texts,” because along with one of Luther’s most famous non-polemical pamphlets, Freedom of a Christian, containing the whole sum of the Christian life,Tryntje included Johannes Eck’s Handbook of Commonplaces against Luther and the Enemies of the Church, John Fisher’s Sermon against the Pernicious Doctrine of Martin Luther, Thomas Műntzer’s Highly Provoked Defense against the Spiritless, Soft-living Flesh at Wittenberg, (He’s referring to Luther of course.) and finally, Luther’s most notorious pamphlet, Against the Rioting Peasants, which registers down there with Luther’s most inexcusable outbursts full of rage, like his Anti-Semitic writings at the end of his life. During most of Luther’s life, he was able to keep opposite extremes in a tension that brought deep theological insights, but it seems at the end of his life he fell apart and produced scurrilous writings on the one hand and the wonderfully rich and rewarding Genesis Lectures on the other. How can one fathom that?

Again, what drew me to this book was Tryntje’s translation of the popular German version of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian. I thought that I had been the first to translate it until I discovered Bertram Lee Woolf’s translation for London’s Philosophical Library in 1956 in a two volume work named, Reformation Writings of Martin Luther (reissued in 2001). All the common translations of this very important writing that were available until now are from the intellectual Latin version and not this more spiritual one.

Tryntje’s translation is very strong and may well be “smoother and more faithful to Luther’s tone and meaning” (p. xxvi) than Woolf’s and mine, but the following criticisms are meant for a future translation that can provide the basis for one very much more improved. This pamphlet is worth it and even the foremost Luther scholar today, Oswald Bayer, asserts that it deserves more study.[1]

I believe that Bertram Woolf and I agreed on the significance of a passage of Freedom of a Christian of Luther’sin point 6: “What is the word that gives such great grace, and how shall I use it? Answer: It is nothing other than the preaching of Christ contained in the Gospel, which should be, and indeed is, presented so that you hear your God speak to you, explaining how all life, etc.” In my translation which, if I remember correctly, Woolf also affirmed when I discovered his translation, we made a full stop after “you,” namely, “so that you hear your God speaking to you! It shows how your whole life and work, etc.” There’s a vergula or slash in the pamphlet and in Otto Clemen’s Luthers Werke,[2] left out by the Weimar Edition. The vergula used by the printers can be interpreted as a comma or period. Placing a period there brings out the point that in, with, and under the words proclaimed by the preacher, God is speaking to you. As a preacher, one often marvels at what a listener in the congregation heard, something you realize that you did not say.

As opposed to Tryntje, I avoided using the word “doctrine” and always translated “teaching” because of how the doctrinal emphasis has distorted and dampened the creativity in Luther’s thought.[3] Then in Luther’s St. Paul’s citations, Tryntje uses the word “predestined” (p. 28) and “reprobate.” (p. 32) From Lutheran sensibilities, these are Calvinist words that do not belong in this quintessential Luther writing.

I respectfully disagree that gender inclusive language transforms the text, because in Luther’s day the masculine, patriarchal language did not offend women, but it does in our day, and that offense is the real transformation of the text, from my point of view.

Luther’s theology is misrepresented in the Introduction (p. xx), with Tryntje perhaps taking the cue from Johannes Eck, Luther’s life-long adversary, who “strongly criticizes Luther’s claim in Freedom [of a Christian] that the believer is his own priest.” (p. 50) Along the same line, in the Introduction, Tryntje writes, “Furthermore, Luther argued, Christians did not need a priesthood to mediate for them with God. Each man was his own priest and the overseer of his own soul.” (p. xx) Perhaps like Pope Leo X, Eck never read Freedom of a Christian, because in Tryntje’s own translation of the pamphlet, Luther writes, “Therefore in all his works his thoughts should be free and directed only so that he thereby serves and benefits other people. He should conceive of nothing else than what is necessary for the other.” (p. 37) (As an aside, Tryntje entitles this section “Man’s Relationship to Man,” which today is no longer inclusive of women.) Again just before the concluding paragraph of his pamphlet, Luther’s writes that we are not to seek our own benefit and intend thereby to expiate our sins and be saved, but “God’s goodness [must] flow from one to the other and become common to all, so that each one accepts his neighbor as if he were himself…the holy apostle said of love that it does not seek its own interests, but those of the neighbor.” (1 Cor. 13:5)(p. 41). Because each person is his or her neighbor’s priest,[4] Lutherans do not even sing hymns where the “I” is pronounced, as in “I Walk in the Garden Alone,” but only hymns using the pronoun “we.” That may also be why Scandinavian countries that are Lutheran are very socially advanced and Lutheran Social Services in this country makes a strong witness.

Tryntje’s decision to allow masculine language to dominate allows the structure of language to reinforce patriarchy. Language does not, of course, have absolute control and is not the only reinforcement of sexism, but it has a measure of influence. For example, when translating point 12, I wanted to soften the word “whore” and replace it with “harlot” in the marvelous exchange. The passage in question goes, when “the rich, noble, pious bridegroom Christ takes the poor, despised, evil whore in marriage, absorbs all of her wickedness, and adorns her with all goodness,” (p. 26) my decision was overturned and the word “whore” was replaced into the text. A woman that I know was really offended by this passage. The masculine gets to identify with the innocent Christ, while the soul, referred to in the grammatical feminine somehow sticks women with the very worst epithet: a whore.

Now God did not become a man as opposed to a woman in Christ, but God became a human being in Christ. So the passage could also be turned around: “the rich, noble, pious bride Christ takes the poor, despised, evil schmuck in marriage, absorbs all of his wickedness, and adorns him with all goodness.” That puts the man into the pejorative for a change. At least now there is a growing awareness that the woman in the streets should not be arrested, but all the Johns and pimps should be, because of their victimization of women and the rampant violence perpetrated against women. Linguistics has a way of forming social realities and shaping social policies, sometimes against women.

Tryntje uses the words “pious” and “piety” to translate the German word “fromm,” to use the modern spelling. I first translated the word as “religious.” A decision in my case was made to translate each occurrence of the word with “upright,” a word that I believe does not capture the whole meaning. “Spiritual” does not have the traditional churchly sense of the word. Today I would use the word “devout” which can be a noun or modifier. Very seldom are the words “pious” and “piety” used today.

The following assertion by Tryntje in the introduction to Eck’s Handbook left me skeptical. “Indeed, sixteenth-century Catholics were just as prolific as Protestants in publishing pamphlets, essays, sermons, and books to defend their own ideas and attack the ideas and character of their enemies.” (p. 43) David Bagchi estimates that there was a ratio of about five Reformation to one Catholic publication, especially when Luther’s non-polemical publications and his polemics against other Protestants are included.[5] Between 1521 and 1525 Luther himself published 192 titles while all his Catholic opponents between them published only 128. Many pamphlets in that day developed from sermons and while Luther preached two or three times a week, Cochleus, a staunch opponent of the Reformation at age 62 had never preached a sermon in his life.[6] Other evidence to the contrary of Tryntje’s assertion is the consideration that Catholic authorities frowned upon disputations that included the laity and thus Catholics wrote in heavy scholastic styles and mostly in Latin. Bagchi reports that publishers refused to publish Catholic works because they would not sell. Murner and Emser had to bear their own publication costs.[7] Meanwhile Luther became a best-selling author in his life-time with over a million copies of his pamphlets in the homes of the people.

That made me question Tryntje’s assertion that John Eck’s Handbook of Commonplaces appeared in almost a hundred printings in its various editions before 1600. (p. 49) But in reading the introduction of what seems a magisterial work of reconstructing Eck’s Latin text by Pierre Fraenkel – to translate the Latin title, “The Handbook of Commonplaces against Luther and the Enemies of the Church,”[8] it turned out that there could have been a hundred printings of Eck and his many revisions, some with the help of others. To explain the difference: Eck’s Handbook is probably an exception, because Bagchi does not follow printings until 1600, focuses more on Germany, rather than Italy, France, Spain, and pre-Elizabethan England, where the Reformation did not take hold; and most interestingly, Eck took Melanchthon’s popular Commonplaces as a model; and finally also translated his work into German. For those reasons, Eck’s Commonplaces was probably an exception.

Let me end with these comments: If Eck and Fisher are to be taken seriously asserting that good works are required and demanded for salvation, then those among us with wealth and power will be saved. Who can equal the works possible by a very powerful president or wealthy philanthropist? Exactly how many good works will save us? Sorry, a poor woman with MS in a wheelchair, who can do nothing, will be condemned. Such a woman said to me, “Will you please tell people that although I have MS and cannot be productive, that I still have value?” Good works leave us with the limitations of the law. We have to go to the source of good works, into the grace of the Gospel.

And Tryntje should have also included Eck’s chapter 27, his justification for burning heretics at the stake to balance Luther’s notorious pamphlet against the Thuringian Peasants, who in his area under Thomas Műntzer were plundering monasteries and burning down castles. That Luther supported going into battle against the peasants in those frightening times remains a blemish on his career and an inexcusable injustice on his part.

But while there is plenty of ammunition for an ad hominem argument demolishing the man, Luther, that will not refute the Christian truth of the Gospel of grace that he proclaimed. God’s Word and Luther’s teaching will remain for eternity. In German: Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr vergehet niemals and nimmer mehr. His is a version of the authentic subjective truth of Christianity that the unreformed, objective Church of that day wrongly rejected. Reconciliation, however, is on the horizon, because the times are changing.


[1] Oswald Bayer, Schöpfung als Anrede, (Tübingen: J C B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1990), p. 61: “Freedom of a Chrisitan [has] not received from Lutheran scholars the attention it deserves.“ (my translation) But see my dissertation, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron, (PhD diss. Graduate Theological Union, 2001) where I have a seventy-five page analysis of the Freedom of a Christian and have posited the structure in terms of “Existential Rapture.” For the latter see Peter Krey’s Website.

[2] Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Zweiter Band, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929).

[3] In a conversation with Hartmut Lehmann about Thomas Kaufmann’s biography of Martin Luther that I am translating for Eerdmans Publishing, I asked why Kaufmann called Luther a heretic throughout his book. Lehmann explained to me that he was calling him a heretic not from a Catholic point of view, but in order to honor Luther as an independent thinker! That is somewhat analogous with the Hamburg publishers in Luther’s day calling themselves Die Ketzerpresse, the Heretic-press, feeling honored to be so-called.

[4] In Freedom of a Christian, Luther even maintained that much more than a mere priest, believers should become Christs to their neighbors.

[5] David V. N. Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents (1518-1525), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), pp. 198-200.

[6] Ibid., p. 197.

[7] Ibid., pp. 199-200.

[8] Pierre Fraenkel, Johannes Eck: Enchiridion locorum communism adversus Lutherum et alios hostes ecclesiae, Published by Irwin Iserloh in Corpus Catholicorum: Werke Katholischer Schriftsteller im Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung, (Aschendorff, Műnster Westfalen, 1979).

Written by peterkrey

April 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm

My Dissertation “Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron” has just been E-Published!

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Scholardarity just e-published my dissertation, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron. Its 420 pages are available for a small price. I just developed ideas from its section on the “Freedom of a Christian” into a Lutheran social ethics and a theology of anti-racism. The first part of my dissertation is a manual of Luther’s most often published pamphlets from 1520-1525 and the second part argues my thesis that Luther overcame a juridical ethos of his time for an internal realm of freedom and spontaneity, in which the personal and social agent could act responsibly.

Written by peterkrey

January 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

What Happened to the Reformation? Responses

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For a preview of my 50 page book review,
“What Happened to the Reformation,” click here.

On Saturday, Jul 7, 2012 at 5:19 PM, Mark Krey wrote:

Hey Pop,
    I just finished reading “What happened to the Reformation” for the second time. I very much enjoyed the book review, it was very informative. Before I tell you exactly what I thought of it, I’ll just give you an idea of the impression I got of Harm Klueting after I read your work. I looked into him before I read and only really got up to speed about his leaving the Lutheran Church and joining the Catholic Church and how he was allowed to stay married to his wife who had become a nun. May I say I think it’s bold and awesome that you sent a copy to Harm Klueting right off the bat. I think he’ll really appreciate it.

I really couldn’t understand why Klueting would want to be Catholic after having been a Lutheran minister. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Lutheran and the idea of not being able to marry and devoting one’s life to spreading the gospel of love just seems contradictory. How can you preach love when you yourself deny yourself one of the most beautiful aspects of love? Marriage.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that Klueting falls into a category of people that I can most closely relate to celebrities who get involved in the church of Scientology here in Hollywood. They’re a kind of people who as opposed to championing the underdog and the free / individual thinker, they champion big brother, or secret societies/ secret knowledge. It’s an obsession for them and they’d rather be a small part of a bigger organization that claims to have an upper hand on the rest of the population as opposed to being a free thinking (play by your own rules) sort of person, who answers to no one but God. I myself fall into the second category.


Institutions of any kind I always approach with a watchful eye. Institutions, especially the bigger ones, always have a higher chance of corruption and I think the most important people involved in huge institutions are their internal affairs and human resources committees. I believe that even every film set should have an internal affairs person to make sure abuse is not present.

The other possibility, for which I would have to find evidence somehow, would be that Klueting left the Lutheran Church out of love because it was something his wife wanted and he wished to accompany her. I remember reading in the article I found on him that his wife had converted to Catholicism before him and because she was a nun already when he converted to a Catholic Priest they allowed them to stay married. In that case I guess Klueting might just be seen as a kind of lover who will take whatever side his wife may have taken out of support, even if it means writing a book in favor of Catholicism and discrediting the Reformation of the church he just recently was a member of. Once again, however, I’d have to find some kind of evidence for it. 

Your Ph.D. really shines through in “What Happened to the Reformation” because you are really a master of that period of time and it’s very evident when reading the piece. Because I’m not super well versed in that period of history, as I’m sure Klueting most likely is, I’m not totally able to give you very insightful thoughts on the topic. However, I do feel like it was an amazing history lesson and it did give me anecdotal evidence in support of all the claims I’ve heard that the Catholic Church was full of a lot of rot throughout history. Particularly Pope Julius II and his interdicts.

With your scholarship in this subject it’s quite evident that Klueting has not gotten away with any of the major issues he has breezed over in his book. What was most comforting to me about that was the idea that if someone with little knowledge of that time period, like myself, were to read his book, perhaps they would question if the Reformation was a historical occurrence that had been blown out of proportion and was in fact just a European myth. That reminds me of when people say Jesus Christ is just a myth and a friend once told me that the same people who say that 500 to 800 years from now will be saying the same thing about George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. I would say in no more than 500 years they’ll definitely be saying Alexander the Great was a myth as well. I’ve heard there is more contemporary historical evidence to support Jesus than there is for Alexander the Great. I don’t know if that’s true or not however.

You set an interesting stage at the beginning of the book review. You noted that the Protestant Reformation was squeezed between two periods in history: the Late Medieval Period and the Confessional Age. It’s really mind boggling to me just how rich and complex the period surrounding the Reformation really was. I know sometimes when we’ve talked about it, it can transition from one landmark event to another even just spanning Luther’s lifetime. The opening preface also has a good shock with Tom Brady and Heinz Schilling’s claim that the Reformation is “A harmless foundational myth for the belated German nation.” And they are right about one thing in that statement. Now that Harm Klueting is in fact a Catholic Priest, the Lutheran Reformation certainly is Harm-less. Ha, ha – just kidding.


Although that is a shocking claim he makes and to me was one of the first things that made me think Klueting is a bit of a radical for the Catholic Church and as I said before for reasons I’m not entirely certain of.

The idea that European historians, especially German ones, study the Reformation as a universal revolutionary turning point, was interesting. I suppose it shows a pride in the German nation and not at all that the claim that it is a universal revolutionary turning point is false. I know you mention a few times in the book review that nationalism is a false ultimate. I also found it interesting that there is a camp of historians who look at the Reformation exclusively outside of the context of the church, that is, only from a political and sociological standpoint. They strongly criticize those who look at the Reformation as something intimately connected to the church by saying that they are doing theology and not history.

This reminds me so much of an argument regarding the Bible. The argument is whether to see it as a historical document or as a metaphorical and religious/ mythological document. I suppose a middle ground has to be found in that argument. I liked your statement that the way you approach the argument on the two camps of historical Reformation study, is you look at the Reformation/ Luther as helping usher in the modern times in the countries where it was dominant but not in the countries where it was not dominant.

But I really agree with you that the Reformation was essential in progress in the areas it was prevalent in and most certainly wasn’t some kind of myth that was blown out of proportion. I would say it does fit the description of a revolutionary turning point in history. I never really realized just what a big impact it had on the state before I read your book review. Because the church and state were so intimately connected a reformation of the church directly affected and changed the very nature of the state and that’s amazing. A historian who wants to argue the Reformation was just a harmless myth has to be pretty oblivious to that.

I felt like you set the foundation early in your book review to address the problem of the power that the Catholic Church was wielding during the time of the Reformation. I noticed it when you put forth the ideas that the Catholic monastic orders became transnational corporations and the Roman Catholic Church became the first Western State. You juxtaposed those statements with the goal of all the nations answering to Christ’s kingdom of heaven. By the time I read deeper into the book review and was learning the history of Pope Pius IX and Leo XIII, it became clear to me that the Catholic Monastic order becoming the first Transnational corporation and the Roman Catholic Church becoming the first Western state in no way advanced the world toward the goal of the nations answering to Christ’s kingdom of heaven. In fact it had made the Popes power hungry and greedy and unwilling to let go of power even if it meant using military force. That’s almost as far from Christ as one can get.

In the next part of my response to your book review I’ll mention some details I liked and thoughts I had. I’ll add a further observation I came up with about Klueting from reading more of your review of his book and I’ll mention some other anecdotal things you mentioned that I found informative.


I loved your concept of the sovereign suffering servant combating nationalism and even the subtle destructive divisions of religion. That, to me, is the ultimate power of Christ. He can truly unify us all in mercy, love and forgiveness. It made me say to myself Christ is bigger than the label “Christianity”. The name of Jesus is beyond Christianity and religion for that matter.

It was around this part of your review, I can’t remember the precise page number, that I started to really see how the Reformation affected the state as I’d never truly understood before. I think it’s good and reasonable that you stated it isn’t right to call Luther the father of modern individualism but that he did make scripture and faith a deeply personal thing. In my opinion, that is a huge contribution to individualism. Though you’re right it in no way makes him the father of it.

I loved the quote of Luther that “Christians should cherish excommunication”. That’s a classic kind of school-of-hell Luther perspective. I thought it was beautiful that you mentioned John Paul II forgiving his would-be assassin. I’ve always liked John Paul as a Pope. It’s too bad he’s gone. I thought it was a brutal but informative anecdote about Henry VIII killing three Lutherans next to three Catholics.

But now going back to the discussion of what ushered in the modern times. I think it is valid to say, how you did say, Luther was a big influence in ushering in the modern times where the Reformation was dominant but you quote Klueting as saying “The onset of modern times remains ambiguous.” To me that just sounds like another cop out on Klueting’s part. His historical perspective in my opinion is not an intelligent one. Other details you point out from his book gave me the impression he’s downplaying the Reformation, covering it up, and even giving the Catholic Church a kind of credit for it as if it was a catholic reformation because the Catholic Church had gotten out of hand. Two things specifically you mention are the way he looks at the council of Trent in a good way when historians agree it was pretty pessimistic and much later in the book review you mention how just when Klueting could go into the 30 Years War, something you mention the Jesuits as having laid the ground work for, he just breezes by it and starts talking about the Baroque Era and the catholic reformation. So Klueting’s historical perspective doesn’t seem intelligent to me and that, to me, is one of the things that makes your book review good because someone with no knowledge of this time period, like myself, could take Klueting’s book as a well thought out scholarly work and suddenly say to myself, “Well, I guess the Reformation really wasn’t that big of a deal” or even “it was more of a myth”.

You have many terrific comparisons in your review. I notice also that you focus on the topic of the power of coercion versus not being allowed to coerce for a little while. Leading up to that you had some historical references and statements about nationalism and descriptions of the Catholic Church at that time that inspired some interesting thoughts in me.

I loved your comparison of the Jewish High Priest delivering Christ to the Romans to be crucified and a Bishop delivering a so called heretic to the civil authorities to be burnt at the stake. That is such a direct and blatant misuse of religious authority. They must have been so blind to the scriptures.

I loved your comparison of Luther to Galileo. The way Polanyi believed the Marxists trying to control scientists would destroy science. It made me think of the scientific method being corrupted to meet the kind of outcome the Marxists wanted. In the same way Luther felt the Papacy burning heretics was destroying the Christian conscience. If every one’s scared of being burned no one can be a Christ for someone else or worse yet, if they believe there are certain people who deserve to burn because the church deems it necessary then there’s no such thing as true Mercy, or at least the Mercy Christ wished to give.

To make a comparison of my own, I enjoyed how you boldly submitted the statement that “The authentic spiritual concern of the Secular Princes far surpassed that of the Roman Curia”. It made me think of Christ bringing the good news to the gentiles and how the gentiles were more passionate about it then God’s own chosen people the Jews.

Also it was a fascinating detail you mentioned about Luther listening to the quiet voice of his conscience. I thought to myself, is that where God resides? In our consciences? Like Elijah hearing the still small voice. And you mention later in the review how Luther quotes Christ as saying “Beware the kingdom of God is within you”. You manage to incorporate some really valuable insights into God being within and the kingdom of heaven as well in this book review.

Now one of the major insights I had from reading your review came from some of the very thoroughly described passages of exactly how the Catholic Church operated and appeared back then. You quote Berman about how the Clergy was the first translocal, transtribal, transfeudal, and transnational class in Europe to achieve political and legal unity and how they did it to combat the Emperor. I thought to myself, what’s worse, a legion of uniform, dogmatic, indoctrinated priests that make an immovable excommunicating institution with the power to burn people at the stake or an Emperor who is all powerful who can do whatever he wants. Are they the same thing? Thinking about it, there is such a thing as mob mentality and perhaps someone like a King can’t kill as many people as an institution can. Of course I really don’t know what the answer to that is. Though overall the idea the clergy mobilized so fast is frightening.

The excerpt from Berman you used really made me see how one could call the church the first state and reading about the German Bishops, the Bishop reforms, and the Princes who were Emergency-Bishops really amazed me at how religious authorities back then were so intimately connected to rulers.

And so the thought came to mind for me at this point that things were coming to a head, and that this had not been going on just since the founding of the Christian church back when Constantine declared Christianity the religion of Rome, but that it’s been going on since the beginning of time: Religion as a governing power. Looking back at all the ancient kings probably most of them were despots and high priests and so ruling over people went hand in hand with having religious authority. Thus when I read your passage about Luther burning the cannon law it struck a chord with me. It’s like Religion (as a code or guideline not as a ritual for comfort and connection to God) itself in many ways is like a symbol of human sin, and we need to rise above religion and see that religion should hold no Law above us. It’s like the very idea that religion should be supported and empowered goes against what religion really is and doesn’t make it religion any longer.

Like you mention later in the review an idea I loved very much. Taking away the power of coercion and excommunication from the church made it more Christ-like. Thus in many ways giving the power back to Christ. It’s like how is Christ all powerful if every time someone profaned his name we went and killed that person. It just shows me that Allah and Mohamed must in fact be the weakest and most insecure religious figures in all of history.

All of your statements really rang true for me in regard to coercion vs. non coercion. I love your quote “Christ invited us into the life of the Gospel, which cannot be legislated”. You bring up nationalism within your book review a few times. You restate it at the end as well: “Nationalism is a distortion of religious fervor and a nation is a false ultimate”. Earlier in the book review you state that “it is Catholic (universal) Christian fervor that I believe became transformed into nationalism”. This, to me though I have not really read up on the subject of nationalism, seems like a very unique and interesting idea. Your review definitely gives weight to the idea. Not only that, but you address it from a standpoint of why nationalism should not be considered from the Christian perspective: “Christian spiritual fervor should trump nationalism”. I felt a bit like you were relating this to the idea of following the sovereign suffering servant.

You also say that Muslims still need to get to that point and I couldn’t agree more. With your argument about nationalism, you beautifully utilize a quote of Luther that made me see some of Christ’s word through new eyes. That while people are searching for an ultimate in nationalism, and not finding it, we read in the scripture Christ’s own words telling us just where his kingdom is. You quote Luther talking about God’s non bodily kingdom using Christ’s words “My kingdom is not of this world”. What an implication that was to me. Looking at it from a political and sociological standpoint Christ’s kingdom cannot be one with a ruler and states and laws and boundaries because those are all earthly human sociological and political standards for a kingdom. If Christ’s kingdom is not of this world it simply cannot contain any of those. It has new and different standards and laws that govern it. Some we may never be able to understand in this lifetime, but all of them based in Love, mercy, forgiveness, hope and faith I would imagine.

To further illustrate the two kingdoms theory that you mention throughout the book review, toward the end you juxtapose two observations of the two kingdoms. In the sight of the world power, accomplishments, and wealth get people’s attention. God does not notice such things, however. To get God’s attention you do the things (and become good at the things) that are of value in his kingdom: meditation, teaching, counseling. Also the quote of Luther you mention that “The Popes’ excommunicating for material gain in truth meant that they spiritually excommunicated themselves in the end”. That is a very informative illustration of some of the laws that govern the kingdom of heaven.

I think it’s great that because you know the history so well you’re able to point out a lot of the ghastly things that the Catholic Church did during this time period that Klueting seems to breeze over. It’s better for the world in general to have different perspectives on historical periods like this. Although I will agree with you that I also found one thing interesting from Klueting’s work. You mentioned that he clarified the meaning of “Huguenot”: The idea that it meant “those who had taken oaths to be comrades together”. To me it was moving, because it made their persecution and suffering more real to me.

A question I had, and I believe the question came up simply because I’m not well versed in the history of the Catholic Church. You mention that the Pope remained a prisoner of the Vatican until Pope John Paul II, who was the most recent Pope and who just died. I know you mention that Pius the IX declared himself prisoner of the Vatican. Was there something that happened in history? Did John Paul II declare himself no longer to be a prisoner in the last century? Just curious. It was an interesting passage in your book review and it prompted me to want to know more about that situation.

The following are some more quotes and ideas of Luther, some anecdotal stories from your book review, and some of your quotes that I really liked. I liked the following Luther quotes “The only standing we have is God’s Mercy”. Also Luther’s classic idea of opposites coming into play. “Complete opposition between God and the Human, and in that dynamic tension, humanity itself becomes elevated into divinity”. It’s quotes like that one that always make me say talking with Luther must have been a really far out experience. He must have blown peoples’ minds often.

It was moving to read what Thomas Cranmer said about the Pope right before he was burned on the stake: “He denies him like Christ’s enemy and the Antichrist”. Pretty bold. It sounds like the Arch Bishop of Canterbury was a dude with some pretty strong religious convictions. The quote you use from Thomas Hobbes to describe the Catholic Church is often how I’ve thought of the Catholic Church. It really paints an amazing picture: “The ghost of the Roman empire on the grave thereof!”

At the bottom of page 39 and the top of page 40 you go into the topic of free will. This was a particularly interesting part for me as free will has been a topic on my mind regularly since I moved out from my roommates back in October. One thing to me that makes Luther’s words so applicable to my life in this day and age is his almost Buddhist or Zen-like thoughts on the will of God and human free will. As you state before, the Catholics say humans have a free will but that it does not always align with God’s will. Luther believes God miraculously acts through us so that even our free will is actually God acting in us to bring about his will.

To me this is just a groundbreaking understanding of life itself. We cannot know when our very sins are being used to aid God’s will. In this day and age, perhaps because I was raised Lutheran, I don’t like taking credit for good things I’ve done because I know it wasn’t me that did those things, but it was God inside of me. I know I can do nothing without God. If God truly took his hand away from me, I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed in the morning. Thus sometimes when I’ve been angry with someone and I think of the terrible things I could have done or terrible things I could have said to them I’m not grateful to myself that I did not say or do the things, I see it as a blessing from God.

When I look back at my life and I see that I haven’t been to jail, or gotten some girl pregnant, or killed someone, I say that’s not because I’m scared or extra nice or just in the wrong place at the right time, but that it is because it has not been God’s will to have me do those things. Now if down the road I find myself in the unfortunate position that I have done some of those things, while I may feel terrible about it, it’s important for me to remember that it may be for God’s ultimate purpose and will that I did those things and God may be working on turning my sins into blessings. It makes sense to me now in my life more than ever Luther’s belief that a Christian has no free will and what seems like the will of a Christian is actually God working through them.

My co star for the film I just did is an Episcopal and he and I and another member of the crew where talking religion. He was explaining the Episcopal faith and asked me what it was exactly that we as Lutherans believe. I tried to explain to him but it was quite literally after he explained as an Episcopal he believed it was important to try to get God’s word out there and to help people. I tried to explain Protestantism to him right after that by simply saying we’re saved by faith and you can do whatever you want. For him it seemed too big of a leap of faith to believe that if a human being can do whatever they want that they will do good. I tried to explain that God can use our sin and the things we do wrong even to push his will further and that it might be a part of God’s plan for us to wind up in jail or something of that nature, but while he seemed to understand that on a kind of Zen, Ying and Yang kind of level, he didn’t seem to be able to grasp faith in one’s self: that the spirit of Christ is in all of us. And I don’t know if that’s what it comes down to, but often to me it feels like that. Like I need to have faith Christ is in me and is working through me and then I have to go with what feels right and even as Luther says “If you’re going to sin, then sin boldly, but more boldly still believe”.

And on that note of God using our sins and death as a way of bringing life, I’ll end this response to your wonderful book review with your own quote that really spoke to me.

“How much easier to burn an enemy of the faith at the stake, rather than burn with fervent love, hope, and faith, like
the burning bush whose fire did not consume its branches!”

Just like the cross, a symbol of death and despair became the very symbol of life and hope, so, as your quotes truly illustrate, the burning of all the martyrs in that rough period of history, each of them is like a fire that will never go out testifying to the truth of Christ. Great job Pop! This was an enjoyable and incredibly informative read and I hope my response is helpful to you.


July 9, 2012

Dear Mark,

Thank you so much for your response to my piece. When you learn more about the period in question, you’ll be more critical of my work. I’m really not quite the master of the material the way you take me to be. I have studied it a little, however.

That is quite an insight you have about the large institutions having corruption problems. Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It would have been good if the Catholic bishops had had an internal affairs committee to watch out over the bishops and how they were more concerned with their reputation than the victims of the priests who were into pedophilia and child abuse. That could have saved them all the trouble they are now in.

That you label Harm Klueting a bit radical, I think comes down to the tendency of converts to be more fervent than long standing adherents of a religion, St. Paul, for example. Thank you for pointing out the fact that Klueting was a Lutheran pastor before he converted, following his wife, who became a Carmelite nun. That is really significant!

It is very difficult to prove the existence of a historical figure. It seems a stretch to say that Jesus was a myth, when he has over two billion followers in the world today. Albert Schweitzer in his book, The Search for the Historical Jesus, refuted such nineteenth century arguments by David Friedrich Strauss and Bruno Bauer. And the Protestant Reformation was no myth: in the year 2000 it is estimated that there were 1 billion, 57 million Catholics in the world, 342 million Protestants, 386 million Independents, probably Pentecostals; 215 million Orthodox, and 79 million Anglicans – and 26 million other Christians. If you add the Protestants, the Pentecostals, and Anglicans, there are more Christians influenced by the Reformation than the Catholic Church.[1]

You picked up on an insight that Tom Brady and I had during a discussion: that catholic monastic orders took the Protestant form of transnational corporations. It follows from Max Weber’s theory of inner worldly asceticism stemming from the “priesthood of all believers.” Weber would develop his theory more from a rationalism of Calvinist tradition than from Luther, of course. But Calvin was very much influenced by Luther.

That the Roman Catholic Church became the first Western state is an insight from Berman and very few scholars have taken Luther’s legal revolution into account that stripped the Church of its coercive power through the rule of law. Luther pointed out that coercion and persuasion were obviously incompatible and that is one part of his two kingdom theory.

I like the way you notice that Harm Klueting is giving the culprit the credit for the Reformation. One can really speak of a tyranny of the Catholic Church as a quasi-state in those days that makes sense of Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” A line in a verse we usually do not sing goes “God’s Word forever will abide, no thanks to foes who fear it.” Klueting’s revision of history that exchanges the good guys for the bad guys is not cool.

When the French Catholics wiped out most of the Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the pope had a Te Deum sung in Rome. But we cannot be triumphalist, because Luther also sinned against the peasants and the Jews.

The early ecumenical movement began to notice that nationalism was problematic for Christianity. As I mentioned on the telephone, my father as a machine gunner in the First World War heard the Tommy lying out in the battle field screaming the name of Jesus before they died. Here he was a German drafted out of the seminary, a fervent Christian shooting other Christians just because he was German and the Tommy was British! What was wrong with this picture? Nationalism was stronger than our witness to Christ and our fervor for the kingdom of heaven.

I think the best metaphor for the Catholic Church burning heretics at the stake the way the Jewish High Priest had Jesus crucified, comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what can it be salted? (Mat 5:13) When the Church is doing that it has lost its salt and it needs to be reformed. Luther did not consider himself to be the Reformer, but Christ himself. Christus Reformator, Christ himself is the Reformer of a church that needs continual reformation: Ecclesia semper reformanda!

You pick up the Berman insight that the “Clergy was the first translocal, transtribal, transfeudal, and transnational class in Europe to achieve political and legal unity.” And you point out, “How they did it to combat the Emperor.” Joseph Lortz another Catholic historian, whom I greatly admire, pointed out that when the papacy did-in the emperor, they took away the universalism of the papacy. The pope and the emperor were supposed to stand by each other. Suddenly the papacy was usurping the temporal power of the emperor and even becoming a territorial monarch among others, because of the slow and steady dissolution of the empire. In taking the side of the king of France against the emperor, the papacy went into the Avignon Captivity and became a French bishop for seventy years. Thereafter this captivity issued into the great Schism of Italian popes against the French popes. At the conclusion of the schism there were three popes excommunicating each other.

I don’t know how viable the setup would have been if the popes and emperors had held together. It would still have been an earthly arrangement that would ultimately have been accountable to Christ and the judgment of the kingdom of heaven. No earthly arrangement can make claims to ultimacy.

The class of clergy described by Berman was organized by the revolution that Hildebrand, that is, Pope Gregory VII put into place in the eleventh century. He setup the episcopal courts under the canon law and enforced clerical celibacy. For the investiture controversy, he also made sure that no temporal king could place a bishop into office over a province. Kings and princes liked to do that, because then, like the pope, they did not have to worry about a son trying to be the successor of the father in that office. If the ruler was a bishop, then every son was illegitimate. But if the king placed a prince over a province, then that prince would want his son to follow him and the king would lose control of the succession. So kings wanted the right to call bishops. While they had that long controversy, the church won that exclusive right. But then the church had Prince-bishops that were placed by the pope and that had temporal rule, that is, just like the secular rulers. That way the church gained against the temporal rulers both in temporal rule and in owning ever more productive property. That is where Berman’s class of priests gets the better of the secular rulers and the shot goes over the bow of the clericalist ship of state, when Luther proclaims “the priesthood of all believers.” Luther was overturning Gregory’s revolution, like a second Hildebrand undoing the problematic legal and temporal implications of the revolution of the first.

You have many wonderful insights from pages 11 to 15 that are a real contribution. In terms of Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII declaring themselves “Prisoners of the Vatican,” I used to think it was only a matter of the popes sulking about their loss of the Papal States and Rome to the nation of Italy. Now I realize they always depended on Catholic nations to send in armies to conquer the Papal States and Rome for the papacy again. After 1870 no Catholic nation would comply again, so their loss became permanent. My hypothesis is that the papacy was the reason for the belated nationhood of Germany as well as Italy and I realize that I am inconsistent about my position on the progress of nationhood, when I call nations false ultimates. But I believe that if a papacy wants to have sovereignty over a state it stands in a greater contradiction to the Lord Christ and the kingdom of heaven, because of the use of military power in making the conquest and coercive maintenance of power thereafter, than when secular rulers do that and have it. They could not do that in the name of God.

On the freedom of the will, I have a question. If a person can’t receive credit for the good things they’ve done, can they be blamed for the evil things, for crimes that they’ve committed? Even though this is inconsistent, I believe that such a person can be blamed. Luther was inconsistent as well when he held that God did elect believers for eternal life, but did not elect unbelievers for eternal damnation. Calvin believed in double predestination, while Luther did not. Luther held that things could not be understood in the light of nature that could be understood in the light of grace and those things that could not be understood in the light of grace could be understood in the light of glory. Why a person who commits a crime can be blamed cannot be understood in the light of grace, (he argued) but could be understood in the light of glory. (He writes about these three levels of life and thought at the end of his Bondage of the Will.

You are broaching some difficult territory in your free will discussion. The glory of God is that God changes the evil that we do into blessings. Think of Joseph’s brothers, who almost kill him and then sell Joseph into the living death of slavery. It is the glory of God that changed that crime into an important milestone on God’s way of salvation – to save the chosen people from starvation in the great famine and the greater miracle of turning around the hardened hearts of his brothers by forgiving them. It also, of course, set the stage for the Exodus with Moses. Joseph is also like a pre-figuration of Christ, especially in his tough love and his heart-rending forgiveness of his brothers. But they had to live a lie for 22 years before they had to face up to their lie and they were exposed openly for it.

So somehow, it is not evil per se, but only that evil that God can change into a blessing. But God is omnipotent and sometimes I say, omnipotent in love, meaning that God’s omnipotence should not be understood in the sense of science or Greek natural philosophy. I’m not sure of myself here. I want to limit science and Greek philosophy here rather than God. The important thing is to remain under that heaven of grace that Luther writes about.

You write, “On that note of God using our sins and death as a way of bringing life, I’ll end this response to your wonderful book.” You are really down deep with your insight there, which nearly takes my breath away. You realize that with Christ in us, that as his death became our life, so our deaths become the lives of others. Like I realized that with Christ in us, we also become Words of God like Christ is the Word of God. I used to say that we are little christs, but I was corrected by Timothy Wengert, a colleague of Philip’s in Philadelphia, who showed me that in the “Freedom of a Christian” Luther said we become Christs to others, not little ones.

But let me add another insight that I had preaching about on 1 Corinthians 13 to our family congregation one time in Wilmington. We can bear all things, believe, hope, and endure all things, so long as we are in the hand of God. It does not apply outside God’s hand. For us, however, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God: neither death nor life, nor angels or rulers, powers or principalities, etc. (Romans 8:37-38) or take us out of the hand of God, because we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!

Mark, your response meant so much to me and I am so grateful to you for it.



Mark Krey  9:06 PM (3 hours ago) July11, 2012

Hey Pop,

njoyed your response to my response 🙂

I agree with you that converts can be more zealous then those who have been practicing for a long time. Take Cat Stevens for instance and the whole Salman Rushdie Scandal.

It was really fascinating to me that you look at Saint Paul in that way and I think that is a very valuable take on scripture because it gives more of a understanding of Paul’s narrow point of view, what with homosexuality and all. That’s pretty enlightening! Thanks Dad 🙂

I think it’s cool that Luther saw himself as Christ because it gives further weight to how we are all Christs as you say and we are all the light of the world for that matter. Luther was a real light back in his period of history I would say, with the exception as you mentioned his “smite stab and slay” remarks. We all fall short of course.

I feel that whether a person takes blame for the horrible things they’ve done or not, the world will most certainly give them what is due. But the world’s good vs. bad detector, in many ways, is far more black and white than grey in my opinion. Also, unfortunately because of Money and Power a lot of Bad can go unnoticed in the world. It’s still the big mystery to me, I suppose but I really can understand Luther’s comment about Glory vs. Grace.

Surely there is no Glory in committing Evil, perhaps in ancient times warfare was glorified, but there was something else to that, it wasn’t only the bloodshed, it was also the valor, running headlong into death and not thinking twice about it. There was something really admirable about it and I think that was a big part in what made war glorious and added to the blood shed as a glorious thing.

But I can imagine there is no glory to be had in these multimillion dollar companies opening sweat shops in other countries. Any person who would find some kind of pride evoking glory for themselves through these actions is someone who is quite disillusioned and when the clarity of mind and truth arrives at their door, they’ll be in for a real shocker.

But one thing that I always think about is how God’s will is not carried out in a glorious way. I mean God’s ultimate salvation to mankind was one of Grace, but Christ’s royal march to his throne was more of a brutal torturous hike to a horrendous humiliating death. And yet I look upon the scene of his march to Golgotha and his being lifted up on the cross as one of the highest glories a human can achieve. Thus, to me, he is God.

I agree that what is most important is staying under the heaven of God’s grace, although I have no guarantee that I will not fall under the spell of sin and wind up feeling like a slave to sin and socially dead as well. But even in such a condition I suppose it’s necessary to still believe I’m under the heaven of God’s grace and God will get me out of it and bring some good from it.

I agree with you too that nothing can take us out of God’s Hand. We are utterly his forever 🙂

I’m looking forward to seeing you guys on the 17th! I’ll be at the film set on the 14th and 15th, this weekend, so I don’t know I’ll be able to call you guys before then, but I’ll definitely see you on the 17th!



On Thursday, Jul 12, 2012 at 10:53 PM, Peter Krey wrote:

July 12, 2012

dear Mark,
I was still thinking about your statements about whatever God did through you whether good or evil, God would somehow use it to God’s purposes. While reading today, a thought came in edgewise. You should not have a sense of divine fatalism, like you had to be resigned to whatever fate God ascribed to you. First I thought we who follow Christ, participate in Divine creativity. Then I thought, we share God’s Will, when we are one with God. Thus we even participate in the freedom of God’s Will, especially when we have died to ourselves and come alive to God in Christ. So it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Especially if we have come to understand that we too are therefore Words of God and Lights of the World.


That is a far cry from a fatalism, when we actually participate in the freedom of God’s will – that is something far greater freedom than mere human free will.
I wonder if those thoughts are helpful?

From: M. Krey
Date: Monday, Jul 16, 2012 at 3:34 PM

Another response

To: Peter Krey

Hey Dad,
Thanks for your thoughts. I think I have been dealing with a kind of divine fatalism lately. Through your e-mail you expressed an idea I never really understood till now. I’d heard you speak of how God makes us a part of God’s continuous creation.
So from the e-mail you sent I now understand it. As members of the body of Christ, we all, together, create the body of Christ, God himself, who is always acting and always active building on his creation. God works with us through our will and adds to his creation. Thus when we create something to bring it into the world, it is actually God working through us bringing a new thing into the creation. Thus we are all gods or as you’ve said little Christs that, added together, create a complete Christ that is using all of our wills to push forth his will of continuous creation that is actually our will as well. Basically our will and dreams and hopes are important to God in that they are also God’s will and dreams and hopes because we are all the members of Christ that make up the body of Christ.
I never really understood that until now; until you e-mailed me. When I was speaking of my own will and neither being responsible for the good or the bad that I would do, I wasn’t taking into consideration my own creativity. I think, though a lot of times I don’t notice it, my creativity is a kind of free will I wouldn’t be able to live without. It’s a freeing and beautiful idea to think I am acting with God when I wish to bring something beautiful into existence. That it is God working through me to make his creation more beautiful.

I’m looking forward to seeing You, Mom and Josh and having an adventure on the east coast! See you tomorrow morning!


[1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: the Coming of Global Christianity, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), page 61.

For an eight page preview of the book review that runs 50 pages, click here.

Written by peterkrey

July 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm

My Pre-Graduate School Manuscripts are being recovered for Scholardarity

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I’m painstakingly recovering old manuscripts that I wrote about Luther and the German Peasants’ War of 1525. They were on old 5 1/4 inch floppies, which I had copied on to 3 and 1/2 inch discs, and then to a flash drive. In those days I used an old Leading Edge Model D word processor. Wordperfect helped recover some data best. Microsoft word brought them in garbled with strange symbols.

The manuscript “Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers” is second part of a larger one, “Luther and the Peasants’ War,” which is also the tile of Part 1. Part 1 has 26 pages single spaced counting the endnotes and Part 2 has 23 pages, from page 27-49, and Part 3, “The Apology for Luther’s Theology and the Two Kingdom Theory” continues from page 50 to page 107, including 224 endnotes. It is a single-spaced document, which was on several floppies, because at the time, such floppies could not hold the whole document.

I am still working on recovering as many of these pre-graduate school works as possible. After these Luther manuscripts, I’ll try to recover my work on Dating the Exodus, a two hundred page manuscript finished on April 14, 1986. Trips with my congregation to Israel and Egypt sparked my interest in trying to nail down the early or late date for the Exodus. I wrote this manuscript before becoming interested in Luther, which was sparked because I attended the Luther Jubilee in Washington, D.C. in 1983 – Luther’s 500th birthday. I wrote my first manuscript thereafter: Reflections on the Luther Jubilee Lectures, (November 6-12, 1983).

After the Luther Jubilee, I must have written and revised one manuscript after another on Luther and the Peasants’ War and then went to graduate school to study the controversy further, only to have to change my course after five years to studying Luther’s pamphlets. The last manuscript I wrote on Luther and the Peasants’ War of 1525 before starting the pamphlet study was a socio-linguistic approach, which now has been posted. I wrote this note about my manuscripts on December 17, 2010 and just revised it on May 25, 2012.

I have not yet been able to recover Part 1. But three parts are finished:

In Four Parts

 1. Luther and the Peasants War 2. Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers

3. Apologists for Luther’s Theology and the Two Kingdom Theory

4. Luther and the Great German Peasants’ War: a Little Known Story

   (a manuscript in four parts recovered from 5 1/4  inch floppy disks)

Written by peterkrey

May 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm


with one comment




                    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.

Luther and the Great German Peasants’ War of 1525

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I just finished posting the first chapter of a book that I was writing on Luther and the Great German Peasants’ War of 1525. It is about 100 pages double-spaced in courier font. The wordpress font makes it about three quarters as long. I guess because of its size wordpress put it right into its category, Luther and the subcategory, the Peasants’ War, on the right of my blog.

I had to get the manuscript from little sections contained in 5 and 1/4 inch floppies. Where I thought a paragraph was missing, it turned out 40 pages were missing. But it was a labor of love. I have many more manuscripts that I never published. The next one I hope to get into my blog is Luther and the Niebuhr Brothers, again in relation to the position he took against the Peasants’ War. That is also a long chapter.

I had hoped to go to graduate school and start publishing my work, but after another six years of studying Luther and the Peasants’ War, I had to change my thesis to Luther and pamphlet studies. When I investigated what I thought was a legalistic ethos of his time, I was surprised to discover that there were actually two ecclesiastical court systems, the old arch-deaconal court and the newer  episcopal courts besides all of the civil courts. Luther’s burning the canon law on Dec. 10, 1520 was incredibly revolutionary. The manuscript I just posted was my last writing before leaving for graduate school.

If only the German peasants could have known about a non-violent approach, they may have brought their regime down, the way the Egyptians just did. As it was, the murderous feudal transitioning to territorial structure of governance killed an estimated 100,000 peasants in that war that was no war but a massacre of peasants. Many an evangelical pastor sided with the peasants and had to stretch his neck out on the chopping block as well. I think that this underside of the Reformation is well worth remembering.

See The Great Peasants’ War in Germany of 1525: a Little Known Story.

Written by peterkrey

February 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm