Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution that followed
by Thomas Leckwold
Author's Notes: This paper wades into the often emotional aspects of the role of
Christianity in Western society, and specifically in central Europe during the 16th
century. This paper is not meant as a critique or condemnation of the Roman Catholic
Church, the Pope, or the clergy, nor is it meant to be a promotion or condemnation
of Martin Luther and other leaders of the reform movement that led to the Protestant
Reformation. It is an attempt to provide a view of the societal influences that
were contributing factors that led the people of Europe to take up arms to settle
Martin Luther's Ninety Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences was
nailed to the castle church in Wittenberg, in now modern day Germany, on October
31, 1517. This document was a protest that strongly criticized the practice of selling
indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church, known here after as the Church. The document
was a challenge to church authority that set forth events that permanently changed
the religious, political, and social factors of central Europe, and led to a series
of wars using the pretext of faith, and the role of the Church in the political
structure of Western Europe. Luther's document was not meant to be a call to revolution,
but the social conditions, and economic factors, along with religious convictions
did set in motion a revolution and subsequent conflicts in central Europe.
Defining a revolution is central to the issue to be examined. Was this act the start
of a revolution? A revolution is defined as a fundamental change in power or organizational
structure in a relatively short time period, and creates upheaval in society. Luther's
public posting of the Ninety Five Theses' is often cited as the opening act of the
Protestant Reformation and the events that followed appears to make it a simple
and easy conclusion that the Protestant Reformation was a revolution based on this
definition. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who wrote and promoted extensively on
the subject of revolution and the authors of The Communist Manifesto dedicate
a portion of their writing about revolution and how it relates to Martin Luther
and the Protestant Reformation.
It would seem ironic that Marx and Engels would use the religious figure of Martin
Luther as an inspiration for their quest for a communist revolution. Marx referred
to religion as the opiate of the masses, so it is suspect that he would look to
Luther as a source of revolutionary inspiration. But Marx did admit that the Protestant
Reformation was an example of a revolution by the proletariat, though he later qualifies
his remarks by stating that the Reformation was a theoretical revolution and not
a real one that would occur during a communist revolution . He also stated that
Luther overcame the bondage of piety and replaced it with the bondage of conviction
So was the Reformation a revolution or not? Marx is mendacious by using Luther's
stature in the German culture to inspire Germans for his appeal for a revolution
and he did admit Luther started a revolution even if only theoretical in Marx's
view. Though the motives are not entirely clear, it seems that admitting the Reformation
inspired the proletariat to revolt would be an admission that the proletariat could
have a valid revolution outside of the communist cause and that revolution, especially
one by the proletariat, could occur despite missing the material class basis for
a revolution. Roland Boer does not follow the line of thought by Marx and states
that the Reformation was truly revolutionary because it changed the societal structure
of central Europe. Boer will be proven correct as the events after October 31, 1517
are set in motion.
The question of revolution and defining it is important because the social upheaval
of revolution does not necessarily lead to open conflict but in the case of the
Protestant Reformation in central Europe it certainly did. Also the fact that the
Reformation led to open conflict is a clear signal that the ensuing revolution was
real and anything, despite Marx's assertion, was not just theoretical.
Why did the revolution occur and lead to open conflict during the Reformation? Luther's
Ninety Five Theses was not the primary factor for the conflict that was to
follow, but it was an important contributing factor among several other factors.
Luther's document and the events that followed was a provocation that eventually
led to a violent revolution. The other contributing factors were the role of a changing
society including humanism, growing German nationalism, economic turmoil, and the
institute of war itself and its role in Western society.
Gwynne Dyer explains that sixteenth century Europe was in a state of change as the
entire basis of economic and political power was shifting from feudal based agriculture
to commerce as the main source of wealth . The population in this process was
shifting toward the cities weakening the feudal system and facilitating for monarchs
the centralization of their power. He also points out that war is a functional institution
that was a mechanism to help rulers take what they wanted or keep what they already
had , and thus played a role in western societies . The option to settle differences
in Western society had a ready mechanism of choosing war as an option to settle
The Western society's view was being changed by events around them. Travel to the
Far East was common, and advances were being made in medicine, math, and physics.
These changes created not only challenges to the church, but also changed how society
viewed the world around them and ended many of the assumptions that they thought
the world was based upon . All of these rapid changes in society were disruptive
forces in themselves, and all these ideas were fanned across society through the
use of the printing press. This made it increasingly difficult for the Vatican to
control the message that society received.
The changing times also brought about the rise of the philosophy of humanism. Humanism
focused on human values and concerns and attaches importance to human matters rather
than divine or supernatural matters. One of the leading humanists, Desiderius Erasmus,
attacked the pomp of the church and called for greater simplicity and the emphasis
of obedience of all Christians to be a "soldier of Christ" in their practical and
daily life in the midst of human affairs. Erasmus believed this obedience to faith
was more important than church doctrine, and the empowering idea of human importance
would make it difficult to maintain current church practices .
Erasmus was an influential scholar and was a leading humanist who took efforts to
communicate with other humanists and scholars through letters. This meant his beliefs,
ideas, and writings were spread throughout Europe and had a ready and willing audience
in the academic community and thus influential in the Renaissance age in Europe.
Erasmus' belief in the inward focus on obedience and attacks on doctrine unpopular
with the Papacy who's power and influence was based on its doctrine. This challenge
to authority created, not unexpectedly, a divide of those who supported a change
of the focus in the Church, and those who wanted to maintain the status quo. Both
sides became increasingly impassioned and would make tolerance and moderation difficult,
and would handicap church reform that would require patience to achieve change .
Another factor was the role of national identity. The current definition of nationalism
is a product of the French Revolution of 1789. Central Europe during the sixteenth
century was still highly fragmented and dominated by the Holy Roman Empire that
extended over most of the territory of modern day Germany. The idea of nationality
was not so much of the identity as a member of a country but an identity created
by a common culture, a common language, and a common dislike of anybody that was
viewed as different. The German people of the Holy Roman Empire were known to have
prejudices toward the Italians . The people south of the Alps were despised for
their decadent ways and the large sums of money leaving the German lands and going
to Italy .
The German prejudices were a contributing complicating factor of reform. The Italians
were the dominating people within the Vatican leadership, so this complicated factors
as the events of the Reformation unfolded. The Spanish were known for their racial
and religious identify and the newly elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire during
the Reformation was Charles V who was also the king of Spain. He was often accompanied
by Spanish soldiers which were a humiliation to German speaking people, especially
the people who supported Martin Luther and his reform movement.
The German indignation toward the power of Rome reached a personified height of
loathing by the Dominican seller of indulgences John Tetzel. Tetzel's role was to
raise money to pay the debt of the Archbishop of Mainz Albert of Brandenburg. Albert
was the twice over archbishop who needed to raise money for the pope in exchange
for being granted his position and was Luther's archbishop. The pope intended to
use this money to help pay for the finishing of the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome.
The quiet undercurrents were that Tetzel was fleecing the German people to help
pay for their luxury lifestyle by using indulgences . This is what inspired
Martin Luther to act.
Considering the importance that Luther attached to this, it is important to understand
the system of indulgences. The indulgence system was established in the Roman Catholic
Church on the two assumptions. The first that any wrong requires an act of restitution
and that God demands an action on part of the sinner to prove repentance. The second
assumption is that Christ's virtues or merits are infinite for saving the world
from Adam's sin. All of these merits made up the Treasury of Merits that was available
for Christian repentance . The Treasury of Merit can be granted to shorten a
Christian’s time in purgatory and this grant given out by Christ's representatives
on earth (the Pope and his ordained clergy) was an indulgence.
When a Christian confessed and repented sin they would pay a thank offering to the
church to show their gratitude for being forgiven of their sin. This practice eventually
formed into a system that Christians could pay for an indulgence, and could eventually
undermine the original act of confession and repentance. The indulgence system was
expanded in 1476 when it was argued that indulgences could be paid for Christians
that were already dead and presumed to be in purgatory. This was eventually recognized
by the church and became part of the practice of indulgence . This abuse of
the indulgence system was to be a target of Luther's attack on the indulgent system.
All of these factors were all coming to a boiling point in German society in 1517.
The frustration in German society, especially the non-ruling class that was looking
for an outlet that would create an outpouring of their grievances about what they
believed was an abuse within their society. The catalyst was Luther's writing for
allowing society to express their list of grievances and the religious ideas of
the reformation served as a rallying point and organizing factor to sustain the
demands for change to address these grievances .
An outlet was going to come at some point, and it so happened to be Martin Luther's
Ninety-Five Theses. Luther had written before on the abuses and need for
reform and had never had the audience, so he had no expectation that this would
be any different. However, his theses were written in both Latin, for the church,
and in German for society at large. The power of the printing press extended Luther's
message to a larger non-Latin speaking audience that was ready to align itself to
a message that spoke to some of their grievances. The outpouring was slow at first,
and would not reach a crescendo for another seven years, but events were set in
motion for a revolution.
Carl von Clausewitz wrote extensively on the universal truths of war (though from
a Western point of view) and he recognized that revolution was a form of warfare
that is a threat to the social order of society. Popular uprisings lead to the sweeping
of barriers in society by the elemental violence of warfare , so according to
Clausewitz could be a form of warfare. The events that followed October 31, 1517
was the start of sweeping away of barriers as the monopoly of the Roman Catholic
Church over Western European society and the subsequent breakdown of a monopolistic
philosophy in faith and breakdown of Church political power to the benefit of strengthening
of the power of the European monarchies.
The first part of the revolution by force of arms was the Peasant's War that started
in 1524. The Catholic Church and Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire reaction
to Luther and his call for reform of the church is what caused the opening violence
of the Protestant Reformation. A more measured reaction to Luther, who could be
temperamental, could have lead to a peaceful resolution but as events played out,
this was not to be and Protestant and Catholic became more entrenched in the righteousness
of their beliefs.
The fact that Luther posted the document on the castle church in Wittenberg meant
that his challenge was a public matter. The Archbishop of Mainz Albert of Brandenburg
received a copy of Luther's posting and a cover letter from Luther of which he dutifully
forwarded it to the Pope and asked for intervention. The document was also translated
into German and liberally printed and distributed. There were two primary religious
orders in Western Europe, the Dominicans and the Augustinians. Luther was from the
Augustinian order and his challenge caused a resulting challenge by Dominican theologians,
of which Luther's own archbishop, Albert, was a member.
Pope Leo X, not initially recognizing the potential magnitude of the disruption
to society, viewed this as another squabble between Augustinian and Dominican orders
instructed the Augustinians to work the matter out at their three year meeting in
Heidelberg scheduled for April 1518. The pope felt there were more pressing matters
with the rivalry between Spain and France and the continuing threat from the Turks
Luther attended this meeting despite fearing that he would be condemned and burned
as a heretic. However, this did not happen and Luther found an audience that welcomed
his message. Younger theologians viewed him enthusiastically as an inspiration and
other members as this being another example of the rivalry between themselves and
the Dominicans and chose to support a member of their order . So, the matter
was not settled and in fact Luther was strengthened by this support.
The Pope again attempted to settle the matter by sending a representative to meet
with Luther. Cardinal Carjetan, a Dominican, who's primary mission was to go to
Augsburg to press the Pope's case at the Imperial Diet with Emperor Maximilian to
convince the German princes to take up a crusade against the Turks. Carjetan's secondary
mission was to meet with Luther and force him to recant . Frederick the Wise
arranged for this meeting in the hopes of ending the issue, and he also arranged
for guaranteed safe passage for Luther from the Pope . The Pope was ready to
agree because he needed the support of princes like Frederick for his proposed crusade.
Luther was distrustful of such imperial guarantees but decided to go forward and
meet with Carjetan. Luther said that he would withdraw what he said if he could
be convinced he was wrong, but Carjetan with a papal order to arrest Luther, demanded
just a simple recant. He was not prepared or willing to engage in a debate with
Luther who was just a German friar. This was another reflection of the disdain the
Italians had for the people of the north. Luther secretly fled Augsburg before Carjetan
could have him arrested .
Frederick the Wise felt compelled to protect Luther from the authorities. He did
not see the crisis of conscious that Luther expressed, but he believed that Luther
deserved a fair trial and thus warranted his protection until a fair trial could
be guaranteed . For Luther's part, the meeting with Carjetan was a turning point.
The Church proved it was not willing to argue Christian truths with him and made
him question the Church's hierarchy. Luther took a step, that was considered disloyal,
to call for a General Council to hear his case. The General Council was practice
that was banned in 1460 and was a clear sign of the growing riff .
In 1519, Charles V was elected as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The election
of Charles V was feared by Pope Leo X because Charles was already the monarch of
Spain, and hereditary claims to Austria, the Low Countries, and southern Italy.
This concentration of power was feared by the Pope in addition to the gold that
was flowing to Spain from the New World  thus giving Charles both great political
and economic power. The ascendance of Charles V was also a complication to the identification
of the German people, of which Luther's movement was impacting society.
The concentration of power that Charles V possessed was a legitimate concern for
the pope, but Charles V was no ally to the reform movement and Martin Luther. Charles
V was an orthodox Christian in his beliefs, closely aligned with the Dominicans
and their belief in the authority of the pope and the church, and he was not going
to tolerate heresy in his lands . However this was complicated by the fact that
Frederick the Wise supported his candidacy and was also protecting Luther. Frederick
was also starting to agree with Luther's views for the need to reform. Frederick
was influential with the German princes, so stamping out the reformation would not
be an easy task for the new emperor in the German lands that were starting to form
a national identity.
A few weeks after the election of Charles V, Luther had a debate at Leipzig University
to debate the reform movement. There was a truce on the attacks and any move against
Luther in exchange that Luther would not inflame the reform debate. John Eck, an
opponent of Luther, and a participant in the debate wanted to challenge Luther but
did not want to break the truce. Eck instead attacked supporters of Luther which
ultimately forced a response from Luther. Eck aptly maneuvered Luther into support
of Hussite heretics and was an embarrassing public defeat for Luther .
The result was that the truce was broken and Luther became more aggressive in his
confrontation with the Church, and calls for reforms. This was in conjunction with
the ascendance of Charles V and his intolerance for heresy increased the dangers
to Luther and his supporters. Luther's supporters cut across a wide spectrum of
German society, including princes, academics, theologians, humanists, and nationalists.
The debate and call for reform would inflame the passions of the Church and reform
supporters as the abuses of Rome became a central point of the argument.
With the break of the truce and the election of Charles V, Pope Leo X had no reason
to postpone his move against Luther. Leo X issued a papal bull, Exsurge Domine,
on June 15, 1520 that instructed that all books of Luther be burned, issued a declaration
of anathema, and instructed that Luther had sixty days to submit to Roman authority
or face excommunication .
Luther decided that a break with the Roman Catholic Church was inevitable in his
mind. The Church refused to debate his calls for reform and instead brought forth
threats and condemnation toward him and his beliefs and demanded he submit to the
authority of the Church. Luther was now freed from the idea of trying to save the
church and could now go about speaking out against the Church. He went forth to
lay out his case to the German leaders, people, and the Catholic clergy as well
as attacks against the pope and his authority this was when the rhetoric and passion
on those who attacked the papacy and defended it were inflamed to a new level. This
would have a profound effect on western European society.
Luther authored and printed three treatises between August 1520 and November 1520.
These books were a direct challenge to the church and were a broad engagement of
nearly all parts of German society. These books laid out the foundations against
the Catholic Church and the pope, as well setting forth a new set of beliefs that
was later to be part of the Lutheran Church, but also how the Church and temporal
governance should interact independently. They would also serve as a unifying and
dividing factor for other Protestant movements and the Catholic Church itself and
this included all of the societal elements that were divided into supporters and
detractors and they represented a disruptive change of the status quo within society.
The first book, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, was
printed in August 1520. The book was written in German and was addressed to the
nobility of the Holy Roman Empire. This book was an attack on the power of the Pope
by arguing that the Church, by decree, declared themselves above all other forms
of government, that only the pope could interpret scripture, and that only the Pope
could call a council and thus prevent any reform from occurring . The argument
outlined that these three walls, as Luther described them, were meant to preserve
the power of the Pope and were a corrupting influence on the true role of what the
Church should be. He argued that the secular rulers should be aware of this power
hungry corruption and resist it before Rome plunders Germany of its wealth .
This was a direct attack on the Pope, referred to by Luther as the Antichrist, and
was sure to stir up a strong reaction in supporters of the Church.
The second book, The Babylonian Captivity, was written in October 1520 in
Latin and was directed toward the clergy. This book was also an angry and militant
attack on the Pope and the sacraments of the Church and especially the denial of
the sacrament of communion to the laity . Again, this was an attack on the Church
authority and its interpretation (and monopoly thereof) of scripture. This time
it was an attack to undermine the Church's authority in regards to faith and those
who serve the Church.
The third book, The Freedom of a Christian, written in Latin on November
1520 was a less militant book and included an open letter to Pope Leo X that is
more respectful then previous works and deflects some of the attacks toward the
Pope on the cardinals and calls for a hearing on his calls for reform . The
book also goes onto explain the perplexities of salvation through faith alone and
good works. This book was also of interest to the humanist movement, but the significant
part was the apparent softening of the criticism of the pope. However, this was
to no avail with Pope Leo X.
Luther, at this point, not being one to show restraint of a cooler head, publicly
burned the papal bull, works of John Eck, and volumes of canon law in Wittenberg
on December 10, 1520 . Supporters of Luther did the same all over Germany and
supporters of the Pope, did what was instructed in the bull. The passions of the
people were being driven by the events as society was moving closer toward a rebellion
as both sides were reaching beyond the point of compromise as Luther publicly challenged
the authority of the pope.
1521 was the year that the full force of the Catholic Church and its supporters
attempted to silence Luther's call to reform and forced society to make their side
clear in the coming conflict. The year opened with Luther being excommunicated on
January 3, 1521 . However, Pope Leo X could not move silence Luther without
the support of Charles V. Charles V was a convinced Catholic, but he was in a difficult
position to be able to support the pope's desire to end the heresy of Luther.
Charles V's issues were twofold. First, Pope Leo X was a supporter of Charles V
rival, Francis I of France. Charles V could use Luther's existence to create a wedge
between the pope and Francis I by refusing to take action against Luther. This meant
that Leo X could not get too close to Francis I at the risk of alienating Charles
V. Luther became had become a factor in the balance of power in western and central
The second issue that Charles V had to contend was the internal balance of power
within his own empire. He needed the support of the lords and princes within Germany
to maintain effective governance and control of the empire. Charles V had to balance
his desire not to countenance heresy of Luther, but also the need to effectively
manage the empire that he inherited .
Charles V eventually determined that he would give a hearing within the borders
of the Holy Roman Empire at the Imperial Diet at Worms. Luther would have to appear
before the emperor and many of the lords of the German nation in April 1521. Conducting
the hearing within the borders of Germany was an important step to maintain the
support of the German nobility, especially Frederick the Wise, many of whom were
supporters of Luther and the call for reform. This compromise received papal protest
and a sign of its weakening power on the nobility in Europe .
Charles V, despite this compromise, was not going to debate Luther. Luther was going
to be asked to recant his works and his calls for reform, and submit to Church authority.
Luther was presented a list of his works and books and asked if he had wrote them
in which Luther acknowledged that he had. Then he was asked "Will you recant?" and
he was to answer "yes" or "no" . Luther requested and received permission to
have one day to think about his answer. The next day Luther was asked again to recant
and in German he stated that he would not recant. Luther's use of German showed
he was a man of Germany, and Charles V, who was accompanied to Worms with a corps
of Spanish soldiers, to the irritation of the populace and some of the German nobility,
was not German .
Despite the fact the Pope Leo X died and was replaced by Charles V ally, Pope Adrian
VI, Luther was still considered to have challenged and rebelled against the church's
authority, and now at Worms, Luther had challenged the authority of Charles V and
this was not going to be tolerated. Charles V issued an edict that declared that
Luther was a convicted heretic, and that no one was to give him shelter, his followers
were also condemned and Luther's books were to be erased from human memory .
Frederick the Wise was guaranteed safe passage for Luther to and from the Diet but
Charles V intended to have Luther immediately arrested. However, Frederick had arranged
for Luther to be kidnapped and taken away to Wartburg Castle for safe keeping. There
Luther started work on the German translation of the New Testament that helped shape
the German language and national identity. It was also a time that Luther was to
lose direct control over the events of the Reformation, because while he was out
of contact, his collaborators pressed on with the reforms.
The influential collaborators were Andreas Karlstadt and Philipp Melanchthon who
pressed on with the reforms in Luther's absence. They abolished masses for the dead,
offered communion to the laity and host, simplified services, and replaced Latin
with German during religious services. This was a continuing decline of the social
order in Germany that Charles V wanted to end, but external threats to his power
kept his focus on protecting his empire. France and the successor to Adrian VI,
Pope Clement VII declared war on Charles V. He also had to defend his eastern borders
from invading Turks that were threatening Vienna. This left the turmoil from the
reform movement within Germany to be handled by the German nobility.
The first to rebel were the lesser gentry of German knights under the leadership
of Franz von Sickingen in 1522. These knights saw their fortunes decline and focused
their blame on Rome; as such they saw inspiration in Luther's anti-Rome criticism
and viewed his message as championing the German nation. Although Luther did not
encourage them they used him as inspiration and attacked Trier in Rhineland-Palatinate
claiming they were doing so in the defense of the Reformation .
The knights were soundly defeated by the German princes who used this uprising to
confiscate land from this lower gentry’s class in 1523. This was viewed as a tragedy
by Luther and his closest followers who believed this to be proof that the citizens
should submit to the established temporal authorities as he has stated in 1520 in
the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.
1524 was an even more turbulent within Germany as the peasant class exploded into
rebellion. This became known as the Peasants' War and created a serious crisis for
Luther and the Reformation. These peasants viewed Luther's defiance to authority
as a signal that all authority was failing and that the Last Days had arrived and
God's enemies in high places were to be overthrown .
The rebellion was not officially led or directed by anyone. Luther's associate,
Andreas Karlstadt, though not espousing violence was viewed by Luther as a revolutionary.
Starting in 1522, Karlstadt started advocating the removal of religious imagery
from churches and performed services in secular clothing. Luther urged caution and
moderation but eventually opposed the direction that Karlstadt was taking the Reformation
. Karlstadt was eventually exiled from Saxony by Frederick the Wise because
of his activities and was probably urged by Luther to do so.
Karlstadt was an inspiration to the peasantry in their rebellion, but the most notable
influence was Thomas Muntzer who preached that written Scripture was not the most
important but the "present revelation of the Spirit" and that those who were born
again of the Spirit should join a theocratic community to bring about the Kingdom
of God . Luther, a believer in the written Scripture, was concerned that those
beliefs would have consequences to his own teachings and had Muntzer forced out
of Saxony. Muntzer would return again in 1524 during the Peasants' War.
Though Muntzer was a force in the Peasants' War, the Reformation movement was a
source of inspiration as well and this was to include the writings of Luther. The
identifying of the German nation, the defiance to authority, and the humanist element
of empowering the individual to participate in the lessons of the scripture and
Mass instead of bystanders was a powerful motivating factor against the ruling class.
They attempted to use the word of the Scripture as a source of inspiration to make
social and economic demands, though Luther saw no such connection .
Luther could sympathize with the peasants, but he also believed in the power of
the temporal leaders and the need to submit to their authority in non-religious
affairs. The peasants stated their demands in the Twelve Articles that placed
their economic and social demands and related them to the Scripture, though Luther
saw no connection. However, he did argue to the princes that the peasantry were
oppressed and asked for the princes and peasantry to pursue a peaceful course to
their grievances and published An admonishment to peace that was addressed
to both ruling princes and the peasantry to pursue peace .
When the uprising was in full course and the peasantry resorted to plundering, Luther
declared them thieves and bandits and wrote a pamphlet titled Against the robbing
and murdering hordes of peasants, using Romans 13.1 as inspiration called
on the princes to end the rebellion . The result was a vicious crushing of the
rebellion, and despite Luther's call for the princes to show mercy over one hundred
thousand peasants were killed including Thomas Muntzer, and by 1525 the rebellion
The bloodshed of the Peasants' War was a source of personal conflict and agony for
Luther. He certainly felt an attachment to the peasantry, being a son of a peasant,
and he realized that his own ideas fueled the religious fervor of the peasant rebellion.
So why did he turn on the peasants when he appeared to be a champion of the power
and righteousness of all men in his calls for reforming the Church?
Luther's belief in the Two Kingdoms helps explain some of his response to side with
the peasants. As Christians, despite have been treated unjustly, they had no right
to revolt against the temporal leaders and they, as leaders, had the right to defend
themselves and establish order . Luther realized that many of the princes had
come over to his beliefs for reform against the Catholic Church, and that he would
need their support and strength to defend the Reformation from the external threat
from Charles V and the allies of Catholicism. If the peasants had won, they could
not stand up against the organized armies of the enemies of the Reformation.
Eight years after the posting of his Ninety Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy
of Indulgences, what Marx would refer to the proletariat had watched, inspired,
and rose up in what they saw as Luther's defiance and embracing of the common Christian
and to a somewhat lesser extent defining the German identity which was becoming
more important when put in the context of the German animosity toward the Italians
and the belief of the abuses of Rome. The nature of the changing economic structure
and the breaking down of the feudal political system within society of the Renaissance
introduced another level of uncertainty and instability into society.
These factors were fortuitous for Luther and the Reformers because a level of openness
was at least possible that did not exist in the past. It was also tragic because
there was a high level of volatility in society that virtually guaranteed any significant
social disruption would lead to civil disruptions that could lead to a violent reaction
as was a predisposition in Western society. When the internal societal rebellion
of the peasants was put down, the Reformation moved into the next and more dangerous
phase of defending the Reformation from the leaders and the institutions that desired
the return to the status quo and affirmation of the authority of Rome. The social
revolution was to continue.
. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London: Penguin
Classics, 1967), 118.
. Roland Boer, "The New Luther? Marx and the Reformation as Revolution," MR ZINE,
January 18, 2011, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/boer180111.html (accessed
December 18, 2011).
. Gwynne Dyer, War: The Lethal Custom (New York: Avalon, 2005), 210.
. Ibid., 2.
. Ibid., 65.
. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume II The Reformation to the
Present Day, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper One, 2010), 13-14.
. Ibid., 16-17.
. Ibid., 17.
. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (New York: Penguin Books,
. Ibid., 129.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 27.
. MacCulloch, Reformation, 121.
. Ibid., 122.
. George Herring, Introduction to the History of Christianity, (New York:
New York University Press, 2006), 248.
. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 184.
. MacCulloch, Reformation, 124-125.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 28-29.
. Ibid., 29-30.
. MacCulloch, Reformation, 126.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 30.
. Ibid., 29-30.
. MacCulloch, Reformation, 127.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 30-31.
. Ibid., 33.
. Ibid., 32.
. Martin Luther, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,
January 29, 2012), 42
. Ibid., 49.
. Martin Luther, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, http://www.vasynod.org/files/BibleStudy/GreatestHits/VOL%2036%20THE%20BABYLONIAN%20CAPTIVITY%20OF%20THE%20CHURCH.pdf,
(accessed January 29, 2012), 13.
. Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, http://www.vasynod.org/files/BibleStudy/GreatestHits/Vol%2031%20Freedom%20of%20the%20Christian.pdf,
(accessed January 29,2012), 3-8.
. MacCulloch, Reformation, 127-128.
. Paul Timothy McCain, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions A Readers Edition
of the Book of Concord, ed. Paul Timothy McCain et al, trans. William Hermann
Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente, 2nd ed. (St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 34.
. Ibid., 34.
. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years,
(New York: Penguin Books), 611.
. Ibid., 611.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 34-35.
. Ibid., 36.
. Ibid., 41.
. MacCulloch, Christianity, 614.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 38.
. Ibid., 41.
. Ibid., 41-42.
. MacCulloch, Christianity, 614-615.
. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity, 55-56.
Boer, Roland. "The New Luther? Marx and the Reformation as Revolution," MR ZINE, January 18,
2011,http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/boer180111.html (accessed December 18, 2011).
Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Dyer, Gwynne. War: The Lethal Custom. New York: Avalon, 2005.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume II The Reformation to the Present Day. 2nd ed. New York: Harper One, 2010.
Herring, George. Introduction to the History of Christianity. New York: New York University Press, 2006
Luther, Martin. Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.
http://www.cas.sc.edu/hist/faculty/edwardsk/hist310/reader/address.pdf, (accessed January 29, 2012).
Luther, Martin. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. http://www.vasynod.org/files/BibleStudy/GreatestHits/VOL%2036%20THE%20BABYLONIAN%20CAPTIVITY%20OF%20THE%20CHURCH.pdf. (accessed January 29, 2012).
Luther, Martin. The Freedom of a Christian. http://www.vasynod.org/files/BibleStudy/GreatestHits/Vol%2031%20Freedom%20of%20the%20Christian.pdf, (accessed January 29, 2012).
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Penguin Books.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. The Reformation: A History. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin Classics, 1967.
McCain, Paul Timothy. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions A Readers Edition of the Book of Concord. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain et al. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, 2005.
Copyright © 2012 Thomas Leckwold.
Written by Thomas Leckwold. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Thomas Leckwold at:
About the author:
Thomas Leckwold currently lives in northwest Georgia and served in the U.S. Army from 1985-1992.
He received his B.B.A. in Economics from Kennesaw State University and his M.A. in Military History from Norwich University.
He works at the corporate headquarters of a nationwide retailer in Atlanta as a Senior Inventory Analyst.
His interests include reading both military history, political commentary, and the occasional science fiction.
He also enjoys riding his motorcycle around in the scenic mountains that are in his area.
Published online: 03/31/2012.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.