It was in Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, that the Reformation, or Protestant Revolt, began. As we have seen in the first chapter, the long struggle of the emperors to maintain their power against challenges from popes and nobles had ended in failure. The emperor was an elected ruler who presided, with more prestige than authority, over a rather bewildering array of states of various sizes, composition, and levels of political importance. Some were great secular and ecclesiastical principalities, such as the electoral states. Effective political power resided in these states, as also in the imperial free cities, so-called because they owed allegiance to the emperor alone. The prosperous merchants, bankers, and industrialists in these cities, of whom the Fuggers of Augsburg were the most spectacular example, were a growing force in their own right.

Other groups within the empire were less well off. The imperial knights were nobles subject only to the emperor, but as holders of only small territorial units, they were in decay economically, unable to keep pace with the demands of the times and increasingly desperate. Ulrich von Hutten, already referred to in our discussion of German humanism, was one of these knights. Some of them resorted to robbery of merchants to maintain their position. They tended, like Hutten, to be intensely patriotic and opposed to what they considered the foreign authority of the pope.

There was a good deal of popular discontent with the merchants because of rising prices, which were blamed on monopolistic practices. Actually they were due more largely to the increase in the production of precious metal, which in its turn was an attempt to meet the expanding demands of business. The silver mines of the Harz and Bohemia were being exploited intensively for this purpose.

The great bulk of the German people were peasants. No simple generalization can describe their condition because of the great differences that prevailed among them, both from the standpoint of prosperity and of legal status. Many were doing well, and some had holdings so large that they employed other peasants to work for them. On the other hand, there were many poor peasants. Similarly, while many peasants were now legally free, others, especially in the eastern part of Germany, were being forced by their lords into dependent status. There was widespread discontent among the German peasantry, not so much economic as political and social. It was felt that they were being deprived of any real voice in the affairs of their society, and there was also resentment at the exactions of their lords and of the princes. These exactions seemed like burdensome relics of an earlier time when their masters had performed functions that entitled them to dues and services, functions they no longer fulfilled. The fifteenth century had seen a number of peasant risings, in which the Bundschuh, the traditional peasant's shoe, had served as the symbol of class discontent. These risings had a religious, mystical character. One idea among the German peasantry was that of the great emperor usually Frederick Barbarossa who was not really dead, but who was in hiding, waiting for the time to come when he should reappear to lead his people to gain their rights.

The central institutions of the empire lacked real authority. The Imperial Diet continued to meet frequently and make important decisions, but the enforcement of these decisions depended on the individual states. There was no effective system of courts and no real power to carry out judicial decisions. As a result, it was difficult to preserve the public peace, and local feuds were common. The system of taxation was also inadequate; attempts to collect a general tax, known as the "common penny," had been unsuccessful. From this failure resulted military weakness, since money was lacking to pay a standing army. In case of need, each state of the empire was supposed to supply a contingent of troops, but these troops were not always forthcoming. Consequently, the empire was unable to play a truly effective part in European diplomatic and military affairs.

These weaknesses were obvious to all, and many attempts at reform were made. Maximilian I, who became emperor in 1493, tried to strengthen the institutions of central government. There was a reform party among the electors, but its aims were in conflict with those of the emperor; while he strove to increase his own power, they sought to assure the participation of the members (estates) of the empire in any new scheme of imperial government. In any event, during the first years of Maximilian's rule, ambitious changes were undertaken. The diet was to be endowed with great powers and to meet every year. An imperial court was to be established. A common penny was to be collected, which would increase the emperor's income. In the end, however, nothing very important came of these endeavors. The weakness of the empire continued, and the emperor remained impotent and poor. To some extent the failure of reform can be attributed to the character of Maximilian himself. Although gifted, ambitious, and personally attractive, he scattered his efforts in too many directions, pursued the most extravagant ambitions with inadequate preparation, and lacked the necessary persistence. At one time he even dreamed of becoming pope as well as emperor.

Maximilian did pursue with success the Hapsburg policy of increasing the family domains through marriage. His own wife, Mary of Burgundy, daughter and heiress of Charles the Bold, last of the great dukes of Burgundy, brought him most of the Netherlands, which he was able to retain in spite of a challenge from France and to pass to Philip the Handsome, his son by Mary. Philip in turn was married to Joanna, oldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

Charles, first son of this marriage, was born in Ghent in 1500. He inherited the Netherlands, Spain and its possessions in the New World, and the Hapsburg lands in Austria, as well as Naples and Sicily, which belonged to Spain. When he also became Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 after Maximilian's death, he was ruler of the greatest empire that had existed in Europe since the time of Charlemagne more than seven centuries earlier. As king of Spain he was Charles I, but he is more often referred to, in dealing with general European affairs, by his imperial title of Charles V. A sister of Charles, Mary, became the wife of Louis II, the king of Hungary, where the monarchy was elective. After Louis's death fighting the Turks in 1526, the Hungarians elected Ferdinand, brother of Charles and Mary, to the throne. Since Ferdinand was also the elected king of Bohemia, Hapsburg influence extended far into central and eastern Europe, and the choice of members of the family to wear the Hungarian and Bohemian crowns became an established practice. On the eve of the Reformation, the church in Germany exhibited a combination of religious zeal among the laity with secularization in the hierarchy, especially among the higher clergy. There was a strong consciousness of abuses, and in the fifteenth century the territorial rulers had intervened more often than before to try to effect some improvement. Germans felt that they had a particular grievance toward the papacy in Rome. They were convinced that the popes were exploiting Germany financially and that the absence of a powerful central government to provide protection laid them open to more serious extortion than that experienced by other peoples.

The most significant issue in European diplomacy in the first half of the sixteenth century was the conflict between France and Spain. This conflict had manifested itself as a struggle over Naples in the first years of the century. From the time when Charles became king of Spain and emperor, the struggle was between Valois and Hapsburg. It was to be fought out on a number of fronts and to last for decades. Charles had to overcome the rivalry of the young French king, Francis I, in order to be elected emperor. In the end, Charles was chosen, largely with the aid of money from the Fuggers, which enabled him to influence the votes of the electors. This rivalry with Francis continued during the lifetimes of both monarchs and was inherited by their descendants.


At the time when Charles was elected emperor in 1519, Martin Luther had already begun his career as a reformer. Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben. His father, Hans, came from peasant stock but had gone into mining, rising from poverty to a position of prosperity and respect, though he never became wealthy. Some of Luther's early education was received from members of the Brethren of the Common Life. In 1501 he entered the University of Erfurt, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1502 and becoming Master of Arts three years later. He was trained in the "modern" school of philosophy, which followed the teachings of William of Ockham, a great English thinker of the fourteenth century. One of the basic principles of Ockham's thought was a separation between faith and reason, in contrast with the position of Thomas Aquinas, who had tried to carry as far as possible the rational consideration of the truths of the faith. In Ockham's view, reason was inadequate to apprehend theological truth, which should, therefore, be accepted by faith alone. Luther's teachers also professed the Ockhamist doctrine of the unlimited potentiality of the human will to earn merit for salvation.

Having finished his studies in the Arts faculty, Luther began to study law. His legal studies ended, however, as a result of an experience he had on July 2, 1505. Returning to school from a visit home, he was caught in a great thunderstorm. When a bolt of lightning threw him to the ground, he was so terrified that he made a vow to St. Anne that, if she preserved him, he would become a monk. About two weeks later, he entered the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits at Erfurt as a novice. Though Luther's vow came suddenly, under great stress, it seems likely that it was the result of much prior thought. Certainly his later career makes it possible to argue that, when he vowed to become a monk, it was at least partly because he had been pondering the state of his soul and his prospects for salvation. In this he was like other serious men and women who, over many centuries, had chosen the religious life as the best way to win divine grace. As a monk, he manifested exemplary devotion to his calling, and in 1506 became a full-fledged member of the order. He showed so much promise that his superiors selected him for the priesthood, and he was ordained in 1507.

While still in Erfurt, he was ordered to begin the study of theology, which he did. By the time he received the doctorate in theology in 1512, he was at the University of Wittenberg, founded only twelve years earlier by the elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise. Luther became a member of the theological faculty there, with the duty of lecturing on the Bible. He also preached regularly and began to be appointed to administrative positions in his order. But during these years he was undergoing a profound spiritual crisis.

This crisis was the result of his tormented sense of sin and guilt and his fear that he could never attain the certainty of God's favor. He had been taught that the will had the power to free itself from sinfulness and earn grace. In spite of his most diligent efforts, however, he could not divest himself of a sense of his own unworthiness. He had also been taught to think of God as a stern Judge, exacting absolute purity of heart, which Luther came to see as unattainable. How was he to find assurance of salvation from a God who demanded the impossible and threatened with damnation those who failed to attain it? In his distress he turned to the Bible, and here, finally, he found his answer.

It is not clear when the breakthrough came; it may have been as late as the autumn of 1518. In studying the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, he was struck by a new meaning in the words, "The just shall live by faith alone" (verse 17). It came to him now that this meant that man is justified in the eyes of God by faith alone; that good works, in the sense of works that could earn merit for salvation, were useless; and that God reaches out in His love for man, through Christ, to impute His righteousness to him. Man is still, and always in this world must be, a sinner, but through wholehearted trusting faith in God he is assured of grace. God was seen no more as the stern implacable Judge but as the loving Father.

Put briefly, this is the doctrine of justification by faith, the central idea of the Reformation, and, though Luther may not have realized it at once, it contained revolutionary implications. It undermined the whole apparatus of mechanical religion and external observances that had grown up in the church. It also implied, as Luther saw it, a denial of free will, in the sense that the will was free to perform works of righteousness. For Luther, the will is always in bondage to sin, and only divine grace is capable of producing righteousness. This involves a pessimistic view of human nature, in contrast both to Catholic doctrine and to the exaltation of man's dignity that characterized the thought of the humanists. However, man justified by faith will do good deeds and will live for his neighbor. Good works do not make a man good, but a good man that is, one with faith will do good works.

His new insight made him more critical of certain practices in the church, including the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a remission of part, or all, of the penance imposed by the church on sinners as a means of satisfaction for sin. This meant, according to the teaching of the church, remission of part or all of one's punishment in Purgatory. By this time, the sale of indulgences had become a device for replenishing the coffers of the church, and abuses had crept in. Sellers of indulgences, whose job it was to make them attractive, often made excessive claims for their wares. The simple buyer, ignorant of fine, theological distinctions, was convinced that by his purchase he was acquiring a ticket to Heaven, either for himself or for some dear one who had passed away and was presumably being released forever from Purgatory by this pious expenditure. So much had the sale of indulgences become a business matter that such leading banking houses as the Medici and the Fuggers served the papacy in collecting the proceeds.

Many persons objected to indulgences because of the financial abuses connected with them. Luther's objections went deeper; to him the danger of indulgences was that they militated against true Christian repentance by giving a false sense of security and encouraging the belief that one's sins were all forgiven. He was aroused to strong protest in 1517 by the activities of Johann Tetzel, a Dominican who was selling indulgences in territories adjoining Saxony. In 1515, Pope Leo X had authorized an indulgence to help in the reconstruction of the church of St. Peter's in Rome. An unpublicized purpose of the indulgence was to help young Albrecht of Hohenzollern, the youngest brother of Elector Joachim of Brandenburg, raise money to pay the fees required to become archbishop of Mainz, a position that entitled its holder to be chief prelate of Germany and president of the electoral college. Since Albrecht already held other high offices in the German church, he had to pay a very large sum as dispensation from this violation of the rules. To raise this money he secured a loan from the Fuggers. The pope, in turn, agreed to give him a share of the income from the indulgence sale to repay his loan. Tetzel, an experienced and effective salesman, was reported to have made extravagant claims for the efficacy of his indulgences, urging his hearers to sell their clothes if necessary to buy them. Reports came back to Luther, who was so disturbed that he finally decided to take action. Therefore, on October 31, 1517, he nailed to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg his Ninety-five Theses, or propositions on indulgences and related topics. (It has been persuasively argued that Luther never actually nailed these theses to the door, but there is at least no doubt that he did draw them up and that they soon became widely known.)

The theses were written in Latin, the language of the universities, in order to serve as topics for academic debate, in accordance with custom. Luther sent copies to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz; to the bishop of Bamberg, in whose diocese Wittenberg was located; and probably to other important churchmen in the vicinity. In the theses, while admitting that indulgences have a legitimate place, Luther minimizes their importance in comparison with the Gospel and with works of love and mercy. He also has some implied criticism of the pope: If the pope can redeem souls from Purgatory, why does he not do so simply out of love, rather than for money? Rich as he is, why does he not build St. Peter's with his own money, rather than with that of poor believers?

The theses never did produce an academic debate, but they spread far and wide, were translated into German, and helped to make Luther a national figure. They roused the opposition of the Dominicans, Tetzel's order, and came to the attention of the pope. The next years were filled with negotiations, as the pope tried to settle the matter, while the elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, protected Luther, keeping him from going to Rome to be tried. Had it not been for the unflinching support of Frederick (who never actually abandoned the old faith), Luther's fate and that of the Reformation might have been much different. Political considerations played their part, since the pope was anxious to conciliate the elector. Meanwhile, Luther, never politically-minded, went on defending his views and, in the course of his defense, became more aware of their implications.

An important stage in Luther's career was marked by the debate that took place in Leipzig in 1519. The chief disputants were Luther himself and the formidable Johann Maier von Eck, a well-known theologian and accomplished debater, who had been carrying on a controversy in writing with Luther. Now they met face to face. In the course of the debate, under pressure from his opponent, Luther caused a sensation by his assertion that many of the views of Hus, the Bohemian heretic who had been burned at the stake in 1415, were "very Christian and evangelical." Before the debate was over, Eck had forced from Luther the admission, implied in his defense of Hus, that a general council of the church might err. The debate marks an important phase in Luther's development. By making him face the implications of the positions he had taken, it showed more clearly than before how far he had come from orthodoxy. The breach with Rome was widening.

It was not long before it became final. In June 1520, a papal bull against Luther was formally prepared. Entitled Exsurge Domine (Arise, O Lord), it condemned the errors attributed to Luther and branded him a heretic. He was given sixty days in which to recant before being publicly condemned. In reply, he not only wrote a tract condemning the bull as the work of Antichrist but, on December 20, 1520, in the presence of a crowd of students and teachers from the university, committed to the flames both the bull itself and the canon law. It was clear that the break was complete. The burning of the bull, however, simply ratified what had been true for some time previously. His writings in 1520, especially his Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in its full-scale attack on the Roman sacramental system, show that Luther had cast off all connection with that church.

In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, another of his writings of 1520, Luther expounded his idea that every Christian is a priest. This does not imply the abolition of the clergy, but it does mean that every individual Christian can, and must, go directly to God in faith. It also means that the "spiritual estate," or clergy, has no superiority over the "temporal estate," but that each Christian serves God in his calling. The earthly calling, therefore, becomes a means of Divine Service and is sanctified. Luther had also been teaching for some time, in accordance with the doctrine of justification by faith, that monastic vows, considered as good works, were worthless. In response to these teachings, many monks and nuns left their cloisters and entered the world. Many of them got married; one of them, in fact, married Martin Luther. Luther replaced the ideal of celibacy with the ideal of the Christian home and of the family as the milieu in which to serve God. He exemplified this ideal in his own life as a devoted husband and a loving father to his several children by his wife, the former Katharina von Bora, whom he married in 1525.

In October 1520 the young emperor Charles V was crowned at Aachen. Early in 1521 his first Imperial Diet met at Worms, and Luther was invited to appear there for a hearing of his case. Charles had promised the electors, as a condition of his election, that no subject would be condemned without a hearing. On April 17 and 18, Luther appeared before the assembled dignitaries of the empire, many of whom were his sympathizers, to defend his writings. Asked whether he was willing to stand by what he had written, he stood firm on what he had said. He has been quoted for centuries as having concluded with the words, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." Though these words may not actually have been uttered, they do not essentially falsify his position.

Since it proved impossible to shake Luther from his position, he left Worms a few days later. On the way home, he was "kidnapped" by some of Frederick the Wise's men and taken for his own safety to the Wartburg, a castle belonging to the elector. At the diet, after many members had departed, including Frederick and other sympathizers of Luther, the remaining members at Charles's initiative issued the Edict of Worms, condemning Luther and making him an outlaw. An outlaw he remained for the rest of his life. Although the edict was impossible to enforce, it was important because it forced the followers of Luther to become rebels against the emperor, much as Luther deplored any resistance to constituted authority.

It was during his stay in the Wartburg that Luther began one of his most important undertakings, the translation of the Bible into German. Using Erasmus's Greek text as the basis for his work, he translated the entire New Testament, which was published in 1522. During the next few years he was to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew, publishing the entire text of his German Bible in 1534. For Luther, the Bible was the sole authority in matters of faith, and he had already declared that each Christian should be able to go to the Scriptures for himself. Therefore, the text should be available in the native tongue for those who could read no Latin. Luther was convinced that he had unlocked the meaning of the Bible after years of popish darkness; he was to be shocked as he found how many differing interpretations his contemporaries would extract from the sacred text. Luther's Bible, in addition to its religious importance, was a literary masterpiece and did more than any other work to create the modern German literary language. After his return in 1522 to Wittenberg, which was to remain his home for the rest of his life, Luther devoted himself to building his church. He never approved of the word Lutheran or claimed to be founding a church; this had been done once and for all by Jesus, and Luther saw himself as a reformer or restorer. He revised the services of the church, substituting the vernacular for Latin and emphasizing the congregational singing of hymns; he loved music above almost everything else. His service was too conservative, too close to the Catholic form to satisfy some of his followers. He produced catechisms for the instruction of the young, and he was among the first to advocate free public education, in order that all might be able to read the Bible. In matters of liturgy he was indifferent, permitting wide variations.

One of his problems in the 1520s was the outbreak of revolutionary risings, which he feared would be attributed to his influence. The first was that of the imperial knights in 1522. Two of the leaders of the knights were Franz von Sickingen and Ulrich von Hutten, who were both attracted to Luther's teachings. The rising failed; Sickingen was killed; and Hutten, fatally ill, fled to Switzerland, where his short and tragic life ended in 1523. Luther had nothing to do with the rising; indeed, he was unalterably opposed to any kind of revolutionary violence and desperately anxious to keep his movement free from any connection with such activity. He regarded the secular authority as divinely ordained to punish the wicked and protect the good, and, therefore, urged obedience to it. If it commanded anything against the law of God in practice, this meant, for instance, if it commanded a person to give up his faith it would not be obeyed, but it must not be resisted. In other words, better martyrdom than resistance.

The discontent of the peasants broke out once more in the great Peasants' Revolt of 1524 25, which was a crisis for all Germany. The unrest that had long existed among the peasantry was aggravated by the rising cost of living, the monopolistic practices of the hated merchant class, and the use of the revived Roman law to increase the power of the lords over their peasants. Serfdom had long been felt to be an abuse, and it is not surprising that Luther's teachings about Christian liberty were interpreted misinterpreted, according to him to supply a warrant for the peasants' demand for freedom.

The revolt began in the late summer of 1524, and its main centers came to be Swabia, Franconia, and Thuringia. The demands of the peasants reflected economic, social, and religious discontent. The Swabian peasants, for example, refused to pay tithes, threatened death to some of their priests, and practically abolished confession. At Mühlhausen in Thuringia, the situation became inflammable with the arrival of Thomas Müntzer in August. He combined apocalyptic religious ideas with a predilection for radical social change. Not only did he claim to possess direct revelations from the Holy Spirit, but he also preached violence against the nobility and proposed as his ideal a regime of absolute communistic equality. Under his leadership many peasants took arms against their lords, while the nobles, finding themselves threatened, combined to crush the rebels. On May 15, 1525, at Frankenhausen, the inexperienced peasant forces were slaughtered, and Müntzer was captured. After retracting his errors, he was executed. Elsewhere there were also acts of violence by the peasants: destruction, pillaging, sacrilege, even massacres. Eventually, however, all the risings were suppressed with great cruelty. In the final outcome, nothing was done to alleviate the lot of the peasants or to redress their grievances; in fact, their conditions were made worse.

In these events Luther found himself involved whether he wanted to be or not. Some of his writings had given rise to the expectation that he would sympathize with the rebels. In 1525 a group of Swabian peasants drew up a set of "Twelve Articles" formulating their demands. They included the abolition of serfdom and the alleviation of feudal burdens. Copies were sent to persons chosen by the peasants as qualified to be arbiters of their cause; Luther was one of these. In response he wrote his Admonition to Peace in which he disclaimed responsibility for the rising; condemned the lords for their oppression, which had brought about the revolt; and admonished the peasants that nothing, not even the wickedness of their rulers, gave them the right to rebel. They were threatening to quench his gospel by acting contrary to it though in its name. He rejected the demand for the abolition of serfdom on the ground that Christian liberty is not an external thing, and that to throw off serfdom would deprive the lords of their property.

Luther personally traveled among the disaffected peasants at some risk to himself, hoping to restore peace by persuasion, but found it impossible. He therefore concluded that force would be necessary to suppress the disorders. A harsh and cruel tone appears in his comments on the revolt, most of all in his little tract, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, in which he urged that the rebels should be cut down like mad dogs. When the lords got the upper hand, however, and were mercilessly slaughtering the peasants far beyond the requirements of safety, Luther pleaded for mercy and condemned the cruelty of the lords. However, he was no longer a hero to the peasants as he had been, and many of them turned to more radical religious sects.

At about the same time came the final break between Luther and Erasmus. At first Erasmus had asked for a fair hearing for Luther and had interceded with Charles V on his behalf. Luther, for his part, at first treated Erasmus with great respect. As time passed, it became clear to both men that they differed in basic ways. For Erasmus, the Lutheran movement brought tumult and disorder; for Luther, Erasmus was too timid, holding back when he should have joined the cause of the Gospel against Rome. Luther felt that Erasmus laughed at things that should make men lament. With Luther's deep sense of sin and the corruption of human nature, he could never accept the humanistic faith in man's capacity for moral improvement. Erasmus was under continual pressure from the Catholic side to come out publicly against Luther. Eventually he yielded, publishing A Discourse on Free Will in 1524. He chose a point on which there was a profound gap between the humanist view of man and his destiny, and that of Luther and his followers. Erasmus defended the ability of man, through his own efforts, to contribute to his salvation. In the following year Luther answered with his The Bondage of the Will. He contended that the will is free to fulfill the civil or moral law, but is helpless when it comes to the task of fulfilling God's righteousness. It cannot, without divine grace, turn from sin to God or choose between God and Satan. Toward Erasmus he expressed himself very harshly, denying him the name of theologian. Erasmus, hurt by Luther's tone, answered; and Luther in turn replied just as uncivilly as before. The break between them was complete, though Erasmus may always have cherished the hope for an eventual reunion of the warring factions within Christendom. Luther, for his part, was not charitable or even courteous to those who disagreed with him; over the years his disposition became, if anything, even worse. At about the same time as the split with Erasmus came the break between the Lutheran and Zwinglian branches of the Reformation. It was on the doctrine of the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, that the two men differed most clearly. Luther, though he rejected the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, still believed in the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ along with the bread and wine, while Zwingli had taken the far more radical position that the bread and wine only signified the body and blood, which were not actually present.

In 1529 Luther, Zwingli, their chief lieutenants, and other reformers, met at Marburg in the territory of Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who had arranged the meeting. Philip was a Lutheran prince, who foresaw the possibility of military attack by Catholic forces and sought to unite for defensive purposes those territories in Germany that followed Luther with those parts of Switzerland that had adopted the teachings of Zwingli. No defensive alliance was possible without a confessional agreement, which Philip hoped to secure by this meeting, the Marburg Colloquy, as it is generally called. Philip's hopes were disappointed, however, and the conference succeeded only in showing that an accommodation was impossible. The explanation has often been sought in Luther's intransigence, and this may have been the chief obstacle. However, it has also been suggested that the responsibility must lie with Luther's chief adviser and colleague, Philip Melanchthon, who was anxious to leave the road open for reconciliation with the Catholics and, therefore, persuaded Luther to abandon the Zwinglians. In any case, Luther always spoke with great bitterness about Zwingli and his followers, whom he called Sacramentarians.

Though Luther might deplore the intrusion of politics into his movement, he could not prevent it. Many German princes led their states into the new church, and most of the imperial free cities did likewise. Some bishoprics also were "secularized," that is, lost to the Catholic church. The religious issue became a regular feature of the diets, and the Lutheran members more and more took on the character of a political party. The emperor, though firmly committed to upholding the old faith, was severely restricted not only by the inadequate forces at his disposal but also by the distracting effect of his numerous problems outside Germany. Conflicts with the French and the Turks compelled him to seek the help of the German Lutherans against these external enemies, and this help could only be purchased by a policy of toleration. At the Diet of Speyer of 1526, the final decree (or Recess) in effect left the Lutheran members free to pursue their own religious policy. When the diet met in 1529, again at Speyer, the Catholic party was dominant, and the Recess was much more unfavorable to the Lutherans. The new doctrines were not to be allowed to spread until the meeting of a church council such a council had been long called for by both sides and until Catholics in territories that had broken from Rome were fully tolerated. On the other hand, Lutherans in Catholic territories were to be put to death. The Lutherans were impelled to issue a Protest, from which they were called Protestants. This is the first use of the word as a designation of non-Roman Christians.

In 1530, when the diet met at Augsburg, Charles was in a strong position. The Sack of Rome in 1527 had increased his influence with the pope and strengthened his growing hold in Italy. In 1529 the Turks had been repelled in an attempt to take Vienna, and in the same year the Treaty of Cambrai with France brought temporary peace with the old enemy on terms favorable to Charles. In 1530 Charles was crowned emperor in Bologna by the pope. He came to the diet the first he had attended personally since Worms in 1521 determined to settle the religious question once and for all. Luther, as an outlaw, could not be there; he stayed at the castle of Coburg, in constant touch with Melanchthon, who was charged with presenting the Lutheran position. This position was embodied in what has become known as the Augsburg Confession, still recognized today as the most authoritative statement of the Lutheran faith.

Melanchthon, anxious as always for reconciliation with the old church, made as many concessions as he could enough to worry Luther but the Confession was still rejected by the Catholics. Instead, the diet gave the Protestants until April 15, 1531, to submit. Otherwise Charles would use force against them. In this dangerous situation, a Lutheran League for defensive purposes was brought into being. It was formed in 1531 at the town of Schmalkalden, by six princes and ten free cities; other states joined later. Charles V, still distracted by foreign problems and in need of Protestant help, was unable for several years to fulfill his threats. The German Protestants turned to the French for assistance, and in this way there began a French policy of support for foreign Protestants, which was to last until the reign of Louis XIV. Meanwhile, an attempt was made in Germany to settle the religious problem by a series of conferences between the opposing groups in 1540 and 1541. In spite of much good will and sincere efforts on both sides, the attempt failed; probably it was from this time that war was inevitable.

In the years around 1540, the Lutheran cause was weakened morally and politically by one of its strongest defenders, Philip of Hesse, as a result of Philip's bigamy in 1539. He had consulted Luther, who advised this step on the grounds that bigamy was better than divorce, but counseled secrecy. The news got out, however, putting Philip in a very difficult position, because bigamy under imperial law was a capital offense. Philip had to seek the emperor's pardon, which was granted in 1541 at the price of a treaty that made Philip the emperor's ally, though this alliance proved to be only temporary. Luther's reputation also suffered when it became known that he had given Philip advice to commit bigamy. Luther by no means meant this to set a precedent; he regarded himself as a confessor seeking a way out of a difficult situation. From an early date Luther had felt compelled to rely on the rulers and governing classes for support of his church and movement. It is quite possible that these dominant forces in German life would have taken charge of the cause whether or not he had wished it. It is, however, a great exaggeration to make Luther responsible, at least in part, for absolutism and even the totalitarian state. He never believed in the unrestricted authority of the state in religious matters. In fact, he felt very strongly that in matters of conscience and in matters affecting the soul, the temporal power had no right to interfere; its jurisdiction extended only to external things, such as keeping order. On the other hand, as he grew older, he tended to become more harsh and to include religious dissent under the heading of sedition, which he thought deserved the extreme penalty. This harshness is shown in two late writings, an attack on the papacy and one on the Jews.

He was a man of great virtues and of faults to match, but whether one regards him with sympathy or with aversion, his thought and work have exercised a tremendous influence. It is only during the present century, however, that scholarship, especially in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, has arrived at an adequate understanding of his meaning and has shown how relevant it is to our contemporary concerns. Catholic scholars as well as Protestants recognize his greatness, though they may deplore the directions in which he was finally led.

Luther did not live to see the outbreak of the war between the two religious factions in Germany. He died in 1546. In the same year the war broke out: The emperor and the Catholics faced the Schmalkaldic League in what was called the Schmalkaldic War. In the early stages the emperor was victorious; at the battle of Mühlberg, on April 24, 1547, he made the elector of Saxony, one of the Protestant leaders, a prisoner. Later Philip of Hesse surrendered and was also imprisoned. In spite of his victory, the emperor still hoped for reconciliation in religion. Accordingly, at the Diet of Augsburg, which met in 1547 48, he tried to achieve a settlement by means of the so-called Interim.

This Augsburg Interim of 1548, which was issued as a Recess of the Diet and was intended to establish a religious settlement for all Germany, was a compromise, but one that favored the Catholics. Some concessions were made to the Lutherans, including communion in both kinds and marriage of priests. It met with objections from both sides, and could not be enforced generally. Thus the religious problem was not yet settled. In 1526 the Protestant princes formed the League of Torgau, and in 1552 made an alliance with Henry II of France in the Treaty of Chambord. In return for a subsidy to the German Protestants, France was to receive the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. In the same year, the league attacked Charles, who was then at Innsbruck, taking him by surprise and forcing him to flee. In spite of the Treaty of Passau (also in 1552), fighting continued. After his unsuccessful siege of Metz (1552 53), Charles left Germany, to which he never returned.

In 1555 the Imperial Diet met at Augsburg, and here a religious peace was made. The Religious Peace of Augsburg was embodied in the recess of the diet and, hence, became part of imperial law and of the imperial constitution. The peace ratified the situation whereby the religion of the ruler determined the religion of his subjects. This settlement was confined to the Catholic and Lutheran confessions; Calvinism, which was growing in strength in Germany, received no legal recognition. There was one truly tolerant provision in the Peace of Augsburg: In the imperial free cities, where both confessions existed side by side, this coexistence should be allowed to continue. The most difficult problem was to decide the case of spiritual princes who went over to the new faith, taking their territories with them.

This issue for a time threatened the whole settlement, but finally a solution was found in the so-called ecclesiastical reservation. This provided that all ecclesiastical lands were to remain in possession of the church that held them in 1552. Any prelate who became Protestant after that date was to step down and make way for the choice of a Catholic successor. The Catholics never regarded this arrangement as final, and the Protestants violated it, continuing to secularize church lands. Thus the ecclesiastical reservation, together with the growing strength of Calvinism in Germany, provided a source of future trouble. Nevertheless, according to a distinguished authority, the ecclesiastical reservation helped the survival of German Catholicism more than any other legal act, and saved the ecclesiastical principalities for another 250 years.9


The Peace of Augsburg was not a definitive settlement of the religious issue in Germany, but only a truce brought about by the exhaustion of the contending parties. It marked the final failure of Charles V's German policy, and no doubt contributed to his decision to abdicate. During the next few years he gave up, one after another, his many titles and retired to spend his last days in Spain, near the monastery of Yuste. He continued to take an interest in the affairs of the Hapsburg countries and to give occasional advice until his death in 1558.

The abdication of Charles meant the division of the Hapsburg line into two branches. Spain and the territories it ruled, including the Netherlands, Milan, Naples and Sicily, Franche-Comt and the developing New World empire passed to Charles's son, Philip II. The imperial crown, however, and the Austrian hereditary lands went to Charles's younger brother, Ferdinand, king of Hungary and Bohemia, who had been the emperor's deputy for German affairs. As Charles had become Spanish in his outlook, Ferdinand (now Ferdinand I) had become thoroughly German. His descendants were regularly elected to the crowns of the empire and of Hungary and Bohemia. Since the two branches of the Hapsburg house continued to coordinate their policies and sealed their cooperation by frequent intermarriages, it is still accurate, even after the days of Charles V, to speak of a Hapsburg interest in European affairs. One of the fixed points of Hapsburg policy was the support of the Roman Catholic faith, though Emperor Maximilian II (1564 76) was personally inclined to Protestantism. The Catholic revival or Counter Reformation (See Chapter 19) received faithful support from the Hapsburgs, and to this support it owed a great deal of its success in Germany and the empire. This Catholic revival was one of the forces that threatened the permanence of the Peace of Augsburg. At the time of the peace, Catholicism in Germany was at a low ebb, compelled to make serious concessions to the Protestants. It was no doubt inevitable that, once the Catholic forces had regained strength, a determined effort would be made to recoup their losses.

Though Calvinism had no official status, it spread steadily in Germany. Two of the four secular electors became Calvinists: the elector of the Palatine, Frederick III (1559 76) and the elector of Brandenburg, John Sigismund (1608 19). The inroads of Calvinism not only introduced a new element of discord for the Catholics, but also militated against Protestant unity, because Lutherans and Calvinists, instead of cooperating, became determined rivals. The most politically important of the German Lutheran princes, the electors of Saxony, followed a policy of cooperation with the emperors and of hostility to the Calvinists. The timidity and shortsightedness of the Saxon electors illustrates the political ineptitude that forfeited the advantages the Protestants had enjoyed.

Another source of Protestant weakness was the division in the ranks of the Lutherans. Melanchthon, who after Luther's death was the foremost Lutheran theologian, alienated many of Luther's followers by what seemed to them his excessive willingness to compromise. Against him were arrayed the Gnesio-Lutherans (Genuine Lutherans).

The divisions among their opponents gave the Catholics an opportunity, which they did not fail to grasp. In 1557 a Venetian diplomat estimated that Germany was nine-tenths Protestant, a figure which, though no doubt an exaggeration, reveals the depths to which Catholicism had sunk. From this desperate situation the church was to make an extraordinary recovery, particularly in the seventeenth century.

Friction between the confessional groups led in 1609 to the formation of a Protestant Union and a Catholic League. The Protestant group was weakened by internal divergences between Lutherans and Calvinists and by the failure of a number of Protestant states, including Saxony, to join. In the Catholic League, the most prominent member was the duke of Bavaria. Numerous clashes between Protestants and Catholics within the empire during the next few years drew the lines of division tighter and tighter, until the ground was prepared for the outbreak in 1618 of the Thirty Years' War, in which the future of Protestantism in Germany, and perhaps all of Europe, would be at stake.


Two facts stand out in the history of the Reformation in the Scandinavian countries. First, these were the only states outside Germany where Lutheranism became the state religion. Second, the initiative for the religious changes came largely from the crown. In Sweden, the coming of the new church was closely bound up with the birth of national independence.

In 1397 the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were united under one monarch in the Union of Kalmar. The terms of the union were vague, however, and it failed to hold together. The strongest of the three kingdoms was Denmark, but the Danish monarchs, though they managed to secure their hold over Norway, were not so successful with Sweden, which tended to be substantially independent. In the fifteenth century the kings of Denmark became rulers of Schleswig and Holstein. The crown was elective, and each newly chosen king had to agree to a "capitulation" which made concessions to the nobility at the expense of the powers of the crown. The power of the higher clergy also grew; the tenacity with which they clung to their great wealth and temporal power made them unpopular and thus became a factor in the success of the Reformation.

A turning point in the history of the Scandinavian countries came in 1513 with the accession of Christian II, whose marriage to Isabella of the Netherlands brought with it a tie to her brother, the future Hapsburg emperor Charles V. Though Christian was a gifted and learned monarch, he possessed fatal qualities cruelty, ruthlessness, treachery which were to cost him his throne. He aimed at extending his power, and that of the peasants and burghers, at the expense of the nobles and clergy. He wanted to make the monarchy hereditary in all three kingdoms. The promises that he had to make at his election, which would have imposed limitations on his power, he ignored in practice. In order to follow the momentous developments of Christian's reign and the course of the Scandinavian Reformation, it is convenient to treat events in Sweden and Denmark separately.


When Christian was elected king of Denmark, he found Sweden practically independent. Though there was a faction that favored recognizing him as king, the country was dominated by the opposition party, led by Sten Sture, the administrator of the kingdom. Civil war broke out between the parties, and Christian led troops to Sweden to further his own cause. In the fighting, he managed to secure hostages who were taken to Denmark. One of them was a young man named Gustaf Eriksson, later to be known as Gustavus Vasa and to become the father of Swedish independence. By 1520 Christian had defeated Sten Sture, who died after a battle, and made himself master of Sweden; on November 4 he was crowned king. He proceeded to lose the fruits of his efforts by the treacherous execution of a large number of persons who had fought on the opposing side. This was the famous Bloodbath of Stockholm (November 8), in which more than eighty persons died, including two bishops and many nobles. One of the victims was the father of Gustavus Eriksson. This ghastly deed, which Christian had hoped would subdue Sweden and make it more submissive, had the opposite effect; it created an antagonism that led to the rejection of his rule. It had another important consequence: The pretext for the executions had been opposition to the church and especially to the archbishop of Uppsala, who had led the fight against Sten Sture. Consequently, Stockholm's bloodbath roused great antipathy to the church and facilitated the break with Rome.

Gustaf Eriksson (Gustavus Vasa) had meanwhile escaped from Denmark and returned to Sweden by May 1520. He took up the leadership of the Swedish fight for independence, and, with the help of the city of Lbeck, he succeeded in uniting the country behind him and freeing it from Danish rule. In 1523, the Swedish Diet elected him king. From the start of his reign, he showed his intention to subordinate the church to his own needs. Friction with the pope over the latter's interference in Swedish ecclesiastical affairs led to the discontinuance of any official connection between Sweden and the papacy from 1523. Short of resources, Gustavus turned to the wealth of the church, which he felt free to appropriate for the needs of his government. Meanwhile Lutheran doctrines had been making headway among the clergy and even affecting the king. At the Diet of Vsters in 1527, the king succeeded, by a threat of abdication, in forcing the diet to agree to laws that subjected the church in Sweden completely to the crown. The king was given possession of all church property, church appointments required royal approval, the clergy were subject to the civil law, and the "pure Word of God" was to be preached in the churches and taught in the schools. This meant that Lutheran ideas were given official sanction. The protestantizing of the church and the despoiling of church property by the king led to uprisings, but they were suppressed without bringing about any change in royal policy.

Except in Stockholm, the Swedish Reformation was not, on the whole, a popular movement but was imposed from above. In return, the king's power was strengthened by it. Gustavus Vasa constantly and successfully strove to increase his power, tolerating no oppositions. In 1544, by the Act of Hereditary Settlement, the Swedish crown was made hereditary.

During the reign of Gustavus, who died in 1560, the reformation of the Swedish church continued. The leading reformer was Olavus Petri (Olof Petersson, 1493 1552), who had studied at the University of Wittenberg. In his preaching and writings, he was indefatigable in attacking the old church and setting forth Protestant teaching. His liturgical writings did much to influence the form of worship in the Swedish church, and he also produced a Swedish Mass and hymnal. It was significant for the future that he was not radical, but made considerable use of long-standing tradition, as well as leaning heavily on the work of German reformers, especially Luther. Though Gustavus Vasa furthered the development of the Reformed church, his rapacity in seizing church property and his determination to be complete master of the church caused friction with its leaders, including Petri. He was even denounced from the pulpit for his tyranny. Nevertheless, by the time he died, the Swedish church was irrevocably set in a Protestant direction, and it was to remain Protestant and Lutheran through various vicissitudes. In 1593, under a Roman Catholic king, a synod at Uppsala set the seal on the Swedish Reformation by making the Augsburg Confession the official confession of the national church.


Christian II acceded peacefully to the throne of Denmark and Norway in 1513, but, as in Sweden, he was forced out of power, in spite of great abilities and some constructive accomplishments. He was a hardworking monarch, solicitous of the welfare of his people. He worked to reform municipal government, suppress piracy, and foster Danish trade and the prosperity of Copenhagen. He established uniform weights and measures, abolished the death penalty for witchcraft, and devoted attention to education at all levels. He was also interested in ecclesiastical affairs. Christian even tried to get Martin Luther to Denmark, and in 1521 forebade the publication of the papal bull of excommunication of Luther. Yet he was not a Protestant and had no desire for a break with Rome; he did intend to control and reform the church. This is shown in his remarkable legal code, which included many provisions relating to church affairs. Among these were the following: appeals to Rome were forbidden, and the king and his council were to sit as a court of final appeal in spiritual cases; the jurisdiction of the bishops' courts was greatly reduced; and the clergy were forbidden to acquire land. Other regulations enforced on bishops the systematic performance of their duties and sought to secure a body of clergymen adequate to their tasks. No doctrinal alterations were contemplated, and even the prohibition of appeals to Rome was intended chiefly to check the flow of money from Denmark to the Curia.

This law code, embodying the ecclesiastical and secular measures that have been mentioned, roused a good deal of opposition, and it is not clear whether it ever went into effect. It was indeed one of the factors in his deposition. He had also antagonized the Danish nobles by favoring the peasants and the bishops, by executing some of their number in the Bloodbath of Stockholm, and by showing an interest in the followers of Luther. He had disregarded his coronation promises, he was at war with Lbeck, he was having troubles in Sweden, and he was on bad terms with his uncle, Duke Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein.

In 1522 nobles and bishops in Jutland conspired to depose Christian and to put his uncle Frederick on the throne. Disaffection spread, and Christian fled Denmark in 1523 with the plan to recruit an army abroad. In 1532 he mounted an invasion of southern Norway and made the mistake of trusting a safe-conduct from Frederick I. He was made prisoner, and remained in captivity until his death in 1559. Though Frederick promised at his coronation to persecute Lutherans, it was in his reign (1523 33) that the Catholic church was destroyed in Denmark. He soon adopted a policy of protecting Lutheran preachers and reformers, of whom the most famous was Hans Tausen. In 1527, when asked by the bishops to take steps which would re-emphasize the Catholic character of the church, Frederick replied that nobody was to be forced to renounce his faith, and that the king had power only over men's lives and property but not their souls. In practice, the policy of Frederick favored the spread of Lutheranism and the dissolution of the old church. From 1526 Danish bishops had their appointments confirmed by the king and never again sought papal confirmation. In several important cities, including Copenhagen, the reformers gained the upper hand. Throughout Denmark the monasteries gradually disappeared, and churches were destroyed with the king's permission. Schleswig and Holstein were ruled by the king's oldest son, Christian, a convinced Lutheran, who gave a great impetus to the Lutheran forces in his territories and influenced his father in the same direction.

It was, in fact, the known Lutheranism of Christian that prevented his election to the throne when his father died in 1533. On the council, which had the right of electing the king, the majority was Catholic, and, therefore, opposed his accession. The split in the council caused a decision to postpone the election, and this was followed by an invasion in favor of the imprisoned Christian II, led by a German prince who was a cousin of the deposed monarch. In the civil war that followed, Denmark was brought to the verge of dissolution before the final victory of Duke Christian, son of Frederick I, who received help from Gustavus Vasa. In 1537 he became Christian III. The accession of Christian was epoch-making for the reorganization of the Danish church. The new king was seriously in need of money, and it was natural that he should look for help to the bishops, who were the richest men in Denmark. When they proved recalcitrant, he had them arrested and imprisoned, and took possession of their property. All were eventually released except one who died in prison but their old positions were not restored to them. The king's action was widely applauded, because the bishops had been very unpopular.

To help in the continued reform of the church, Christian secured from the elector of Saxony the services of one of Luther's chief assistants and colleagues, Johann Bugenhagen, who came to Denmark in 1537. Bugenhagen crowned Christian and his queen, replacing the archbishop of Lund, who had traditionally performed that function. Later, Bugenhagen ordained seven Lutheran clergymen as superintendents to replace the deposed bishops. This was the first time that bishops had not been ordained by a regularly consecrated bishop, and it was a deliberate break with tradition: A bishop probably could have been found to perform the act. Bugenhagen became a professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen, which had been closed during the years of trouble and was opened again in 1537. It now had a new Protestant faculty, and one of its purposes was the education of the clergy.

In 1537 a new Church Ordinance was officially adopted. It was drawn up by a commission of clergymen appointed by the king and approved by Luther. In 1550 there appeared Christian III's Bible, the first complete translation into Danish. When the king died in 1559, the Protestant church in Denmark was established on firm foundations.

The Reformation in Denmark was more of a popular movement than in Sweden. This was not true in Norway and Iceland, dependencies of Denmark. Although there were reforming tendencies in both places, there was no popular movement, and the Reformation was imposed by force, especially in the reign of Christian III.