Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Mars Adds His Corruption to the Lutheran Reformation (1524-55)

Peasants’ War (1524)

In Germania and Noricum a widespread rebellion by peasants, along with some nobles and even cities, broke out. It was the culmination of over 100 years of protests against harsh conditions and oppressive responses. It was inspired by Martin Luther’s own example of rejecting imperial and papal authority and the words he himself had used to do so. 

Martin’s initial response was to publish Admonition to Peace. In it Martin denied any biblical justification for violence, blamed rulers for driving peasants and allies to rebellion, and exhorted rulers and ruled to find common ground by recommitting themselves to their shared Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

A month later, as the violence increased, Martin changed his point of view. He wrote a pamphlet which publishers gave the inflammatory title of Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants. In it Martin justified the violence of rulers against ruled to the point of declaring that any ruler who was killed fighting the rebels died a martyr.

Let us grant that painful necessity drove peasants and allies to turn to Mars and use war as a possible means of improving their otherwise desperate situation. Still, they did turn to Mars. Once they did, painful necessity also drove their rulers to turn to Mars in response. The slaughter of ruled, though Christian, by rulers, also Christian, was horrific. Mars, and Satan his master, were so pleased.

Marginal people never forgot Martin’s justification of the violence of the powerful. Martin in turn made normative an acceptance of the status quo outside of the Church. Henceforth he would confine himself to questions of the Church as an organization and of Christians in their behavior as Church members. Lutherans thereafter would have difficulties witnessing meaningfully against harmful policies of even the most destructive states.

Diet of Augsburg (1530)

A Turkish Muslim army attacked Vienna in late 1529. To defend the Holy Roman Empire, Charles 5th (1500-58) needed religious unity in Germania and Noricum. To get it he called for another assembly, this one to meet not in Worms (1521) but in Augsburg, Noricum, about 30 miles (50 km) west of Munich. In preparation for it, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), a close colleague of Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg, wrote the Augsburg Confession. In it he described Lutheran reforms as most consistent with the biblical witness to the early Church. He also described them as necessary reforms of a Latin Church that had wandered far from that witness.

As at the assembly in Worms, Charles lacked interest in debating questions of right thinking and living and totally rejected the Augsburg Confession. Instead, he sought needed unity against enemies of the Empire through conformity to his will as its ruler. He told assembled leaders to conform voluntarily to his will or in 9 months he would coerce their conformity with his army. When the time came, they failed to conform but he lacked the means of forcing them. 

Peace of Augsburg (1555)

Tired of fighting French Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, Charles decided to retire to a monastery. He divided rule of his far-flung lands between his son Philip of Spain and his brother Ferdinand of Austria. At another assembly in Augsburg, twenty-five years after the first, Ferdinand agreed with Germanian and Norican political leaders to the principle that those leaders would determine whether they individually, and the people living in their lands, would remain Latin Christian (Roman Catholic) or become Germanic Christian (Lutheran).

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
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