Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 8: Politics and Religion Must Mix

Christogenea is reader supported. If you find value in our work, please help to keep it going! See our Contact Page for more information or DONATE HERE!

  • Christogenea Saturdays
ChrSat20150725-LutherLifeDeath08.mp3 — Downloaded 4546 times

Martin Luther, in Life and Death, Part 8: Politics and Religion Must Mix

Studying Medieval European history is like untying a bundle of knots, and you have to untie one before you can get to the next. But then every so often you get one that can't be undone, so you are forced to cut the rope because there are some knots that can never be untied. The Protestant Reformation was not only religious, but it was also political. We can discuss all of the religious principals, but it is absolutely naive to think that the princes of Germany joined the Reformation because of those principles alone. Rather, politics is much more responsible for the success of the Reformation than religion. We can understand a lot of the politics, but because the sinister forces that had driven some of the players were successful at remaining in the shadows, there are always going to be some things which we cannot truly understand.

A backdrop to Luther's Reformation were the Italian Wars which spanned over 60 years and most of Luther's life. Involved at diverse times were the French, the Spanish, the Austrians, the Germans, the Popes, the Republic of Venice, and even the English and the Scots. These wars began as disputes over Naples and Milan, resulted in several invasions of Italy, and continued as struggles for control between the royal houses all over Europe. They were marked by alliances, counter-alliances, and betrayals no different than those which we have seen in the World Wars of the twentieth century. In the meantime the Austrians and the Venetians were fighting the Turks on other fronts. At one point in the wars, the French, who under Charles VIII had originally sought to use Naples as a base for the war against the Turks, had under Francis I been so treacherous as to ally themselves with the Turks, and allowed the Ottomans to use Toulon as a winter port for the alien fleets. As a result, over thirty thousand Muslims had occupied the city for about eight months, as Christians kidnapped from the coasts were being sold as slaves in its streets.

In the meantime, the papacy had long been reduced to the role of political player in the struggles for the political control of the various parts of Europe. But the Papacy had an upper hand because it was perceived as representing a higher spiritual authority, and therefore was attributed with ecclesiastical authority. Therefore when its ecclesiastical authority was challenged by the religious Reformers, the objectives of the Reformers simply became a tool used by the political players to undermine the authority of the Popes. Some princes put their lot with the Reformers, hoping to gain greater power or at least greater autonomy for themselves. Others chose to remain as Roman Catholic bedfellows, but their decisions were usually for relatively the same reasons.

In Part 7 of our presentation of Luther in Life and Death, we began to see how the humanists of Germany had rallied to Luther's cause. We described how all of the humanists, once they realized the value of Luther's rebellion against the Papacy, had begun writing books and pamphlets propagandizing in favor of Luther. We saw how many of the pagan humanists who had opposed the scholarly theologians for so long were suddenly themselves transformed into Christian theologians virtually overnight, while humanists inside of the church had also rallied to Luther's cause.

These humanists soon found themselves at the lead of Luther's reform movement, and the two most prominent among them were Philip Melanchthon and Ulrich von Hutten. As we have already discussed at great length, Melanchthon was the grand-nephew of Johann Reuchlin, while Hutten had been one of the more active of Reuchlin's many humanist supporters. As we have also seen, Reuchlin was a student of the Talmud, and especially the Cabala, and he had waged a campaign against Christian officials who sought to destroy the writings of the Jews. So the humanists joined Reuchlin's efforts as a champion of the Jewish cause. While Jews were not in the foreground of the Reformation, we can be assured that they were certainly in the background, and the same humanists rallied to Luther as their next opponent to Catholic Church authority.

Before continuing with our main narrative, here we are going to see the humanists, Melanchthon and Hutten, portrayed from a different perspective, from A Short History of Germany by Ernest F. Henderson, first published in London by the MacMillan Company in 1902, our volume was reprinted in 1914. This is from Chapter 12, entitled Friends And Allies Of The Reformation, which begins on page 285.

Religious ferment.

The account given by Aleander of the religious ferment into which Germany had been thrown was by no means overdrawn; there was no class of the population that was not touched by the movement, and no form of expression in which men’s feelings did not find vent. Between the years 1513 and 1523 the number of yearly publications rose from ninety to nine hundred, and by far the greater part of them were polemical. Luther’s own individual writings up to the latter date numbered more than one hundred. Hans Sachs, the cobbler of Nuremberg, wrote a poem on the Wittenberg Nightingale, and announced that the false shimmer of the moon that had lured so many to the wilderness was now to be put to flight by the red love-light of the morning. Albrecht Dürer painted his famous Four Apostles with Peter standing behind “John whom Jesus loved.” Lucas Kranach drew a series of twenty-six wood-cuts of the church as it was, and the church as it should be,—on the one hand, the Pope with his triple diadem and with princes kissing his toe; on the other, Christ with the crown of thorns washing the feet of His disciples.

Not that all who railed at the abuses of the church were in favor of Martin Luther. Erasmus had come out in an open attack upon some of his doctrines; Reuchlin repudiated him, and sent a weak letter of justification to the Catholic dukes of Bavaria. But even within the camp of Lutheranism there were fatal differences as to ways and means; what the scholar expected to gain by arguments and persuasion, the knight thought he could achieve more rapidly by force of arms, and the peasant by revolt and violence. Each of these elements was to try its turn singly in the course of this long struggle, with what success we shall see as our narrative proceeds.

The youth of Melanchthon.

The chief representative of the peaceful party, and Luther’s most devoted personal friend, was a certain Philip Schwarzerd, of Bretten, son of an armorer who was so skilful in forging a suit of armor for Maximilian that the latter gave him as coat of arms a lion with one paw on a hammer, the other on an anvil. Young Philip had always had a strong religious bent, a keen sense of beauty, and an independent, critical spirit. The ceremonies of the old church, indeed, had so attracted him that he had erected an altar at which, in private, he imitated the forms of the mass; yet, even at this early age, he doubted a preacher who declared that the wooden shoes of the Franciscans had been cut from the original apple tree of paradise.

Reuchlin, who was Schwarzerd’s granduncle, had taken the warmest interest in the training of the boy, selecting his tutors and his schools, and providing him with rare books. Out of love and gratitude Philip had induced some comrades to learn and perform one of the old humanist’s own Latin comedies, which so delighted Reuchlin that he would not rest till he had changed the barbarous name of this learned youth into its Greek equivalent - Melanchthon. At every stage in his career the young scholar was looked upon as a prodigy; once at Heidelberg. when the professor was at a loss for a translation and wondered who could help him, there was a general cry of Melanchthon, Melanchthon, though the latter had not reached the age of fifteen, and was denied his master’s degree on the ground of his childlike appearance. Before he was nineteen Erasmus was in raptures over him, and called immortal God to witness the promise in this youth; whose complete command of Greek and Latin, whose penetration, and whose purity of diction, whose extraordinary memory - in short, the “noble, even royal grace of whose gifts” - made a profound impression on the first scholar in Europe.

Melanchthon in Wittenberg.

Called at the age of twenty-one to preside over the Greek studies in the university of Wittenberg, Melanchthon by his very first discourse on improved methods of study made a conquest of all his hearers. Short of stature, slender and weak-looking, with a bad habit of holding one shoulder lower than the other, he had none of the natural advantages on which orators are wont to depend. He knitted his brows in an ugly manner, made awkward and violent gesticulations, and occasionally stuttered. But on those who observed him closely, his beautiful eyes and fine features did not fail of their effect, and all followed him with breathless interest when in masterly sequence he showed the evils in the prevalent methods, and went on to unfold his plans for improvement. A return to original sources, the concernment with things themselves and not with their shadows, the reading of Greek and Latin classics in the tongues in which they were written, the study of theology from the Scriptures and not from bad text-books - these were his earnest injunctions. “Who makes a beginning has won half the battle - go bravely forward. It may seem difficult, but let not that deter you; industry and zeal conquer hardships. I will help you to the extent of my powers!” “One marvels,” a listener declares, “how in such a little body there can be concealed so enormous a mountain of cleverness and wisdom,” and indeed the fame of the new lecturer soon raised the number of students from the hundreds to the thousands!

Luther and Melanchthon.

Luther’s relation to Melanchthon was from the very first warm and confidential. “Whoever ” he writes, “does not recognize and treasure our Philip as just the right teacher, must be a perfect ass and eaten up with self-esteem. There is no one on earth, no one on whom the sun shines, who has such gifts as Philip,” and again: “He is a perfect Greek, learned to the core, friendly and of cheery disposition. He has a perfectly crowded classroom, and has brought it about that especially all theologians - high, middle, and low - have taken to Greek.... His devotion and industry pass all bounds.”

Nor was Melanchthon behind hand in his appreciation of the great pioneer of the reform movement. He speaks of him as the “God-inspired messenger of eternal wisdom and justice,” as the “blessed dispenser of the life-giving word,” as the “faithful, never sleeping Shepherd who with the rod of Moses casts down the superstitious priests and the foolish hair-splitting sophists.” He accompanied Luther to Leipzig at the time of the disputation with Eck, and incurred the latter’s mortal enmity by occasionally prompting both Carlstadt and Luther. Eck declared that though Melanchthon might know Latin and Greek, it was not worthwhile for any theologian to dispute with him, and thus called forth the remark from Luther that he cared more for his Philip’s judgment than for a thousand dirty Ecks. “I will not praise Philip,” he said on this occasion; “he is a creature of God, nothing more; but in him I honor the word of God! Perhaps I am Philip’s forerunner, destined like Elias to prepare the way.” The influence that Melanchthon was to have on the future of the Reformation cannot be overestimated. It is an old simile that makes him the coiner of the gold which Luther brought to light; he it is who first reduced to a theological system the teachings of the new religion. Luther once excuses his own violence by the constant necessity of fighting against mobs and devils; he it is who must dig up the stumps and stones, level the thickets and hedges and break a path like the woodsman through the forest; “but Master Philip drives cleanly and quietly along, sows and waters to his heart’s content according to the rich gifts that God has given him.” When Melanchthon wrote his Loci Communes, or “common truths of religion,” Luther ranked the book as second only, in point of excellence, to the Bible itself.

Melanchthon as the conciliator.

Melanchthon’s great aim was to give a scientific form and scholarly basis to the theology of the Reformation. His was not a nature that would try to storm the fortresses of the Romanists, he sought rather by reasoning to show how antiquated and useless they were. His chief fault was a desire to please in all directions, and the future was to show how his efforts in the matter of conciliation were to weaken his party and to draw down upon him the disapproval, if not the contempt, of his own friends.

Hutten and Luther.

In complete contrast to the life of this quiet scholar was that of another man who, for a short season, concentrated upon himself the gaze of all Germany as, rushing and storming on, he wildly endeavored to rouse his nation to that pitch where, once for all, it would irrevocably break with the tyranny of Rome. It is a singular part that which Ulrich von Hutten plays in the history of the Reformation. Knight of the pen as well as of the sword, he is, above all, the ardent patriot smarting and writhing under his country’s wrongs. Independently of Luther, he had begun his attacks on indulgences and papal extortions. Long after the posting of the theses he had looked on the Wittenberg reformer as a mere squabbling monk, and more than once had been known to pray that Eck and Luther might annihilate each other. “My desire is,” he wrote, “that our enemies should live as much in discord as possible.... God grant that all who hinder the ripening of the new culture shall be destroyed!” However, the Leipzig disputation and the great writings that quickly followed it had awakened Hutten to glowing enthusiasm,. and he had unreservedly placed himself on Luther’s side. “Day and night,” he wrote to him, “will I serve thee without wage; many a brave hero will I rouse up for thee. Thou shalt be the captain, thou the beginner and ender ; all that is needed is thy command.”

For a time the two names were constantly linked together; their portraits appeared side by side on the cover of one of Hutten’s works; they were likened to Orestes and Pylades, and the litany was paraphrased into a prayer for their safety. Men watched with breathless interest to see how they would extricate themselves from the meshes cast round them by the agents and friends of Rome. But soon a cleft became apparent, their paths divided, and Hutten, having failed in his own great designs, died ruined, heart-broken, and in exile.

Hutten’s early years.

Hutten’s family was of the old Franconian nobility. His immediate ancestors had been no better than their neighbors, and there were times when their castle of the Steckelberg was nothing less than a den of robbers and had to be raided as such by the emperor’s commands. The young Ulrich’s father, harsh and tyrannical, had destined his son for the church, had sent him to the monastery of Fulda to be trained for this vocation, and would hear of no argument in favor of any other career. In the very days when Luther, braving the wrath of his own father, was entering the Augustinian order at Erfurt, Hutten too cast off the parental yoke, burst these irksome monastic bonds, and fled from Fulda to worship the rising sun of humanism. To the full he experienced the hardships of the vagabond scholar’s life, begged and worked his way from one university to another, endured shipwreck and plague, and ruined his health forever. [Forever the immoral humanist pagan, he quite appropriately died of syphilis.]

Hutton as a writer.

The knowledge of his peculiar powers came to him in a "curious way and in the midst of his worst misfortunes. At Greifswald a certain Henning Lotz, professor of law and son of the burgomaster of the town, had received him into his house, had clothed and fed him, and supplied him with funds; then, for what reason we know not, a bitter quarrel had ensued, and the young scholar set out for Rostock without being able to reimburse his benefactor. The burgomaster and his son sent their retainers after him. He was seized and stripped of all he had, down to his own poetic compositions, and was forced half naked to continue on his way. Boiling with rage, he soon after wrote a satire on the two Lotzes, which revealed to the world of humanism its greatest master of invective.

Not many years had passed before the power of Hutten’s pen was felt by the highest in the land: a poem addressed to the Emperor Maximilian exhorted him in stirring words to march against the Venetians who had obstructed his way to Rome [One of the episodes of the Italian Wars, Maximilian was a Habsburg, he was King of the Germans from 1486 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1508 to his death in 1519]; a number of epigrams were launched against that warlike pope who had taken the name and wished to emulate the deeds of the great Julius ; a panegyric on Albert of Mainz gained for its author two hundred gold guldens and a position at the archbishop’s court. There came a time when, in the presence of his whole court, Maximilian placed a laurel wreath on Hutten’s head, proclaimed him orator and poet with all the advantages that officially pertained to those titles, and freed him from all jurisdiction save his own. The emperor hailed this scion of a noble knightly house as one whose writings were in everyone’s hands and whom the most learned men in Germany and Italy called their friend.

Hutten against Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg.

Nothing spurred on the genius of this man like some injury to himself, to his family, or to his country. When Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg, the most profligate and reckless of the German princes, struck down with his own hand a relative of Hutten’s who had scorned the suggestion of a dishonorable compact, the poet pursued him in a series of orations that roused all Germany. Every chord was struck that could move to pity and to indignation: the advantages to which the murdered man was bidding farewell, the sorrows of disconsolate relatives, the iniquity of the princely offender. Ever and anon a perfect volley of abuse was let loose against this “blot on the Swabian name,” this “Eternal shame of his people,” no longer a prince, no longer a German, no Christian, not even a man. Although the Duke of Würtemberg had married the emperor’s own niece, Maximilian was forced to place him under the ban of the empire. He soon forgave him, it is true; but Hutten’s day of vengeance came quickly enough, and he himself was able to play a part in the overthrow of his enemy. Duke Ulrich permitted himself in a moment of anger to commit acts of terrible violence against the city of Reutlingen which belonged to the famous Swabian league. The league raised an army and occupied his lands, and Hutten accompanied the expedition, being allowed the satisfaction of exhuming the remains of his relative and transporting them to Franconia. Duke Ulrich went into exile, his lands were handed over to the mercies of Charles V in return for payment to the league of the costs of the war. It was thus the Würtemberg staghorns found their way into the coat of arms of the house of Hapsburg.

Hutton against the Papacy.

In the Reformation, Hutten finally found a cause well adapted to call out to the full his magnificent powers of rhetoric. The dialogues that he now wrote contained utterances that never were, and never could be pardoned him: anathemas and excommunications, and the whole assemblage of papal weapons, were exposed to withering mockery; the abuses and the claims of the Roman court were scourged with a force and a realism beyond conception. The past, too, was made to give its relentless testimony: a writing of the time of the bitter quarrel between Henry IV and the church was drawn forth from its long resting-place and given to print; a new edition was made, with a preface dedicated to the Pope, of the masterly writing in which Laurentius Valla exposed the utter falsity of the document known as the Donation of Constantine.

The writing in which Hutten may be said to have first thrown down the gauntlet to the Papacy is known as the Vadiscus, or Roman Trinity, in which, three at a time, the prevalent scandals and abuses are dragged to light. It is a terrible arraignment of the whole papal system, and here, as ever, Hutten’s chief grievance is Rome’s contempt for the credulity and generosity of the Germans. “Look there,” he cries, “see the great central barnyard, where is heaped together the plunder of all lands. In the midst sits that insatiate weevil, which, with its followers, swallows unheard-of amounts. They have sucked our blood, they have gnawed our flesh, they are coming to our marrow; they will break and crush our every bone! Will the Germans never take to arms, will they never rush in with fire and sword? Those are plunderers of our fatherland, reeking with the blood and sweat of the German people; they are robbing us like hungry wolves, and we, forsooth, must continue to caress them, may not stab, or smite, or lay hands upon, or touch them! When will we finally grow wiser, and avenge our shame, which is the common shame of all!”

Hutton as champion of Luther.

Every step in Luther’s progress is followed by some new publication on the part of his literary champion, who now throws off the trammels even of humanism, and, disdaining the more elegant and scholarly Latin, writes directly for the people in the German tongue. A poem on the burning of Luther’s works in some of the German towns, was followed by a republication of the papal bull, with ironical comments and glosses. We shall see presently how, at the Diet of Worms, each of the persons most concerned on the Catholic side felt the weight and the sting of this avenging pen.

Soon we shall continue with this chapter from A Short History of Germany, when we further discuss Franz von Sickingen, another “robber knight” who like Hutten was also involved in the success of the Reformation, if only for a short time, and whom we will hear more of later this evening. First, we shall discuss one other rather interesting political figure whom we have just seen mentioned here: Ulrich, the Duke of Würtemberg. This Ulrich, while an enemy of Ulrich von Hutten, nevertheless joined the Protestant Reformation a little later in its history, and was also instrumental in its initial success.

Ernest Henderson did not provide too many details about this Ulrich Duke of Würtemberg, so we will provide a few more compiled from various sources. With all certainty, it can at least be said that Ulrich Duke of Würtemberg was a very immoral man. Earlier in this series we recounted the profligate and lascivious lifestyles of many of the German princes and archbishops, and used the court of Prince Albrecht of Mayence, who was also a Christian bishop, as the primary example. Ulrich of Würtemberg was just as profligate, and ran himself into debt with his extravagance. He earned the enmity of Ulrich von Hutten because he had killed his cousin, Hans von Hutten, after developing an unseemly desire for his wife. The Standard History of the World by Great Historians, published in 1914 by the University Society in New York, only said of Ulrich that “Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg, a hot-tempered and cruel prince, had with his own hand murdered Hans von Hutten, a knight of his court, from motives of jealousy.” Often the proper histories are far too kind to the basest of men.

When Ulrich had laid a heavy burden of taxation on his subjects to pay his debts, the so-called “Poor Conrad Rebellion” of the peasants in 1514 was the result. Ultimately, and in spite of his marriage to the emperor Maximilian's own niece, Ulrich was put out of his estates and exiled, until he was restored with the aid of Philip of Hesse in 1534. By this time his enemy Ulrich von Hutten was long dead. After his restoration, Ulrich of Würtemberg destroyed the Catholic convents and monasteries and seized the Roman Church properties throughout Würtemberg, and advanced the causes of both Luther and the Swiss Reformer Zwingli. However the latter half of his rule in Würtemberg was just as troublesome as the first, where he further oppressed his subjects with heavy taxation, and joined in a failed war against the emperor Charles V. But he avoided another attempt to have him deposed, and managed to be succeeded by his own son when he died in 1550. Ulrich Duke of Würtemberg seems to be a shining example of the noblemen who joined the Reformation not for religious, but for political reasons. A man who was a murderer, and adulterer, and an oppressor of the poor could hardly care about religious disputes.

Now we shall continue with our primary source for these presentations, which is The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages by Johannes Janssen, Volume 3, Book 5, published in an English translation by A.M. Christie in London in 1900. We had left off on page 108 where Ulrich von Hutten had realized the value of Luther's position against the Roman church and how it may be used to advance his own humanist agenda. Formerly he had hoped that the infighting of the monks would end in their mutual destruction, but now he shall come to Luther's aid.

He did not believe at that time that the Lutheran movement could forward his object of revolutionising political conditions in favour of the nobility. Towards the end of the year 1518 he published a pamphlet entitled the ‘Türkenrede,’ which had been written in May, in which he denounced not only the Court of Rome but also the German princes and their reciprocal robbing and plundering, burning and pillaging, and foretold an early rising of the people. While he himself, the year before, had undertaken a mission from the Elector Albrecht of Mayence to the French Court, in order to conclude an alliance with Francis I., and to promise the latter Albrecht’s vote at the election of a new Emperor, he now declared that it was a scandalous, ungerman, and treasonable plan to transfer the imperial crown to a foreigner, as though princely blood had died out in Germany. In an appendix to the ‘Türkenrede’ for ‘all free and loyal Germans’ he turned the point of his attack against Rome. Rome must take care, he said, that ‘Liberty gagged and wellnigh strangled did not suddenly break loose.’

Ultimately Charles V succeeded Maximilian as Holy Roman Emperor rather than his rival Francis I, the same greedy French king who later sold the use of the port at Toulon to the Ottoman Turks. France even joined in military operations with the Turks against the forces of Charles V, and maintained an unholy alliance with them for many years. With this we shall continue with our history, and the account of Ulrich von Hutten's joining himself to the cause of Martin Luther:

In order to be more free and independent in his fight against the ‘ecclesiastical corrupters of Germany,” he now wished to leave the court of Mayence. Through the intervention of Erasmus, to whom Hutten appealed for help in March 1519, he was relieved from service at the Archbishop’s court without having his salary withdrawn. For the publication of all manner of controversial writings, satires, and pamphlets he made use of the printing press of Schöffer at Mayence. In March and April 1519 he joined in the campaign for the expulsion of Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg. Full of ardent hope, he wrote to Erasmus before setting out: ‘In a short time you will see all Germany in commotion.’

During this campaign he became intimately associated with Franz von Sickingen, of whom he speaks as ‘a great man, every inch of him,’ and one ‘who will some day achieve great fame among the German nation.’ ‘Sickingen is clever,’ he wrote to Erasmus in June; ‘he is eloquent; he grasps everything at once, and he is developing that capacity for action which is necessary in a commander. May God prosper the undertakings of this brave man, who will yet bring great glory to the German nation!’ Hutten had found in Sickingen the man he needed for the execution of his revolutionary plans. The ‘young, inexperienced king,’ so reckoned both the knights, would easily be won over to their plans. Hence they did all they could to secure his election as Emperor, and they hoped above all that Charles’s younger brother Ferdinand would make common cause with them against ‘barbarism.’ ‘We must try to win over Ferdinand,’ Hutten wrote to Melanchthon; ‘Sickingen would much like to bind him by some service.’ Hutten dedicated to Ferdinand a polemical pamphlet purporting to date from the period of the conflict between Gregory VII. and Henry IV., in which he represented the latter as the ideal of an emperor, and claimed from the newly elected King Charles, as his highest duty, the liberation of Germany from the tyranny of papacy. Charles must take Henry IV. as his pattern; Ferdinand must encourage his brother in this course; he (Hutten) would stand by them both as a zealous adviser.’

Here it seems that Hutten had thought rather highly of himself, however we have already seen that his literature had been celebrated even by the previous emperor, Maximilian, who had died in January of 1519. He was replaced by Charles V, also of the House of Habsburg, who was elected in June of that year and who firmly remained a Roman Catholic. That must have disappointed both Hutten and Sickingen. Charles' brother was Ferdinand. The two were always close, and in 1556 Charles abdicated voluntarily so that his brother could succeed him as emperor. Continuing from page 109 of our history:

In July, whilst awaiting the moment for weightier undertakings, Sickingen, at the instigation of Hutten, threw himself into the still pending Reuchlin affair, with the intention of settling the ecclesiastical struggle by the sword. To the joy of the humanists, as ‘lovers of right and justice,’ he threatened to declare a feud against Hoogstraten and the heads of the Dominican order if they did not make amends to the pious and learned Reuchlin; and he also threatened to oppress the city of Cologne, whose magistrate was on the side of the Dominicans.

What Sickingen meant by a declaration of feud, and to what length his ‘oppression’ might go, the towns of Worms, Landau, and Metz, and the landgraviate of Hesse had been learning by gruesome experience since the year 1515. ‘For the last two years,’ said the burgomaster and the council of Worms in March 1517, in a public report, ‘Sickingen has been devastating the land, cutting down the corn and the vines in the fields, setting fire to the fruit-trees, chopping off the hands and ears of the poor labourers at their work, and killing them in wanton cruelty; flogging women and young girls, and violating their honour; seizing young boys and putting many to death; plundering and wounding pilgrims, messengers, and merchants, and cutting crosses on their foreheads; flogging, lacerating, plundering, and making prisoners of priests and monks.’ The humble demeanour of the Dominicans towards this dreaded robber-knight is easily understood, but no respect was felt for him. The convention of the Order, intimidated by Hutten, deprived Hoogstraten of the priorship of the Dominican monastery of Cologne, and also of the inquisitorship, and bound him over to silence.’

By a papal brief, however, the latter was restored to his offices and the long-pending Reuchlin case was settled in favour of the Dominicans. [So somehow, at least it seems, the papal office managed to do something right.] The Pope declared the Bishop of Spires’s decision invalid, interdicted the ‘Augenspiegel’ as an offensive and pernicious book unduly favourable to the Jews, and sentenced Reuchlin to pay the whole costs of the lawsuit. Reuchlin’s connection with the revolutionary barons now came to an end. In vain Sickingen offered him assistance and invited him to his castles. Reuchlin submitted to the decision of the head of the Church, and assumed towards Luther a decidedly orthodox attitude. He endeavoured to withdraw his great-nephew Melanchthon from the dangerous vicinity of this religious innovator, and in a letter to the Bavarian dukes he spoke so decisively against Luther that Hutten declared enmity against him. ‘It is altogether unworthy of you,’ wrote Hutten to Reuchlin, ‘to fight against the party which attracts to it all men who have any honourable cause at stake - men whose associate you ought to be. But do as you please, and if your age allows it, go to Rome, where all your aspirations draw you, and kiss Pope Leo’s toe; and go on writing against us to your heart’s content. In spite of you, and the hubbub that you and these godless Romanists are making, we shall succeed in breaking the heaviest chains, and in freeing ourselves from the disgraceful bondage which you, as you boast, have always endured willingly, as though it were worthy of you. Luther’s enterprise is distasteful to you, and you would gladly bring it to nought. But you will find in me a determined adversary not only if ever you should fight against Luther, but also if you submit yourself to the Pope.’

With Luther meanwhile Hutten had entered into close fraternity.

In the year 1519 his relations with the Archbishop of Mayence, from whom he received a salary, had debarred him from a public alliance with Luther. But in January and February 1520 he made advances to the reformer through the medium of Melanchthon, to whom he wrote on January 20: ‘Sickingen has charged me to make known to Luther that in case of his encountering opposition in his struggle, and having no hope of better help from any other quarter, he is to turn to him, and he will do all he can. Believe me he will scarcely obtain more trustworthy help in any other quarter. Luther is beloved by Sickingen.’ His letter from Steckelberg on February 28 was still more pressing. ‘Make haste and convey to Luther the message I sent him from Sickingen; but pray, between ourselves, I do not wish any one to know of my being mixed up in this affair. If difficulties accumulate round him he has no need to seek help from any others. With Franz at his side he may safely defy all his enemies. I am projecting great and important schemes with Sickingen. Were you here I would privately tell you all about them. I hope a bad end will overtake the barbarians and all who help to keep us under the Roman yoke. My dialogues, “The Romish Trinity” and “The Onlookers,” are already in the press; they are remarkable for great freedom of expression against the Pope and the blood-suckers of Germany.”

So someone who is rather new to our story, a German knight friendly to the cause of the humanists named Franz von Sickingen, seems to have forced the revival of the Reuchlin Controversy and the cause was finally lost. Then Reuchlin, the long-time defender of the Jews, betrayed those who supported his position most fervently, evidently because he too thought that Luther was a heretic. This caused him to become estranged even from Philip Melanchthon, the nephew he had helped to raise and to educate. In league with von Hutten, Franz von Sickingen then joins the cause of Martin Luther. With this we may want to know more about von Sickingen, and for that we shall return to chapter 12 of A Short History of Germany by Ernest F. Henderson:

Sickingen as robber knight.

Hutten’s course, meteor-like as it actually was, would have been checked still earlier had it not been for the powerful protection of a man who was feared from end to end of Germany, and who now, for a brief moment, became intimately concerned with the fate of the Reformation. This was Franz von Sickingen, who was soon to perish in the double attempt to “open the gates for the gospel,” and satisfy his own overweening ambition. Sickingen was a robber knight, but with certain noble traits, and with such a conception of his calling, that one wonders if he ought not rather to be put on the level of a belligerent prince. In carrying on feuds he seldom aimed lower than a duke, or a free city of the empire; and there are persons who insist to this day that his weapons were only drawn in favor of the oppressed, and of those to whom justice had been denied. Be that as it may, he was not above exacting enormous fines; and being an excellent manager, he greatly increased his family possessions. He was lord of many castles, the chief of which were the Ebernburg, near Kreuznach, and Landstuhl, near Kaiserslautern, which he furnished with splendid defences.

The feud which first brought Sickingen into prominence, was that against the town of Worms. With seven thousand men he laid waste its fields and vineyards, stopped its commerce, and cut off all communication with the outer world. Nothing daunted by the ban of the empire, which no one dared to carry out, he continued his hostilities until, after years had passed, his demands had all been granted. In the end, the ever needy Maximilian, instead of punishing the peace breaker, freed him from the ban, took him into his service, and sent him off to fight against Hutten’s old enemy, Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg. His position as the emperor’s commander did not hinder him from falling upon the young landgrave of Hesse, and wresting from him an agreement in favor of some neighboring knights, nor from compelling the magistrates of Frankfort to make him a large payment of money. At the time of Maximilian’s death, his position at the head of an army made him such an important personage that his favor was regularly sued for by Spain and France alike. He declared for Charles V., who rewarded him with the title of imperial chamberlain, and even deigned to accept from him a loan of twenty thousand gulden.

Sickingen won for the Reformation.

Hutten and Sickingen first came together in the days just preceding the Würtemberg campaign; the poet visited the condottiere [warlord], probably in connection with that affair, and afterward sent him a translation for which Sickingen had expressed a wish. From that time on, through the three stirring years that followed, the two men were bound together by a friendship that knew no slackening. It was under Sickingen’s standard that Hutten served in the bloodless campaign, even sleeping with him in the same tent. Himself without learning, Franz well knew how to appreciate it in others, while Hutten conceived a great admiration for his friend’s natural abilities. In a letter to Erasmus he speaks of him as “a man such as Germany has long been without and who doubtless will bring the nation fame and glory.”

So here we see why Hutten was so enthusiastic about Sickingen's ability to protect Martin Luther, and even about the possibility of winning Charles V over to the cause of the Reformers, which never happened. However for a variety of reasons, even though Charles V was opposed to Luther's theology, he never took up arms against the Reformers.

Far as theological matters had hitherto been removed from Sickingen’s horizon, he was not without respect and feeling for religion. He had founded a nunnery near the Ebernburg, and Hutten was able to ridicule him roundly for a plan he had long cherished of “building the wooden-shoed Franciscans a new nest.” Tolerant by nature, he had offered his support to Reuchlin when the latter’s interminable difference with the Dominicans seemed to bring him once more in danger, and did him good service by declaring a formal feud against his tormenters. Hutten now talked to Franz of Luther, and little by little the knight became thoroughly interested in the man whom the Romanists so hated and pursued. He at last sent word to Wittenberg that, should Luther through his teachings come into difficulty and have no other resource, his castles were at his disposal. It was about this time that another knight, Sylvester von Schaumburg, offered to come to the reformer’s aid with a hundred followers. Luther was pleased, if only for the moment, and he wrote to Spalatin, “Schaumburg and Sickingen have made me secure from the fear of men.”

If Luther were more grounded in his Christianity, he should have had Christ to make him secure from the fear of men. But nevertheless, there is one lesson that we must derive from all of this, and that is that religion cannot succeed without politics. Therefore our Christian religion must be our politics as well our faith. However these German politicians, as well as the pagans, were quick to come to the side of the Jews, and showed that in their defense of Reuchlin. This alone should more than demonstrate that Germanism alone, without a solid Christian foundation, had no defense against the Jews.

We must also learn from experience, that politics and religion must mix. If we refuse to mix the two, we assure our own destruction. The decline of America and all of the West is evident in the rising of the Jew because we have taken Christian practice and Christian morality from public life. If politics and religion did not mix, there would have been no Reformation, and many of the other great events which built our Western Civilization would never have happened. We can only find salvation when we bring the two together, and once again acknowledge Christ as King over our White nations.

When we return to Martin Luther in Life and Death, we shall commence with the danger from which at this time Ulrich von Hutten was threatened by the Pope. Both he and Sickingen will soon be dead from non-papal causes, and the Reformation will once again take another strange turn.

ChrSat20150725-LutherLifeDeath08.odt — Downloaded 230 times