Full Text for Church History 2- Volume 22 - Luther and the Princes (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CHURCH HISTORY 02 May 27, 2005 22 CH2 CAPTIONING PROVIDED BY: CAPTION FIRST, INC. P.O. BOX 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 1 800 825 7234 * * * * * This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * >> Professor Robinson, I have read some authors who are critical of Luther for being too much on the sides of the princes. Where does this idea come from? As we speak of the princes' role in Luther's story, I feel that I do not understand the full political implications of these events. But I know that Luther's influence in the world extended beyond church doctrine. Can you help me understand the relationship between the princes and Luther? >> Well, the reason a lot of authors and scholars are critical of Luther and his relationship with the princes is not only that he made them responsible for the Reformation and, thus, some argue increase their power; but he also encouraged them ultimately to put down the peasants' rebellions of 1525. And this is really where the harshest criticism of Luther comes from. He wrote one work called "Against the Robbing and Murdering Hoards of Peasants" because he had been so disgusted by what the peasants were doing, he called on the princes to exercise their office and quell this rebellion with whatever they needed to do. Now, there's a lot more to the story for that than that. And I wouldn't defend Luther too much on this point. He may have gone a little far in what he asked the princes to do. But you do have to realize two things about this. First of all, the peasants had really misunderstood and misappropriated Luther's message. They appealed to the Gospel in a way that Luther didn't think was defensible. They said that the Gospel should make their lives here on earth better. And they appealed especially to what Luther had said in "Freedom of a Christian" that a freedom is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none. Now as we mentioned, Luther meant that with regards to the Christian's justification before God. Many in the peasants' rebellion took it to mean that they should be free from their overlords. And so they essentially went to war under the banner of Luther's Gospel. And it was a war it was a rebellion that Luther himself wanted no part of and would take no responsibility for. Now, having said that, the other thing we need to understand is that Luther did attempt initially a peaceful resolution to the problem between the peasants and the nobility. His first work on the subject was called "An Admonition to Peace", and there he pointed out that there was probably some right and some wrong on both sides and that the peasants and the nobles should try to work this out, that the nobility should rule as God has intended for the good of their subjects and not to exploit them. But when it came to open and armed rebellion, Luther could simply find no sanction for that in Scripture. He could find no theological justification for it. And that's when he encouraged the princes to put down this uprising. There was also, in addition to this theological thinking on Luther's part, there was some theological thinking on the part of some of the leaders of the peasants' rebellion. And here I'm especially thinking of Thomas Munser. Now, Munser had actually been a student at Wittenberg and someone Luther had recommended for a job at one point. But Thomas Munser quickly moved beyond what Luther was teaching and ultimately claimed that he was a prophet and he was committed to an inner living voice of God; in other words, direct revelation from God to him. And he made it a point afterward to speak out against Luther as being far too complacent, again, far too much on the side of the princes, and unwilling to take the Reformation to the next level, to push other issues. And issues that were especially important to Munser were those of the imminent coming of Christ. Munser believed that people in Germany at this time were really in the last days and they should devote themselves to bringing about the return of Christ. In order to accomplish that, Munser had written a number of treatises and letters to the Saxon rulers urging them to follow his version of the Reformation rather than Luther's. Needless to say they didn't take these all that seriously, and Munser was finally expelled from Saxon territory. When the peasants' rebellion began, Munser emerged as one of the leaders. He was not one of the leaders who was interested necessarily in bettering the lot of the peasants economically. He was one who was interested in the peasants' rebellion as an apocalyptic event, as something that he believed would overturn the accepted social order and so usher in the reign of Christ. So to that end, he assumed some leadership in the war and portrayed it very much in the light of the wars of the Old Testament, and especially of Gideon. Munser actually led peasant troops into battle against the German nobles. He promised the peasants prior to the battle that he would be able to catch the cannon balls of the princes' artilleries in his sleeves. Needless to say, that didn't happen and the peasants were defeated soundly by the knights who had armor and artillery. Munser himself was chased off the field, later captured and executed in May of 1525. But this coupling of apocalyptic, questioning the social order and a certain appeal to Luther's understanding of the Gospel remained and remained largely in the radical reformation or Anabaptist tradition. And again that's something that Professor McKenzie will be saying more about later. A final note to this is to point out also that Luther was not simply opposed to peasants rebelling against their overlords. Luther himself applied the same idea to the princes. He opposed any armed action by the princes over against Emperor Charles V. He made a distinction between the princes' disobedience to the Edict of Worms, which was required by the Gospel, and actual military action against the emperor should he choose to enforce the edict with his Armies. Needless to say, that wasn't a very popular idea with the princes. And as you'll hear later on, they more or less forced Luther to change his mind on this so that they could form the Schmalkaldic League. But it's important to point out that Luther was consistent in his thinking. Whether you agree with it or not, he didn't believe anyone had the right to rebel against their government superiors, whether it was a peasant or the Elector of Saxony. * * * * * This is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * *