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  • HISTORY OF THE REFORMATION -
    PROGRESS OF THE REFORMATION IN GERMANY.


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    (1520 — 1536.)

    THE light of the Gospel had risen upon Europe, and had already pervaded the central and southern portions of this quarter of the world. A new age had begun. The work of the Reformation was not done like that of a council, by articles of discipline; but by the proclamation of a Savior, living and ever-present in the church; and it thus raised Christendom from its fallen state. To the church in bonds in the rude grasp of the papacy it gave the freedom which is to be found in union with God; and withdrawing men from confessionals and from cells in which they were stifled, it enabled them to breathe a free air under the vault of heaven, At the time of its appearance, the vessel of the church had suffered shipwreck, and the Roman Catholics were tossed about in the midst of traditions, ordinances, canons, constitutions, regulations, decretals, and a thousand human decisions; just as shipwrecked men struggle in the midst of broken masts, parted benches, and scattered oars. The Reformation was the bark of salvation which rescued the unhappy sufferers from the devouring waters, and took them into the ark of the Word of God.

    The Reformation did not confine itself to gathering men together, it also gave them a new life. Roman Catholicism is congealed in the forms of the Middle Ages. Destitute of vitality, possessing no fertilizing principle, humanity lay buried in its old grave-clothes. The Reformation was a resurrection. The Gospel imparts a true, pure, and heavenly life, a life which does not grow old, nor fade, nor disappear like that of all created things, but is continually renewed, not indeed by its own efforts, but by the power of God, and knows neither old age nor death. Time was needed for the Gospel, after being buried for ages by the papacy, to throw off all its swaddling-clothes, and resume its free and mighty progress; but its advance was made by an impulse from on high. After having restored to Europe primitive Christianity, the church which sprang from the Reformation overthrew the ancient superstitions of Asia, and of the whole world, and sent a life-giving breath over the fields of death. Churches everywhere called into existence, assemblies of men abounding in good deeds, these are the testimonies of its fertility. The missionaries of this Gospel, although they lived in poverty, spent their days in obscurity, and often encountered death even in a cruel form, nevertheless accomplished a work more beneficial and more heroic than princes and conquerors have done. Rome herself was moved at the sight of all the stations established, all the Bibles put into circulation, all the schools founded, all the children educated, and all the souls converted.

    There is, however, one point on which the papacy imagines that it may claim a triumph, that is, unity; and yet on this very point it fails. Roman Catholics know no other unity than that of the disciples of human science, — of mathematics, for example. Just as all the pupils in a school are agreed about the theorems of Euclid, the papacy requires that all the faithful, who in her opinion ought to be nothing but pupils, should be agreed about the dogmas which she establishes in her councils or in her Vatican retreats.

    Unity, she says, is the assertion of the same decrees. The Gospel is not satisfied with this scholastic uniformity; it demands a union more intimate, more profound, more vital — at once more human and more divine. It requires that all Christians should be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; a true fellowship of the Spirit; and this union it founds upon Christ, on the truth — that there is no salvation in any other, and on the fact that all those who are saved have in Him the same righteousness, the same redemption. Christ reveals the divine nature of Christian unity, — I in them, he said, that they may be one as we are one. This is assuredly something different from the mechanical and scholastic unity of which the Roman doctors make their boast. The unity of the Gospel is not a crystallization like the unity of Rome, it is a movement full of life.

    All kinds of human progress date from the Reformation. It produced religious progress by substituting for the forms and the rites which are the essence of Romish religion, a life of communion with God. It produced moral progress by introducing, wherever it was established, the reign of conscience and the sacredness of the domestic hearth. It produced political and social progress by giving to the nations which accepted it, an order and a freedom which other nations in vain strive to attain. It produced progress in philosophy and in science, by showing the unity of these human forms of teaching with the knowledge of God. It produced progress in education; the well being of communities, the prosperity, riches, and greatness of nations. The Reformation, originating in God, beneficially develops what pertains to man. And if pride and passion sometimes happen to impede its movement, and to thrust within its chariot wheels the clubs of incredulity, it presently breaks them, and pursues its victorious course. Its pace is more or less speedy; various circumstances make it slow or swift; but if at one time it is slackened, at another time it is accelerated. It has been in action for three centuries, and has accomplished more in this time than had been effected in the preceding sixteen centuries. It is upheld by a mighty hand. If the truth which was again brought to light in the sixteenth century should once more be entombed, then the sun being veiled the earth would be covered with darkness; it would no longer be possible to discern the way of salvation; moral force would disappear, freedom would depart, modern civilization would once more sink into barbarism, and humanity, deprived of the only guide competent to lead it on, would go astray and perish hopelessly in the desert.

    We have narrated in our early volumes the great achievements of the Reformation in Germany, at Worms, Spire, Augsburg, and elsewhere.

    While these events were astonishing all Europe, the Spirit of God was gently breathing, souls were silently awakening, churches were forming, and the Christian virtues were springing up afresh in Christendom. What took place at that period was very much like what frequently happens in the world of nature. In the higher regions there are great gales, clouds charged with electricity, thunders, lightnings, and torrents of rain. Then in the lower regions, in the valleys and on the plains, the fields refreshed, reviving, grow green again, ‘and the earth brings forth first the fruit, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.’

    The Reformation had made great progress in Germany. The Word of God everywhere advanced with much power; and the waters which had gushed forth at Wittenberg, spreading around, quenched the thirst of many souls.

    Believers were found in all classes, but especially among the traders of the towns.

    In an island of the Baltic, formed by the two eastern arms of the Oder, and belonging to Pomerania, stands the small town of Wollin, formerly a nest of Danish pirates. Here was born, on June 24, 1485, a man of singular goodness, who became one of the champions of Christian civilization in the sixteenth century, John, son of the councilor Gerard Bugenhagen. He entered in 1502 the university of Greifswald, a town situated on the same sea, and applied himself to the study of languages, the humanities, and also theology. In 1505 he went to Treptow, another town on the Baltic, further eastward, and was appointed rector of the school. He was so successful as a teacher that Bodelwin, abbot of a neighboring convent, invited him to become professor of theology in a college instituted for the teaching of the sciences. Here he expounded the Scriptures, for the most part according to the views of Augustine and Jerome. Priests, monks, and townsmen came to hear him; and although he was not ordained, his friends strongly urged him to preach. This he did, to the great delight of his hearers; among whom were some of noble rank. f471 ‘Alas!’ said Bugenhagen, afterwards, ‘I was still in the strait bonds of pharisaic piety, and I had no true understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

    We were all so deeply sunk in the doctrine of the pope, that we had not even a wish to know the doctrine of the Word of God.’ There were however desires and longings in his heart; but what he wanted remained as a writing in cipher, of which he was unable to discover the key. It was quite suddenly at last that he found it.

    Towards the close of 1520, he dined with some professors and friends at the house of Otto Slutov, one of the patricians of the town and inspector of the church of Treptow. Slutov had just received a copy of Luther’s Babylonish Captivity. ‘You must read that,’ he said to Bugenhagen, as he laid the volume upon the table, around which the guests were seated.

    Availing himself of the invitation, the rector turned over the leaves of the book during dinner-time, and after having read some passages he said aloud to the company present, — ‘Since the birth of Christ, many, heretics have attacked and roundly abused the church; but among them there has not been one more execrable than the man who has written this book.’ He, however, took away the volume by leave of his host, read it and reread it, meditated and deliberately weighed its contents; and at each perusal scales seemed to fall from his eyes. Some days afterwards, finding himself in the same company, he made a confession to them. ‘What shall I say to you?

    The whole world is blind and plunged in the deepest darkness. This man alone sees the truth.’ He read to his friends page after page, undertook the defense of each paragraph, and brought most of them to the same convictions that he had received himself. J. Kyrich, J. Lorich, the deacon Kettelhut, abbot Bodelwin and others acknowledged the errors of the papacy, and endeavored to turn people from their superstitions and to make known to them the merits of Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of the Reformation in Pomerania.

    Bugenhagen began to read Luther’s other writings; and he was especially charmed with his exposition of the difference between the Law and the Gospel, and of the doctrine of justification by faith. Persecution soon began, instigated by the bishop of Camin. Bugenhagen., who earnestly desired to see the places whence the light had come, betook himself to Wittenberg, arriving there in 1521, shortly before the departure of the reformer to Worms. The Pomeranian was joyfully received by Luther and Melanchthon, who thenceforth usually called him ‘Pomeranus.’ His desire was to be a student, not a teacher; but having begun, in his own room, to explain the Psalms to his countrymen, he did this with so much clearness, such unction and evangelical life, that Melanchthon requested him to give the course publicly. He now became one of the professors of the University, and at the same time pastor of the parish church. He was afterwards (1536) appointed superintendent-general. Melanchthon and Pomeranus completed, each on his special side, the work of Luther.

    Melanchthon did so in the scientific sphere, by means of his classical culture, and in the political sphere by his discretion. Pomeranus, though undoubtedly inferior to both of them, had great experience and much knowledge of men, and he possessed at the same time gentleness and firmness, abundance of tact and a practical turn of mind, and to all these qualities he added energetic activity. He was thus enabled to render great services in all that related to ecclesiastical organization. There was hardly an important church in whose formation his assistance was not sought. We have already met with him in Denmark. f473 We have elsewhere seen how the Gospel had been brought to Erfurt by Luther and by Lange, how Frederick Myconius, converted partly by Tetzel’s excesses, had preached the Gospel at Zwickau, and how the word had renovated other towns in connection with Wittenberg. When a friend of Luther, Nicholas Hausmann for instance, was called to some place for the work of the Reformation, and came to ask the great doctor’s advice, the latter answered: ‘If you accept the call, you will make enemies of the pope and the bishops; but if you decline it, you will be the enemy of Christ.’ This was enough to induce them to enter upon the work. The evangelical doctrine had been publicly preached at Frankfort-on-the-Main by Ibach, just after the famous diet of Worms. Assemblies of evangelical deputies had been held there in June 1530, December 1531, and May 1536, and this town had joined the alliance of Smalkalde.

    The cities of Lower Saxony were the first to be touched by the light which proceeded from electoral Saxony. Magdeburg, where Luther had been at school and had personal friends, had early shown itself friendly to evangelical principles. One day, an old clothier came and stood at the foot of the monument erected in this town to the illustrious Emperor Otto the Great, in memory of his conquests in the tenth century; and the zealous partisan of the spiritual conqueror of the sixteenth century began to sing one of Luther’s hymns and to sell copies of it. People were at the time coming out of a neighboring church, where mass had been said. Many had received the leaf, but the burgomaster who was passing with others of the faithful had the seller arrested. .This caused the fire which was smoldering under the embers to flame forth. The parishioners of St. Ulrich. assembled in the cemetery, elected eight good men to undertake the government of the church. The parish of St. John took part in the movement; and all declared that they attached themselves to their sovereign pastor, bishop, and pope, Jesus Christ, and were ready to fight bravely under this glorious captain.

    On June 23, 1524, the citizens met together in the convent of the Augustines with seven evangelical pastors, and determined to request the Council that nothing but the Word of God should any longer be preached, and that the Lord’s Supper should be administered regularly in both kinds.

    On July 17, the communion was thus celebrated in all the churches; and the town-council, on the 23rd of the same month, informed the elector that ‘the immutable and eternal Word of God, hitherto obscured by thick shadows now shone forth, by God’s mercy, more brightly than the sun, for the salvation of sinners, the happiness of the faithful, and the glory of God.’ They requested the elector at the same time to send Amsdorff to them.

    Brunswick followed next. The Reformation was introduced into this town chiefly by means of Luther’s hymns, which were sung alike in private houses and in the streets. Incumbents of benefices were in the habit of paying young ecclesiastics to preach in their stead. These deacons, usually called ‘hireling priests’ (Heuerpfaffen), generally embraced evangelical doctrines, and induced their flocks to do so too. Sometimes one of them would strike up, instead of the hymn to the Virgin Mary, one of these new German hymns, and all the congregation would sing it with him. The clergy endeavored to maintain the Scholastic doctrine; but if the people heard from the lips of their old pastors false quotations from the Holy Scriptures, voices were raised in all directions to correct them. The ecclesiastics in office then summoned to their aid Doctor Sprinkle, a preacher highly esteemed in those parts. But at the close of his sermon, a townsman rose and said: ‘Priest, thou liest.’ He then struck up the hymn of Luther beginning — O Gott vom Himmel sieh darin— and the whole congregation sang it heartily with him. The old pastors applied to the Council to rid them of these troublesome deacons; but the people, on the other hand, demanded to be rid of their useless pastors.

    The Council, after some hesitation, was at length overcome by the evangelical movement, and passed a decree (March 13, 1528) that the pure Word of God alone should be preached at Brunswick. ‘Christ grant that his glory may increase!’ said Luther when he heard the news. At the same time the Council begged the Elector of Saxony to send Pomeranus, who, accordingly, on May 12, proceeded to Brunswick, to the great joy of all the people. So admirably did he execute the task of organization that the Brunswickers entreated the Elector to allow him to remain with them a year longer. But Luther assured the prince, September 18, 1528, that the doctor could not possibly be longer spared. ‘Wittenberg,’ he added, ‘is at this time of more importance than three Brunswicks.’ This was a moderate assertion; Luther might have said more. For the church of Brunswick Pomeranus drew up ordinances on schools, preaching, the church festivals, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and discipline. Sin was to be punished, but not the sinner. He prepared similar constitutions for various great towns in North Germany. The mendicant monks now left Brunswick, and the Reformation was established.

    The assistance of Luther and Melanchthon was soon after sought by a more important town. The Gospel had made its way into Hamburg; but the priests and especially the Dominican Renssburg opposed it with all their might. The citizens required of the Council (April 21, 1528) that the preachers should be examined according to the Holy Scriptures, and that all those who were found not to be in agreement with them should be dismissed. Next day, a conference between the two parties was held, in the presence of the senate and a commission of the townsmen. But Renssburg spoke in Latin, in order that the laity might not understand him. As the Roman Catholics put forward exclusively the authority of the Church, five of their number were banished from the town; and some of the most influential of the townsmen felt it necessary to escort them, lest the populace should do them any injury. Pomeranus was at this time called to Hamburg, to organize the evangelical church; and when the Council further applied for an extension of the time of his sojourn, Luther on this occasion supported their request. Hamburg was for him undoubtedly a place of greater importance than Brunswick. But the town made very large demands. On May 12, 1529, Luther wrote to the Elector: ‘The Hamburgers would fain have Pomeranus stay with them for ever.’ f478 Now, new students were daily arriving at Wittenberg, and the faculty could not dispense with the services of Pomeranus. Luther therefore entreated the Elector to recall him, and declared himself willing to persuade the Council and the University to do the same. For Hamburg also Pomeranus drew up an ecclesiastical ordinance.

    At Lubeck a powerful and compact party, composed of the clergy, the Council, the nobles, and the principal men of business, resisted the Reformation, the doctrines of which were steadily gaining ground among the townsmen. A psalm in German having been sung by the domestic servants in some house, the whole family was punished, and Luther’s sermons were burnt in the market-place in 1528. Two evangelical ministers, Wilhelmi and Wahlhof, were expelled. A certain priest, John Rode, preached that Christ had redeemed only the fathers of the Old Testament, and that all who were born after him must obtain their salvation by their own merits. People used to go about singing to him, — Celui qui doit nous mener au bercail, Nous fait, helas! tous tomber dans la fosse.

    At a great meeting of the townsfolk, those who meant to remain Catholics were bidden to go apart. Only one person stirred from his place. The Council was in want of money and demanded it of the townsmen, who in reply demanded religious liberty. In 1529 the banished ministers were recalled. In 1530 the Catholic preachers had to evacuate all the pulpits; and in 1531 Pomeranus gave the town an ecclesiastical ordinance. f479

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