THE Reformation met with difficulties in the principality of Anhalt, but the young princes who now ruled the two duchies of which the principality consisted, had had a pious mother, and the seed which her hand had sown in their hearts overcame all obstacles. One of the princes, Wolfgang, had held intercourse with Luther as early as 1522 and had, as we have seen, most willingly signed the Confession of Augsburg. The other three, however, had not followed his example. John, on the contrary, had signed the Compromise of Augsburg, and it was not easy for him to draw back. Surrounded by powerful neighbors entirely devoted to Rome, the elector of Brandenburg, duke George of Saxony, and the archbishop elector of Mentz, it seemed scarcely possible for them to extricate themselves from the net. Joachim was of a feeble and gloomy temper.
Moreover, prince George was all ecclesiastic at the age of eleven, a canon of Merseburg since 1524, and provost of the chapter of Magdeburg, and seemed to be called to the highest offices of the church. He was born at Dessau in 1501. From his childhood he had shown a strong attachment to church ceremonies and to the traditions of the fathers; and the doctrines of Luther were afterwards depicted to him in the blackest colors. ‘This man,’ they told him, ‘proscribes good books, authorizes bad ones, and abolishes all the holy ordinances. All his followers are Donatists and Wicliffites.’ He was henceforth a vehement opponent of a system which, according to his judgment, was destructive of Christianity. When the ministers of Magdeburg attempted to win over the members of the Chapter to the Reformation, he roughly rebuked them. As he was an honest man and was desirous of qualifying himself to contend against the errors of the Protestants, he began to search for arguments in the Holy Scriptures and in the fathers of the church, but it was not possible for him to find any. On the contrary, he was utterly astonished to find that Holy Scripture was opposed to many of the established customs of the church; and that in what was called the new doctrine there were many articles which were found in the Bible; and which had been held by the fathers. His mother, although she continued in the church and counseled her sons not to violate its unity, had believed that she was saved by grace alone, and had with special emphasis professed this faith at the time of her death. George had embraced this faith at an early age; and the bishop of Merseburg had confirmed him in it by rebuking one day a preacher who had exalted human merits, and to whom he had said energetically: ‘Not a single living man is righteous.’ He repeated the words three times in the presence of George; and now George found the doctrine distinctly asserted in the sacred writings. He wondered within himself whether it could be on this account that the friends of Rome spoke of the Bible as a heretical book and forbade people to read it. But at other times recognizing in it this truth, of which God had kept alive a spark in his heart, he was not a little alarmed, for he saw that it was the very doctrine of Luther. ‘I see;’ he said to himself, ‘that the fathers very much praised the Holy Scriptures, considered them the foundation, and would have no other.’ And now the doctors of the church refuse to test their teaching by Scripture! He therefore put to some of them the question on what basis the doctrines of the church were made to rest; and they could not tell him. He observed at the same time; in many of those who defended abuses, spiteful passions, injustice, and calumny; and honest George was at a loss what to think about it. He fell into a deep melancholy, a state of restlessness and distress of mind which nothing could relieve. ‘On the one hand,’ said he, ‘I see the building threatening to fall; on the other I see troubles, disagreements, and the revolt of the peasants.’ Luther had indeed opposed this revolt; but, for all that, the prince was terrified and in great distress. ‘What shall I do? Which side must I take? God grant that I may determine to do only that which is right, and resolve not to act against my own conscience.’ He was haunted by these thoughts day and night. At a later time he said: ‘How many a night have I been agitated and depressed, suffering unutterable heaviness of heart. Something dreadful appeared before me; He knows, from whom nothing is concealed. My whole being shuddered. How often this passage came into my mind, — The sword without, and terrors within. I could do nothing else but cry unto God, as a poor sinner who supplicates his grace.’
In 1530, he received a copy of the Confession of Augsburg, which Wolfgang had signed. He had up to this time read very little the writings of the reformers; and he found that the evangelical doctrine, as set forth in this document, was entirely different from what had been told him. The fundamental doctrines of the apostolical churches were clearly asserted in it, and the ancient heresies were convincingly refuted. The refutation of the Protestant Confession drawn up by the Roman doctors disgusted him. He now began to read the works of Luther, and was struck by the fact that the author exhorted men to good works, although he would have no one place his confidence in them. He found, indeed, that Luther was sometimes rather fiery; ‘but,’ said he, ‘so are Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and other prophets. He found that the Gospel of Christ was again in the pulpits. He recollected that his mother had one day said to him with sorrow, — ‘How is it that our preachers, when they have to speak of the Gospel of Christ, do so with less warmth than the new ministers? ‘And he thought within himself, — ‘While the poor people to whom the cowl of St. Francis, satisfaction, and their own merits are recommended, die wretchedly, those who are now directed to Jesus Christ leave this world with joyful hearts.’
Ere long this prince, who was subsequently known as George the Pious, showed himself zealous for the truth, and gained over his brothers John and Joachim to the Gospel. On Holy Thursday, 1532, when a Dominican who preached at Dessau had vigorously contended against the practice of administering the Supper in both kinds, George dismissed him. The three brothers now gave complete freedom to the Reformation. Duke George of Saxony took care to warn them that they would draw upon themselves the Emperor’s displeasure, and that George would not attain to the high honors which he had had reason to hope for. But all this was ineffectual.
Towards the close of the summer, Luther wrote to the princes in the following terms: ‘I have heard, illustrious princes, that by the power of the Spirit of Christ an end has been put in your dominions to impious abuses, and that you have introduced the practices of Christian communion, not without exposing yourselves to great danger and to the threats of powerful princes. I give God thanks that He has imparted to the three brothers the same spirit and the same strength. Christ, the “weak” king, is in truth and for ever the king almighty, and such are the works which he accomplishes.
He acts, he lives, he speaks, both in himself and in his members. The beginnings of every work of God are weak, but the results are invincibly strong. The roots of all trees are at first mere slender filaments, or rather a sort of pulp which solidifies; nevertheless from them are produced those huge trees, those oaks, of which are constructed vast buildings, ships and machines. Every work of God begins in weakness and is completed in strength. It is otherwise with the works of men.’ On September 14, Luther sent his friend Hausmann to the princes as pastor, ‘a man who loves the Word of God and teaches it with discretion.’ Prince George, on the ground of his ecclesiastical offices, considered himself to be invested with a legitimate authority in the church of his own dominions. Luther calls him ‘right reverend bishop.’ When he heard how much George had to suffer ‘on the part of Satan, the world, and the flesh,’ and that machinations of all kinds were set on foot for attacking him, he made haste to fortify him, writing to him as follows:— ‘Christ himself hath said — Be of good comfort, I have overcome the world. If the world be overcome, so likewise is the prince of the world; for when a kingdom is conquered the king also is conquered. And if the prince of this world be conquered, all that proceeds from him shares his defeat, — fury, wrath, sin, death, hell, and all the arms in which he confidently trusted. Glory be to God, who hath given us the victory.’ f484 Prince Joachim, a feebler man than George, found himself assailed by powerful princes who exerted themselves to turn him away from the Gospel, and his resolution was shaken. Luther therefore endeavored to strengthen him. ‘Let your Highness but call to mind,’ said he, ‘that Christ and his word are higher greater, and surer than a hundred thousand fathers, councils, and popes, whom the Scriptures call sinners and sheep gone astray. Let, your Highness then be full of courage. Christ is greater than all devils and all princes.’ A year later, Luther, understanding that Joachim had fallen into a state of melancholy, wrote several letters to him. ‘A young man like you,’ he wrote to him, ‘ought to be always cheerful. I counsel you to ride on horseback, to hunt, to seek for pleasant society in which you may piously and honorably enjoy yourself. Solitude and melancholy are penalties and death for all, but especially for a young man.
God commands us to be joyful. “Rejoice,” says the Preacher, “rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth.”‘ f486 On March 16, 1534, a meeting was held of all the ecclesiastics of the principality of Anhalt; when, in spite of the opposition of the archbishop, they were ordered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper according to the institution of Christ. Prince George appointed to the livings men who had studied at Wittenberg, and sent his candidates to Luther for examination and consecration.
The country, which takes its name from the ancient castle of Anhalt, the walls of which are still to be seen in the forest of Harzegerode, was one of those in which the Reformation was most peacefully carried out.
We have elsewhere treated of the reformation of Bremen, of Augsburg, and of Wurtemberg. Pomeranus was not yet reformed, although Pomeranus, the reformer to whom it had given birth, took so prominent a part in the work in many towns and countries. The duke, Bogislas, and the bishop of Camin were resolutely opposed to the Reformation; but here and there amongst the townsmen were ardent aspirations towards the Gospel; and occasionally, likewise, there were excesses and destruction of images. The clergy and the nobles were on the side of the pope; the towns were for the Bible; and the two camps were almost at war. The duke on his travels, in 1523, passed through Wittenberg, and the bishop of Camin, as curious as the duke, appears to have accompanied him. The reformer in his sermon spoke, amongst other things, of the carelessness and luxury of bishops.
The duke smiled and looked at his companion. Bogislas sent for Luther, conversed with him in a friendly manner, and said: ‘I should like for once to confess to you.’ ‘I am quite willing,’ said the reformer; ‘my only fear is that as your Highness is a great prince, you are also a great sinner.’ The duke made frank reply that this was only too true. The duke felt also the influence of his son, the young prince Barnim, who had studied at Wittenberg from 1518 to 1521, and who had attended the disputation at Leipsic in 1519. His brother George, on the other hand, brought up at the court of Duke George of Saxony, had there imbibed a hatred of the Gospel. After the death of Bogislas, these two princes became leaders of the two opposing parties. Barnim sent word to the allies of Smalcalde — ‘What my. brother builds up, I shall cast down.’ The mother of George appeared friendly to his purpose; and her son Philip having come to an understanding with Barnim, a diet was convoked, in 1533, at Treptow. The towns laid before it a scheme of reformation, which was well received; and Pomeranus was summoned to settle the new order of things. The nobility, however, and the clergy, particularly the bishop of Camin, still energetically opposed the evangelical work.
The conflict was severe in Westphalia. Evangelical truth was well received in some places. Children used to sing Luther’s hymns at the doors of houses; the member of a family would sing them by the fireside; the most fearless ventured to do the same in the open air, at first in the evening twilight, and then in the daytime. At length some ministers arrived. Monks and nuns were now seen quitting their convents and embracing the Gospel. At other places, as for instance at Lemgo, the pastor, at first stoutly opposed, would set out for some reformed town in order to see how matters were going on there, and on his return would reform his own church. But in some districts violent resistance was offered. At Soest, a conflict took place between a victim and the executioner. The latter having made an ineffectual stroke and inflicted only a severe wound, the victim, a robust man of the lower class, snatched away the weapon, repulsed the executioner and his assistant, and was carried off in triumph by the crowd to his own house, where, however, he died on the following day, of the blow which he had received.
In other places a struggle between cruelty and humanity took place among the persecutors, and on some occasions humanity triumphed. At Paderborn; a town in which Charlemagne held several diets and where many Saxons were baptized, the community without asking leave of higher authorities had opened the churches to evangelical preaching. Hermann, elector of Cologne, who subsequently entertained very different views, being named administrator of the bishopric, arrived in the town attended by guards and by influential men of the country who were devoted to the papacy. Appealed to by these men, by the chapter and by the council which implored him to punish the illegal proceedings of the townsfolk, he allowed at first things to take their course. The people were, however, called together in the garden of a convent at which the elector was staying.
They were told that he was desirous of taking a gracious leave of them.
The townsfolk arrived; but they suddenly found themselves encompassed by armed men, and the leaders of the evangelical party were seized and cast into prison. They were put to the torture; they were led out to the scaffold, around which the people were gathered, and the approaches to which were covered with gravel, intended to absorb the blood of the victims, and there sentence of death was read to these honest and pious citizens. Nothing now remained but to behead them. The chief executioner came forward and, turning to Hermann and all the dignitaries around him, said: ‘These men are innocent, I would sooner die than behead them.’ At the same time a voice was heard from the midst of the crowd; it was that of an aged man who came forward with difficulty, leaning on his staff. ‘I also am guilty like those you have condemned, and I ask to be put to death with them.’ The wives and daughters of the prisoners had assembled in a neighboring house. The door now opened, and they approached, some smiting themselves on the breast, others with disheveled hair; they cast themselves at the feet of the elector and entreated pardon for these innocent men. Hermann, who was not cruel, could not refrain from tears, and he granted the pardon which was sought at his hands. Nevertheless, the evangelical doctrine was prohibited in the town. The people were even forbidden to engage domestic servants who came from places where the new doctrine was professed. f490 We have elsewhere seen how some countries and towns more or less recently reformed, had felt the need of union after the decree of the diet of Augsburg, of 1530, and had formed at Smalcalde, March 29, 1531, an alliance for six years, by which they engaged to defend each other. f491 Under these circumstances, and considering that the Sultan Solyman was advancing towards Austria with an immense army, the Emperor had determined to treat with the Protestants, and the religious peace of Nurnberg was concluded, July 23, 1532. The leaguers of Smalcalde, nevertheless, were still subject to molestation, for various reasons, by the tribunals of the Empire. The landgrave of Hesse, by a bold measure, reestablished the Protestant duke, Ulrich of Wurtemberg, in his dominions, thus opening them to the Reformation and increasing the power of the League of Smalcalde.