There are many antichristians who have lately taken occasion of the assembling of the peasants to cast scorn upon the Gospel, saying, Is this the fruit of the new Gospel? Is no one to be obedient, but are all to rebel and balk, to run together with force and gather in crowds in order to reform, to overthrow, or perhaps to slay the spiritual and temporal lords?
To all these godless and wicked critics the following articles make answer, in order, first, to remove this reproach from the Word of God, and second, to justify in a Christian way the disobedience, nay, the rebellion of the peasants.
Second, It follows evidently that the peasants, desiring in their articles this Gospel for doctrine and life, cannot be called disobedient and rebellious; but if it be the will of God to hear the peasants, earnestly crying to live according to His Word, who will blame the will of God? Who will meddle in His judgment? Nay, who will resist His majesty? Did He not hear the children of Israel, crying to Him, and release them out of the hand of Pharaoh, and can He not today deliver His own? Yea, He will deliver them, and that quickly! Therefore, Christian reader, read the following articles with care, and afterwards judge.
Here follow the articles.
THE FIRST ARTICLE
First, It is our humble petition and request, as also the will and intention of all of us, that in the future we should have authority and power so that a whole community should choose and appoint a pastor, and also have the right to depose him, if he should conduct himself improperly. The pastor thus chosen should preach to us the Holy Gospel purely and clearly, without any human addition, doctrine, or commandment; for to proclaim to us continually the true faith gives us cause to pray to God for His grace to instill and confirm this true faith within us, and if His grace is not instilled in us, we always remain flesh and blood, which availeth nothing, since it stands clearly in the Scriptures that only through true faith can we come to God, and only through His mercy can we be saved. Therefore we need a leader and pastor; and thus our demand is grounded on the Scriptures.
THE SECOND ARTICLE
Second, Since the tithe is appointed in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New, we will none the less gladly pay the just tithe of grain, but in a proper way. Since men ought to give it to God and distribute it to those that are His, it belongs to the pastor who clearly proclaims the Word of God, and we will that, for the future, this tithe be gathered and received by our church-provost, whom a community appoints; that out of it there shall be given to the pastor, who shall be chosen by an entire community, a modest, sufficient maintenance for him and his, with the consent of the whole community; that the remainder shall be distributed to the poor and needy who are in the same village, according to the circumstances and with the consent of the community. Anything that then remains shall be kept, so that if the needs of the land require the laying of a war-tax, no general tax may be laid upon the poor, but it shall be paid out of this surplus.
If it should happen that there were one or more villages that had sold their tithes to meet certain needs, they are to be informed that he who has the tithes in this way from a whole village is not to be deprived of them without return, but we will come to agreement with him, in proper way, form, and manner, to buy them back from him on suitable terms and at a suitable time. But in case anyone has not bought the tithes from any village, and his forbears have simply appropriated them to themselves, we will not, and ought not, and intend not, to pay him anything further, but will keep them for the support of the aforesaid, our chosen pastor, and for distribution to the needy, as the Holy Scriptures contain, no matter whether the holders of the tithes be spiritual or temporal. The smalltithe we will not give at all, for God the Lordcreatedcattle for the free use of men, and we regard this an improper tithe, which men have invented; therefore we will not give it any longer.
Fourth, It has been the custom hitherto that no poor man has had the power to be allowed to catch game, wildfowl, or fish in running water; and this seems to us altogether improper and unbrotherly, selfish, and not according to the Word of God. In some places the rulers keep the game to spite us and for our great loss, because the unreasoning beasts wantonly devour that property of ours which God causes to grow for the use of man; and we have to endure this and keep quiet about it, though it is against God and neighbor. When God the Lordcreated man, He gave him authority over all animals, over the birds in the air, and over the fish in the water. Therefore it is our request that if anyone has waters, he offer satisfactory documentary evidence that the waters have been wittingly sold to him; in that case we do not wish to take them from him by force; on the contrary, Christian consideration must be shown, for the sake of brotherlylove. But he who cannot bring sufficient proof of this shall surrender them to the community in a proper manner.
THE FIFTH ARTICLE
Fifth, We are also aggrieved in the matter of wood-cutting, for our lords have appropriated all the woods to themselves alone, and when the poor man needs any wood, he must buy it at a double price. It is our opinion that woods held by lords, spiritual or temporal, who have not bought them, should revert to an entire community, and that a community be free, in a regular way, to allow anyone to take home what he needs for firewood without payment, and also to take for nothing any that he needs for woodworking, though with the consent of him whom the community shall choose to supervise this. If there are no woods that have not been thus honestly purchased, a brotherly and Christianagreement should be reached about them; but if the property had first been appropriated and afterwards sold, the agreement shall be made in accordance with the facts in the case, and according to brotherlylove and the Holy Scriptures.
THE SIXTH ARTICLE
Sixth, We have a heavy grievance because of the services which are increased from day to day, and grow daily. We desire that this matter be properly looked into and that we be not so heavily burdened, but that gracious regard be had to us, as our ancestors rendered services only according to the Word of God.
THE SEVENTH ARTICLE
Seventh, We will not henceforth allow ourselves to be further oppressed by the lords, but a man shall possess his holding in accordance with the terms on which it has been granted, according to the agreement between lord and peasant. The lord shall not compel him further, or force him to more services, or demand anything else from him for nothing, so that the peasant may use and enjoy his holding unburdened and peacefully; but if the lord needs more services, the peasant shall be willing and obedient, though at such times as may not work the peasant injury, and he shall perform the services for proper pay.
THE EIGHTH ARTICLE
Eighth, We are greatly aggrieved, as many of us have holdings, because the said holdings will not support the rents, and the peasants suffer loss and ruin. (We ask) that the lords have honorable men inspect the said holdings, and fix a fair rent, so that the peasant shall not labor for nothing, for every laborer is worthy of his hire.
THE NINTH ARTICLE
Ninth, We are aggrieved by the great wrong of continually making new laws. Punishment is inflicted on us, not according to the facts in the case, but at times by great ill-will, at times by great favor. In our opinion we should be punished by the ancient written law, and the cases dealt with according to the facts, and not according to favor.
THE TENTH ARTICLE
Tenth, We are aggrieved because some have appropriated to themselves meadows out of the common fields, which once belonged to a community.
We would take these back again into the hands of our communities, unless they have been honestly purchased; but if they have been unjustly purchased, we should come to a kindly and brotherlyagreement about them, according to the facts in the case.
We will not suffer it, or allow widows and orphans to be so shamefully robbed, against God and honor, as now happens in many places, under many forms, and that by those who ought to guard and protect them. They have skinned and scraped us, and though they had little authority, they have taken that. God will no longer suffer it; it shall be entirely done away; no man shall henceforth be bound to give anything of it, whether little or much.
Twelfth, It is our conclusion and final opinion that, if one or more of the articles here set forth were not to be in agreement with the Word of God (though we think this is not the case), these articles, when they are shown to us by the Word of God to be improper, we will recede from, if this is explained to us with arguments of Scripture. If some of the articles were conceded to us, and it were afterwards found that they were unjust, they shall be from that hour null and void, and have no more force; likewise, if in the Scriptures, with the truth, more things were discovered that were against God and injurious to our neighbor, we will, and we have determined to, use forbearance and practice and exercise ourselves in all Christiandoctrine. Therefore we will pray to God the Lord, for He, and none other can give us this. The peace of Christ be with us all.