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Book 9 - First Reforms (1521-1522)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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Book 9 – First Reforms (1521-1522)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 1

Though the Gospel was triumphing in Germany, papal worship still continued with its usual superstitions and extravagances. Luther, though, had not begun the Reformation by attacking these outward ordinances. If he had done that he would have faced rigorous opposition and the course of the Reformation would have been quite different, if effective at all. At this point in the Reformation Luther will turn towards these abuses and set worship against the ideas of Rome.

Luther was still captive as Knight George in Wartburg. Germany was distressed by his captivity believing him to be dead, or in the hands of Roman captors. Commotion began for the release of Luther. Ulrich Hutten and Herman Busch filled the air of the country with threats of battle if the Reformer was not released, or his whereabouts were not given, even if this meant he was dead. At Wittenberg Melancthon was distressed with the deepest of burdens for the loss of the Reformer. Was Luther lost forever? Would he return? What had become of him?

Though Luther was a captive prisoner for his own good, and though the country believed him to be either dead or imprisoned secretly by Rome, his works were still running their course through the countryside. The shining light of Gospel permeated these works and influenced many against Rome. There were numerous pamphlets and tracts being distributed for the cause of the Reformation and they were causing great advances for the truth against the papacy.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 2

Luther lived in Wartburg alone, and with a different name (Knight George) as well as a different garb. He wrote to Melancthon telling him that if he were to lay eyes on him he would not recognize him. His appearance had to be altered, but his heart towards reformation remained the same. He was given leave to wander the castle, but could not leave the castle.

Luther spent his time in Wartburg in study for the well-being of his own soul. He imagined himself, though, back at Wittenberg and the taste for theological battling raised his temper. He continually had to remind himself where he was and the purpose that God may have in keeping him locked up for a time. His suffering in solitude increased, and many, knowing of this suffering such as Frederick and Spalatin, were anxious for him.

In making the most of his time he continued to comment on the Psalms, to study Hebrew and Greek, to write a treatise on the Auricular confession in German and composed a volume of sermons to use at a later date. His work was given to the reformation even though he remained in solitude. His mind was ever engaged on what he could be doing for the sake of the Gospel in distinction to the evils of the Roman tyranny that kept so many in darkness.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 3

While Luther remained a captive in isolation from the world, Bernard Feldkirchen, pastor of Kemberg, threw off the bondage of Rome and married. Feldkirchen said that Rome cannot bind men’s consciences, and men ought not to be in bondage to man made ideas. Luther rejoiced when he heard this news and the boldness of Feldkirchen. Luther believed priests ought to marry, and that they should not be captive to Rome in regard to forced celibacy. But one must not confuse the marriage of a priest with the distinction of the priesthood – something Rome immediately thought.

Luther was ready to take up a new battle in which to fight. He took up arms against monasticism and found that it overthrew, completely, salvation by grace in Christ. He wrote a booklet against monastic vows which he dedicated to his father, demonstrating that the very idea of monasticism replaces salvation by grace since one, by working through vows, attains a righteousness before God, or at least, a supposed righteousness. This tract and the course of thought he was taking transformed Luther from a monk to a preacher and theologian. For so long he had been engulfed in the caricature of the “monk” that he now realized such a facade would overthrow the salvation wrought in Jesus Christ. One cannot belong to the cowl and to Jesus Christ at the same time. One must give way to the other. Either it is by grace or works. Luther was firmly persuaded that this salvation was by grace and all attempts at monasticism should be overthrown.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 4

Archbishop Albert is reminiscent of Mr. Byends of Pilgrim’s Progress – he goes with the flow of truth or error while it suits him. Since Luther was captive, and not present in public, he decided to change the city of Mentz into a den of idol selling and relic worship. However, once Luther heard of this he was outraged, and the walls of the castle could not hold back his pen against such nonsense. The work he wrote was entitled Against the New Idol of Halle. Word of this was speedily found in the ears of the Archbishop and he sent Capito and Auerbach (two attendants) to press the court against releasing this tract of Luther.

The elector did not want Luther to write against the Archbishop of Mentz – one of the greatest princes of the empire and the Church. But Luther wrote to Melancthon telling him that he will not be silenced. Though his body remained captive, he did not want his mind to be captive as well. However, he allowed Melancthon to edit the work and remove some of the more harsh passages, as well as assenting to a delay in its publication.

Luther wrote a letter to Wittenberg and to the cardinal about his design and his humility in granting a delay in publication. But, at the same time, he encouraged him to realize the force of the Reformation and its beginnings, and that he should not fear what God was accomplishing through the truth. The Cardinal wrote back and assured Luther of taking the letter with sincerity and in good part. He demonstrated a weakness, though, on the part of Rome, stating he was in need of a grace and help, and a sinner before God. This was not of the flavor of the papal bull that had previously been given.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 5

Even though Luther was struggling against the errors of the Roman church outside the walls of Wartburg, inside he resolved to take up one of his most important tasks. He decided to take up making a copy of the Scriptures in German for the common people. This would never have happened while he was professor and preacher in Wittenberg, but needed the seclusion of Wartbrug to entertain the task.

Luther had already translated many portions of the Psalms for his commentaries. But now he was to take up the tasks of the entire Bible. He used the original languages of the Greek text to translate from, and attempted to interpret the Greek into the German tongue. Not only was this a monumental task to undertake for the Reformation, but it was also a huge consolation to his own soul while captive in the walls of the castle.

During this most sacred task, he felt overpowered by the devil many times. Once, as is commonly said, the devil appeared to him so vividly that he threw his inkwell at the place where he saw the apparition standing in dark form.

While he was undergoing this monumental work, universities were debating his ideas. Attacks on his name came from various sectors, but also from the Sorbonne. Melancthon wrote against these accusations and name callings with more fervor and heat than is normally expressed by his pen. However, Luther had finally left the castle and proceeded to Wittenberg in his knightly armor for a visit, even though the threats railed against him.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 6

The Reformation was making great advances while war and difficulties were breaking out around King Charles. He was forced to forget the monk. Rome itself thought she was through with the Reformer as well. However, the Reformation advanced publicly in people such as Gabriel Zwilling. Zwilling preached fervently and caused dissention among the friars of Wittenberg, both in the convent where Zwilling preached and through the town. Melancthon visited the convent and instructed and exhorted them to wait a little longer before making any radical reforms on the mass. However, the doctors of Wittenberg found the monks to be on a right course in their removal of the Mass and the problems associated with it.

Gabriel continued to preach and demonstrated the same truths that Luther had previously written about concerning monkery – it was contrary to the will of God. Thirteen monks left the convent and marked the practical realization of the doctrines that Luther had come upon years earlier. Wittenberg rejoiced for this move, and the resolve of the monks now rejecting monkery.

Carlstadt raised his voice as well – firmly resolved to reform, but not ready for the task and often lacking good sense. He preached against the Mass and the people followed, those who had already found this to be abominable in any case. Carlstadt just flamed the fire already brewing.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 7

Though reformation was advancing, there were also some false forms of reformation trying to raise it head. The Zwickau prophets appeared in Wittenberg and began to sway many, including Carlstadt. They attacked the very foundation upon which the entire reformation was based – the all sufficiency of the Word of God above human tradition and ideas. Instead, they believed that the Holy Spirit spoke directly to a person, thus guiding them, as each person seemed to think fit.

These new prophets preached publicly and caused many to consider their teachings. They foolishly believed they would receive great support form the university of Wittenberg and began preaching there. Melancthon became alarmed and opposed both their new preaching on the Spirit, as well as their erroneous views on baptism. The Zwickau prophets followed (or possibly founded) the Anabaptist idea of Credo baptism over Infant Baptism.

Carlstadt rejected many of the doctrines of the prophets, especially their Anabaptism. But the fervor in which these men preached struck a cord with Carlstadt and he was caught up in their fervor and zeal. However, later, Carlstadt even began to despise learning itself, since the Holy Spirit, as the prophets preached, spoke directly to the person and thus, they would not need to learn anything except what the Spirit told them directly. All of the uproar in Wittenberg by Carlstadt and these prophets set the stage for the return of Luther.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 8

Luther left Wartburg on March 3rd, hoping never to return there again. He left not as he entered. His departure was needful for the advancement of the Reformation, where his entrance was needful for his safety the constancy at which the Reformation would continue. His departure from Wartburg is the dividing line between the two periods of the Reformation for Germany.

Luther stopped in at the Black Bear Tavern and Inn on his way to Wittenberg where he ate in disguise with two young Swiss brethren and Ulrich of Hutten. The two youths were on their way to Wittenberg to hear the great Dr. Luther, and Luther exposed himself as that same doctor, but at first they remained in unbelief. This man looked like a Knight, not a doctor of theology. Along the road to Wittenberg he would meet many people, and talked with them cordially, though he knew that warrant on his life was still circulating and so care was to be taken in revealing himself to those he conversed with.

Luther entered Wittenberg on Friday, March 7th. Everyone rejoiced at his coming. On the following day he sat with Schurff, Melancthon, Jonas, and Amsdorff, answering questions and recounting all that had happened to him while he was away. The next day he preached in his pulpit, somewhat hesitant about the outcome of returning to public preaching. However, he boldly preached against the Mass without loosing a heartbeat. He preached a number of times, and showed more courage here than when he was at Worms.

Luther also took time to dispel the radical prophets from the city who had come in the name of God, but were fanatics of the devil. Carlstadt was among those banished.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 9

Luther needed Melancthon’s help in the final aspects of translating the New Testament into German from the Greek. After such revision took place, it was printed zealously. It was published on September 21, 1522 with the title, “The New Testament – German-Wittenberg.” Luther’s name was not formally attached to it, but three thousand copies were distributed. A second edition was published in December, an in 1533 it had covered the country.

Rome trembled at the news that this translation was covering the country. Their grip upon the people would give way to faith and the Scriptures instead of manipulation and domination through men’s whims. Various monarchs condemned the work, being quite Catholic at this point themselves, and news of this condemnation reached Frederick and Duke George of Saxony.

Luther’s theology was spreading, and now with the translation of the Scriptures in the German tongue his tracts, pamphlets and books would be more useful since readers could research the Bible on their own. They would no longer have to take “Luther’s word” for it over the Church at Rome. However, there still needed to be a complimentary systematic theology dispersed that covered the major doctrines of the Christian faith theologically. The Trinity, the incarnation, the law, sin, grace – all of these needed to be formally expounded. Melancthon published such a volume and it was received with great admiration and seen of great worth. Between 1521 and 1595 the work called Common-places passed through sixty-seven editions and is pivotal in defending biblical doctrine.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 10

While Melancthon was supporting Luther, men of his authority were turning against him. King Henry VIII, being thirty one years old, was used to making every decision as part of the violence of his passions. He was certainly not a level-headed king. Henry lived very extravagantly, and the vanity of his youth expressed itself in every turn. He was married to Catherine of Aragon, though later this would be an unhappy marriage, who was devoutly Catholic. Thomas More also stood by his side as one of the judges at the king’s bench as someone of importance during the king’s reign.

When Henry had heard about Luther’s exploits, he became enraged at the man for setting himself higher than the Catholic Church. He wrote against Luther in a treatise called In Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther, by the most invincible King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, Henry the eight of that name. Henry desired John Clarke to present his book to the Pope. Leo deemed Henry “The Defender of the Faith” and said that such a work could not have been written without the help of the Holy Ghost.

Luther read the book by Henry and became exceedingly agitated by it. It was full of error and it irritated Luther “to the highest degree.” Frederick, Melancthon, Spalatin and Bugenhagen attempted to pacify him, but it was no use. He refuted the book and overturned every argument as made by the traditions of men. Henry was outraged at the response, hating Luther’s use of the term “hog” in association with him, and accepted the abilities of Thomas More to begin writing against the monk.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 11

Rome was dead set against Luther, England was picking its fight with him, and German princes were regarding him as trouble hoping to crush his rebellion. Yet, while all this was transpiring, the Gospel was moving faithfully over the land. As it had begun in the Augustinian order, so many of the monasteries were giving themselves over to following Luther. The monastery was the first institution to be sorely impacted by the Gospel, and to raise its head against Rome and its tyranny. Even within the Franciscan monasteries at Ulm, Eberlin and Kettenbach there grew great strides of reform in preaching against monastic vows. Luther’s writings were read in the towns, cities and universities, and their impact was undeniable.

Unlearned Christians were taking up the New Testament and the writings of Luther and turning many people to this newly discovered truth. Rome was afraid, and many of those who remained faithful to the mother church were astounded and appalled at the same time that such a movement could sweep over the ploughboys and basket weavers so quickly. The ability for them, in their native tongue, to read the New Testament and think for themselves was overthrowing the entire edifice upon which the Roman Church stood. Every time Luther composed a publication, it was circulated with great interest and zeal. They were translated in to French, Spanish, English and Italian for all to read.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 9, Chapter 12

Luther was to travel to Zwickau to preach in the chapel there. Upon route, the people gained news of his coming and twenty-five thousand gathered in the market square to hear him preach. While preaching, an old woman began to heckle him. Many thought it was the devil in disguise, but Luther silenced the heckler and was able to finish his preaching with success.

Luther moved from place to place with a temporary pulpit made for him in order to encourage the people wherever he went. The light of the Gospel was shedding its rays over the whole empire by the mouth of the reformer.

Frederick declared that he would allow the bishops to preach freely in his states, but he would deliver no one into their hands. But preachers could only preach safely in Wittenberg without threats upon their lives. Here wearied reformation preachers, those often neglected in history book, sat at the feet of the theologians of Wittenberg to be strengthened in order to preach to the people along the countryside during these times of persecution.
Wittenberg had not attained a level that rivaled the university in Paris. Certainly such movements of the Spirit of God are the only witnesses to attest to this great revival. It would not have happened by chance, or human invention. The Lord for whom such a Reformation would take place specifically planed each phase of the Reformation. It would be impossible for Rome to overcome the working of the Spirit, and Luther gained confidence in the striving nature of change overflowing across the land.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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