Martin Luther, the leading light in the Protestant Reformation, challenged “papal authority over Christendom” by dropping his 95 theses in 1517. But, as we shall see, that was not what the Protestant Reformation was all about and it was not why Luther was excommunicated.
Pope Leo longed for an amicable solution, but Luther was too far gone. Not only that, the fire which Luther had lit started to spread across Germany, even among humanists.
German scholar and poet Ulrich von Hutten began to take up arms, denouncing the Catholic Church as a “gigantic bloodsucking worm” and the pope as “a bandit chief…Rome is a sea of impurity, a mire of filth, a bottomless sink of iniquity. Should we not flock from all quarters to compass the destruction of this common curse of humanity?”
Hutten also declared of the German clergy,
“Begone, ye unclean swine! Depart from the sanctuary, ye infamous traffickers! Touch not the altars with your desecrated hands!…How dare you spend the money intended for pious uses in luxury, dissipation, and pomp, while honest men are suffering hunger?”
Luther, of course, stayed away from Hutten’s violent tirade. But many of Luther’s statements were vague enough that many could interpret or apply them in a negative light. Luther declared,
“Above all, we should drive out from German lands the papal legates with their ‘powers’—which they sell us for large sums of money—to legalize unjust gains, dissolve oaths, vows, and agreements, saying that the pope has authority to do this.”
Luther added theological error upon error by identifying the pope as “the true Antichrist” and Rome as “the Synagogue of Satan” (yet if one follows Luther’s sola scriptura, there is no mention of a specific individual as the “true Antichrist,” an issue that will be covered later.)
The word “antichrist” itself is mentioned only four times in the New Testament, and it is talking about a metaphysical and categorical rejection of Christ and his deity. “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
It was only a matter of time before Luther was accused of spreading the “‘Bohemian poison’ (the heresies of Huss) and subverting all ecclesiastical order.”
Over time, a number of professors at the University of Wittenberg began to declare that Luther was right. At the same time, other individuals began to denounce Luther as a heretic.
In the summer of 1520, Leo X ordered some of Luther’s writings to be burned and admonished Luther once again to recant. In the meantime, Luther’s movement began to spread like wildfire in places like Mainz, Louvain, Cologne, and Ingolstadt. Yet in places like Erfurt, students “threw all available copies” of the bull “into the river.”
Luther finally appeared before the Diet of Worms in 1521 to be questioned about his theological activity. As soon as he landed in Erfurt, a large crowd, among them forty professors, gave him a standing ovation.
Ulrich von Hutten
When he was asked the question, “Do you recant, or do you not?” Luther asked for, and received, a day to seriously reconsider the repercussions of his decision. During that same day, Hutten sent him a letter asking him to stand firm and unmovable. Other sympathetic friends came to comfort him. That was surely a cataclysmic moment in Luther’s life.
Although Luther initially rejected indulgences on the basis of his reading of Scripture, Luther later began rejecting Scripture on the basis of his theology. This became quite clear when he stated:
“Whatever does not preach Christ is not Apostolic, even though it be written by St. Peter or St. Paul…Whatever does preach Christ would be Apostolic even if it proceeded from Judas, Pilate, or Herod.”
Many of Luther’s own doctrines would certainly fail this incoherent test. Luther rejected the book of James because it was inconsistent with Luther’s view of justification by faith alone, calling it an “epistle of straw.”
Luther, to his dying day, despised the book of James and wrote in Table Talk that
“We should throw the epistle of James out of this school [meaning Wittenberg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning…
“He wrote not a word about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, although this is what all the apostles preached about. Besides, there is no order or method in the epistle. Now he discusses clothing and then he writes about wrath and is constantly shifting from one to the other.”
In another work, Luther even talked about “throwing Jimmy in the stove” because “Jimmy” did not agree with Luther.
In other words, Luther theologically appealed to sola scriptura, but practically was content to pick and choose what agreed with his views—a consistent pattern that has died out over the centuries among Reformed and Protestant theologians, most specifically among Christian Zionists.
James 2:26 unequivocally declares, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
Luther made things even more complicated when it comes to Romans 3:28, which reads, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Luther, right after faith, added the word “alone” in his translation. When asked for an exegetical explanation, Luther responded,
“If your Papist makes much useless fuss about the word sola, allein, tell him at once: ‘Doctor Martin Luther will have it so,’ and says ‘Papist and donkey are one thing; sic volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. For we do not want to be pupils and followers of the Papist, but their masters and judges.”
Luther was simply shooting himself in the toes, and it is pretty clear here that he was indirectly and subtly postulating infallibility or categorical axioms without which his own theology—sola scriptura—would fall.
Yet for Luther, papal infallibility was like a red flag to a bull. He was so carnally blinded that he didn’t seem to understand what the Church meant by infallibility, a misconception that lingers on to this very day.
Sinclair B. Ferguson
Luther did not seem to make a distinction between the Pope as a sinner and the Pope defending infallible truth—two paradoxical yet compatible tendencies. Even Reformed scholars such as Sinclair B. Ferguson agree that “the genius of Rome, unlike Wittenberg [Luther] and Geneva [Calvin], has always been its ability to hold opposite tendencies together.”This is a huge issue and it serves no purpose to expand on it here.
It must be said that Rome proved to be much more rational than the father of the Protestant Reformation because ontological truth, by its very nature, is “infallible.” Any truth claim has to have some form of “infallibility,” otherwise the claim makes no sense whatsoever. This is fundamental in epistemological pursuit and Luther should have known this.
As a corollary and as G. K. Chesterton rightly put it, “all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind.” In other words, the denial of any truth claim is another truth claim.
Luther’s own statement that “Doctor Martin Luther will have it so” is a classic example. And since Luther knocked out Rome’s infallibility, Luther had to implicitly establish a new infallibility, which was Luther himself.
More importantly, Luther would have had a hard time refuting people like John Hagee and the whole Christian Zionist movement. If Luther objects to their extreme Zionist worldview, they could easily say, “Dr. John Hagee would have it so.”
And when you reach that circular matrix, you can be sure that reason or rational inquiry is out of the equation and ideology or preconceived notion will take precedence. It is like reasoning with people who keep postulating that the “Jewish question” is genetic.
You’ve got people like Charles Murray and other AEI writers saying that Jews are basically smarter than everyone else, that they are “God’s chosen people” and that this is one reason they are hated; and then you have others who keep positing the extraordinary assertion (with no serious evidence) that Jewish behaviors (such as how to cheat the goyim) are ingrained in their DNA.
How does that work? Which one is actually DNA—the elevated IQ which Murray proposes, or the bad behaviors which much of the world does not like? Certainly those biological determinists cannot have it both ways.
What’s so funny is that when Jewish scientists themselves argue that much of the evidence for biological determinism has been forged, biological determinists continue to marshal the same intellectually boring and incoherent view that the “Jewish question” is genetic.
What those people do not seem to grasp is that what happens genetically happens mechanically and automatically, a notion that is compatible with Newtonian physics.
If it happens according to the laws of physics and chemistry—like gravity—why would a biological determinist want to persuade the Jew to act morally? Wouldn’t the Jew be rational in saying, “My genes made me do it?”
I just cannot hold my laughter when those biological determinists write raving responses because the Jew acts this or that way and that they need to change their way, but that bad behavior is in his genes! Not only that, we have to hold them responsible!
If biological determinists cannot see this intellectual logjam, then rational discussion is of no use. The Enlightenment thinkers, were they alive today, would probably have raised their hands in adulation telling biological determinists, “Amen, brothers! Preach it! Thanks for making our metaphysical view comprehensible to modernity!”
If Christ did not accept the doctrine of the Pharisees who kept saying that they are the children of Abraham—implying super DNA—then the idea as articulated by biological determinists must be resisted precisely because it lacks scientific integrity and intellectual honesty. The issue is essentially theological and moral. As E. Michael Jones pointed out,
“The culture wars are simply not understandable in racial terms [or genetic terms]. The different sides in the culture wars may have used race as a pretext, but the identity of the antagonists was ethnic not racial in the sense commonly portrayed in the media.”
This is the central issue, and if people want to understand the “Jewish question,” they must get a grip of the theological underpinning. The first institution to understand this is the Church. Jewish revolutionaries are aware of this.
For example, Leo Pfeffer, a Jewish revolutionary who “advised, planned and argued more church-state cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than anyone else in American history,” wrote,
“whenever I felt that my daughter should not have something she wanted, she threatened to marry a Catholic army officer from Alabama.
“The truth of the matter was that I did not like the Catholic Church as I did not like the military and the South and for pretty much the same reasons. In the first place, it stood for what I opposed, and opposed . . . what I stood for.”
Biological determinists, because of their superficial knowledge of the conflict, categorize the “Jewish question” in essentially racial terms when in fact the issue always revolves theology and morality. If they doubt the seriousness of this statement, they need to go back to the Elizabethan Age and see how the issue played out.
If that is too hard to do, they need to go back to ancient Rome, where the theatrical spectacle of the gladiatorial games almost destroyed the moral life of one of Augustine’s closest friends, Alypius.
More precisely, biological determinists need to go back to ancient Greece, where all the major players were essentially “white,” and where the cult of Dionysus was essentially terrorizing young people—most particularly women.
After comparing himself to Paul, Luther called all of those who disagreed with his insertion “donkeys” and boasted that regardless of what they said, “the word allein shall remain in my New Testament.”
It is no surprise that the Protestant Reformation was bound to spark a detour in the Christian West. Whether he liked it or not, with statements like that, Luther opened the door for people to apply their own presuppositions onto Christianity.
And it would not be an irrational argument to say that the Dispensational movement that grew out of the nineteenth century had it proto-basis in the Protestant Reformation, although Luther would almost disagree strongly with the movement.
Luther also “questioned the Epistle of Hebrews” and even declared that the book of Revelation is “neither Apostolic nor Prophetic.” He also stated that “Solomon’s proverbs were not the work of Solomon.”
By doing this picking and choosing, Luther proved that his critics were right all along: Luther did not really believe in sola scriptura. Even Luther’s widely read treatise, On the Bondage of the Will, published in 1525, could not find explicit and strong support from sola scriptura or reason. It is that book that is the quintessential definition of the Reformation. Luther himself declared,
“Indeed, let me tell you, this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us.”
Calvinist writer J. I. Packer writes that the book is “the greatest piece of writing that came from Luther’s pen.” Prior to Luther, the Catholic Church maintains that man’s will is a gift from God and a person cannot even use this gift to earn his salvation. Canon 4 of the Council of Orange, which was written in 529 A.D., states:
“If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself…”
Moreover, since man’s free will is a gift from God, it therefore cannot contradict God’s overarching purpose in salvation. Luther changed that by making man’s free will irrelevant and unimportant in salvation, and this is why Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
In his preface to the German Bible written in 1522, Luther made it clear that the book of Revelation is “neither apostolic or prophetic” and therefore stated,
“I can in nothing detect that it was provided by the Holy Spirit.”
Luther denounced the pope as being dogmatic, but Luther is making dogmatic statements that obviously contradict his own theological premise, namely sola scriptura. Luther continued:
“Moreover, he [John] seems to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly—more than any other of the sacred books do, though they are much more important…
“Let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think. My spirit cannot fit itself into the book. There is one sufficient reason for me to think highly of it—Christ is not taught or known in it; but to teach Christ is the thing which an apostle above all else is bound to do.”
Right here Luther was digging his own theological grave and was disqualifying himself as an exegete. The first two verses open the book as follows:
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John; who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw” (Revelation 1:1-2).
Luther would have saved himself some trouble had he just made an honest confession that he did not understand the book.
Yet to say that it is not apostolic or prophetic, or that Christ is not taught in the book, means that Luther to a large extent applied sola scriptura where it fit his theology.
In his new preface written in 1546, Luther was somewhat more optimistic declaring that the book could be examined in light of historical accounts.
In a nutshell, Luther was not consistent on his appeal to sola scriptura, and he was already a flesh-and-blood Judaizer by the time he wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, a book we shall discuss in the next article. It is the same thing with John Calvin, who ended up disagreeing with Luther on soteriology.
“defiance at Worms, and his survival, had given his followers a heady elation. At Erfurt students, artisans, and peasants attacked and demolished forty parish houses, destroyed libraries and rent rolls, and killed a humanist (June 1521).”
In December of the same year, “some students and townsfolk, armed with knives, entered the parish church of Wittenberg, drove the priests from the altars, and stoned some worshipers who were praying before a statue of the Virgin.”
The next day, “forty students demolished the altars of the Franciscan monastery in Wittenberg.” That same year, “Gabriel Zwilling, a leader of the Augustinian Congregation, invited his hearers to burn religious pictures and demolish altars wherever found. On December 27 oil was poured upon the fire by ‘prophets’ arriving from Zwickau.”
Luther of course did not approve any of this violence. He later wroteEarnest Exhortation for All Christians, Warning Them Against Insurrection and Rebellion. Yet in the very same work, Luther could not fully make his point clear that violence is against Christ and the gospel. Instead he wrote:
“It seems probable that there is danger of an uprising, and that priests, monks, bishops and the entire spiritual estate may be murdered or driven into exile, unless they seriously and thoroughly reform themselves.
“For the common man has been brooding over the injury he has suffered in property, in body, and in soul, and has become provoked. They have tried him too far, and have most unscrupulously burdened him beyond measure.
“He is neither able nor willing to endure it longer, and could indeed have good reason to lay about him with flails and cudgels, as the peasants are threatening to do. Now I am not at all displeased to hear that the clergy are brought to such a state of fear and anxiety. Perhaps they will come to their senses and moderate their mad tyranny…I will go further.
“If I had ten bodies, and could acquire so much favor with God that he would chasten them [the clergy] by the gentle means of bodily death or insurrection, I would most gladly give all my ten bodies to death in behalf of the poor peasants.”
Luther, however, included other statements, saying things such as
“insurrection is unreasoning, and generally hurts the innocent more than the guilty. Hence no insurrection is ever right, no matter how good the cause in whose interest it is made.
“The harm resulting from it always exceeds the amount of reformation accomplished…My sympathies are and always will be with those against whom insurrection is made.”
It appeared that Luther was talking out of both sides of his mouth, and there is no doubt that those people who were eager for revolution found in Luther’s writings things that would ignite the revolutionary fire.
Preaching against indulgences is one thing, but making statements contradicting the Cross of Christ is quite another. In fact, the Jews, who had no interest in the person of Jesus Christ, not only applauded Luther but aligned with him.
Numerous Jews were elated when they heard of the Reformation, not because they wanted to embrace Christianity to its full, but because it was a chance to ally themselves with a revolutionary theological movement. For this reason, Luther’s effort to challenge the papacy was praised by many Jews.
Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, who became a Protestant, was Luther’s contemporary and friend. When Luther was in exile, Karlstadt and a number of Luther’s followers began to take action by “tearing down images of saints in churches,” but “Luther recommended moderation.”
By way of mocking monks who did not get married, Karlstadt demanded that both secular priests and monks “should marry and procreate. Karlstadt set a pace by marrying, at forty, a girl of fifteen (January 19, 1522).”
Luther approved of this marriage, but he wrote: “‘Good Heavens! Will our Wittenbergers give wives to monks?’” Luther himself “had forced [the revolutionary Thomas] Muntzer out of Saxony, for he feared the consequences of his teachings.”
Muntzer pushed the envelope even further by agitating the workers in Bohemia, close to the place where the Hussites started their revolution. An ardent supporter of the Reformation, Muntzer thought that he and his associates, Nicholas Storch and Marcus Stubner, should be the arbiters of interpretation and exegesis.
Luther dropped the bomb of sola scriptura, and Muntzer electrified it and turned it into a revolutionary act. Luther, then, began to see that sola scriptura had been challenged by Muntzer.
In 1521, these three—Muntzer, Storch, and Stubner—tried to start an insurrection, but as soon as it was demolished, they fled. Muntzer ended up being a pastor in Allstedt, while Storch and Stubner landed in Wittenberg.
But Karlstadt still had some work to do. “When the agents of the council proved dilatory in removing images, Karlstadt led his followers into the churches; pictures and crucifixes were torn from the walls, and resisting priests were pelted with stones.”
By this time, Luther realized that he was the one who had released the revolutionaries to commit violence. Luther therefore “called on the princes to suppress” it.
Durant declares, “Luther, the preachers, and the pamphleteers were not the cause of the revolt; the causes were the just grievances of the peasantry. But it could be argued that the gospel of Luther and his more radical followers ‘poured oil on the flames,’ and turned the resentment of the oppressed into utopian delusions, uncalculated violence, and passionate revenge.”
By 1522, Luther seemed to have foreseen that the battle was going to turn into bloody acts of violence, and he began to formulate a series of sermons denouncing violent acts, saying things like “the sun, the moon, the stars, have been worshipped; shall we then pluck them out of the sky?” Durant declares that Luther ‘was at his best and most Christian in those eight sermons in eight days.”
At other times, Luther would preach that the peasants should not raise up arms. He wrote in part,
“For no matter how right you are, it is not for a Christian to appeal to law, or to fight, but to suffer wrong and endure evil; there is no other way…Christians fight for themselves not with sword and gun, but with the cross and suffering, just as Christ, our leader, does not bear a sword, but hangs upon the cross.”
It seemed that this admonition was too late. Muntzer, Karlstadt, and others were already putting more oil in the flames by postulating that “farmers, miners, and cornthreshers understand the Gospel better, and can teach it better, than a whole village…of abbots and priests…or doctors of divinity.” Karlstadt even declared that they can do it “better than Luther.”
Muntzer meant it when he said that “the godless,” meaning the priests and monks, “have no right to live except in so far as they are permitted to do so by the elect.”
Not only that, Muntzer called upon the princes to march against the clergy. The princes declined. Then Muntzer called upon the people—mainly the peasants—to march against both the princes and the clergy to establish what later proved to be their own heaven on earth.
Muntzer of course was implicitly reformulating the principles of the Old Testament. For example, it was right to take the life of a witch in the Old Testament. Muntzer, in a similar fashion, argued that godless people should not suffer to live, most particularly when they are in conflict with Christians.
These radical turns were a challenge for Luther and the Reformation.
Luther expelled Muntzer from his pulpit in 1524 and even called him the “Satan of Allstedt.” Muntzer, for Luther, was a minister for the devil who was on his way to hell—he believed that heresy and acts of violence ran through Muntzer’s veins.
Muntzer in turn started calling Luther names such as Dr. Liar, Father Pyssyfoot, a carrion crow, the Wittenberg Pope, and the archdevil. Muntzer ended up wandering in various towns, “announcing the deliverance of ‘Israel,’ and the imminent Kingdom of Heaven on earth.”
Muntzer’s message was so radical in Prague in 1521 that he convinced the Bohemians that should they fail to defend God’s word they will be invaded by the Turks the following year.
Eventually he won the ears of many, and in 1525 he and Pfeiffer and their followers “drove out the monks, and appropriated all the property of the Church.”
Muntzer again lusted after more blood, telling his followers, “Forward while the fire is hot! Let your swords be ever warm with blood!”
By August 1524, Muntzer’s army was gathering momentum, and with the help of Hans Muller, 30,000 peasants refused to pay taxes. By April of the following year, Muntzer was still preaching revolution, telling his disciples things like
“show no pity…Pay no attention to the cries of the godless…Alert the villages and towns and especially the mineworkers and other good fellows who will be of use. We cannot slumber any longer…Don’t let your sword grow cold, don’t let it hang down limply! Hammer away ding-dong on the anvils of Nimrod [meaning the princes], cast their tower to the ground!
“As long as they live it is impossible for you to rid yourselves of the fear of men. One cannot say anything to you about God as long as they rule over you. Go to it, go to it, while it is day! God goes before you; follow, follow!”
References to the Old Testament with respect to dealing with the “godless” were rampant in many of Muntzer’s sermons.
Certainly things were not going well for Luther. The peasant leaders sent Luther twelve articles in which they disagreed with many of the teachings and practices of the clergy. Luther did not approve their articles, but he had been given a chance to completely dissociate himself from the revolutionaries. Instead, he wrote:
“We have no one on earth to thank for this mischievous rebellion except you, princes and lords, and especially you blind bishops and mad priests and monks, whose hearts are hardened against the Holy Gospel, though you know that it is true and that you cannot refute it.”
Finally, in an attempt to encourage peace, Luther gave this address, which the peasants failed to follow:
“Choose among the nobles certain counts and lords, and from the cities certain councilmen, and have these matters dealt with and settled in a friendly way. You lords, let down your stubbornness…and give up a little of your tyranny and oppression, so that poor people get air and room to live.
“The peasants for their part should let themselves be instructed, and give over and let go some of the Articles that grasp too far and too high.”
The peasants, believing that Luther had betrayed them, moved along with the violent revolution anyway. It was inevitable, then, that many would put some blame on Luther for the peasants’ revolt and the rebellious and violent nature of it. A large number of peasants, in turn, believed that Luther had deserted them.
By the spring of 1525, the fire was already ignited in many major places such as Heilbronn, Rothenburg, and Wurzburg. In March in Rothenburg,
“the priests were driven from the cathedral, religious images were demolished, a chapel was smashed to the ground, and clerical wine cellars were emptied with triumphant gaiety.”
The following month, under the lead of Jakob Wehe,
“3,000 peasants captured the town [of Leipheim on the Danube near Ulm] drank all discoverable wine, pillaged the church, smashed the organ, made themselves leggings from sacerdotal vestments, and paid mock homage to one of their number seated on the altar and robed as a priest.”
Durant declares that
“in nearly every section of Germany peasant bands were running riot. Monasteries were sacked, or were compelled to pay high ransoms…On April 11 the townsfolk of Bamberg renounced the bishop’s feudal sovereignty, pillaged and burned his castle, and plundered the houses of the orthodox.
“In Alsace the revolt spread so rapidly that by April’s end every Catholic or rich landlord in the province was in terror of his life. On April 28 an army of 20,000 peasants attacked Zabern, seat of the bishop of Strasbourg, and despoiled his monastery.”
These violent acts happened in almost every major city. For example, former Episcopal secretary Michael Gasmaier incited an attack on all orthodox clergymen and even “sacked the local monastery, and remained rampant and unsubdued for a year.”
We see similar results at Freiburgim-Breisgau, where “the peasants looted castles and monasteries, and forced the city to join the ‘Evangelical Brotherhood.’ In the same month a peasant band drove the bishop of Wurzburg out of his palace, and feasted on his stores. In June the powerful and warlike Archbishop Matthias Lang was chased from his palace in Salzburg into his castle fortress overlooking the city.”
Now that the revolution had turned into a bloodbath, Luther forthrightly rejected it. He declared,
“In the former book I did not venture to judge the peasants, since they had offered to be set right and be instructed…But before I look around they, forgetting their offer, betake themselves to violence, and particular it is the work of the archdevil [Munzer] who rules at Mulhausen…
“Any man against whom sedition can be proved is outside the law of God and the Empire, so that the first who can slay him is doing right and well…
“Therefore let everyone who can smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him he will strike you, and a whole land with you.”
Here again Luther was regurgitating what he had learned from the Old Testament, not from what he had learned at the foot of the Cross and from the doctrines of Christ. Moreover, as Protestant scholar Alister McGrath himself argues, Luther and the other Reformers were pragmatists in that on many occasions they were ready to allow secular government to be involved in the movement, so long as it advanced the cause.
If that is the case, then Luther once again was largely inconsistent, for we all know that secular authorities have no say in theological disputes.
It is clear that the Reformation was much more complex and it cannot be reduced to just the motto of sola scriptura, for “a secondary hermeneutic of political character was at least on occasion instrumental in [its] propagation.”
McGrath agrees, stating that it is “evident that the question of how the early Reformed theological communities interpreted Scripture was more problematic than is sometimes appreciated.”
The peasant revolt was eventually crushed. In May 1525, Duke Henry and Philip Landgrave marched against Muntzer’s untrained and disordered peasant army and massacred thousands outside Frankenhausen.
When Henry and Landgrave’s army reached the town, they pleaded to the rebels to surrender. Muntzer told the peasants that God would deliver them in the nick of time, using the sign of a halo around the sun.
Muntzer could not have been more excited, and incited the rebels even more to stand still and meet the enemy head on.
In the end, thousands were killed, while Henry and Landgrave only lost six men. Durant says only 5,000 rebels were killed, but Carter Lindberg says over 6,000 lost their lives. Three hundred others were captured and condemned to death.
“Their women pleaded mercy for them; it was granted, on condition that the women should beat out the brains of two priests who had encouraged the revolt; it was done, while the triumphant dukes looked on.
“Muntzer hid, was captured, was tortured into confessing the error of his ways, and was beheaded before the headquarters of the princes.
“Pfeiffer and his 1,200 soldiers defended Muhlhausen; they were overcome; Pfeiffer and other leaders were put to death, but the citizens were spared on paying a total ransom of 40,000 guilders,” nearly $1 million at the time.
Other rebellions were also crushed. Truchsess led his army to Boblingen, where he tricked the peasants and burned the place to the ground, while he
“slowly roasted Jacklein Rohrbach, who had directed the ‘Massacre of Weinsberg.’”
Truchsess continued to march to other places such as Konigshofen and Ingolstadt, where he “beheaded eighty-one chosen rebels as a memento for the rest.”
One after another, each city or town that the peasants had taken by force was eventually retaken by massacring almost every one that came their way.
Twenty thousand peasants lost their lives in Alsace, while others ended up surrendering to the opposing army, many of whom were hanged or beheaded, or had their hands chopped off and their eyes gouged out.
Durant declares that “the air of the towns was fetid with the stench of the dead.” In the face of such cruel punishment, the princes eventually had to intervene in order to diminish the level of torture that was being done.
The following year, 1526, Michael Gasmaier again flared up the revolutionary spirit. He started by calling anyone who was not a protestant “godless” and claiming that they needed to be put to death. He marched into churches and tore down their pictures and shrines.
Although Gasmaier defeated many of the troops that were sent against him, in the end he had to flee to Italy.
“The Archduke Ferdinand set a price on his head, and two Spanish cutthroats earned the sum by assassinating him in his room in Padua (1528).”
Once again rebellions like these caused huge loss of life.
“Over 50,000 homeless peasants roamed the highways or hid in the woods. Widows and orphans were legion…
“The rebels had in many instances burned the charters that recorded their feudal dues; new charters were now drawn up, renewing the obligations, sometimes more leniently, sometimes more rigorously, than before…elsewhere serfdom was strengthened, and would continue, east of the Elbe, till the nineteenth century.”
Durant, a philo-Semitic historian, declares,
“The Reformation itself almost perished in the Peasants’ War. Despite Luther’s disclaimers and denunciations, the rebellion had flaunted Protestant colors and ideas: economic aspirations were dressed in phrases that Luther had sanctified.”
“My opinion is that it is better that all peasants be killed than that the princes and magistrates perish, because the rustics took the sword without divine authority.”
He moved on to say in An Open Letter Concerning the Hard Book against the Peasants that
“The rulers ought to seize these people by the cap and make them hold their tongues. If they think this answer is too hard, and that this is talking violence and only shutting men’s mouths, I reply that this is right. A rebel is not worth answering with arguments, for he does not accept them. The answer for such mouth is a fist that brings blood from the nose. The peasants would not listen…
“Their ears must be unbuttoned with bullets, till their heads jump off their shoulders. Such pupils need such a rod. He who will not hear God’s Word when it is spoken with kindness must listen to the headsman when comes with his axe…
“Of mercy I will neither hear nor know anything, but give heed to God’s will in His Word…If He will have wrath and not mercy, what have you to do with mercy? Did not Saul sin by showing mercy upon Amalek when he failed to execute God’s wrath as he had been commanded?
“You who are praising mercy so highly because the peasants are beaten, why did you not praise it when the peasants were raging, smiting, robbing, burning, and plundering, until they were terrible to men’s eyes and ears? Why were they not merciful to the princes and lords, whom they wanted to wipe out entirely?”
It is clear by now those teachings did not come from Christ but from the Old Testament. Luther cannot have it both ways—he cannot argue for sola scriptura and still be inconsistent when it comes to following Christ all the way. Protestant scholar Justo L. Gonzalez declares that Luther “urged the victorious princes to be merciful.”
If that is the case, then Luther was once again inconsistent in his writings. How can the princes be merciful when Luther himself wrote that the peasants’ ears should be unbuttoned with bullets?
Surely Luther must have been aware of this contradiction. Perhaps his theology did not allow him to see the obvious. Throughout much of his discourse on the peasants, Luther’s sola scriptura was the Old Testament, not Christ.
Because of the devastating effect of the revolt, Luther stayed in Wittenberg for many years in solitude, not even attending at his father’s deathbed. He wrote during that time,
“All is forgotten that God has done for the world through me, now lords, priests, and peasants are all against me, and threaten my death.”
Jewish revolutionaries during the Reformation period were more than happy to seize the moment. As Jewish historian Louis I. Newman declared,
“The Jews of the Reformation era took great interest in Protestant literature; Luther’s works were distributed and bought even in Jerusalem.”
Long before Luther and the Jews parted company, they previously
“looked upon the Reformation as the first indication of the advent of the Messianic age…
“One of the remarkable testimonies to the role of Jews in the spread of religious reform movements in Europe is evident in the fact that the Marranos of Amsterdam sought to disseminate Luther’s writings in Spain with a view to break the sway of the Catholicism which had brought them so much suffering.”
The revolutionary acts
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