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History of Protestantism, vol. 1 - Contents
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    Chapter 7: Luther’s Views on the Sacrament and Image-Worship

    New Friends-Philip, Landgrave of Hesse-Meeting between him and Melanchthon-Joins the Reformation-Duke Ernest, etc.-Knights of the Teutonic Order-Their Origin and History-Royal House of Prussia- Free Cities-Services to Protestantism-Division-Carlstadt Opposes Luther on the Sacrament-Luther’s Early Views-Recoil -Essence of Paganism-Opus Operatum-Calvin and Zwingle’s View-Carlstadt Leaves Wittemberg and goes to Orlamunde-Scene at the Inn at Jena- Luther Disputes at Orlamunde on Image-Worship-Carlstadt Quits Saxony-Death of the Elector Frederick

    Picture: Carlstadt Accepting Luthers Challenge to Write against him

    While its enemies were forming leagues and un-sheathing their swords against the Reformation, new friends were hastening to place themselves on its side. It was at this hour that some of the more powerful princes of Germany stepped out from the ranks of the Romanists, and inscribed the “evangel” on their banners, declaring that henceforward under this “sign” only would they fight. Over against the camp formed by Austria and Bavaria was pitched that of the Landgrave of Hesse and the free cities.HOPV1 506.2

    One day in June, 1524, a knightly cavalcade was passing along the high-road which traverses the plain that divides Frankfort from the Taunus mountains. The party were on their way to the games at Heidelberg. As they rode along, two solitary travelers on horseback were seen approaching. On coming nearer, they were recognised to be Philip Melanchthon and his friend. The knight at the head of the first party, dashing forward, placed himself by the side of the illustrious doctor, and begged him to turn his horse’s head, and accompany him a short way on the road. The prince who accosted Melanchthon was the young Landgrave of Hesse. Philip of Hesse had felt the impulses of the times, and was inquiring whether it was not possible to discover a better way than that of Rome. He had been present at the Diet of Worms; had been thrilled by the address of Luther; he had begged an interview with him immediately after, and ever since had kept revolving the matter in his heart. A chance, as it seemed, had now thrown Melanchthon in his way. He opened his mind to him as he rode along by his side, and, in reply, the doctor gave the prince a clear and comprehensive outline of the Reformed doctrine. This oral statement Melanchthon supplemented, on his return to Wittemberg, by a “written epitome of the renovated doctrines of Christianity,” the study of which made the landgrave resolve to cast in his lot with Protestantism. He embraced it with characteristic ardour, for he did nothing by halves. He made the Gospel be preached in his dominions, and as he brought to the cause the whole energy of his character, and the whole influence of his position, he rendered it no ordinary services. In conflicts to come, his plume was often seen waving in the thick of the battle. 1Camerarius, p. 94.HOPV1 506.3

    About the same time, other princes transferred the homage of their hearts and the services of their lives to the same cause. Among these were Duke Ernest of Luneburg, who now began to promote the reformation of his States; the Elector of the Palatinate; and Frederick I. of Denmark, who, as Duke of Schleswig and Holstein, ordained that all under him should be free to worship God as their consciences might direct.HOPV1 507.1

    These accessions were followed by another, on which time has since set the print of vast importance. Its consequences continue to be felt down to our own days. The knight who now transferred his homage to the cause of Protestantism was the head of the house of Prussia, then Margrave of Brandenburg.HOPV1 507.2

    The chiefs of the now imperial house of Prussia were originally Burgraves of Nuremberg. They sold, as we have already said, this dignity, and the price they received for it enabled them to purchase the Margraveship of Brandenburg. In 1511, Albert, the then head of the house of Brandenburg, became Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. This was perhaps the most illustrious of all those numerous orders of religious knights, or monks, which were founded during the frenzy of the Crusades, 2The order was instituted in A.D. 1190, and the first Master was chosen in the camp before Ptolemais. (Sleidan.) in defense of the Christian faith against heathens and infidels. They wore a white cross as their badge. Albert, the present Grand Master, while attending the Diet at Nuremberg, had listened to the sermons of Osiander, and had begun to doubt the soundness of the Roman creed, and, along with that, the lawfulness of his vow as Grand Master of the Teutonic monks. He obtained an interview with Luther, and asked his advice. “Renounce your Grand-Mastership; dissolve the order,” said the Reformer; “take a wife; and erect your quasi-religious domain into a secular and hereditary duchy.” Albert, adopting the counsel of Luther, opened to himself and his family the road that at a future day was to conduct to the imperial crown. He renounced his order of monk-hood, professed the Reformed faith, married a princess of Denmark, and declared Prussia an hereditary duchy, doing homage for it to the crown of Poland. He was put under the ban of the Empire; but retained, nevertheless, possession of his dominions. In process of time this rich inheritance fell to the possession of the electoral branch of his family; all dependence on the crown of Poland was cast off; the duchy was converted into a kingdom, and the title of duke exchanged for the loftier one of king. The fortunes of the house continued to grow till at last its head took his place among the great sovereigns of Europe. 3Robertson, Hist. Charles V., bk. Another and higher step awaited him. In 1870, at the close of the Franco-German war, the King of Prussia became Emperor of Germany.HOPV1 507.3

    In the rear of the princes, and in some instances in advance of them, came the free cities. We have spoken of their rise in a former chapter. They eminently prepared the soil for the reception of Protestantism. They were nurseries of art, cultivators of knowledge, and guardians of liberty. We have already seen that at Nuremberg, during the sittings of the Diet, and despite the presence of the legate of the Pope and the ambassador of the emperor, Protestant sermons were daily preached in the two cathedral churches; and when Campeggio threatened to apprehend and punish the preachers in the name of his master, the municipality spiritedly forbade him to touch a hair of their heads. Other towns followed the example of Nuremberg. The Municipal Diets of Ulm and Spires (1524) resolved that the clergy should be sustained in preaching the pure Gospel, and bound themselves by mutual promise to defend each other against any attempt to execute the Edict of Worms.HOPV1 507.4

    At the very moment that Protestantism was receiving these powerful accessions from without, a principle of weakness was being developed within. The Reformers, hitherto a united phalanx, began to be parted into two camps-the Lutheran and the Reformed. It is now that we trace the incipient rise of the two powerful parties which have continued, down to our day, to divide the Protestant world, and to retard the march of the Reformation.HOPV1 507.5

    The difference was at first confined to two men. Luther and Carlstadt had combatted by the side of each other at Leipsic against Dr. Eck; unhappily they differed in their views on the Sacrament of the Supper, and began to do battle against each other. Few there are who can follow with equal steps the march of Truth, as she advances from the material and the symbolical to the position of a pure principle. Some lag behind, laying fully as much stress upon the symbol as upon the verity it contains; others outstrip Truth, as it were, by seeking to dissociate her from that organisation which God has seen to be necessary for her action upon the world. The fanatics, who arose at this stage of the Reformation, depreciated the Word and the Sacraments, and, in short, all outward ordinances, maintaining that religion was a thing exclusively of spiritual communion, and that men were to be guided by an inward light. Luther saw clearly that this theory would speedily be the destruction not of what was outward only in religion, but also of what was inward and spiritual. A recoil ensued in his sentiments. He not only paused in his career, he went back; and the retrogression which we henceforth trace in him was not merely a retrogression from the new mystics, but from his former self. The clearness and boldness which up till this time had characterised his judgment on theological questions now forsook him, and something of the old haze began to gather round him and cloud his mind.HOPV1 508.1

    At an earlier period of his career (1520), in his work entitled the Babylonian Captivity, he had expressed himself in terms which implied that the spiritual presence of Christ in the Sacrament was the only presence he recognised there, and that faith in Christ thus present was the only thing necessary to enable one to participate in all the benefits of the Lord’s Supper. This doctrine is in nowise different from that which was afterwards taught on this head by Calvin, and which Luther so zealously opposed in the case of Zwingle and the theologians of the Swiss Reformation. Unhappily, Luther having grasped the true idea of the Lord’s Supper, again lost it. He was unable to retain permanent possession of the ground which he had occupied for a moment, as it were; he fell back to the old semi-materialistic position, to the arrestment of his own career, and the dividing of the Protestant army.HOPV1 508.2

    It is a grand principle in Protestantism that the ordinances of the Church become to us “effectual means” of salvation, not from “any virtue in them,” or “in him that administers them,” but solely by the “blessing of God,” and the “working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them.” This draws a clear line of distinction between the institutions of the Reformed Church and the rites of Paganism and Romanism. It was a doctrine of Paganism that there was a magical or necromantic influence in all its observances, in virtue of which a purifying change was effected upon the soul of the worshipper. This idea was the essence of Paganism. In the sacrifice, in the lustral water, in every ceremony of its ritual, there resided an invisible but potent power, which of itself renewed or transformed the man who did the rite, or in whose behalf it was done. This doctrine descended to Romanism. In all its priests, and in all its rites, there was lodged a secret, mysterious, superhuman virtue, which regenerated and sanctified men. It was called the “opus operatum,” because, according to this theory, salvation came simply by the performance of the rite-the “doing of the work.” It was not the Spirit that regenerated man, nor was faith on his part necessary in order to his profiting; the work was accomplished by the sole and inherent potency of the rite. This doctrine converts the ordinances of the Gospel into spells, and makes their working simply magical.HOPV1 508.3

    Luther was on the point of fully emancipating himself from this belief. As regards the doctrines of Christianity, he did fully emancipate himself from it. His doctrine of justification by faith alone implied the total renunciation of this idea; but, as regards the Sacraments, he did not so fully vindicate his freedom from the old beliefs. With reference to the Supper, he lost sight of the grand master-truth which led to the emancipation of himself and Christendom from monkish bondage. He could see that faith alone in Christ’s obedience and death could avail for the justification, the pardon, and the eternal salvation of the sinner; and yet he could not see that faith alone in Christ, as spiritually present in the Supper, could avail for the nourishment of the believer. Yet the latter is but another application of Luther’s great cardinal doctrine of justification by faith,HOPV1 508.4

    The shock Luther received from the extremes to which the Anabaptists proceeded in good part accounts for this result. He saw, as he thought, the whole of Christianity about to be spiritualised, and to lose itself a second time in the mazes of mysticism. He retreated, therefore, into the doctrine of impanation or consubstantiation, which the Dominican, John of Paris, broached in the end of the thirteenth century. According to this tenet, the body and blood of Christ are really and corporeally present in the elements, but the substance of the bread and wine also remains.HOPV1 508.5

    Luther held that in, under, or along with the elements was Christ’s very body; so that, after consecration, the bread was both bread and the flesh of Christ, and the wine both wine and the blood of Christ. He defended his belief by a literal interpretation of the words of institution, “This is my body.” “I have undergone many hard struggles,” we find him saying, “and would fain have forced myself into believing a doctrine whereby I could have struck a mighty blow at the Papacy. But the text of Scripture is too potent for me; I am a captive to it, and cannot get away.”HOPV1 509.1

    Carlstadt refused to bow to the authority of the great doctor on this point. He agreed with the Luther of 1520, not with the Luther of 1524. Carlstadt held that there was no corporeal presence of Christ in the elements; that the consecration effects no change upon the bread and wine; that the Supper is simply commemorative of the death of Christ, and nourishes the communicant by vividly representing that transaction to his faith. Carlstadt’s views differed widely from those of Luther, but they fell short of the doctrine of the Supper, as it came afterwards to be settled in the controversies that ensued, and finally held by Zwingle and Calvin.HOPV1 509.2

    Carlstadt finding himself fettered, as may well be conceived, in the declaration of his opinions at Wittemberg, sought a freer stage on which to ventilate them. Early in 1524 he removed to Orlamunde, and there began to propagate his views. We do not at this stage enter on the controversy. It will come before us afterwards, when greater champions than Carlstadt shall have stepped into the arena, and when accordingly we can review, with much greater profit and advantage, the successive stages of this great war, waged unhappily within the camp of the Reformation.HOPV1 509.3

    One passage at arms we must however record. No longer awed by Luther’s presence, Carlstadt’s boldness and zeal waxed greater every day. Not content with opposing the Wittemberg doctrine of the Supper, he attacked Luther on the subject of images. The old leaven of monkhood-the strength of which was shown in the awful struggles he had to undergo before he found his way to the Cross-was not wholly purged out of the Reformer. Luther not only tolerated the presence of images in the churches, like Zwingle; for the sake of the weak; he feared to displace them even when the worshippers desired their removal. He believed they might be helpful. Carlstadt denounced these tendencies and weaknesses as Popery. The minds of the men of Orlamunde were getting inflamed by the violence of his harangues; commotions were rising, and the Elector sent Luther to Orlamunde to smooth the troubled waters. A little reflection might have taught Frederick that his presence was more likely to bring on a tempest; for the Reformer was beginning to halt in that equanimity and calm strength which, up till this time, he had been able to exercise in the face of opposition.HOPV1 509.4

    Luther on his way to Orlamünde traveled by Jena, where he arrived on the 21st August, 1524. From this city he wrote to the Elector and Duke John, exhorting them to employ their power in curbing that fanatical spirit, which was beginning to give birth to acts of violence. The exhortation was hardly needed, seeing he was at that moment on a mission from the Elector for that very end. It shows, however, that in Luther’s opinion the Reformation ran more risk from the madness of the fanatic than from the violence of the persecutor: “The fanatic,” he said in his letter, “hates the Word of God, and exclaims, ‘Bible, Bubel, Babel!’ 4Sleidan, bk. 5, pp. 98, 99. 4 Seckendorf. lib. 1, sec. 61, p. 304. What kind of tree is that which bears such fruit as the breaking open of churches and cloisters, and the burning of images and saints? Christians ought to use the Word, not the hand. The New Testament method of driving out the devil is to convert the heart, and then the devil falls and all his works.” 5Seckendorf. lib. 1, sec. 61, p. 304.HOPV1 509.5

    Next day he preached against insurrectionary tumults, iconoclast violence, and the denial of the real presence in the Eucharist. Afterwards, as he was seated at dinner with the pastor of Jena and the city functionaries, a paper was handed in to him from Carlstadt. “Let him come in,” said Luther. Carlstadt entered. “You attacked me today,” said Carlstadt to the Reformer, “as an author of sedition and assassination; it is false!” “I did not name you,” rejoined Luther; “nevertheless, if the cap fits you, you may put it on.” “I am able to show,” said Carlstadt, “that you have taught contradictions on the subject of the Eucharist.” “Prove your assertion,” rejoined Luther. “I am willing to dispute publicly with you,” replied Carlstadt, “at Wittemberg or at Erfurt, if you will grant me a safe-conduct.”HOPV1 509.6

    “Never fear that,” said Luther. “You tie my hands and my feet and then you strike me!” exclaimed Carlstadt with warmth. “Write against me,” said Luther. “I would,” said the other, “if I knew you to be in earnest.” “Here,” exclaimed Luther, “take that in token of my earnestness,” holding out a gold florin. “I willingly accept the gage,” said Carlstadt. Then holding it out to the company, “Ye are my witnesses,” said he, “that this is my authority to write against Martin Luther.” He bent the florin and put it into his purse. He then extended his hand to Luther, who pledged him in some wine. “The more vigorously you assault me,” said Luther, “the better you will please me.” “It shall not be my fault,” answered Carlstadt, “if I fail.” They drank to one another, and again shaking hands, Carlstadt withdrew.HOPV1 509.7

    The details of this interview are found only in the records of the party adverse to the Reformer, and Luther has charged them with gross exaggeration.HOPV1 510.1

    From Jena, Luther continued his journey, and arrived at Orlamunde in the end of August. The Reformer himself has given us no account of his disputation with Carlstadt. The account which historians commonly follow is that of Reinhard, a pastor of Jena, and an eye-witness. Its accuracy has been challenged by Luther, and, seeing Reinhard was a friend of Carlstadt, it is not improbably colored. But making every allowance, Luther appears to have been too much in haste to open this breach in the Protestant army, and he took the responsibility too lightly, forgetful of the truth which Melchior Adam has enunciated, and which experience has a thousand times verified, “that a single spark will often suffice to wrap in flames a whole forest.” As regards the argument Luther won no victory; he found the waters ruffled, and he lashed them into tempest.HOPV1 510.2

    Assembling the town council and the citizens of Orlamunde, Luther was addressing them when Carlstadt entered. Walking up to Luther, Carlstadt saluted him: “Dear doctor, if you please, I will induct you.” “You are my antagonist,” Luther replied, “I have pledged you with a florin.” “I shall ever be your antagonist,” rejoined the other, “so long as you are an antagonist to God and His Word.” Luther on this insisted that Carlstadt should withdraw, seeing that he could not transact the business on which he had come at the Elector’s command, in his presence. Cartstadt refused, on the ground that it was a free meeting, and if he was in fault why should his presence be feared? On this Luther turned to his attendant, and ordered him to put-to the horses at once, for he should immediately leave the town, whereupon Carlstadt withdrew.HOPV1 510.3

    Being now alone with the men of Orlamunde, Luther proceeded with the business the Elector had sent him to transact, which was to remove their iconoclast prejudices, and quiet the agitation of their city. “Prove to me,” said Luther, opening the discussion, “prove to me by Scripture that images ought to be destroyed.”HOPV1 510.4

    “Mr. Doctor,” rejoined a councillor, “do you grant me thus much-that Moses knew God’s commandments?” Then opening a Bible he read these words: “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, or the likeness of anything.” This was as much as to say, Prove to me from Scripture that images ought to be worshipped.HOPV1 510.5

    “That passage refers to images of idols only,” responded Luther. “If I have hung up in my room a crucifix which I do not worship, what harm can it do me? “HOPV1 510.6

    This was Zwingle’s ground; but Luther was not yet able fully to occupy it.HOPV1 510.7

    “I have often,” said a shoemaker, “taken off my hat to an image in a room or on the road; to do so is an act of idolatry, which takes from God the glory that is due to Him alone.”HOPV1 510.8

    “Because of their being abused, then,” replied Luther, “we ought to destroy women, and pour out wine into the streets.”HOPV1 510.9

    “No,” was the reply; “these are God’s creatures, which we are not commanded to destroy.”HOPV1 510.10

    It is easy to see that images were not things of mere indifference to Luther. He could not divest himself of a certain veneration for them. He feared to put forth his hand and pull them down, nor would he permit those that would. Immediately on the close of the discussion he left Orlamunde, amid very emphatic marks of popular disfavor. It was the one field, of the many on which he contended, from which he was fated to retire with dishonor.HOPV1 510.11

    Carlstadt did not stop here. He began to throw his influence into the scale of the visionaries, and to declaim bitterly against Luther and the Lutherans. This was more than the Elector Frederick could endure. He ordered Carlstadt to quit his dominions; and the latter, obeying, wandered southward, in the direction of Switzerland, propagating wherever he came his views on the Supper; but venting, still more zealously and loudly, his hatred of Luther, whom he accused as the author of all his calamities. The aged Elector, at whose orders he had quitted Saxony, was beginning to fear that the Reformation was advancing too far. His faith in the Reformed doctrine continued to grow, and was only the stronger the nearer he came to his latter end, which was now not far off; but the political signs dismayed him. The unsettling of men’s minds, and the many new and wild notions that were vented, and which were the necessary concomitants of the great revolution in progress, caused him alarm. The horizon was darkening all round, but the good Frederick went to his grave in peace, and saw not those tempests which were destined to shake the world at the birth of Protestantism.HOPV1 510.12

    All was peace in the chamber where Frederick the Wise breathed his last. On the 4th of May (1525) he dictated to an amanuensis his last instructions to his brother John, who was to succeed him, and who was then absent with the army in Thuringia. He charged him to deal kindly and tenderly with the peasantry, and to remit the duties on wine and beer. “Be not afraid,” he said, “Our Lord God will richly and graciously compensate us in other ways.” 6Seckendorf, lib.2, sec. 2 In the evening Spalatin entered the prince’s apartment. “It is right,” said his old master, a smile lighting up his face, “that you should come to see a sick man.” His chair was rolled to the table, and placing his hand in Spalatin’s, he unburdened his mind to him touching the Reformation. His words showed that the clouds that distressed him had rolled away. “The hand of God,” said he, “will guide all to a happy issue.”HOPV1 512.1

    On the morning of the following day he received the Sacrament in both kinds. The act was witnessed by his domestics, who stood around dissolved in tears. Imploring their forgiveness, if in anything he had offended then, he bade them all farewell. A will which had been prepared some years before, and in which he had confided his soul to the “Mother of God,” was now brought forth and burned, and another dictated, in which he placed his hopes solely on “the merits of Christ.” This was the last of his labours that pertained to earth; and now he gave all his thoughts to his departure, which was near. Taking into his hand a small treatise on spiritual consolation, which Spalatin had prepared for his use, he essayed to read; but the task was too much for him. Drawing near his couch, his chaplain recited some promises from the Word of God, of which the Elector, in his latter years, had been a diligent and devout student. A serenity and refreshment of soul came along with the words; and at five of the afternoon he departed so peacefully, that it was only by bending over him that his physician saw he had ceased to breathe. 7Seckendorf, lib.2, sec. 2HOPV1 512.2

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