aA
aA
aA
History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
« Prev Ulrich von Hutten and Luther Next »

§ 42. Ulrich von Hutten and Luther.


Böcking’s edition of Ulrichi Hutteni equitis Germani Opera. Lips, 185–1861. 5 vols. with three supplements, 1864–1870. Davie, Friedrich Strauss (the author of the Leben Jesu): Gespräche von Ulrich von Hutten, übersetzt und erläutert, Leipz. 1860, and his biography of Ulrich von Hutten, 4th ed., Bonn, 1878 (pp. 567). A masterly work by a congenial spirit. Compare K. Hagen, Deutschlands liter. und Rel. Verh. in Reformationszeitalter, II. 47–60; Ranke, D. Gesch. I. 289–294; Janssen, II. 53 sqq. Werckshagen: Luther u. Hutten, 1888.


While Luther acquired in Melanchthon, the head of the Christian and theological wing of the humanists, a permanent and invaluable ally, he received also temporary aid and comfort from the pagan and political wing of the humanists, and its ablest leader, Ulrich von Hutten.

This literary Knight and German patriot was descended from an ancient but impoverished noble family of Franconia. He was born April 21, 1488, and began life, like Erasmus, as an involuntary monk; but he escaped from Fulda in his sixteenth year, studied humanities in the universities of Erfurt, Cologne, and Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, law at Pavia and Bologna, traveled extensively, corresponded with the most prominent men of letters, was crowned as poet by the Emperor Maximilian at Augsburg (1517), and occupied an influential position at the court of Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz (1517–1520), who had charge of the sale of indulgences in Germany.

He took a lively part in Reuchlin’s conflict with the obscurantism of the Dominicans of Cologne.226226    Triumphus Capnionis (κάπνιος = Reuchlin), a poem written in 1514, but not published till 1518 under the pseudo-name of Eleutherius Byzenus. Works, III. 413-447; Strauss, U. v. H., 155 sq. He is, next to his friend Crotus of Erfurt, the chief author of the Epistolae obscurorum Virorum, that barbarous ridicule of barbarism, in which the ignorance, stupidity, bigotry, and vulgarity of the monks are exposed by factitious letters in their own wretched Latin with such success that they accepted them at first as genuine, and bought a number of copies for distribution.227227    First published 1515 [at Hagenau], and 1517 at Basel; best ed. by Böcking, in Hutten’s Opera, Suppl. i. Lips. (1864), and commentary in Suppl. ii. (1869); an excellent critical analysis by Strauss, l.c. 165 sqq. He compares them with Don Quixote. The first book of the Epist. is chiefly from Crotus, the second chiefly from Hutten. The comic impression arises in great part from the barbarous Latinity, and is lost in a translation. There is, however, a good German translation by Dr. Wilhelm Binder: Briefe von Dunkelmännern. Stuttgart, 1876. The translator says he knew twenty-seven Latin editions, but no translation. He vigorously attacked the abuses and corruptions of the Church, in Latin and German pamphlets, in poetry and prose, with all the weapons of learning, common-sense, wit, and satire. He was, next to Luther, the boldest and most effective polemical writer of that period, and was called the German Demosthenes on account of his philippics against Rome. His Latin is better than Luther’s, but his German far inferior. In wit and power of ridicule he resembles Lucian; at times he reminds one of Voltaire and Heine. He had a burning love of German liberty and independence. This was his chief motive for attacking Rome. He laid the axe at the root of the tree of tyranny. His motto was, "Iacta est alea. Ich hab’s gewagt."228228    "The die is cast. I have ventured it." An allusion to the exclamation of Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon, and marched to Rome.

He republished in 1518 the tract of Laurentius Valla on the Donation of Constantine, with an embarrassing dedication to Pope Leo X., and exposed on German soil that gigantic fraud on which the temporal power of the papacy over all Christian Europe was made to rest. But his chief and most violent manifesto against Rome is a dialogue which he published under the name "Vadiscus, or the Roman Trinity," in April, 1520, a few months before Luther’s "Address to the German Nobility" (July) and his "Babylonian Captivity" (October). He here groups his experiences in Rome under several triads of what abounds in Rome, of what is lacking in Rome, of what is forbidden in Rome, of what one brings home from Rome, etc. He puts them into the mouth of a Roman consul, Vadiscus, and makes variations on them. Here are some specimens:229229    Strauss, U. v. H., p. 285 sqq., 289; and his translation, in Hutten’s Gespr. p. 94 sqq., 114 sqq. I have omitted the interlocutories in the dialogue. Vadiscus is Hutten’s friend Crotus of Erfurt (also Luther’s friend); and Ernhold is his friend Arnold Glauberger, with whom he had been in Rome.


"Three things keep Rome in power: the authority of the Pope, the bones of the saints, and the traffic in indulgences.

"Three things are in Rome without number: strumpets, priests, and scribes.

"Three things abound in Rome: antiquities, poison, and ruins.

"Three things are banished from Rome: simplicity, temperance, and piety (or, in another place: poverty, the ancient discipline, and the preaching of the truth).

"Three things the Romans trade in: Christ, ecclesiastical benefices, and women.

"Three things everybody desires in Rome: short masses, good gold, and a luxurious life.

"Three things are disliked in Rome: a general council, a reformation of the clergy, and the fact that the Germans begin to open their eyes.

"Three things displease the Romans most: the unity of the Christian princes, the education of the people, and the discovery of their frauds.

"Three things are most valued in Rome: handsome women, fine horses, and papal bulls.

"Three things are in general use in Rome: luxury of the flesh, splendor in dress, and pride of the heart.

"Three things Rome can never get enough of: money for the episcopal pallium, monthly, and annual incomes from vacant benefices.230230    Allusion to the papal claims to fill the ecclesiastical vacancies which occurred during the long months (January, March, etc.), and to receive the annates,i.e, the first year’s income from every spiritual living worth more than twenty-four ducats per annum. Luther, in his Address to the German Nobility, characterizes this papal avarice as downright robbery.

"Three things are most praised and yet most rare in Rome. devotion, faith and innocence.

"Three things Rome brings to naught: a good conscience, devotion, and the oath.

"Three things are necessary in Rome to gain a lawsuit: money, letters of recommendation, and lies.

"Three things pilgrims usually bring back from Rome: a soiled conscience, a sick stomach, and an empty purse.

"Three things have kept Germany from getting wisdom: the stupidity of the princes, the decay of learning, and the superstition of the people.

"Three things are feared most in Rome: that the princes get united, that the people begin to open their eyes, and that Rome’s frauds are coming to light.

"Three things only could set Rome right: the determination of the princes, the impatience of the people, and an army of Turks at her doors."


This epigrammatic and pithy form made the dialogue popular and effective. Even Luther imitated it when, in his "Babylonian Captivity," he speaks of three walls, and three rods of the Papists. Hutten calls the Roman court a sink of iniquity, and says that for centuries no genuine successor of Peter had sat on his chair in Rome, but successors and imitators of Simon Magus, Nero, Domitian, and Heliogabalus.

As a remedy for these evils, he advises, not indeed the abolition of the papacy, but the withdrawal of all financial support from Germany, a reduction of the clerical force, and the permission of clerical marriage; by these means, luxury and immorality would at least be checked.

It is characteristic of the church of that age, that Hutten was on terms of intimacy with the first prelate of Germany, even while he wrote his violent attacks on Rome, and received a salary, and afterwards a pension, from him. But he lauded Albrecht to the skies for his support of liberal learning. He knew little of, and cared less for, doctrinal differences. His policy was to fight the big Pope of Rome with the little Pope of Germany, and to make the German emperor, princes, and nobles, his allies in shaking off the degrading yoke of foreign tyranny. Possibly Albrecht may have indulged in the dream of becoming the primate of an independent Catholic Church of Germany.

Unfortunately, Hutten lacked moral purity, depth, and weight. He was Frank, brave, and bold, but full of conceit, a restless adventurer, and wild stormer; able to destroy, but unable to build up. In his twentieth year he had contracted a disgusting disease which ruined him physically, and was used by his Roman opponents to ruin him morally. He suffered incredibly from it and from all sorts of quack remedies, for ten years, was attacked by it again after his cure, and yet maintained the vigor and freshness of his spirit.231231    He himself speaks very frankly of his Morbus Gallicus, or Malum Franciaeand its horrible effects, without asserting his innocence. Strauss discusses it fully with a belief in his guilt, yet pity for his sufferings and admiration for his endurance. "Er hatte," he says(U. v. H., p. 241),"den Jugendfehler, dessen wir ihn schuldig achten, in einem Grade zu büssen, welcher selbst des unerbittlichsten Sittenrichters Strenge in Mitleid verwandeln muss .... Man weiss nicht was schrecklicher ist, die Beschreibung die uns Hutten von seinem Zustande, oder die er uns von den Quälereien macht, welche von unverständigen Aerzten als Curen über ihn verhängt wurden."

Hutten hailed the Wittenberg movement, though at first only as "a quarrel between two hot-headed monks who are shouting and screaming against each other" and hoped "that they would eat each other up." After the Leipzig disputation, he offered to Luther (first through Melanchthon) the aid of his pen and sword, and, in the name of his noble friend the Knight Franz von Sickingen, a safe retreat at Ebernburg near Kreuznach, where Martin Bucer, Johann Oecolampadius, and other fugitives from convents, and sympathizers with reform, found a hospitable home. He sent him his books with notes, that he might republish them.

But Luther was cautious. He availed himself of the literary and political sympathy, but only as far as his theological and religious position allowed. He respected Reuchlin, Erasmus, Crotus, Mutian, Pirkheimer, Hutten, and the other humanists, for their learning and opposition to monkery and priestcraft; be fully shared the patriotic indignation against Romish tyranny: but he missed in them moral earnestness, religious depth, and that enthusiasm for the pure gospel which was his controlling passion. He aimed at reformation, they at illumination. He did not relish the frivolous satire of the Epistolae obscurorum virorum; he called them silly, and the author a Hans Wurst (Jack Sausage); he would grow indignant, and weep rather than laugh, over the obscurantism and secret vices of the monks, though he had as keen a sense of the ridiculous as Crotus and Hutten. He deprecated, moreover, the resort to physical force in a spiritual warfare, and relied on the power of the Word of God, which had founded the Church, and which must reform the Church. His letters to Hutten are lost, but he wrote to Spalatin (Jan. 16, 1521): "You see what Hutten wants. I would not have the gospel defended by violence and murder. In this sense I wrote to him. By the Word the world was conquered; by the Word the Church was preserved; by the Word she will be restored. Antichrist, as he began without violence, will be crushed without violence, by the Word."

Hutten was impatient. He urged matters to a crisis. Sickingen attacked the Archbishop and Elector of Trier (Treves) to force the Reformation into his territory; but he was defeated, and died of his wounds in the hands of his enemies, May 7, 1522. Within one month all his castles were captured and mostly burnt by the allied princes; two of his sons were banished, a third was made prisoner. Luther saw in this disaster a judgment of God, and was confirmed in his aversion to the use of force.232232    E. Münch, Fr. v. Sickingen. Stuttgart, 1827 sqq. 3 vols. Strauss, l.c. p. 488. Ullmann, Franz v. Sickingen, Leipzig, 1872.

Hutten fled, a poor and sick exile, from Germany to Basel, and hoped to find a hospitable reception by Erasmus, his former friend and admirer; but he was coldly refused by the cautious scholar, and took bitter revenge in an unsparing attack on his character. He then went to Zürich, and was kindly and generously treated by Zwingli, who provided him with books and money, and sent him first to the hot bath of Pfeffers, and then to a quiet retreat on the island of Ufnau in the Lake of Zürich, under medical care. But he soon died there, of the incurable disease of his youth, in August, 1523, in the Prime of life (thirty-five years and four months of age), leaving nothing but his pen and sword, and the lesson: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).

With Hutten and Sickingen the hope of a political reconstruction of Germany through means of the Reformation and physical force was destroyed. What the knights failed to accomplish, the peasants could still less secure by the general revolt two years later. But notwithstanding these checks, the Reformation was bound to succeed with spiritual weapons.



« Prev Ulrich von Hutten and Luther Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |