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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 68. Luther restores Order in Wittenberg.—The End of Carlstadt.


I. Eight Sermons of Luther preached from Sunday, March 7 (Invocavit) to the next Sunday (Reminiscere), after his return to Wittenberg. The oldest editions, slightly varying in length, appeared 1523. Altenb. ed., II. 99 sqq.; Walch, XV. 2423 sqq.: XX. 1–101; Erl. ed., XXVIII. 202–285 (both recensions). Luther’s Letters to Spalatin, the Elector, and others from March, 1522, in De Wette, II. 144 sqq.

II. Of modern historians, Marheineke, Merle D’Aubigné, Ranke, Hagenbach, and Köstlin (I. 537–549) may be compared.


On the Sunday after his arrival, Luther ascended his old pulpit, and re-appeared before his congregation of citizens and students. Wittenberg was a small place; but what he said and did there, and what Calvin did afterwards in Geneva, had the significance of a world-historical fact, more influential at that time than an encyclical from Rome.

Protestantism had reached a very critical juncture. Luther or Carlstadt, reformation or revolution, the written Word or illusive inspirations, order or confusion: that was the question. Luther was in the highest and best mood, full of faith in his cause, and also full of charity for his opponents, strong in matter, sweet in manner, and completely successful. He never showed such moderation and forbearance before or after.

He preached eight sermons for eight days in succession, and carried the audience with him. They are models of effective popular eloquence, and among the best he ever preached. He handled the subject from the stand-point of a pastor, with fine tact and practical wisdom. He kept aloof from coarse personalities which disfigure so many of his polemical writings. Not one unkind word, not one unpleasant allusion, escaped his lips. In plain, clear, strong, scriptural language, he refuted the errors without naming the errorists. The positive statement of the truth in love is the best refutation of error.486486    The ἀληθεύειν ἐν ἀγάπῃ, Eph. 4:15.

The ruling ideas of these eight discourses are: Christian freedom and Christian charity; freedom from the tyranny of radicalism which would force the conscience against forms, as the tyranny of popery forces the conscience in the opposite direction; charity towards the weak, who must be trained like children, and tenderly dealt with, lest they stumble and fall. Faith is worthless without charity. No man has a right to compel his brother in matters that are left free; and among these are marriage, living in convents, private confession, fasting and eating, images in churches. Abuses which contradict the word of God, as private masses, should be abolished, but in an orderly manner and by proper authority. The Word of God and moral suasion must be allowed to do the work. Paul preached against the idols in Athens, without touching one of them; and yet they fell in consequence of his preaching.

"Summa summarum," said Luther, "I will preach, speak, write, but I will force no one; for faith must be voluntary. Take me as an example. I stood up against the Pope, indulgences, and all papists, but without violence or uproar. I only urged, preached, and declared God’s Word, nothing else. And yet while I was asleep, or drinking Wittenberg beer with my Philip Melanchthon and Amsdorf, the Word inflicted greater injury on popery than prince or emperor ever did. I did nothing, the Word did every thing. Had I appealed to force, all Germany might have been deluged with blood; yea, I might have kindled a conflict at Worms, so that the Emperor would not have been safe. But what would have been the result? Ruin and desolation of body and soul. I therefore kept quiet, and gave the Word free course through the world. Do you know what the Devil thinks when he sees men use violence to propagate the gospel? He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: ’Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit. I delight in it.’ But when he sees the Word running and contending alone on the battle-field, then he shudders and shakes for fear. The Word is almighty, and takes captive the hearts."487487    Erl. ed., XXVIII. 219 and 260 (second sermon). The allusion to the drinking of "Wittenbergisch Bier mit meinem Philippo und Amsdorf" (p. 260) is omitted in the shorter edition, which has instead: "wenn ich bin guter Dinge gewesen" (p. 219).

Eloquence rarely achieved a more complete and honorable triumph. It was not the eloquence of passion and violence, but the eloquence of wisdom and love. It is easier to rouse the wild beast in man, than to tame it into submission. Melanchthon and the professors, the magistrate and peaceful citizens, were delighted. Dr. Schurf wrote to the Elector, after the sixth discourse: "Oh, what joy has Dr. Martin’s return spread among us! His words, through divine mercy, are bringing back every day misguided people into the way of the truth. It is as clear as the sun, that the Spirit of God is in him, and that he returned to Wittenberg by His special providence."

Most of the old forms were restored again, at least for a season, till the people were ripe for the changes. Luther himself returned to the convent, observed the fasts, and resumed the cowl, but laid it aside two years afterwards when the Elector sent him a new suit. The passage in the mass, however, which referred to the unbloody repetition of the sacrifice and the miraculous transformation of the elements, was not restored, and the communion in both kinds prevailed, and soon became the universal custom. The Elector himself, shortly before his death (May 5, 1525), communed with the cup.

Didymus openly acknowledged his error, and declared that Luther preached like an angel.488488    Luther speaks favorably of him, and recommended him to a pastoral charge at Altenburg. See his letters in De Wette, II. 170, 183, 184. But the Zwickau Prophets left Wittenberg for ever, and abused the Reformer as a new pope and enemy of spiritual religion. Münzer stirred up the Peasants’ War, and met a tragic fate.489489    He published at Nürnberg, 1524, a self-defense "Wider das geistlose sanftlebende Fleisch zu Wittenberg," and called Luther an "Arch-heathen," "Arch-scamp," "Wittenberg Pope," "Babylonian Woman," "Dragon," "Basilisk," etc.

Carlstadt submitted silently, but sullenly. He was a disappointed and unhappy man, and harbored feelings of revenge against Luther. Ranke characterizes him as "one of those men, not rare among Germans, who with an inborn tendency to profundity unite the courage of rejecting all that is established, and defending all that others reject, without ever rising to a clear view and solid conviction." He resumed his lectures in the university for a time; but in 1523 he retired to a farm in the neighborhood, to live as "neighbor Andrew" with lowly peasants, without, however, resigning the emoluments of his professorship. He devoted himself more fully than ever to his mystical speculations and imaginary inspirations. He entered into secret correspondence with Münzer, though he never fully approved his political movements. He published at Jena, where he established a printing-press, a number of devotional books under the name of "a new layman," instead of Doctor of Theology. He induced the congregation of Orlamünde to elect him their pastor without authority from the academic Senate of Wittenberg which had the right of appointment, and introduced there his innovations in worship, storming the altars and images. In 1524 be openly came out with his novel theory of the Lord’s Supper in opposition to Luther, and thus kindled the unfortunate eucharistic controversy which so seriously interfered with the peace and harmony of the Reformers. He also sympathized with the Anabaptists.490490    Nevertheless, in 1526 he invited Luther and his wife, Melanchthon and Jonas, as sponsors at the baptism of a new-born son in the village of Segren near Wittenberg. He lived after his return from exile in very humble circumstances, barely making a living from the sale of cakes and beer. Luther after long forbearance gave him up as incorrigible.491491    His writings against Carlstadt, in Walch, X., XV., and XX., and in Erl. ed., LXIV. 384-408. His book Wider die himmlischen Propheten (1525) is chiefly directed against Carlstadt. In the Table Talk (Erl. ed., LXI. 911 he calls Carlstadt and Münzer incarnate devils. With his consent, Carlstadt was exiled from Saxony (1524), but allowed to return on a sort of revocation, and on condition of keeping silence (1525). He evaded another expulsion by flight (1528). He wandered about in Germany in great poverty, made common cause with the Zwinglians, gave up some of his extravagant notions, sobered down, and found a resting-place first as pastor in Zürich, and then as professor of theology in Basel (1534–1541), where during the raging of a pestilence he finished his erratic career.



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