The changes were the result of his continued study of the Bible and the Fathers, and his personal conferences with Roman and Reformed divines at Augsburg and in the colloquies of Frankfort, Hagenau, Worms, and Ratisbon. He calls them elucidations of obscurities, moderations of extreme views, and sober second thoughts.475
1. He denied at first, with Luther and Augustin, all freedom of the human will in spiritual things.476 He even held the Stoic doctrine of the necessary occurrence of all actions, bad as well as good, including the adultery of David and the treason of Judas as well as the conversion of Paul.477
But on closer examination, and partly under the influence of Erasmus, he abandoned this stoic fatalism as a dangerous error, inconsistent with Christianity and morality. He taught instead a co-operation of the divine and human will in the work of conversion; thus anticipating Arminianism, and approaching the older semi-Pelagianism, but giving the initiative to divine grace. "God," he said in 1535, "is not the cause of sin, and does not will sin; but the will of the Devil and the will of man are the causes of sin." Human nature is radically, but not absolutely and hopelessly, corrupt; it can not without the aid of the Holy Spirit produce spiritual affections such as the fear and love of God, and true obedience; but it can accept or reject divine grace. God precedes, calls, moves, supports us; but we must follow, and not resist. Three causes concur in the conversion,—the word of God, the Holy Spirit, and the will of man. Melanchthon quotes from the Greek Fathers who lay great stress on human freedom, and he accepts Chrysostom’s sentence: "God draws the willing."
He intimated this synergistic view in the eighteenth article of the altered Augsburg Confession, and in the German edition of the Apology of the Confession. But he continued to deny the meritoriousness of good works; and in the colloquy of Worms, 1557, he declined to condemn the doctrine of the slavery of the human will, because Luther had adhered to it to the end. He was willing to tolerate it as a theological opinion, although he himself had rejected it.
2. As to the Lord’s Supper, he first accepted Luther’s view under the impression that it was supported by the ancient Church. But in this he was shaken by Oecolampadius, who proved (1530) that the Fathers held different opinions, and that Augustin did not teach an oral manducation. After 1534 he virtually gave up for himself, though he would not condemn and exclude, the conception of a corporeal presence and oral manducation of the body and blood of Christ; and laid the main stress on the spiritual, yet real presence and communion with Christ.
He changed the tenth article of the Augsburg Confession in 1540, and made it acceptable to Reformed divines by omitting the anti-Zwinglian clause. But he never accepted the Zwinglian theory of a mere commemoration. His later eucharistic theory closely approached that of Calvin; while on the subject of predestination and free will he differed from him. Calvin, who had written a preface to the French translation of the Loci Theologici, expressed, in private letters, his surprise that so great a theologian could reject the Scripture doctrine of eternal predestination; yet they maintained an intimate friendship to the end, and proved that theological differences need not prevent religious harmony and fraternal fellowship.
3. Melanchthon never surrendered the doctrine of justification by faith; but he laid in his later years, in opposition to antinomian excesses, greater stress on the necessity of good works of faith, not indeed as a condition of salvation and in a sense of acquiring merit, but as an indispensable proof of the duty of obedience to the divine will.
These doctrinal changes gave rise to bitter controversies after Luther’s death, and were ultimately rejected in the Formula of Concord (1577), but revived again at a later period. Luther himself never adopted and never openly opposed them.
The Loci of Melanchthon met from the start with extraordinary favor. Edition after edition appeared in Wittenberg during the author’s lifetime, the last from his own hand in the year 1559, besides a number of contemporaneous reprints at Basel, Hagenau, Strassburg, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Halle, and many editions after his death.
Luther had an extravagant opinion of them, and even declared them worthy of a place in the Canon.478 He thought that his translation of the Bible, and Melanchthon’s Loci, were the best outfit of a theologian, and almost superseded all other books.479
The Loci became the text-book of Lutheran theology in the universities, and took the place of Peter Lombard’s Sentences. Strigel and Chemnitz wrote commentaries on them. Leonhard Hutter likewise followed them, till he published a more orthodox compend (1610) which threw them into the shade and even out of use during the seventeenth century.
The theological manual of Melanchthon proved a great help to the Reformation. The Romanists felt its power. Emser called it a new Koran and a pest. In opposition to them, he and Eck wrote Loci Catholici.480
Melanchthon’s Loci are the ablest theological work of the Lutheran Church in the sixteenth century. Calvin’s Institutes (1536) equal them in freshness and fervor, and surpass them in completeness, logical order, philosophical grasp, and classical finish.
It is remarkable that the first and greatest dogmatic systems of the Reformation proceeded from these two lay-theologians who were never ordained by human hands, but received the unction from on high.481 So the twelve apostles were not baptized by Christ with water, but with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
§ 65. Protestant Radicalism. Disturbances at Erfurt. I. Letters of Luther from May, 1521, to March, 1522, to Melanchthon, Link, Lange, Spalatin, etc., in De Wette, vol. II.
II. F. W. Kampschulte: Die Universität Erfurt in ihrem Verh. zu dem Humanismus und der Reformation. Trier, 1858. Second part, chs. III. and IV. pp. 106 sqq.
III. Biographies of Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt, by Füsslin (1776), Jäger (Stuttgart, 1856), Erbkam (in Herzogii, VII. 523 sqq.).
IV. Gieseler, IV. 61–65 (Am. ed.). Marheineke, chs. X. and XI. (I. 303 sqq.). Merle D’AuB., bk. IX. chs. 6–8. Köstlin, bk. IV. chs. 3 and 4 (I. 494 sqq.). Ranke, II. 7–26. Janssen, II. 204–227.
While Luther and Melanchthon laid a solid foundation for an evangelical church and evangelical theology, their work was endangered by the destructive zeal of friends who turned the reformation into a revolution. The best thing may be undone by being overdone. Freedom is a two-edged sword, and liable to the worst abuse as well as to the best use. Tares will grow up in every wheat-field, and they sometimes choke the wheat. But the work of destruction was overruled for the consolidation of the Reformation. Old rotten buildings had to be broken down before a new one could be constructed.
The Reformation during its first five years was a battle of words, not of deeds. It scattered the seeds of new institutions all over Germany, but the old forms and usages still remained. The new wine had not yet burst the old skin bottles. The Protestant soul dwelt in the Catholic body. The apostles after the day of Pentecost continued to visit the temple and the synagogue, and to observe circumcision, the sabbath, and other customs of the fathers, hoping for the conversion of all Israel, until they were cast out by the Jewish hierarchy. So the Protestants remained in external communion with the mother Church, attending Latin mass, bowing before the transubstantiated elements on the altar, praying the Ave Maria, worshiping saints, pictures, and crucifixes, making pilgrimages to holy shrines, observing the festivals of the Roman calendar, and conforming to the seven sacraments which accompanied them at every step of life from the cradle to the grave. The bishops were still in charge of their dioceses, and unmarried priests and deacons performed all the ecclesiastical functions. The convents were still occupied by monks and nuns, who went through their daily devotions and ascetic exercises. The outside looked just as before, while the inside had undergone a radical change.
This was the case even in Saxony and at Wittenberg, the nursery of the new state of things. Luther himself did not at first contemplate any outward change. He labored and hoped for a reformation of faith and doctrine within the Catholic Church, under the lead of the bishops, without a division, but he was now cast out by the highest authorities, and came gradually to see that he must build a new structure on the new foundation which he h ad laid by his writings and by the translation of the New Testament.
The negative part of these changes, especially the abolition of the mass and of monasticism, was made by advanced radicals among his disciples, who had more zeal than discretion, and mistook liberty for license.
While Luther was confined on the Wartburg, his followers were like children out of school, like soldiers without a captain. Some of them thought that he had stopped half way, and that they must complete what he had begun. They took the work of destruction and reconstruction into their own inexperienced and unskillful hands. Order gave way to confusion, and the Reformation was threatened with disastrous failure.
The first disturbances broke out at Erfurt in June, 1521, shortly after Luther’s triumphant passage through the town on his way to Worms. Two young priests were excommunicated for taking part in the enthusiastic demonstrations. This created the greatest indignation. Twelve hundred students, workmen, and ruffians attacked and demolished in a few days sixty houses of the priests, who escaped violence only by flight.482
The magistrate looked quietly on, as if in league with the insurrection. Similar scenes of violence were repeated during the summer. The monks under the lead of the Augustinians, forgetting their vows, left the convents, laid aside the monastic dress, and took up their abode among the people to work for a living, or to become a burden to others, or to preach the new faith.
Luther saw in these proceedings the work of Satan, who was bringing shame and reproach on the gospel.483 He feared that many left the cloister for the same reason for which they had entered, namely, from love of the belly and carnal freedom.484
During these troubles Crotus, the enthusiastic admirer of Luther, resigned the rectorship of the university, left Erfurt, and afterwards returned to the mother Church. The Peasants’ War of 1525 was another blow. Eobanus, the Latin poet who had greeted Luther on his entry, accepted a call to Nürnberg. The greatest celebrities left the city, or were disheartened, and died in poverty.
From this time dates the decay of the university, once the flourishing seat of humanism and patriotic aspirations. It never recovered its former prosperity.
§ 66. The Revolution at Wittenberg. Carlstadt and the New Prophets. See Lit. in § 65.
In Wittenberg the same spirit of violence broke out under the lead of Luther’s older colleague, Andreas Carlstadt, known to us from his ill success at the Leipzig disputation. He was a man of considerable originality, learning, eloquence, zeal, and courage, but eccentric, radical, injudicious, ill-balanced, restless, and ambitious for leadership.
He taught at first the theology of mediaeval scholasticism, but became under Luther’s influence a strict Augustinian, and utterly denied the liberty of the human will.
He wrote the first critical work on the Canon of the Scriptures, and anticipated the biblical criticism of modern times. He weighed the historic evidence, discriminated between three orders of books as of first, second, and third dignity, putting the Hagiographa of the Old Testament and the seven Antilegomena of the New in the third order, and expressed doubts on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He based his objections to the Antilegomena, not on dogmatic grounds, as Luther, but on the want of historical testimony; his opposition to the traditional Canon was itself traditional; he put ante-Nicene against post-Nicene tradition. This book on the Canon, however, was crude and premature, and passed out of sight.485
He invented some curious and untenable interpretations of Scripture, e.g., of the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. He referred the word "this," not to the bread, but to the body of Christ, so as to mean: "I am now ready to offer this (body) as a sacrifice in death." He did not, however, publish this view till 1524, and afterwards made common cause with Zwingli.
Carlstadt preached and wrote, during Luther’s absence, against celibacy, monastic vows, and the mass. At Christmas, 1521, he omitted in the service the most objectionable parts of the Canon of the mass, and the elevation of the host, and distributed both wine and bread to a large congregation. He announced at the same time that he would lay aside the priestly dress and other ceremonies. Two days afterwards he was engaged to the daughter of a poor nobleman in the presence of distinguished professors of the university, and on Jan. 20, 1522, he was married. He gave improper notoriety to this act by inviting the whole university and the magistrate, and by publishing a book in justification of it.
He was not, however, the first priest who openly burst the chains of celibacy. Bartholomäus Bernhardi of Feldkirchen, a Wittenberg licentiate and newly elected Probst at Kemberg, and two other priests of less reputable character, had preceded him in 1521. Justus Jonas followed the example, and took a wife Feb. 10, 1522, to get rid of temptations to impurity (1 Cor. 7:12). Luther approved of these marriages, but did not intend at that time to follow the example.
Carlstadt went further, and maintained that no priest without wife and children should receive an appointment (so he explained "must" in 1 Tim. 3:2); that it was sin to commune without the cup; and that the monastic vow of celibacy was not binding, at least not before the sixtieth year of age, chastity being a free gift of God, and not at man’s disposal. He introduced a new legalism instead of the old, in violation of the principle of evangelical liberty and charity.
He also denounced pictures and images as dumb idols, which were plainly forbidden in the second commandment, and should be burnt rather than tolerated in the house of God. He induced the town council to remove them from the parish church; but the populace anticipated the orderly removal, tore them down, hewed them to pieces, and burnt them. He assailed the fasts, and enjoined the people to eat meat and eggs on fast-days. He repudiated all titles and dignities, since Christ alone was our Master (Matt. 23:8). He expressed contempt for theology and all human learning, because God had revealed the truth unto babes (Matt. 11:25), and advised the students to take to agriculture, and earn their bread in the sweat of their face (Gen. 3:19). He cast away his priestly and academic robes, put on a plain citizen’s dress, afterwards a peasant’s coat, and had himself called brother Andrew. He ran close to the border of communism. He also opposed the baptism of infants. He lost himself in the clouds of a confused mysticism and spiritualism, and appealed, like the Zwickau Prophets, to immediate inspirations.
In the beginning of November, 1521, thirty of the forty monks left the Augustinian convent of Wittenberg in a rather disorderly manner. One wished to engage in cabinet making, and to marry. The Augustinian monks held a congress at Wittenberg in January, 1522, and unanimously resolved, in accordance with Luther’s advice, to give liberty of leaving or remaining in the convent, but required in either case a life of active usefulness by mental or physical labor.
The most noted of these ex-monks was Gabriel Zwilling or Didymus, who preached in the parish church during Luther’s absence, and was esteemed by some as a second Luther. He fiercely attacked the mass, the adoration of the sacrament, and the whole system of monasticism as dangerous to salvation.
About Christmas, 1521, the revolutionary movement was reinforced by two fanatics from Zwickau, Nicolaus Storch, a weaver, and Marcus Thomä Stübner.486 The latter had previously studied with Melanchthon, and was hospitably entertained by him. A few weeks afterwards Thomas Münzer, a millennarian enthusiast and eloquent demagogue, who figures prominently in the Peasants’ War, appeared in Wittenberg for a short time. He had stirred up a religious excitement among the weavers of Zwickau in Saxony on the Bohemian frontier, perhaps in some connection with the Hussites or Bohemian Brethren, and organized the forces of a new dispensation by electing twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples. But the magistrate interfered, and the leaders had to leave.
These Zwickau Prophets, as they were called, agreed with Carlstadt in combining an inward mysticism with practical radicalism. They boasted of visions, dreams, and direct communications with God and the Angel Gabriel, disparaged the written word and regular ministry, rejected infant baptism, and predicted the overthrow of the existing order of things, and the near approach of a democratic millennium.
We may compare Carlstadt and the Zwickau Prophets with the Fifth Monarchy Men in the period of the English Commonwealth, who were likewise millennarian enthusiasts, and attempted, in opposition to Cromwell, to set up the "Kingdom of Jesus" or the fifth monarchy of Daniel.
Wittenberg was in a very critical condition. The magistrate was discordant and helpless. Amsdorf kept aloof. Melanchthon was embarrassed, and too modest and timid for leadership. He had no confidence in visions and dreams, but could not satisfactorily answer the objections to infant baptism, which the prophets declared useless because a foreign faith of parents or sponsors could not save the child. Luther got over this difficulty by assuming that the Holy Spirit wrought faith in the child.
The Elector was requested to interfere; but he dared not, as a layman, decide theological and ecclesiastical questions. He preferred to let things take their natural course, and trusted in the overruling providence of God. He believed in Gamaliel’s counsel, which is good enough in the preparatory and experimental stages of a new movement. His strength lay in a wise, cautious, peaceful diplomacy. But at this time valor was the better part of discretion.
The only man who could check the wild spirit of revolution, and save the ship of the Reformation, was Luther.
§ 67. Luther returns to Wittenberg. Walch, XV. 2374–2403. De Wette, II. 137 sqq.
Luther was informed of all these disturbances. He saw the necessity of some changes, but regretted the violence with which they had been made before public opinion was prepared, and he feared a re-action which radicalism is always likely to produce. The Latin mass as a sacrifice, with the adoration of the host, the monastic institution, the worship of saints, images and relics, processions and pilgrimages, and a large number of superstitious ceremonies, were incompatible with Protestant doctrines. Worship had sooner or later to be conducted in the vernacular tongue; the sacrifice of the mass must give way to a commemorative communion; the cup must be restored to the laity, and the right of marriage to the clergy. He acquiesced in these changes. But about clerical vestments, crucifixes, and external ceremonies, he was indifferent; nor did he object to the use of pictures, provided they were not made objects of worship. In such matters he asserted the right of Christian freedom, against coercion for or against them. As to the pretended revelations of the new prophets, he despised them, and maintained that an inspired prophet must either be ordinarily called by church authority, or prove his divine commission by miracles.
He first went to Wittenberg in disguise, and spent three days there in December, 1621. He stayed under the roof of Amsdorf, and dared not show himself in the convent or on the street.
When the disturbances increased, he felt it his duty to reappear openly on the arena of conflict. He saw from the Wartburg his own house burning, and hastened to extinguish the flames. The Elector feared for his safety, as the Edict of Worms was still in force, and the Diet of Nürnberg was approaching. He ordered him to remain in his concealment. Luther was all his life an advocate of strict submission to the civil magistrates in their own proper sphere; but on this occasion be set aside the considerations of prudence, and obeyed the higher law of God and his conscience. His reply to the Elector (whom be never met personally) bears noble testimony to his sublime faith in God’s all-ruling providence. It is dated Ash Wednesday (March 5, 1522), from Borne, south of Leipzig. He wrote in substance as follows:487—
"Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, and my most humble service.
"Most illustrious, high-born Elector, most gracious Lord! I received the letter and warning of your Electoral Grace on Friday evening [Feb. 26], before my departure [March 1]. That your Electoral Grace is moved by the best intention, needs no assurance from me. I also mean well, but this is of no account .... If I were not certain that we have the pure gospel on our side, I would despair .... Your Grace knows, if not, I make known to you, that I have the gospel, not from men, but from heaven through our Lord Jesus Christ .... I write this to apprise you that I am on my way to Wittenberg under a far higher protection than that of the Elector; and I have no intention of asking your Grace’s support. Nay, I believe that I can offer your Highness better protection than your Highness can offer me. Did I think that I had to trust in the Elector, I should not come at all. The sword is powerless here. God alone must act without man’s interference. He who has most faith will be the most powerful protector. As I feel your Grace’s faith to be still weak, I can by no means recognize in you the man who is to protect and save me. Your Electoral Grace asks me, what you are to do under these circumstances? I answer, with all submission, Do nothing at all, but trust in God alone .... If your Grace had faith, you would behold the glory of God; but as you do not yet believe, you have not seen it. Let us love and glorify God forever. Amen."
Being asked by the Elector to give his reasons for a return, he assigned, in a letter of March 7, from Wittenberg,488 three reasons: the urgent written request of the church at Wittenberg; the confusion in his flock; and his desire to prevent an imminent outbreak. "My second reason," he wrote, "is that during my absence Satan has entered my sheepfold, and committed ravages which I can not repair by writing, but only by my personal presence and living word. My conscience would not allow me to delay longer; I was bound to disregard, not only your Highness’s disfavor, but the whole world’s wrath. It is my flock, the flock intrusted to me by God; they are my children in Christ. I could not hesitate a moment. I am bound to suffer death for them, and will cheerfully with God’s grace lay down my life for them, as Christ commands (John 10:12)."
Luther rode without fear through the territory of his violent enemy, Duke George of Saxony, who was then urging the Elector to severe measures against him and the Wittenbergers. He informed the Elector that he would pass through Leipzig, as he once went to Worms, though it should rain Duke Georges for nine days in succession, each fiercer than the original in Dresden.