History of the christian church

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This volume constitutes the first part of
by Philip Schaff
It is included as Volume VII in the 8-volume
Volume VIII in this series, on the Swiss

Reformation, completes the 2-volume unit

on he The History of the Reformation


of the


professor of church history in the union theological seminary

new york

Christianus sum: Christiani nihil a me alienum puto



This is a reproduction of the Second Edition, Revised

I publish the history of the Reformation in advance of the concluding volume on the Middle Ages, which will follow in due time.

The Reformation was a republication of primitive Christianity, and the inauguration of modern Christianity. This makes it, next to the Apostolic age, the most important and interesting portion of church history. The Luther and Zwingli celebrations of 1883 and 1884 have revived its memories, and largely increased its literature; while scholars of the Roman Church have attempted, with great ability, an ultramontane reconstruction of the history of Germany and Europe during the period of the Reformation. The Cultur-Kampf is still going on. The theological battles of the sixteenth century are being fought over again in modern thought, with a slow but steady approach to a better understanding and filial settlement. Protestantism with its freedom can afford to be fair and just to Romanism, which is chained to its traditions. The dogma of papal infallibility is fatal to freedom of investigation. Facts must control dogmas, and not dogmas facts. Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is the aim of the historian; but truth should be told in love (Eph. 4:15).

The signs of the times point to a new era in the ever onward March of Christ’s kingdom. God alone foreknows the future, and sees the end from the beginning. We poor mortals know only "in part," and see "in a mirror, darkly." But, as the plans of Providence unfold themselves, the prospect widens, old prejudices melt away, and hope and charity expand with our vision. The historian must be impartial, without being neutral or indifferent. He must follow the footsteps of Divine Providence, which shapes our ends, and guides all human events in the interest of truth, righteousness, and peace.

I have collected much material for a comprehensive history of the Reformation, in the libraries of Europe, during several summer visits (thirteen in all), and digested it at home. I have studied the Luther literature in Berlin, the Zwingli literature in Zuerich, the Calvinistic literature in Geneva and Paris, the English and Scotch Reformation in London, Oxford, and Edinburgh. Two years ago I revisited, with great satisfaction, the classical localities made memorable by the Reformation,—Wittenberg, Eisleben, Eisenach, the Wartburg, Halle, Leipzig, Jena, Weimar, Erfurt, Gotha, Heidelberg, Zuerich, Geneva,—and found kind friends and Christian brethren everywhere. At Marburg, Coburg, Augsburg, I had been before. By way of contrast I made in the same year an interesting tour through Roman-Catholic Spain, the land of Ferdinand and Isabel, Charles V., Philip II., and Ignatius Loyola, and compared her former and present state with the Protestant North. In Italy I have been three times, including a three-months sojourn in Rome. A visit to the places of events brings one nearer to the actors, and puts one almost into the position of a witness.

This volume embraces, besides a general introduction to modern church history, the productive period of the German Reformation, from its beginning to the Diet of Augsburg (1530), and the death of Luther (1546), with a concluding estimate of the character and services of this extraordinary man. I have used the new Weimar edition of his works as far as published; for the other parts, Walch and the Erlangen edition. Of modern Protestant historians I have chiefly consulted Ranke (my teacher), and Koestlin (my friend), with whose views, on Luther and the Reformation I am in essential harmony. I have also constantly compared the learned Roman-Catholic works of Doellinger, and Janssen, besides numerous monographs. The reader will find classified lists of the sources and literature in all leading sections (e.g., pp. 94, 99, 183, 272, 340, 399, 421, 494, 579, 612, 629, 695, 706), and occasional excursions into the field of the philosophy of church history (as in the introductory chapter, and in §§ 49, 56, 63, 79, 87, 99, etc.). In these I have endeavored to interpret the past in the light of the present, and to make the movements of the sixteenth century more intelligible through their results in the nineteenth. For we must judge the tree by its fruits. "God’s mills grind slowly, but wonderfully fine."

I am conscious of the defects of this new attempt to reproduce the history of the Reformation, which has so often been told by friend and foe, but too often in a partisan spirit. I have done the best I could. God expects no more from his servants than faithfulness in the use of their abilities and opportunities.

The Author.
New York, September, 1888.

1517 – 1648.
mediaeval and modern christianity


§ 1. The Turning Point of Modern History.

§ 2. Protestantism and Romanism.

§ 3. Necessity of a Reformation.

§ 4. The Preparations for the Reformation.

§ 5. The Genius and Aim of the Reformation.

§ 6. The Authority of the Scriptures.

§ 7. Justification by Faith.

§ 8. The Priesthood of the Laity.

§ 9. The Reformation and Rationalism.

§ 10. Protestantism and Denominationalism.

§ 11. Protestantism and Religious Liberty.

§ 12. Religious intolerance and Liberty in England and America.

§ 13. Chronological Limits.

§ 14. General Literature on the Reformation.


§ 15. Literature of the German Reformation.

§ 16. Germany and the Reformation.

§ 17. The Luther Literature.

§ 18. Luther’s Youth and Training.

§ 19. Luther in the University of Erfurt.

§ 20. Luther’s Conversion.

§ 21. Luther as a Monk.

§ 22. Luther and Staupitz.

§ 23. The Victory of Justifying Faith.

§ 24. Luther Ordained to the Priesthood.

§ 25. Luther in Rome.

§ 26. The University of Wittenberg.

§ 27. Luther as Professor till 1517.

§ 28. Luther and Mysticism. The Theologia Germanica.

§ 29. The Penitential Psalms. The Eve of the Reformation.
§ 30. The Sale of Indulgences.

§ 31. Luther and Tetzel.

§ 32. The Ninety-five Theses. Oct. 31, 1517.

§ 33. The Theses-Controversy. 1518.

§ 34. Rome’s Interposition. Luther and Prierias. 1518.

§ 35. Luther and Cajetan. October, 1518.

§ 36. Luther and Miltitz. January, 1519.

§ 37. The Leipzig Disputation. June 27-July 15, 1519.

§ 38. Philip Melanchthon. Literature (Portrait).

§ 39. Melanchthon’s Training.

§ 40. Melanchthon’s Early Labors.

§ 41. Luther and Melanchthon.

§ 42. Ulrich von Hutten and Luther.

§ 43. Luther’s Crusade against Popery. 1520.

§ 44. Address to the German Nobility.

§ 45. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. October, 1520.

§ 46. Christian Freedom.—Luther’s Last Letter to the Pope. October, 1520.

§ 47. The bull of Excommunication. June 15, 1520.

§ 48. Luther burns the Pope’s bull, and forever breaks with Rome. Dec. 10, 1520.

§ 49. The Reformation and the Papacy.

§ 50. Charles V.

§ 51. The Ecclesiastical Policy of Charles V.

§ 52. The Abdication of Charles, and his Cloister Life.

§ 53. The Diet of Worms. 1521.

§ 54. Luther’s Journey to Worms.

§ 55. Luther’s Testimony before the Diet. April 17 and 18, 1521.

§ 56. Reflections on Luther’s Testimony at Worms.

§ 57. Private Conferences with Luther. The Emperors Conduct.

§ 58. The Ban of the Empire. May 8 (26), 1521.

§ 59. State of Public Opinion. Popular Literature.

§ 60. A New Phase in the History of the Reformation.

§ 61. Luther at the Wartburg. 1521–1522.

§ 62. Luther’s Translation of the Bible.

§ 63. A Critical Estimate of Luther’s Version.

§ 64. Melanchthon’s Theology.

§ 65. Protestant Radicalism. Disturbances at Erfurt.

§ 66. The Revolution at Wittenberg. Carlstadt and the New Prophets.

§ 67. Luther returns to Wittenberg.

§ 68. Luther restores Order in Wittenberg.—The End of Carlstadt.

§ 69. The Diets of Nuernberg, A.D. 1522–1524. Adrian VI.

§ 70. Luther and Henry VIII

§ 71. Erasmus.

§ 72. Erasmus and the Reformation.

§ 73. The Free-will Controversy. 1524–1527.

§ 74. Wilibald Pirkheimer.

§ 75. The Peasants’ War. 1523–1525.



§ 76. The Three Electors.

§ 77. Luther’s Marriage. 1525.

§ 78. Luther’s Home Life.

§ 79. Reflections on Clerical Family Life.

§ 80. Reformation of Public Worship.

§ 81. Prominent Features of Evangelical Worship.

§ 82. Beginnings of Evangelical Hymnody.

§ 83. Common Schools.

§ 84. Reconstruction of Church Government and Discipline.

§85. Enlarged Conception of the Church. Augustin, Wiclif, Hus, Luther.

§ 86. Changes in the Views on the Ministry. Departure from the Episcopal Succession. Luther ordains a Deacon, and consecrates a Bishop.

§ 87. Relation of Church and State.

§ 88. Church Visitation in Saxony.

§ 89. Luther’s Catechisms. 1529.

§ 90. The Typical Catechisms of Protestantism.
§ 91. Causes and Means of Progress.

§ 92. The Printing-Press and the Reformation.

§ 93. Protestantism in Saxony.

§ 94. The Reformation in Nuernberg.

§ 95. The Reformation in Strassburg. Martin Bucer.

§ 96. The Reformation in North Germany.

§ 97. Protestantism in Augsburg and South Germany.

§ 98. The Reformation in Hesse, and the Synod of Homberg. Philip of Hesse, and Lambert of Avignon.

§ 99. The Reformation in Prussia. Duke Albrecht and Bishop Georg Von Polenz.

§ 100. Protestant Martyrs.

§ 101. Sacerdotalism and Sacramentalism.

§ 102. The Anabaptist Controversy. Luther and Huebmaier.

§ 103. The Eucharistic Controversy.

§ 104. Luther’s Theory before the Controversy.

§ 105. Luther and Carlstadt.

§ 106. Luther and Zwingli.

§ 107. The Marburg Conference, A.D. 1529. (With Facsimile of Signatures.)

§ 108. The Marburg Conference continued. Discussion and Result.

§ 109. Luther’s Last Attack on the Sacramentarians. His Relation to Calvin.

§ 110. Reflections on the Ethics of the Eucharistic Controversy.

§ 111. The Eucharistic Theories compared. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin.
§ 112. The First Diet of Speier, and the Beginning of the Territorial System. 1526.

§ 113. The Emperor and the Pope. The Sacking of Rome, 1527.

§ 114. A War Panic, 1528.

§ 115. The Second Diet of Speier, and the Protest of 1529.

§ 116. The Reconciliation of the Emperor and the Pope.

The Crowning of the Emperor. 1529.

§ 117. The Diet of Augsburg.

§ 118. The Negotiations, the Recess, the Peace of Nuernberg.

§ 119. The Augsburg Confession.

§ 120. The Roman Confutation and the Protestant Apology.

§ 121. The Tetrapolitan Confession.

§ 122. Zwingli’s Confession to the Emperor Charles.

§ 123. Luther at the Coburg.

§ 124. Luther’s Public Character, and Position in History.

§ 125. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.

FROM A.D. 1517 TO 1648.
Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.—2 Cor. 3:17.
§ 1. The Turning Point of Modern History.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century is, next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history. It marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times. Starting from religion, it gave, directly or indirectly, a mighty impulse to every forward movement, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization.

The age of the Reformation bears a strong resemblance to the first century. Both are rich beyond any other period in great and good men, important facts, and permanent results. Both contain the ripe fruits of preceding, and the fruitful germs of succeeding ages. They are turning points in the history of mankind. They are felt in their effects to this day, and will be felt to the end of time. They refashioned the world from the innermost depths of the human soul in its contact, with the infinite Being. They were ushered in by a providential concurrence of events and tendencies of thought. The way for Christianity was prepared by Moses and the Prophets, the dispersion of the Jews, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the language and literature of Greece, the arms and laws of Rome, the decay of idolatry, the spread of skepticism, the aspirations after a new revelation, the hopes of a coming Messiah. The Reformation was preceded and necessitated by the corruptions of the papacy, the decline of monasticism and scholastic theology, the growth of mysticism, the revival of letters, the resurrection of the Greek and Roman classics, the invention of the printing press, the discovery of a new world, the publication of the Greek Testament, the general spirit of enquiry, the striving after national independence and personal freedom. In both centuries we hear the creative voice of the Almighty calling light out of darkness.

The sixteenth century is the age of the renaissance in religion, literature, and art. The air was stirred by the spirit of progress and freedom. The snows of a long winter were fast, melting before the rays of the vernal sun. The world seemed to be renewing its youth; old things were passing away, all things were becoming new. Pessimists and timid conservatives took alarm at the threatened overthrow of cherished notions and institutions, and were complaining, fault-finding and desponding. A very useless business. Intelligent observers of the signs of the times looked hopefully and cheerfully to the future. "O century!" exclaimed Ulrich von Hutten, "the studies flourish, the spirits are awake, it is a luxury to live." And Luther wrote in 1522: "If you read all the annals of the past, you will find no century like this since the birth of Christ. Such building and planting, such good living and dressing, such enterprise in commerce, such a stir in all the arts, has not been since Christ came into the world. And how numerous are the sharp and intelligent people who leave nothing hidden and unturned: even a boy of twenty years knows more nowadays than was known formerly by twenty doctors of divinity."

The same may be said with even greater force of the nineteenth century, which is eminently an age of discovery and invention, of enquiry and progress. And both then as now the enthusiasm for light and liberty takes two opposite directions, either towards skepticism and infidelity, or towards a revival of true religion from its primitive sources. But Christianity triumphed then, and will again regenerate the world.

The Protestant Reformation assumed the helm of the liberal tendencies and movements of the renaissance, directed them into the channel of Christian life, and saved the world from a disastrous revolution. For the Reformation was neither a revolution nor a restoration, though including elements of both. It was negative and destructive towards error, positive and constructive towards truth; it was conservative as well as progressive; it built up new institutions in the place of those which it pulled down; and for this reason and to this extent it has succeeded.

Under the motherly care of the Latin Church, Europe had been Christianized and civilized, and united into a family of nations under the spiritual government of the Pope and the secular government of the Emperor, with one creed, one ritual, one discipline, and one sacred language. The state of heathenism and barbarism at the beginning of the sixth century contrasts with the state of Christian Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century as midnight darkness compared with the dawn of the morning. But the sun of the day had not yet arisen.

All honor to the Catholic Church and her inestimable services to humanity. But Christianity is far broader and deeper than any ecclesiastical organization. It burst the shell of mediaeval forms, struck out new paths, and elevated Europe to a higher plane of intellectual, moral and spiritual culture than it had ever attained before.
§ 2. Protestantism and Romanism.
Protestantism represents the most enlightened and active of modern church history, but not the whole of it.

Since the sixteenth century Western Christendom is divided and runs in two distinct channels. The separation may be compared to the Eastern schism of the ninth century, which is not healed to this day; both parties being as firm and unyielding as ever on the doctrinal question of the Filioque, and the more important practical question of Popery. But Protestantism differs much more widely from the Roman church than the Roman church differs from the Greek, and the Protestant schism has become the fruitful mother of minor divisions, which exist in separate ecclesiastical organizations.

We must distinguish between Catholicism and Romanism. The former embraces the ancient Oriental church, the mediaeval church, and we may say, in a wider sense, all the modern evangelical churches. Romanism is the Latin church turned against the Reformation, consolidated by the Council of Trent and completed by the Vatican Council of 1870 with its dogma of papal absolutism and papal infallibility. Mediaeval Catholicism is pre-evangelical, looking to the Reformation; modern Romanism is anti-evangelical, condemning the Reformation, yet holding with unyielding tenacity the oecumenical doctrines once sanctioned, and doing this all the more by virtue of its claim to infallibility.

The distinction between pre-Reformation Catholicism and post-Reformation Romanism, in their attitude towards Protestantism, has its historical antecedent and parallel in the distinction between pre-Christian Israel which prepared the way for Christianity, and post-Christian Judaism which opposed it as an apostasy.

Catholicism and Protestantism represent two distinct types of Christianity which sprang from the same root, but differ in the branches.

Catholicism is legal Christianity which served to the barbarian nations of the Middle Ages as a necessary school of discipline; Protestantism is evangelical Christianity which answers the age of independent manhood. Catholicism is traditional, hierarchical, ritualistic, conservative; Protestantism is biblical, democratic, spiritual, progressive. The former is ruled by the principle of authority, the latter by the principle of freedom. But the law, by awakening a sense of sin and exciting a desire for redemption, leads to the gospel; parental authority is a school of freedom; filial obedience looks to manly self-government.

The characteristic features of mediaeval Catholicism are intensified by Romanism, yet without destroying the underlying unity.

Romanism and orthodox Protestantism believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in one divine-human Lord and Saviour of the race. They accept in common the Holy Scriptures and the oecumenical faith. They agree in every article of the Apostles’ Creed. What unites them is far deeper, stronger and more important than what divides them.

But Romanism holds also a large number of "traditions of the elders," which Protestantism rejects as extra-scriptural or anti-scriptural; such are the papacy, the worship of saints and relics, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers and masses for the dead, works of supererogation, purgatory, indulgences, the system of monasticism with its perpetual vows and ascetic practices, besides many superstitious rites and ceremonies.

Protestantism, on the other hand, revived and developed the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace; it proclaimed the sovereignty of divine mercy in man’s salvation, the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a rule of faith, and the sufficiency of Christ’s merit as a source of justification; it asserted the right of direct access to the Word of God and the throne of grace, without human mediators; it secured Christian freedom from bondage; it substituted social morality for monkish asceticism, and a simple, spiritual worship for an imposing ceremonialism that addresses the senses and imagination rather than the intellect and the heart.

The difference between the Catholic and Protestant churches was typically foreshadowed by the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity in the apostolic age, which anticipated, as it were, the whole future course of church history. The question of circumcision or the keeping of the Mosaic law, as a condition of church membership, threatened a split at the Council of Jerusalem, but was solved by the wisdom and charity of the apostles, who agreed that Jews and Gentiles alike are "saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11). Yet even after the settlement of the controversy by the Jerusalem compromise Paul got into a sharp conflict with Peter at Antioch on the same question, and protested against his older colleague for denying by his timid conduct his better conviction, and disowning the Gentile brethren. It is not accidental that the Roman Church professes to be built on Peter and regards him as the first pope; while the Reformers appealed chiefly to Paul and found in his epistles to the Galatians and Romans the bulwark of their anthropology and soteriology, and their doctrine of Christian freedom. The collision between Paul and Peter was only temporary; and so the war between Protestantism and Romanism will ultimately pass away in God’s own good time.

The Reformation began simultaneously in Germany and Switzerland, and swept with astonishing rapidity over France, Holland, Scandinavia, Bohemia, Hungary, England and Scotland; since the seventeenth century it has spread by emigration to North America, and by commercial and missionary enterprises to every Dutch and English colony, and every heathen land. It carried away the majority of the Teutonic and a part of the Latin nations, and for a while threatened to overthrow the papal church.

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