Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

were great. The Saxons and the Swiss, Luther and Zwingli, were in fierce controversy about the true doctrine of the sacrament of the Supper. Luther was a patriotic German whd was for ever bewailing the disintegration of the Fatherland; Zwingli was full of plans for confederations of Swiss cantons with South German cities, which could not fail to weaken the empire. Luther had but little trust in the “ common man ”;. Zwingli was a thorough democrat. When Luther thought of the Swiss reformer he muttered as Archbishop Parker did of John Knox“ God keep us from such visitations as Knox hath attempted in Scotland; the people to be orderers of things.” Above all Luther had good grounds for believing that at the conference at Memmingen friends of Zwingli had helped to organize DPeasants War and to link the social revolution to the religious awakening. All these suspicions were in Luther's mind when he consented very half-heatedly to meet Zwingli at a conference to be held in Philip of Hesse's castle at Marburg. The debate proceeded as such debates usually do. Zwingli attacked the weakest part of Luther's theory-the ubiquity of the body of Christ; and Luther attacked Zwingli's exegesis of the words of the institution. Neither sought to bring out their points of agreement. Yet the conference did good; it showed that the Protestants were agreed on all doctrinal points but one. If union was for the present impossible, there were hopes for it in the future. In 1530 the emperor Charles, resolved to crush the Reformation, himself presided at the diet. The Protestant divisions were manifest. Three separate confessions were presented to the emperor-one from Zwingli, one by the theologians of the four cities of Strassbourg, Constance, Lindau and Memmingen (Confessio Tetrapolilana), and the Augsburg Confession, the future symbol of the Lutheran church. The third was the most important, and the emperor seriously set himself to see whether it might not be made the basis of a compromise. He found that reconciliation was hopeless. Thereupon the diet resolved that the edict of Worms was to be enforced against Luther and his partizan's; that the ecclesiastical jurisdictions were to be preserved; and that all the church property taken possession of by the Lutheran princes was to be restored; and that in all cases of dispute the last court of appeal was to be the Imperial Court of Appeals. The last provision meant that the growing Protestantism was to be fought by harassing litigation-nicht fechlen sondern rechten was the phrase.

Luther was not present at the diet nor at the negotiations. He was still an outlaw according to imperial ideas. Melanchthon took his place as leader.

The decision of the diet' compelled the Protestant princes to face the new and alarming situation. They met in conference in mid-winter at the little town of Schmalkald, and laid the foundations of what became the powerful Schmalkald League, which effectually protected the Protestants of Germany until it was broken up by the intrigues of the imperial party. From the time of the formation of this league, Luther retired gradually from the forefront of a reformation movement which had become largely political, and busied himself with reforms in public worship and suggestions for an organization of the polity of the Evangelical church. In this work his natural conservatism is apparent, and he contented himself with such changes as would make room for the action of evangelical principles. He disclaimed the right of suggesting a common order of worship or a uniform ecclesiastical polity; and Lutheran ritual and polity, while presenting common features, did not follow one common use. It may be said generally that while Luther insisted on a service in the vernacular, including the singing of German hymns, he considered it best to retain most of the ceremonies, the vestments and the uses of lights on the altar, which had existed in the unreformed church, while he was careful to explain that their retention might be dispensed with if thought necessary. To the popular mind the great distinction between the Lutheran and the medieval church service, besides the use of the vernacular and the supreme place assigned to preaching, was that the people partook of the cup in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; and the Lutheran service became popularly distinguished from the Reformed because it retained, while the Reformed did away with, most of the medieval ceremonies and vestments (see LUTHERANS). The variations in the details of the polity of the Lutheran churches were very numerous, but they all preserved the same distinctive principles. Two conceptions lay at the basis-the thought of the spiritual priesthood of all believers and the belief that the state was a divine ordinance, that the magistracy might represent the whole body of believers and that discipline and administration might be exercised through courts constituted somewhat like the consistorial courts of the medieval bishops, their members being appointed by the magistracy. The last years of Luther's life were spent in incessant labour disturbed by almost continuous ill-health. He was occupied in trying to unite firmly together the whole evangelical movement; he laboured to give his countrymen a good system of schools; he was on the watch to defeat any attempt of the Roman Curia to regain its hold over Germany; and he was the confidential adviser of a large number of the evangelical princes. Luther's intimacy with his own elector, first John, then John Frederick, helped to give him the place accorded to him by the princes. The chiefs of the Houses of Anhalt and Lüneburg, Duke Henry of Saxony, Joachim II. of Brandenburg, Albert of Brandenburg and the counts of Mansfeld, were among Luther's most devoted supporters and most frequently sought his advice. Princely correspondence was not always pleasant. It took its most disagreeable form when Philip of Hesse besieged Luther with requests to give his sanction to taking a second wife while his first was still alive. Luther's weakness brought the second great blot on his career. The document sanctioning the bigamy of the land grave was signed by Martin Bucer, Luther and Melanchthon, and is a humiliating paper. It may be thus summarized. According to the original commandment of God, marriage is between one man and one woman, and this original precept has been confirmed by our Lord; but sin brought it about that first Lainech, then the heathen, and then Abraham, took more than one wife, and this was permitted under the law. We are now living under the Gospel, which does not give prescribed rules for the external life and has not expressly prohibited bigamy. The law of the land expresses the original commandment of God, and the plain duty of the pastorate is to denounce bigamy. Nevertheless, the pastorate, in single cases of the direst need and to prevent worse, may sanction bigamy in a purely exceptional way. Such a bigamous marriage is a true marriage in the sight of God (the necessity being proved), but it is not a true marriage in the eye of public law and custom. Such a marriage and the dispensation for it ought to be kept secret; if it is made known, the dispensation becomes eo ipso invalid and the marriage is mere concubinage. The principle which underlies this extraordinary paper is probably the conception that the Protestant church has the same dispensing power which the medieval church claimed, but that it was to be exercised altogether apart from fees of any kind.

In his later years Luther became more tolerant on the sacramental question which divided him from the South German cities, although he never departed from his strong opposition to the supposed views of Zwingli himself. He consented to a conference, which, as he was too ill to leave home, met at Wittenberg (May-June 1536). After prolonged discussion the differences were narrowed to one point-the presence of the body of Christ extended in space in the sacrament of the Supper. It was agreed in the Wittenberg Concord to leave this an open question. Thus North and South Germany were united. It is possible that had Luther lived longer his followers might have been united with the Swiss. He repeatedly expressed an admiration for Calvin's writings on the subject of the sacrament; and Melanchthon believed that if the Swiss accepted Ca1vin's theory of the Supper, the Wittenberg Concord could be extended to include them. But the Consensus Tigurinus, which dates the adhesion of the Swiss to the views of Calvin, was not signed until r 549, when Luther was already dead.

Year by year Luther had been growing weaker, his attacks of illness more frequent and his bodily pains more continuous.