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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 9 — History of Protestantism From the Diet of Worms, 1521, to the Augsburg Confession, 1530

Chapter 2 — The abolition of the mass

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Friar Zwilling – Preaches against the Mass – Attacks the Monastic Orders – Bodenstein of Carlstadt – Dispenses the Supper – Fall of the Mass at Wittenberg – Other Changes – The Zwickau Prophets – Nicholas Stork – Thomas Munzer – InfantBaptism Denounced – The New Gospel – Disorders at Wittenberg – Rumors wafted to the Wartburg – Uneasiness of Luther – He Leaves the Wartburg – Appears at Wittenberg – His Sermon – A Week of Preaching – A Great Crisis – It is Safely Passed.

THE master-spirit was withdrawn, but the work did not stop. Events of great importance took place at Wittenberg during Luther's ten months' sojourn in the Wartburg. The Reformation was making rapid advances. The new doctrine was finding outward expression in a new and simpler worship. [1]

Gabriel Zwilling, an Augustine friar, put his humble hand to the work which the great monk had begun. He began to preach against the mass in the convent church the same in which Luther's voice had often been heard. The doctrine he proclaimed was substantially the same with that which Zurich was teaching in Switzerland, that the Supper is not a sacrifice, but a memorial. He condemned private masses, the adoration of the elements, and required that the Sacrament should be administered in both kinds. The friar gained converts both within and outside the monastery. The monks were in a state of great excitement. Wittenberg was disturbed. The court of the elector was troubled, and Frederick appointed a deputation consisting of Justus Jonas, Philip Melanchthon, and Nicholas Amsdorf, to visit the Augustine convent and restore peace. The issue was the conversion of the members of the deputation to the opinions of Friar Gabriel. [2] It was no longer obscure monks only who were calling for the abolition of the mass; the same cry was raised by the University, the great school of Saxony. Many who had listened calmly to Luther so long as his teaching remained simply a doctrine, stood aghast when they saw the practical shape it was about to take. They saw that it would change the world of a thousand years past, that it would sweep away all the ancient usages, and establish an order of things which neither they nor their fathers had known. They feared as they entered into this new world.

The friar, emboldened by the success that attended his first efforts, attacked next the monastic order itself. He denounced the "vow" as without warrant in the Bible, and the "cloak" as covering only idleness and lewdness. "No one," said he, "can be saved under a cowl." Thirteen friars left the convent, and soon the prior was the only person within its walls.

Laying aside their habit, the emancipated monks betook them, some to handicrafts, and others to study, in the hope of serving the cause of Protestantism. The ferment at Wittenberg was renewed. At this time it was that Luther's treatise on "Monastic Vows" appeared. He expressed himself in it with some doubtfulness, but the practical conclusion was that all might be at liberty to quit the convent, but that no one should be obliged to do so.

At this point, Andrew Bodenstein of Carlstadt, commonly called Carlstadt, Archdeacon of Wittenberg, came forward to take a prominent part in these discussions. Carlstadt was bold, zealous, honest, but not without a touch of vanity. So long as Luther was present on the scene, his colossal figure dwarfed that of the archdeacon; but the greater light being withdrawn for the time, the lesser luminary aspired to mount into its place. The "little sallow tawny man" who excelled neither in breadth of judgment, nor in clearness of ideas, nor in force of eloquence, might be seen daily haranguing the people, on theological subjects, in an inflated and mysterious language, which, being not easily comprehensible, was thought by many to envelope a rare wisdom. His efforts in the main were in the right direction. He objected to clerical and monastic celibacy, he openly declared against private masses, against the celebration of the Sacrament in one kind, and against the adoration of the Host.

Carlstadt took an early opportunity of carrying his views into practice. On Christmas Day, 1521, he dispensed the Sacrament in public in all the simplicity of its Divine institution. He wore neither cope nor chasuble. With the dresses he discarded also the genuflections, the crossings, kissings, and other attitudinisings of Rome; and inviting all who professed to hunger and thirst for the grace of God, to come and partake, he gave the bread and the wine to the communicants, saying, "This is the body and blood of our Lord." He repeated the act on New Year's Day, 1522, and continued ever afterwards to dispense the Supper with the same simplicity. [3] Popular opinion was on his side, and in January, the Town Council, in concurrence with the University, issued their order, that henceforward the Supper should be dispensed in accordance with the primitive model. The mass had fallen.

With the mass fell many things which grew out of it, or leaned upon it. No little glory and power departed from the priesthood. The Church festivals were no longer celebrated. In the place of incense and banners, of music and processions, came the simple and sublime worship of the heart.

Clerical celibacy was exchanged for virtuous wedlock. Confessions were carried to that Throne from which alone comes pardon. Purgatory was first doubted, then denied, and with its removal much of the bitterness was taken out of death. The saints and the Virgin were discarded, and lo! as when a veil is withdrawn, men found themselves in the presence of the Divine Majesty. The images stood neglected on their pedestals, or were torn down, ground to powder, or cast into the fire. The latter piece of reform was not accomplished without violent tumults.

The echoes of these tumults reverberated in the Wartburg. Luther began to fear that the work of

Reformation was being converted into a work of demolition. His maxim was that these practical reforms, however justifiable in themselves, should not outrun the public intelligence; that, to the extent to which they did so, the reform was not real, but fictitious: that the error in the heart must first be dethroned, and then the idol in the sanctuary would be cast out. On this principle he continued to wear the frock of his order, to say mass, to observe his vow as a celibate, and to do other things the principle of which he had renounced, though the time, he judged, had not arrived for dropping the form. Moderation was a leading characteristic of all the Reformers. Zwingli, as we have already seen, followed the same rule in Switzerland. His naive reply to one who complained of the images in the churches, showed considerable wisdom.

"As for myself," said Zwingli, "they don't hurt me, for I am short-sighted."

In like manner Luther held that external objects did not hurt faith, provided the heart did not hang upon them. Immensely different, however, is the return to these things after having been emancipated from them. [4]

At this juncture there appeared at Wittenberg a new set of reformers, who seemed bent on restoring human traditions, and the tyranny of man from a point opposite to that of the Pope. These men are known as the "Zwickau Prophets," from the little town of Zwickau, in which they took their rise.

The founder of the new sect was Nicholas Stork, a weaver. Luther had restored the authority of the Bible; this was the corner-stone of his Reformation. Stork sought to displace this cornerstone. "The Bible," said he, "is of no use." And what did he put in the room of it? A new revelation which he pretended had been made to himself. The angel Gabriel, he affirmed, had appeared to him in a vision, and said to him, "Thou shalt sit on my throne." A sweet and easy way, truly, of receiving Divine communications! as Luther could not help observing, when he remembered his own agonies and terrors before coming to the knowledge of the truth. [5]

Stork was joined by Mark Thomas, another weaver of Zwickau; by Mark Stubner, formerly a student at Wittenberg; and by Thomas Munzer, who was the preacher of the "new Gospel." That Gospel comprehended whatever Stork was pleased to say had been revealed to him by the angel Gabriel. He especially denounced infant baptism as an invention of the devil, and called on all disciples to be re-baptised, hence their name "Anabaptists." The spread of their tenets was followed by tumults in Zwickau. [6] The magistrates interfered: the new prophets were banished: Munzer went to Prague; Stork, Thomas, and Stubner took the road to Wittenberg.

Stork unfolded gradually the whole of that revelation which he had received from the angel, but which he had deemed it imprudent to divulge all at once. The "new Gospel," when fully put before men, was found to involve the overthrow of all established authority and order in Church and State; men were to be guided by an inward light, of which the new prophets were the medium. They foretold that in a few years the present order of things would be brought to an end, and the reign of the saints would begin. [7] Stork was to be the monarch of the new kingdom. Attacking Protestantism from apparently opposite poles, there was nevertheless a point in which the Romanists and the Zwickau fanatics met–namely, the rejection of Divine revelation, and the subjection of the conscience to human reason–the reason of Adrian VI., the son of the Utrecht mechanic, on the one side, and the reason of Nicholas Stork, the Zwickau weaver, on the other.

These men found disciples in Wittenberg. The enthusiasm of Carlstadt was heated still more; many of the youth of the University forsook their studies, deeming them useless in presence of an internal illumination which promised to teach them all they needed to know without the toil of learning. The Elector was dismayed at this new outbreak: Melanchthon was staggered, and felt himself powerless to stem the torrent. The enemies of the Reformation were exultant, believing that they were about to witness its speedy disorganization and ruin. Tidings reached the Wartburg of what was going on at Wittenberg. Dismay and grief seized Luther to see his work on the point of being wrecked. He was distracted between his wish to finish his translation of the New Testament, and his desire to return to Wittenberg, and combat on the spot the new-sprung fanaticism.

All felt that he alone was equal to the crisis, and many voices were raised for his return. Every line he translated was an additional ray of light, to fall in due time upon the darkness of his countrymen. How could he tear hinmelf from such a task? And yet every hour that elapsed, and found him still in the Wartburg, made the confusion and mischief at Wittenberg worse. At last, to his great joy, he finished his German version of the New Testament, and on the morning of the 3rd March, 1522, he passed out at the portal of his castle. He might be entering a world that would call for his blood; the ban of the Empire was suspended over him; the horizonwas black with storms; nevertheless he must go and drive away the wolves that had entered his fold. He traveled in his knight's incognito–a red mantle, trunk-hose, doublet, feather, and sword–not without adventures by the way. On Friday, the 7th of March, he entered Wittenberg.

The town, the University, the council, were electrified by the news of his arrival. "Luther is come," said the citizens, as with radiant faces they exchanged salutations with one another in the streets. A tremendous load had been lifted off the minds of all. The vessel of the Reformation was drifting upon the

rocks; some waited in terror, others in expectation for the crash, when suddenly the pilot appeared and grasped the helm.

At Worms was the crisis of the Reformer: at Wittenberg was the crisis of the Reformation. Is it demolition, confusion, and ruin only which Protestantism can produce? Is it only wild and unruly passions which it knows to let loose? Or can it build up? Is it able to govern minds, to unite hearts, to extinguish destructive principles, and plant in their stead reorganising and renovating influences? This was to be the next test of the Reformation. The disorganization reigning at Wittenberg was a greater danger than the sword of Charles V. The crisis was a serious one. On the Sunday morning after his arrival, Luther entered the parish church, and presented himself with calm dignity and quiet self-composure in the old pulpit. Only ten short months had elapsed since he last stood there; but what events had been crowded into that short period! The Diet at Worms: the Wartburg: the funeral of a Pope: the eruption of the Turk: the war between France and Spain; and, last and worst of all, this outbreak at Wittenberg, which threatened ruin to that cause which was the one hope of a world menaced by so many dangers.

Intense excitement, yet deep stillness, reigned in the audience. No element of solemnity was absent. The moment was very critical. The Reformation seemed to hang trembling in the balance. The man was the same, yet chastened, and enriched. Since last he stood before them, he had become invested with a greater interest, for his appearance at Worms had shed a halo not only around himself, but on Germany also: the invisibility in which he had since dwelt, where, though they saw him not, they could hear his voice, had also tended to increase the interest. And now, issuing from his concealment, he stood in person before them, like one of the old prophets who were wont to appear suddenly at critical moments of their nation.

Never had Luther appeared grander, and never was he more truly great. He put a noble restraint upon himself. He who had been as an "iron wall" to the emperor, was tender as a mother to his erring flock. He began by stating, in simple and unpretending style, what he said were the two cardinal doctrines of revelation–the ruin of man, and the redemption in Christ. "He who believes on the Savior," he remarked, "is freed from sin."

Thus he returned with them to his first starting-point, salvation by free grace in opposition to salvation by human merit, and in doing so he reminded them of what it was that had emancipated them from the bondage of penances, absolutions, and so many rites enslaving to the conscience, and had brought them into liberty and peace. Coming next to the consideration of the abuse of that liberty into which they were at that moment in some danger of falling, he said faith was not enough, it became them also to have charity. Faith would enable each freely to advance in knowledge, according to the gift of the Spirit and his own capacity; charity would knit them together, and harmonize their individual progress with their corporate unity. He willingly acknowledged the advance they had made in his absence; nay, some of them there were who excelled himself in the knowledge of Divine things; but it was the duty of the strong to bear with the weak. Were there those among them who desired the abolition of the mass, the removal of images, and the instant and entire abrogation of all the old rites? He was with them in principle. He would rejoice if this day there was not one mass in all Christendom, nor an image in any of its churches; and he hoped this state of things would speedily be realised. But there were many who were not able to receive this, who were still edified by these things, and who would be injured by their removal. They must proceed according to order, and have regard to weak brethren. "My friend," said the preacher, addressing himself to the more advanced, "have you been long enough at the breast? It is well. But permit your brother to drink as long as yourself."

He strongly insisted that the "Word" which he had preached to them, and which he was about to give them in its written form in their mother tongue, must be their great leader. By the Word, and not the sword, was the Reformation to be propagated. "Were I to employ force," he said, "what should I gain? Grimace, formality, apings, human ordinances, and hypocrisy,... but sincerity of heart, faith, charity, not at all. Where these three are wanting, all is wanting, and I would not give a pear-stalk for such a result." [8]

With the apostle he failed not to remind his hearers that the weapons of their warfare were not carnal, but spiritual. The Word must be freely preached; and this Word must be left to work in the heart; and when the heart was won, then the man was won, but not till then. The Word of God had created heaven and earth, and all things, and that Word must be the operating power, and "not we poor sinners." His own history he held to be an example of the power of the Word. He declared God's Word, preached and wrote against indulgences and Popery, but never used force; but this Word, while he was sleeping, or drinking his tankard of Wittenberg ale with Philip and Amsdorf, worked with so mighty a power, that the Papacy had been weakened and broken to such a degree as no prince or emperor had ever been able to break it. Yet he had done nothing: the Word had done all.

This series of discourses was continued all the week through. All the institutions and ordinances of the Church of Rome,

the preacher passed in review, and applied the same principle to them all. After the consideration of the question of the mass, he went on to discuss the subject of images, of monasticism, of the confessional, of forbidden meats, showing that these things were already abrogated in principle, and all that was needed to abolish them in practice, without tumult, and without offense to any one, was just the diffusion of the doctrine which he preached. Every day the great church was crowded, and many flocked from the surrounding towns and villages to these discourses.

The triumph of the Reformer was complete. He had routed the Zwickau fanatics without even naming them. His wisdom, his moderation, his tenderness of heart, and superiority of intellect carried the day, and the new prophets appeared in comparison small indeed. Their "revelations" were exploded, and the Word of God was restored to its supremacy. It was a great battle–greater in some respects than that which Luther had fought at Worms. The whole of Christendom was interested in the result.

At Worms the vessel of Protestantism was in danger of being dashed upon the Scylla of Papal tyranny: at Wittenberg it was in jeopardy of being engulfed in the Charybdis of fanaticism. Luther had guided it past the rocks in the former instance: in the present he preserved it from being swallowed up in the whirlpool.

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