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The Catholic and the Lutheran Church

Elector John succeeded Frederick the Wise in 1525 and was much more in agreement with Lutheran ideas. He set up, in Saxony, an organisation called "The Visitation". This consisted of two government officials and two theologians, and it replaced the Bishops. This team made sure that Churches in Saxony were the same, checked up on the Clergy and were responsible for the well-being of the people.

This was a direct confrontation with the power of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, but the political nature of the times meant the Pope had no way of stopping it from happening. It gave the rulers of all the other states which accepted the Lutheran Reformation a chance to gain control of the Church and all it's power quickly and easily. the German rulers, therefore, had a self-interest in spreading Luther's ideas.

The Peasants' War

This was not really a Peasant's uprising but was led by smallholders and craftsmen from the towns. It lasted from June 1524 to May 1525. It was a rebellion against the treatment of the poor by the rich and was, therefore, aimed at the nobility who taxed people too heavily and treated them unfairly. Monasteries were attacked and some monks killed. On the whole, the "peasants" were not that violent but the aristocracy was. A professional army - the Swabian League - under General Truchsess, made sure that the revolt was violently suppressed. As many as 100,000 "peasants" were killed, usually after the battles had ended.

Luther's reaction

Martin Luther

Portrait of Martin Luther

Luther was becoming concerned that events, such as the Peasant's War and the setting up of a Church controlled by the State of Saxony, were distracting people from the real task of salvation in Heaven.

Other people too, such as Erasmus, were increasingly worried that all the "good" in the Catholic Church was being thrown out with the "bad".

Desiderius Erasmus

Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus by Hans Holbein (1523)

The Effects of Lutheranism

One of the greatest changes that had taken place as a result of Luther and his writings was that many German rulers accepted the Reformation - East Prussia, Hesse, Brandenburg, Schlerwig, Brunswick, Nurenberg, Ulm, Straaburg, Augsburg and Magdeburg, all left the Roman Catholic Church between 1525 and 1531.

One of the consequences of this change from a Catholic to a Lutheran Church  was that Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, now felt that his orders which had been issued at the Diet of Worms in 1521, were being ignored. Not only was there conflict between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, but a conflict also existed between the Holy Roman Emperor and the German princes.

By 1529 the radical changes that had developed in "Germany" were beginning to calm down. This did not mean the end of the Reformation, however, because Zurich and Zwingli became the focus of new upheavals.

Protestantism

In 1529 Charles V summoned a Diet at Speyer. Here a few of the "Lutheran" princes protested about Charles' attempts to make them conform to Catholicism. These Protestant princes, by 1539, had got together to defend themselves religiously and politically from the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. They called themselves the Schmalkaldic League.

Political intrigues

Protestants found support from several areas outside Germany, otherwise the Reformation may well have been stamped out. Charles V, as King of Spain, was at war with France in 1527. The Pope, Clement VIII, was an ally of France. The French wanted a decided and weak "Germany" in order to maintain a "second front" against Charles V. The Protestants were also protected because of the threat from the Ottoman Turks on Charles V's Horganion lands.

Comparing Four Reformers opens in a new window)

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© Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2014

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.