A Second-Generation Reformer

Born in 1509, John Calvin only 8 years old when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses in 1517, making him a second generation reformer. Because of this, Calvin’s theology focused on finding common ground between Luther and Zwingli. Calvin encountered Luther’s works in 1534 and identified himself on the side of the Reformation.

Martin Luther brought passion and populism to the Reformation. Calvin brought an intellect, non-emotional approach to faith and helped the Reformation identify its theology.

His attempt to find common ground between Zwingli and Luther ended up forming a third theology. A theology which has spread around the world.

Frederick the Wise, Owner of 19,000 Relics

At the age of 22, Frederick assumed his father’s title of elector of Saxony. He had multiple castles, including locations in Torgau, Wittenberg, Coburg and Wartburg. Some of these would be important in Luther’s life.

Frederick was a Catholic with an extensive relic collection! Among his relics were fragments of the cross, the cradle, the swaddling cloths and others. Eventually Frederick had more than 19,000 relics. What was the reason for all of these relics? He had been taught that venerating relics would aid in getting to heaven. But they were also a tourist attraction and made him money.

Frederick also believed in indulgences. He used some of the money from indulgences to build a bridge near Torgau and to fund the building of his university at Wittenberg. He employed a monk named Johann Tetzel to sell indulgences. Tetzel came around again in 1517 selling indulgences for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But Frederick wasn’t ready for that.  He didn’t want German money to go to Rome!

Tetzel conducted business just over the border. Enter Luther. Luther found out and was outraged. And he posted his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517.

Later in 1521, Frederick arranged to have Luther “kidnapped” and hid him in the Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms.

The Holy Roman Emperor who inherited the Luther problem

Charles V was 20 years old when inherited most of Western Europe! But it wasn’t all good news, most of Western Europe was at war. Charles V became Holy Roman Emperor over Francis I of France, essentially because he had more money. 

Charles had been emperor only a few months when the Diet of Worms was held in 1521, the same Diet when Luther said that he would not recant. Charles issued the imperial Edict of Worms labeling Luther an outlaw with a price on his head. That edict got Charles V in trouble with Luther’s supporters, as well as the pope, because the pope had already excommunicated Luther. The Emperor was always trying to placate the Catholics and the Protestants.

Charles abdicated his throne in 1556 and Ferdinand became the next emperor. He spent the last two years of his life near a monastery in Spain, where he died and is buried.

The Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer

Theodore Beza was born on June 24, 1519 and died on October 13, 1605. He was a French Protestant theologian and scholar.

Beza was a member of the Monarchomaque. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, most people haven’t 🙂  The Monarchomaque consisted of French Huguenot’s who opposed absolute monarchy rule at the end of the 16th century. Beza was also a follower and disciple of John Calvin. He traveled to Geneva to join John Calvin in 1548 and became involved in the Swiss Reformation.

He is infamous for writing the defense of the burning of the anti-Trinitarian heretic Michael Servetus. Beza traveled throughout Europe defending the Protestant cause. When Calvin died, Beza performed the funeral and assumed Calvin’s position.

Beza is also known for his famous statement he made to the Duke of Guise: “Sire, it belongs, in truth, to the church of God, in the name of which I address you, to suffer blows, not to strike them. But at the same time let it be your pleasure to remember that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer.”

I need to repay for my vestments, buy some indulgences

You may have never heard of Albrecht of Bradenburg, but he is an important part of the Reformation story. He was made a cardinal at the age of 28. To pay for the vestments and rights that came with this position and the Electorate of Mainz, he had to borrow thousands of ducats. He did not have the funds to pay this back, so he obtained permission to sell indulgences from Pope Leo X. Albrecht obtained the services of John Tetzel to sell the indulgences, and the rest is history.

Martin Luther wrote his famous 95 Theses in reaction to the selling of the indulgences. And on October 31, 1517, not only did he nail a copy to the door of Wittenberg Church, he sent Albert a copy. Albert forwarded the theses to Rome, suspecting Luther of heresy. And the Reformation began.

The Man Who Painted Luther

Without the work of Lucas Cranach the Elder, it is possible that we may never have known what Martin Luther looked like.

He became known as the “Reformation Painter.” Cranach lived and worked in Wittenberg at the same time as Luther. He was a supporter of the Protestant Reformation, not just because he painted people of the Reformation, but because he used his art as theology. Modern-day art historians say that Cranach showed how faith alone was the way to salvation, positioning ordinary people in everyday settings, often close to Christ, and banishing saints and noblemen to the background.

I hope to visit the Cranach Courtyards in Wittenberg. I have heard that it has a fascinating exhibition and a historical print shop.

Martin Luther’s Right-Hand Man

The Protestant Reformation could not have happened without Philipp Melanchthon. Melanchthon was Luther’s friend and intellectual sparring partner. By the time he was 21, he had already published many works, including a guide to Greek grammar. A master of the Greek language, he even changed his German name Schwartzerdt, to the Greek equivalent, Melanchthon.

Luther was 14 years older than Melanchthon, but the two became friends and colleagues in the Reformation cause. Luther was charismatic, Melanchthon was scholarly. Luther was impulsive and emotional, Melanchthon was organized. Melanchthon was the calm steady one. Luther was the face and energy of the Reformation, Melanchthon was the scholar.

When Luther was called to Augsburg in 1530 to defend his controversial teachings, it was Melanchthon who wrote the Augsburg Confession. After Luther died, it was Melanchthon that led the German Reformation movement. Philipp Melanchthon died in Lutherstadt Wittenberg in 1560 and was buried next to Martin Luther. Even in his death, Melanchthon remains at Luther’s side.

The Man Who Kidnapped Martin Luther

A person of the Reformation who deserves a bit more recognition than he gets is Georg Spalatin. You may be asking, who is he? He was the one who “kidnapped” Luther and took him to Wartburg Castle when Luther was in great danger of being arrested and possibly executed.

While in Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the New Testament into German. Without Spalatin, Luther may never have found the time to complete this important work. Spalatin recognized this and even said. ”If it wasn’t for me, Luther and his doctrine would have never made it this far”. Perhaps humility wasn’t his best virtue 🙂

Spalatin was a trusted counselor and friend. He promoted Luther and the Reformation and vocally supported the cause.

Müntzer, the Radical Reformer

Thomas Müntzer was a unique individual. Like Luther, he became frustrated with priestly privilege, the abuses and simony in the Catholic Church. Unlike Luther, he developed this mystical belief that  all true believers must have revelations. Eventually he came to the belief that any clergy members who did not have revelations were “of no use to the church.”

Müntzer is part of what would become known as the Radical Reformation movement. Radical in the sense that society needed a complete restructuring in anticipation of the end days. Luther called him a fanatic.

The issues that surrounded many of the radical reformers were true of Müntzer. He banned infant baptism and taught that the bread and wine of the Eucharist did not contain the real presence of Christ. But here is where the similarities ended. Müntzer believed that he was a new Daniel, called to reveal God’s mind to the political elite.

Luther did not think highly of this. Violence would follow Müntzer and his followers, some stemming from Luther’s outspoken opposition. He was made to leave Allstedt, and settled in Mulhausen. Sadly, he would lead uprisings against his political and spiritual opponents, now known as the German Peasants’ war. Müntzer was eventually arrested and tortured, until he recanted.

Tragically, Müntzer was beheaded on May 27, 1525, outside Mulhausen. His head and body were displayed as a warning to the peasants who had any desire to follow Müntzer’s revolutionary ideas.

Meet Hans Denck

Hans Denck’s life is simply sad. Born somewhere between 1495 – 1500, he was young when the Reformation fires were lit. Remember that while the Reformation led to many good things, this was all new. Many sects and branches of Protestantism were being formed fast.

Denck was in Nuremberg for awhile. Nuremberg at that time was in conflict between the Lutherans, those frustrated with the Reformation, and those leaving the Protestant movement and going back to the Catholic Church. What a mess. Denck became influenced by both Zwingli and the radical reformer Thomas Muntzer. The result was, well, not the best. In his search for truth, he was kicked out of different cities many times, before settling in Switzerland. In 1527, he contracted the bubonic plague and died.

His theology is messy. He believed that the inner word of God was more important than the Bible. He did not value the scripture as the source of all true religious knowledge, but instead the spirit that speaks from within each person.

He frustrated people when he preached that the sacraments were only symbols. And angered people when he said that baptism was a sign of commitment.

Luther taught the beautiful doctrine of justification by faith. While Denck’s emphasis was on discipleship to Jesus. Not many of his writings survive, he did author a little tract where he said that “No one may truly know Christ except one who follows Him in life.”