German Reform: too late

There is an old expression: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That did not apply in the German Reformation. The enemy (Rome) was Luther’s best friend. Rome was their own worst enemy.

When Leo X announced the renewal of indulgences in order to finance St. Peter’s Basilica, there were a plethora of voices from Emperor Maxillian to his own Roman Curia who warned the pope that the idea was feeding accelerant into a smoldering fire of revolution among the German social classes. His own Papal Nuncio to Germany reported to Pope Leo that the Germans were only waiting for “some fool” to open his mouth against Rome. Some fool did: John Tetzel attempted to peddle indulgences in Saxony where the Elector of Saxony had already forbidden their sale. In the eyes of the German princes, nobles, knights and Burghers, Rome had infringed upon Saxony’s territorial rights. And Rosa Parks would not give up her seat on the bus. This infringement of rights was not the initiating act, it was the hinge, the tipping point. Continue reading

Going Viral in 1520

The development of the printing press, furthermore, aided Luther’s success. For all the reasons described in previous posts, the time was ripe for change. There was no other European nation that was more ready – it just needed a tipping point. Many point to the printing press as the tipping point, but the real tipping point was that Luther quickly moved to publishing in the German language. His ideas were no longer limited to the intellectual elites and Church scholars. He bypassed that “battlefield” and attacked in a language all  the people – high and low-born alike could understand – German. Continue reading

German Reform: vested interests

The previous post pointed to the broad resentment of German society to the eternal taxation be it from the Church or from the Imperial Courts of the Emperor. There were other economic factors also in view: land, wealth and revenue. But consider the latter category. Perhaps revenue is from the sale of land, animals, crops, or other items; but perhaps revenue is the very stream of taxes causing the resentment – and your class thinks it belong to them. One person’s vested interest may very well be another’s burden. Continue reading


Today is the Feast of St. Athanasius, a Christian leader from Alexandria Egypt who is remembered as the primary defender of the faith against the teachings of Deacon Arius, also of Alexandria. This is all happening in the 4th century some 300 years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. It is also in the age when the Christian faith was no longer “illegal” under Roman rule – thanks to Emperor Constantine. Christianity become the official religion of the Roman Empire was still some 50 year away, but the Church was beginning to flourish with its new found freedom from oppression and the threat of the next persecution. Continue reading

German Reform: princes, patricians, and peasants

In a previous post we introduced the dynamic of taxation as one element of the German Reformation. But who was specifically the target of Imperial and Papal fund raisers? To answer that one needs to consider the social strata of all who would be caught in the taxing nets of the “outsiders” – the Pope and his ostensibly all-Italian Curial mafia, or, the gapping maw of the Holy Roman imperial court. Continue reading

The dominoes begin to tumble

In the conclave after the death of the Medici Pope Leo X, Leo’s cousin, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, was the leading figure. With Spanish and French cardinals in a deadlock, the conclave looked to an absent prelate as a compromise candidate, Adriaan Florensz Boeyens of the Netherlands, a former tutor of the HRE Charles V.  On 9 January 1522 he was elected by an almost unanimous vote. He is the only Dutchman to become pope and he was the last non-Italian pope until the Polish John Paul II 455 years later. Adrian had never been to Italy and actually inquired where he could hire lodging for his stay in Rome as pope. He was sure to be dismissed and hated by the people of Rome. Continue reading

German Reform: taxation

As noted in an earlier post, the “Investiture Controversy” was not simply about who named and appointed a bishop or abbot. It was about power, politics and profits. Nationalized churches and the supremacy of the state over church affairs existed in France, Spain, and England long before Luther. Italy and Germany, however, did not experience this trend toward a nationalized church since they lacked effective national monarchies – both of these “countries” were highly divided

The monarchies of France and England had little money diverted from their treasuries to Rome. In Germany, on the other hand, clerical and papal abuses would supply ample incentive for religious reformers. Anti-clericalism and anti-papalism were bound to flourish in a society that allowed the clergy excessive power and wealth. The German Experience was much different. Continue reading

Leo X – the Protestant Break

Born Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, he was the second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence. Early in his pontificate he oversaw the majority of and the closing sessions of the Fifth Council of the Lateran, but failed sufficiently to implement the reforms agreed. He is probably best remembered for granting indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter’s Basilica, which practice was challenged by Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. He seems not to have taken seriously the array of demands for church reform that would quickly grow into the Protestant Reformation. His Papal Bull of 1520, Exsurge Domine, simply condemned Luther on a number of areas and made ongoing engagement difficult. Continue reading

Change in the air

The German Reformation had its unique beginnings. Germany before the Reformation was prospering. All classes, except for the knights, were enjoying a better standard of living than ever before. Population throughout Germany had risen, education had spread, literacy was growing, and the princes, bishops and the Holy Roman Emperors were patrons of scholarship and the arts. The humanist movement in Germany was welcomed by the aristocracy, the intellectual community, and the German church. Continue reading

Reform in Germany: a context

The Question: Why will Luther succeed in Germany when Wycliffe failed in England, Hus failed in Bohemia, and Savonarola failed in Florence.” In other words, what were some of the critical factors that lead to the success of the reform in Germany when it had failed in other places?

German Princes and German Identity. The German princes were beginning to assert their political independence from Rome and the Holy Roman Emperor. Germany’s emerging political identity was fueled by its growing wealth in commerce and industry and the rise of its business class, the burghers, who were beginning to pursue their own interests. This new spirit of nationalism was to influence German society and its relationship to the Roman Church. Secular interests were taking precedence over religious matters. Germany’s newfound confidence and independence were to challenge papal and imperial authority and set forces in motion that were to affect European society during the Protestant Reformation. Continue reading