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Encyclopedia > Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants

The German Peasants' War took place between 1524 and 1526, as a result of a tumultuous collection of grievances in many different spheres; political, economic, social, and theological. Martin Luther is often considered to be the foundation for the Peasants’ Revolt, however he maintained allegiance to the Princes as a method of ensuring the survival of his reformation. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants typifies Luther’s reaction to the Peasants’ War, and alludes to Luther’s concern that he might be seen to be responsible for their rebellion, as well as to his desire to keep his reformation on track. Peasants War map. ... Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546) was a German monk,[1] priest, professor, theologian, and church reformer. ...

Contents

Context

The Peasants' War

WAS SHIT


Luther’s Writings

Admonition to Peace

The peasants had used the Bible to support their grievances, and in turn, to justify their rebellion, and Luther would turn it against them. He spoke out against the peasants, specifically rebutting The Twelve Articles of the Christian Union of Upper Swabia, joining with Roman Catholics to combat the angry horde. Luther’s Admonition to Peace was written to serve several functions, initially to prevent bloodshed at the hands of armed peasant mobs, but also to remove the misinterpretation of scripture as justification for violence, and finally as a response to several appeals that called for his counsel[1].


The first section of the Admonition addresses the princes and lords, urging them to recognise the threat that the peasants represented, “not to make light of this rebellion”[2] and asking them to be more considerate in order to avoid confrontation. He reproaches the princes, making it clear that they are to blame, stating that “we have no one on earth to thank for this disastrous rebellion except you princes and lords... as temporal rulers you do nothing but cheat and rob the people so that you may lead a life of luxury and extravagance. The poor common people cannot bear it any longer”[3].


The second part addresses the peasants, and although Luther recognizes their demands as reasonable as presented in The Twelve Articles, he clearly states that they are wrong for using force in order to amend the situation. He takes particular issue with their use of Gospel as justification. The third section acknowledges that both princes and peasants have not been acting as good Christians, reproaching them both, for if war were to ensue both groups would lose their immortal souls.


Luther’s Admonition to Peace, and the later publication of Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants were written in response to The Twelve Articles of the Christian Union of Upper Swabia and saw wide circulation throughout Germany. Although it is not known when Luther actually first read the Twelve Articles, it was certainly prior to April 16, 1525[4].


Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants

Luther remained largely ignorant of the extent to which the unrest permeated the peasantry until he embarked on a tour of Thuringia with Philip Melanchthon. It was at this time that he was able to observe firsthand the severity of the situation, peasants doing “the devil’s work”[5]. He attempted to prevent further violence by preaching against it, but recognised that this had little, if any impact.


In May of 1525, he wrote Against the Rioting Peasants, a title which would be harshened by printers in other cities without Luther’s approval. In this publication, he upbraided the peasants on three charges: that they had violated oaths of loyalty, which makes them subject to secular punishment; they had committed crimes that went against their faith; and that their crimes were committed using Christ’s name which was blasphemy:

The peasants have taken upon themselves the burden of three terrible sins against God and man; by this they have merited death in body and soul... they have sworn to be true and faithful, submissive and obedient, to their rulers... now deliberately and violently breaking this oath... they are starting a rebellion, and are violently robbing and plundering monasteries and castles which are not theirs... they have doubly deserved death in body and soul as highwaymen and murderers... they cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the gospel... thus they become the worst blasphemers of God and slanderers of his holy name”[6]

Luther goes so far as to justify the actions of the Princes against the peasants, even when it involves acts of violence. He feels that they can be punished by the lords on the basis that they have “become faithless, perjured, disobedient, rebellious, murderers, robbers, and blasphemers, whom even a heathen ruler has the right and authority to punish”[7]. He even venerates those who fight against the peasants, stating that “anyone who is killed fighting on the side of the rulers may be a true martyr in the eyes of God”[8]. He closes with a sort of disclaimer, “if anyone thinks this too harsh, let him remember that rebellion is intolerable and that the destruction of the world is to be expected every hour”[9].


Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants

Following the defeat of Müntzer’s forces on May 15, 1525 at Frankenhausen, the peasants war was all but over, as they now lacked leaders with political and military strengths [10]. They felt that they had been betrayed by Luther, and criticised him accordingly for publication of Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. The Catholics pointed out that Admonition of Peace vindicated the peasants, by stating that their grievances were legitimate, but when it became clear that the peasants would lose, he deserted them in his writing Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. He was urged by his friends to make a retraction, something that he steadfastly refused to do.


After a few months he decided to write a formal explanation, in an open letter to Caspar Muller, entitled An Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants. He defends his previous writings, and states that it is the duty of a Christian to “suffer injustice, not to seize the sword and take to violence”[11]. He defends the ‘harshness’ that he used stating that “a revel is not worth rational arguments, for he does not accept them. You have to answer people like that with a fist, until the sweat drips off their noses”[12]. He also states that the princes were too severe in their punishment of the peasants and that they would be punished by God for their behaviour. With this document it became crystal clear that Luther was a socially conservative man, who would not threaten secular authority.


Aftermath: Luther and Protestantism

Luther’s decision to back the secular powers and denounce the peasants was a strategic one that would secure both the spread and survival of Protestantism. Since the majority of towns wanted moderate reform, and many of the princes were committed to it, it was a logical move. Luther saw that violent upheaval would alienate the princes, nobility and certain towns, and would likely be crushed by Catholic or Imperial opposition[13]. Luther would be chastised for this move, seen as a shill to the princes, and was even stoned in Orlamünde[14]. Protestantism encompasses the forms of Christian faith and practice that originated with the doctrines of the Reformation. ...


Luther not only instilled an increased sense of power within the Princes, but he also insisted that it was their ‘Godly duty’ to introduce reformation. This forced the various princes to commit to Protestantism, and saw reform proceed in a more directed and effective fashion, than could have been achieved if led by the peasants. All grievances aside, the social order of the day would not tolerate a peasant-engineered realignment of society, economics, religion and politics, and the full weight of Church and secular authority would inevitably be used to crush this movement. While a number of peasant revolts occurred throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, none of them were successful in achieving their aims, and Luther would have known this. To support the peasants would mean throwing in his lot with a side that was doomed to fail, and Luther shrewdly backed the winning parties, guaranteeing the survival of Protestantism. In sacrificing the peasants in order to ingratiate Lutheranism among the Germanic temporal leaders, perhaps Luther was thinking of Matthew 26:11: “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” .


Further Reading

Primary Sources

  • Martin Luther (1525). Admonition to Peace.
  • Martin Luther (1525). Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants.
  • Martin Luther (1525). An Open Letter on the Harsh Book Against the Peasants.
  • Sebastian Lotzer (1525). The Twelve Articles of Upper Swabia.

Secondary Sources

  • Bax, E. Belfort. The Peasants War in Germany: 1525-1526. New York: Russell & Russell, 1968.
  • Blickle, Peter ed. The Revolution of 1525: The German Peasants’ War from a New Perspective. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.
  • Engles, Frederick. The German Revolutions: The Peasants War in German and Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution. London: The University of Chicago Press, 1967.
  • Engles, Frederick. The Peasants War in Germany. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956.
  • Hsia, R. Po-Chia, ed. The German People and the Reformation. London: Cornell University Press, 1988.
  • Oman, Charles. A History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century. London: Metheun, 1937.
  • Scott, Tom and Bob Scribner eds. The German Peasants’ War: A History in Documents. New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1991.
  • Scribner, Bob and Gerhard Benecke, eds. The German Peasant War of 1525: New Viewpoints. Boston: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.
  • Tappert, Theodore G. ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther: 1523-1526. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967.

References

  1. ^ Tappert, Theodore G. ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther: 1523-1526. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, 307.
  2. ^ Luther, Martin. Admonition to Peace (1525)
  3. ^ Martin Luther, Admonition to Peace.
  4. ^ Tappert, Theodore G. ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther: 1523-1526. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, 306.
  5. ^ Luther, Martin. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. (1525)
  6. ^ Luther, Martin. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. (1525)
  7. ^ Luther, Martin. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. (1525)
  8. ^ Luther, Martin. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. (1525)
  9. ^ Luther, Martin. Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants. (1525)
  10. ^ Tappert, Theodore G. ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther: 1523-1526. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, 359.
  11. ^ Tappert, Theodore G. ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther: 1523-1526. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, 361.
  12. ^ Luther, Open Letter on the Harsh Book. (1525)
  13. ^ Engles, Frederick. The Peasants War in Germany. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956, 64-65.
  14. ^ Engles, Frederick. The Peasants War in Germany. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1956, 65.

External links

  • Martin Luther (1525). Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, May 1525
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546) was a German monk,[1] priest, professor, theologian, and church reformer. ...

  Results from FactBites:
 
Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (196 words)
At this time Luther's prince Frederick the Wise was fatally ill and refrained from putting down the peasant uprisings, hoping for a peaceful settlement.
Luther saw the need to take the initiative of calling the civil authorities to action against the anarchy that appeared to be threatening law and order in Saxony and neighboring regions.
Luther is criticized for the violent language he employed in this tract; however, in Luther's view the actions of the peasants were in direct violation of God's authority, making them instruments of the devil.
THE REFORMATION (1517-1560s) (1956 words)
Peasants' War of 1524-1525 was a culmination of the injustices faced by peasants in all three areas.
Such was the situation in 1524 when peasants in a large part of Germany, stirred by the new religious ideas and suffering from economic privation, rose up against their treatment at the hands of nobles and the nascent merchant class.
Luther rejected the peasants' manifesto, and in a treatise titled Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525) he appealed to the German princes to crush the peasants and preserve divinely appointed authority.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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