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Germany's Peasant Revolt and Luther's Response

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago

 Germany's Peasant Revolt


by Gary DeMar


While most of Martin Luther's teaching brought controversy that led to positive reform, some of his writings were interpreted in such a way that a revolution was started. Luther wrote that the poor in Germany were oppressed by "lords and princes" and "blind bishops and mad priests and monks." He went on to criticize the nobles for doing "nothing but flay and rob your subjects in order that you may lead a life of splendor and pride, until the poor common folk can bear it no longer."


What was the response to these injustices and inequities? Many of the peasants, following the advice offered in the defiant sermons of Thomas Müntzer, called for a revolt. Acting on Müntzer's persuasive but extremist message, they pillaged churches, destroyed castles, demanded the common ownership of all property, and shook the very foundation of society. Luther responded by noting that rebellion is "contrary not only to Christian law and the gospel, but also to natural law and all equity. . . . The fact that rulers are wicked and unjust does not excuse tumult and rebellion; to punish wickedness does not belong to everybody, but to the worldly rulers who bear the sword," as Romans 13:4 and 1 Peter 2:7 clearly teach.



Luther called on both sides–lords and peasants–to work out their grievances. No compromises were forthcoming. The peasants revolted and committed atrocities against the populace. Luther was outraged and wrote a tract opposing them: Against the Robbing and Murdering Peasants. He counseled the rulers to "smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you don't strike him, he will strike you, and the whole land with you." It has been estimated that in order to put down the uprising, between 70,000 and 100,000 peasants were killed in Germany in 1525. Clearly, the peasants needed to be freed from their oppressors, but was a bloody revolt the solution? Luther said no. He believed that such revolts lead to the breakdown and the eventual end of civilized society. It was Luther's desire to "quiet the peasants and instruct the lords. . . . The peasants were unwilling, and now they have their reward. The lords too will not hear, and they shall have their reward also." In Luther's eyes, both sides were wrong.



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