« Prev Causes and Means of Progress Next »

§ 91. Causes and Means of Progress.

The Reformation spread over Germany with the spontaneous and irresistible impulse of a great historical movement that struck its roots deep in the wants and necessities of the church. The only propaganda of Luther was the word and the pen, but these he used to the utmost of his time and strength. "There was no need of an arrangement," says Ranke, "or of a concerted agreement, or of any special mission. As at the first favor of the vernal sun the seed sprouts from the ploughed field, so the new convictions, which were prepared by all what men had experienced and heard, made their appearance on the slightest occasion, wherever the German language was spoken."737737    Deutsche Geschichte, etc., vol. II. 46 (6th ed.).

The chief causes of progress were the general discontent with papal tyranny and corruption; the desire for light, liberty, and peace of conscience; the thirst for the pure word of God. The chief agencies were the German Bible, which spoke with Divine authority to the reason and conscience, and overawed the human authority of the pope; the German hymns, which sang the comforting doctrines of grace into the hearts of the people; and the writings of Luther, who discussed every question of the day with commanding ability and abundant knowledge, assuring the faith of friends, and crushing the opposition of foes. The force and fertility of his genius as a polemic are amazing, and without a parallel among fathers, schoolmen, and modern divines. He ruled like an absolute monarch in the realm of German theology and religion; and, with the gospel for his shield and weapon, he was always sure of victory.738738    I "Selbstherrschender, gewaltiger ist wohl nie ein Schriftsteller aufgetreten, in keiner Nation der Welt. Auch dürfte kein anderer zu nennen sein, der die vollkommenste Verständlichkeit und Popularität, gesunden, treuherzigen Menschenverstand mit so vielechtem Geist, Schwung und Genius vereinigt hätte. Er gab der Literatur den Charakter den sie seitdem behalten, der Forschung, des Tiefsinns, der Polemik." Ranke, II. 56. "Fesselnder, ergreifender und packender hat kein Deutscher geschrieben. Dabei beherrschte er seine Muttersprache mit solcher Gewalt, dass er sie zur Schriftsprache zu erheben vermochte." Fr. Kapp, Geschichte des deutschen Buchhandels, vol. I. p. 407.

What Luther did for the people, Melanchthon accomplished, in his gentle and moderate way, for scholars. In their united labors they were more than a match for all the learning, skill, and material resources of the champions of Rome.

No such progress of new ideas and principles had taken place since the first introduction of Christianity. No power of pope or emperor, no council or diet, could arrest it. The very obstacles were turned into helps. Had the Emperor and his brother favored the cause of progress, all Germany might have become nominally Lutheran. But it was better that Protestantism should succeed, in spite of their opposition, by its intellectual and moral force. A Protestant Constantine or Charlemagne would have extended the territory, but endangered the purity, of the Reformation.

Secular and selfish motives and passions were mingled with the pure enthusiasm for the gospel. Violence, intrigues, and gross injustice were sometimes employed in the suppression of the old, and the introduction of the new, faith.739739    Janssen dwells, we may say, exclusively on the lower motives, and by omitting the higher spiritual motives and aims utterly misrepresents the Reformers and the Reformation. But, human sin and imperfection enter into all great movements of history. Wherever God builds a church, the Devil is sure to build a chapel close by. The Devil is mighty; but God is almighty, and overrules the wrath and outwits the wit of his great enemy. Nothing but the power of truth and conviction could break down the tyranny of the papacy, which for so many centuries had controlled church and state, house and home, from the cradle to the grave, and held the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is an insult to reason and faith to deny the all-ruling and overruling supremacy of God in the history of the world and the church.

« Prev Causes and Means of Progress Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |