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§ 98. The Reformation in Hesse, and the Synod of Homberg. Philip of Hesse, and Lambert of Avignon.


I. Lambertus Avenionensis: Paradoxa quae Fr. L. A. apud sanctam Hessorum Synodum Hombergi congregatam pro Ecclesiarum Reformatione e Dei Verbo disputanda et definienda proposuit, Erphordiae, 1527. (Reprinted in Sculteti Annales, p. 68; in Hardt, Hist. Lit. Ref. V. 98; an extract in Henke’s N. Kirchengesch., I. 101 sqq.) N. L. Richter: Die Kirchenordnungen des 16ten Jahrh., Weimar, 1846, vol. I. 56–69 (the Homberg Constitution). C. A. Credner: Philipp des Grossmüthigen hessische Kirchenreformations-Ordnung. Aus schriftlichen Quellen herausgegeben, übersetzt, und mit Rücksicht auf die Gegenwart bevorwortet, Giessen, 1852 (123 pp.)

II. F. W. Hassencamp: Hessische Kirchengesch. seit dem Zeitalter der Reformation, Marburg, 1852 and 1855. W. Kolbe: Die Einführung der Reformation in Marburg, Marburg, 1871. H. L. J. Heppe: Kirchengesch. beider Hessen, Marburg, 1876. (He wrote several other works on the church history of Hesse and of the Reformation generally, in the interest of Melanchthonianism and of the Reformed Church.) E, L. Henke: Neuere Kirchengesch. (ed. by Gass, Halle, 1874), I. 98–109. Mejer: Homberger Synode, in Herzog2, VI. 268 sqq. Köstlin: M. L., II. 48 sqq.

III. Works on Philip of Hesse by Rommel (Philipp der Grossmüthige, Landgraf von Hessen, Giessen, 1830, 3 vols.), and Wille (Philipp der Grossmüthige und die Restitution Herzog Ulrichs von Würtemberg, Tübingen, 1882). Max Lenz: Zwingli und Landgraf Philip, in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte," 1879; and Briefwechsel Landgraf Philipps mit Bucer, Leipz. 1880, vol. 2d, 1887 (important for the political and ecclesiastical history of Germany between 1541 and 1547). The history of Philip is interwoven in Ranke’s Geschichte (vols. I. to VI.), and in Janssen’s Geschichte (vol. III.). Against Janssen is directed G. Bossert: Württemberg und Ianssen, Halle, 1884, 2 parts.

IV. Biographies of Lambert of Avignon by Baum (Strassb. 1840), Hassencamp (Elberfeld, 1860), Ruffet (Paris, 1873), and a sketch by Wagenmann in Herzog2, VIII. 371 sqq. (1881). The writings of Lambert of Avignon, mostly Theses and Commentaries, are very scarce, and have never been collected. His letters (some of them begging letters to the Elector of Saxony and Spalatin) are published by Herminjard in Correspondance des Réformateurs, vol. I. 112, 114, 118, 123, 131, 138, 142, 144, 146, 328, 344, 347, 371; vol. II. 239. Luther refers to him in several letters to Spalatin (see below).


Hesse or Hessia, in Middle Germany, was Christianized by St. Boniface in the eighth century, and subject to the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Mainz. It numbered in the sixteenth century fifty convents, and more than a thousand monks and nuns.

Hesse became, next to Saxony, the chief theater of the Reformation in its early history; and its chief patron among the princes, next to Elector John, was Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, surnamed the "Magnanimous" (1504–1567). He figures prominently in the political history of Germany from 1525, when he aided in the suppression of the Peasants’ War, till 1547, when he was defeated by the Emperor in the Smalcaldian War, and kept a prisoner for five years (1547–1552). The last years of his life were quiet and conciliatory, but his moral force was broken by his misconduct and the failure of his political combinations.

His connection with the Reformation presents two different aspects, which make it difficult to decide whether it was more beneficial or more injurious. He made the acquaintance of Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521), and asked and received instruction from Melanchthon, whom be met at Heidelberg (1524). He declared in 1525, that he would rather lose body and life, land and people, than depart from the word of God, and urged the ministers to preach it in its purity.768768    Ranke, II. 121. He openly embraced the Reformation in 1526, and remained faithful to it in his conviction and policy, though not in his moral conduct. He boldly and bravely defended it with a degree of theological knowledge which is rare among princes, and with a conciliatory liberality in regard to doctrinal controversies which was in advance of prevailing narrowness. He brought about the Marburg Colloquy with the noble aim of uniting the Protestant forces of Germany and Switzerland against the common foe (1529). By restoring Württemberg to Duke Ulrich in the brilliant victory at Laufen, he opened the way for the introduction of the Reformation into that country (1534). But, on the other hand, he repeatedly endangered the Protestant cause by his rashness, and injured it and himself most seriously by his licentiousness, which culminated in the open scandal of bigamy (1540). He resembles in many respects Henry VIII. of England.769769    See pp. 308 and 481; Seckendorf’s Excursus on the bigamy, III. 277-281; Ranke, IV. 186 sqq.; Köstlin, Bk. VIII., ch. 1. (II. 533 sqq.); and Janssen III. 57, 439 sqq. This nasty subject lies beyond our period, but may be disposed of here in a few remarks. Philip was a man of powerful sensuality, and married very young a daughter of Duke George of Saxony. As she was unattractive, and gave him little satisfaction, he indulged freely and long before his bigamy in his carnal passions to the injury of his health; and for this reason his conscience would not allow him to partake of the holy communion more than once in fifteen years (from 1525 to 1540), as he confessed himself in a letter to Luther, April 5, 1540 (Lenz, Briefwechsel Philipp’s mit Bucer, I. 361, and Ranke, IV. 186, note). If Fräulein Margaretha von der Sale, who captivated his passions, had consented to become his mistress, he would not have fallen upon the extraordinary device of bigamy. The worst feature in this shameful affair is the weak connivance of the Reformers, which furnished the Romanists a keen weapon of attack. See Janssen. But Protestantism is no more responsible for the sins of Philip of Hesse, than Romanism is for the sins of Louis XIV.

The Landgrave was the first prince who took advantage of the recess of the Diet of Speier, Aug. 27, 1526, and construed it into a legal permission for the introduction of the Reformation into his own territory. For this purpose he convened a synod in the little Hessian town of Homberg.770770    In Kurhessen (which in 1866 was annexed to Prussia). Homberg must not be confounded with the better-known watering-place Homburg near Frankfort on the Main. It consisted of the clergy, the nobility, and the representatives of cities, and was held Oct. 20–22, 1526. He himself was present, and his chancellor Feige presided over the deliberations. The synod is remarkable for a premature scheme of democratic church government and discipline, which failed for the time, but contained fruitful germs for the future and for other countries. It was suggested by the disputations which had been held at Zürich for the introduction of the Zwinglican Reformation.

The leading spirit of this synod was Francis Lambert of Avignon (1487–1530), the first French monk converted to Protestantism and one of the secondary reformers. He had been formerly a distinguished and efficient traveling preacher of the Franciscan order in the South of France. But he could find no peace in severe ascetic exercises; and, when he became acquainted with some tracts of Luther in a French translation, he took advantage of a commission of his convent to deliver letters to a superior of his order in Germany, and left his native land never to return. He traveled on a mule through Geneva, Bern, Zürich, Basel, Eisenach, to Wittenberg, as a seeker after light on the great question of the day. He was half converted by Zwingli in a public disputation (July, 1522), and more fully by Luther in Wittenberg, where he arrived in January, 1523. Luther, who was often deceived by unworthy ex-priests and ex-monks, distrusted him at first, but became convinced of his integrity, and aided him.771771    He mentions him under the assumed name of Johannes Serranus in letters to Spalatin, Dec. 20 and 26, 1522, and Jan. 12 and 23, 1523 (in De Wette, II. 263, 272, 299, 302). In the last letter, after he had made his personal acquaintance, he writes, "AdestJohannes ille Serranus, vero nomine Franciscus Lambertus … De integritate viri nulla est dubitatio: testes sunt apud nos, qui illum et in Francia et in Basilea audierunt. … Mihi per omnia placet vir, et satis spectatus mihi est ... ut dignus sit quem in exilio paululum feramus et juvemus." Then he asks Spalatin to secure for him from the Elector a contribution of twenty or thirty guilders for his support. In a letter of Feb. 25, 1523 (De Wette, II. 308), he repeats this request as a beggar for a poor exile of Christ. A last request he made Aug. 14, 1523 (II. 387). At his request Lambert delivered exegetical lectures in the university, translated reformatory tracts into French and Italian, and published a book in defense of his leaving the convent (February, 1523), and a commentary on the rule of the Minorites to which Luther wrote a preface (March, 1523). He advocated the transformation of convents into schools. He married a Saxon maiden (July 15, 1523), anticipating herein the Reformer, and lived with her happily, but in great poverty, which obliged him to beg for assistance. He spent over a year in Wittenberg; but, finding no prospect of a permanent situation on account of his ignorance of the German language, he suddenly left for Metz, against the advice of Luther and Melanchthon, on invitation of a few secret friends of the Reformation (March 24, 1524). He addressed a letter to the king of France to gain him for the Reformation, and announced a public disputation; but the clergy prevented it, and the magistrate advised him to leave Metz. He then proceeded to Strassburg (April, 1524), was kindly received by Bucer, and presented with the right of citizenship by the magistrate. He published practical commentaries on the Canticles, the Minor Prophets, a book against Erasmus, on free-will, and a sort of dogmatic compend.772772    Farrago omnium fere rerum theologicarum. It was translated into English, 1536. This book and his De Fidelium vocatione in Regnum Christi contain the views which he defended in Homberg. He was highly recommended to the Landgrave, who took him into his service soon after the Diet of Speier (1526), and made him one of the reformers of Hesse.

Lambert prepared for the Synod of Homberg, at the request of the Landgrave, a hundred and fifty-eight Theses (Paradoxa), as a basis for the reformation of doctrine, worship, and discipline. He advocated them with fiery and passionate eloquence in a long Latin speech.773773    Hase says (p. 387): "Die Mönche und Prälaten verstummten vor der glühenden Beredtsamkeit des landflüchtigen Minoriten." But he was opposed by Ferber, the guardian of the Marburg Franciscans, who denounced him as a "runaway monk," and denied the legal competency of the synod. Lambert in turn called him a champion of Antichrist and a blasphemer, and exclaimed, "Expellatur ex provincia!" which Ferber misunderstood, "Occidatur bestia!" He confessed afterwards that he lost his temper. Hassencamp, Fr. Lambert, p. 39 sq., and Hencke, l.c. I. 103 sq. Adam Kraft spoke in German more moderately.

His leading ideas are these. Every thing which has been deformed must be reformed by the Word of God. This is the only rule of faith and practice. All true Christians are priests, and form the church. They have the power of self-government, and the right and duty to exercise discipline, according to Matt. 18:15–18, and to exclude persons who give offense by immorality or false doctrine. The bishops (i.e., pastors) are elected and supported by the congregation, and are aided by deacons who attend to the temporalities. The general government resides in a synod, which should meet annually, and consist of the pastors and lay representatives of all the parishes. The executive body between the meetings of synod is a commission of thirteen persons. Three visitors, to be appointed first by the prince, and afterwards by the synod, should visit the churches once a year, examine, ordain, and install candidates. Papists and heretics are not to be tolerated, and should be sent out of the land. A school for training of ministers is to be established in Marburg.

It is a matter of dispute, whether Lambert originated these views, or derived them from the Franciscan, or Waldensian, or Zwinglian, or Lutheran suggestions. The last is most probable. It is certain that Luther in his earlier writings (1523) expressed similar views on church government and the ministry. They are legitimately developed from his doctrine of the general priesthood of believers.774774    See above, pp. 518 and 538. Ritschl and Meier assert that Lambert borrowed his church ideal from his own order of the Minorites.

On the basis of these principles a church constitution was prepared in three days by a synodical commission, no doubt chiefly by Lambert himself. It is a combination of Congregationalism and Presbyterianism. Its leading features are congregational self-government, synodical supervision, and strict discipline. The directions for worship are based on Luther’s "Deutsche Messe," 1526.775775    The Latin original of the constitution is lost, but two copies are extant from which the printed editions of Schminke, Richter, and Credner are derived. Janssen (III. 54) calls it, not quite accurately, "ein vollständig ausgebildetes, rein demokratisches Presbyterialsystem."

The constitution, with the exception of a few minor features, remained a dead letter. The Landgrave was rather pleased with it, but Luther, whom he consulted, advised postponement; he did not object to its principles, but thought that the times and the people were not ripe for it, and that laws in advance of public opinion rarely succeed.776776    Letter to the Landgrave, Monday after Epiphany, 1527 (in the Erl. ed., vol. LVI. 170 sq.). He was reluctant to give an answer, from fear that nonapproval might be construed as proceeding from Wittenberg jealousy of any rivalry. He does not mention Lambert, but cautions against rash proceedings. "Fürschreiben und Nachthun ist weit von einander" (theory and practice are wide apart). Köstlin (II. 50) says: "Gegen die Principien des Entwurfs an sich wandte Luther nichts ein. Der Grund, weshalb er ihn ablehnte, war das Bedürfniss allmählicher Entwicklung im Gegensatz zur plötzlichen gesetzlichen Durchführung umfassender Ideen, für welche die Gegenwart nicht vorbereitet sei." Luther learned a bitter lesson from the Peasants’ War and from the visitation of the churches in Saxony. Lambert himself, in his letters, complained of the prevailing corruptions and the abuse of evangelical liberty.777777    See his letter to Myconius in Hassencamp, Lamb. v. A., p. 50 sq., and Döllinger, Die Reform. II. 18 sq. The latter quotes the Latin (from Strieder, Hessische Gelehrtengesch. VII. 386): "Dolens et gemens vivo, quod paucissimos videam recte uti evangelii libertate, et quod caritas ferme nulla sit, sed plena sint omnia obtrectationibus mendaciis, maledicentia, invidia." In a letter to Bucer, Lambert says, "Horreo mores populi hujus ita ut putem me frustra in eis laborare." Herminjard (II. 242) adds in a note an extract from the letter of a student of Zürich, Rudolph Walther, who wrote to Bullinger from Marburg, June 17, 1540 (the year of the bigamy of the Landgrave): "Mores [huius regionis] omnium corruptissimi. Nullum in hac Germaniae parte inter Papistas et Evangelicae doctrinae professores discrimen cernas, si morum et vitae censuram instituas." A good reason both for the necessity and difficulty of discipline, which should have begun with the prince. But self-government must be acquired by actual trial and experience. Nobody can learn to swim without going into the water.

The Landgrave put himself at the head of the church, and reformed it after the Saxon model. He abolished the mass and the canon law, confiscated the property of the convents, endowed hospitals and schools, arranged church visitations, and appointed six superintendents (1531).

The combination of Lutheran and Reformed elements in the Hessian reformation explains the confessional complication and confusion in the subsequent history, and the present status of the Protestant Church in Hesse, which is claimed by both denominations.778778    Dr. Vilmar of Marburg (originally Reformed) tried to prove that the Hessians were Lutherans, but did not know it. His colleague, Dr. Heppe, with equal learning tried to prove the opposite. A German proverb speaks of the "blind Hessians," and this applies at least to those unfortunate twenty thousand soldiers who allowed themselves to be sold by their contemptible tyrant (Frederick II., a convert to the Church of Rome, d. 1785), like so many heads of cattle, for twenty-one million thalers, to the king of England to be used as powder against the American colonies. Hence the ugly meaning of the term "Hessians" in America, which does great injustice to their innocent countrymen and descendants.

The best service which the Landgrave did to the cause of learning and religion, was the founding of the University of Marburg, which was opened July 1, 1527, with a hundred and four students. It became the second nursery of the Protestant ministry, next to Wittenberg, and remains to this day an important institution. Francis Lambert, Adam Kraft, Erhard Schnepf, and Hermann Busch were its first theological professors.

Lambert now had, after a roaming life of great poverty, a settled situation with a decent support. He lectured on his favorite books, the Canticles, the Prophets, and the Apocalypse; but he had few hearers, was not popular with his German colleagues, and felt unhappy. He attended the eucharistic Colloquy at Marburg in October, 1529, as a spectator, became a convert to the view of Zwingli, and defended it in his last work.779779    De Symbolo Foederis, etc., published at Strassburg after his death, 1530. He says in the preface: "Volo ut mundus sciat me sententiam circa Coenam Domini demutasse." Herminjard, II. 240. This must have made his position more uncomfortable. He wished to find "some little town in Switzerland where he could teach the people what he had received from the Lord."780780    Letter to Bucer, March 14, 1530, ib. II. 242. But before this wish could be fulfilled, he died with his wife and daughter, of the pestilence, April 18, 1530. He was an original, but eccentric and erratic genius, with an over-sanguine temperament, with more zeal and eloquence than wisdom and discretion. His chief importance lies in the advocacy of the principle of ecclesiastical self-government and discipline. His writings are thoughtful; and the style is clear, precise, vivacious, and direct, as may be expected from a Frenchman.781781    Dr. Döllinger, II. 18, uses his complaints of the prevailing immorality as a testimony against the Reformation, but judges favorably of his writings.

Lambert seems to have had a remote influence on Scotland, where principles of church government somewhat similar to his own were carried into practice after the model of the Reformed Church of Geneva. For among his pupils was Patrick Hamilton, the proto-martyr of the Scotch Reformation, who was burned at St. Andrews, Feb. 29, 1528.782782    His name is entered on the University Album of the year 1527, together with two other Scotchmen, John Hamilton and Gilbert Winram. See Jul. Cæsar, Catalogus Studiorum scholae Marpurgensis, Marb. 1875, p. 2. Comp. Lorimer, Patrick Hamilton, Edinb. 1857, and the careful sketch of Professor Mitchell of St. Andrews, in the Schaff-Herzog "Encycl." II. 935 sqq. According to the usual view, William Tyndale also, the pioneer of the English Bible Version, studied at Marburg about the same time; for several of his tracts contain on the titlepage or in the colophon the imprint, Hans Luft at Marborow (Marburg) in the land of Hesse."783783    The fact of Tyndale’s sojourn in Marburg has been disputed without good reason by Mombert in the preface to his facsimile edition of Tyndale’s Pentateuch, New York, 1884 (p. XXIX.). He conjectures that "Marborow" is a fictitious name for Wittenberg. Tyndale’s name does not appear in the University Register, but he may not have entered it. Hans Luft was the well-known printer of Luther’s Bible in Wittenberg in Saxony, but he may have had an agent in Marburg "in the land of Hesse."



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