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§ 100. Protestant Martyrs.


No great cause in church or state, in religion or science, has ever succeeded without sacrifice. Blood is the price of liberty. "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity." Persecution develops the heroic qualities of human nature, and the passive virtues of patience and endurance under suffering. Protestantism has its martyrs as well as Catholicism. In Germany it achieved a permanent legal existence only after the Thirty Years’ War. The Reformed churches in France, Holland, England, and Scotland, passed through the fiery ordeal of persecution. It has been estimated that the victims of the Spanish Inquisition outnumber those of heathen Rome, and that more Protestants were executed by the Spaniards in a single reign, and in a single province of Holland, than Christians in the Roman empire during the first three centuries.800800    See Schaff, Church Hist. II. 78. Jews and heathens have persecuted Christians, Christians have persecuted Jews and heathens, Romanists have persecuted Protestants, Protestants have persecuted Romanists, and every state-church has more or less persecuted dissenters and sects. It is only within a recent period that the sacred rights of conscience have been properly appreciated, and that the line is clearly and sharply drawn between church and state, religious and civil offenses, heresy and crime, spiritual and temporal punishments.

The persecution of Protestants began at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Charles V. issued from that city the first of a series of cruel enactments, or "placards," for the extermination of the Lutheran heresy in his hereditary dominion of the Netherlands. In 1523 two Augustinian monks, Henry Voes and John Esch, were publicly burnt, as adherents of Luther, at the, stake in Brussels. After the fires were kindled, they repeated the Apostles’ Creed, sang the "Te Deum laudamus," and prayed in the flames, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon us." The heroic death of these Protestant proto-martyrs inspired Luther’s first poem, which begins, —


"Ein neues Lied wir heben an."801801    See above, p. 505, and Ranke, II. 119.


The prior of their convents Lampert Thorn, was suffocated in prison. The martyrdom of Henry of Zütphen has already been noticed.802802    § 96, p. 574, sq. Adolph Klarenbach and Peter Flysteden suffered at the stake in Cologne with constancy and triumphant joy, Sept. 28, 1529.803803    See their biography in Piper’s Evang. Kalender, VII. 408, and article "Klarenbach" by C. Krafft, in Herzog2, VIII. 20-33.

George Winkler, a preacher in Halle, was cited by the Archbishop of Cologne to Aschaffenburg for distributing the communion in both kinds, and released, but murdered by unknown hands on his return, May, 1527.804804    Luther wrote a letter of comfort to the Christians at Halle on the death of their minister. Walch, X. 2260. See also his letter, April 28, 1528, in De Wette, III. 305.

Duke George of Saxony persecuted the Lutherans, not by death, but by imprisonment and exile. John Herrgott, a traveling book-peddler, was beheaded (1527) for revolutionary political opinions, rather than for selling Lutheran books.805805    See § 93, p. 567, note.

In Southern Germany the Edict of Worms was more rigidly executed. Many executions by fire and sword, accompanied by barbarous mutilations, took place in Austria and Bavaria. In Vienna a citizen, Caspar Tauber, was beheaded and burnt, because he denied purgatory and transubstantiation, Sept. 17, 1524.806806    Ranke, II. 117 sq. In Salzburg a priest was secretly beheaded without a trial, by order of the archbishop, for Lutheran heresy.807807    Ibid. p. 117. George Wagner, a minister at Munich, was burnt Feb. 8, 1527. Leonard Käser (or Kaiser) shared the same fate, Aug. 18, 1527, by order of the bishop of Passau. Luther wrote him, while in prison, a letter of comfort.808808    Letter dated May 20, 1527, in De Wette, III. 179 sq. But Käser seems to have been an Anabaptist, which Luther did not know. See Cornelius, Gesch. des Münsterschen Aufruhrs, II. 56.

But the Anabaptists had their martyrs as well, and they died with the same heroic faith. Hätzer was burnt in Constance, Hübmaier in Vienna. In Passau thirty perished in prison. In Salzburg some were mutilated, others beheaded, others drowned, still others burnt alive.809809    Ranke, III. 369. Unfortunately, the Anabaptists were not much better treated by Protestant governments; even in Zürich several were drowned in the river under the eyes of Zwingli. The darkest blot on Protestantism is the burning of Servetus for heresy and blasphemy, at Geneva, with the approval of Calvin and all the surviving Reformers, including Melanchthon (1553). He had been previously condemned, and burnt in effigy, by a Roman-Catholic tribunal in France. Now such a tragedy would be impossible in any church. The same human passions exist, but the ideas and circumstances have changed.




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