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Carlstadt (Karlstadt, Carolstadt), Andreas Rudolf Bodenstein von

CARLSTADT, cɑ̄rl´stɑ̄t (KARLSTADT, CAROLSTADT), ANDREAS RUDOLF BODENSTEIN VON: Protestant Reformer; b. at Karlstadt (14 m. n.w. of Würzburg), Bavaria, c. 1480; d. at Basel Dec. 24, 1541. The assumption that he pursued his academical studies at foreign universities rests upon a confusion with his later journey to Rome. In the winter term of 1499–1500 he entered the University of Erfurt, where he remained until 1503, and then removed to Cologne. In 1504 he turned to the newly established University of Wittenberg, in which he acquired considerable fame as a teacher of philosophy. He was a zealous adherent of scholasticism, advocating the unconditional authority of Thomas Aquinas.

Training and Life to 1518.

By 1510 he had obtained all the higher academical degrees. In 1508 he received a canonry at the collegiate church in Wittenberg and in 1510 became archdeacon. As such he had to preach and read mass once a week and to lecture at the university. In 1515 he left Wittenberg, without the permission of the university and the elector, and went to Rome, where he studied law and took a degree, hoping to obtain the first prelacy at Wittenberg, for which legal training was necessary. He did not succeed, however, in obtaining the position after his return. His journey to Rome brought about a rupture with scholasticism. The evidence of the worldliness of the papacy which Carlstadt 414saw in Rome may have been the chief factor in the change of his religious views. His 151 theses of Sept., 1516, contain the fundamental traits of his later theology. He combats the scholastics and Aristotle (theses xxxvii., cxliii.), and even anticipates Luther, on the basis of Augustine, concerning the inability of the human will to attain unto God and in attributing the act of redemption exclusively to the work of divine grace. Thus no direct dependence of Carlstadt upon Luther can be assumed; each influenced the other after 1516, although a bond of personal friendship never united them.

Deviates from Church Teachings.

In the spring of 1518 Carlstadt published a comprehensive collection of theses, on the occasion of Eck's attack upon the ninety-five theses of Luther. Here he affirms for the Bible the most absolute authority as a source of religious knowledge and adheres to its literal interpretation. In June and July a disputation took place between Carlstadt and Eck, and although the former was always equal to the dialectic cleverness of his opponent, he became more and more conscious of the impossibility of reconciling his convictions with the ruling doctrine of the Church. He emphasized more and more the efficacy of divine grace alone in the redemption of humanity, and wrote polemical treatises against the church doctrine of justification by works and against indulgences. In 1521 he went to Denmark by invitation of King Christian II. and helped in the establishment of ecclesiastical laws, but after a few weeks in Copenhagen he had to give way before the united resistance of nobility and clergy. In June he was again at Wittenberg, where he expressed his views concerning the Lord's Supper in a treatise Von den Empfahern Zeichen und Zusag des heiligen Sacraments. In this treatise he still clings to the corporal presence of Christ in the sacrament, but looks upon it only as a sign of divine promise. In another treatise Carlstadt places beside the literal explanation of Scripture a spiritual interpretation which penetrates its deeper sense and rests upon divine interpretation. Here are to be found certain points of contact between the views of Carlstadt and those of the enthusiasts.

The Reformation at Wittenberg, 1521–22.

The attitude of Carlstadt in the Wittenberg disturbances and his doings there during Luther's stay at the Wartburg have frequently been represented in an erroneous light. When the Augustinians, in Oct., 1521, refused to hold mass and demanded the administration of the Lord's Supper in both kinds, the university appointed a commission of four theologians, among them Carlstadt, to investigate. Against the more decided attitude of Melanchthon, Carlstadt conceded that the abolition of the mass could only be accomplished with the consent of the magistracy. A letter, expressing the same spirit and signed by seven professors, was sent to the elector. As the excitement did not abate, Carlstadt tried to quiet the more strenuous by emphasizing the Gospel as the proper guide in all actions. Nevertheless, the disturbances continued until on Christmas day he administered the Lord's Supper in both kinds. His action was approved by all Evangelicals. From this moment he was silently acknowledged as the leader of the reformatory movement in Wittenberg. He did not stop with the reformation of the Lord's Supper. At the end of 1521 and at the beginning of 1522 auricular confession, the elevation of the host, and the injunctions concerning fasting were abolished. Jan. 19, 1522, Carlstadt married. On being informed of the events in Wittenberg, the so-called Zwickau prophets arrived (see Anabaptists, II., § 1; Zwickau Prophets), but Carlstadt kept aloof; it was only at the end of 1522 that he began to correspond with Thomas Münzer. He proceeded in his reforms in entire conformity with the Council of Wittenberg, in which he saw the supreme authority in the ecclesiastical affairs of the city. He soon opened the battle against pictures in the churches, in which he was assisted by the council. Some small excesses occurred, which, however, were severely condemned by both the council and Carlstadt.

These ecclesiastical changes had aroused the displeasure of Frederick the Wise, who was especially offended by the abolition of the mass. Carlstadt and Melanchthon were called to account. Melanchthon immediately showed himself submissive; Carlstadt also promised in Feb., 1522, to renounce further innovations after he had carried through the reforms which he deemed essential. But Frederick desired an entire rehabilitation of the Old Church usages. The course of events made it impossible for Luther to remain at the Wartburg. He did not agree with Carlstadt's radical measures, believing that forbearance ought to be shown toward the weak. After his arrival at Wittenberg, on Mar. 6, he succeeded in shaking the dominating position of Carlstadt and counteracting his reforms. The Lord's Supper sub una specie was restored, also the elevation of the host. Carlstadt remained as professor in the university, but lost all his influence. As he was thus deprived of the possibility of being active in a practical way, he devoted himself to speculative theology. His views were somewhat mystical, but, unlike the true mystics, Carlstadt was not satisfied with the contemplative rapture in the union of the soul with God, and set up ethical standards for the practical realization of his new convictions. In his desire to do away with all intermediary agencies in the religious communication between God and man, he denied the indelible character of orders and did not even acknowledge the ministry as a special profession. He called himself after 1523 "ein neuer Lai," put off his clerical robes, and lived for some time as a peasant in Segrena, near Wittenberg, with relatives of his wife.

At Orlamünde, 1524.

In 1524 Carlstadt became preacher in Orlamünde, where he carried on the reform of the church service as he had done two years before in Wittenberg. He expounded the book of Acts daily to his congregation, and on Sundays and holidays the Gospel of John. In the course of his development Carlstadt arrived at the conviction that baptism and the Lord's Supper are not sacraments. 415At the same time be strongly attacked the mass. Against Luther he wrote Verstand des Worts Pauli Ich begeret ein Verbannter sein. Without mentioning Luther's name, he shows the dangerous consequences to which the exaggeration of the principle concerning forbearance for the weak might lead. Apart from his controversial writings, Carlstadt emphasized the necessity of personal devotion and sanctification.

Hardships of his Later Life.

Carlstadt did not derive his political or social principles from his theological views. When Münzer's revolutionary measures in Allstädt became threatening, Carlstadt cautioned him, and he induced the people of Orlamünde to separate themselves formally from those of Allstädt. Nevertheless, the points of difference between Wittenberg and Orlamünde were so considerable that the university took active measures against Carlstadt. Luther met Carlstadt at Jena, in Aug., 1524, and thence proceeded to Orlamünde; he was not successful, however, in settling the difficulties. In September Carlstadt with his family, his adherents Martin Reinhard, preacher in Jena, and Gerhard Westerburg, his brother-in-law, were expelled from the territory of the elector. Carlstadt now encountered a time full of hardships and dangers, but he developed an extraordinary activity as a writer. The assumption of the corporal presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper is, according to him, in contradiction to the fundamental presuppositions of Christian doctrine. He found adherents to these ideas not only among the people, but many even in the clergy. In Oct., 1524, he sojourned at Strasburg, then lived temporarily in Heidelberg, Zurich, Basel, Schweinfurt, Kitzingen, and Nördlingen. He was active for a considerable time in Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber, where his sermons carried away the great majority of the citizens. It was at this time that the Peasants' War broke out in Rothenburg. Carlstadt was sent as envoy to the peasants, thus making himself unpopular among them. After the defeat of the South German peasants and the capture of Rothenburg by Margrave Casimir, Carlstadt escaped from the town with difficulty. The collapse of his hopes broke down his power of resistance. He wrote humbly to Luther to open the way for his return to Saxony. Luther took pity upon him, and Carlstadt returned to Wittenberg after he had recanted to some degree his doctrine concerning the Lord's Supper; but he had to pledge himself not to teach or preach. He lived at first in Segrena, after 1528 is Bergwitz, where he had to earn his living like a peasant. Before the close of the year he was reduced almost to poverty, and he removed to the little town of Kemberg and kept a small store. He soon retracted his former recantation and was compelled to flee. In Mar., 1529, he was with Melchior Hofmann, the Anabaptist, in Holstein. Being expelled hence also, he wandered with Hofmann to East Friesland, where he remained until the beginning of 1530 and gathered a great number of adherents. Thence he went to Switzerland, where he was kindly received by Zwingli, who secured for him a position as assistant preacher in Zurich. In Sept., 1531, he became preacher in Altstätten in the valley of the Rhine, but the unfortunate battle near Kappel (Oct. 11) compelled him after a few months to return to Zurich, where he lived in close union with the Reformers of that city. The preachers of Zurich took Carlstadt's part when Luther renewed his attacks. In 1534 he was called to Basel as preacher and professor in the university. Here he became involved in disputes with Myconius; the people took Carlstadt's part, but he estranged himself from his friends in Zurich. He fulfilled his last public task in 1536, when the government of Basel sent him with Grynæus to Strasburg to negotiate with the theologians of that city concerning a reconciliation with the Wittenberg theologians on the question of the Lord's Supper. He showed a very conciliatory spirit, which was not approved by the Swiss theologians.


Carlstadt's earliest writings, De intentionibus (1507), Distinctiones sive formalilates Thomistæ (1508), were of a scholastic nature. His journey to Rome occasioned his treatise Von päpstlicher Heiligkeit (1520), in which he criticized the abuses of popery. In De canonicis scripturis (1520) he laid down the results of his investigations of the Old and the New Testament writings; he shows himself a free and independent critic, but does not shake the authority of the literal sense. In 1521 appeared Von den Empfahern Zeichen und Zusag des heiligen Sacraments and Von Gelübden Unterrichtung; in the latter treatise he advocated the abolition of monastic vows, especially the vow of celibacy. In Sept., 1521, appeared De legis litera sive carne et spiritu; here Carlstadt propounded for the first time an entirely new principle of interpretation which became of much importance in the further development of his theology—the spiritual interpretation of the words of Scripture. Against pictures in churches he wrote in 1522 Von Abthuung der Bilder. In 1524 he published Priestertum und Opfer Christi. After his expulsion from Saxony in 1524 appeared the most radical of his writings, Ob man gemach faren soll, in which he denies the corporeal presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper, and Anzeig etlicher Hauptartikel christlicher Lehre, which contains a comprehensive summary of his views. He combats the central position which the conception of sin had assumed in Luther's theology, as he understood it, and emphasizes the necessity that Christian liberty and justice must produce fruits in good works.

(Hermann Barge.)

Bibliography: The authoritative biography is H. Barge, Andreas Bodenstein van Karlstadt, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1905. Among the older literature the following may be consulted: Mayer, Dissertatio de Karolstadio, Greifswald, 1703; Füsslin, Lebenageschichte des A. B. von Karlstadt, Frankfort, 1776; J. F. Köhler, Beiträge zur Ergänzung der deutschen Litteratur, i. 1–162, ii. 239–269, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1792–94; M. Kirchhofer, Oswald Myconius, pp. 153, 316–343, Zurich, 1813. More modern treatment will be found in: A. W. Dieckhoff, De Carolstadio Lutheranæ doctrinæ contra Eckiurn defensore, Göttingen, 1850; idem, Die evangelische Abendmahlslehre im Reformationszeitalter, ib. 1854; Jäger, A. B. von Karlstadt, Stuttgart, 1856; G. P. Fisher, The Reformation, pp. 93, 113, New York, 1873; W. Walker, The Reformation, 416passim, ib. 1900; J. Köstlin, Martin Luther, passim, 2 vols., Berlin, 1903 (important); Cambridge Modern History, vol. ii., The Reformation, passim, ib. 1904; Moeller, Christian Church, vol. iii. passim, especially pp. 27–35; Schaff, Christian Church, vol. vi. passim. Consult also: G. Bauch, in ZKG, xi. (1890) 448 sqq. (on Carlstadt's scholasticism); D. Schäfer, ib, xiii. (1892) 311 (on the De legis litera).

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