Medieval Articles
Battle of the Three Kings
The Battle of Tondibi
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Siege of Mazagan, 1562
Sharif and the Sultan of Fishermen
Ninety Five Theses and Revolution
Muslim Invasion of Iberia
Cairo's Fortress on the Mountain

Thomas Leckwold Articles
Ninety Five Theses and Revolution
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution that followed 
By Thomas Leckwold

Author's Notes: This paper wades into the often emotional aspects of the role of Christianity in Western society, and specifically in central Europe during the 16th century. This paper is not meant as a critique or condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, or the clergy, nor is it meant to be a promotion or condemnation of Martin Luther and other leaders of the reform movement that led to the Protestant Reformation. It is an attempt to provide a view of the societal influences that were contributing factors that led the people of Europe to take up arms to settle their disputes.

Martin Luther's Ninety Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences was nailed to the castle church in Wittenberg, in now modern day Germany, on October 31, 1517. This document was a protest that strongly criticized the practice of selling indulgences of the Roman Catholic Church, known here after as the Church. The document was a challenge to church authority that set forth events that permanently changed the religious, political, and social factors of central Europe, and led to a series of wars using the pretext of faith, and the role of the Church in the political structure of Western Europe. Luther's document was not meant to be a call to revolution, but the social conditions, and economic factors, along with religious convictions did set in motion a revolution and subsequent conflicts in central Europe.

Defining a revolution is central to the issue to be examined. Was this act the start of a revolution? A revolution is defined as a fundamental change in power or organizational structure in a relatively short time period, and creates upheaval in society. Luther's public posting of the Ninety Five Theses' is often cited as the opening act of the Protestant Reformation and the events that followed appears to make it a simple and easy conclusion that the Protestant Reformation was a revolution based on this definition. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who wrote and promoted extensively on the subject of revolution and the authors of The Communist Manifesto dedicate a portion of their writing about revolution and how it relates to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

It would seem ironic that Marx and Engels would use the religious figure of Martin Luther as an inspiration for their quest for a communist revolution. Marx referred to religion as the opiate of the masses, so it is suspect that he would look to Luther as a source of revolutionary inspiration. But Marx did admit that the Protestant Reformation was an example of a revolution by the proletariat, though he later qualifies his remarks by stating that the Reformation was a theoretical revolution and not a real one that would occur during a communist revolution .[1] He also stated that Luther overcame the bondage of piety and replaced it with the bondage of conviction .[2]

So was the Reformation a revolution or not? Marx is mendacious by using Luther's stature in the German culture to inspire Germans for his appeal for a revolution and he did admit Luther started a revolution even if only theoretical in Marx's view. Though the motives are not entirely clear, it seems that admitting the Reformation inspired the proletariat to revolt would be an admission that the proletariat could have a valid revolution outside of the communist cause and that revolution, especially one by the proletariat, could occur despite missing the material class basis for a revolution. Roland Boer does not follow the line of thought by Marx and states that the Reformation was truly revolutionary because it changed the societal structure of central Europe. Boer will be proven correct as the events after October 31, 1517 are set in motion.

The question of revolution and defining it is important because the social upheaval of revolution does not necessarily lead to open conflict but in the case of the Protestant Reformation in central Europe it certainly did. Also the fact that the Reformation led to open conflict is a clear signal that the ensuing revolution was real and anything, despite Marx's assertion, was not just theoretical.

Why did the revolution occur and lead to open conflict during the Reformation? Luther's Ninety Five Theses was not the primary factor for the conflict that was to follow, but it was an important contributing factor among several other factors. Luther's document and the events that followed was a provocation that eventually led to a violent revolution. The other contributing factors were the role of a changing society including humanism, growing German nationalism, economic turmoil, and the institute of war itself and its role in Western society.

Gwynne Dyer explains that sixteenth century Europe was in a state of change as the entire basis of economic and political power was shifting from feudal based agriculture to commerce as the main source of wealth .[3] The population in this process was shifting toward the cities weakening the feudal system and facilitating for monarchs the centralization of their power. He also points out that war is a functional institution that was a mechanism to help rulers take what they wanted or keep what they already had[4] , and thus played a role in western societies .[5] The option to settle differences in Western society had a ready mechanism of choosing war as an option to settle the issue.

The Western society's view was being changed by events around them. Travel to the Far East was common, and advances were being made in medicine, math, and physics. These changes created not only challenges to the church, but also changed how society viewed the world around them and ended many of the assumptions that they thought the world was based upon .[6] All of these rapid changes in society were disruptive forces in themselves, and all these ideas were fanned across society through the use of the printing press. This made it increasingly difficult for the Vatican to control the message that society received.

The changing times also brought about the rise of the philosophy of humanism. Humanism focused on human values and concerns and attaches importance to human matters rather than divine or supernatural matters. One of the leading humanists, Desiderius Erasmus, attacked the pomp of the church and called for greater simplicity and the emphasis of obedience of all Christians to be a "soldier of Christ" in their practical and daily life in the midst of human affairs. Erasmus believed this obedience to faith was more important than church doctrine, and the empowering idea of human importance would make it difficult to maintain current church practices .[7]

Erasmus was an influential scholar and was a leading humanist who took efforts to communicate with other humanists and scholars through letters. This meant his beliefs, ideas, and writings were spread throughout Europe and had a ready and willing audience in the academic community and thus influential in the Renaissance age in Europe. Erasmus' belief in the inward focus on obedience and attacks on doctrine unpopular with the Papacy who's power and influence was based on its doctrine. This challenge to authority created, not unexpectedly, a divide of those who supported a change of the focus in the Church, and those who wanted to maintain the status quo. Both sides became increasingly impassioned and would make tolerance and moderation difficult, and would handicap church reform that would require patience to achieve change .[8]

Another factor was the role of national identity. The current definition of nationalism is a product of the French Revolution of 1789. Central Europe during the sixteenth century was still highly fragmented and dominated by the Holy Roman Empire that extended over most of the territory of modern day Germany. The idea of nationality was not so much of the identity as a member of a country but an identity created by a common culture, a common language, and a common dislike of anybody that was viewed as different. The German people of the Holy Roman Empire were known to have prejudices toward the Italians .[9] The people south of the Alps were despised for their decadent ways and the large sums of money leaving the German lands and going to Italy .[10]

The German prejudices were a contributing complicating factor of reform. The Italians were the dominating people within the Vatican leadership, so this complicated factors as the events of the Reformation unfolded. The Spanish were known for their racial and religious identify and the newly elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire during the Reformation was Charles V who was also the king of Spain. He was often accompanied by Spanish soldiers which were a humiliation to German speaking people, especially the people who supported Martin Luther and his reform movement.

The German indignation toward the power of Rome reached a personified height of loathing by the Dominican seller of indulgences John Tetzel. Tetzel's role was to raise money to pay the debt of the Archbishop of Mainz Albert of Brandenburg. Albert was the twice over archbishop who needed to raise money for the pope in exchange for being granted his position and was Luther's archbishop. The pope intended to use this money to help pay for the finishing of the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome. The quiet undercurrents were that Tetzel was fleecing the German people to help pay for their luxury lifestyle by using indulgences .[11] This is what inspired Martin Luther to act.

Considering the importance that Luther attached to this, it is important to understand the system of indulgences. The indulgence system was established in the Roman Catholic Church on the two assumptions. The first that any wrong requires an act of restitution and that God demands an action on part of the sinner to prove repentance. The second assumption is that Christ's virtues or merits are infinite for saving the world from Adam's sin. All of these merits made up the Treasury of Merits that was available for Christian repentance .[12] The Treasury of Merit can be granted to shorten a Christian’s time in purgatory and this grant given out by Christ's representatives on earth (the Pope and his ordained clergy) was an indulgence.

When a Christian confessed and repented sin they would pay a thank offering to the church to show their gratitude for being forgiven of their sin. This practice eventually formed into a system that Christians could pay for an indulgence, and could eventually undermine the original act of confession and repentance. The indulgence system was expanded in 1476 when it was argued that indulgences could be paid for Christians that were already dead and presumed to be in purgatory. This was eventually recognized by the church and became part of the practice of indulgence .[13] This abuse of the indulgence system was to be a target of Luther's attack on the indulgent system.

All of these factors were all coming to a boiling point in German society in 1517. The frustration in German society, especially the non-ruling class that was looking for an outlet that would create an outpouring of their grievances about what they believed was an abuse within their society. The catalyst was Luther's writing for allowing society to express their list of grievances and the religious ideas of the reformation served as a rallying point and organizing factor to sustain the demands for change to address these grievances .[14]

An outlet was going to come at some point, and it so happened to be Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses. Luther had written before on the abuses and need for reform and had never had the audience, so he had no expectation that this would be any different. However, his theses were written in both Latin, for the church, and in German for society at large. The power of the printing press extended Luther's message to a larger non-Latin speaking audience that was ready to align itself to a message that spoke to some of their grievances. The outpouring was slow at first, and would not reach a crescendo for another seven years, but events were set in motion for a revolution.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote extensively on the universal truths of war (though from a Western point of view) and he recognized that revolution was a form of warfare that is a threat to the social order of society. Popular uprisings lead to the sweeping of barriers in society by the elemental violence of warfare[15] , so according to Clausewitz could be a form of warfare. The events that followed October 31, 1517 was the start of sweeping away of barriers as the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church over Western European society and the subsequent breakdown of a monopolistic philosophy in faith and breakdown of Church political power to the benefit of strengthening of the power of the European monarchies.

The first part of the revolution by force of arms was the Peasant's War that started in 1524. The Catholic Church and Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire reaction to Luther and his call for reform of the church is what caused the opening violence of the Protestant Reformation. A more measured reaction to Luther, who could be temperamental, could have lead to a peaceful resolution but as events played out, this was not to be and Protestant and Catholic became more entrenched in the righteousness of their beliefs.

The fact that Luther posted the document on the castle church in Wittenberg meant that his challenge was a public matter. The Archbishop of Mainz Albert of Brandenburg received a copy of Luther's posting and a cover letter from Luther of which he dutifully forwarded it to the Pope and asked for intervention. The document was also translated into German and liberally printed and distributed. There were two primary religious orders in Western Europe, the Dominicans and the Augustinians. Luther was from the Augustinian order and his challenge caused a resulting challenge by Dominican theologians, of which Luther's own archbishop, Albert, was a member.

Pope Leo X, not initially recognizing the potential magnitude of the disruption to society, viewed this as another squabble between Augustinian and Dominican orders instructed the Augustinians to work the matter out at their three year meeting in Heidelberg scheduled for April 1518. The pope felt there were more pressing matters with the rivalry between Spain and France and the continuing threat from the Turks .[16]

Luther attended this meeting despite fearing that he would be condemned and burned as a heretic. However, this did not happen and Luther found an audience that welcomed his message. Younger theologians viewed him enthusiastically as an inspiration and other members as this being another example of the rivalry between themselves and the Dominicans and chose to support a member of their order .[17] So, the matter was not settled and in fact Luther was strengthened by this support.

The Pope again attempted to settle the matter by sending a representative to meet with Luther. Cardinal Carjetan, a Dominican, who's primary mission was to go to Augsburg to press the Pope's case at the Imperial Diet with Emperor Maximilian to convince the German princes to take up a crusade against the Turks. Carjetan's secondary mission was to meet with Luther and force him to recant .[18] Frederick the Wise arranged for this meeting in the hopes of ending the issue, and he also arranged for guaranteed safe passage for Luther from the Pope .[19] The Pope was ready to agree because he needed the support of princes like Frederick for his proposed crusade.

Luther was distrustful of such imperial guarantees but decided to go forward and meet with Carjetan. Luther said that he would withdraw what he said if he could be convinced he was wrong, but Carjetan with a papal order to arrest Luther, demanded just a simple recant. He was not prepared or willing to engage in a debate with Luther who was just a German friar. This was another reflection of the disdain the Italians had for the people of the north. Luther secretly fled Augsburg before Carjetan could have him arrested .[20]

Frederick the Wise felt compelled to protect Luther from the authorities. He did not see the crisis of conscious that Luther expressed, but he believed that Luther deserved a fair trial and thus warranted his protection until a fair trial could be guaranteed .[21] For Luther's part, the meeting with Carjetan was a turning point. The Church proved it was not willing to argue Christian truths with him and made him question the Church's hierarchy. Luther took a step, that was considered disloyal, to call for a General Council to hear his case. The General Council was practice that was banned in 1460 and was a clear sign of the growing riff .[22]

In 1519, Charles V was elected as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The election of Charles V was feared by Pope Leo X because Charles was already the monarch of Spain, and hereditary claims to Austria, the Low Countries, and southern Italy. This concentration of power was feared by the Pope in addition to the gold that was flowing to Spain from the New World [23] thus giving Charles both great political and economic power. The ascendance of Charles V was also a complication to the identification of the German people, of which Luther's movement was impacting society.

The concentration of power that Charles V possessed was a legitimate concern for the pope, but Charles V was no ally to the reform movement and Martin Luther. Charles V was an orthodox Christian in his beliefs, closely aligned with the Dominicans and their belief in the authority of the pope and the church, and he was not going to tolerate heresy in his lands .[24] However this was complicated by the fact that Frederick the Wise supported his candidacy and was also protecting Luther. Frederick was also starting to agree with Luther's views for the need to reform. Frederick was influential with the German princes, so stamping out the reformation would not be an easy task for the new emperor in the German lands that were starting to form a national identity.

A few weeks after the election of Charles V, Luther had a debate at Leipzig University to debate the reform movement. There was a truce on the attacks and any move against Luther in exchange that Luther would not inflame the reform debate. John Eck, an opponent of Luther, and a participant in the debate wanted to challenge Luther but did not want to break the truce. Eck instead attacked supporters of Luther which ultimately forced a response from Luther. Eck aptly maneuvered Luther into support of Hussite heretics and was an embarrassing public defeat for Luther .[25]

The result was that the truce was broken and Luther became more aggressive in his confrontation with the Church, and calls for reforms. This was in conjunction with the ascendance of Charles V and his intolerance for heresy increased the dangers to Luther and his supporters. Luther's supporters cut across a wide spectrum of German society, including princes, academics, theologians, humanists, and nationalists. The debate and call for reform would inflame the passions of the Church and reform supporters as the abuses of Rome became a central point of the argument.

With the break of the truce and the election of Charles V, Pope Leo X had no reason to postpone his move against Luther. Leo X issued a papal bull, Exsurge Domine, on June 15, 1520 that instructed that all books of Luther be burned, issued a declaration of anathema, and instructed that Luther had sixty days to submit to Roman authority or face excommunication .[26]

Luther decided that a break with the Roman Catholic Church was inevitable in his mind. The Church refused to debate his calls for reform and instead brought forth threats and condemnation toward him and his beliefs and demanded he submit to the authority of the Church. Luther was now freed from the idea of trying to save the church and could now go about speaking out against the Church. He went forth to lay out his case to the German leaders, people, and the Catholic clergy as well as attacks against the pope and his authority this was when the rhetoric and passion on those who attacked the papacy and defended it were inflamed to a new level. This would have a profound effect on western European society.

Luther authored and printed three treatises between August 1520 and November 1520. These books were a direct challenge to the church and were a broad engagement of nearly all parts of German society. These books laid out the foundations against the Catholic Church and the pope, as well setting forth a new set of beliefs that was later to be part of the Lutheran Church, but also how the Church and temporal governance should interact independently. They would also serve as a unifying and dividing factor for other Protestant movements and the Catholic Church itself and this included all of the societal elements that were divided into supporters and detractors and they represented a disruptive change of the status quo within society.

The first book, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, was printed in August 1520. The book was written in German and was addressed to the nobility of the Holy Roman Empire. This book was an attack on the power of the Pope by arguing that the Church, by decree, declared themselves above all other forms of government, that only the pope could interpret scripture, and that only the Pope could call a council and thus prevent any reform from occurring .[27] The argument outlined that these three walls, as Luther described them, were meant to preserve the power of the Pope and were a corrupting influence on the true role of what the Church should be. He argued that the secular rulers should be aware of this power hungry corruption and resist it before Rome plunders Germany of its wealth .[28] This was a direct attack on the Pope, referred to by Luther as the Antichrist, and was sure to stir up a strong reaction in supporters of the Church.

The second book, The Babylonian Captivity, was written in October 1520 in Latin and was directed toward the clergy. This book was also an angry and militant attack on the Pope and the sacraments of the Church and especially the denial of the sacrament of communion to the laity .[29] Again, this was an attack on the Church authority and its interpretation (and monopoly thereof) of scripture. This time it was an attack to undermine the Church's authority in regards to faith and those who serve the Church.

The third book, The Freedom of a Christian, written in Latin on November 1520 was a less militant book and included an open letter to Pope Leo X that is more respectful then previous works and deflects some of the attacks toward the Pope on the cardinals and calls for a hearing on his calls for reform .[30] The book also goes onto explain the perplexities of salvation through faith alone and good works. This book was also of interest to the humanist movement, but the significant part was the apparent softening of the criticism of the pope. However, this was to no avail with Pope Leo X.

Luther, at this point, not being one to show restraint of a cooler head, publicly burned the papal bull, works of John Eck, and volumes of canon law in Wittenberg on December 10, 1520 .[31] Supporters of Luther did the same all over Germany and supporters of the Pope, did what was instructed in the bull. The passions of the people were being driven by the events as society was moving closer toward a rebellion as both sides were reaching beyond the point of compromise as Luther publicly challenged the authority of the pope.

1521 was the year that the full force of the Catholic Church and its supporters attempted to silence Luther's call to reform and forced society to make their side clear in the coming conflict. The year opened with Luther being excommunicated on January 3, 1521 .[32] However, Pope Leo X could not move silence Luther without the support of Charles V. Charles V was a convinced Catholic, but he was in a difficult position to be able to support the pope's desire to end the heresy of Luther.

Charles V's issues were twofold. First, Pope Leo X was a supporter of Charles V rival, Francis I of France. Charles V could use Luther's existence to create a wedge between the pope and Francis I by refusing to take action against Luther. This meant that Leo X could not get too close to Francis I at the risk of alienating Charles V. Luther became had become a factor in the balance of power in western and central Europe .[33]

The second issue that Charles V had to contend was the internal balance of power within his own empire. He needed the support of the lords and princes within Germany to maintain effective governance and control of the empire. Charles V had to balance his desire not to countenance heresy of Luther, but also the need to effectively manage the empire that he inherited .[34]

Charles V eventually determined that he would give a hearing within the borders of the Holy Roman Empire at the Imperial Diet at Worms. Luther would have to appear before the emperor and many of the lords of the German nation in April 1521. Conducting the hearing within the borders of Germany was an important step to maintain the support of the German nobility, especially Frederick the Wise, many of whom were supporters of Luther and the call for reform. This compromise received papal protest and a sign of its weakening power on the nobility in Europe .[35]

Charles V, despite this compromise, was not going to debate Luther. Luther was going to be asked to recant his works and his calls for reform, and submit to Church authority. Luther was presented a list of his works and books and asked if he had wrote them in which Luther acknowledged that he had. Then he was asked "Will you recant?" and he was to answer "yes" or "no" .[36] Luther requested and received permission to have one day to think about his answer. The next day Luther was asked again to recant and in German he stated that he would not recant. Luther's use of German showed he was a man of Germany, and Charles V, who was accompanied to Worms with a corps of Spanish soldiers, to the irritation of the populace and some of the German nobility, was not German .[37]

Despite the fact the Pope Leo X died and was replaced by Charles V ally, Pope Adrian VI, Luther was still considered to have challenged and rebelled against the church's authority, and now at Worms, Luther had challenged the authority of Charles V and this was not going to be tolerated. Charles V issued an edict that declared that Luther was a convicted heretic, and that no one was to give him shelter, his followers were also condemned and Luther's books were to be erased from human memory .[38]

Frederick the Wise was guaranteed safe passage for Luther to and from the Diet but Charles V intended to have Luther immediately arrested. However, Frederick had arranged for Luther to be kidnapped and taken away to Wartburg Castle for safe keeping. There Luther started work on the German translation of the New Testament that helped shape the German language and national identity. It was also a time that Luther was to lose direct control over the events of the Reformation, because while he was out of contact, his collaborators pressed on with the reforms.

The influential collaborators were Andreas Karlstadt and Philipp Melanchthon who pressed on with the reforms in Luther's absence. They abolished masses for the dead, offered communion to the laity and host, simplified services, and replaced Latin with German during religious services. This was a continuing decline of the social order in Germany that Charles V wanted to end, but external threats to his power kept his focus on protecting his empire. France and the successor to Adrian VI, Pope Clement VII declared war on Charles V. He also had to defend his eastern borders from invading Turks that were threatening Vienna. This left the turmoil from the reform movement within Germany to be handled by the German nobility.

The first to rebel were the lesser gentry of German knights under the leadership of Franz von Sickingen in 1522. These knights saw their fortunes decline and focused their blame on Rome; as such they saw inspiration in Luther's anti-Rome criticism and viewed his message as championing the German nation. Although Luther did not encourage them they used him as inspiration and attacked Trier in Rhineland-Palatinate claiming they were doing so in the defense of the Reformation .[39]

The knights were soundly defeated by the German princes who used this uprising to confiscate land from this lower gentry’s class in 1523. This was viewed as a tragedy by Luther and his closest followers who believed this to be proof that the citizens should submit to the established temporal authorities as he has stated in 1520 in the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

1524 was an even more turbulent within Germany as the peasant class exploded into rebellion. This became known as the Peasants' War and created a serious crisis for Luther and the Reformation. These peasants viewed Luther's defiance to authority as a signal that all authority was failing and that the Last Days had arrived and God's enemies in high places were to be overthrown .[40]

The rebellion was not officially led or directed by anyone. Luther's associate, Andreas Karlstadt, though not espousing violence was viewed by Luther as a revolutionary. Starting in 1522, Karlstadt started advocating the removal of religious imagery from churches and performed services in secular clothing. Luther urged caution and moderation but eventually opposed the direction that Karlstadt was taking the Reformation .[41] Karlstadt was eventually exiled from Saxony by Frederick the Wise because of his activities and was probably urged by Luther to do so.

Karlstadt was an inspiration to the peasantry in their rebellion, but the most notable influence was Thomas Muntzer who preached that written Scripture was not the most important but the "present revelation of the Spirit" and that those who were born again of the Spirit should join a theocratic community to bring about the Kingdom of God .[42] Luther, a believer in the written Scripture, was concerned that those beliefs would have consequences to his own teachings and had Muntzer forced out of Saxony. Muntzer would return again in 1524 during the Peasants' War.

Though Muntzer was a force in the Peasants' War, the Reformation movement was a source of inspiration as well and this was to include the writings of Luther. The identifying of the German nation, the defiance to authority, and the humanist element of empowering the individual to participate in the lessons of the scripture and Mass instead of bystanders was a powerful motivating factor against the ruling class. They attempted to use the word of the Scripture as a source of inspiration to make social and economic demands, though Luther saw no such connection .[43]

Luther could sympathize with the peasants, but he also believed in the power of the temporal leaders and the need to submit to their authority in non-religious affairs. The peasants stated their demands in the Twelve Articles that placed their economic and social demands and related them to the Scripture, though Luther saw no connection. However, he did argue to the princes that the peasantry were oppressed and asked for the princes and peasantry to pursue a peaceful course to their grievances and published An admonishment to peace that was addressed to both ruling princes and the peasantry to pursue peace .[44]

When the uprising was in full course and the peasantry resorted to plundering, Luther declared them thieves and bandits and wrote a pamphlet titled Against the robbing and murdering hordes of peasants , using Romans 13.1 as inspiration called on the princes to end the rebellion .[45] The result was a vicious crushing of the rebellion, and despite Luther's call for the princes to show mercy over one hundred thousand peasants were killed including Thomas Muntzer, and by 1525 the rebellion ended.

The bloodshed of the Peasants' War was a source of personal conflict and agony for Luther. He certainly felt an attachment to the peasantry, being a son of a peasant, and he realized that his own ideas fueled the religious fervor of the peasant rebellion. So why did he turn on the peasants when he appeared to be a champion of the power and righteousness of all men in his calls for reforming the Church?

Luther's belief in the Two Kingdoms helps explain some of his response to side with the peasants. As Christians, despite have been treated unjustly, they had no right to revolt against the temporal leaders and they, as leaders, had the right to defend themselves and establish order .[46] Luther realized that many of the princes had come over to his beliefs for reform against the Catholic Church, and that he would need their support and strength to defend the Reformation from the external threat from Charles V and the allies of Catholicism. If the peasants had won, they could not stand up against the organized armies of the enemies of the Reformation.

Eight years after the posting of his Ninety Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences , what Marx would refer to the proletariat had watched, inspired, and rose up in what they saw as Luther's defiance and embracing of the common Christian and to a somewhat lesser extent defining the German identity which was becoming more important when put in the context of the German animosity toward the Italians and the belief of the abuses of Rome. The nature of the changing economic structure and the breaking down of the feudal political system within society of the Renaissance introduced another level of uncertainty and instability into society.

These factors were fortuitous for Luther and the Reformers because a level of openness was at least possible that did not exist in the past. It was also tragic because there was a high level of volatility in society that virtually guaranteed any significant social disruption would lead to civil disruptions that could lead to a violent reaction as was a predisposition in Western society. When the internal societal rebellion of the peasants was put down, the Reformation moved into the next and more dangerous phase of defending the Reformation from the leaders and the institutions that desired the return to the status quo and affirmation of the authority of Rome. The social revolution was to continue.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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© 2023 Thomas Leckwold.

Published online: 03/31/2012.

Written by Thomas Leckwold. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Thomas Leckwold at:

About the author:
Thomas Leckwold currently lives in northwest Georgia and served in the U.S. Army from 1985-1992. He received his B.B.A. in Economics from Kennesaw State University and his M.A. in Military History from Norwich University. He works at the corporate headquarters of a nationwide retailer in Atlanta as a Senior Inventory Analyst. His interests include reading both military history, political commentary, and the occasional science fiction. He also enjoys riding his motorcycle around in the scenic mountains that are in his area.

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