The German Reformation
In the sixteenth century Protestantism spread across Europe like an egg spreads across a frying pan when you're making fried egg. In the middle of this egg was Germany and the yoke was Martin Luther. Thus the tedious egg metaphor was taken too far, but the German Reformation was very important and had to be studied at great length whether
Holly an unspecified history student wanted to or not.
Looking at the German Reformation brings up three questions:
- How important was Luther?
- How and why did it spread?
- Why Germany?
There is also the fourth question – Why oh why dear God did I choose to study history instead of something easy like Quantum Physics And Wombat Studies (X145 at the University of Cockup, Cumbria)? – but I can't answer that.
How Important Was Luther?
Luther was a bit odd. He was going to be a lawyer when he got caught in a thunder storm, got a bit scared and decided to be monk instead. This frequently happens. William the Conqueror was going to be a hairdresser before an unfortunate bout of rain in Normandy. Next thing he knows he's woken up in England avec crown, and there's no explanation bar some tapestry, thus providing the first historical evidence of what later became the "If there's no photos it didn't happen" school of nights out.
So Luther goes off and becomes the numero uno, suck up uber-monk and everyone takes one look at him and thinks nerd. He's also uber-religious which was a normal thing at the time, but seemingly the combination of nerd and uber-religious was not a common one because he did something unexpected. He thought about it.
We can imagine the scene as something dramatic, maybe Luther in his room at night, in a thunderstorm, wrestling with theological problems and personal beliefs. We can. But we're not going to because
I've a famous artist already drawn it below.
Eventually Luther concluded that:
- Those indulgences were a bit, y'know, dodgy.
- Those priests were a bit, y'know, corrupt.
- Those Latin services were a bit, y'know, alienating.
Especially the indulgences which have been put into bold text here to show just HOW IMPORTANTTM they were. Clue: very*. Basically you went to a priest and paid some money and you got less time in purgatory which is like a waiting room for heaven where souls go to feel guilty for a very long time. Very, very Catholic in other words. Luther did not like this. He didn't like Masses being said for dead souls either which was a derivative of indulgences.
Also Latin services weren't his cup of tea because he was German and preferred words like neunhundertneunundneunzigtausendneunhundertneunundneunzig to poncy ones like in vinas veritas which were way too short.
So anyway he had a lot to say and pinned his Ninety Five (niney five! 95!?! What a whinger…) Theses to the door of the cathedral except he might not have but it makes a better story than posting them to the great and good which is what he did do but is less cool. Try posting your demands for someone to do the bloody dishes to your flatmates. Now try pinning your demands to the door of a cathedral. Neither will work, but the latter will make you feel cool**.
Luther got listened to and is therefore the first radical thinker and we can safely ignore Erasmus and Hus and all the other radicals who came before him, but didn't do the washing and got forgotten.
How And Why Did It Spread? Why Germany?
Luther wasn't the only person who liked neunhundertneunundneunzigtausendneunhundertneunundneunzig as opposed to carpe diem. Some German princes did as well. Not all of them mind, especially not the Holy Roman Emperor who had an awesome title. He liked Catholicism. Others didn't. So they rowed and rowed and rowed, and then they got out of the boat and started arguing about it. The HRE (as I abbrieviated him in my notes) wanted to hurt Luther, but another German prince, who presumably had a smaller hat (in line with the big hat = power principal first seen in Egypt) protected Luther.
The pro-Luther princes decided to spread the word using a clever combination of targetted advertising, incentives and promotional offers for their subjects. Just kidding. They simply threatened to dead anyone who disagreed. And people didn't like being dead in those days which is quite like the situation today and just goes to show that nothing really ever changes. Nothing.
Then some peasants heard about all this and liked the bit about people being equal in God's eyes. It sounded nice and socialist. So they marched around in an attempt to be equal, which included the equal right to make people dead, just like the princes did. Only this got Luther pissed off and on his high horse and the peasants got deaded instead by the princes. Turned out Luther didn't think people were equal. Just rich nobles who protected him.
So Lutheranism spread like a chocolate sauce and Luther celebrated by writing long books and being grumpy.
*Learn this and pass exams.
**Though God only knows who's going to do those damn dishes...