The Diet of Augsburg (1555) had brought the religious strife to a geographical truce on the principle Cuius regio eius religio, “Whose region, his religion”—i.e., in each state the religion of the ruler was to be made the religion of his subjects; dissidents were to leave. The agreement represented a mite of progress, since it substituted emigration for execution; but it was restricted to Lutheranism and Catholicism, and the painful uprooting of many families added to the chaos and bitterness in Germany. When a ruler of one creed was succeeded by another of another, the population was expected to change its faith accordingly. Religion became the tool and victim of politics and war.
So divided in theology, Germany before the Thirty Years’ War presented no simple religious map. By and large the north was Protestant, the south and the Rhineland were Catholic; but, as the Augsburg principle could not be thoroughly or hastily enforced, there were many Protestants in Catholic areas and many Catholics in Protestant lands. The Catholics had the advantages of tradition and unity; the Protestants enjoyed more liberty of belief, and they divided into Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Unitarians; even among the Lutherans there was a war of creeds between the followers and the opponents of the liberal Melanchthon. In 1577 the Lutherans formulated their faith in the Book of Concord, and thereafter Calvinists were expelled from Lutheran states. In the Palatinate, Elector Frederick III favored Calvinism and made the University of Heidelberg a seminary for Calvinist youth. There, in 1563, Calvinist theologians drew up the Heidelberg Catechism, which shocked both Catholics and Lutherans by rejecting the Real Presence of Christ in the wine and bread of the Eucharist. Catholics were tolerated in the Palatinate if they confined their worship to their homes; Unitarians were forcibly suppressed. In 1570 two men who questioned or limited the divinity of Christ were put to death at the insistence of Calvinist professors in the University of Heidelberg. Frederick’s son, Elector Lewis, preferred and enforced Lutheranism; Lewis’ brother John Casimir, as regent (1583–92), preferred and enforced Calvinism; and Elector Frederick IV (1592–1610) confirmed that policy. His son Frederick V (1610–23) married Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of James I of England), claimed the throne of Bohemia, and precipitated the Thirty Years’ War.
The struggle between Lutherans and Calvinists was as bitter as between Protestants and Catholics, and it damaged Protestant co-operation during the war, for each alternation of roles between persecutors and persecuted left a heritage of hate. In 1585 Count Wolfgang of Isenburg-Ronneburg removed all Lutheran functionaries in his territory and installed Calvinists in their place; in 1598 his brother and successor, Count Henry, informed the Calvinist preachers that they must leave within a few weeks, despite wintry weather; in 1601 Count Wolfgang Ernest succeeded to the government, expelled the Lutheran preachers, and restored Calvinism. Similar replacements of Lutherans with Calvinists occurred in Anhalt (1595), Hanau (1596), and Lippe (1600). In East Prussia Johann Funck, accused of Calvinist leanings, was put to death in the market place of Königsberg amid popular rejoicing (1566).39 Chancellor Nikolas Krell was beheaded at Dresden (1601) for altering the Lutheran ritual in a Calvinist direction and for supporting French Huguenots.40 In 1604 Landgrave Maurice of Hesse-Cassel adopted Calvinism; in 1605 he enforced it there and in Upper Hesse; his troops beat back a resisting crowd of Lutherans and tore down the religious images in the churches; preachers unwilling to change from Lutheranism to Calvinism were banished.41 In the Electorate of Brandenburg Lutherans and Calvinists disputed violently as to whether the consecrated Host was really Christ; finally the government decreed Calvinism to be the true religion (1613 f.42
Amid these fluctuations of truth what Melanchthon had called rabies theologorum raged as seldom before or after in history. The Lutheran pastor Nivander (1582) listed forty characteristics of wolves and showed that these were precisely the distinctive marks of Calvinists. He described the dreadful deaths of leading anti-Lutherans; Zwingli, he said, having fallen in battle, “was cut into straps, and the soldiers used his fat—for he was a corpulent man—to grease their boots and shoes.”43 Said a Lutheran pamphlet of 1590: “If anybody wishes to be told, in a few words, concerning which articles of the faith we are fighting with the diabolical Calvinistic brood of vipers, the answer is, all and every one of them … for they are no Christians, but only baptized Jews and Mohammedans.”44 At Frankfurt fair, wrote Stanislaus Rescius (1592), “we have noticed for several years past that the books written by Protestants against Protestants are three times as numerous as those of Protestants against Catholics.”45“These raging theologians,” mourned a Protestant writer in 1610, “have so greatly aggravated and augmented the disastrous strife among the Christians who have seceded from the papacy, that there seems no hope of all this screaming, slandering, abusing, damning, anathematizing, etc., coming to an end before the advent of the Last Day.”46
To understand this “theological rabies” we must remember that all parties to the dispute agreed that the Bible was the infallible word of God, and that life after death should be the main concern of life. And the picture must find room for the real piety that humbled and exalted many Lutherans, Calvinists, and Catholics behind the delirium of the faiths. The Pietists fled from the hustings of theology and sought in privacy some reassuring presence of divinity. Johann Arndt’s Paradisgärtlein (Little Garden of Paradise)is still read in Protestant Germany as a manual of devout contemplation. Jakob Böhme carried the mood into a mystical union of the individual soul with a God conceived as the Universal Well and Ground of all things, containing all contradictions, all “evil” as well as “good.” Böhme claimed to have seen the “Being of all Beings, the God, the Abyss, also the birth of the Holy Trinity.”47 A mind unsympathetic to mysticism will find only a whirlwind of absurdities in Böhme’s De signatura rerum (On the Signature of All Things, 1621); it is consoling to discover that another mystic, John Wesley, described it as “sublime nonsense.”48 Better were the simple and sensuous hymns of the Jesuit Pietist Friedrich von Spee.
As everywhere in Europe, it was the Jesuits who led the Catholic crusade to recover lost terrain. They began by seeking to reform the Catholic clergy. “Pray God,” wrote the Jesuit Peter Faber from Worms in 1540, “that in this city there are even two or three priests who have not formed illicit liaisons or are not living other known sins.”49 But the main strategy was to capture the young; so the Jesuits opened colleges at Cologne, Trier, Coblenz, Mainz, Speyer, Dillingen, Münster, Würzburg, Ingolstadt, Paderborn, Freiburg. Peter Canisius, head and soul of this Jesuit campaign, traversed nearly all Germany on foot, spawning colleges, directing Jesuit polemics, and explaining to German rulers the advantages of the old faith. He urged Duke Albert V to root out by force all Protestantism from Bavaria.50 Through the Jesuits, the Capuchins, the reformation of the clergy, the zeal of bishops, and the diplomacy of popes and nuncios, half the ground won by German Protestantism in the first half of the sixteenth century was regained for the Church in the second half. Some forms of coercion were used here and there, but the movement was largely psychological and political: the masses were tired of uncertainty, controversy, and predestination; their rulers saw in a unified and traditional Catholicism a stronger support of government and social order than in a Protestantism chaotically divided and precariously new.
Realizing at last that their internal divisions were suicidal, the Protestants turned their pulpits and their pens against the Roman foe. A war of words and ink prepared for the war of guns and blood, and mutual vituperation mounted to an almost homicidal ecstasy. Words like dung, offal, ass, swine, whore, murderer entered the terminology of theology. The Catholic writer Johann Nas in 1565 accused the Lutherans of practicing “murder, robbery, lying, deceit, gluttony, drunkenness, incest, and villainy without fear, for faith alone, they say, justifies everything”; and he thought it likely that every Lutheran woman was a prostitute.51 Catholics took the damnation of Protestants as an axiom of theology; but the Lutheran preacher Andreas Lang wrote (1576) with equal certainty, “Papists, like other Turks, Jews, and heathen, are outside the pale of God’s grace, of forgiveness of sins, and of salvation; they are destined to howl, lament, and gnash their teeth everlastingly in the burning fire and brimstone of the flames of hell.”52 Writers on both sides told scandalous tales of each other, as we do now in the war of political creeds. The myth of the Popess Joanna was popular in Protestant literature. “People could see and know,” wrote a clergyman in 1589, “what double-dyed knaves and villains the Jesuiwiders were [who] obstinately persisted in denying that the English whore Agnes had been popess at Rome and had given birth to a boy during a public procession.”53 The popes, said a sermon (1589), had always been, and still were, without a single exception, sodomites, necromancers, and magicians; many of them had been able to spit hellfire out of their mouths. “Satan often appeared visibly to the popes … and joined with them in cursing and trampling the cross of Christ underfoot, and held naked dances over it, which they called divine service.”54 Congregations drank in such intoxicants eagerly. “Children in the streets,” said a Protestant clergyman in 1584, “have learned to curse and mark the Roman Antichrist and his damned crew.”55
The Jesuits were favorite targets. In hundreds of caricatures, pamphlets, books, poems, they were accused of pederasty, adultery, and bestiality. A German woodcut of 1569 (still preserved in the Goethe collection at Weimar) showed the pope, in the form of a sow, giving birth to Jesuits in the form of little pigs. In 1593 the Lutheran theologian Polycarp Leiser published a Latin Historia Jesuitici ordinis, which described the Jesuits as practicing the most obscene vices with full license and pardon from the pope.56 Eine wahrhaftige neue Zeitung (A Truthful New Journal, 1614) informed its readers that the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine had committed adultery 2,236 times with 1,642 women, and it went on to describe the agonizing death of the Cardinal, who was not yet dead by seven years.57
The Jesuits at first replied with restraint. Canisius advised temperate language; so did the Protestant pastor Johann Mathesius; but the public preferred vituperation to moderation. Protestant polemists accused the Jesuits of accepting the doctrine of the Jesuit Mariana defending tyrannicide; a German Jesuit replied that this was precisely the doctrine that ought to be applied to princes who forced Protestantism upon their subjects; but other Jesuits assured the Protestant rulers that they were considered legitimate princes, and that not a hair of their heads would be hurt.58 The Jesuit Conrad Vetter published (1594–99) ten pamphlets in which he used the grossest terms of abuse, excusing himself on the ground that he was following the lead of Lutheran divines; these pamphlets were bought by the public as fast as they could be printed. The Jesuits of Cologne declared that “the stubborn heretics who spread dissension everywhere” in Catholic territory
ought to be punished as thieves, robbers, and murderers are punished; indeed, more severely than such criminals, for the latter only injure the body, while the former plunge souls into everlasting perdition. … If forty years ago Luther had been executed, or burned at the stake, or if certain persons had been put out of the world, we should not have been subjected to such abominable dissensions, or to those multitudes of sects who upset the whole world.59
In the same spirit the Calvinist David Parens, professor of theology at Heidelberg, summoned (1618) all Protestant princes to a crusade against the papacy; in this enterprise they should “stop at no kind of severity or punishment.”60 The barrage of pamphlets culminated with 1,800 publications in the one year 1618, the first year of the war.
As the power and the temper of the Catholics rose, a number of Protestant princes formed a Union of Evangelical Estates (1608), or Protestant Union, for mutual protection. The Elector of Saxony held aloof, but Henry IV of France seemed ready to help in any enterprise against the Hapsburg Emperor. In 1609 several Catholic rulers, led by Duke Maximilian I of Bavaria, formed a Catholic Union, which came to be known as the Catholic League; by August 1610 nearly all the Catholic states of the Empire had joined, and Spain offered military aid. The Protestant Union agreed (February 1610) to help Henry IV take possession of the duchy of Jülich-Cleves, but the assassination of the French King (May 14) left the Protestants shorn of their strongest ally. Fear ran through Protestant Germany, but the League was not ready for action. In January 1615 Landgrave Maurice of Hesse-Cassel warned the Protestant Union that “the Catholic League, protected by the pope, the king of Spain, the court of Brussels, and the emperor, … had ordered its munitions of war … with a view … to the extirpation of the evangelical religion.”61Caspar Scioppius added to the excitement by warning the Catholics and the Lutherans (1616) that the Calvinists “intended to overthrow the Religious and Public Peace, and the whole of the Holy Roman Empire, and to eradicate the Augsburg Confession, as well as the Catholic faith, from the Empire”;62 perhaps this was an attempt to further divide the main Protestant bodies. Territorial conflicts between Austria and Bavaria weakened the Catholic League in 1616, and men again dreamed of peace.
But in Prague Count Heinrich von Thurn pleaded with the Protestant leaders to prevent the ardently Catholic Archduke Ferdinand from taking the throne of Bohemia. Emperor Matthias had left five deputy governors to administer the country during his absence. The governors overruled the Protestants in disputes about church building at Klostergrab, and sent the objectors to jail. On May 23, 1618, Thurn led a crowd of irate Protestants into Hradschin Castle, climbed to the rooms where two of the governors sat, and threw them out the window, along with a pleading secretary. All three fell fifty feet, but they landed in a heap of filth and escaped more soiled than injured. That famous “defenestration” was a dramatic challenge to the Emperor, to the Archduke, and to the Catholic League. Thurn expelled the Archbishop and the Jesuits and formed a revolutionary Directory. He could hardly have realized that he had let loose the dogs of war.