The Wartburg was in itself a somber punishment. The ancient castle, perched on a mountaintop a mile from Eisenach, was hidden from the world as well as from the Emperor. For almost ten months (May 4, 1521, to February 29, 1522) Luther dwelt there in a gloomy chamber equipped with bed, table, stove, and a stump as a stool. A few soldiers guarded the fortress, a warden tended the grounds, two boys served Luther as pages. For convenience, and perhaps as a local disguise, he shed his monastic robe, donned knightly garb, and grew a beard; he was now Junker George. He went out hunting, but he did not relish killing rabbits when there were so many Antichrists still unslain. Idleness and insomnia, and too much food and beer, made him ill and stout. He fretted and cursed like a Junker. “I had rather burn on live coals,” he wrote, “than rot here.... I want to be in the fray.”83 But Frederick’s minister advised him to stay in hiding for a year while Charles’s fervor cooled. Charles, however, made no effort to find or arrest him.
In Luther’s intellectual solitude doubts and hallucinations plagued him. Could it be, he wondered, that he was right and so many pundits wrong? Was it wise to break down the authority of the established creed? Did the principle of private judgment portend the rise of revolution and the death of law? If we may believe the story that he told in his anecdotage, he was disturbed, in the castle, by strange noises that he could explain only as the activity of demons. He professed to have seen Satan on several occasions; once, he vouched, the Devil pelted him with nuts;84 once, says a famous legend, Luther flung an ink bottle at him, but missed his aim.85 He solaced himself by writing vivid letters to his friends and his enemies, by composing theological treatises, and by translating the New Testament into German. Once he made a flying trip to Wittenberg to harness a revolution.
His defiance at Worms, and his survival, had given his followers a heady elation. At Erfurt students, artisans, and peasants attacked and demolished forty parish houses, destroyed libraries and rent rolls, and killed a humanist (June 1521). In the fall of that exciting year the Augustinian friars of Erfurt abandoned their monastery, preached the Lutheran creed, and denounced the Church as “mother of dogma, pride, avarice, luxury, faithlessness, and hypocrisy.”86 At Wittenberg, while Melanchthon composed his Loci communes rerum theologicarum (1521)—the first systematic exposition of Protestant theology—his fellow professor Carlstadt, now archdeacon of the Castle Church, demanded that Mass should be said (if at all) in the vernacular, that the Eucharist should be given in wine and bread without preliminary confession or fasting, that religious images should be removed from churches, and that the clergy—monks as well as secular priests—should marry and procreate. Carlstadt set a pace by marrying, at forty, a girl of fifteen (January 19,1522).
Luther approved of this marriage, but “Good Heavens!” he wrote, “will our Wittenbergers give wives to monks?”87 Nevertheless he found something attractive in the idea, for he sent to Spalatin (November 21, 1521) a treatise On Monastic Vows, defending their repudiation. Spalatin delayed its publication, for it was unconventionally frank. It accepted the sexual instinct as natural and irrepressible, and declared that monastic vows were lures of Satan, multiplying sins. Four years would elapse before Luther himself would marry; his belated appreciation of woman apparently played no part in inaugurating the Reformation.
The revolution proceeded. On September 22, 1521, Melanchthon administered communion in both kinds; here the Utraquists of Bohemia won a delayed victory. On October 2 3 the Mass ceased to be said in Luther’s monastery. On November 12 thirteen of the monks walked out of the cloister and headed for marriage; soon a similar exodus would empty half the monasteries of Germany. On December 3 some students and townsfolk, armed with knives, entered the parish church of Wittenberg, drove the priests from the altars, and stoned some worshipers who were praying before a statue of the Virgin. On December 4 forty students demolished the altars of the Franciscan monastery in Wittenberg. On that same day Luther, still disguised as a Junker, clandestinely visited the city, approved the marriage of the monks, but warned clergy and laity against violence. “Constraint,” he said, “is not all ruled out, but it must be exercised by the constituted authorities.”88 On the morrow he returned to the Wartburg.
Shortly thereafter he sent to Spalatin, for publication, an Earnest Exhortation for All Christians, Warning Them against Insurrection and Rebellion. He feared that if the religious revolution went too fast, or became a social revolution, it would alienate the nobility and destroy itself. But its opening pages were themselves criticized as an incitation to violence:
It seems probable that there is danger of an uprising, and that priests, monks, bishops, and the entire spiritual estate may be murdered or driven into exile, unless they seriously and thoroughly reform themselves. For the common man has been brooding over the injury he has suffered in property, in body, and in soul, and has become provoked. They have tried him too far, and have most unscrupulously burdened him beyond measure. He is neither able nor willing to endure it longer, and could indeed have good reason to lay about him with flails and cudgels, as the peasants are threatening to do. Now I am not at all displeased to hear that the clergy are brought to such a state of fear and anxiety. Perhaps they will come to their senses and moderate their mad tyranny.... I will go further. If I had ten bodies, and could acquire so much favor with God that he would chasten them [the clergy] by the gentle means [Fuchsschivanz—the fox’s fluffy tail] of bodily death or insurrection, I would most gladly give all my ten bodies to death in behalf of the poor peasants.89
Nevertheless, he went on, it is inadvisable for private individuals to use force; vengeance is God’s.
Insurrection is unreasoning, and generally hurts the innocent more than the guilty. Hence no insurrection is ever right, no matter how good the cause in whose interest it is made. The harm resulting from it always exceeds the amount of reformation accomplished.... When Sir Mob [Herr Omnes—Mister Everybody] breaks loose he cannot tell the wicked from the godly; he strikes at random, and then horrible injustice is inevitable.... . My sympathies are and always will be with those against whom insurrection is made.90
Revolution, more or less peaceful, continued. On Christmas Day 1521, Carlstadt celebrated Mass in German, in civilian dress, and invited all to receive communion by taking the bread in their hands and drinking from the chalice. About this time Gabriel Zwilling, a leader of the Augustinian Congregation, invited his hearers to burn religious pictures and demolish altars wherever found. On December 27 oil was poured upon the fire by “prophets” arriving from Zwickau. That town was one of the most industrial in Germany, having a large population of weavers under a municipal government of merchant employers. A socialist movement among the workers was encouraged by echoes and memories of the suppressed Taborite experiment that had agitated near-by Bohemia. Thomas Münzer, pastor of the weavers’ church of St. Catherine, became the mouthpiece of their aspirations, and at the same time an enthusiastic supporter of the Reformation. Realizing that Luther’s exaltation of the Bible as the sole rule of faith opened the question who should interpret the text, Münzer and two associates—Nicholas Storch the weaver and Marcus Stübner the scholar—announced that they were singularly qualified as interpreters, for they felt themselves directly inspired by the Holy Ghost. This divine spirit, they declared, bade them defer baptism till maturity; for the sacrament could have effect only through faith, which was not to be expected of babies. The world, they predicted, was soon to suffer a general devastation, in which all ungodly men—including especially all orthodox priests—would perish; thereafter the communistic Kingdom of God would begin on earth.91 In 1521 an insurrection of the weavers was put down, and the three “Zwickau Apostles” were banished. Münzer went to Prague, was expelled, and took a pastorate in Allstedt in Saxony. Storch and Stübner went to Wittenberg, and in the absence of Luther they made a favorable impression on Melanchthon and Carlstadt.
On January 6, 1522, the Augustinian Congregation at Wittenberg completely disbanded. On January 22 Carlstadt’s adherents were strong enough in the municipal council to carry a decree ordering all images to be removed from Wittenberg churches, and prohibiting Mass except in Carlstadt’s simplified form. Carlstadt included the crucifix among forbidden images, and, like the early Christians, banned music from religious services. “The lascivious notes of the organ,” he said, “awaken thoughts of the world. When we should be meditating on the sufferings of Christ we are reminded of Pyramus and Thisbe.... . Relegate organs, trumpets, and flutes to the theater.”92 When the agents of the council proved dilatory in removing images, Carlstadt led his followers into the churches; pictures and crucifixes were torn from the walls, and resisting priests were pelted with stones.93 Accepting the view of the Zwickau Prophets—that God speaks directly to men as well as through the Scriptures, and speaks rather to the simple in mind and heart than to the learned in languages and books—Carlstadt, himself erudite, proclaimed that schools and studies were deterrents to piety, and that real Christians would shun all letters and learning, and would become illiterate peasants or artisans. One of his followers, George Mohr, dismissed the school that he taught, and exhorted the parents to keep their children innocent of letters. Several students left the university and went home to learn a handicraft, saying that there was no further need for study.
Hearing of all this, Luther feared that his conservative critics would soon be justified in their frequent predictions that his repudiation of ecclesiastical authority would loosen all bonds of social discipline. Defying the Emperor’s ban, and waiving all protection by the Elector should Charles seek to arrest him, Luther left his castle, resumed his monastic robe and tonsure, and hurried back to Wittenberg. On March 9, 1522, he began a series of eight sermons that sternly called the university, the churches, and the citizens to order. He now rejected all appeals to force; had he not freed millions of men from ecclesiastical oppression without lifting more than a pen? “Follow me,” he said. “I was the first whom God entrusted with this matter; I was the one to whom He first revealed how His Word should be preached to you. Therefore you have done wrong in starting such a piece of work without .... having first consulted me.... .94 Give me time.... Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women; shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women? The sun, the moon, the stars, have been worshiped; shall we then pluck them out of the sky? “95 Those who wished to keep pictures, statuary, crucifixes, music, or the Mass should not be interfered with; he himself approved of religious images.96 He arranged that in one Wittenberg church the Mass should be performed according to the traditional rite; in another, communion was administered in bread alone at the high altar, but in bread and wine at a side altar. The form, said Luther, made little difference; what counted was the spirit in which the Eucharist was received.
He was at his best and most Christian in those eight sermons in eight days. He risked all on being able to win Wittenberg back to moderation, and he succeeded. The Zwickau Prophets sought to convert him to their views, and offered, as proof of their divine inspiration, to read his thoughts. He accepted the challenge; they answered that he was feeling a secret sympathy for their ideas; he attributed their clairvoyance to the Devil, and ordered them to leave Wittenberg. Carlstadt, dismissed from his posts by a reconstructed town council, took a pastorate in Orlamünde, from whose pulpit he denounced Luther as a “gluttonous ecclesiastic .... the new Wittenberg pope.”97 Anticipating the Quakers, Carlstadt abandoned all clerical garb, donned a plain gray coat, dispensed with titles, asked to be called “Brother Andreas,” refused payment for his ministry, earned his living at the plow, renounced all use of drugs, preferred prayer to medicine, advocated polygamy as Biblical, and adopted a merely symbolical view of the Eucharist. At the Elector’s request Luther went to Orlamünde to preach against him, but was pelted out of the town with stones and mud.98 When the Peasants’ Revolt collapsed, Carlstadt, fearing arrest as an instigator, sought and received refuge with Luther. After much wandering, the tired radical found port as a professor in Basel, and there, in 1541, he achieved a peaceful scholastic death.