Reformation: Ferment, Division, and Warfare

In Zürich, Switzerland, Huldreich Zwingli had developed his own brand of dissent. In 1529 in the Colloquy of Marburg, Luther and Melanchthon on the one side and Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius on the other discussed the nature of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (the Protestant form of the Catholic Eucharist) but failed to come to an agreement. The fundamental principle that every man could arrive at truth by study of the Bible also led many to more radical conclusions than those that Luther adopted. The preacher known as Carlstadt (from the place of his birth) argued for a more thoroughgoing dismissal of old practices and doctrines in Wittenberg itself and caused Luther to emerge from his retirement to halt the progress of radicalism. The Peasants' War (1524–25) showed plainly the rifts within the ranks of the rebels, and Luther, forced to choose between the revolutionary peasants and their opponents, the princes, chose the princes and orderly governance. The lower classes then in large measure followed more revolutionary social leaders, such as the communistic Thomas Münzer and John of Leiden. After their revolution had been brutally put down and the leaders tortured and executed, many of the revolutionary peasants returned to Roman Catholicism, but many continued to foster more radical sects, such as the Anabaptists.

In general the princes were able to dictate what religion should prevail in their territories, and they opposed vigorously the attempt of the Holy Roman emperor to force them back into the old church. The Knights' War (1522–23), led by Franz von Sickingen against the ecclesiastical princes, ended in failure, but the determination of Charles V to extirpate Lutheranism ultimately ended in even more abject failure. The imperial Diet of Speyer in 1526 found no answer to the division of the empire, and when a new Diet of Speyer in 1529 ordered that the emperor's ruling against the heretics should be enforced, the Lutheran princes issued a defiant protest (from which the term Protestant is derived). The Diet of Augsburg in 1530 was equally fruitless in producing a compromise between Catholic and Lutheran princes, but it did produce the Confession of Augsburg (see creed), which was drafted by Melanchthon and became the official statement of Lutheran faith.

The conflict in the empire led the Protestant princes to form a defensive union against the emperor in the Schmalkaldic League, in which the chief figures were Philip of Hesse and John Frederick I of Saxony. The league was put down in the Schmalkaldic War (1546–47), which did not, however, in the least solve the problem. Emperor Charles V, in an effort to prolong the uneasy peace, proposed to the Protestants that there be an interim agreement against change until a general church council could legislate on the dispute. This was the so-called Augsburg Interim (1548), which did not take effect because it was rejected by the Protestant princes. The confusion that political considerations brought to the religious issue is perhaps best seen in the career of Maurice, duke of Saxony, who fought first on one side, then on the other.

A sort of peace of exhaustion and compromise was reached in the Peace of Augsburg (1555; see Augsburg, Peace of). The settlement was at best uneasy and was not to endure except in principle. The conflict was merged with many other issues in the later Thirty Years War (1618–48).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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