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9-08-2015, 15:32

Social change and the Reformation

The radicals represent one way that the ideas of early reformers were pushed further; many of their ideas had social, economic, and political implications, which is in part why they were seen as so dangerous. Groups that linked Protestant ideas directly to various political and social programs were also threatening. In 1522–3, free imperial knights, who controlled small territories in the Empire and numbered in the thousands, revolted against larger territorial princes. Their grievances were primarily economic and military – knights were becoming less valued because of the military changes traced in chapter 3 , and their small estates could not support them adequately because of infl ation – but they used Lutheran ideas to justify their movement. Armies led by territorial princes quickly suppressed the revolt and burned a number of knights’ castles; the Knights’ Revolt thus succeeded only in making some princes more wary of the new religious ideas. The German Peasants’ War of 1524–6 had much more far-reaching consequences than the Knights’ Revolt. Peasants in many parts of Germany objected to new laws limiting hunting and fi shing rights, rising levels of taxation, and the imposition of labor obligations; in 1524 what began as a protest about fi shing in a forbidden stream quickly became a widespread rebellion, the largest mass uprising in Europe before the French Revolution. Local groups of peasants formed regional revolutionary organizations and military alliances in southwestern and then central and southeastern Germany. In March 1525 a union of these groups issued the Twelve Articles of Memmingen, a manifesto that called for the abolition of serfdom, hunting and fi shing rights, a reduction in taxes and labor services, and the right of the community to elect and dismiss pastors to ensure that the “pure gospel” would be preached. Most dramatically, the Twelve Articles stated that any practice not in accordance with the gospels should be rejected, thus linking the word of God, what was often termed “divine law,” with issues of social justice. All of this was expressed in clear language, and the Articles were published as a small pamphlet that was quickly reprinted many times. The demands of the Twelve Articles were backed by military action, and peasant armies seized castles, noble houses, abbeys, and a few cities; in other cities townspeople themselves revolted, calling for civil rights and religious reform. Peasant and urban armies included former mercenaries, so that they were not completely inexperienced, but they had almost no cavalry or artillery and few fi rearms. Once experienced imperial mercenaries returned from fi ghting in Italy, and the forces of territorial rulers organized to fi ght the revolt, peasant armies were crushed with brutality and vengeance. Though peasant grievances long predated the Reformation, the ideas of Luther and Zwingli about Christian freedom and the reshaping of Christian life certainly infl uenced the way peasant calls for change were expressed. The response by magisterial reformers was uniformly hostile, however; as noted above, in Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (1525), Luther urged rulers “as God’s sword on earth to knock down, strangle, and stab the insurgents as one would a mad dog.” He and other reformers asserted that their message was not to be linked with economic, social, or political grievances, and that peasants and poor city people owed their superiors obedience. Spiritual reasons never gave individuals the right to oppose political authority by force, an idea Zwingli also affi rmed in Whoever Causes Insurrection (1526). Not surprisingly, the magisterial Reformation lost much of its popular appeal after 1525, though peasants and urban rebels sometimes found a place for their social and religious ideas within radical groups. At the same time as they were reacting so harshly to radicals and peasants, Luther and Zwingli decided to marry, Luther to a former nun, Katharina von Bora (1499–1552), and Zwingli to a Zurich widow, Anna Reinhart (1491–1538); both women quickly had several children. Most other Protestant reformers also married, and their wives had to create a new and respectable role for themselves – that of pastor’s wife – to overcome people viewing them as simply a new type of priest’s concubine. They were living demonstrations of their husbands’ convictions about the superiority of marriage to celibacy, and were expected to be models of wifely obedience and Christian charity. Though they denied its sacramental nature, many Protestant reformers praised marriage in formal treatises, commentaries on the Book of Genesis, household guides, and – most importantly – wedding sermons. They stressed that it had been ordained by God when he presented Eve to Adam, served as a “remedy” for the unavoidable sin of lust, provided a site for the pious rearing of the next generation of God-fearing Christians, and offered husbands and wives companionship and consolation. A proper marriage was one that refl ected both the spiritual equality of men and women and the proper social hierarchy of husbandly authority and wifely obedience. Protestants did not break with medieval scholastic theologians in their idea that women were to be subject to men, a subjection rooted in their original nature and made more pronounced by Eve’s primary responsibility for the Fall. Women were advised to be cheerful rather than grudging in their obedience, for in doing so they demonstrated their willingness to follow God’s plan. Men were urged to treat their wives kindly and considerately, but also to enforce their authority, through physical coercion, if necessary; both continental and English marriage manuals use the metaphor of breaking a horse for teaching a wife obedience, though laws did set limits on the husband’s power to do so. A few women took Luther’s idea about the priesthood of all believers to heart and wrote religious pamphlets and hymns, but no sixteenth-century Protestants offi cially allowed women to hold positions of religious authority, though monarchs such as Elizabeth I and female territorial rulers of the states of the Holy Roman Empire did determine religious policies. Because, in Protestant eyes, marriage was created by God as a remedy for human weakness, marriages in which spouses did not comfort or support one another physically, materially, or emotionally endangered their own souls and the surrounding community. The only solution might be divorce and remarriage, which most Protestants came to allow. Protestant marital courts in Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and later Scotland and France allowed divorce for adultery and impotence, and sometimes for contracting a contagious disease, “malicious” desertion (meaning intentional desertion, as opposed to unintentional desertion such as extended army service), conviction for a capital crime, or deadly assault. Some of them allowed both parties to marry again, and some only the innocent. This was a dramatic change in marital law, as Catholic canon law had allowed only separation from bed and board with no remarriage, but it had a less than dramatic impact. Because marriage created a social and economic unit, divorce was a desperate last resort, and in many Protestant jurisdictions the annual divorce rate hovered around 0.02 to 0.06 per thousand people. (By contrast, the 2000 US divorce rate was 4.1 per thousand people.) This was still higher than the divorce rate in England and Ireland, however, for the Anglican and Anglo-Irish churches rejected divorce and continued to assert the indissolubility of marriage. This rejection led England later to adopt a totally secular divorce process. Beginning in 1670, divorces for adultery were granted by Act of Parliament, a procedure that remained the only avenue for divorce in England until 1857. These acts were very rare; there were only 325 in the entire period from 1670 to 1857, with only four of these fi led by women.

 

 

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