The ten-month (1521-1522) stay in the Wartburg castle was one of the most productive periods of Martin Luther’s life, but not all the action was in the castle outside of Eisenach. The team of theologians that Luther left back in Wittenberg were also busy during this period, but with decidedly mixed results.
Although the changes being implemented in Wittenberg were generally in line with Luther’s teachings, they were not carried out in a way that was consistent with Luther’s Evangelical theology. The individual freedom that Luther had defined in his seminal work, “The Freedom of the Christian” was pushed aside to force monks, priests and parishioners to embrace the new thinking.
Luther was not pleased, but there wasn’t much he could do except write to his colleagues to encourage them to be more gracious to those who were uncomfortable with the changes. When this didn’t work, Luther found himself in the uncomfortable position of engaging in an open disagreement with his own supporters, a precursor to the disagreements that we see amongst protestants even today.
While Luther was busy at the Wartburg castle, his friends were busy making changes in Wittenberg.
The primary driver for the changes in Wittenberg was Andreas Karlstadt, the dean of the University of Wittenberg.
You may remember Karlstadt from episode 12 on the 1519 debate in Leipzig. This was where Karlstadt engaged John Eck in a debate on Luther’s teachings. He ultimately fumbled the debate so badly (possibly because his notes were ruined when his wagon lost a wheel shortly after his arrival) that Luther had to step in to debate with Eck.
The first of the changes began when three priests near Wittenberg got married in the early summer of 1521.
Luther’s thinking on vows
Luther responded by writing “Themata de Votis” (Themes Concerning Vows) in September of 1521.
These were 280 theses on vows that he was ready to debate.
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Communion in both kinds
Communion was the second major issue that Luther had to address.
Even though the real theological change in the evangelical theology was in the discussion on monasticism, it was the discussion on communion that seemed like it caused the most problems.
Luther had been talking about sharing both the bread and the wine for communion for over 2 years at this point. Still, nobody had actually shared the wine with the laity yet, so this was all talk to the common people.
In the last episode, we briefly discussed Luther’s “Sin boldly” quote during a discussion on sharing communion in both the bread and the wine with the laity. Sharing the bread and the wine would be sinning since it was disruptive to other Christians. Not sharing the bread and wine would be sinning since it would be continuing to act against Christ’s command. Luther said, go ahead, sin boldly and share the bread and the wine. Even though he wasn’t a priest, Melanchthon understood and celebrated the sacrament of communion with several students on September 29, 1521. On October 6, Gabriel Zwilling, an Augustinian brother who had a reputation for giving strong sermons, started to discourage people from attending mass if the priests refused to share the bread and the wine.
Luther decided to see how things were going for himself.
Arrived in Wittenberg on December 4, staying for 3 days in disguise as Junker Jorg.
Luther returned the Wartburg and sent out a manuscript “A sincere admonition to all Christians to guard against insurrection and rebellion” on December 14 to try to calm everything down. Regardless of the letter from Luther, things continued to escalate in Wittenberg. In mid-December, Frederick rejected a call to reform the mass by sharing the wine, stopping private masses, etc.
It was too much change at once. It also threatened the priests who still adhered to the Roman Catholic beliefs.
Andreas Karlstadt ignored Frederick’s ruling and celebrated an Evangelical worship service on Christmas, 1521. Celebrated the Lord’s Supper in German and distributed both the bread and the wine to the congregants.
More dangerous than the Zwickau prophets was the priest that came with them, Thomas Muntzer.
Muntzer and Karlstadt banded together to start pushing more radical reforms. Luther disagreed with the reforms. Over the next couple of months, the disagreement between Karlstadt and Luther became an open conflict.
Luther’s decision to return
Luther decided to return to Wittenberg. Frederick wanted him to stay at the Wartburg, since the political environment was not yet settled. Luther wrote back with three reasons
- Called by the whole congregation at Wittenberg in a letter filled with urgent begging and pleading. (There is no copy of this letter, so nobody knows what was in it.)
- Satan had intruded into his fold in Wittenberg, so he had a pastoral responsibility.
- He feared that there was a rebellion starting. (Probably exaggerating the danger to impress the emperor.)
Luther arrived in Wittenberg on March 6, 1522.
Gave eight sermons in eight days, starting on the first Sunday in Lent, March 9.
The sermons are called the Invocavit or the Wittenberg sermons.
Recognition of source materials
- James Kittelson – Luther the Reformer
- Scott Hendrix – Martin Luther – Visionary Reformer
- Bernhard Lohse – Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development
- Luther’s Works 44 and 45
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