Social Impact of Martin Luther II
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2010
In 1525, the peasants of Germany took Martin Luther's teachings on spiritual equality to their logical conclusion and rebelled against their betters. He was not amused.
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Lead: In 1525 the peasants of Germany took Martin Luther's teachings on spiritual equality to their logical conclusion and rebelled against their betters. He was not amused.
Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts
Content: Because the Roman Catholic Church was so closely allied with the social and political status quo, Luther's critique, which he considered primarily spiritual and theological, took on a life of its own. Soon people began taking his words and applying to them a meaning he did not intend--or more probably in his early political naiveté, did not anticipate. Once uttered, however, words have power and it is not always easy to govern how they will be used.
Since the medieval period, the peasants of Europe had periodically rebelled against the economic and social conditions that condemned them to a life of bitter destitution. The early 1500s noted a marked deterioration of peasant circumstances in Germany; crop failures in 1523-24 made matters even worse.
Martin Luther's struggle against church authorities was popular among leaders anxious to diminish the power of the church, but especially in the countryside his teachings struck a responsive chord. When his tract "On Christian Liberty" (1520) was read aloud to a peasant population already on the edge of revolution, the results were predictable. The words, "A Christian man is the most free lord of all and subject to none," became a powerful rallying cry. At first Luther supported the peasants' aspirations, but when armed and bloody revolt swept across Germany, the reformer drew back in horror at the whirlwind he had helped unleash.
Next time: Poisonous, Hurtful, Devilish Rebels.
The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.