Early Lutheran Reformation : German Territories

A.) Initial Reform on a Regional Level

MARTIN LUTHER taught at the UNIVERSITY OF WITTENBERG, which was located in the DUCHY OF SAXONY. Luther's sovereignh was ELECTOR FREDERICK THE WISE. He agreed with Luther that the Catholic Church was in need of reform, and with both his approval and protection, the reform was undertaken within his territory.
The Lutheran reform was introduced, i.e. the marriage of priests permitted. Saxony's church organization in it's entirety adapted the reform, i.e. the structure, with a bishop at it's head, remained untouched. The university of Wittenberg was accepted as the spiritual center of the reformation.
CHURCH VISITATIONS were held, commissions visiting the parishes, inquiring about the priests and their conduct in office. Many were illiterate or only partially literate, others had one or more concubines. Steps were undertaken to legalize or end illegitimate relations, and to improve the priests' education.
Schooling was organized; Luther's disciple BUGENHAGEN wrote SCHOOL ORDINANCES which later were applied in many other territories. Basic schools, which were to be established in every parish, were to educate every child in reading, writing and counting. Higher schools were to introduce them to the classical language. Martin Luther's bible translation into German, and the protestant catechism, were central texts in protestant education.
The monasteries were dissolved, their property - mostly land - returned "to their former owners", i.e. to the powerful noble families, the larger part was confiscated by the state, as the "former owner" could not be determined (many lands had been donated to the church centuries before).
Duke-Elector Frederick the Wise regarded himself a devoted Catholic, who undertook necessary steps to deal with an obvious evil. He regarded his reformed Saxony a role model, and it was; other Princes introduced the reformation in their territories (HESSEN-KASSEL, WUERTTEMBERG, BRANDENBURG, HANNOVER, BRAUNSCHWEIG, the cities of NUERNBERG, LUEBECK, HAMBURG, BREMEN, DORTMUND etc., outside Germany SWEDEN, DENMARK, NORWAY). Yet the people in all these states and statelets still regarded themselves as loyal Catholics.

B.) The Lasting Split becomes Apparent

The reformed princes, church organizations regarded the reformation a major achievement. It was them who first had demanded a general council to be held. When it was made a precondition for the council (the COUNCIL OF TRENT) to restore the previous conditions, the protestants refused even to attend.
With the breach between Catholic church hierarchy and reformed protestant church provinces irreparable, the Lutheran church had to develop an independent organization. Basically, the regional church organisations, called LANDESKIRCHEN (lands' churches) became independent; Lutheranism has no papacy. Yet, Wittenberg university continued to play a leading role, even after Luther's death. As many universities in Catholic territories were now closed to protestant students, protestant princes founded protestant universities, f.ex. MARBURG, TUEBINGEN, GOETTINGEN.
Some smaller territories, in which there had been no previous seats of bishoprics and which were surrounded by Catholic territories, established a Landeskirche, with a bishop at it's head, according to the Saxon model.

Biographies of Johannes Bugenhagen and Friedrich the Wise from www.luther.de

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 20th 2002

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