Conrad Grebel, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Philip Melanchthon
some prominent men of the Reformation
an extraordinary moment in time
As the reformation began to take root, clashes broke out in many cities between local reformers and conservative city magistrates. The city of Strasbourg, for example, was located on the western frontier of the Empire and was closely allied with the Swiss cities that had thrown off the imperial yoke. Some had adopted a reformed religion distinct from Lutheranism, in which humanist social concepts and the communal ethic played a greater role. Along with a group of free imperial cities in the south and west of the German lands, Strasbourg followed this pattern of reformation. It was ruled by a complex local government largely under the control of a few powerful families and wealthy guildsmen.
Martin Luther, from his point of view, summed up the mood of the times in this way;
The New World had only just been discovered, and stories, more fanciful than realistic, were sweeping across Europe, inspiring the imaginations of citizens who became more and more receptive to new ideas that might transform their lives. It was during this period that England's, Sir Thomas More, wrote his inventive novel entitled "Utopia," based on the fictitious civil order of a mythical Caribbean island.
As news of the amazing discovery across the sea, the New World, rippled across the continent, it was like an inspirational breath of fresh air, filled with audacious new possibilities apart from the stifling, suffocating constraints of life in provincial Europe. There were even some that believed the remarkable discovery of lands across the Atlantic could be the New World promised in Biblical prophecy. These facts cannot be overlooked when considering the awakening of the religious reformation in Europe, and the blossoming spirit of openness to new ideas. However, throwing off the old order of Europe would prove more difficult and dangerous than one might think.
In the 16th century, the Holy Roman Empire was essentially masquerading as an imperial government. The empire was, in fact, divided into so many principalities and city states that they provided a powerful check and balance on the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor. It was this division of power between the emperor and the various states that made the reformation in Germany possible, because individual states were able to protect reformers within their territories. In the Electorate of Saxony, Martin Luther was supported by the elector Frederick III and his successors. Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, also supported the reformation, and he figured prominently in the lives of both Luther and Bucer.
The Emperor Charles V had to strike a balance between the demands of his imperial subjects, while simultaneously managing wars with France, the Ottoman Empire, and Italy. The political rivalry among all the players greatly influenced the somewhat fractured ecclesiastical developments within the empire. In addition to the princely states, there were free imperial cities, marginally under the control of the Emperor but really ruled by councils that acted like sovereign governments scattered throughout the empire.
Pope Leo X served 1513 - 1521
Luther called him the anti-Christ
Conrad Grebel was a co-founder of the Anabaptist movement. Born in the Canton of Zurich in 1498, one of the sons of a prominent Swiss merchant and councilman, Conrad spent about six years in three universities, Basel, Vienna, and Paris, but without finishing his education or receiving a degree. After getting in trouble in Paris for fighting, his father forced him to return to Zurich.
In 1521 Grebel joined a study group led by Huldrych Zwingli (see Zwingli). With Zwingli, the group studied the Greek classics, the Latin Bible, the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. It was in this study group that Grebel met and developed a close friendship with Felix Manz.
He married in 1522, and became more serious about his faith, apparently influenced by his studies with Zwingli. He became an enthusiastic preacher for the reforms Zwingli had been advocating. However, Zwingli's participation in the second disputation before the Zurich council crippled Grebel's zeal for his mentor's stature. It was over the issue of abolishing the mass. Zwingli went in arguing for the abolishment of the mass, and the removal of idols and images from the church. But he recognized that the council was not ready for such dramatic reforms and Zwingli pragmatically stood down. In fact, he even
continued to officiate at the mass until it was finally abolished in 1525. However, at the time, to Grebel and other radical young supporters that had been following Zwingli, this was seen as a betrayal of conscience. Zwingli's followers could not continue in a practice which they had already condemned as unscriptural, though Zwingli argued that they were being impetuous and irresponsible.
A group of some fifteen men, including Grebel, broke with Zwingli, separating themselves, meeting together for sessions of prayer, fellowship and Bible study. The group of radicals would then break all ties with Zwingli over the issue of infant baptism. In January of 1525 another debate was made before the city council of Zurich. It pitted Zwingli, the mentor, against Grebel, Manz, and George Blaurock, his students, on the controversy of baptism. The council decided in favor of Zwingli to maintain the Catholic sacrament of infant baptism. Grebel and his group were ordered to cease their activities, and ordered further that any unbaptized children be brought to baptismal services within eight days. Failure to comply would result in banishment from the Canton, and although Grebel had an unbaptized infant daughter, he defied the order.
Later that same month, the group gathered together (illegally) at the home of Felix Manz. Here, George Blaurock asked Grebel to accept a confession of faith and baptize him. Grebel performed the illegal act, and afterwards Blaurock baptized the others. The little group pledged to live the life of New Testament disciples, apart from the world. This event was the birth of the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptist literally translates as "re-baptizer."
The Protestant churches sided with the Roman Catholic church on the issue of baptism. If re-baptism were to be allowed or promoted, it would establish that nearly every Christian baptism, everywhere, since Nicaea, was invalid. Then what are the church fathers to do? The potential for ecclesiastical chaos was too great. The view was, that the practice and teaching of re-baptizing had to be stamped out as a truly monstrous threat to the established Christian religious order.
Grebel left Zurich in order to avoid arrest, and traveled around neighboring cites preaching and teaching. He met Wolfgang Ulimann, whom he baptized by full immersion in the Rhine River, and the two set out for the next several months on a missionary tour that enjoyed a good deal of success.
In October of 1525 Grebel was arrested and imprisoned, giving him time to write a defense of the Anabaptist position on baptism. After about six months in prison, he escaped in March of 1526, with the help of some friends. He sought to resume his ministry, moving to the Canton of Grisons, near the home of his eldest sister, but died shortly thereafter. He had only lived a life of less than thirty years, his years as a Christian minister was only about four years, and his life as an Anabaptist only about a year and a half. Only a handful of his written papers survived him.
Nonetheless he left a considerable legacy, and is known as the "Father of Anabaptists." The beliefs of Conrad Grebel and the Swiss Brethren left a very influential impression on the teachings and practices of the Amish, Baptist, German Baptist, and Mennonite churches. Among other things, freedom of conscience and separation of church and state, are considered two of the great legacies of the Anabaptist movement initiated by these unhinged maniacs from Switzerland.
Oecolampadius was born in 1482 in Weinsberg, a town north of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. In 1503 he earned his bachelors degree from the university at Heidelberg, studying theology, Greek and Hebrew. He was preaching at the Basel cathedral by 1515 under Basel's humanist bishop. He first began to show his reformist leanings when he objected vociferously against the inappropriate telling of humorous stories during the Easter sermons.
A couple of years later, he was invited to become a preacher at the high church in Augsburg. This placed him right in the heart of the German whirlwind of upheaval aroused by Luther's thesis. The controversies so overwhelmed Oecolampadius that he withdrew to a monastery, becoming a monk. However, the austere, monastic life of a monk only led him to realize that this was not an ideal Christian existence, and he returned to the unsheltered world of the exposed Christian. For a short while he served as chaplain to a small group of men that were holding the opinions of new reformation thinking. In 1522 he returned to Basel as the vicar of Saint Martin's and took a position at the university in Basel. He took to lecturing and condemning ecclesiastical abuses, but when he distinguished himself participating in a public disputation, he even gained the favorable attention of Erasmus of Rotterdam. He also became good friends with Huldrych Zwingli with whom he shared a
a great deal of theological conviction. Still, it would take more than a year of preaching and four more disputations in which opinion favored Oecolampadius et al., before the council of Basel began to see their way to Reformation.
Basel was slow to accept the Reformation, but by 1525 the authorities had become open to ideas for restoring purity of worship and teaching. Oecolampadius was relieved that he was free now to omit some practices he considered superstitious. In 1528 he married the widow of Martin Bucer.
In 1528 Oecolampadius and Zwingli joined forces in the disputation at Bern which led to the Canton's adoption of the new reformed faith, and the following year the abolishment of the mass in Basel. He died in 1531, just a month after learning that Zwingli had been killed in the battle at Kappel against the Five States.
He never made the splash of a Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin, but he was considered a brilliant theologian and highly respected even among Catholic scholars of his time. Theologically he was very close to Zwingli, eventually adopting Zwingli's view in the eucharist debate, where he sided against Luther.
He and Zwingli also shared a receptive opinion as regards the veneration of Mary. He was an example of Protestant adoration of Mary, referring to her as the mediatrix of all graces. He stated that God's gifts and graces are fully expressed in her, and that God honored her by becoming human through her. He called her the queen of all heavenly powers. Even so, Oecolampatius believed the Catholic veneration of Mary went too far because of the numerous titles and the excessive praise accorded Mary, even exceeding the veneration of Christ himself. He cites the rosary as an example with its 150 Hail Mary's and only ten prayers to God.
Pope Clement VII served 1523 - 1534
Pope Adrian VI served 1522 - 1523
Charles V Holy Roman Emperor 1519 - 1556
Charles V's European territories. Red represents the Crown of Aragon, magenta the Crown of Castile, orange his Burgundian inheritances, mustard yellow his Austrian inheritances, and pale yellow the balance of the Holy Roman Empire.
The first Dutch Pope
Refused the annulment that Henry VIII wanted
Born in 1497, in Bretton, his name was Philip Schwartzerdt. His surname literally translates as "black earth." It was his great-uncle, Johann Reuchlin, who recommended that he do as some renaissance humanists would do, and change his name to the Greek equivalent, Melanchthon.
He was only eleven years old in 1508, when both his grandfather and his father died within eleven days of each other. He and a brother were taken to live with his maternal grandmother in Pforzheim.
He earned a masters degree at Tubingen in 1516, after which, he began to study theology. However, there were a number of issues involved with scholastic theology that troubled him, and when he was accused of being a reformer, he left, accepting a position at the University of Wittenberg. His great-uncle had recommended him to Martin Luther, and Philip became a professor of Greek at the age of 21. After impressing his superiors, he was granted the bachelor of theology degree and promoted into the theological faculty. He married in 1520.
The Augsburg Confession is the primary confession of faith for the Lutheran church, and one of the most important documents produced by Luther's reformation movement. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had called for the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, where he sought to gather the Princes and Free Territories from around Germany to explain their
religious convictions. It was his desire to restore religious and political unity to the empire in order to present a united front to oppose the Muslim Turkish invasion. The Confession was presented to the Diet as a statement of Luther's and Wittenberg's theological doctrines. The Confession was based on a couple of articles written by Luther, but its production was mainly the work of Melanchthon. Throughout, Luther and Melanchthon were opposites in terms of personality and temperament. Yet, their respect for each other and mutual passion for all things theological was such that they formed a partnership harmonizing in faith against the powers of spiritual combat. Luther was known to be the hot-head, Melanchthon the calm, scholarly, man of quiet manners. Together they complimented each other into a force to be reckoned with.
Pope Paul III served 1534 - 1549
Convened the Council of Trent
I wish to say the thing in a few words and boldly. The Church stands in need of a reformation; and this cannot be the work either of a single man, like the pope, or of many men, like the cardinals, and fathers of councils; but it must be that of the whole world, or rather, it is a work which belongs to God only. As to the time in which such a reformation ought to begin, He alone who created time can tell … The embankment is broken down, and it is no longer in our power to arrest the torrents which are rushing impetuously along. - Luther, 1518
A brief look at the Protestant Reformation
and some of the issues and personalities caught up in the spasmodic ecumenical earthquake