Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

By Paul R. Waibel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Against the Peasants and the Jews

Two areas of Martin Luther's life are troublesome for modern people: his failure to support the peasants during the Peasants' Revolt in 1525, and his vicious outburst against the Jews in 1543. Luther was a religious reformer, not a social reformer and very much a man of his times. He abhorred revolt in any fashion, although he, himself, launched one of the most far-reaching revolutions in history. Also, he was a staunch defender of the social hierarchy of late medieval society. Thus, when the German peasants revolted in 1525, and appealed to Luther's writings for justification, Luther struck against them with his blistering treatise, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, in which he called upon the princes to suppress the peasant revolt without mercy. Luther's outburst against the Jews in 1543 is even harder to understand. By 1543, Luther believed that the Last Days had begun. Although earlier in 1523, when he wrote That Jesus Was Born a Jew, he believed that there would be a great conversion of Jews during the Last Days, he apparently despaired of such a belief by 1543, when he wrote On the Jews and Their Lies. As he neared the end of his life, he realized that the Jews would not convert, and this realization, together with the appearance of the Catholic Counter Reformation, the growing belief that the Reformation seed had fallen on less than ideal soil in Germany, his declining health and frequent periods of deep depression, led to his outburst of anti-Semitism.

Many of Luther's supporters, even Philip Melanchthon, were dismayed, even horrified, by the content of Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants and On the Jews and Their Lies. There can be no doubt about the harm they

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