Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521-1532

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

VI

Reform of the University and
Academic Activity
(1524–30)

A comprehensive restructuring along Reformation lines should long since have taken place in Electoral Saxony. Until his death in May 1525, Elector Frederick the Wise had deliberately tolerated the Reformation and was favorably disposed toward it, but he had not undertaken anything that might initiate the overdue reorganization. In the period following his death, the question was if and how Fredericks successor, his brother John (1468–1532), would begin implementing the Reformation politically, a massive task that would be decisive in Electoral Saxony and beyond. Many times during the years past John had shown that he favored Luther's cause, but whether he possessed the necessary stamina at his advanced age remained to be seen. It was primarily during the seven years of John's reign, in fact, that the structuring of the Reformation did occur. Luther was able to work with him more intensively than with his predecessor, or even with his successor. This can even be demonstrated quite superficially by noting that Luther's correspondence with the new elector was considerably more extensive than that with Frederick the Wise. Luther now contacted the elector, mostly directly, on all important matters, and he also frequently met personally with him. Previously, Luther's contact with the court had been through George Spalatin, the private secretary, court preacher, and father confessor of Frederick the Wise. In August 1525, Spalatin gave up this position and became pastor in Altenburg, succeeding Wenceslaus Link, who went to Nuremberg. To be sure, Elector John continued to make use of Spalatin's great experience in matters of Reformation politics, e.g, taking him as his advisor to the diets in the years following, but now Luther did not have immediate access to a confidant at court. As might be expected, his correspondence with Spalatin now diminished, but a direct relationship with his sovereign compensated for this. However, it is unmistakable that the change of government meant a marked change for Luther, both in his personal relationship to the government of Electoral Saxony and in regard to the tasks he was called upon to perform together with the government in the following period.

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