Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

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

I
Peaceful Beginnings under
Elector John Frederick—
But with Most of the Old Problems
(1532–36)

1. ELECTOR JOHN FREDERICK

From the beginning, the fate of Luther and of the Reformation was dependent on his current sovereign. Frederick the Wise had protected him. Elector John had made possible the new organization of the church after 1525. After John’s death in August 1532, his son John Frederick (born 1503), who later was known as “the Magnanimous,” succeeded him (Plate I).1 Raised by supporters of Luther, John Frederick regarded Luther and his advice highly, and already during his father’s lifetime had become an energetic supporter of the concerns of the Reformation. There was thus no fundamental reason to fear for the continuity of the Reformation politics of Electoral Saxony. Nevertheless, the change in government occasioned some uncertainty about how things would go in Electoral Saxony. John Frederick was twenty years younger than Luther and, because of his age alone, was more energetic than his father had been. It was uncertain whether he would pay as much attention to the reformer as Elector John had. And it also remained to be seen how he would deal with the concerns of the university and the situation of the Electoral Saxon church, which was still as difficult as ever, and what shape his evangelical politics in the empire would take. Nevertheless, the Religious Peace of Nuremberg had just gone into effect, and this averted the immediate threat to the evangelical estates. The beginning of John Frederick’s reign thus coincided with a relatively calm, undramatic phase of the Reformation period. Initially, Luther’s life also followed a smooth course.

In discussions around the table at that time, Luther openly stated his concerns that had grown out of his previous experiences with his new sovereign. Wisdom had died with Frederick the Wise, and piety with his brother John. He considered John Frederick arbitrary and little inclined to listen to the scholars. In contrast, one had to reckon with the initial experiences of an increase in the influence of the nobility, something that was problematic for

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