Luther turned power over to the princes who leaped at the opportunity to cut ties with the Church and solidify their own. Things went down hill fast from there. Melanchthon, the right hand man of Luther, lamented about the outcome of the Reformation: “They do not care in the least about religion; they are only anxious to get dominion into their hands, to be free from the control of bishops . . . Under cover of the Gospel, the princes were only intent on the plunder of the Churches.”(Durant, 438, 440)
This is typical of Rome's defenders— to blame an entire period of political and social history on the theological concerns of a man who stood defiantly against the papacy. It's debatable if things "went downhill" when "Luther turned power over to the princes who leaped at the opportunity to cut ties with the Church and solidify their own." I'm sure from this defender of Rome's perspective, the loss of social and religious power of the Roman church is negative. While he was influential, Luther was not the Emperor, nor did he have any legal authority to turn "power" over to any of the German princes. The Reformation was a complex series of events that can't be so easily pigeonholed as this CARM Roman Catholic did. It wasn't as if all was well with the empire until Luther came along and "turned power over to the princes." There were political power struggles with the papacy and empire long before Luther came on the scene. This defender of Rome would do well to study "centralization," or perhaps read the book he (?) claims to have (Durant).
This would be enough of a response, but along with the point about Luther was a quote from Melanchthon. Tracking down Melanchthon quotes isn't as easy as finding the contexts of Luther's words. Below you'll see the tedious detail that one must at times go through because of the sloppy work of Rome's cyber-apologists. Here's the quick version: The person from CARM cut-and-pasted a Melanchthon quote taken from an anti-Reformation web page. That web page took the quote from a secondary source that had the quote on two separate pages. That secondary source took the quote(s) from another secondary source in which the quote is from two different volumes. Part of the quote from one of these volumes isn't even the direct words of Melanchthon. Conclusion: the quote is bogus.
Will Durant, The Reformation
Two things jumped out to me out about this quote: 1) the source was Will Durant, a secondary source; 2) the quote was from two different pages in Durant's book. The defender of Rome claims he (?) got the quote from Durant: "That is my only source. I'm sure you could study Melanchthon's works and letters and see for yourself. I'm sure you'll understand if I don't. The history of Germany after the Reformation speaks volumes." Most likely, he didn't pull this quote from Durant's book, but rather took it from a polemical anti-Reformation web page that cites it like this:
The quote as presented is a typical method of citation by Rome's defenders: the creation of a single quote from two different pages, taken from a secondary source, and that secondary source took the quotes from a secondary source (Janssen). This again, displays Rome's apologists at their best. As we'll see below, part of this quote isn't even a direct citation of Melanchthon.
Here's what Durant says:
438: But by 1527 the Lutheran "heresy" had become orthodoxy in half of Germany. The cities found Protestantism profitable; "they do not care in the least about religion," mourned Melanchthon; "they are only anxious to get dominion into their hands, to be free from the control of the bishops"; (1) for a slight alteration in their theological garb they escaped from episcopal taxes and courts, and could appropriate pleasant parcels of ecclesiastical property. (2) Yet an honest desire for a simpler and sincerer religion seems to have moved many citizens. At Magdeburg the members of St. Ulrich's parish met in the churchyard and chose eight men who were to select the preacher and manage the affairs of the church (1524); soon all churches in
439: the city were administering the Lord's Supper in the Lutheran mode. Augsburg was so fervently Protestant that when Campeggio came there as papal legate the populace dubbed hirn Antichrist (1524). Most of Strasbourg acccpted the new theology from Wolfgang Fabricius Capito (1523), and Martin Bucer, who succeeded him there, also converted Ulm. In Nuremberg great business leaders like Lazarus Spengler and Hieronymus Baumgärtner won the city coündil to the Lutheran creed (1526); the Sebalduskirähe and the Lorenzkirche transformed their ritual accordingly, while keeping their Catholic art. In Brunswick the writings of Luther were widely circulated; his hymns were publicly Sung; his version of the New Testament was so earnestly studied that when a priest misquoted it he was corrected by the congregation; finally the city council ordered all clergymen to preach only what could be found in the Scriptures, to baptize in German, and to serve the sacrament in both forms (1528). By 1530 the new faith had won Hamburg, Bremen, Rostock, Lübeck, Stralsund, Danzig, Dorpat, Riga, Reval, and almost all the Imperial cities of Swabia. Iconoclastic riots broke out in Augsburg, Hamburg, Brunswick, Stralsund. Probab!y some of this violence was a reaction against the ecclesiastical use of statues and paintings to inculcate ridiculous and lucrative legends.
The princes, gladly adopting Roman law— which made the secular ruler omnipotent as delegate of the "sovereign people"—saw in Protestantism a religion that not only exalted the state but obeyed it; now they could be spiritual as well as temporal lords, and all the wealth of the Church could be theirs to administer or enjoy. John the Steadfast, who succeeded Frederick the Wise as Elector of Saxony (1525); definitely accepted the Lutheran faith, which Frederick had never done; and when John died (1532) his son John Frederick kept Electoral Saxony firmly Protestant. Philip the Magnanimous, Landgrave of Hesse, formed with John the League of Gotha and Törgau (1526) to protect and extend Lutheranism. Other princes fell in line: Ernest of Lüneburg, Otto and Francis of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Henry of Mecklenburg, Ulrich of Württemberg. Albert of Prussia, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, following Luther's advice, abandoned his monastic vows, married, secularized the lands of his order, and made himself Duke of Prussia (1525). Luther saw himself, apparently by the mere force of his personality and eloquence, winning half of Germany.
Since many monks and nuns now left their convents, and the public seemed unwilling to support the remainder, the Lutheran princes suppressed all monasteries in their territory except a few whose inmates had embraced the Protestant faith. The princes agreed to share the confiscated properties and revenues with the nobles, the cities, and some universities, but this pledge was very laxly redeemed. Luther inveighed against the application of ecclesiastical wealth to any but religious or educational purposes, and condemned
440: the precipitate seizure of church buildings and lands by the nobility. A modest part of the spoils was yielded to schools and poor relief; the princes and nobles kept the rest. "Under cover of the Gospel," wrote Melancthon (1530), "The princes were only intent on the plunder of the churches." (3)
1. Janssen IV, 62,
2. CF. Camb. Mod. Hy, II, 159.
3. Janssen VI, 534.
Before addressing the bogus cyberspace construction of the Melanchthon quote in question, was Melanchthon lamenting the outcome of the Reformation? Durant does say Melanchthon "mourned" in regard to the first sentence in the quote. Of the second sentence in the quote this author says that Melanchthon "complained," as does this author. Even Dave Hunt checked in saying that Melanchthon "sadly declared..." (No, I don't trust Mr. Hunt either). Why quibble over one word? Rome's defenders have a popular notion that the Reformers were saddened by the Reformation at best, or at worst regretted it and their role in reform. From the actual primary source from which Melanchthon's words were taken, it doesn't appear to me to be either mourning or lamenting, but rather frustration during the proceedings of the complicated Diet of Augsburg (1530). One thing though is certain, neither Melanchthon or Luther (or Calvin and Zwingli for that matter) regretted the reform of the church. They were not gleefully ecstatic over every facet of change brought on by the reform movement, but they certainly were not longing for the days previous to their reform work.
Johannes Janssen: History of the German People
It would not surprise me to discover that Will Durant had actually never read the primary sources for Melanchthon's words. His footnotes are to a polemical Roman Catholic source, Johannes Janssen, not the primary sources for Melanchthon's words. Janssen's work belongs to the period of destructive criticism of Luther and the Reformation. Janssen viewed Luther and the Reformation as destroying German culture and piety (see, Gregory Sobolewski, Martin Luther: Roman Catholic Prophet, p. 22-23). Janssen's bias does not mean he didn't record the facts correctly. One simply needs to keep in mind the framework an author like Janssen puts his facts into.
The quote in question is from two different pages in two different volumes of Janssen's History of the German People. Notice in the second citation below that "Under cover of the Gospel the princes were only intent on the plunder of the churches" are not the words of Melanchthon proper, but are probably Janssen's description of what Melanchthon is purported to have said.
Janssen IV, 62
In order to establish the 'pure and clear Gospel' it was above all things necessary to effect a change in the existing constitution of the Church, and to transfer ecclesiastical jurisdiction from spiritual to secular authorities. Roman jurists had already advocated a measure of this sort in the fifteenth century. The town magistrates, and the princes also, aimed a strengthening their own territorial might by the establishment of a secular Church government, independent of ecclesiastical power, which should control Church property, appoint and depose 'preachers of the Gospel ' — in short, treat the clergy generally as much as possible as subservient officials of the commonwealth. 'The imperial cities do not care in the least about religion,' said Melanchthon; ' they are only anxious to get dominion into their own hands and to be free from the control of the bishops.' 1
1. 'Maxime oderunt illam dominationem [of the bishops] civitates imperii. De doctrina religionis nihil laborant; tantum de regno ct libertate sunt solliciti' (letter to Luther in the Corp. Reform. ii. 328).
Janssen VI, 534
Melanchthon had been the first and the most vehement in complaining that the princes and municipal authorities who had taken the church management into their own hands had no real interest in religion or in the promotion of Christian discipline. The imperial cities,' he wrote, 'do not trouble themselves about religion: all they care for is emancipation from the dominion of the bishops.' 'The princes do not concern themselves at all about these matters; one creed is as good in their eyes as another.' Under cover of the Gospel the princes were only intent on the plunder of the churches, on gambling, drinking, and other degrading pursuits. 'What state of things shall we bequeath to posterity if the authority of the bishops is abolished? Even were it allowable to overthrow the organization of the Church, it would be scarcely salutary. What will become of the parishes if the old customs and usages are done away with, and no more regular church overseers appointed? '
Melanchthon was now witnessing the fulfillment of these words of his written in 1530, and all that he saw grieved him so deeply that in his confidential letters he spoke of a strong yearning for death. And yet he was the foremost among those theologians who in May 1554, at a religious convention at Naumburg, planned by the Elector Augustus of Saxony, declared the transference of church management to the civil authorities to be not only an unavoidable necessity, as Luther had long maintained, but a divine command. In his memorandum of advice, which had been approved by the other theologians, he said that the rite of ordination and the juridical powers claimed for the bishops both by themselves and by great potentates, could not be conceded to them because they were persecutors of the Gospel. The gates of the temples are the gates of the princes. Secular lords are the 'feeders of the churches,' and it was their business to provide for right doctrine and Christian discipline; this exalted and divine task belongs to their office. This religious assembly was ruled by the selfsame spirit which two years later inspired a synod at Greifswald to petition the ruling prince 'to remain, next to Christ, the supreme head of the church and the clergy.'Janssen provides documentation on page 62 of volume IV. In the English edition, he does not provide documentation for Melanchthon's words on page 534 of Volume VI. One thing is certain: the partial sentence "Under cover of the Gospel the princes were only intent on the plunder of the churches" is not a sentence from Melanchthon proper, but are probably Janssen's description of what Melanchthon is purported to have said. and, as we'll see below, wherever this description of Melanchthon comes from, this description does not come from the same primary source as cited in volume IV, 62 (letter to Luther in the Corp. Reform. ii. 328). The corresponding German version of this text from Janssen VI (p. 725) reads as follows:
The last sentence in the paragraph in question does provide a reference: "vergl die stellen oben s 180. 183. 494-495." These are references to previous pages in Janssen's book. Page 180 refers to the English page here; 183, here. 494, here; 495, here. After looking over these pages, still missing is any actual reference to Janssen's description of Melanchthon's words, "Under cover of the Gospel the princes were only intent on the plunder of the churches, on gambling, drinking, and other degrading pursuits."
Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 2
Here is the actual primary source for Melannchthon's letter to Luther, August 29, 1530. Janssen used this as a reference for the first sentence in the quote. The sentence in question appears toward the end ('Maxime oderunt illam dominationem civitates imperii. De doctrina religionis nihil laborant; tantum de regno ct libertate sunt solliciti):
One will notice there's nothing in this short letter that says, "Under cover of the Gospel the princes were only intent on the plunder of the churches, on gambling, drinking, and other degrading pursuits." But perhaps Janssen is summarizing Melanchthon. He's not directly citing Melanchthon as Rome's cyber-defenders say. Where is it from? Janssen doesn't say. It's probably from another 1530 letter related to Melanchthon's involvement at Ausburg.
Yes, tracking all this down took some time. If "to be deep in history is to cease being Protestant," I guess Rome's defenders must have a different notion as to what "deep into history" actually means. For them, it must mean creating bogus quotes. I welcome Rome's cyber-defenders to take these bibliographical facts above and figure out exactly what Melanchthon said and where he said it. I've done a lot of the work for you already. Till then, would you folks please document your historical arguments better? Quoting a secondary source who quotes a secondary source only serves to obfuscate whatever points you think you're making.
Interestingly, the exact form of the questionable Melanchthon quote was published in this book: Protestantism: Critical Reflections of an Ecumenical Catholic (2007), p. 96. This book includes the quote under the heading of what Melanchthon was purported to have said in 1545. How did the author determine the year was 1545 for these words from Melanchthon?