According to RELATIONSHIPSPLUS, the movement found its auctioneer in Luther. Preachers of reform, interpreters of the widespread sentiment against Rome and Roman greed, echoing the conciliar doctrines, had existed even before Luther: very violent diatribes had already been unleashed between this and that religious order, between Augustinians and Dominicans. “Beghe fratesche”, in the words of Ulrich von Hutten. This too by Luther seemed, at first, to be of the kind. But it had never happened that a prince, the elector of Saxony, covered them with his authority; they had always been phenomena limited to a region, to brief moments, theological disputes, not living matter in everyone’s feeling. Another figure Luther, fascinating in the tenacious firmness of the man who came out of the people. Not subtle challenges in Latin Magno: but vibrant discourses of faith and ardor in the language of Thuringia, all written within four months, circulated in print in every house, noble and bourgeois, a subject of feverish interest in every German land, from Switzerland to Prussia, from the Rhine to the Oder. Rome is, at the moment, visibly unprepared to stem this burst of religious passion; his levers do not even act among many of his pastors: the lower clergy, certainly sympathetic to Luther; many of the monks already set out to follow his example; the uncertain and irresolute episcopate. It is to the reality of this situation, to the eloquent language of public sentiment that the principles are also referred to to explain how the edict of Worms (May 5, 1521) cannot be carried out, which banned the heretic, pointing to public revenge.. The executor was not found. Not that the zealots of the Roman Church were lacking, even immediately: the Duke of Bavaria and Ferdinand of Austria, brother of the emperor, for example, immediately made good guards on their lands, so that the Lutheran plague did not penetrate and ignite. But if elsewhere another prince closed his eyes, worse for him. Every state of the Empire had long been accustomed to minding only its own business; only by this pact of mutual disinterest was peace saved in relations between states; and, for a long time, the Empire had been reduced almost only to the function of guardian of internal peace.
In fact, peace was safe: the Lutheran faith penetrated the conscience without external disturbances. Disturbances, on the other hand, – it was judged in Germany – would inevitably have occurred if one had wanted to carry out the Edict of Worms; on the other hand, the new faith presented itself as the pure Gospel: one should not “suffocate the evangelical truth and give a hand to the very serious abuses unworthy of the Christian name”. Words all the more significant, because of the representative of the prince and bishop of Bamberg at the Nuremberg diet (1524). Clear language: not the princes, nor – much less – the cities, were willing to carry out the edict and liquidate the controversy, which was no longer just a man, but a nation, with the condemnation of a man. It was for the German nation to provisionally regulate the ecclesiastical matter by itself, in a national assembly in Speyer; then, in a council, on German soil, the pope and emperor would, in the fullness of their powers, crown the work of reform.
But the Pope’s recollections rang badly in his ears: the emperor, for four years, had been in Spain busy with a thousand other matters. Thus the illusion of bringing the German people together in a common faith fell forever. Motion, not finding its tools and channels in the frayed organism of the Empire, had to necessarily flow back into the framework of the territorial states, find in them the way to realize itself, unhinge even more the connective tissue of the Empire, deepen that process – already advanced – for which the Empire had to be reduced to a free union of states, even ecclesiastically sovereign. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) was the juridical crowning of this process. But for almost a century and a half what alternating events, what complicated intertwining with all the threads of European politics, with the consciously national one of France, Holland, Sweden! That great impetus of the national spirit, which is at the root of the reform, is gradually lost and sterilized by a thousand rivulets: and the petty formula “freedom of principles” substitutes the great religious ideals, the virile sense of the dignity of the nation.
Already the experiences of the first years convinced Luther that only in the strength of the established states was salvation; outside of them, social revolution and chaos: the furies evoked by religious passion threatened to suffocate life itself. The religious and social radicalism of the years 1524 and ’25 opened his eyes: the idea of the priesthood as an attribute of every believer already in itself predisposed to loosen social ties, to empty the political authority of any religious substratum. To this were added the social ferments that were already brewing and that, in the crisis of traditional faith, were led to anarchoid experiments. The agitation of the knightly class in middle and southern Germany was particularly serious: regions that had always given the flower of the knights to the imperial armies, as long as the cavalry had been the backbone of the armies. Now the primacy returned to the infantry: the cavalry was socially and economically ruined, more especially in these regions where more, but in vain, it boasted its freedoms, taking over the fiefdoms directly from the Empire. The hatreds were pointed out against the major princes, against bishops and abbots, against the cities; Overburdened with debts, without a future, these knights, reduced to living in misery in their crumbling castles, to measure their poverty with the opulence of the fat bourgeois of Swabia, the Rhine, Franconia, often gave themselves to street brigandage, accepting absurd pretexts for brigas that veiled the true nature of their robberies. Typical figure and not without some heroic traits the knight Franz von Sickingen, whirler, in all his tumultuous life, of reckless challenges, until the one against the archbishop of Trier, a big undertaking in the name of the “gospel”, unleashed a coalition of enemies against him and cost him his life (1523). And alongside the knights, the peasants, squeezed to the bone by nobles and citizens, and more in small territorial states than in large ones, therefore more in middle and southern Germany, another cause for agitation. Made fanatical by a propaganda that willingly adapted the Gospel as an instrument of social demands, which in the mouth of Luther himself had harsh words against usury, against the Fuggers and the market, seduced by the turbid eloquence of Thomas Münzer, by dreams of agrarian reform that attributed, erroneously, to the late emperor Sigismund, they fueled outbreaks of armed revolts first in Thuringia (1523), then in Swabia, in Landsknechte) not infrequently find the leaders among the discontented small nobility, and allies in the low city craftsmanship. A meeting in Memmingen also fixed, in 12 articles, the demands of the rural people: but after a brief loss the old masters took over. More serious was the phenomenon in Franconia, in Heilbronn, in Würzburg, in Bamberg, where the movement, in which a greater number of bourgeois elements participated, had a more pronounced radical character; but to the test of arms, even the Franconian uprising did not hold up: in June 1525 the princes had already won over the rioters, unleashing a ruthless and atrocious reaction (see peasants, War of the).