Reformation-era Peasants

Reformation-era Peasants were seeking freedom from both religion and politics. Even before the reformation, the peasants and other lower class people were already sick of how the government and church laws ran their towns. “In any case, the Peasants’ War was the result of an amalgam of forces ranging from simple economic injustices to millenarianism.”

The economy was declining during this period and the government was putting the burden on the lower class by increasing their taxes. Lower classes were also limited from the common use of meadows, woods, and streams because of the Roman law and private property concepts. During their revolution, they found more courage because of reformers like Luther, Karlstadt, and Münzer.

Luther identified the peasants’ cause and even accused the princes, lords, and bishops of robbing the people. Yet, he told the peasants not to rebel or to refuse to pay taxes. He explained that political and ecclesiastical government should know their obligations and boundaries, and so bishops should not rule castles, lands, or people, but “govern souls with the Word.” However, Karlstadt, and Münzer were more radical, and they encouraged the lower class to establish Christian Liberty on earth. Their revolt, according to Luther, “involved the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth.” The peasants attacked religious institutions such as monasteries and cloisters.

In The Freedom of a Christian Luther says: It is clear, then, that a Christian has all that he needs in faith and needs no works to justify him; and if he has no need of works, he has no need of law; and if he has no need of the law, surely he is free from the law.” The peasants took this literally and applied the idea to the political institution of serfdom, and used it as justification during the Peasants’ War. Luther condemned the peasants’ revolt and saw their war as “a fatal religious-political conflation.” It appears that peasants didn’t want to be ruled by the government or church anymore and they happened to find support from radical reformers like Münzer. By establishing the kingdom of God on earth, all men would be equal and they could attain spiritual perfection. But Luther explained that it was impossible to achieve, as there was a fundamental distinction between the kingdom of God and kingdom of the world.