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"Our Lord God's Chancery" in Magdeburg and its fight against the interim (1).

We, Lucifer, lord of darkness, ruler of deep sadness, emperor of the hellish cesspool, duke of the sulphuric waters, king of the cliff, and administrator of the hellish fire, to each and everyone in our realm, friends, bishops, prelates, cathedral canons, clergy, and all others of whatever dignity and the state you may be in: our greetings. (2)

With this cannon shot from Middle Earth, "from our dark palace where there is no order but eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth," (3) Lucifer greeted the ecclesiastical recipients of his letter. In it he noted that he had reached the high point of his hegemonic career during the time of the great western schism. This cannon shot also serves as an introduction to the unparalleled and sharpened politicalization of Christianity in Lutheran Protestantism in the course of the sixteenth century, brought about by the imperial religious law known as the Interim, which presented a fundamental threat to the Reformation.

For the combative publicists of Magdeburg, who edited and translated texts of this kind, the crisis allowed neither toleration nor detached indifference. Heaven or hell, salvation or damnation, confession or desertion--these alternatives shaped and controlled their mindset. An analysis of this crisis, therefore, must focus on a radical theology and its radical political consequences.


In the beginning was the war. The military defeat of the League of Schmalkald by Charles V, sealed in the Battle of Muhlberg on April 24, 1547, triggered the fundamental existential crisis of German Protestantism. (4) The defeat appeared to make the Catholic emperor the master of the empire and initiated the political attempt to re-catholicize evangelical territories, which the religious law of 1548, the Interim, inaugurated. (5) The defeat also destroyed the leading military and political territory of the Protestants, Ernestine Saxony, deprived it of its electoral dignity, and caused the proud Hanseatic town of Magdeburg to resist the emperor's demand for surrender. Consequently, in the summer of the first fateful year after Luther's death Magdeburg was placed under the imperial ban. (6) The military defeat of the Protestants in the War of Schmalkald seemed to have decided the fate of the Reformation. This defeat confronted the adherents of the Reformation for the first time with such a fundamental trouncing that they began to doubt their conviction of having represented God's righteous cause and his holy Word. The Reformation began to evaporate, even though it seemed to have been vindicated by the spread of the movement to ever larger areas, effecting change in many regions of Germany and Europe.

This novel defining experience of an ominous retreat brought a profound and lasting change to Lutheran Protestantism in Germany. Magdeburg assumed a place comparable to and even against Wittenberg. An unending string of theological crises, with new factions and divisions, made Lutheranism in the second half of the sixteenth century the most restless ecclesiastical body in the Empire and indeed reshaped it into a religious group characterized by a dynamic, suicidal disposition. From 1549 onward, Magdeburg became an intellectual laboratory that concocted theological dynamite and made fundamental contributions to the identity formation of Lutheranism.

Magdeburg, known as the Lord God's Chancery, (7) was the most important destination of unrepentant religious emigrants who opposed the politics of the Interim. It was the only printing center in the Empire that presented resistance against Charles V and his religious policy. During the siege of the forces of Elector Maurice of Saxony between October 15, 1550 and November 15, 1551, Magdeburg emerged as the apparent resolute bulwark of Protestantism. Its name was remembered in confessional memory through the most significant historiographical achievement of early modern Protestantism, the Magdeburg Centuries. (8) Unlike any other evangelical town in the Empire, Magdeburg had conjoined the destiny of the confession of the true faith with its own destiny.

In the early modern Protestantism of the sixteenth century, the Christian heroes (9) of God's Chancery had already produced an identity-forming place of remembrance. (10) Then the unimaginable happened--an event accepted only haltingly by evangelical contemporaries with disbelief: the undefeated pure virgin (the icon in the center of Magdeburg's coat of arms), (11) the German Jerusalem, was occupied by the forces of General Tilly on May 20, 1631. The city thereby lost its traditional aura. (12)

The significance of this turn of events for mobilizing the German Protestants in the Thirty Years' War can hardly be overestimated. The defeat of the German "maid," Magdeburg, was an assault on the identity-forming symbol of German Lutheranism. Wilhelm Raabe offered the German Protestant middle-class a retrospective assurance after the Revolution of 1848 in his historical novel Unseres Herrgotts Kanzlei (Our Lord God's Chancery), which reiterated the city's confessional place of remembrance in terms of German freedom of the spirit. Magdeburg, where the printing press had not previously been shackled, (13) became the symbolic place of intellectual self-affirmation against the obscurantist powers of reaction and restoration. This bridge of cultural memory, mounted onto the pillars of Ranke's Reformation historiography, was able, deprived of its Christian content, to arbitrate between past and present, (14) even in the Socialist German Democratic Republic, which constituted the latest attempt to appropriate politically an image that had been turned into myth--the moniker of "Our Lord God's Chancery" in the town on the Elbe River. Any new effort to assign the Lord God's Chancery its historical place, however, will have to go back to the beginning.

And in the beginning was the war. It was a two-pronged war, a modest war that Magdeburg waged in the years 1546 and 1547, virtually in the wake of the War of Schmalkald--against the remains of both the archbishop's rule and the ritual of the old church. The political elite of the Hanseatic town used the vacancy of the Magdeburg archbishopric, its lawful political authority, to achieve the goal of full political autonomy, which the town had pursued since the thirteenth century with increasing success. (15) For a long time, but intensely after 1524 with the introduction of the first successful urban Reformation in North Germany in Magdeburg, the city had viewed itself as an imperial free city, based on considerable economic power, military investments, and town fortifications. The city had ignored any potentially restricting political and legal limitations. (16) In February 1526, Magdeburg joined the League of Torgau as the only municipal member of that alliance. In 1530, it subscribed to the Augsburg Confession, and in 1531 joined the League of Schmalkald. (17) Nevertheless, a fragile balance had prevailed since 1524 in the relationship between Catholics and Protestants in the city. The arrangement provided for limited Catholic worship and monastic presence, honored the immunity of the cathedral, and even permitted the Catholic veneration of the remains of Emperor Otto the Great in the cathedral.

All this toleration would now disappear in the context of a historical carouse, before and during the War of Schmalkald, though still under the influence of the Lutheran faith. Tumultuous events occurred in the years 1546 and 1547. "Corpses of priests, monks, and nobility" (18) were exhumed and "with shovels, rakes, spades torn into pieces and in unchristian fashion thrown over the city walls." (19) Paintings, altars, gravestones were removed, destroyed, and used in the city walls. Priests and cathedral clergy were beaten, monasteries plundered, even the grave of Otto I in the cathedral was eventually opened. All this devastation took place with the approving participation of leading members of the city council. These events testify to what was at issue: the complete victory of the Reformation and the definitive implementation of civic autonomy. The revolt challenged and dissolved the final remnants of religious, legal, and political ties with the archiepiscopal government. The community could no longer in Christian conscience tolerate the "blasphemy and idolatry" of the Roman Mass, which it had done for two decades since the beginning of the Reformation. (20) At Magdeburg, a war had been waged in, with, and under the War of Schmalkald; during the year prior to the imperial ban of July 27, 1547, the head of the empire had admonished the city council of Magdeburg to honor the privileges of the cathedral chapter and to be remain loyal to Johann Albert, successor to Archbishop Albert, who had died in 1545. (21) The resistance theory in the Magdeburg Confession of the spring of 1550, with its meticulously drafted theology of resistance, reiterated what had been the political practice of Magdeburg for decades and represented the policies intensely pursued by the city council since the summer of 1546. (22)

Among the friendly cities of the Hanseatic League, the confrontational policies of the Magdeburg city council failed to stir up concurrence. Even Bremen, which like Magdeburg had refused submission to the emperor at the end of the War of Schmalkald and whose three-month siege had ended in May 1547 despite support of soldiers from Magdeburg and Hamburg, now submitted to the emperor, as did the other cities of the Hanseatic League. The strategy characteristic of Braunschweig, Luneburg, Hamburg, and Lubeck to reject the Interim theologically while at the same time accepting imperial authority (23) evoked a sharp comment from the Magdeburg city secretary, Heinrich Merkel: "every fox waited for its offspring and said God be with us all, but each one for himself." (24) When the besieged town of Magdeburg sought help in the spring of 1551 from North German rulers and friendly Hanseatic towns, these allies refused its request because the emperor had imposed an imperial ban upon the city. Magdeburg became politically isolated, a unique fate brought about either by the convergence of theological and political argumentation and strategy within the city, or by the close harmony between the theologians and the members of the city council. This convergence was built upon the supposition that Magdeburg, and only Magdeburg, could be called "Our Lord God's Chancery."


The catchphrase, "Our Lord God's Chancery" (Unseres Herrgotts Kanzlei) first appeared in the spring of 1550. The Latin equivalent, officina libraria Jesu Christi (25) (the chancery of the library of Jesus Christ) expressed more pointedly the connection between literary production and the self-understanding of Magdeburg. The phrase mirrored the historically extraordinary self-identity of an urban community in the context of an extraordinarily contemporary and pertinent issue. This mirroring had become increasingly evident in the city's history after the days of King Otto I. The catchphrase, the Lord God's Chancery, was primarily the result of the role of the printed word in response to the collapse of public opinion after the imperial victory in the War of Schmalkald. The adopted label was a concentrated expression of the extent to which Protestants related to the printed word and were dependent on it. (26) In the year 1547, after the War of Schmalkald, the literary production in the Empire had declined by over 50 percent, though it increased slightly in Magdeburg in 1548. In 1549 and 1550, the publishing output of the Lord God's Chancery reached a remarkable level, even in comparison with other printing centers. At least 89 titles were published there in 1549, and 117 titles in the year 1550. (27) No other center of printing in the Empire produced more books in those two years than Magdeburg. And from no other city did there emanate a comparable resistance to the religious dictates of Charles V, which essentially sought to eliminate the changes of the Reformation. Printing presses had only been established in Magdeburg in 1524, a time closely connected to the introduction of the Reformation. But the crisis of the Interim between 1548 and 1552 marked the pre-eminent phase. Approximately one quarter of the entire book production of Magdeburg printers in the sixteenth century was published during those five years.

This Magdeburg publishing activity emanating from the Lord God's Chancery during its heyday stands in complex relationship to Wittenberg, (28) in terms both of printers and of authors. The most important Magdeburg printer, Michael Lotter, son of Luther's Leipzig printer Melchior Lotter, successfully moved to Magdeburg with the support of the city council after he had opened a Wittenberg branch of his father's shop in 1528-29. His production focused completely on Wittenberg authors, especially Luther, upon whom he was dependent. A second printer, Christian Rodinger, also moved from Wittenberg to Magdeburg and published with great success beginning in 1540. He, too, published almost exclusively books either from Wittenberg or by Wittenberg authors. The main activists of the Lord God's Chancery were Wittenberg exiles, particularly Matthias Flacius and Nikolaus Gallus, who had been expelled from Regensburg in the south because of the Interim. (29) These exiles kept the Magdeburg printing presses busy and, in a manner of speaking, carried the spirit of Luther's Wittenberg to Magdeburg, while at the same time denigrating the spirit of Melanchthon's Wittenberg.

The Magdeburg City Council had good reason to court these prolific, eloquent, and exceedingly bright verbal antagonists, all of whom were still in their late twenties. They supplied the council with biblical, legal, and theological arguments that justified Magdeburg's resistance. Such support was needed both internally and externally to legitimize Magdeburg's stance. In the face of the increasing danger that Maurice of Saxony might carry out the imperial ban, (30) the Lord God's Chancery highlighted Magdeburg's century-old struggle for autonomy as the fight of Christ and his faithful against Baal and his fellows, as well as the fight of German liberty against Spanish servitude. By this means, their struggle for both survival and self-determination took on special religious meaning and significance.

The "Judas of Meissen," (31) the new Albertine Saxon Elector Maurice, who had delivered his Ernestine relative John Frederick over to the emperor, became an important target in Magdeburg's intensely political publishing effort. With the exception of the older Nikolaus von Amsdorf, (32) all of the other literary activists were recent newcomers to Magdeburg. These included Flacius, Gallus, and Erasmus Alberus, poet, clergyman, and notorious exile for his faith. (33) Extensive evidence suggests that these verbal protagonists of the Lord God's Chancery were well accepted in Magdeburg since the residents showed great concern for their physical well-being. For example, one Magdeburg burgher supplied Alberus with fish. According to one anecdotal account, the donor would have gladly consumed this gift with Alberus, but Alberus lacked firewood to heat the stove. Indeed, wood was extremely scarce in the city. Alberus had hardly finished expressing his unhappiness about the scarcity of wood when a Saxon cannon ball hit his house, tearing a large piece from one of the beams. Alberus reportedly remarked, "Well, did I not prophesy that our Lord God will provide us with wood to cook fish?" (34)

The new theologians performed a crucially important role in helping to consolidate Magdeburg. Alongside the fortification efforts of the city council, the systematic hiring of mercenary soldiers, and the thoughtful planning to obtain food supplies from the agricultural areas of central and northern Germany, these theologians assured relative stability within the banned Hanseatic city, which had been under siege since October 1550. The tighter the siege that strangled Magdeburg became, and the more hopeless a possible political return to the status quo ante appeared, the bolder were the theological interpretations and the more spectacular the apocalyptic interpretive schemes. Magdeburg became Parthenopolis, urbs virginum, drawing upon popular etymology of the word "Magd" (maid): the "pure" German "maid." Magdeburg was God's gift to the German nation since it served as the sole source of printed materials that conveyed to people everywhere the idolatry and deceit of the Interim and the adiaphora. Since cities were places chosen by God, the divine promises given to biblical cities were applied to Magdeburg. As God miraculously saved Jericho (2 Kings 19) and kept Bethulia from extreme need (Judges 7), Magdeburg could trust that "God has not removed his hand from us." (35) The name of the city of Bethulia in the Book of Judges held particular interest for the theologians and the city council since that name revealed etymologically Magdeburg's place in salvation history. Magdeburg is Bethulia, since "maid" (Magd) in Hebrew is bethulia. The deepest secret of the chosen city, which had always been hidden in its name, had been revealed. After the first skirmishes at the city walls, Magdeburg, "this poor Bethulia," carried the burden for all other Christians. (36) In Magdeburg, the city chosen and tested by God, the fate of the gospel and of the true faith would be decided. Erasmus Alberus expressed this sentiment in a poem, originally written in Latin:
 Magdeburg, the holy distinguished town,
 Has a virgin in its coat of arms.
 This signifies for holy Christendom
 That God will strengthen and always comfort in heartbreak
 And save it from all danger. (37)

The politics of tradition, which had made so much of the veneration of St. Maurice since the days of the Ottonian kings in the Middle Ages, provided meaning for Magdeburg's first and most dramatic military catastrophe. On the feast day of St. Maurice in 1550, more than one thousand people were killed, and the Magdeburg burghers declared themselves "true Mauretians." (38) They sharply distinguished the new Saxon Elector Maurice from the true followers of St. Maurice who were prepared to be martyrs, just as St. Maurice and his friends had been when they resisted the order of the Roman emperor to offer sacrifices to idols and persecute the Christians.

As a city of heroes, Magdeburg became a case history in gender studies. For outside sympathizers, the new name of the city was to be "Mannesburg" (city of men). Johannes Brenz, the chronic exile of Christ, whom Magdeburg would have desired to be superintendent, offered this judgment: Magdeburg was to be known as "Mannesburg ... since its burghers still have German hearts and have not turned into women." (39) Inside the city itself, however, Magdeburg remained "female"--the poor, chaste maid who had not prostituted herself before idols, the pope, and the Interim. (40)

Magdeburg, the little flock, the holy remnant, which refused to worship the dragon of the Interim (Revelation 13), also has the promise of its salvation at the end of time, for it is then that the righteous will live. The final demise of the Kingdom of the Antichrist, so the ministers assured their congregations, "is now in the making." (41) The place where rulers and lords assembled to accomplish their evil work, the reestablishment of the Antichrist, was known in the Old Testament as Armageddon, (42) in Germany as Magdeburg. During the first few months of the siege, Magdeburg found its specific salvation-historical place in the setting of the end times. Both the theologians and the political leaders of the city held this eschatological perspective. It comes as no surprise, then, that in light of this concrete apocalyptic interpretation of the present, outsiders were disposed to see Magdeburg as the new Munster. However, instead of polygamy (multiple wives) as in Munster, polygraphy (multiple writings) ruled in Magdeburg.


The heart and soul as well as the driving force of the literary project in the Lord God's Chancery was the former Wittenberg professor of Hebrew, Matthias Flacius, originally from Venice's Croatian lands. He either wrote or instigated over 40 percent of the publications during the crucial years 1549-50. The intoxication of the anise beer that Flacius brewed, much to the approbation of the city secretary Merkel, (43) was evidently not strong enough to stem his inebriation with writing and publishing. No other figure in the sixteenth century, not even Martin Luther, wrote and published so many pages in so short a time as did Flacius. Moreover, Flacius was responsible for the high proportion of Latin publications. (44) The increase in literary production between 1548 and 1550 correlated with an increase in Latin publications. In 1549, three German imprints were published for each Latin imprint; in 1550, the ratio had decreased to two to one. Without Flacius, non-German readers would not have learned of the controversies in the Empire, nor would German readers have become acquainted with news from foreign lands. News of the atrocities of the Habsburg religious policy in the Netherlands, of the fury of the papal Antichrist and his inquisitorial agents in Italy, of the comparatively benign religious policies of the Ottoman Empire in southeastern Europe, and much more: all of these stories were brought to the attention of curious readers.

This publishing strategy pursued by Flacius and his associates against the papal Antichrist on the one hand and the lapsed in Electoral Saxony on the other had precedents. Both the revelatory nature of old and new sources on papal history and the critical writings of Melanchthon and his party (such as Luther's well-known "Coburg Letters" with his famous comment about the "treading softly of Master Philip" Melanchthon (45)) served to demonstrate the essence, the clear intent, and the obvious character of the enemy. These publications also revealed the enemy's motives and methods: namely, subjugation of the Gospel and cowardly opportunism, marked by the rhetorical facades of diplomatic language games. Papists, Interimists, and Adiaphorists saw history, legends, or arguments from history or tradition as equal if not superior to the authority of the Bible. Papists, Interimists, Adiaphorists allowed and even demanded that the Lord's flock gathered in Magdeburg should be led to the butcher's block. In view of the threatening power of the anti-Christian betrayer of the faith, the subtle differences between Interimists, such as Eisleben, or Adiaphorists, such as Major, Ziegler, Pfeffinger, Eber, Bugenhagen, or Melanchthon, lost their significance. (46)

The increasing isolation of Magdeburg influenced the publishing activity of the Lord God's Chancery not only in content but also in quality. The proportion of imprints published but not written in Magdeburg declined steadily. In 1549, some 45 percent of all publications had non-Magdeburg authors. By 1550, under the impact of the siege and the curtailment of communication with the outside, that figure had declined to 30 percent and by 1551 to 15 percent, paralleling the overall decline in book production outside Magdeburg. The increasingly assertive attitude of the Magdeburg publishing enterprise also corresponded to the increasing decline of anonymous and pseudo-anonymous publications, which in 1548 had made up some 50 percent but declined by 1549 to 19 percent and by 1550 to 10 percent.

Besides the sophisticated theological consistency of the publishing project in God's Chancery, the writings represented an impressive range of literary styles, formats, and publishing fantasy. Texts of songs and illustrated broadsides were prominent. (47) Highly popular items included tracts, sermons, news accounts, dialogues, stories of abominations and miracles from the papal church, and missives from Italy, from Turkey, and from Hell. The Chancery marshaled a literary creativity unknown since the wave of pamphlets in the early Reformation that were intended to subdue the last enemy, the Antichrist. The design now, however, was no longer a hope for broad expansion, but a fundamental crisis of mere survival. Above all, the Latin adverb interim ("meanwhile" or "between times") became the integrative symbol of the community. Dogs and cats were so named, and coins minted in Magdeburg were known as the Interim thalers. (48)

In addition to the popular writings, songs, and textual broadsides, arguments in Latin or German pamphlets attempted to portray Magdeburg's struggle as the climax of the scholarly medieval critique of the papacy. This milieu became the proper domain of Flacius, the restless hunter of manuscripts and outside support, in whose heart and head arose the idea for the Magdeburg Centuries, for which he then began to undertake preliminary studies. Hildegard of Bingen, Heinrich Toke, Peter of Blois, Bernard of Clairvaux, anonymous texts of medieval canonists or mendicant monks, letters from Petrarch or even from Satan--everything this exile of Christ could lay his hands on, he put into print. His effort was marked by a prolific correspondence, in which he even utilized his old Italian connections. Flacius published commentaries to illustrate the satanic deprivation of the papal Antichrist, with supporting historical documentation; he attacked the dogmatic assertion of Roman continuity and infallibility promulgated by the recent Tridentine pronouncements; he satirized and exposed all these, and other topics, to the ridicule of learned readers.

Flacius never tired of describing the sexual decay of Rome, a moral perspective that echoed Petrarch. Flacius appropriated Petrach's charmingly detailed story of an elderly member of the College of Cardinals in Avignon, probably written in 1358. (49) Even though Flacius drastically shortened the story, he retained much of the scandalous part with a most ingenious translation of the text. "The old man, a cardinal, who was sexier and smellier than a goat, found nothing more cumbersome ... than to sleep alone. So he took a new bride each day." When he "was over seventy years of age, with few teeth left in his mouth," he had a masterful procurer provide the women. On one occasion, he solicited "a poor virgin or perhaps a whore, who was enticed with great promises." The woman allowed herself finally to be persuaded. When the old goat saw the woman, he could no longer wait, approached her, embraced her, kissed her with his pale sloppy lips, and slobbered her with his toothless mouth, eager to consummate the marriage. She, however, stunned and irritated by this stinking old man with his dripping nose, yelled that she had expected to be desired by an eminent splendid prelate and not by an uncouth priest and senile old-timer. "The cardinal closed her tender little mouth with his hand and his scabby mouth and with wailing and weeping and with outlandish tenderness attempted to quiet her." When all of this proved to be of no avail, "the old guy" took off to his "little chamber," grabbed his purple cardinal's hat and staff, placed the hat onto his bald head, and said "'I am a cardinal, my dear daughter, be not afraid.' In this manner he tenderly comforted the weeping harlot and led her into his bedroom." This fable prompted Petrarch to comment that this marriage was not made by Juno but by the goddesses of wrath, Teisiphone and Megaira, while the Magdeburg scribe intensified this notion with the comment "indeed by the devil's mother herself." (50)

The Mageburg polemicists delighted in such sources from what they considered the Babylonian cesspool and thereby underscored their claim to stand very close to the tradition and spirit of the noblest humanists. This claim becomes clear in an anonymous vernacular dialogue written in the style of Erasmus's Julius Exclusus. (51) A mercenary, who had died for Luther's cause in the war, appears self-confidently before St. Peter (as had Julius II) and learns that the heavenly choirs had jubilantly received Luther as a confessor of Christ. The mercenary is refused entrance, however, because of his aggressive demeanor and craftiness; he is met at heaven's gate by the devil and led to hell. There he encounters the entire clergy, especially the popes. They are all suffering, making Dante's Inferno pale by comparison. The heaven of the Magdeburg Protestants is a non-papal zone. Only when the mercenary humbly recites Isaiah 40--verbum Dei manet in eternum--and appears again before Peter, does he accomplish what Erasmus's warrior, Pope Julius II, failed to achieve: heaven opens before him.

The classical educational canon of the Humanists, the authors of Classical Antiquity, together with Erasmus, Petrarch, Dante, they all are gathered in Magdeburg; the burghers of Magdeburg provided for them in Bethulia a new and, as they argued, their only proper home.

To talk about Our Lord God's Chancery also means, of course, to talk especially about Luther--about the Luther whose legacy it defended by all possible means against the Antichrist, his accomplices, the emperor, and Luther's defectors in Wittenberg, Dresden, and Leipzig. Magdeburg had seen itself as Luther's town ever since the reformer preached there in 1524, which aided the city to decide in favor of the Reformation and thus helped shape its identity. (52) Luther's close friend, von Amsdorf--as publicist, as highly esteemed authority behind the scenes, as the personification of the guarantee for the city's identity with genuine Wittenberg theology--saw to it that nothing changed after that event. The younger theologians, especially Flacius, whose intellect had been deeply formed by Melanchthon, had been profoundly shaken by their mentor's ambivalent attitude toward the Interim (because of their intense connection to the praeceptor), and even had lost faith in him. For these theologians, Luther was the authority, the solid point of reference in the changing religious-political discourse, the giver of norms, divinely mandated to interpret Scripture, the prophetic preacher of the present and even of the impending final turbulence.

Luther's writings were published in Magdeburg, especially his exegetical writings. His books were scrutinized for Delphic comments that might be applied to the contemporary scene. (53) These works were published in a new literary genre, Lutheran encomia and florilegia, which made their first appearance in Magdeburg. (54) These collections offered selected sayings for edification, prophetic and revelatory pronouncements for the instruction of pastors and congregations. These were revelatory words from an exalted Luther, who through these quotations spoke with his ipsissima vox, his very own voice, to the contemporary situation. This recourse to Luther reflected an awareness of the definitive end of a historical epoch in salvation history. God had sent Luther to bring the gospel and to reveal the papal Antichrist. For Christendom, this was God's final call to repentance. As long as Luther was alive, God had desisted from judgment. Now, however, judgment was breaking out over Germany. Now, the challenge was to be steadfast to the end, as the Maccabees had been, as St. Maurice had been, as Luther had been at Worms. In Magdeburg, Luther was an ever present help, yet at the same time, given his singular authority, he was distant and alien. Their awareness of a historical epoch that had ended with Luther's death was accompanied by an expectation of a fiery apocalyptic end.

"Reformation" originally signified the concept associated with Luther's work, a phenomenon of salvation history. But Magdeburg had once again become Armageddon. The city council, despite all the warnings of the theologians, told Elector Maurice that religion had not been the only cause of the ban over the city, as they had previously asserted, but that political considerations had also played a role. (55) Flacius, Gallus, Amsdorf, and Alberus had reason to fear being hanged at the city walls, and the close cooperation between city council and the theologians became a thing of the past. Magdeburg's crisis was resolved in the fall of 1551, and Magdeburg began its rise as a Protestant Memorial. At that point, the main intellectual actors of the Lord God's Chancery concluded that the Reformation had ended. The Reformation had become a historical phenomenon. One is tempted to speak of the birth of the historiographical understanding of the Reformation out of the spirit of crisis.


We may describe the phenomenon of Lord God's Chancery as follows. Magdeburg constituted a quintessential Protestant phenomenon of singular historical significance and dynamic force that extended far into early modern Protestantism. No other Protestant town of the early modern period experienced and projected a comparably intense religious and cultural image. Neither before nor after did there occur such a fusion of a German Protestant city and a Protestant commitment to a more inward and problematic unity. Rarely did an urban government and recently arrived theologians form a more intense, assertive, and (in the end) restricted coalition. Only against this background can Magdeburg's rise to a Protestant Memorial be understood.

Magdeburg, during the time of the Interim, exhibited features that seemed to reenact the drama of the early Reformation. This situation was made possible, and was shaped, by the quintessential Reformation connection of a religious and a civic truth claim. What has happened must be made known; what is true must become known. The truth of Scripture allows no consideration of reasoned reflection and pragmatic action. The consciousness of the inalienable relationship of humans with God, while it has its content and objective in the concept of faith, furthers and forces free articulation. The apocalyptic certainty of the imminence of the coming of God and the imminence of judgment is--as was the case in the early Reformation--the catalyst and motivation of a stupendous publishing activity. The phenomenon of the Lord God's Chancery rested upon an understanding of Reformation Christianity formed by its apocalyptic expectation of the imminent end.

In this crisis of the Reformation, the formative motifs of the early Reformation appeared once more, as through a magnifying glass. The early Reformation provided the intellectual resources that gave early modern Protestantism its identity and sought to overcome the challenges of each new present. At the same time, of course, any recourse to the early Reformation bespeaks an essential element of the progressive pluralization of Lutheran Protestantism in early modern Europe. Magdeburg is a milestone on this path. This reality compels us to distance the Reformation as a bygone era and to appropriate it as a dynamic beginning.

(1.) This essay is a modified form of a public lecture given in Hildesheim, Germany, on May 2, 2002, and of my Gottingen inaugural lecture, given on January 29, 2002. I have sought to restrict the citations of primary and secondary sources to a minimum. I refer the reader to my monograph Das Ende der Reformation. Magdeburgs "Herrgotts Kanzlei" (1548-1551/2) (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003). The abbreviation MF refers to Hans-Joachim Kohler, ed., Flugschriften des spateren 16. Jahrhunderts, Mikroficheserie (Leiden: Inter Documentation, 1990-); VD 16 refers to Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich) and Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbuttel), eds., Verzeichnis der im deutschen Sprachbereich erschienenen Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1983-).

(2.) Nicole Oresme, Lucifer, M. Flacius Illyricus, Lucifers Sendbrief, an die vermeinten Geistlichen: vor 140. Jarn geschrieben. Dutch Nicolaum Oren. Verdeutscht. Mit einer Vorrede (Magdeburg: Rodinger, 1550), VD 16 E 1702; Ex. MF 467 Nr. 862, B 1r. On the genre of devil's missives, see Sabine Smolinsky, "Teufelsbriefe," in Lexikon des Mittelalters (1996), 8:592 f. A partial reprint of the German edition of the original text of 1351 (Gianni Zippel, "La Lettera del Diavolo al clero, dal secolo XII alla Riforma," in Bollenttino dell' Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo 70 [1958]: 125-62, 163-79) is found in Paul Lehmann, Die Parodie im Mittelalter, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: A. Hiersemann, 1963), 66-68. On Flacius as editor of medieval texts, see Martina Hartmann, Humanismus und Kirchenkritik. Matthias Flacius Illyricus als Erforscher des Mittelalters, Beitrage zur Geschichte und Quellenkunde des Mittelalters 19 (Stuttgart: Thorbecke, 2001). On the young Flacius the theologian, especially his time in Magdeburg (1549-57), see the comprehensive work of Oliver K. Olson, Matthias Flacius and the Survival of Luther's Reform. Wolfenbutteler Abhandlungen zur Renaissanceforschung 20 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002).

(3.) Lucifers Sendbrief, fn. 1.

(4.) Cf. Horst Rabe, Deutsche Geschichte 1500-1600. Das Jahrhundert der Glaubensspaltung (Munich: Beck, 1991), 392-402; Wieland Held, 1547. Die Schlacht bei Muhlberg (Borcha: Sax-Verlag, 1997), esp. 52-99; Georg Schmidt, Gesehichte des Alten Reiches. Staat und Nation in der Fruhen Neuzeit 1495-1806 (Munich: Beck, 1999), 87 ff.; Gunther Wartenberg, "Die Schlacht bei Muhlberg in der Reichsgeschichte als Auseinandersetzung zwischen protestantischen Fursten und Karl V," Archiv fur Reformationsgeschichte 89 (1998): 167-77. On Charles V and his attitude toward the religious question, see Heinz Schilling, "Karl V. und die Religion. Das Ringen um Reinheit und Einheit des Christentums," in Ausgewahlte Abhandlungen zur europaischen Reformations- und Konfessionsgeschichte, Historische Forschungen 75 (Berlin: Duncker and Humbolt, 2002), 47-118. On the context of the War of Schmalkald, see Alfred Kohler, Karl V. 1500-1558. Eine Biographie (Munich: Beck, 2001), 295-326.

(5.) An edition of the text with a compact introduction is by Joachim Mehlhausen, Das Augsburger Interim. Nach den Reichstagsakten deutsch und lateinisch. Texte zur Geschichte der evangelischen Theologie 3, 2nd enlarged edition (Neukirchen: Neukirchener, 1996); also, comprehensively, on all matters pertaining to the Interim, see Luise Schorn-Schutte, ed., Interim, Schriften des Vereins fur Reformationsgeschichte 203 (Gutersloh: Gutersloher Verlagshaus, 2003).

(6.) On the urban history of Magdeburg, see Helmut Asmus, 1200 Jahre Magdeburg. Die Jahre 805 bis 1631, Stadtgeschichte Magdeburgs 1 (Magdeburg: Scriptum, 2000), 466 ff.; Ingelore Buchholz, "Magdeburg," in Das Bild der Stadt in der Neuzeit 1400-1800, eds. Wolfgang Behringer and Bernd Roeck (Munich: Beck, 1999), 287-92. On the topic of resistance, see the less satisfactory study of David Mark Whitford, Tyranny and Resistance. The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia, 2001).

(7.) The popularization of the term, "Cantzeley unsers herrn Jhesu Christi," first verifiable in the spring of 1550, was especially promoted by Wilhelms Raabe's novel Unseres Herrgotts Kanzlei, found in his Samtliche Werke, vol. 4, eds. Karl Heim and Hans Oppermann (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1969); see my Introduction 1, in Das Ende der Reformation, fn. 1 above. On Raabe's novel, see Wilhelm Kuhlmann, Der Geschichtsroman als politisch-sozialer Roman. On the topic of communal liberty in Raabe's Unseres Herrgotts Kanzlei, see Herbert Blume and Eberhard Rohn, eds., Literatur in Braunschweig zwischen Vormarz und Grunderzeit. Beitrage zum Kolloquium der Literarischen Vereinigung Braunschweig vom 22. bis 24. Mai 1992. Schriften der Literarischen Vereinigung Braunschweig 39 (Braunschweig: Stadtbibliothek, 1993), 255-75.

(8.) Heinz Scheible, Die Entstehung der Magdeburger Zenturien, Schriften des Vereins fur Reformationsgeschichte 183 (Gutersloh: Gerd Mohn 1966); Enrico Norelli, "The Authority Attributed to the Early Church in the Centuries of Magdeburg and the Ecclesiastical Annals of Caesar Baronius," in The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West, ed. Irena Backus (Leiden: E. J. Brill 1997), 2:745-74.

(9.) For examples in a pamphlet of 1597, see Thomas Kaufmann, "Die Bilderfrage im fruhneuzeitlichen Luthertum," in Macht und Ohnmacht der Bilder. Reformatorischer Bildersturm im Kontext der europaischen Geschichte, eds. Peter Blickle, Andre Holenstein, Heinrich Richard Schmidt, and Franz-Josef Sladeczek, Historische Zeitschrift Beiheft 33 (Munich: Beck, 2002), 407-55, esp. 438, n. 98.

(10.) See Etienne Francois and Hagen Schulze, eds., Deutsche Erinnerungsorte, vols. 1-3 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2001).

(11.) Helmut Menzel, Das Magdeburger Stadtwappen (Oschersleben: Ziethen, 1995).

(12.) "gantz verheeret!" Magdeburg und der Dreissigjahrige Krieg, Magdeburger Museumsschriften 6 (Halle: Mitteldeutscher, 1998).

(13.) Cf. Wilhelm Kuhlmann, "Magdeburg in der Verspublizistik (1551/1631)," in Prolegomena zur Kultur- und Literaturgeschichte des Magdeburger Raumes, eds. Gunter Schandera and Michael Schilling (Magdeburg: Scriptum, 1999), 79-106, esp. 80.

(14.) Cf. Marianne Haedler, Afterword to Wilhelm Raabe, Unseres Herrgotts Kanzlei (Berlin-Grunewald: H. Klemm, 1963), 331-34.

(15.) "Instruktive Beitrage zur Rechtsstellung Magdeburg im Spaten Mittelalter," in Hanse-Stadte-Bunde. Die sachsischen Stadte zwischen Elbe und Weser um 1500, 2 vols., ed. Matthias Puhle, Magdeburger Museumsschriften 4 (Magdeburg: Magdeburger Museen, 1996).

(16.) Cf. Dwaine Charles Brandt, The City of Magdeburg before and after the Reformation: A Study in the Process of Historical Change (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1975), 114-258; Matthias Tullner, "Die Reformation in Stadt und Erzstift Magdeburg, in Sachsen-Anhalt," Beifrage zur Landesgeschichte 6 (1996): 7-40.

(17.) Gabriele Haug-Moritz, Der Schmalkaldische Bund 1530-1541/2, Schriften zur sudwestdeutschen Landeskunde 44 (Leinfelden-Echterdingen: DRW Verlag, 2002).

(18.) For example, in the tract of the Magdeburg cathedral chapter: Warhafftiger und gegrunter bericht / wider die unerfindlich und erdichte anzeigung / So die verstockten der Rom. Key. Mai. Rebellen und Echtere ... in der Altenstadt Magdeburgk / neulicher zeit im druck vergesslich ausgegossen ..., 1550 (Leipzig: V. Bapst); VD 16; M 153; cited in Friedrich Hortleder, Der Romischen Keyser- und Koniglichen Maiesteten ... Handlungen und Aussschreiben ... von dem Jahr 1546. biss auff das Jahr 1558. Nun ... von newem ubersehen (Gotha: Gedruckt in Verlegung W. Endters, 1645), 2:1112-23, esp. 1115.

(19.) Ibid.

(20.) A detailed analysis of the edict of the council is in Kaufmann, Das Ende der Reformation, chap. 2.

(21.) Cf. Eike Wolgast, Hochstift und Reformation. Studien zur Geschichte der Reichskirche zwischen 1517 und 1648, Beitrage zur Geschichte der Reichskirche in der Neuzeit 16 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1995), 130 ft.

(22.) Cf. Whitford, Tyranny, n. 5; Kaufmann, Das Ende der Reformation, chap. 3 (bibliography).

(23.) Cf. Inge Mager, "Die Stadt Braunschweig und ihr geistliches Ministerium vor den Herausforderungen durch das Interim," in Herrschaft und Verfassungsstrukturen im Nordwesten des Reiches. Beitrage zum Zeitalter Karls V, ed. Bernhard Sicken, Staidteforschung Reihe A 25. (Cologne: Bohlau, 1994), 265-74; Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, "Der theologische Widerstand der lutherischen Prediger der Seestadte gegen das Interim und die konfessionelle Fixierung des Luthertums," ibid., 253-64.

(24.) Cited as the copy of his report of the siege in Hortleder, 2:1243, n. 17.

(25.) Nicolas yon Armsdorff, Bekenntnis Unterricht und vermanung der Pfarrherrn und Prediger der Christlichen Kirchen zu Magdeburg, Anno 1550. Den 13. Aprilis (Magdeburg: Lotter, 1550), VD 16 A 2333; Ex. MF 185-86 Nr. 367, O 2v; the Latin edition is Confessio et Apologia Pastorum and reliquorum ministrorum Ecclesiae Magdeburgensis, Anno 1550 (Magdeburg: M. Lotter, 1550); VD 16 A 2331; Ex. MF 130 Nr. 258, I 2r.

(26.) On the interpretation of the centennial of the Reformation from the perspective of media history, see Johannes Burkhardt, Das Reformationsjahrhundert, Deutsche Geschichte zwischen Medienrevolution und Institutionenbildung. 1517-1617 (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2002).

(27.) See the bibliography of the printing history of the Lord God's Chancery (appendix 1) in Kaufmann, Das Ende der Reformation.

(28.) A summary of the imprints by Lotter and Rodinger in VD 16, vol. 25, s.v. "Magdeburg."

(29.) On Gallus, see Hartmut Voit, Nikolaus Gallus. Ein Beitrag zur Reformationsgeschichte der nachlutherischen Zeit, Einzelarbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte Bayerns 54 (Neustadt-Aisch: Degener, 1977); Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Handworterbuch fur Theologie und Religionswissenschaft (Religion in History and Today: Dictionary of Theology and the Scholarship of Religion) (hereafter RGG4), ed. Hans Dieter Betz, 4th completely rev. ed. (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 3:462.

(30.) Still basic is the work of Simon Issleib, Aufsatze und Beitrage zu Kurfurst Moritz von Sachsen, ed. Reiner Gross (1877-1907), vols. 1 and 2, Mitteldeutsche Forschungen, Sonderreihe: Quellen und Darstellungen in Nachdrucken 8 (Cologne: Bohlau, 1989).

(31.) See Johannes Herrmann, "Moritz yon Sachsen, evangelischer Christ und Judas zugleich," Archiv far Reformationsgeschichte 92 (2001): 87-118.

(32.) After losing his Naumburg bishopric, he had returned to his old site of activity, Magdeburg, where he had personified ecclesiastical renewal and personally represented the connection with Martin Luther and Wittenberg. Robert Kolb, Nikolaus von Amsdorf (1483-1565). Popular Polemics in the Preservation of Luther's Legacy, Bibliotheca Humanistica and Reformatorica 24 (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1978); RGG4 (1998), 1:421; Thomas Kaufmann, Reformatoren (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1998), 51 f. with bibliography.

(33.) Emil Korner, Erasmus Alberus. Das Kampferleben eines Gottesgelehrten aus Luthers Schule, Quellen und Darstellungen aus der Geschichte des Reformationsjahrhunderts 15 (Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachf., 1910); Wolfgang Harms and Herfried Vogel, eds., Erasmus Alberus, Die Fabeln, Fruhe Neuzeit 33 (Tubingen: M. Niemeyer, 1997); Hans Betz, Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed. (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998), 1:266.

(34.) Korner, Alber, 127, n. 32.

(35.) Bekenntnis, in Q 1r, n. 24.

(36.) Der pfarhern und prediger zu Magdeburg Christliche kurtze erinnerung an ihre Christliche gemeine (Magdeburg: M. Lotter, 1550); VD 16 P 2284; Ex. F 1347 Nr. 2289, D 3v.

(37.) Cited after the text of the pamphlet in Wolfgang Harms, Deutsche illustrierte Flugblatter des 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, vol. 3, Die Sammlung der Herzog August Bibliothek, Teil 3: Theologica, Quodlibetica (Munich: Kraus International, 1989), Nr. 151,295; Kommentar, 294.

(38.) Der pfarhern ... erinnerung, C 2r, n. 35.

(39.) Korner, Alber, 116, n. 32.

(40.) Cf. Ulinka Rublack, "Metze und Markt. Frauen, Krieg und Bildfunktion des Weiblichen in deutschen Stadten der Fruhen Neuzeit," Historische Anthropologie 3 (1995): 412-32.

(41.) Der pfarhern ... erinnerung, D 2v, n. 35.

(42.) Ibid.; cf. also Ein christlich Gebet der Kirchen und Kriegsleute zu Magdeburg / sonderlich in treffender Not /wider ihre Feinde (Magdeburg: M. Lotter, 1551); VD 16 C 2402; Ex. MF 462 Nr. 852, A 1r.

(43.) Merkel, Bericht, in Hortleder 2:1275 as in n. 17.

(44.) On the quantitative comments, see Kaufmann, Das Ende der Reformation, chap. 1 and the tables in appendix 3.

(45.) Cf. WA, 5:496, lines 7-9; see, on the context, Martin Brecht, "Ordnung und Abgrenzung der Reformation 1521 1532," in Martin Luther (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1986), 356 ff.; Heinz Scheible, Melanchthon. Eine Biographie (Munich: Beck, 1997), 106 ff.

(46.) Some examples of this polemical literature will suffice. "Ein Krieg hat sich erhaben / ist jederman bekandt / Gebracht in grossen schaden / Das werde Deudsche landt / Vorrhett vorzert ist manchem sein gut / Sein weib und kindt geschendet / Vergossen unnschuldig bludt."

(47.) The songs point out the real enemy: "Bapst Teuffel ist er genandt / Wolt Gott er wehr erhangen." They summarize what the real issues are in the war: faith alone. Jesus taught "lert uns den glauhen allezeit / das ist dem Bapst getreulich leid"; um das Wort Gottes: "Sein wort helfft alles verfechten.... O Gott steh bey dem Gerechten"; "Mit Freude wolln wir wagen daran / Leib Ehr und Gut als das wir han / Deim Wort zu gefallen / Ist besser hie verlieren den Leib / Wann dort die ewig Seligkeit."

(48.) The Interim becomes the antisymbol of Christ's community and is ridiculed with Latin phrases: "Quid est Interim?" Answer: "Adverbium. Quid est Adverbium? Est verbum Satanae coniunctum cum verbo Dei ad decipiendas animas et stabiliendum idolatriam Antichristi et confirmandam Tyrannidem."

(49.) A new edition of the letter is found in Barthe Widmer, Francesco Petrarca, Aufrufe zur Errettung Italiens und des Erdkreises. Ausgewahlte Briefe Lateinisch-Deutsc (Basel: Schwabe, 2001), 314-27.

(50.) The quotations come from Das der Babst mit seinem hoffe die recht Babilon und Babilonische Hure sey. Durch den hochgelarten Franciscum Petrarcham einen Welschen / der fur 150. jarn gelebet hat (Magdeburg: Rodinger, 1551); VD 16 P 1722; Ex. HAB Wolfenbuttel 369. Theol. (30), A 4v-B.

(51.) Ein Gespreche / von einem Landsknecht und S. Peter / Bapst / Teuffel / und dem Engel Gabriel. Darinnen ... ngezeiget wird / das S. Peter ... keinen Bapst nie gesehen hat (Magdeburg, 1548?); VD 16 G 1883; Ex. MF 799 Nr. 1483. Erasmus's Dialogus Iulius exclusus e coelis is easily accessible in a number of modern editions, including that of Werner Welzig, Erasmus von Rotterdam, Ausgewahlte Schriften (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1990), 5:6-109, which offers the Latin text and a German translation.

(52.) On Luther's connections with Magdeburg, see Ingeborg Buchholz and Wolf Hubohm, eds., Martin Luther in Magdeburg. Eine Sammlung von Quellen und Aufsatzen, Magdeburger Gesprachsreihe Heft 8 (Oschersleben: Dr. Ziethen, 1996).

(53.) Concerning this genre, see Ernst Koch, "Lutherflorilegien zwischen 1550 und 1600. Zum Lutherbild der ersten nachreformatorischen Generation," Theologische Versuche 16 (1986): 105-17.

(54.) In greater detail, Kaufmann, Das Ende der Reformation, chap. 4, section 15.

(55.) The most important sources are in Johannes Herrmann, Gunther Wartenberg, and Christian Winter, eds., Politische Korrespondenz des Herzogs und Kurfursten Moritz von Sachsen, Band 5, 9. January 1551-1. May 1552 (Berlin: Akademie, 1998).

Thomas Kaufmann is professor of Theology at the University of Gottingen, Germany.
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