The German Peasants’ War: Martin Luther and the Gospel of Social Unrest

Andrew Morton


The implications of the Reformation on modern society are both far-reaching and hotly contested. Indeed, the work of German reformer and theologian Martin Luther, in particular, remains a contested topic in the historiography of the era. Of the many events of the Reformation in which Luther took part in shaping, none was more revolutionary than the German Peasants’ War of 1525. While many agree that a connection between Luther’s ideologies and the revolt exists, the extent of this relationship remains debatable. Martin Luther’s connection to the German Peasants’ War diminishes in proportion with the radicalization of the movement, and the perversion of Luther’s doctrine of spiritual freedom proves to be the motivating factor behind this shift. The socio-economic factors in Germany during the mid-fifteenth century will provide the context for the connection between Luther and the peasants; a discussion on the relation between the literatures of both parties will show the nature of Luther’s influence on, and departure from, the revolt itself. After that, this paper will delve into the specific events that motivated Luther to reveal his shifting stance on the actions of the peasantry. This will ultimately lead to an examination of the essence and source of the peasants’ radicalization and the role that the distortion of Luther’s theology played therein.

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