1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carlstadt

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CARLSTADT, Karlstadt or Karolostadt (1480–1541), German reformer, whose real name was Andreas Rudolf Bodenstein, was born at Carlstadt in Bohemia. He entered the university of Erfurt in the winter term of 1499–1500, and remained there till 1503, when he went to Cologne. In the winter term of 1504–1505 he transferred himself to the newly founded university of Wittenberg, where he soon established his reputation as a teacher of philosophy, and a zealous champion of the scholastic system of Thomas Aquinas, against the revised nominalism associated with the name of Occam. In 1508 he was made canon of the Allerheiligenstift, a collegiate church incorporated in the university; and in 1510 he became doctor of theology and archdeacon, his duties being to preach, to say mass once a week and to lecture before the university; in 1513 he was appointed ordinary professor of theology. In 1515 he went to Rome, where with a view to becoming provost of the Allerheiligenstift he studied law, taking his degree as doctor juris utriusque. His experiences in the papal city produced upon him the same effect as upon Luther, and when in 1516 he returned to Germany it was as an ardent opponent of the Thomist philosophy and as a champion of the Augustinian doctrine of the impotence of the human will and salvation through Divine grace alone. The 151 theses of Carlstadt, dated the 16th of September 1516, discovered by Theodor Kolde (“Wittenberger Disputationsthesen” in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, xi. p. 448, &c.), prove that, so far from owing his change of view to Luther’s influence, he was at this time actually in advance of Luther. The two reformers were, in fact, never friends; though from the end of 1516 onwards the development of each was considerably influenced by the other.

In the spring of 1518, in reply to Eck’s Obelisci, an attack on Luther’s 95 theses, Carlstadt published a series of theses, maintaining the supremacy of the Holy Scriptures (which he regarded as verbally inspired) over ecclesiastical tradition and the authority of the fathers, and asserting the liability of general councils to error. Eck challenged him to a public disputation, in which Luther also took part, and which lasted from the 27th of June to the 15th of July 1519. In this dialectical warfare Carlstadt was no match for Eck; but the dispute only served to confirm him in his revolt from the dominant theology, and in three violent polemical treatises against Eck he proclaimed the doctrine of the exclusive operation of grace in the justification of believers.

This attitude led him in 1520, by a logical development, to an open attack on all those ecclesiastical practices in which the doctrine of justification by works had become crystallized; e.g. indulgences and the abuse of holy water and consecrated salt. At the same time he appeared as the first of modern biblical critics, denying the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and classing the Scriptures into three categories of different value in accordance with the degrees of certainty as to their traditional origin. He still, however, maintained the doctrine of verbal inspiration, and attacked Luther for rejecting the epistle of James. In 1520 Carlstadt’s name was included in the papal bull excommunicating Luther; after a momentary hesitation he decided to remain firm in his protestant attitude, published an appeal from the pope to a general council, and attacked the corruptions of the papacy itself in a treatise on “the holiness of the pope” (Von päpstlicher Heiligkeit, October 17th, 1520).

In May 1521 Carlstadt went to Denmark, on the invitation of King Christian II., to assist in the reform of the church; but his disposition was anything but conciliatory, and, though his influence is traceable in the royal law of the 26th of May 1521 abolishing the celibacy of the clergy, he was forced, by the hostility of nobles and clerics alike, to leave after a few weeks’ stay. In June he was back in Wittenberg, busy with tracts on the Holy Sacrament (he still believed in the corporeal presence) and against the celibacy of the clergy (de coelibatu). Carlstadt has been unjustly accused of being responsible for the riots against the Mass fomented by the Augustinian friars and the students; as a matter of fact, he did his best to keep the peace, pending a decision by the elector of Saxony and the authorities of the university, and it was not till Christmas day that he himself publicly communicated the laity under both species. The next day he announced his engagement to a young lady of noble family, Anna von Mochau.

From this moment Carlstadt was accepted as the leader of Protestantism in Wittenberg; and, at his instance, auricular confession, the elevation of the Host and the rules for fasting were abolished. On the 19th of January he was married, in the presence of many of the university professors and city magistrates. A few days later the property of the religious corporations was confiscated by the city and, after pensions had been assigned to their former members, was handed over to charitable foundations. A pronouncement of Carlstadt’s against pictures and images, supported by the town, also led to iconoclastic excesses.

The return of Luther early in March, however, ended Carlstadt’s supremacy. The elector Frederick the Wise was strenuously opposed to any alteration in the traditional services, and at his command Luther restored communion in one kind and the elevation of the Host. Carlstadt himself, though still professor, was deprived of all influence in practical affairs, and devoted himself entirely to theological speculation, which led him ever nearer to the position of the mystics. He now denied the necessity for a clerical order at all, called himself “a new layman,” doffed his ecclesiastical dress, and lived for a while as a peasant with his wife’s relations at Segrena. In the middle of 1523, however, he went to Orlamünde, a living held by him with his canonry, and there in the parish church reformed the services according to his ideas, abolishing the Mass and even preaching against the necessity for sacraments at all. He still continued occasionally to lecture at Wittenberg and to fulminate against Luther’s policy of compromise.

All this brought him into violent conflict with the elector, the university and Luther himself. His professorship and living were confiscated and, in September 1524, he went into exile with his wife and child. He was now exposed to great privations and hardships, but found opportunity for polemical writing, proclaiming for the first time his disbelief in the “Real Presence.” He preached wherever he could gain a hearing, and visited Strassburg, Heidelberg, Zürich, Basel, Schweinfurth, Kitzingen and Nördlingen, before he found a more permanent resting-place at Rothenburg on the Tauber. He was here when the Peasants’ War broke out, and was sent as a delegate to reason with the insurgents. His admonitions were unsuccessful, and he only succeeded in bringing himself under suspicion of being in part responsible for their excesses. When Rothenburg was taken by the margrave of Anspach (28th June 1525) Carlstadt had to fly for his life. His spirit was now broken, and from Frankfort he wrote to Luther humbly praying him to intercede for him with the elector. Luther agreed to do so, on receiving from Carlstadt a recantation of his heterodox views on the Lord’s Supper, and as the result the latter was permitted to return to Wittenberg (1525). He was not, however, allowed to lecture, and he lived as a peasant, first at Segrena and afterwards at Bergwitz, cultivating small properties, in which he had invested the remnant of his fortune, with such poor success that at the end of 1526 he had to eke out a living as a pedlar in the little town of Kemberg. This was endurable; but not so the demand presently made upon him to take up the cudgels against Zwingli and Oecolampadius. Once more he revolted; to agree with “Dr Martin’s opinions on the sacrament” was as difficult as flying like a bird; he appealed to the elector to allow him to leave Saxony; but the elector’s conscience was in Luther’s keeping, and Carlstadt had to fly ignominiously in order to avoid imprisonment. He escaped to Holstein, where in March 1529 he stayed with the Anabaptist Melchior Hofmann. Expelled by the authorities, he took refuge in East Friesland, where he remained till the beginning of 1530 under the protection of a nobleman in sympathy with the Helvetic reformers. His preaching gave him great influence, but towards the close of the year persecution again sent him on his travels. He ultimately reached Zürich, where the recommendations of Bucer and Oecolampadius secured him a friendly reception by Zwingli, who procured him employment. After Zwingli’s death he remained in close intercourse with the Zürich preachers, who defended him against renewed attacks on Luther’s part; and finally, in 1534, on Bullinger’s recommendation, he was called to Basel as preacher at the church of St Peter and professor at the university. Here he remained till his death on the 24th of December 1541.

During these latter years Carlstadt’s attitude became more moderate. His championship of the town council against the theocratic claims of Antistes Myconius and the ecclesiastical council, in the matter of the control of the university, was perhaps in consonance with his earlier views on the relations of clergy and laity. He was, however, also instrumental in restoring the abolished doctorate of theology and other degrees; and, despatched on a mission to Strassburg in 1536, to take part in a discussion on a proposed compromise in the matter of the Lord’s Supper between the theologians of Strassburg and Wittenberg, he displayed a conciliatory attitude which earned him the praise of Bucer. Carlstadt’s historical significance lies in the fact that he was one of the pioneers of the Reformation. But he was a thinker and dreamer rather than a man of affairs, and though he had the moral and physical courage to carry his principles to their logical conclusions (he was the first priest to write against celibacy, and the first to take a wife), he lacked the balance of mind and sturdy common sense that inspired Luther’s policy of consideration for “the weaker brethren” and built up the Evangelical Church on a conservative basis. But though Carlstadt was on friendly terms, and corresponded with Münzer and other Anabaptists, he did not share their antinomian views, nor was he responsible for their excesses. His opinion as to the relation of faith and “good works” was practically that expressed in articles XI. and XII. of the Church of England. In reply to Luther’s violent onslaught on him in his Wider die himmlischen Propheten he issued from Rothenburg his Anzeig etlicher Hauptartikel christlicher Lehre, a compendious exposition of his views, in which he says: “Those who urge to good works do so, not that the conscience may be justified by works, but that their freedom may redound to God’s glory and that their neighbours may be fired to praise God.”

See C. F. Jaeger, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (Stuttgart, 1856); Hermann Barge, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, vol. i. (Leipzig, 1905).