Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reformation in Germany # 3 Martin Luther and Fritz Erbe's Wartburg

The Wartburg

The Wartburg is a castle situated on a  410 metre  precipice overlooking the town of Eisenach in the province  of Thuringen, Germany. In 1999 UNESCO  proclaimed it  a  World Heritage Site   as  (please  note !)  an  "Outstanding Monument of the  Feudal Period in Central  Europe".   The greatest significance  of this place, at least  to my biased Reformed mind, is  what  this  place had contributed to the 16th  Century Reformation.
According to historical records this castle was founded in  AD 1067  by the count of  Schauenburg, Ludwig  der Springer. According to tradition, the castle (Burg) got its name when its founder first laid eyes on the hill upon which the Wartburg is built. Enchanted by the site, he is supposed to have exclaimed, "Warte, Berg -- du sollst mir eine Burg werden!" ("Wait, mountain - you shall become a castle for me!")
One of its most famous residents  would be Martin Luther.  He lived there only for  a brief time - from  May 1521 until March 1522, after he had been taken there for his safety at the request of    the elector of Saxony, Frederik the Wise  following his  excommunication  by Pope Leo X, after his refusal to recant  at the Diet of Worms. It was at this time that  Luther  translated the  New Testament  into German, the first translation into a modern language in over a  1000 years!  This literally  (if you will excuse a pun!)   caused a storm   in the spiritual history of Europe  as the Word of God was made available in the Native  tongue (German). 
The room where it all  happened !
Taking a guided tour through the castle  was interesting, but it was sad  to  hear so little of the  spiritual events that shook the world. More focus was  given to  St Elizabeth  of Hungary, who at the tender age  of four   was sent by her mother to the Wartburg to be raised there  to become the  consort of  Ludwig  IV of Thuringen.  From 1211 to 1228, she lived there and  became  renowned for her charitable work. She died at the age of 24 and was eventually  canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.  

FRITZ ERBE ( died 1548) 
The most interesting discovery of my visit to the Wartburg however  was  a plague  on the  South tower  pictured below. It was placed there  in memory of one  Fritz Erbe, an Anabaptist of Thuringen  who suffered martyrdom  in this tower.
The story goes that he had  owned a large farm in Herda, a village in the Eisenach district. Early in October 1531 he was arrested because he had been baptized on the  profession  his faith. He was taken  to Eisenach and imprisoned there. At the end of January 1532 he was released by Philip of Hessen.   A little later  he  refused to have his child baptized  and  he was  arrested again in January 1533.  John Frederik the elector of Saxony at this time  insisted that he be put to death, basing his verdict on an opinion of the Wittenberg theologians and jurists recommending death by the sword for "rebaptized"  persons.  But Philip of Hessen   did not give his consent. He hesitated to execute a man for his faith, since faith is a gift of God.  He could not see how a man,  even  with  an "erring faith" could be  executed, for he thought it was done  out of ignorance, not malice. He favored expulsion from the country. A long correspondence between the two rulers followed, as well as lengthy negotiations with courts and officials. 

Meanwhile Fritz Erbe was kept in this dungeon  for many years.   His long imprisonment ruined his health, but his spirit remained firm. After an imprisonment of 16 years,  he died in 1548 and was buried below the  walls of the Wartburg.

What a sad thought   then that   two godly men  had  been occupants of this  magnificent place - although they were  not there at the same time.  Martin Luther  was kept imprisoned for his own safety there  for a while, and Fritz Erbe was kept imprisoned  there for the sake of his Christian conscience, which instructed  him  through the Scriptures that only converted people were to be the subjects of Christian baptism. We know that Martin Luther  was  generally   intolerant  of the Anabaptists , but one wonders what might have happened if Fritz and Martin had met without prejudice   and had talked about the gospel  - "the power of God unto salvation  for everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16,17) 

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