Front Page Titles (by Subject) 47.: The Beginning of the Reformation: General Considerations - Judgments on History and Historians
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47.: The Beginning of the Reformation: General Considerations - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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The Beginning of the Reformation: General Considerations
The transformation of the world through the Reformation was great in itself. First of all, the problem of “liberation” may be brought up.
Catholicism up to that time had exerted no substantial pressure, had not impeded any idea, not even atheistic blasphemy, and had allowed reformatory elements in particular to rise. But the church was subject to change (apart from dogma) in its hierarchic form of power and its property; for both are secular. (Still, someone who overthrows and steals power and property does remain a perpetrator of violence, even though sound forces may subsequently have associated themselves with the consequences of his actions.)
In Europe, church property was an open question for the universally needy secular class, and the church state was itself imperiled through the consequences of the activity of the popes.
The Reformation, as a religious innovation, diverges from all traditions of the Middle Ages. The Bible, which may be variously interpreted, remains the sole authority, and reformatory theology brought the difficulty of the doctrine of justification.
After 1520 Luther’s goal was the complete eradication of Catholicism. He was execrated; his opponents were designated as “scorners” of the gospel, and tolerance was represented as blasphemy.
The reformers were fond of invoking the wrath of God.
No mercy was shown those who wanted to adhere to the old religion optimo jure [as having the best right]. (But anyone who is treated that way must be destroyed; if he is not, there exists an avenger.)
The most enormous spoliation of the institutions of a millennium took place. But a large part of Germany remained Catholic or became Catholic again, and in all the rest of Europe Catholicism stood its ground in the most important countries and considered as its duty the utmost resistance to the Reformation and absolute self-preservation.
On account of that, with the Thirty Years’ War Germany paid as dearly for the Reformation as is at all conceivable. On the whole, things went very badly, and all desperate hatred has to date not been able to change this. The “others” are still around and are Christians, too.
Upon the Catholic “human statutes” there follow the Protestant ones.
The reformers and “freedom”:
Today they are chiefly regarded as battering-rams—not on account of what they taught, but because they did their best to destroy Catholicism. Little notice is taken of their doctrines, and at bottom they are held in low esteem. Protestantism is regarded as liberal, something it became only after it was no longer Protestantism—and the state dictated it anyway.
The reformers bewailed “spiritual freedom.” Every one of them conceived of his dogmatism as a condition of the soul’s salvation. They bitterly complain of being despised—here one suddenly does not even believe Luther himself. They shudder because with their innovation all of ethics has got out on the high seas (God as the Creator of Evil, and the like), while folk fancy and greed, now based on the Bible or even only on the spirit, rise to ever new evolutions (Anabaptists).
Yet the force which carried the Reformation materially was the general defection from good works, from alms, tithes, indulgences, fasting—in short, the general lack of discipline. The reformed not merely rejected asceticism, but went to quite the other extreme.
The Reformation is the faith of all those who would like not to have to do something any more. With Calvin this later changed.
The worst and socially most dangerous elements were soon in the foreground. They brought about a general break with all historical traditions. In addition, there were active among them those carried away by the spirit of rhetoric.
Even when the storm of the Peasants’ War was over, the general licentiousness in action and thought remained and spread to the areas of governments which had remained Catholic. In 1532 Tiepolo was afraid that in consequence of internal strife the victors or the emigrating vanquished might hurl themselves at the neighboring countries.
On the intellectually more advanced there was an inner pressure. The absence of any mood of exaltation becomes characteristic. Higher education did not advance, as is thought, but retrogressed for decades. The humanists became silent.
German art declined, through icon-smashing, through the atrophy of its higher tasks—it had been deprived of its myth—through the participation of the most important artists themselves in the Reformation.