Front Page Titles (by Subject) 48.: On Luther - Judgments on History and Historians
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
48.: On Luther - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
The initial element in him was not speculative thought, but terribly powerful basic feelings, such as occur now and then in deep natures of the old, advanced races. Such men sense the profound vanity of everything earthly and, according to predisposition, period, place, and race, feel it as an apostasy of all living creatures from God.
In accordance with the temporal (Germanic and monastic) covering which gave the external form to his spirit, Luther perceived it as sin. However, he did not content himself with the remedy for sin customary in his environment, namely, penance, and its superficial buying off, the indulgence, did not suffice him at all.
Luther’s personality is described by Kessler [Sabbata, I, 122] who saw him in 1522: “He was rather corpulent by nature. His carriage was erect and such that he bent forward less than backward, with his face turned toward heaven. He had dark eyes set deep under his dark brows; his eyes twinkled and flashed like stars, so that one could not well bear their glance.” (Cranach has nowhere managed to give us an idea of this.)
The decisive thing about Luther was the fact that in addition to indulgences he also abhorred good works in the widest sense. But these will always have on their side natural feelings which he likewise trampled underfoot along with all follies of Catholic practice.
For a Christian it is natural (but for that very reason not theologically correct?) to want to atone for his failings, to impose suffering upon himself, to give away a part of his possessions and enjoyments. Only optimists are blind to this. Real Christianity even imposes upon itself permanent penance in the form of asceticism, and Luther hated the latter most of all once he had said good-by to it.
The reformers then were quick to realize what had been lost with the ecclesiastic practice of alms and drew up programs of public charity.
But they would have succumbed to their own impotence unless princely and municipal governments had for good reasons safeguarded a firm ecclesiastic organism. The governments then had to take the benefice, too, under their care in large measure, even though they entrusted the clergy with it in part.