Front Page Titles (by Subject) 52.: On the Reformation: The Masses, Their Motives and Consequences—Luther - Judgments on History and Historians
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52.: On the Reformation: The Masses, Their Motives and Consequences—Luther - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On the Reformation: The Masses, Their Motives and Consequences—Luther
A large proportion of the population certainly was quick to join. It was pleasant to skip confession and penance immediately, to break fast, to be rid of vows and indulgences, and, as was thought, not to be paying tithes any longer (of these the peasants were nowhere relieved). The Reformation must have had an enormous attraction for all those who enjoy not having to do something any longer.
Bonnivard stresses this throughout his Advis et Devis des difformes réformateurz. The large majority of the people, he says, conceived of the Reformation as the opposite of asceticism: (“Ce monde est faict à dos d’asne” [This world is made like a donkey’s back]; if a bag hangs too far to the left and you try to center it, it falls to the right). How different was the effect of Christianity on people in its beginning: repentance, surrender of property at the feet of the apostles—and now, by contrast, “nos évangelistes de taverne”! The worst elements of the population rose to the top. In the time of transition, brutal acts of violence against priests and the like occurred. Where was the preaching of the gospel followed by an improvement of life, except “en la val d’Engroigne (Waldensians) et nostre ville de Genève”? And even there this happened only late and with an effort, for initially “peu de gentz de bien” [few people of means] took part, but rather “les plus desbordez” [the most downtrodden] in the city and within a radius of ten hours, with maltreatment of the priests and monks, plundering, and the like. This was done only out of hatred of the church, not out of love of the gospel; otherwise they would have started their reform with themselves. (The Reformation made its great strides not through its positive teachings, but as a negation of something that had existed up to that time; without this negation the masses would not have been won over.)
On the whole, the reformers may have felt very queer in the midst of lustful masses of people, greedy governments, wretched colleagues (quickly advanced clerics of all kinds), and vis-à-vis one another: the Anabaptists, i.e., the forward-pressing essential spirit of the Reformation, a continual admonition from out of the dark. The frightful imprecations against the papacy probably were made in part because they wanted to cut off forcibly the secretly tempting way back. How gladly Melanchthon would have remained in some sort of a relationship with the old church!
The Reformation stirred up in people the most diverse spirits: a break with all historical things; because people broke with so much history, there was, for many, no limit. Furthermore, there were remnants of all kinds of traditional heresies which had only been forced back into obscurity.
According to Lang’s conscious or unconscious view, the Reformverein [Reform Union] actually ought to have followed immediately upon the Reformation. But without immediate, dogmatically very firm and one-sided churches, everything would have broken up into tumult, baptizing, appeal to the spirit, and so on, into general disunity (not “enlightenment,” but baptizing would have dominated the scene for the moment), and the reaction (which later set in strongly enough) would then have gained control easily and completely.
To be sure, the religious fanatics now and then make an optimistic start at collecting themselves into a people of God with strict discipline, as did the Hussites once, but there is far too little harmony, and the attempt of Münster came much too late.
Through the problems of justification, good works, predestination, and the like, all of ethics got out into the high seas. The idea emerged that God was the creator of evil, too (Hans Denk and also some individual reformers, e.g., Zwingli, were logical enough to attach to this the eventual salvation of the wicked, even of the fallen angels).
Many were probably drawn into all this confusion only by their mere inborn fondness for talking. They are those who would be equally inspired to talk by the opposite.
Who are we anyway to demand of Luther and the other reformers that they should have carried out our programs?! This particular Luther existed and no other; accept him the way he was.
There are complaints about Luther’s “obstinacy”—but without the pig-headedness, so entirely incapable of capitulation, of this one man everything might perhaps have reverted to the status quo.
Luther’s doctrine of justification, an innovation vis-à-vis the entire church up to that time, is currently actually abandoned by all Protestant theologians, even orthodox ones. In fact, it is explained in a way that the reformers and their authentic successors would damn as Papist or Arminian.