History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 3

Contents:
Author: Thomas Carlyle

Chapter VIII. Historical Meaning of the Reformation.

The Culmbach Brothers, we observe, play a more important part in that era than their seniors and chiefs of Brandenburg. These Culmbachers, Margraf George aud Albert of Preussen at the head of them, march valiantly forward in the Reformation business; while KUR-BRANDENBURG, Joachim I., their senior Cousin, is talking loud at Diets, galloping to Innspruck and the like, zealous on the Conservative side; and Cardinal Albert, KUR-MAINZ, his eloquent brother, is eager to make matters smooth and avoid violent methods.

The Reformation was the great Event of that Sixteenth Century; according as a man did something in that, or did nothing and obstructed doing, has he much claim to memory, or no claim, in this age of ours. The more it becomes apparent that the Reformation was the Event then transacting itself, was the thing that Germany and Europe either did or refused to do, the more does the historical significance of men attach itself to the phases of that transaction. Accordingly we notice henceforth that the memorable points of Brandenburg History, what of it sticks naturally to the memory of a reader or student, connect themselves of their own accord, almost all, with the History of the Reformation. That has proved to be the Law of Nature in regard to them, softly establishing itself; and it is ours to follow that law.

Brandenburg, not at first unanimously, by no means too inconsiderately, but with overwhelming unanimity when the matter became clear, was lucky enough to adopt the Reformation;—and stands by it ever since in its ever-widening scope, amid such difficulties as there might be. Brandenburg had felt somehow, that it could do no other. And ever onwards through the times even of our little Fritz and farther, if we will understand the word "Reformation," Brandenburg so feels; being, at this day, to an honorable degree, incapable of believing incredibilities, of adopting solemn shams, or pretending to live on spiritual moonshine. Which has been of uncountable advantage to Brandenburg: —how could it fail? This was what we must call obeying the audible voice of Heaven. To which same "voice," at that time, all that did not give ear,—what has become of them since; have they not signally had the penalties to pay!

"Penalties:" quarrel not with the old phraseology, good reader; attend rather to the thing it means. The word was heard of old, with a right solemn meaning attached to it, from theological pulpits and such places; and may still be heard there with a halfmeaning, or with no meaning, though it has rather become obsolete to modern ears. But the THING should not have fallen obsolete; the thing is a grand and solemn truth, expressive of a silent Law of Heaven, which continues forever valid. The most untheological of men may still assert the thing; and invite all men to notice it, as a silent monition and prophecy in this Universe; to take it, with more of awe than they are wont, as a correct reading of the Will of the Eternal in respect of such matters; and, in their modern sphere, to bear the same well in mind. For it is perfectly certain, and may be seen with eyes in any quarter of Europe at this day.

Protestant or not Protestant? The question meant everywhere: "Is there anything of nobleness in you, O Nation, or is there nothing? Are there, in this Nation, enough of heroic men to venture forward, and to battle for God’s Truth VERSUS the Devil’s Falsehood, at the peril of life and more? Men who prefer death, and all else, to living under Falsehood,—who, once for all, will not live under Falsehood; but having drawn the sword against it (the time being come for that rare and important step), throw away the scabbard, and can say, in pious clearness, with their whole soul: ’Come on, then! Life under Falsehood is not good for me; and we will try it out now. Let it be to the death between us, then!’"

Once risen into this divine white-heat of temper, were it only for a season and not again, the Nation is thenceforth considerable through all its remaining history. What immensities of DROSS and crypto-poisonous matter will it not burn out of itself in that high temperature, in the course of a few years! Witness Cromwell and his Puritans,—making England habitable even under the Charles-Second terms for a couple of centuries more. Nations are benefited, I believe, for ages, by being thrown once into divine white-heat in this manner. And no Nation that has not had such divine paroxysms at any time is apt to come to much.

That was now, in this epoch, the English of "adopting Protestantism;" and we need not wonder at the results which it has had, and which the want of it has had. For the want of it is literally the want of loyalty to the Maker of this Universe. He who wants that, what else has he, or can he have? If you do not, you Man or you Nation, love the Truth enough, but try to make a Chapman-bargain with Truth, instead of giving yourself wholly soul and body and life to her, Truth will not live with you, Truth will depart from you; and only Logic, "Wit" (for example, "London Wit"), Sophistry, Virtu, the AEsthetic Arts, and perhaps (for a short while) Bookkeeping by Double Entry, will abide with you. You will follow falsity, and think it truth, you unfortunate man or nation. You will right surely, you for one, stumble to the Devil; and are every day and hour, little as you imagine it, making progress thither.

Austria, Spain, Italy, France, Poland,—the offer of the Reformation was made everywhere; and it is curious to see what has become of the nations that would not hear it. In all countries were some that accepted; but in many there were not enough, and the rest, slowly or swiftly, with fatal difficult industry, contrived to burn them out. Austria was once full of Protestants; but the hide-bound Flemish-Spanish Kaiser-element presiding over it, obstinately, for two centuries, kept saying, "No; we, with our dull obstinate Cimburgis under-lip and lazy eyes, with our ponderous Austrian depth of Habituality and indolence of Intellect, we prefer steady Darkness to uncertain new Light!"—and all men may see where Austria now is. Spain still more; poor Spain, going about, at this time, making its "PRONUNCIAMIENTOS;" all the factious attorneys in its little towns assembling to PRONOUNCE virtually this, "The Old IS a lie, then;— good Heavens, after we so long tried hard, harder than any nation, to think it a truth!—and if it be not Rights of Man, Red Republic and Progress of the Species, we know not what now to believe or to do; and are as a people stumbling on steep places, in the darkness of midnight!"—They refused Truth when she came; and now Truth knows nothing of them. All stars, and heavenly lights, have become veiled to such men; they must now follow terrestrial IGNES FATUI, and think them stars. That is the doom passed upon them.

Italy too had its Protestants; but Italy killed them; managed to extinguish Protestantism. Italy put up silently with Practical Lies of all kinds; and, shrugging its shoulders, preferred going into Dilettantism and the Fine Arts. The Italians, instead of the sacred service of Fact and Performance, did Music, Painting, and the like:—till even that has become impossible for them; and no noble Nation, sunk from virtue to VIRTU, ever offered such a spectacle before. He that will prefer Dilettantism in this world for his outfit, shall have it; but all the gods will depart from him; and manful veracity, earnestness of purpose, devout depth of soul, shall no more be his. He can if he like make himself a soprano, and sing for hire;—and probably that is the real goal for him.

But the sharpest-cut example is France;, to which we constantly return for illustration. France, with its keen intellect, saw the truth and saw the falsity, in those Protestant times; and, with its ardor of generous impulse, was prone enough to adopt the former. France was within a hair’s-breadth of becoming actually Protestant. But France saw good to massacre Protestantism, and end it in the night of St. Bartholomew, 1572. The celestial Apparitor of Heaven’s Chancery, so we may speak, the Genius of Fact and Veracity, had left his Writ of Summons; Writ was read;—and replied to in this manner. The Genius of Fact and Veracity accordingly withdrew;—was staved off, got kept away, for two hundred years. But the writ of Summons had been served; Heaven’s Messenger could not stay away forever. No; he returned duly; with accounts run up, on compound interest, to the actual hour, in 1792;—and then, at last, there had to be a "Protestantism;" and we know of what kind that was!—

Nations did not so understand it, nor did Brandenburg more than the others; but the question of questions for them at that time, decisive of their history for half a thousand years to come, was, Will you obey the heavenly voice, or will you not?

Contents:

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 3

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 3

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Thomas Carlyle, "Chapter VIII. Historical Meaning of the Reformation.," History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 3 in History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 3 Original Sources, accessed January 21, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SVC3XRGI8IZQ56.

MLA: Carlyle, Thomas. "Chapter VIII. Historical Meaning of the Reformation." History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 3, in History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 3, Original Sources. 21 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SVC3XRGI8IZQ56.

Harvard: Carlyle, T, 'Chapter VIII. Historical Meaning of the Reformation.' in History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 3. cited in , History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 3. Original Sources, retrieved 21 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SVC3XRGI8IZQ56.