An essay on Protestantism and the Slovenians
Why on Luther and Protestantism? Protestantism means people gathered around the Book, claim the Presbyterians and practically all of the Protestant peoples. And if this is maintained by them, why this should not be shared by us, the Slovenians, who more than any other people associate the book with the very Protestantism, even if its followers have in mind the book with a capital letter, the Bible. This is why the writer deliberates about Protestantism or, to be more precise, about the Book.
In our conscience, many a thing is still concealed in the name of our national greatness, if not even pushed into our collective subconsciousness. We have certain relics of Romanesque and Gothic art in Slovenian territory, as well as relatively rich baroque monuments. This has been again and again ascertained with unconcealed pride, although the creators of these historical movements were largely of other nationalities, namely Italians and German, while there are practically no monuments of the Renaissance to be found in this part of the world. We purely and simply have no Renaissance, we often say and still consider ourselves, with no scruples at all, one of the European nations. Besides, we have never asked ourselves what in fact we lack in the absence of this intellectual movement in our country. Is this not perhaps the recognition of man? Is this not perhaps the very recognition of man’s individual personality which began an equal dialogue with God and at the same time a substantiation of that particular human dignity which we have lacked till this very day, and in the absence of which our souls are distinctly subjected to clericalism and totalitarianism or, in a word, to servitude?
Well, if we have no Renaissance, then we have Protestantism, we say. This is of course true, although we cannot overlook the fact that our Protestantism, too, sank in servitude. Protestantism as a religious and social movement is indeed the origin of the Slovenian nation, although even we, the present-day Slovenians and still mainly Catholics who are particularly fond of God of Worship, whom we are ready to worship with pretty images and beautiful singing on every possible occasion, have not a slightest need to pay our respects to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism. To say nothing of deepening our historical memory! This may possibly be due to our unconscious shame for taking advantage, as a nation, of the side products of Lutheranism, primarily through the worship of God and written words in our own language, while on the other hand we did not accept and preserve his theological teachings about man’s liberty and servitude, which is the essence of the Protestant spiritual transformation. One of the first men to become aware of this uncritical, disgraceful knot within himself was Ivan Cankar, who with his sensitivity of a genius anticipated many other things and who with such exasperation placed, in his drama The Servants, those so often quoted and never completely understood words into the mouth of Jerman, one of his main protagonists: "At that time (in the Counter-Reformation) half of our honest people (Protestants) were slaughtered, while the other half took to flight. The remaining few were a stinky mob. And we are the grandsons of our grandfathers." Historically speaking - if history is a numerical truth - this is probably not so, for on this occasion we lost our spiritual and social life at the most, while unhistorically it is undoubtedly true: we lost the individual sharpness of the mind and the capacity for the trials of temptation. Ivan Cankar evidently knew what was the essence of Protestantism and what we lacked.
Although it is true that we, the Slovenians, are still not familiar with Luther’s fundamental texts, neither with his pamphlet Von den Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (Christian Liberty), Luther’s teaching did not quite elude us at the onset of Protestantism. It is also true, however, that Protestantism in our country did not create what it succeeded in creating in the Holy Roman Empire, i.e. a very broad public opinion on the ecclesiastical and temporal affairs, but it certainly did move us deeply. And this not merely through the worship of God in our own language, through writing in Slovenian and through Trubar’s personal Lutheran example, example of a zealous, fighting and laborious man, due to which we are probably even today so very assiduous and so very convinced of the consecrated power of work, that we substantiate ourselves before God and before the people and that economically and socially we are among the most developed among the South Slavic nations. Even in the actual social development, i.e. in the Peasant Movement which was at that time so relentlessly connected with theological issues, Primoz Trubar was even more radical than Luther, although it also holds true that Trubar’s radicalism was to a great extent only the result of his modest experience regarding the actual liberty of man.
No more forbearing towards the feudal lords was Martin Luther, except that his accusations were normally mitigated with the assertion that the ruling class came to power by the will of God and was summoned to take care of human affairs. Thus we can truly say what has been already ascertained by the experts, i.e. that even in practice, in the actual social encounter, the Slovenian branch of Protestantism attested a modern perception of liberty and that theologically proficient or unproficient it radically reduced the social problems of that time to the Man - God relationship, which was a part of the basis of the Protestant ontology. With an intrepid swing it deleted social and hierarchical definition of man, as maintained by Roman Church and the lords temporal, and man was to it - no less than to Luther - largely an ethical and moral being. In short, it substantiated Lutheran liberty, which was at the same time the liberation of God and the liberation of man, as well as a beginning of direct dynamic relations between man and God, in which God was henceforth accomplished with the aid of man and man with the aid of God, which was the first existentialism.
In this Lutheran liberty man became an independent, fully authorized and to himself responsible being that managed all his affairs in a direct relation with God, which at that time, of course, could not and did not have an effect only in the sphere of religion but in much wider and deeper respects as well. This liberty went so far that Luther himself was almost in no need of the Church any more. Sola fides, sola scriptura, solus Christus ... Luther no longer needed the firmness of the ecclesiastical community but was satisfied with the firmness received directly from God. And if God did not allot him with this firmness, he took this as a proof of God’s authentic sinful human nature, which he considered a prerequisite for man’s reconciliation with God. This, in short, was not some idyllic liberty but paradoxically complicated faith and temptation of the open world which plunged every man into the worst personal conflicts, into incessant qualms of conscience and incessant mental torments. This liberty was not merely a divine but also a devilish issue, precisely such as described much later by Dostoevsky in The Grand Inquisitor and due to which even Jesus Christ was thrown into a serious dilemma whether to accept it or to reject it, as it was placed too high and was simply too demanding for a human being. A continuous choice was, as later referred to by modern existentialists, nothing safe and reliable but only a temptation and unbridgeable contradiction. After all, a Christian is, as written by Luther, a free master over everything and never subjected to anybody, but at the same time an obliging servant in everything and subjected to everybody. Liberty which demanded man’s activity in religious, political and social spheres and at the same time a prayer and contemplation of the friar’s cell, was the internal fire and the outer chill - the atrocious liberty from which fled, a number of times, even its instigator, Martin Luther, for he was hiding from it in this or other authority, now in the authority of father, then in the authority of God and the Bible. Sometimes even in the authority of the temporal power. Yet it is also liberty which expressed man’s most authentic position in his relations with God and which gave man, who accepted it, certain greatness and dignity.
And this very glorious liberty was in Slovenia suppressed. This was taken care of, in our name, by the Catholic clergymen of the Counter-Reformation, the so-called "cranes", as kindly referred to by Ivan Pregelj in his Master Anton, those border guards of Catholicism who defended us, in due time, from the corruption of morals and returned us into the arms of the Pope, into the safe shelter of servitude. And of course not only by these men, for the Counter-Reformation in Slovenia did not take place only in the religious and spiritual spheres. We, the Slovenians, did not debate on Zwingli’s parishes and Jansenistic theses, deny liberty of man’s will and teach about predestination, after which man can be redeemed only by the grace of God ... Active in Slovenia were, from the Ecumenical Council of Trent onwards, all of the organized and reconciliated Counter-Reformation forces - not only Dominicans and Jesuits as the spiritual leaders of the movement, but primarily the Hapsburg dynasty which took over the political and social leadership of the Counter-Reformation and which in places forbade the Protestants even to own real estate. In a word, it was also a matter of organized policy and organized constraint in every sphere of life, even if this is perhaps no longer significant for the state of our present mind. The fact is that at that time redemptive and bright image of the liberated God and man’s liberty of temptation utterly darkened in ours souls, as well as that we accepted the catholic hierarchy with no revolt, some with a firm belief, others credulously, in the very way firmness and reliability are accepted, for at that time we could not possibly know that together with the clericalism of the Counter- Reformation we accepted our principal religious, cultural and political structure of life, which since then we would never get rid again. For more than three hundred years from then on, the Protestants and peasant rebels were, in the Slovenian consciousness, not people but merely the devil’s allies. Even the Levantine Bishop Anton Slomsek believed in the tumultuous year of 1848 that resistance was a folly and that the Slovenian peasant rebels, a component part of Lutheran liberty in Slovenia, could not be tragical but only comical - not of course due to the theory about two inseparable realms or for fear of a bloody fulfillment of man’s liberty in political and social sphere, which scared Martin Luther to death, but simply because they were liable to their ideology.
The Slovenians have thus remained unfree until this very day. And not only unfree, as achingly established by Ivo AndriÊ for all of the (ex) Yugoslav peoples, without establishing the real cause for his pain. Until this day we have not developed a respect for man given to him by Lutheran liberty, "his full dignity and his full inner freedom, that unconditional and consistent respect without which the Balkan countries cannot enter the circle of the hallowed people not even with our best and most talented representatives. We carry this deficiency as original sin of our descent and the stamp of inferiority, which we truly cannot conceal.
In view of this significant deficiency in the souls of the Slovenian people, we should most appropriately ask ourselves if liberty and human dignity are at all still within our reach. Are they indeed just historical categories? Or can they be obtained in some other, earlier or later times? Perhaps in some other way? Have we, the Slovenians, completely missed them or have we, by beginning a true revolution in their name, included them in our life after all?
History says that a century before Luther the western world was still utterly divine, not of course only in the sense of the pervasive Christian faith, as claimed by Jacques Maritain in his Integral Humanism, but predominantly in institutional and hierarchic sense. In Slovenian territory and across the entire Western Europe, man was only Creatura Dei, a God’s creation which was restricted, by God’s omnipresence, with metaphysical fear, restraint and bashfulness that did not allow him to look, at times, at himself as at a free being, let alone as at something exceptional. This fear, however, was not merely of metaphysical nature but also fear of the temporal power of the Church, which had human souls at its disposal. This is why in the religious sphere - which was the only one that was of some value - a pious hope had been present since the 12th century that faithful relations with God would become more personal; this has been testified by numerous Italians, such as Gioachino de Fiori, Pietro Angeleri, Pietro da Fossombrone and Jacopone da Todi, and even by Francesco d’Assisi and cases of similar sentiment in the neighboring Istria. This was actively attested by the Dutch mysticist Wessel Gansfort (1419 - 1489) and particularly by Joan of Arc - not of course with her politics but with her obstinate assertion that for all of her actions she was accountable directly to God and not to the Church. The real and deeper tumults in the name of man and with the characteristics of social movement were only periodical and limited to separate points, to the Reformation movements in England and Bohemia, to Wycliffe and Huss. In general, the whole of mankind was oppressed. Man’s social and material position was not enviable either, so that he considered himself, willing or unwilling, merely a suffering passerby in the vale of tears, a being with no other alternative than to plead for mercy. In a word, God was everything and man a mere cipher, a being without any individuality, often even without a name and on top of it all marked with original sin as well as with the seal of doom. Thus everything revolutionary - if we can at all speak of revolutionism in those times - was implemented in mysticism, in Johanes Tauler, Catherine of Siena and similar people who, however, did not battle with God for a part of his liberty and dignity but only wished to abrogate their human disgrace and humiliation and purify themselves. They did not wish to become people but angels and even in the post-Lutheran period they renounced, with asceticism, everything that was human. (But at those times, as well as today, the angels "flew elsewhere", as sung by Rilke.)
A century before Luther, the position of man on Earth - more of course in Germany than in Italy - was, in short, so very arduous and an individual so very unimportant that today this seems quite inconceivable. Man was too low, a too rejected being, and God above him too high and inaccessible - so very high and inaccessible as could be made only by the Roman curia and feudal nobility in order to serve more effectively their temporal interests. We, the Slovenians, were then a speaking and thinking inventory of the landlords. The situation was such that man was at last ready to be confronted with everything and everybody, not only with the devil but also with the Pope and the Electors, solely in order to make himself the Elect. He was ready to liberate even God, where all the values were stored, to make him free of the rigid feudal and ecclesiastical dogmas and to reestablish direct relations with him.
And this is what man finally did. His name was Martin Luther, who indeed left, to God, everything that was divine, for solely in his omnipotence and benevolence he saw his own chance, too, but at the same time claimed a trifle of liberty and rights for himself as well. Above all, he wished to be an adequate interlocutor to God. He demanded a right to his own initiative and above all a right to his meritorious deeds, for while he was left to his own resources it was of course fair and right that his endeavors to improve his economic and social status were recognized as his right and duty. In fact not only as his right and duty, but also as a deed which pleased the eyes of God. This was indeed more than Luther in fact expected, but at the same time just one of the contradictions of Luther himself. For the very sake of his explicit assertion that good and meritorious deeds mean nothing without faith and that it is faith that gives them a true weight, man’s endeavours and work were consecrated and this eventually led to the cult of work. The prediction by Luther himself and the poet Ulrich von Hutten simply proved true: almost all of the ecclesiastical and temporal lords, all of these countless men of note who lived off prebends in Luxury and idleness, were suddenly worth less than the devout little farmer who tilled the ground by the sweat of his brow. And even the work of a country maid was more pleasing to God than fasting of a monastery monk.
God finally came down to man and man finally went up to God. And this was enough for the millennial mediaeval realm of God to split in two. In the Holy Roman Empire this was, irrespective of Albrecht Dürer and Lukas Cranach, the time of words, not images, although this split is in the religious and spiritual sphere most clearly shown in the very images, particularly in the images exhibited in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where the pictures by Raphael Sanzio and Pieter Brueghel the Elder hang together, either by pure chance or in accordance with the curators’ conception; here we gaze at the refined ethereal and angelic qualities of Madonnas who with their insensible beauty managed to preserve until then divine hierarchy, and, immediately next to them, into the brutal realism of the plain life of a peasant, a man of flesh and blood who was finally raised to the subject of art, as he was with the entire temporal banality finally raised also to God. Equally palpable, however, is also the split in the social sphere. On the one hand, there is the Roman Catholic Church which perseveres in man’s passive relationship with God, in man’s utter dependence on the grace of God, which practically means on God’s indulgence which is still in possession of the clergy and the feudal lords and which still makes the disfranchised plebeians passive. On the other hand, there is the bellicose Protestantism with bellicose Protestants who are - irrespective of Luther or even against him - taking the redemption initiative into their own plebeian hands and with their spirit of enterprise extol humanized God and at the same time their own freedom and value. All of it of course still by the sweat of their brows, through torment and suffering, although already with the conviction that they do not deserve only bread and temporal goods but also a respect from God. Man’s and God’s interests are finally identical.
The consequence of this are well known. A Protestant essentially differed from that mediaeval mysticist and orthodox Catholic: he was assiduous and enterprising, more and more a distinct individualist and at the same time a social being, a willful and devoted founder of the human community - not of course of church community but of the people - such as were, after all, Martin Luther and Primoz Trubar: the right and the possibility of redemption with his own hands was accepted by him as great happiness, reminiscent of enthusiasm, for finally he became materially and socially successful and in the same breath pleasing to the eye of God. This was a happy accordance, from which human energy soon developed and was released that was beyond all comparison at any time prior to or after it. All this released energy, in which man by constantly confirming himself confirms God, too, and by confirming God confirms himself, was at last assumed by the middle classes, which had not been reproached with capitalism and imperialism by anybody as yet, although a seed of the later European uncurbed individual and collective will for power was already perceived.
The conquistadors, such as Pizarro and Cortés, were indeed Luther’s contemporaries, yet such intrepid, dexterous and self-sacrificing men as were the Protestants John Hawkins, Francis Drake and Martin Forbicher, semi-official pirates of Elizabeth I, the Queen of England, had never lived in Europe before. On their queen they virtually bestowed the conquered countries to become her private property, firmly believing not only in personification of the national and God’s will but also in salvation, since their plunder was a component part of the struggle between England and Spain, between the Protestants and Catholics, between the conformists and the papists. These and similar men changed, in a short history, the face of Europe and the world. If prior to the establishment of Protestantism the center of the world had been in Spain and Italy, among Catholics, then in the very following century it was in Holland, Scandinavia, England and Germany, among Protestants, and this as a result of their relaxed individual and collective feelings, courage, activity, perseverance, taste for conquering and advancement, as well as for unstoppable individual and collective will for power. In short: from medieval distress and pessimism sprung, with the aid of Protestantism, an irrational spark of man’s combativeness and greed. And these irrational forces piled up, among Protestants, not only unprecedented material wealth but also developed social ties, from which nations came into being which then conquered Europe and the world and among which only the French, as Catholics, remained on the surface, although even they probably more thanks to Calvin, Huguenots, Port Royal and Jansenism than to their Catholicism. This is indeed an unverified statement, the same as after all we cannot absolutely reliably claim that the nascent capitalism brought forth Luther and Protestantism, as in view of the spiritual power of Protestantism something completely opposite can be claimed.
This was an optimistic period of humanism and that particular moment of history, when nations in the true sense of the word sprung up and which we, as a nation, missed. This is the period we most often remember as a missed opportunity, although it is possible that the very fact that we were ready for this moment and that we missed it after all secured our existence: namely, by becoming a part of the world of power we would have to accept the laws of this world and could possibly be destroyed by anybody stronger than ourselves, without getting anything of what is now missed in our souls.
This is also the period which demonstrates that history as triggered off by Protestantism enhances neither liberty nor dignity of man. On the contrary, it is a development in which his liberty and dignity are even lost, for in this and later period the happy, dynamic relation between the liberated God and the liberated man is already ruined. God is most often merely a warrantor of man’s greed and conquering lust, but in truth only a divine man still exists, a usurping creator and founder of the world, who no longer needs to be given a certain meaning outside himself, in something that would be greater, more lasting and more important than himself; to him, nothing like it exists any more. This is why he becomes entangled in a tragic contradiction: with his domination over the world and the people, with his arbitrary and absolute liberty he finds himself in ever increasing conflicts with his own self, in ever increasing legality and servitude. Until he is finally confronted with himself and struck by the catastrophic feeling of the world and his own greatness which now demands from him nothing but destruction or a thorough, radical change in himself as well as in the world, i.e. revolution.
It is this very revolution in which we, the Slovenians, were finally and irrevocably included in this process. However, this process had gone so far that it soon became evident that the revolution, too, was a component part of this same historical occurrences, that the revolution, too, was only an external mastery of the world, a redistribution of social power, release of technical requirements and material energy, which had not much in common with man’s actual liberty and dignity, that man was, from the moment he proclaimed himself the centre of his own self and the centre of the world or a self-sufficient being, merely a personified legitimacy and no liberty at all. In revolution and with the aid of it he became neither Man nor Superman. It is true that there was everything needed for liberty and dignity - the revolutionary ideas and self-sacrifice, exploited and subjugated plebeians who righteously wished to move upwards, and even the blood of martyrs - everything that was also in Luther’s times, except that now there is no God, where liberty and dignity are to be found. So yet again only servitude and clericalism and totalitarianism, that particular servitude and clericalism which are even more catastrophic amongst the people like we, the Slovenians, who have never been free. For we believe that everything is in perfect order and that we lack nothing at all.
Liberty and human dignity are fortunately not only a historical achievement but also a state of mind. History washes up and washes away everything that belongs to it, everything historical, mainly the exterior surface of man’s aspirations, while man’s essential affairs remain in it, as well as still utterly personal natures beside it. In spite of the historical unravelling, the following question seems more appropriate than ever before: "And what about Martin Luther himself?" Or: "And what about Martin Luther and the Slovenians?"
In the name of history all the humanistic and subjectivistic consequences of Protestantism can be imposed on Luther, even the death of God, although nothing essential is said by it about him, about Luther as the man who restored a dynamic relationship between man and God. From the historical point of view he was indeed a rash, headstrong and inconsistent person, and particularly a person with no ear for reality as well as for social and political events around him. This boorishly fearless fighter against the mighty papal Rome suddenly became afraid of his own shadow, changed his mind and retired: if he initially demanded a pitiless punishment for cardinals and the entire weed of the Roman Sodom and even wished to wash his hands in their blood, then at a ripe age he said the following in a truly reconciliatory manner: "I would not wish us to fight for the gospel with violence and to shed blood for it. The word defeated the world and preserved the Church, and the word will set it again on its feet." Thus he betrayed the Reformation movement which had began with a song and ended with a sorrowful bloodshed. And the same as he fled from the religious battlefield, he also fled from the social field of battle: he did not join Thomas Muntzer when warlike gestures were heard in Germany and the oppressed raised their voices; they were scared by this spontaneous social movement and proclaimed the rebels dangerous daydreamers trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, the realms of God and the earth. In short, from reality he fled to idealism. He confronted the rebels with the doctrine of the two realms which is still considered the most disputable part of his teachings, with which he tore faith and politics in two, made the ruling class untouchable and raised it to the level of the absolute and, on the other hand, misled the people into political passiveness and submissive obedience which the Germans still contest as their original sin.
All of this is - from the historic point of view - very true. As is historically true that Luther particularly resisted the ecclesiastical dogmatism and began to daydream about religious freedom and social justice, without expressing through this his entire personality. For it is also true that in the very moments when he began to withdraw from the political and social battlefield in a very cowardly and reconcilable manner, he abandoned celibacy and married Catherine von Bora, a nun - which was not only a provocative but also a revolutionary act. It is further true that in the same period he reproached Erasmus with physical idleness, that his teachings about the two realms, the realm of God and the realm of the earth, about faith and politics, excluded neither faith nor politics but made both realms interdependent and liable to complement each other, even if they were not completely compatible. And after all he claimed that while man was politically and socially declared for, his soul was in spite of it all free and that it could be judged only by God. From the lords he thus took the right to have human souls at their disposal and at the same time confirmed his own ethical consistence. Even his withdrawal from the social and political battlefield can be therefore taken as a component part of his ethical consistence, for the German peasant war was not today’s conceptually purified movement with a well thought-out vision of a better organized society. The fact is that Thomas Muntzer and all of the political and social movements of that time were known for their fatalistic expectation of an apocalyptic end or return of the golden age; Thomas Muntzer - a theologian himself - was under the influence of the Old Testament particularly under the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel and their prediction of a catastrophic end of the world (like the present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses), which had nothing to do with Luther’s perception of God and man.
This is why we cannot be imposed upon by a pragmatic, more activistic than actual historical viewing of the world and man that has taken shape not so long ago and claim that Martin Luther was an inconsistent, even broken and treacherous personality. He was a torn man at the most, and as such in striking contrast to what had been ascribed to him by the activists of historical progress: due to his very personal disunity he was a surprisingly coherent personality, rounded off and integral in the sense of our present-day paradoxical existence. The realms of God and the earth are incompatible, he persevered, nothing personal is fulfilled and it also cannot be fulfilled with historical means. God has personal relations with every individual, not with society and history. And he did not only bear witness to this contradiction but also suffered in it, in great torments of his grievous personal trials, constantly torn between the heavenly and the earthly, between God and man, between faith and the Church ... Martin Luther was obsessed with the vulnerable image of the liberated man and the liberated God. And he suffered in a constant temptation to win recognition for this man with the power of authority, even if with sword and fire, and in constant fear of connecting this man with any kind of violence and temporal power, let this be Anabaptist or whichever church, feudal power or peasant rebels, as this man is simply incompatible with violence and the temporal power. These temptations and fear in him, however, were so much the greater the more he was aware that it was him who liberated this man and gave him the right to decide about salvation and damnation.
So it was not the violent mills of different social interest, neither papist nor temporal power of the Roman Church, neither betrayal nor inconsistency, neither prince electors nor peasant rebels, neither devil nor kidney stones or ulcus ventricoli - Martin Luther suffered from much more frightful illness, the illness called liberty. The very liberty which he anticipated and revealed first, the liberty of God and man which then gaped in front of him like an abyss of undreamt-off possibilities; the liberty which is like an impetuous inner fire blown up in man by God himself but is at the same time also a fiendish temptation.
This liberty is therefore still reachable even by the Slovenians, reachable as a malignant disease which is sometimes more healthy than health itself.