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Saturday, May 31, 2014


Visit to the battlefield of Jena, on April 23, 2014

“French troops presenting the captured Prussian standards to Napoleon after the battle of Jena,” by Edouard Detaille, late 19th century.

 View of the City of Jena from the heights of the battlefield.  In the map below, the photographs in this blog post were taken at Cospeda, visible in the center of the map.

The battle of Jena, fought on 14 October, 1806, on a hilly area north west of the city of that name, was of enormous importance in the history of Prussia, and therefore of Germany, because had it not been for this battle, the State of Prussia might not have taken the prompt way to modernization, and the foundations of the future Empire of Germany, the Second Reich, would not have been in place as early as they were. The Second Reich of Bismarck was the absorption of all Germany into Prussia. At Jena, and at Auerstedt the same day, the army of Frederick the Great was defeated and forced to scatter. The battle was the consequence of the King of Prussia’s decision to challenge Napoleon’s designs for the German lands and for the Holy Roman Empire.  

King Frederick William III of Prussia

 The battle of Jena caused the final end of that Empire and left Prussia and Austria alone to contest the German lands for leadership. Jena forced the Prussian King to gather around him the best minds of his kingdom at that time, people like the Humboldt brothers, Freiherr von Stein, the military men, Roon, Scharnhorst, Moltke and Clausewitz, who transformed the Prussian State into an efficient machine with a state-of-the-art Army, where people could co-exist in good terms and in some measure of social stability, where the aristocracy still ruled, but in partnership with an aggressive bourgeoisie and a tame working class movement.  All this fortuitous and eventually triumphant entry of Prussia into the world stage was triggered by the defeat at Jena, when Napoleon humiliated the Prussian Army, the army of Frederick II, and marched into Berlin as the King of Prussia fled to his fortress in Königsberg.  

The brothers von Humboldt, in the center, with Schiller (l.) and Goethe (r.).

For further information and description of the battle, see Wikipedia at

Napoleon was victorious and entered Berlin as a conqueror.

“Entrance of Napoleon in Berlin as conqueror, after the battle of Jena, on October 27, 1806” Charles Meynier (1810)

 Museum 1806

Above the city of Jena, to the west, a museum of the battle, the Museum 1806, is located not far from the Napoleon column. The museum contains a detailed exhibition of objects, maps and correspondence, including displays indicating the various phases of the battle and its geography.  See the following site for further information:

Map of the Battle of Jena

For further information and description of the battle, see Wikipedia at

View over the battlefield

Napoleon reviewing the Imperial Guard, Bataille d'Iena. 14 octobre 1806,  by Horace Vernet (1836)

One of Napoleon's standards captured in the battle

“Battle of Jena”: Colored lithograph by Antoine Charles Horace Vernet and Jacques Francois Swebach (early 19th century)

 Views of the battlefield and the city of Jena and its outskirts in the distance


Battlefield of Jena: a lot of young men died here.

Below: “Prussian troops retreating after the disastrous double battle of Jena and Auerstedt,” Richard Knötel (1895)

Napoleon's soldiers broke into Goethe's bedroom on the night of the battle and raided his kitchen, larders and cellars.

Goethe at 79

The French army entering Jena

Mano a mano, French soldiers and German militia

There were two battles, at Jena and Auerstedt (older name: Auerstädt) fought on 14 October 1806 on the plateau west of the river Saale in the lands of Sachsen-Weimar, primarily, The Duke joined forces with Frederick William III of Prussia and chose to defy Napoleon.  The decisive feat suffered by the Prussian Army subjugated the Kingdom of Prussia to the French Empire until 1812.

The Napoleon Column

1806 was the year that Beethoven composed his Violin Concerto.

From this spot Napoleon oversaw the progress of the battle

The distances marked are to the sites of other great victorious battlefields and other major defeats of Napoleon

"Deutschland labte man sich an grösserem hasse wie an heisserer bewunderung Napoleons ein gutes Jahrhundert lang."  Golo Mann ["Germany feasted itself on its great hate and on its even warmer admiration of Napoleon, for a whole century."]

Hegel watched Napoleon enter the city of Jena after the battle.  He thought Napoleon embodied the direction of World History, being the ruler of a future Universal State.  He wrote to Niethammer on October 13, 1806:  " I saw the Emperor -this soul of the world- go out from the city to survey his reign; it is a truly wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrating on one point while seated on a horse, stretches over the world and dominates it. " (Correspondence, T. I, p. 114)


 Drums and cannonballs

Sunday, May 18, 2014


The Monk Luther

Luther and the German Reformation

 « Se la vita è sventura,
Perchè da noi si dura?
Intatta luna, tale
E' lo stato mortale.
Ma tu mortal non sei,
E forse del mio dir poco ti cale.

Pur tu, solinga, eterna peregrina,
Che sì pensosa sei, tu forse intendi,
Questo viver terreno,
Il patir nostro, il sospirar, che sia;
Che sia questo morir, questo supremo
Scolorar del sembiante,
E perir dalla terra, e venir meno
Ad ogni usata, amante compagnia.
E tu certo comprendi
Il perchè delle cose . . . .” 

CANTO NOTTURNO Dl UN PASTORE ERRANTE DELL' ASIA (Night Song of A Wandering Shepherd In Asia), 1829-1830

"If life is nothing but pain and care,
Why should we the burden bear?
O spotless Moon, such _is_
Our mortal life, indeed;
But you are immortal,
Nor will, perhaps, to my words give heed.

Yet you, eternal, lonely wanderer,
Who, thoughtful, look on this earthly scene,
Must surely understand
What all our sighs and sufferings mean;
What means this death,
This color from our cheeks that fades,
This passing from the earth, and losing sight
Of every dear, familiar scene.
Well must you understand
The reason for these things . . . .”

Count Giacomo Leopardi,  CANTO NOTTURNO Dl UN PASTORE ERRANTE DELL' ASIA (Night Song of A Wandering Shepherd In Asia), 1829-1830

The poem of Leopardi, Canto Notturno of 1829-30, puts us in mind of the reality of death and self-extinction in the context of an indifferent world and a meaningless existence.  This is how far the European soul has traveled since the time of the Reformation.  For Luther, the meaning of existence is crystal clear.  He found it in the tears and wounds of Jesus.  The realization that the Mercy of God is Jesus on the Cross, the mitigation of God’s own Justice, which is the origin of His Mercy, when Luther had this insight, the Reformation in Europe was ignited.  Because the insight that faith in the story of the incarnation of God in Jesus, of Jesus among us, was the only way to salvation meant that good works were no longer the “only” way, and that perhaps good works were no more than a means to bribe our way to Heaven.  This was a direct challenge to the Catholic Church, which was an institution that oversaw an empire of “good works,” the tangible consequences of which were the revenues of the Vatican.  How offensive this was to the young doctor of Theology in Wittenberg, and even to the monk in Erfurt, is evident from the nature of the explosion.

However important, and it was important, the interests of the German Länder, initially only Hesse and Saxony, in the lands of the Church and the opposition to the Emperor, the focus for me must be on Luther himself, and if he was not totally unaware of such motives, and of the German sense of nationalism that would soon help his battle against Rome, his purpose was always religious.  To bring the good news of a re-interpretation of Christianity, based on Paul and Augustin, on the Psalms, and on the Nominalism he had learned in Erfurt. Doctor Luther was always a theologian, a professor at a University.  But he was also a revolutionary of the spirit.

 Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther at Age 50 (1533)

Can we envision today what it was, in the late fifteenth century, in the early sixteenth century, to experience the Wrath of God? We cannot even conceive of the Wrath of God.  We can conceive of a Wrath of Nature, and we experience it when there is a great earthquake or tsunami or any other natural catastrophe.  But we do not think of these events as reflecting the Wrath of God.  At least most of us don’t.  But even the most devout Fundamentalist knows what an earthquake is, or a tsunami, or a flood or hurricane, and that these are climactic events for which our current state of scientific knowledge can easily account, and even translate into mathematical equations. Nobody believes that God is moving the earth, or blowing up storms and floods.  Perhaps the wrath of God is the ultimate cause of these catastrophes, but it is not the Wrath of God itself that we experience.  But in the early sixteenth century, in Europe, Christians felt the Wrath of God all the time, in themselves, when tortured by doubt and fear, as well as in the ways of the world and the changes in the weather. 

This is the spiritual milieu of the young Luther.  We do not know much about the psychological motivations of the other great religious innovators and teachers.  The Prince Gautama, for example, what do we know about his motivations in renouncing worldly power and wealth to starve in the desert? But in Luther we have a well-documented case.  If nothing more, we have his own letters and books, which breathe his passion and his motives, his terseness, baring his soul in the process.

Luther has been praised for taking a stand on behalf of his individual conscience against authority.  This I think is the gist of John Osborne's play, "Luther."  But I think we must be cautious about looking at another age through the eyes of our own.  The individual conscience, or self-consciousness, is too much a creature of the eighteenth century sentimental revolution, of the Romantic movement and eventually of Freud, to be a concept that we can attribute to the thought of the sixteenth century.  Luther was a man of his time.  His stand was not for his conscience, or for freedom of conscience, as much as it was a stand on behalf of the truth he had found in the Bible.  He was taking a stand for God and for God's Word.  Not for his individual conscience.It is we that are conscious of our self and of our emotional states and speculate about our unconscious thoughts in order to bring them to consciousness, not Luther.  He was testifying for God.  But, despite being an anachronism, Osborne's Luther is a very attractive man too, and Luther himself was, after all, unwittingly doing what Osborne says he was doing:  taking a stand on behalf of his own consciousness:  his own beliefs as he understood them to be, and as opposed to what he was being forced to believe and say by the emissaries of the Emperor and the Pope.

Luther was born in Eisleben, in Saxony-Anhalt, the town where he was to die, almost by coincidence, after his long and eventful life.  I was only in Eisleben a few hours, and it was on May 1, and the town was closed.  There were very few people in the Hauptmarkt, the center of town, and all the historical sites were closed. 


I saw the house where Luther died, very near the center of town and directly across from the town church. It seemed to be the house of a prosperous burger, which probably by now he had become, even in outward appearance.  My impression of the town was that it was small and provincial and confining. 

Even Wittenberg, a larger town, where Luther achieved his great fame, is not much larger than Eisleben.  We must wonder at the confinement of Luther’s environment, the provincial backwardness he was surrounded by, and distill from that awareness the reasons for his religious fervor.  The inward is cultivated when the environment is cold and desolate and hostile.  

 This portrait is Protestant propaganda.  It was essential to show the world that Luther had not died a horrible death, as Catholic priests had been predicting for years, but that he had died peacefully. Portrait of Luther in the Zeughaus Museum, Berlin.

The Justice of God, thought Luther, is not the trial at the end, where he sits as Judge and Executioner.  The Justice of God is the mercy he showed to humanity by the incarnation, by His willingness to become one of us, be mocked and kicked about and executed by the Law, so as to teach us Humility and Love and Kindness. The wounds of Jesus on the Cross are God’s Mercy.

The progress of Luther’s thought has been well studied and recounted.  It appears to have been his reading of the Psalms that started him off in the direction of his revelation.  In the lyrical Psalms he found the faith in the midst of travail that he was seeking.  The Psalms are lyrical, but they are also a defense of the faith in the mercy of the Lord, who looks after his sheep in the same way as the shepherd after his flock. Significantly, the God of the Psalms is also the God of the Tribe.  

 Copper engraving of 1520 by Lucas Cranach the Elder showing Luther as a monk with tonsure.

Luther’s opposition to Rome has much of German tribalism and nationalism in it, but Luther’s journey to his conviction of the necessity of reformation is purely theological.  In face of the awesome realization that the Justice of God, and hence our own personal salvation, depend only on a faith, a Faith in the meaning of Jesus on the Cross, the ‘good works’ regime of the Roman Church became offensive to Luther.  A huge and well-organized institution which obtained its revenues by deceiving ordinary and ignorant people that salvation could be obtained by doing good deeds, which meant paying for tithes and indulgences that fattened the Treasury of Rome.  This was the origin of the outrage.  The further possibility of stealing the lands of the Church, and all of its other treasures throughout the land, added fuel to the fire that was to bring on the German Reformation.

But the Reformation would never have happened as it did had it not been for the Saxon Electors. For many reasons that I cannot fully account for, many of them having to do with a rivalry between the Albertine Dukes of Saxony, who controlled Meissen and Dresden, and the Ernestine Dukes who controlled Thuringia, the Elector in Wittenberg, the Ernestine Duke Frederick, chose to support Luther in his struggle against the Pope and the German Episcopacy. Part of the problem as well was an election coming up for the title of Emperor between the Hapsburg candidate, Charles, who won and became Charles V, and Francis I of France.  In short, there were local German politics involved in the quarrel between the Emperor and the Elector Frederick the Wise when the latter "kidnapped" Luther to protect him from the Emperor, and kept him hidden in the Wartburg as Junker Georg for many months, and no one knew he was there. But perhaps most importantly, Frederick wanted to be a good ruler for his people, and he understood what Luther was saying, and he liked what he heard.  He heard a truth for his people and for himself, though he refused to give up his grotesque collection of relics in the Wittenberg Schloss. In the Wartburg, which was also Frederick's castle, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German, and thereby changed the world, as I am trying to suggest here.

Portrait of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and protector of Martin Luther. The Reformation would have been delayed if he had not acted to support Luther.  The portrait is propagandistic, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, the indefatigable painter of the German Reformation and personal friend of Luther's.



Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portraits of John the Steadfast and his wife (1532-33).  He was Elector of Saxony, succeeded Frederick the Wise and was also a protector of Luther

  A concomitant of possession of Church lands is the enhancement of the power of the ducal authority, to the detriment of that of the Church.  Eventually, the religion of the state will be the religion of its ruler, the principle of cuius Regio eius Religio, which was institutionalized by the Peace of Augsburg.  All of this, of enormous importance for the subsequent history of what became Germany, is the consequence of Luther’s “scruples” about the proper way to worship God.  His opposition to Rome is institutional, but that is the consequence of events of Empire and of politics, which he never would have anticipated.  His concern was for the salvation of the soul, not for Germany’s perennial contest with Rome.

From the point of view of Rome, Luther is one of many people within the Church and the Universities who are critical and demand reform.  Reform is discussed as a cure of the Church by many intellectuals in the days of Luther.  Erasmus is a reformer as well, and Thomas More.  But the case of Luther is different in that he defied the Church not only in rhetoric and print, as a Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, but interfered with the Church's revenues.  Luther's 95 Theses were prompted by events that were going on across the river from Wittenberg, in Dessau, outside the jurisdiction of the Saxon Elector, but nonetheless close enough to tempt the common people of Sachsen-Anhalt to walk across the river and spend all their money on the fake indulgences.

In his polemical period, in the early decades of the sixteenth century, Luther was a humble man.  In his dispute with Erasmus over Free Will, he is deferential to the Dutch Humanist, and humbles himself by saying that he is “a barbarian.”  There is a pride in this claim from the Saxon monk, so far from the sophisticated Louvain, or the Basel, of Erasmus. He highlights his differences with Erasmus in terms of erudition and refinement of prose and knowledge of Latin.  He disagrees totally with Erasmus however, on the matter of Free Will, and is not shy in pointing out the older man’s errors of Logic, self-delusions and rationalizations.  Above all he condemns Erasmus for his irony.  These are not times for laughter, but for tears.  Irony has no place in Luther’s heart. How can we laugh in this vale of tears?

The Seven Heads of Martin Luther, was a work of Johannes Cochlaeus and printed in Leipzig in 1529.  Cochlaeus, a spokesperson of the old Church opposition and decided opponent of Luther, depicted the reformer as a many-headed heretic with multiple contradictions in his scathing pamphlet.  The heads are:  Doctor, Martin, Luther, Ecclesiastic, Enthusiast, Dissenter, Barrabas

Luther argues with Erasmus over Free Will, a theory that Erasmus has articulated, but which he thinks the faithful should not ultimately concern themselves with. This shows contempt for his readers.  Luther is irate.  Of course we should concern ourselves with these issues!  And of course there is no Free Will.  We have no will to overpower the Will of God.  It is God, not us, that wills.  How can we have Free Will?  To defy the Lord? Only if He intends it so, as he proved with Adam and Eve in Eden, who defied Him not because they willed it freely, but because they must, because Satan had to be defeated.

 Erasmus of Rotterdam

The fate of human beings has already been determined by God, even before the story of our lives begins to unfold. The only thing we can do is hope that we are among the saved, by having faith in the God on the Cross, that He has Mercy for us. Is hope the same as salvation?  Perhaps, for it is one of the three benedictions, Hope, Love, Faith, these three, but above all, Love, which is what the God taught is in His incarnation. 

This is the faith of Doctor Martin Luther. This he taught, and a conflagration followed.

 The Emperor Charles V sought to defeat the Reformation in German lands, and after some victories, failed.

 The Reformation in Germany.  The map below shows the areas of predominance of the Lutherans (in orange), the Catholics (in blue) and the Calvinists (in yellow) in the year 1547.



 The Good Host


 Iconoclasts removing icons from the Churches

Pieter Bruegel the Younger, Peasants Pay the Tithe (1615) This was anti-Catholic propaganda intended to remind the peasants of the tithe they paid to the Catholic Church, often in kind.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of Martin Luther (1529) and of Luther's wife, Katharina von Bora (1529).

Both these portraits are an argument for clerical marriage and therefore Protestant propaganda.  The Bible quotes clarify the role allocation.  For Luther it reads:  By being quiet and having hope you will become strong.  (Durch Stillesein und Hoffen würdet ihr stark sein).  Above the head of Katharina von Bora it says:  She will be blessed by begetting children.  (Sie wird selig werden durch Kinderzeugen).  The marriage of Luther and Katharina von Bora produced six children:  three daughters and three sons.

The painting below is also Protestant propaganda.  Jesus’ parable (John 10.1) is used against the Roman Catholic Chruch:  “. . . he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”  Portrayed as thieves, the Pope, a monk, a cardinal and a scribe enter through the roof of a house.  In the foreground, right: the Catholics; left:  the Reformed.  Christ, to whom John points, receives the converts next to the door in the left background.

 Illustration for a pamphlet against the trade in indulgences in a woodcut of 1520.  Here the devil is squatting on a letter of indulgence and clasping a bishop’s staff and the indulgence cash box.  In his mouth, clergymen are sitting around a table, and the road to purgatory lies on his head.


The psychoanalyst and historian Erik H. Erikson wrote the following, in his book Young Man Luther, (Norton, 1962 pb ed., p. 107):

"After 1505 Luther had made no bones about the pernicious influence which “rancid Aristotelianism” had had on theology. Scholasticism had made him lose faith, he said; through St. Paul he had recovered it. He put the problem in terms of organ modes, by describing scholastic disputations as dentes and linguae: the teeth are hard and sinister, and form words in anger and fury; the tongue is soft and suavely persuasive. Using these modes, the devil can evoke purely intellectual mirages (mira potest suggere in intellectu). But the organ through which the word enters to replensish the heart is the ear (natura enim verbi est audiri), for it is in the nature of the word that it should be heard. On the other hand, faith comes from listening, not from looking (quia est auditu fides, non ex visu). Therefore, the greatest thing one can say about Christ, and about all Christians, is that they have aures perfectas et perfossas: good and open ears. But only what is perceived at the same time as a matter affectionalis [of affection] and moralis [of morality] as well as intellectual can be a matter sacred and divine: one must, therefore, hear before one sees, believe before one understands, be captivated before one captures. Fides est “locus” animae: faith is the seat, the organ of the soul."

"I am the Alpha and the Omega. The First and the Last." Book of Revelations, 22.13" (Wood panel in the Parish Church of Röcken)


Lucas Cranach, Portrait of Luther as Monk but without the tonsure

 Martin Luther (1483-1546) after achieving renown. Portrait in the Zeughaus Museum, Berlin

The University (Collegium Maius) at Erfurt

 The Georgen Burse were the student quarters at Erfurt.  Here Luther lived as a student from 1501 to 1505.

 In the vicinity of the Georgen Burse


The Collegium Maius, where Luther studied Law in the early years of the 16th century.

  In 1501, at the age of 19, Luther entered the University of Erfurt, which he later described as a beer-house and a whorehouse.  He received a Master's Degree in 1505.  He then enrolled at the Law School but abandoned his studies that same year of 1505.



 Here Luther studied from 1501 to 1505

 Approach to the Augustinerkloster, the Augustinian Monastery at Erfurt

The walls of the Augustinerkloster from the outside

The Cloister of the Augustinian Monks in Erfurt

 On this door, on July 17, 1505, Luther knocked and fatefully entered the Cloister.

 July 17, 1505.  Day of Entrance to the Augustinian-Eremitic Cloisters in Erfurt

The Cloister Buildings

 The Entrance to the Monastery

Stone elements from the Monastery Library which was destroyed during the war.  The Monastery, originally built from the year 1277 onwards, was bombed on February 25, 1945 and the old Library was destroyed.

Inner Courtyard

Inner Corridors with the original sixteenth century floors

 New living quarters for the Augustinian monks still residing in the Monastery. A meditation room in the basement of the new building marks the spot where several monks lost their lives during the bombing of February 1945.

Luther walked on these flagstones in the Cloister.





 On this flagstone Martin Luther prostrated himself when he was ordained to the priesthood in 1507.

Below:  Epitaph to Abbot Peter (Petrus II) Schederich who died in 1546 and was the last Abbot of the Monastery of Schulpforta in the Augustinerkloster at Erfurt


Luther's Living Quarters

Luther's cell was on the second floor of this building

 Model of the Augustinerkloster as it was in the time of Luther

Luther lived in four different cells during his stay at the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt.  This one was his last one.

 Monk's Cells

Writing table in a Monk's Cell

 Monk's habit



 Printing Press at the Cloister

 Copy of the Septuagint  (Oxford, Sheldonian)  1720

 One of the treasures of the Augustinian’s Library in Erfurt: part of the Torah engraved in leather.


He courageously defied the entire established order of things in his day: Pope and Emperor.  He stood up against the cosmos of his time on behalf of his individual conscience.  His translation of the New Testament from Greek to German, and his Hymns, are the origin of the German language. He unwittingly unleashed a process of real property transfers, the privatization of the lands of the Church, that gave birth to Capitalism and to the Modern World.