2.3—The Thirty Years War (31 min video)
The following transcript was automatically generated and may contain errors in spelling and/or grammar. It is provided for assistance in note-taking and review.
Well now that we have looked at some of the worldview difference between Christendom, that whole worldview of the church based upon the scriptures and based upon their authority, and we’ve contrasted that with modernity and some of the shifts in thinking and in culture that we’re going to be looking at all year long. Let’s go ahead and use this lecture today to take a look at a specific event, and that’s the 30 Years War. Now in order to understand the 30 Years War that occurred during the 1600s, we need to take a look at what the primary division was.
And that primary division was really between the Reformation and what’s called the Counter-Reformation, or between the Reformation or Protestants on the one hand, led by guys like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Melanchthon and then later leaders such as Comminius who we’ll look at later, versus the counter-reformation that was really the Roman Catholic Church that had very powerful allies such as the Habsburgs, one of the great families of this time period in Europe.
In order to even understand this whole division, it’d be helpful if we take a few moments to take a look at what the Reformation actually believed. Now, Now, this is really a large thing we could look at, and something that is a topic of Christendom or medieval studies, but today, we’re just gonna take a look at the five solas as an introduction to understanding the 30 Years War, which we’ll cover shortly. Now, let me give you the five solas and just tell you a brief information about each one of them. The first sola is Soli Deo Gloria. Now, these are all gonna be in Latin. Soli Deo Gloria means glory to God alone. It means that everything that we are created for, everything that we actually do, is meant to be for God’s glory alone. So the church exists for God’s glory. The family, the individual, they exist for God’s glory. The state, callings, vocations, our enjoyment of creation, and creation itself, they all exist for God’s glory. That’s man’s chief end. So that’s kind of where the Reformation began and where they put their primacy and where they put their real values. The second sola that I’d like you to write down is sola scriptura. This means that scripture alone is sufficient. Scripture alone is effective, it’s clear, it interprets itself, it tells you enough so that you actually can understand the pathway to salvation. This really was kind of a big deal in the Reformation because the alternative to sola scriptura is prima scriptura, which says that scripture is primary, it definitely is needed for salvation, but you also need the interpretation of the church to actually understand Scripture properly.
That’s why during this time period, when there was debate over what is the final authority, is it Scripture itself or is it the church interpreting that Scripture?
That’s why during this whole time period, there was often debate over whether or not the Scriptures should be translated into the vernacular, into the languages that people actually spoke.
And so, Sola Scriptura people, the Reformation, folks that have subscribed to that, they would say of course you have to translate the scriptures into the languages of the common people so they can read them, understand them for themselves, and of course it is helpful to have additional interpretation for that, but what is necessary for salvation is clearly seen in scripture.
That was the whole point of Sola Scriptura. The third sola that I want to give you is Sola Fide. And actually, I’ll give you two solas together, sola fide and sola gratia. Sola fide means by faith alone, sola gratia means by grace alone. These both go together because they both essentially say the same thing. They say that we are saved by grace through faith and these things are not of ourselves, much like the book of Ephesians says. This is very different from alternatives that essentially say that you need both faith and grace as well as you also need works or good deeds to actually prove salvation.
The Reformation essentially said that works and good deeds are the natural outworking of the believer. They don’t actually earn salvation for the believer, they’re just the natural outworking of the believer. That was the whole distinction between the Reformation, on the one hand, and the Roman Catholic Church, which at this time taught that you really had to have works in order to demonstrate that you were saved, or really even to be saved.
The final sola that I want to give you is Solus Christus. And this essentially means “by Christ alone.” And the whole point of this sola is that Christ is our sole mediator. It’s through Christ and through his work that we can actually pray directly to God. We don’t actually have to go through another priest because he is the final high priest once and for all. The opposition to this, we might call it “thacerdotalism.” This essentially is where you have to have a priesthood that you actually go to, you actually confess sins to, in order to receive salvation or to receive forgiveness in order to have your prayers actually heard.
And so, essentially, the Reformation said you don’t actually need the priesthood for that purpose. You don’t need, for example, to pray to saints in order to be heard. You can pray directly to God because of the work of Christ as the final priest. Now, that’s kind of a crash course there in the doctrines of the Reformation, but it’s going to be helpful as we take a look at this conflict called the Thirty Years’ War. Now, with that as part of our background and some of the ideas going on, let’s take a look at the setting for the Thirty Years’ War. And we need to really focus on one particular region, that’s central Europe, specifically the Holy Roman Empire. Now, the Holy Roman Empire had been around since the days of Charlemagne. And the Holy Roman Empire, which was largely made up of German-speaking states and nations and countries and so forth, and sometimes included territories down further south, as far south as Italy, for example, or as far to the east as, say, the modern-day Czech Republic and so forth.
Anyway, this Holy Roman Empire, which was ruled by an emperor, is a curious thing in history because it actually had over 1,800 individual states or nations within it. This is remarkable. I mean, we live in a country that has 50 states as well as some territories. The states are semi-autonomous or independent. I mean, for example, each state has its own constitution, has its own governor, it has its own legislature and law system and so forth.
But still, we’re united by a federal government. The Holy Roman Empire worked in a somewhat similar way, but in certain ways, each of these individual states was more independent than our modern-day states.
For example, each of these individual states often had their own military powers. They often had their own monarch, who was supposed to give loyalty to the Holy Roman Emperor, but was also allowed a significant room to disagree with him or to not necessarily obey a certain law that the Holy Roman Empire wanted to actually impose.
So there was an incredible amount of freedom within the Holy Roman Empire, which brings up the question, how did they actually stay together? They stayed together partly because they had a common German culture, they shared a common language and so forth, but they also largely stayed together because they had a common faith.
German peoples, which come from many different areas, they have places like Hanover or Bavaria or Saxony or Hesse for example, all those Those are different and distinctive regions of Germany.
And they were each ministered to by different missionaries throughout the history of Christendom. Boniface would be one example of one of the early missionaries to the German peoples. But what tied them all together, therefore, through the work of the missionaries was a common faith in Christianity. But the Reformation began to splinter this just a little bit. They still had that common faith of Christianity, but you now had a division between those who sided with the Reformation and putting that final authority in what the Scriptures said, and those who sided with the Roman Catholic Church that had now stood in opposition to the Reformation and argued that while Scripture was primary, the Church was just as important, and the Church was necessary in order to properly interpret the Scriptures and, in a sense, actually control the scriptures.
So it’s at this point, throughout the 1500s and into the 1600s when the Thirty Years War begins, that we see this incredible division. What’s also curious about the Holy Roman Empire is that where it was divided is what’s curious. It was, normally we think of the northern areas of Germany and the northern areas of Europe as being the primary places for Protestant thinking and where Protestantism and the Reformation ideas really took root and they did, that’s true, but prior to the 30 Years War we actually see a strong reformational presence, a strong presence of those who are following the leaders of the Reformation, what we might call Protestantism.
We see it in places like Bohemia, which is not just the name of the Bohemian Rhapsody, but is actually a location where the Czech Republic, modern-day Czech Republic, is located.
The Czech people are essentially Bohemians. We see a strong presence of Reformation thinking in places like Austria, in places like Hungary, even in Transylvania which is in Romania, even in Bosnia which is in Southeast Europe.
Today these are not places that are associated at all with the Reformation, partly because the Thirty Years’ War eradicated most Reformed thinking people in those areas at the time. Now in In order to understand the Thirty Years’ War and how it began, we again have to kind of look back into things that occurred before. We’re going to choose a date to start with. That’s the year 1555. 1555 is a significant date in the history of the Reformation as well as the history of the freedom of religion because it was in that year that the Peace of Augsburg was made.
This was a peace agreement made between the Holy Roman Emperor, who was Charles V at the time, the most powerful man in the world, came from the powerful Habsburg family, which controlled the Holy Roman Empire.
They also controlled all of Spain and by this time much of Portugal as well as Belgium. And because this was the point or the time in history when these nations had settled much of the New World, the Americas that is, he actually ruled over one of the largest empires in the history of the world.
Anyway, in 1555 he made a deal with a league called the Schmalkaldiklied League and this was a league of German Protestant churches and states that had largely followed the teachings of Martin Luther that were justified by faith alone and they made a treaty that was rather simple.
What the Peace of Augsburg did and how it really allowed for freedom of religion was it allowed each of the 1800 plus German states that made up the Holy Roman Empire to choose how they were actually going to worship and how they were going to treat the scriptures and whether or not they could be translated, things like that.
So each state could essentially choose to follow the practices of the Reformation, which really was seeking to return the church to the form it had been in previous centuries, or they could follow the current formation of the Roman Catholic Church.
It was really a pretty sensible agreement that allowed for an incredible amount of freedom. One of the states that benefited from this was one of the most powerful states in all the Holy Roman Empire. It’s simply called the Palatinate or the Palatinate of the Rhine. And under its ruler or its Duke, Frederick, it actually became a great center of reformational thinking. And they really took the Peace of Augsburg and they ran with it. It’s also important because their leader, Frederick, was one of the seven electors who actually got to choose who the Holy Roman Emperor would be when he passed.
Another thing that we need to note that happened sometime later is in the year 1608. So this is some 53 years after the Peace of Augsburg. It was in 1608 that the Protestant Union was formed. This was largely led by that same state of the Palatinate. It was also somewhat aided by the Dutch and the English, both of whom were strong Reformational places or centers of the Reformation thinking at this point.
But the whole point of the Protestant Union, it was designed to protect these various small German states that had chosen to follow the doctrines of the Reformation based upon their conscience and based upon what they saw and they believed to be true from the scriptures, which they saw as the final authority, it was designed to provide a common protection because they still saw enemies, or they still saw, I should say, potential enemies, in the Habsburg family and even in certain powerful families who supported the Roman Catholic Church.
But what’s really curious about this time, this is where we really see modernity coming in and creeping in in different ways, is that the French also chose to support, at least initially, the Protestant Union.
In fact, the French would often, would later enter the 30 Years War on the side of the Protestants. This is curious because the French at the time were not really Protestants. In fact, just a few decades before this, they had slaughtered most of the Protestants, known as the Huguenots, within their own nation. So we have to ask ourselves this question, why do they choose to support the Protestant Union? And then of course, why do Why do they choose to actually attack the Habsburgs? The only real answer for this is because the French were controlled, not so much by their king at this time, but by a very powerful cardinal, a Roman Catholic cardinal, that would be a leader of the church, someone who the next ranking is pope.
His name was Cardinal Richelieu. And Cardinal Richelieu is known throughout the pages of history as being kind of a diabolical, conniving, power-hungry figure. And he saw throughout all of this change and all this division in the Holy Roman Empire, he saw opportunity for France, and especially for himself, to actually gain more power.
So that really is kind of the short answer to why the French supported the Protestants, whom in other times they would have hated. Anyway, while that’s all happening, the following year, in 1609, the various Catholic states of the Holy Roman Empire, who support both the Roman Catholic Church and also the Habsburg family that oversees all of these things, they form the Catholic League.
So now we have two different rival leagues, or one’s called a league, one’s called a union, doesn’t really matter, but they essentially are formed and we start to see a bit of a a power struggle to see who will actually gain the most power here.
Part of the problem that we see though at this point is that the Catholic League often sought to control schools, so they sought to control education, they sought to control things like the printing presses, which had helped publish the works of the Reformation and spread them throughout Europe rapidly.
That was a new thing that helped the Reformation spread very quickly. And they of course sought to control the pulpits of various churches. So we see this move to control information at least from that side and we’re going to see that from the Habsburgs as well. But this is a war when it would actually begin sometime later. This is a war that would not only just bring in the Holy Roman Empire and bring in France, it would also bring in further nations such as Denmark and Sweden for example.
So it actually had a wider scope than just these two continental nations, but it also brought in an incredible use of mercenaries or soldiers of fortune.
These are essentially soldiers that are for hire. So this is a really remarkable thing about this time period is that we’re not just dealing with soldiers who are fighting because they’re following a certain commander or they’re fighting for their nation or they’re even fighting for reasons of conscience. We actually see soldiers who are fighting simply for pay. This is a a habit that occurs throughout antiquity, especially those of a nation like Carthage in ancient times, but you’ll also see it heavily used during this time period of the Enlightenment where modernity is focused upon force, where modernity is focused upon control, and if mercenaries help you gain control, then there’s no problem seen in using mercenaries for that event. Well, in order to understand how the Thirty Years’ War began, we need to take a look at the year 1618. That’s really when things begin. It was in the year 1618 that the Holy Roman Emperor, whose name was Ferdinand II at this time, he sent two ambassadors to the city of Prague, which is in the modern-day Czech Republic, or back then it would have been called Bohemia.
He sent two of them to this place, which was kind of a center of Reformational thinking, thinking as I mentioned to you earlier. And because the Emperor was seen as someone who supported the Roman Catholic Church, because the Habsburgs were feared perhaps for their persecution that they might bring on against Protestants and had actually done against Protestants throughout areas they controlled, for whatever reason, perhaps the Czechs were just kind of paranoid, they decided to de-fidnestrate the two ambassadors.
That means they threw them out a window to their deaths. Not a just move, not something that was either wise, but the result was is that the Habsburgs became very angry. At the same time, the Czechs decided enough with the Habsburgs, we’re finished with them, so they declared independence from the Habsburgs and declared independence from the Emperor Ferdinand, much like we would declare independence from King George III through our Declaration.
And they invited the leader of the Palatinate, another character by the name of Frederick, they invited him to become their king. He’s known to history as the Winter King, simply because he only reigned for about a single winter. The Habsburgs controlled enormous armies, and so they very quickly invaded Bohemia, And at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1618, which is the first real fight of the Thirty Years’ War, they soundly defeated the Bohemians and they took a firm control of Bohemia and of the Czechs and immediately began persecuting Protestant thinkers throughout that entire land.
In fact, most of Bohemia, while it was being reclaimed by the Habsburgs, any of the leaders who had supported the Reformation or supported the Winter King had their land and had all of their goods taken from them.
Many of them were imprisoned, some of them were executed, but things quickly changed and there was a quick shake-up. It’s also interesting at this time because there are a few other things that go on at the same moment. For one, Protestantism begins to be outlawed throughout these areas. And the whole idea of freedom of religion, The whole idea of being able to freely speak from the pulpit as a minister, the whole idea of having the scriptures available in your own language, all of these things in various times and in various ways become illegal or at the very least become discouraged.
It’s also around this time that we see the Habsburgs beginning to raid and control libraries, burning many of the books that actually supported the ideas of the Reformation.
Finally, to kind of top everything off, they completely dissolved that Protestant Union that had been formed ten years before. This might have ended the war, but it actually ended up triggering something else. It triggered the King of Denmark himself, a supporter of the Reformation, to declare war against the Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire. So, the Habsburgs responded by curiously appointing a Bohemian, somebody from this area of Bohemia, who himself had been a Protestant, but for whatever reason had chosen power and loyalty to the Habsburgs as being kind of the thing he preferred over, I suppose, having all of his lands taken from him and possibly having his head chopped off.
Anyway, this character’s name is Albert of Wallenstein, if I can get my German correct here. And Albert of Wallenstein was chosen to lead the main Habsburg force. A few things are said about them. For one, it’s said that they were not really properly supported with supplies. They were expected to pillage whatever Protestant states they invaded, as well as any parts of Denmark that they invaded. And this is exactly what they do. In fact, they quickly defeated the Danes who had invaded the Holy Roman Empire. They then themselves invaded Denmark and had several victories there. He then, curiously, turned south all the way down to Bosnia, down in Southeast Europe, which itself had been led by a character, a leader by the name of Mansfeld, who himself had supported the Reformation, someone who also saw a threat from the Habsburgs, who weren’t just about their Christianity, they seemed to be more about power. It’s said that at this final battle in which Bosnia was soundly defeated, that the leader, actually appeared in full armor at the battle, and having suffered several wounds, most likely from gunshots, he had two of his servants support his arm so he could still hold his sword, and so he could essentially go down as bravely and as nobly as he possibly could.
In other words, we have an incredible example of the conscience and of the sheer conviction that some of these characters had over fighting and actually dying for what they believed.
Well, some years later, after all of these victories, in actually the year 1629, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand declared what was known as the Edict of Restitution.
It basically overturned the entire peace of Augsburg, gave back many of the lands that had been taken away from the church because the Roman Catholic Church had left many of the Protestant states, it gave those back to the church, It also made it illegal to actually be a Protestant, and it did make it legal to use force and violence and torture, if necessary, to convert people back to Rome.
So we have an incredibly messy and violent situation going on at this time. What it ultimately did was it made the Habsburgs more powerful. That’s really the curious thing that we see going on throughout modernity is the use of religion and the use of things like the church to actually gain power.
Now you can of course find this throughout Christendom at different times but it really shows its ugly head in full force during the season of history we’re going to be looking at this year. As for Wallenstein, he was promoted. He became the Duke of Mecklenburg, another German state. He also was named the Admiral of the Oceanic and Baltic seas. In other words, he was given the entire command of all the seas in the world. Not exactly a light thing. Well, while all this is going on, the king of Sweden–we have yet another character here to introduce, yes, this is rather complex–his name was Gustavus Adolphus.
And Gustavus Adolphus, as actually you’ll be reading, his speech that he gave to the people at Stockholm before he left Sweden to go to war in the Thirty Years’ War, you’ll find out a few things about him. Not only was he a brave and capable leader, but he was a champion of the Reformation. In fact, his troops were known for singing hymns, many of them written by Martin Luther, now translated into Swedish for them to actually understand.
They would actually sing these hymns before they went into battle as kind of a form of worship, Also, it’s a recognition that some of them were not going to make it out of battle alive. So it’s kind of a last show of devotion before they went in and did their duty in battle. What’s also curious about what you’re going to read specifically about the King of Sweden is that he had no desire to actually go to war. He had no desire for any kind of gain in land or wealth or power. He simply saw a persecuted people, That is, the Protestant states being persecuted by the Habsburgs in the name of the Roman Catholic Church, and he simply desired to actually help them.
So this does, of course, make the war go on longer. It is, after all, called the Thirty Years’ War for a reason. But he landed at an island called Rügen with an army of over 100,000. He quickly took that, won a series of magnificent battles, such as the Battle of Brettenfeld. But ultimately in the year 1632, he faced off against Wallens–or Wallenstein’s–remember that guy? Wallenstein’s army, the great Habsburg force. It was a massive battle. It was one that– by the way, it’s called the Battle of Lützen. You’ll need to write that down. It’ll be good for your notes later. Occurred in the year 1632, if I didn’t mention that already. But anyway, he fought this incredible battle. Both he and the commander of Wallenstein’s army– von Stein was actually there, both fell in the fight. You can actually still see orders that he gave in the battle with his own blood stained, staining the orders, giving his last commands and wishes on the battlefield.
But I want you to just kind of pause and I’m having you read about this character and what he actually said because you really see this idea of conscience. You really see this idea of taking the authority of the Scriptures seriously and actually believing that he was called to help the Protestants. And he did. So long as he lived, and so long as his army was there, he did actually give aid. What’s curious about after his death, and perhaps it’s because of his noble death and so forth, is that Wallenstein, the great champion of the Habsburgs, refused to continue fighting and persecuting the Protestants.
As a result, his assassination was ordered by the emperor, and he was himself dispatched by an entire group of Irish dragoons, who had also joined in the fight on the side of the Habsburgs.
Once again, with the defeat of the main Protestant force, you might think the war is over, but it doesn’t end there because France now entered the war. Led by Cardinal Richelieu’s plans and really his machinations to make more power for himself and for his country as well, but mostly for himself, they joined the war.
They experienced kind of this war of attrition where they lose massive amounts of soldiers. The Habsburgs lose massive amounts because they’re both two great powers duking it out. At the same time, the countries of Portugal and Catalonia, which was a part of the Spanish kingdoms, both rebel against the Habsburgs. They both declare independence, seeing themselves no longer on the same page as the Habsburgs and not wanting to actually serve them anymore. In fact, this is where we begin to see this breakup of the old covenants of Europe. And you’re going to see this throughout modernity, where you have one nation no longer identifying itself with the larger nation because they see the larger nation as having taken too much power or been too greedy.
See, in Christendom, the reason why, for example, Catalonia would have served a certain Spanish king was because they saw him as their covenantal head.
They understood that he had certain duties, he had certain privileges, but he had very limited power and they were largely left alone. Well, it’s during this time that the Habsburgs began to give more and more rules and show more and more control, especially their control over Protestantism and the Reformation, that other nations, even if they weren’t Protestant, such as Portugal and Catalonia, for example, both declare independence because they see kind of a greedy, monstrous power that’s overruling them. Anyway, the war goes on for several more years between France and the Habsburgs. Finally, Both sides, exhausted from the fight, declared peace and agreed to the Peace of Westphalia in the year 1648. It essentially returned everything to the way that it was before. It reversed that Edict of Restitution. It returned to the Peace of Augsburg, where each state was allowed to independently–well, supposed to be allowed independently–to choose its own form of worshipping God and so forth and how it understood the scriptures, that largely worked, except in places the Habsburgs had firm control over.
Places like Bohemia, for example, which is the setting for our next character of Cominius, the character we’ll talk about in the next lesson. It also left Germany and many of the Protestant states largely wrecked in terms of population. There were cities like Magdeburg, for example, that had to suffer a siege from the Habsburgs some ten times. Leipzig suffered a siege five different times. The Swedish, when they did enter the war, they reported that one German city was inhabited only by wolves. In other words, we see this duking out over what authority is, that it was an important thing to decide, But all the same, we see that it just causes an incredible amount of destruction.
Something that probably could have been avoided had the Peace of Augsburg actually been kept the entire time. Either way, we see that in modernity, a force like this cannot ever solve the issues of conscience and the issues of how you actually view authority and so forth.
This, of course, will be a theme that we look at throughout the year that you’ll see in various ways. But we’ll talk about Cominius, a character at this time that’s worth knowing about, in our next lesson.