Michael Schulteis: Historical Background

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 1-7.

After the title itself, the title page reads:

Inaugural dissertation
for the attainment of the doctor’s degree
of the philosophical faculty
of the University of Leipzig

Submitted by Wilibald Gurlitt
of Dresden

The inside of the title page reads:

Accepted by the philosophical-historical department on the basis of the recommendation of Mr. Riemann and Mr. Köster.
Leipzig: May 5, 1914. Pro-Chancellor: Kirchner.

On November 11, 1914, in consideration of the situation of the candidate, who was wounded near Sompuis on September 9 as Lieutenant of the Reserve in the 1st (Personal) Grenadier Regiment no. 100 and taken captive by the French on September 10, the philosophical faculty resolved to make an exception and disregard the stipulation of §15, Section 4 of the Conferral Manual (Promotionsordnung), namely that the delivered dissertation is to be printed in its entirety. In keeping with this resolution, only the first few chapters of the dissertation have been printed here. The entire dissertation will appear in the same publication, as soon as the circumstances make this possible.

The next page reads:


The life of Michael Schulteis,
father of Michael Praetorius Creuzbergensis,
up until his move to Creuzburg an der Werra

The translation that follows is the introduction in this Introduction.

In reading it, it will not be difficult for you to detect that this work was prepared as a doctoral dissertation. Even with my efforts at simplification, the sentences remain incredibly complex. Gurlitt is unleashing the full force of his university education and scholarship. However, the language is not nearly so difficult as to be insurmountable for the interested reader.

You can read an introduction to this series, as well as a brief autobiography of the author, here. Numbered endnotes are original; those designated with a symbol are the translator’s.

May God lead us to see in this history, as in all others, his powerful, guiding, and gracious hand, working everything out for the good of his redeemed children and the advancement of his kingdom.

Michael Schulteis: Historical Background

The province of Silesia, which did not enjoy imperial immediacy but belonged to the Bohemian Crown, was affected very powerfully and early on by the movement of the German Reformation. Most powerfully and earliest affected was the province’s capital city, Breslau, the Bohemian Wratislav.*

One of the oldest and most important economic arteries of middle Germany was the inland trade route which ran from Poland through Breslau, Görlitz, Leipzig, Erfurt, and Eisenach, then southward to Frankfurt am Main, and northward through Kassel to the Rhine. Through this trade route, Silesia was directly linked to the motherland of the Reformation in the 16th century. The lively traffic on this great trade route quickly familiarized the cities along the route with the events in Saxony that were changing the course of history, and it kept them thoroughly informed of their development. Thus Nikolaus Pol1 is already quite animated in his contemporary annual chronicles of the city of Breslau as he recounts how the first Reformation writings from Wittenberg and Leipzig had “been sent to Breslau for some fellows who were locked up in the prison in Schweidnitz [die im Schweidnitzer Keller gesessen], which they in turn had shared with other inhabitants, so that in short time the whole city has been filled with God’s word.”2

Already in 1519 Luther’s Resolutions on the propositions of the Leipzig Disputation, in which the Reformer for the first time set forth the principles of his doctrine and his plan of action in extensive detail,3 were reprinted in the Silesian capital city.4 The bonds of friendship that had been tied between Luther and Johann Thurzo, Bishop of Breslau, who even had one of his canons study in Wittenberg,5 were destroyed by the sudden death of this “best bishop of the century,” as Luther called him. Although the successor to the bishopric of Breslau, Jakob von Salza, was no friend of the Wittenberger’s doctrines, he no longer had any deciding influence on Breslau’s religious development due to the growing reformatory mood in the city. The clergyman repeatedly feared that the people were going to rise up against him.

Finally, on May 20, 1523, the city council publicly revealed the sympathies for the Reformation that they had already cherished in secret for a long time by calling Johann Hess, the eventual reformer of Silesia, to St. Mary Magdalene Church as the first evangelical preacher of the city.6 Hess was Thurzo’s secretary at one time and was a close friend and student of Melanchthon. Since the bishop refused to install him, the council invested him with the pastorate on their own authority. It later justified this bold move, which would become typical for Silesia, with the words: “So long as we are building the churches and schools ourselves, it is to our way of thinking not unreasonable that we also choose pastors and schoolmasters ourselves.”7 One year later Johann Hess held his influential Breslau Disputation on the principles of the evangelical doctrine, which sealed the victory of Reformation ideals in Silesia. By the following year Protestantism had become so indigenous to Breslau’s pulpits that the publisher Adam Dyon, who had immigrated from Nürnberg, obviated a need felt everywhere when he published the first evangelical hymnal for Silesia, including Luther’s famous hymnal preface, on the Wednesday after Easter in 1525.8 Shortly before this the Reformation in Silesia had been absolutely diffused in every direction when the following decree was issued at the Diet at Grottkau by the secular princes and collective estates of the province in their unanimously passed requirement regarding spirituality: “That the holy gospel be preached freely and unhindered according to the meaning of Holy Scripture, and that people freely conform to the same, irrespective of all men.”9

From Breslau the movement then quickly spread even to the remotest districts of the province.

The already mentioned report of Pol, the chronicler of Breslau, about the secret literary circulation of reformatory views also shows the peculiar character of the Silesian Reformation movement in general. No violent outward struggles were needed here in order to help Protestantism’s new religious evaluation (Wertgebung) and view of life to reach a breakthrough. The intense convulsions of the social and political scene, which the Protestant world of ideas brought along elsewhere when it penetrated into the ecclesiastical system of the Middle Ages, are absent here. Quietly, with virtually no opposition, in a relatively peaceable, continually progressing development of ecclesiastical-social conditions, Protestantism took over the powerful churches of Breslau and drew the ever expanding and increasingly influential circles of its mastery into Silesia.

As he considered this extraordinary course of events in Breslau, Luther wrote to his most intimate friend George Spalatin on February 1, 1524: “All of this has happened in order that the stupid princes and bishops may see for once that it is not Luther, a man of no consequence, who is doing these things and being condemned by them, but the omnipotent Christ – if they were but worthy to see it.”10

Over against Luther’s religious take on the development of the Silesian Reformation, suitable for his time, general historical factors can be adduced by which the brilliant unfolding of the Protestant spirit in Silesia is conducted.† Permit me to call special attention to the factors important for understanding the Silesian Reformation.

Between the protecting walls of the commercial cities in Silesia, new and popular existential ideals of an ethical and religious nature had arisen in the aspiring industrial associations of civil society (the guild system, or Zunftverfassung). After the spiritual-religious interests had been separated from the secular-political interests, the individualization of piety and of the spiritual life in general on the one hand, and the capitalism emerging from the growing commercial mindset of the blossoming cities on the other, combined to produce an independence of the urban culture in Silesia that was ahead of its time. Just as in ecclesiastical matters the magistrates of the cities acted in opposition to the bishopric, so also the princes of the province acted in opposition to the Bohemian Crown, to which they belonged, just as independently and as willfully as the German imperial estates had in opposition to Charles V. How else would it have been possible for cities and princes to continue openly disobeying a royal prohibition as strict as the one issued at Christmas of 1521 to the Silesian estates, forbidding Luther’s doctrine and the sale of his writings?11

Out of this opposition of the cities and princes to the ruling crown of the province grew independent centers of economic prosperity and spiritual cultivation. As happened everywhere, these centers furthered the dissolution of the Middle Age culture of Christian unity wherever they sprang up.

Connected to the large-scale commercial trade and robust education in the province are also the manifold personal connections of the academic youth and great historical personalities of Silesia with the Wittenberg circle of reformers, which were maintained in active correspondence. Traveling merchants, booksellers, letter carriers (the so-called tabellarii), military personnel, intimate friends, students, and all kinds of vagrants brought the “news (Kunde)” and “all the latest (neuen Zeitungen)” from Wittenberg – for which Melanchthon was the spiritual point of contact – to Breslau, and vice versa. Both cities maintained a lively, mutual news exchange.12 And how many Silesian students have been recommended to the University of Wittenberg by clergy and laity, by a Johann Hess, Valentin Trotzendorf, Ambrosius Moiban, Crato von Krafthein, and others! On the other hand, how little Johann Hess might have accomplished – fainthearted man that he was, repeatedly despairing of his reformatory calling – if not for the strong and faithful support that he enjoyed in the friendship of the Wittenberg reformers!

However, the most significant factor at work in this reformatory movement is and remains, naturally, the specific religious one. This preceded all the others and made the deepest impact.

The religious culture of Silesia in the 16th century must be understood on the basis of its historical connection with the culture of both Slavic-Hussite Bohemia and Germanic-Lutheran Saxony. For, as commanding and powerful as Luther’s influence on the development of Silesia’s religiosity was, the religious forces that paved his way and supported him cannot be underestimated. These forces had worked themselves out in the form of a pre-reformatory national church body in Bohemia during the popular disturbances of the Hussite movement, and these forces continued to exert a powerful effect for a long time afterward, for example, in the German Huss-drama and chiefly in the German hymns of the Bohemian Brethren. Silesia’s close religious connection to Saxony and Bohemia clearly manifests itself in the life story of Michael Weisse, the most influential among the hymn writers of the Bohemian Brethren.13 We also know what value Luther himself attached to the Bohemian Brethren’s doctrine of faith,14 and how he constantly kept abreast of the events taking place in Silesia.15

But now, just as the political history of Silesia seems to govern a general inclination toward progressive Germanization of the province, so also in the history of Silesian religiosity an unmistakable receding of Slavic principles presents itself. Just as Luther far outgrew John Huss; just as the mother university of Prague, at one time the gathering place for all that was learned in Silesia, increasingly lost its power of attraction over against the rapidly blossoming city of Wittenberg; so it is evident everywhere that Bohemia in the first quarter of the 16th century is relinquishing its predominance in Silesia to Saxony, and during this change the startling rise of the Silesian culture takes root in the period that follows. Decisive for this change are the two victories of the Germanic-Protestant spirit in Silesia that were won without a fight: that of Johann Hess over the royal and episcopal representatives at the Breslau Disputation (April 20, 1524), and that of the Hapsburg archduke Ferdinand over William duke of Bavaria as the successor of King Ludwig when the new king of Bohemia was chosen (October 23, 1526).

The significance of Silesia in the history of German spirituality is founded in this tendency toward the Germanic-Protestant culture, and in the cooperation afforded by religious subjectivity and the national political power struggle.

It was in the midst of this great spiritual movement in Silesia that Michael Schulteis (Schultheiss16 = Latin: praetor), the father of Michael Praetorius Creuzbergensis (M. P. C.17), grew up.


* Today this is the Polish city Wrocław.

1 Cf. L. v. Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, 8th ed. (Leipzig, 1909), 2:325, note 1. Ranke gives considerable attention to the history of the Reformation in Silesia, op. cit., 2:259ff and 2:324ff. He has not pursued the influence of religious circumstances on the shaping of the political history of Silesia, although he expressly acknowledges it as “a very important question, which merited even closer attention” (op. cit., 2:296).

2 D. Erdmann, “Luther und seine Beziehungen zu Schlesien, insbesondere zu Breslau” [Luther and His Connections to Silesia, Especially to Breslau], in Schriften des Vereins für Reform.-Geschichte, no. 19 (Halle, 1887), p. 2.

3 Cf. the outline of the content of the resolutions in Julius Köstlin, Martin Luther, 5th ed., rev. Gust. Kawerau (Berlin, 1903), 1:255.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 1:308.

6 Köstlin, op. cit., 1:611f.

7 Erdmann, op. cit., 24f.

8 Ph. Wackernagel, Bibliographie zur Geschichte des deutschen Kirchenliedes im XVI. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt a. M., 1855), p. 70, no. 183: Eyn gesang Buchlien Geystlicher gesenge Psalmen, eynem ytzlichen Christen fast [sehr] nutzlich bey sich zu haben, in stetter vbung vnd trachtung… Gedruckt yn diser koniglichen stadt Breslaw durch adam dyon auß gegangen… [A little songbook of spiritual Psalm poems, exceedingly useful for every single Christian to have with himself in constant use and meditation… Printed in this royal city Breslau and issued by Adam Dyon…]

9 Erdmann, op. cit., 69.

10 Enders and Kawerau, Luthers Briefwechsel, 4:296.

† With the prepositional phrase “Over against Luther’s religious take” and the adjectival phrase “suitable for his time,” Gurlitt seems subtly to dismiss Luther’s analysis and belittle the religiosity of the times in which he lived. Luther’s analysis is admittedly simplistic; God was certainly using many other social, political, economic, and religious factors to bring about the victory of the Reformation in Silesia. But these two approaches are hardly contradictory. Luther’s analysis was correct.

11 Erdmann, op. cit., p. 3.

12 R. Grasshoff, Die briefliche Zeitung des XVI. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig Dissertation, 1877), p. 29.

13 R. Wolkan, Das deutsche Kirchenlied der Böhmischen Brüder im XVI. Jahrhundert (Prague, 1891), p. 5ff.

14 Cf. Köstlin, op. cit., 2:356ff and 2:577f.

15 Ibid., 1:611f. Otto Schmid’s study, Die böhmische Altmeisterschule Czernohorskys (Leipzig, 1901), attempts to follow Bohemia’s influence on the development of music up until the period of Viennese classicism.

16 Apart from these two spellings, which are the most frequently used, the following deviations also occur: Schuldtheiss, Schultheis, Schultes, Schultis, Schultze, Schulze, Schultz, and Scholtz.

17 The letter C in this initialism has nothing to do with Capellmeister (court music director).