© Michael G. Baylor (ed) 'The Radical Reformation' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp 231-238

03.34 The Twelve Articles of the Upper Swabian Peasants ©

27 February - 1 March 1525

The basic and just articles of the whole peasantry and the subjects of spiritual and secular lords, by whom they feel themselves burdened.

To the Christian reader, the peace and grace of God through Christ.

Because the peasants are assembled, there are many antichristians who now find reason to disparage the gospel, saying, "These are the fruits of the new gospel: to be obedient to no one, to rise up and rebel everywhere, to form infantry units with great violence, to band together to reform spiritual and temporal authorities, to expel them, perhaps even to kill them." The following articles reply to all these godless, superficial critics, first, to stop them from disparaging the word of God, and second, to justify on Christian grounds the disobedience, indeed the rebellion, of all the peasants (Romans I).

First, the gospel is not a cause of rebellions or insurrections, because it speaks of Christ the promised Messiah, whose words and life teach nothing but love, peace, patience, and unity, so that all who believe in Christ become loving, peaceful, patient and united. If the basis of all the peasants' articles (as will be clearly seen) is directed toward hearing the gospel and living according to it, how can antichristians call the gospel a cause of rebellion and disobedience? Although certain antichristians and enemies of the gospel oppose such demands, and want to flare up and revolt against them, the gospel is not the cause of this, but the devil, that most pernicious enemy of the gospel, who inspires such behavior in his followers through lack of faith, so that the word of God (which teaches love, peace, and unity) is suppressed and robbed.

Second, it clearly follows that since, in their articles, the peasants want to be taught and to live by such a gospel, they cannot be called disobedient or seditious. (Romans II, Isaiah 40, Romans 8, Exodus 3 and 14, and Luke 18.) If God wants to hear the peasants (who are anxiously calling for the opportunity to live according to his word), who will blame the will of God? Who will interfere with his judgment? Indeed, who will oppose his majesty? Did he not listen to the children of Israel who cried out to him, and did he not free them from the hand of Pharaoh? Is he unable to rescue his followers today? Indeed, he will rescue them - and soon. Therefore, Christian reader, zealously read the following articles, and then judge them. Here are the articles

Article one

First, it is our humble desire and request, and the intention and conviction of us all, that henceforth we want to have the full power for a whole congregation to select and elect its own pastor; and also the power to remove him, if he acts improperly. (I Timothy 3, Titus I, Acts 14, Deuteronomy 17, Exodus 31, Deuteronomy 10, John 6, and Galatians 2.) This elected pastor should preach the gospel to us purely and clearly, without any additional human doctrine or commandments. Rather, he should always proclaim the true faith to us, prompting us to petition God for his grace, so that he implants and confirms this same true faith in us. For if his grace is not implanted in us, we will always remain flesh and blood, which are ineffective, as is clearly stated in Scripture: only through true faith can we come to God, and only through his mercy will we be saved. Thus, such an elected leader and pastor is necessary for us and is grounded in Scripture.

Article two

Second, since a just tithe has been established in the Old Testament, and fulfilled in the New (as the whole Epistle to the Hebrews says), we will gladly pay the just grain tithe to the full - but in the proper way. It should be given to God and distributed to his people, paid to a pastor who clearly proclaims the word of God. (Psalm 109, Genesis 14, Deuteronomy 18 and 12.) We are willing that henceforth our churchwardens, chosen by the congregation, collect and receive this tithe. From it they shall give the parson, who has been elected by the whole congregation, enough to maintain himself and his family modestly, according to the determination of the whole congregation. And whatever is left over should be distributed to the destitute people of the village, according to their circumstances and the determination of the congregation (Deuteronomy 26). What is left over after this should be retained, in case travel is necessary for the sake of the territory. So that no land tax may be imposed on the poor, travel expenses should be taken from this surplus. (I Timothy 5, Matthew 10, and I Corinthians 9.)

Also, if one or more villages, because of some necessity, have sold the rights to their tithe - and this can be proved to the villages - the tithe owner should not be paid by the whole village. Rather, we will reach an agreement with him in a proper manner according to the circumstances, and redeem the tithe rights for a reasonable amount and in a reasonable time. (Luke 6 and Matthew 9.) But if someone personally has not bought tithe rights from a village, but has inherited them from his forefathers, we shall not be, should not be, and are not obligated to pay him anything more, except what is needed to maintain our elected pastor, to change the pastor if events warrant it, and to distribute to the needy, according to Scripture. (One should not take anything from another.) This shall be the case regardless of whether the owners of rights to the tithe are spiritual or temporal lords. We will not pay the "small tithe" at all. Since the lord God created cattle freely for mankind (Genesis I), we regard it as an improper tithe which has been contrived by people. Thus, we will no longer pay it.

Article three

Third, until now it has been the custom for us to be regarded as a lord's personal property, which is deplorable since Christ redeemed us all with the shedding of his precious blood - the shepherd as well as the most highly placed, without exception. Thus, Scripture establishes that we are and will be free. (Isaiah 53, I Peter I, I Corinthians 7.) Not that we want to be completely free, with no authority over us. God does not teach us this. (Romans 13, Wisdom 6, 1 Peter 2.) We should live according to his commandments, not according to free, carnal whim. (Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 4.) Rather, we want to love God, acknowledge him as our lord in our neighbor, and we want to do everything gladly that God commanded us to do at the Last Supper (Luke 4 and 6). Although we should live according to his commandments, they do not teach us that we should not be obedient to authority, and not only to authority; rather we should humble ourselves before everyone. (Matthew 7, John 13, Romans 13.) They also show that we should gladly be obedient to our elected and established authorities (if established for us by God) in everything that is proper and Christian (Acts 5). Without a doubt, as true and just Christians, you will also gladly release us from serfdom, or show us from the gospel that we should be serfs.

Article four

Fourth, until now it has been the custom that no poor man has been allowed the right to hunt game or fowl or to catch fish in flowing water. We think that this is completely improper and unbrotherly; rather, it is selfish and not compatible with the word of God. (Genesis I, Acts 10, I Timothy 4, I Corinthians 10, Colossians 2.) The authorities in some places also maintain game [for their own hunting], to our sorrow and great detriment. And we must tolerate it that dumb animals (which God has let grow for the benefit of people) uselessly consume our crops. And we must keep silent about this, which is contrary to God's will and the needs of one's neighbors. When the lord God created man, he gave him power over all animals, birds in the air, and fish in the water. Thus it is our wish that, if someone has a body of water, and he can adequately prove in writing that the water was unknowingly sold to him, it is not to be taken from him with force. Rather, one must have Christian insight about it for the sake of brotherly love. But if someone cannot produce adequate proof of his possession, he should inform the community of this in the proper manner.

Article five

Fifth, we also have grievances concerning the use of woodlands. For our lordships alone have appropriated all the woods, and when the poor man needs wood, he must buy it at double the price. It is our conviction that, regardless of the kind of woods involved - whether possessed by spiritual or by temporal authorities who have not bought it - it should revert to the whole community. (As is shown in the first chapter of Genesis.) And, in the appropriate way, a community should be free to permit anyone in need to take wood home for burning without paying for it, or to take it for required buiding without paying. But this must be done with the knowledge of those elected by the community to supervise such matters. (Officials should see that this does not deplete the woods.)

If, however, the only woodland available is that which has been legally purchased, agreement should be reached with the owner in a brotherly and Christian way. But if originally the property was simply appropriated by some individual, and then sold, an agreement should be reached according to the circumstances of the case and of our knowledge of brotherly love and holy Scripture.

Article six

Sixth, we have a serious grievance concerning labor services, which increase from day to day. We want to be granted some understanding, and accordingly not to be so severely burdened. Rather, we should be shown gracious understanding, for our forefathers served only according to the word of God. (Romans 10.)

Article seven

Seventh, henceforth we no longer want to be burdened by a lordship; rather, if a lordship has been bestowed on someone correctly, he should receive his lordship through an agreement between lords and peasants. Lords should not force or compel their peasants, seeking to get more services or other dues from them without payment. The peasant should he able to use and enjoy his property in peace, without being burdened. (Luke 3, I Thessalonians 4.) But if the lord is truly in need of services, the peasant should he at his disposal willingly and obediently, but at an hour and season that are not to the peasant's detriment, and the peasant should be properly paid for his services.

Article eight

Eighth, we are aggrieved, especially those that have their own land, because these lands cannot sustain the payments on them, and because these peasants must then forfeit the land and are ruined. [We demand] that lords let honorable people inspect these pieces of property and establish a payment that is equitable, so that the peasant does not work for nothing. For every laborer is worth his wage (Matthew 10).

Article nine

Ninth, we are burdened by the great outrage that new laws are constantly being made, so that we are punished not according to the facts of a case, but sometimes out of envy and sometimes out of favoritisrn. It is our conviction that we should be punished according to ancient written law, and that cases he treated that way and not on the basis of favoritism. (Isaiah 19, Ephesians 6, Luke 3, and Jeremiah 26.)

Article ten

Tenth, we are aggrieved that some have appropriated meadowland as well as fields which belong to the community (as above, Luke 6). We will take these properties into our hands again, unless they have in fact been legally bought. But if someone has bought them unfairly, the parties involved should reach a benevolent and brotherly agreement, according to the facts of the case.

Article eleven

Eleventh, we want the custom termed heriot to be completely abolished. For we will never accept that the property of widows and orphans should be taken from them so shamelessly, contrary to God and honor, and that they should be robbed, as has occurred in many places (and in many forms). Those who should protect and defend us have clipped and sheared us. If they had even a slight sense of what is right, they would have realized that God will no longer tolerate it, and that the custom must be done away with. Henceforth no one should be obligated to pay the heriot, whether the amount is much or little. (Deuteronomy 18, Matthew 8 and 23, and Isaiah 10.)

In conclusion

Twelfth, it is our conclusion and final conviction that if one or more of the articles we have composed here is not in accordance with the word of God, we will retract these articles, if they can be shown to be improper according to the word of God. (Because all of the articles are contained in God's word.) We will renounce them if they are explained to be false on the basis of Scripture. If some articles are now granted us, and later it turns out that an injustice has been done, from that moment on these articles will be null and void, no longer in force. And the same is true if other articles are found by the truth of Scripture to be against God, and a burden on our neighbors. We are also resolved and determined to give and receive according to every Christian teaching. We want to bid God the lord to grant us this, for he alone and no one else is capable of giving this to us. May the peace of Christ be with us all.
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