Germanic Legacy in the Middle Ages


Translated from the Third Reich original Germanisches Erbe im Mittelalter Dr. Bernhard Kummer, which appeared in the November 1935 issue of Der Schulungsbrief. The theme is that traces of the native, pre-Christian Germanic culture resurfaced in various forms throughout the Middle Ages despite church and feudal system. The original illustrations are included.

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SC. 40pp.

Seven hundred years of German history lie between Charlemagne and Luther, exactly the same as between Armin the Cherusker and Charlemagne. In thefirst century A.D., Roman imperialism is defeated by Germanic man. In the eighth century, the King of the Franks becomes the “Roman Emperor” in Germany. At the beginning of the 16th century, a German monk stands before the Roman Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation and inwardly separates Germany and the Nordic lands from this empire’s soul, Rome’s church.

The Middle Ages begin and conclude with the struggle for the true faith and for religious freedom. It begins with Widukind’s baptism and ends in Wittenberg at the hour when Luther casts the Pope’s excommunication into the fire. It begins with the devotion of all Christians to the “one, holy Catholic church” and ends with protest against it, with an escape out of all the borders and walls of its sphere with an expansion of our thought and faith into a new world. It begins with Charlemagne’s Latin church law and cloister school and it ends with Luther’s Bible translation and with Hans Sachs in Nuremberg. It begins in the peace of cloister isolation and ends in the age in voyages of discovery and the art of book printing.

The Middle Ages were dominated by a Latin guardianship of German life and faith, of German language and custom, of German art and politics. But itlived from a legacy of Germanic culture and combined with the foreign education or grew in the struggle with it to new value.

German life was stretched between Germanic and anti-Germanic forces. If on the one hand at the beginning of this period an emperor has the heroic songs of Germanic dialect from pagan time destroyed, so on the other hand does a monk write in Lain verses a martial song about Germanic royal offspring, about Walther, Hagen and Hildegund. And still at the end, when Martin Luther already takes his first steps into life, the Archbishop in Mainz bans “Christian books” that “have been written about divine things and about the highest truths of our religion” from being translated from the Latin intoGerman, a language that, as he believes, in its “poverty” never “suffices” as expression of our religion. He declares it a “disgrace for the religion” that such publications already “are in the hands of the common people”. But a Monk, well-read in all these publications, listens to the folk in the markets and alleys in order to write the “Holy Scriptures” anew in German to speak to its heart. And between the monk in St. Gallen, who writes the Walthari Song, and the one in Wittenberg, lies exactly the middle of the great peak of German language, German art, German custom, German piety. From this peak alone, which the folk climbed, can the Middle Ages be surveyed.