When Luther sparked church reformation in Germany, there was bound to be a backlash. In those intolerant days, when church and state acted together, there was no choice in matters of faith. Someone had to be the first to die for the new ideas. One of the first two martyrs was Adolf Clarenbach.
Around 1520, Adolf Clarenbach became a teacher in a cathedral Latin school. Evidently he was a better than ordinary teacher, for in 1523 he was made principle of the city school in Wesel. But storm clouds loomed. Through reading Erasmus and Martin Luther and studying the Bible, he became a follower of the Reformation.
When his views became known, he was forced to leave Wesel. Adolf then preached in Cologne and the Rhine country, forming communities of evangelical believers.
Returning home in 1528, Adolf returned to his death. At the urging of Catholic leaders, he was arrested at Cologne on this day, April 3, 1528. He was charged with teaching Protestant ideas. Also arrested was Adolf's friend John Klopreis. About that same time authorities arrested yet another Reformation preacher, Peter Fliesteden. Klopreis managed to escape, but Adolf and Peter remained in custody.
The two were held in prison for several months and tortured. When questioned, Adolf insisted that "there is no satisfaction for sin except the death of Christ alone." However, good works witness that we have the faith we claim.
On September 28, 1529, Adolf and Peter were handed over to secular authorities at the gates of Cologne to be burned to death. The long delay between Clarenbach's arrest and death is owing to the fact that three jurisdictions had a stake in his trial. Furthermore, the local citizens were upset with the sentence and had to be pacified. When plague visited the city, the superstitious people took it as a sign that they were being too kind to the heretics and public opinion swung against the prisoners.
Adolf and Peter have been called the first martyrs of the Reformation. However, it is not clear if they were Lutherans or not. But three hundred years after their deaths, Lutheran Germans of the lower Rhine honored them with a special celebration and erected a monument in their honor.
- Clarenbach, Adolf. Kirchenlexikon. http://www.kirchen-lexikon.de
- Schaff, Phillip. New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1951.
- Various other internet articles.
Last updated June, 2007