After translating the passage for James Swan (close enough to current German but a little different), (link), I was wondering about some of the terms. For example the pastor is said to be an "einkomling", which I translated as salaried man. But perhaps, it means something more historically specific. "Einkommen" is "income". He is someone who makes an "income" rather than someone who owns lands and real estate. Then I thought about "Bauer" which nowadays would be just a farmer and first I wrote "farmer", until I noticed that all English translations always say "peasants". Well a peasant to me was a serf. Were all the peasants serfs or where some prosperous owners?
Which reminds me of Sister Radegundis, who used to teach us history. I remember her teaching us about serfdom. In Germany we did not have spiraling curriculum, which means you don't cover the same ground over and over in each grade with a little more complexity each time. In grammar school we started in antiquity and worked our way up in time over the grades. Sister Radegundis was not very inspiring, always in a foul mood, which should not generally be said about the other sisters, who were quite cheerful. She was old and had her pet-peeves for which she would chew out some poor girl, taken quite unawares. It never happened to me, thankfully. When it was Lent, it seemed worse. Anyhow, hence my aversion to lenten fasts, but I'm trying it this year.
Ok, that's all I remembered about the peasants. (I have a book on medieval history, but I haven't actually read it.) Surely, the peasant's aspirations played into the reformation scenario and historical context. One could almost understand their little capitalist notions, that maybe Luther is decrying here. I am guessing that we would act and think similarly. Except the notion that the pastor should not have anything-- that is not nice-- or the widow and orphan. Remember he is not really talking about widows and orphans, here, though; he is just making a comparison and adducing Bible passages.
So much for that. Below, some results of rudimentary, quick googling on the subject to illustrate more or less, not to properly research.
I just had a memory flash. My father used to sing a little mocking tune. It sounded like Gregorian chant, but made fun of the matter over prayer and trying to get or retain goods. "Ein Pferd ist was wert... eine Pfennig fuer den Klingel Klangel Gloria". (A horse is worth something... a penny for the clinging, clanging Gloria.)
The average peasant in the feudal structure could be grouped into two main professions: farmer or craftsmen. The farmers worked the fields daily, planting, harvesting, and fertilizing the plants. They paid for their rights to use the land directly in the form of their harvest, and keep the excess to be sold or for their own family use. Most farmers were not free and were bound to their land. Some were free and were known as villeins. These people were theoretically allowed to leave and go where they pleased, however, that was often not the case. The craftsmen were usually trained in the home by a parent who was in the profession, or by going into an apprenticeship with another skilled craftsmen in the town. The craftsmen built their goods to sell, and paid a tax to the lord for their right to use the land. Their life mainly consisted of making their goods and services available to the public of the town, coming to help when the town or castle needed repairs, or training the younger generation with their craft. Their profit from the sales was used to buy food from the farmers, and other items which kept the cycle of sales and purchases flowing to keep the medieval economy going.
Most of the peasant had a few meager possessions, including benches, tools, pots and wooden bowls, cups and spoons. Many households also had a simple wooden chest to keep valuables in. Beds were not a common thing, and most slept on a sort of straw mattress on the floor. They slept in their work clothes, covered by an animal skin usually. Some houses had linen towels, woolen blankets, and livestock were also a common possession for them to own, normally chickens, cows, or a pig. If the wife in the family was not helping with the craftsmanship or the farming, she usually occupied her time with raising the children and having a small garden, called a croft. This was usually located next to the house. Some of the farmers lived in town and made the daily commute to their farms, but others lived outside of the protection of the walls on the farms. Generally, farmers did not merely subsist on the crop they grew, and could also produce a cash crop which would be sold. The money from this was used to pay their taxes and buy the necessary supplies for living.
A chest like this one might be used by a prosperous merchant or farmer to store belongings in.
Religion was an important part of the life for the peasants, and it was taken very seriously. In fact, before the strong, tyrannical government emerged in the tenth to thirteenth with the king as its ruling figure, the church could also be considered a contending force with the king, sometimes overthrowing the king and placing a puppet of the church in command. The church had strict laws which were carefully followed, and a severe punishment was usually guaranteed if they were broken. The hierarchy of the church was most often mixed with the feudal system of the town. The bishops had great power, were usually involved in politics, and were even occasionally granted fiefs by the king or his ministers. And so, religion became a ever-present facet in the lives of the medieval world. Most villagers practiced religion by observing holidays and the Sabbath when necessary. They practiced many religious rites, such as baptisms, burial Masses, and communion, when they could afford to, that is.
Festivals and Famine:
Famines were frequent and plagues depleted the livestock. Crops were destroyed by frosts, floods, and droughts. Fields and harvests were burned when the lords had bursts of warfare across the countryside. Thus, the peasants life was a hard one. However, peasants of the middle ages enjoyed many holidays, both religious and non-religious, which meant that the peasant worked for about 260 days a year. The life of the peasant was extremely difficult, but enjoying holidays kept spirits high.