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Luther Till The Leipzig Disputation

Luther Till The Leipzig Disputation


THE Reformation exhibits a remarkable combination of culture with popular elements. The leaders were learned men, but, at the same time, from the people, and well able to sympathize with their needs and modes of thought. Melanchthon came from the shop of an armorer, Zwingli from the hut of an Alpine shepherd, Luther from a miner's cottage.


Luther was born in 1483 at Eisleben. Mansfeldt, however, seemed to him more like a native town, since his parents, John and Margaret, moved thither before he was six months old. His home education was after a virtuous but stringent pattern. His father was positive in his convictions, and accepted fully the current ideas about the use of the rod.


In his fourteenth year, Luther was sent to the Franciscan school at Magdeburg. Owing, perhaps, to the difficulty of supporting himself here, he soon went to Eisenach, where he had relatives. The hope of resistance from these appears not to have been realized; and poverty compelled him, with others, to sing from door to door for his bread. At length the wife of Conrad Cotta fulfilled the part of the good Shunammite, and Luther found a comfortable home for the remainder of his four-years stay.


In his eighteenth year, Luther proceeded to the University of Erfurt. The choice of this university was dictated by its moderate distance from the family seat, and still more by its reputation at that time in the learned world. It is said to have quite outshone the other universities of Germany, insomuch that it became a current saying, that he who would rightly study must turn his steps toward Erfurt.


The course of study to which Luther was introduced at the university was very largely such as had been embraced in the old scholastic curriculum. The special type of scholasticism which prevailed was the nominalistic system to which the German teachers had been inclined since the days of Occam. But scholasticism did not command the entire field. A few years before the arrival of Luther, humanism had found its exponents at Erfurt, and lectures on the classics had become a part of the instruction. At this date there was no open hostility between the old and the new learning; each rendered to the other tokens of cordial respect. It was not till after Luther's student days, that the natural bent of humanism to a disparaging estimate of scholastic studies began to make itself manifest at Erfurt. Luther, while he gave the greater share of his attention to the scholastic branches,-to logic, dialectics, physics, and rhetoric,--did not neglect the opportunity to acquaint himself with the Latin classics. Throughout his course he addressed himself with interest and fidelity to his studies; and we find him advancing from a medium rank to a place among the foremost. In 1505 he took the degree of master of arts, the degree of bachelor having been taken three years previously. He now stood in excellent repute at the university, and those best acquainted with his talents prophesied for him an eminent career. The wish of his father had directed him to the profession of the law. Luther himself, in all probability, entertained some eager hopes respecting the course of honor reaching on before him.


But suddenly he turns away from his opening prospects, and buries himself in the Augustinian cloister at Erfurt. His friends use every persuasion to induce him to change his decision, but to no purpose. Fresh from the honors of the university, he carries the sack about the streets of Erfurt, and begs bread for his brotherhood. The explanation most ready to hand is the deep religious impression made upon his mind by the sudden death of his bosom friend Alexis, and by his own narrow escape from death by lightning. But those who believe in the Reformation will claim a deeper explanation, and will say that Divine Providence sent Luther through the legal, monastic régime of the cloister, that he might be the more perfectly prepared to serve as the evangelical reformer; that he needed the Pauline experience of enslavement to law, in order to become the herald of the Pauline doctrine of grace.


The same earnestness of purpose which sent Luther into the cloister made him unsparing of himself in the ascetic life. He was too honest to apply and hypocritical salve to his conscience. He knew his need of personal salvation, and would not rest without some satisfactory assurance. No item in the round of cloistral duties was neglected by him. He kept the vigils faithfully; prayed unremittingly; persecuted his body without pity, sometimes abstaining from food for three days together. But the more he struggled, the deeper he sank toward despair. Even his diligent reading of the Bible, with which he first made acquaintance in the cloister, 1 He was twenty years old before he saw a complete Bible. While at the university, he chanced upon a copy, and glanced over its pages. seems to have afforded but scanty relief. His mind was so occupied with the image of law and judgment, that he could gain no effectual vision of the Divine compassion. In the crucified Redeemer he saw rather a testimonial to his own guilt than a pledge of mercy; and the sight, as he says, smote through him like a terrifying flash. The anguish of his soul at times was terrible, and his body well-nigh sank under the double pressure of his extreme abstinence and his mental torture.


Having had sufficient experience of the bitterness and impotence of the legal method of salvation, Luther at length was directed to the method of Divine grace. The words of an aged monk, urging upon him the duty of hoping in the Divine forgiveness, afforded not a little comfort. 2 Luther thankfully records this service in his Tischreden, ll35, Deutsche Schriften, Frankfurt a M. und Erlangen, 1854. Of still greater avail were the wise and friendly counsels of Staupitz, vicar-general of the Augustines in Germany. He was a man whose own experience had led him into the secrets of grace. He lacked, indeed, the courage to attempt a thorough evangelical reform of the Church, but he had no mean understanding of evangelical principles. If he refused, afterwards, to follow Luther to the end of his reformatory work, it was not because the idea of justification by faith did not commend itself to his mind and heart. Finding Luther exhausted and well-nigh hopeless, Staupitz endeavored to direct his attention away from self and toward Christ, and exhorted him to cease from his self-torture, and to cast himself into the arms of the Redeemer. This greatly helped the care-worn and despairing ascetic. He began to see the loving-kindness of God in Jesus Christ, and the gospel became to him in truth a message of glad tidings.


Luther was now essentially converted in heart, but he was far from being thoroughly converted in head. New experiences must come, and fierce storms of opposition must break upon him, before the deeply rooted superstitions of the Romish system can be eradicated from his mind.


It would appear that Luther's spiritual struggles in the cloister did not prevent an industrious application to study. He gained here, in fact, a minute knowledge of the scholastic theology, especially as embodied in the works of the distinguished champions of nominalism. He became well versed in the writings of Occam, Biel, Peter d'Ailly, and John Gerson. Melanchthon reports that he could repeat Biel almost word for word. He also read considerably in Bonaventura, either at this time, or shortly after leaving the Erfurt cloister. With Augustine, who afterwards completely overshadowed in his estimate the scholastic authors, he made as yet only a partial acquaintance. 1 Such is the conclusion of Köstlin, Martin Luther, sein Leben und seine Schriften.


Luther thus won in the cloister a reputation for learning, as well as for religious earnestness. Even opponents have taken pains to say as much. Maimbourg and others have confessed that he fairly earned the distinction of being an eminently gifted and learned man.1 Histoire du Lutheranisme, Liv. I. It was but natural, therefore, that those in quest of a competent teacher should direct their attention to this diligent and scholarly monk. So Luther, after spending three years in the cloister, was summoned to the University of Wittenberg, which had been founded shortly before by the Elector Frederic. The call came in 1508, through the recommendation of Staupitz, who understood better than any other contemporary the material that was in Luther. Wittenberg was henceforth the home of Luther, as it was the throne of the German Reformation. 2 It would appear, however, that a year or two after going to Wittenberg, Luther was transferred for a brief interval to the University of Erfurt.


In reviewing the nine years which intervened between the call to Wittenberg and the inauguration of Luther's public conflict, we may properly notice his professional duties at the university, his preaching, the engagements which he undertook in behalf of his order, and the line of private study which was especially efficient in shaping his theological thinking.


Luther's department of instruction was at first the philosophical, in which it was his task to lecture upon the physics and dialectics of Aristotle. It would appear that this assignment of work was not altogether to his mind. In 1509 he wrote to his friend Braun, "If you desire to know my state, I am well, by the grace of God, except that the study is hard, more especially in philosophy, which I would most gladly exchange from the start for theology,--for that theology, I mean, which is the kernel of the nut, the core of the wheat, and the marrow of the bones." He admonishes himself, however, to cultivate patience, since he adds, "But God is God; man often, yea perpetually, errs in judgment. He is our God, and will direct us in kindness forever." 1 Epist. ii. It was upwards of three years after this letter was written, when Luther was awarded the more congenial office to which he refers. Toward the end of the year 1512 he received the degree of doctor of divinity, and shortly thereafter began to lecture on the Bible.


Alongside the duties of the professor went those of the preacher. Beginning with great diffidence and reluctance, first in the cloister, and then in the city church, Luther found a growing confidence and joy in the opportunities of the pulpit. Ere long, large audiences paid him the tribute of eager attention. That he possessed, in no small degree, the inborn traits of the orator, is indicated by the descriptions of opponents no less than by the testimony of friends. "Endowed," says Florimond de Raemond, "with a ready and lively genius, with a good memory, and employing his mother tongue with wonderful facility, speaking from the pulpit as if he were agitated by some violent emotion, suiting the action to his words, he affected his hearers' minds in a surprising manner, and carried them like a torrent wherever he pleased. So much strength, grace, and eloquence are rarely found in these children of the North." 2 Quoted by D' Aubigné, Bk. II. chap, v. Says Bossuet:"He had a lively and impetuous eloquence that charmed and led away the people." 1 Histoire des Variations des Églises Protestantes, I. § €.


In 1510 or 1511, Luther was sent on the affairs of his order to Rome. This was a welcome mission. To see the central seat of Christendom was an ardent desire of his heart. As he came in sight of the city he fell on his knees, and exclaimed, "Hail, holy Rome! "But he found any thing but a holy city. The worldly, ambitious, warlike Julius II. was upon the papal throne, --a man so absorbed in his temporal projects, that be is said to have reviled God as a patron of Frenchmen, when he heard of the victory of the French over his own troops. 2 Luther, Tischreden, 1651. Some of the priests in Rome carried religious indifference to the point of levity and mockery. As Luther was celebrating mass on one occasion, the priests at a neighboring altar, who had rattled through the ceremonial post-haste, ridiculed him for his devout slowness. "Haste! haste!" said they, "send our Lady back her Son." On another occasion, as he sat at table, he heard some persons, connected with the Roman court, reciting, with an emphatic display of merriment, the outrageous trick which certain priests had played upon the people. Instead of using the ordinary words for the consecration of the elements, they had repeated this mockery of the mystery which every Roman Catholic is taught to connect with the eucharist: panis es, et panis manebis; vinum es, et vinum manebis. All these things had their effect upon Luther. If they did not arouse him at once to an attack, they remained in his memory as materials for future thunderbolts.


It was during this visit that Luther is said to have attempted the ascent of Pilate's Staircase on his knees, and to have deserted the half-finished task as the words of Holy Writ, "The just shall live by faith," came with overwhelming force to his mind. Luther's son Paul reported the event as having been narrated by his father. The incident, however, bespeaks a sudden inspiration on the part of Luther, rather than a thorough and intelligent grasp of the scriptural maxim. Certainly his zealous improvement of his opportunity to perform mass, his wish, according to his own confession, that his parents were dead and in purgatory, that he might purchase their release by this means, does not indicate an understanding of the full bearings of the doctrine of justification by faith. The dawning light needed a little more time to reach the brightness of the full day. The real sentiments of Luther, on his departure from Rome, are probably expressed with entire correctness by the words of Dorner: "Luther returned home with his enthusiasm for Rome cooled down, still without being conscious to himself of inward disaffection toward her, or of departure from the ways of the Church."


A second engagement of Luther in behalf of his order, if less fruitful than the foregoing, was still in the line of preparation for his future work. In 1516, as vicar under Staupitz, he undertook a visitation of the Augustinian cloisters in the neighboring districts of Germany. The fulfillment of this task gave him a larger insight into the state of the monasteries than his previous experience had afforded, and also made him acquainted with men who afterwards supported his movement. The Augustines supplied no mean contingent to the cause of the Reformation.


While his lectures in the university, and his addresses from the pulpit, gave Luther occasion for a diligent study of the Scriptures, he was at the same time an industrious student of Augustine. The writings of the illustrious father were food to his mind, as providing the same solution for spiritual struggles which his own experience had approved, and rendering exalted tribute to Divine grace. He found great enjoyment also in the writings of Tauler. In 1516 he made mention of them in terms of warm commendation. 1 Epist. xxv. About the same time, he expressed a kindred appreciation for that product of fourteenth-century mysticism which bears the name of the "German theology." What attracted Luther both in Tauler, and in the theologia Germanica, was the pervasive tone of heart piety, the stress upon the central demands of spiritual life, the inward life of faith and Divine communion. Of their speculative views, which run so dangerously near to the verge of the Neo-Platonic pantheism, he probably took no special note. Certainly he had no affinity with such views. A metaphysical union with Deity which obscures the distinctness of human personality, or stands in the way of a thoroughly ethical relation with God, was no part of Luther's system of thought. Fanciful schemes of mysticism had no place in his appreciation. He learned to regard even Bonaventura's method for the consummation of Divine union as artificial and profitless. 2 Tischreden, 8.


Distinct indications that Luther improved the tuition of these years to strengthen and to clarify the elements of evangelical faith in his mind, are not wanting. Letters written in 1516 and 1517 show a radical dissatisfaction with Aristotle and the scholastics, and a strong inclination to a more biblical type of theology. 1 Epist. viii., xxxiv., Johanni Lango. In very explicit terms he declares, at this time, the futility of mere legal efforts at personal reformation. Writing to a brother of his order, he says, "In our age the temptation to presumption is kindled in many, and in those especially who strive with all their powers to be righteous and good; ignorant of the righteousness of God, which in Christ is given to us most bountifully and gratuitously, they seek to perfect themselves in right-doing, until at length they shall have confidence to stand in the presence of God, clad, as it were, in the ornaments of their virtues and merits,--a thing which is impossible." 2 Epist. ix., Georgio Spenlein. Again, in connection with a criticism of Erasmus, already cited, he writes, "Not as Aristotle thinks, are we made righteous by doing righteous acts, except in mere semblance; but as a result of becoming and being righteous, we do righteous acts. First the person must be changed, then the works. First Abel is acceptable, then his offerings." 3 Epist. xxii.


In a mind less honest and resolute than that of Luther, these evangelical sentiments would not necessarily have occasioned any collision with the existing ecclesiastical system. Luther himself held them without thought of such a collision. While he was free to declare that the clergy were guilty of a shameful and ruinous neglect as respects bringing the Word of God to the people, he had no notion of thrusting himself forward in a work of general reform. It was not till his own domain was invaded, that he raised his voice in a protest which in any wise seriously challenged the traditions and customs of the Church.


The source and nature of this invasion are well known. For several centuries, especially since the inauguration of the crusades, the trade in indulgences had been practised on a large scale. Popes in need of money used this as an efficient device for filling their coffers. Leo X. claimed that money was needed for an enterprise which ought to enlist the sympathies of Christendom, the building of the great Cathedral of St. Peter's. An appeal was accordingly sent out in the shape of a great stock of indulgences, the buying of which might at once benefit the soul of the purchaser and the Pope's treasury. The enterprise in itself was one to which the loyal sons of the Church could readily award a friendly interest. But there were causes for doubt, even apart from the debauching effect of the special method of soliciting contributions which was chosen. Many suspected that the proceeds of the indulgences, instead of being devoted to the honor of God or of St.. Peter, would go to the Pope's house, and be employed for the worldly promotion of his own family; and, undoubtedly, there were adequate grounds for their apprehensions. 1 There may be no definite proof that the receipts from indulgences were thus diverted; but it is established that the tithes which the Lateran Council, in March, 1517, authorized the Pope to collect for the purpose of making war against the Turks, were treated as private funds. Says Ranke, "There lies before us a receipt from Lorenzo, the Pope's nephew, for a hundred thousand lirer made out to the King of France. Therein it is expressly stipulated that the sum should be made good to the King out of the tithes which the council had conceded to the Pope for a campaign against the Turks. That was just the same as though the Pope had given the money to his nephew; yea, it may he regarded as even worse: he gave it to him before it had been acquired." (Zeitalter der Reformation, I. 205.) Hence, states which were in a condition to do so, opposed the papal scheme for lightening the purses of their people. Among those least prepared to make resistance was Germany, owing to her political complexity, and the need which the Emperor felt at that time of keeping on good terms with the Pope. Preparations were thus made for a large harvest. For the more perfect execution of the indulgence project, Germany (with Switzerland included) was divided into three districts. Over one of these presided the Elector Albert, archbishop of Mayence, who had a special interest in the sale of the Pope's merchandise, since he expected to use one-half of the proceeds in making up the sum of thirty thousand gulden, which, in virtue of the scheme of pontifical robbery then in vogue, he owed the Pope for his pallium. In the service of Albert was the Dominican John Tetzel, from Leipzig,--a man of scandalous life, but famous for some time as a successful vender of indulgence wares.


This Tetzel drove his trade after a wonderful manner. Some reports of his harangues will give the best idea of his method.


"Reflect, then," said he, "that for every mortal sin you must, after confession and contrition, do penance for seven years, either in this life or in purgatory; now, how many mortal sins are there not committed in a day, how many in a week, how many in a month, how many in a year, how many in a whole life ! These sins are almost infinite, and they entail an infinite penalty in the fires of purgatory. And now, by means of these letters of indulgence, you can once in your life, in every case except four, which are reserved for the Apostolic See, have full remission of all penalties thus far due, and like remission at any later point in your life, when you are pleased to confess, and afterwards, in the article of death, plenary indulgence for all penalties and sins." 1 Löscher, Reformations-Acta, i. 418, 419.


"Why stand ye idle? Do you not hear the voice of your parents and other departed friends calling to you, and saying, 'Take pity upon us! We are suffering horrible punishments and torments, from which you can deliver us by a trifling alms, and you will not"? 2 Ibid., i. 416, 447.


"At the very instant that the money rattles at the bottom of the chest, the soul is liberated from purgatory, and flies to heaven. 3 Ibid., i. 397, 421.


"O hard and careless people! With twelve greats you can deliver a father from purgatory, and you are ungrateful enough not to save him! I declare to you, though you should have but a single coat, you ought to strip it off and sell it, in order to obtain so great a grace." 4 Ibid., i. 420, 421; Chemnitz, Examen Decret. Concil. Trid., Pars iv., chap. xvii.


Thus Tetzel made out that money is well-nigh omnipotent to remove every dreaded consequence of sin, whether in this life or in that to come. To be sure, for personal sins of the purchasers, confession and contrition were expected in addition to the payment of money. But what weight would be given to these demands by the deluded people, when the indulgence-hawkers were proclaiming that a few greats were able to secure an open way to heaven? And aside from the pardon of personal sins, the blessings held forth were made purely a matter of merchandise. Three of the graces sold in behalf of St. Peter's were to be enjoyed upon the simple condition of paying the stipulated price. These graces were: (1) the privilege, confirmed by a written certificate, of choosing a confessor according to one's preference, who should absolve from sins and penalties, and allow any vows which had been undertaken to be exchanged for other forms of good works; (2) participation in the treasures of the universal Church, in its prayers, pilgrimages, and various orders of meritorious works; (3) release of souls in purgatory.


Tetzel even went so far as to grant indulgences for sins that had not yet been committed. A Saxon nobleman took advantage of this, fell upon the train of Tetzel, and carried off his money-box. Tetzel made a loud outcry. The nobleman was brought to trial, but, upon showing his indulgence paper, was declared acquitted by Duke George.


In 1517 Tetzel came into the neighborhood of Wittenberg. Luther found that the consciences of many of his dock were being debauched. When coming to the confessional, instead of expressing any repentance for their sins or any purpose of amendment, they simply showed their indulgence papers, and expected absolution in their virtue. Luther was greatly stirred at this mockery of the claims of true repentance. The result was the ninety-five theses whose publication may be regarded as the beginning of the Reformation. These were posted on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Oct. 31, 1517.


The following were the most important of the teachings contained in the theses: Genuine repentance is the chief condition of the remission of sins. This repentance should express itself in outward works. The works acceptable to God are works of charity, benevolence, and righteous living; whoever neglects these, and depends upon the purchase of indulgences, incurs the Divine anger. The purchase of indulgences is purely a matter of free choice, and ranks at best as only an inferior kind of good work. Without the use of these means, the Christian who truly repents may enjoy a full remission, both of the penalty and of the guilt of sin. The hope that the mere buying of indulgences can secure one's own salvation, or the release of souls from purgatory, is an empty and lying hope. Even a Pope cannot remit any condemnation. He is only authorized to declare and confirm the remission of God, except where he acts as ecclesiastical magistrate, and pardons the violation of Church laws, just as a civil ruler may pardon the violation of civil laws. But the Church ought to impose penance only on the living, and in this matter have no regard to the dead; from which it would follow, that the pardoning power of the Popes ought not to be asserted with respect to the dead. The indulgences of the Pope should be treated with respect, but the people should be taught not to place any false confidence in them. The Pope himself has no thought of putting them on a level with works of mercy, and he would rather that St. Peter's should be reduced to ashes than be built up by such extortions as are practised by the preachers of indulgences.


In publishing these propositions, Luther considered that he was defending, not attacking, the Roman Catholic faith. While he may have had some misgivings respecting the disposition of the Pope, he felt that he was really standing up for his dignity, against those who, by their practices, were dishonoring him. But he had gone farther than he was aware. In emphasizing the adequacy of genuine repentance to secure remission, in affirming that the papal office in connection with the pardon of sins is simply declarative, he was, in reality, dealing a blow at the corner-stone of priestly mediation as arrogated by the Romish hierarchy.


The theses were too acceptable to the wide-spread disgust at the abuse of indulgences, not to find rapid circulation. Within a month they had been spread over the greater part of Christendom. Among opposers, murmurs against stirring up strife were more frequent than attempts at refutation. Nevertheless, some attempts of the kind were made. The general cast of these was such as could only aggravate the spirit of opposition in Luther. They were mere echoes of the scholastic theology in its most commercial and papistical aspects. This was decidedly the character of the theses which Tetzel, or his ally Conrad Wimpina under the name of Tetzel,1 Luther says respecting the authorship, Dr. Conradus Wimpina ab omnibus clamatur autor illarum positionum: et certum habeo ita esse (Epist. lviii.). put forth as a counterpoise to the pregnant sentences of Luther. Some of the most obnoxious features in the whole plague of indulgences are baldly asserted in these theses, while the Pope is exalted as an irresponsible autocrat. "Christians should be taught," it is said, "that in governing right the Pope is superior to the whole Church and the council, and that his statutes should be humbly obeyed. Christians should be taught that the Pope alone has the right of deciding questions of faith; that he alone, and no one beside him, has authority to interpret the Holy Scriptures according to his own views, and to approve or to condemn all the sayings and works of other men." 1 Löscher, i 518. Another reply, savoring quite as little of discretion or moderation, came from the Dominican Sylvester Prierias in Rome, a man who had previously given signal proof of his disposition by throwing the weight of his protest against the acquittal of Reuchlin. In connection with the subject of indulgences, he attacked the very thesis of Luther which it might be supposed that any one interested in the honor of the Church would gladly have left unchallenged. "The preacher," he says, "who teaches that a soul detained in purgatory escapes on the instant in which that is accomplished, in virtue of which full grace is given, let that thing be, if you please, the casting of gold into the dish (of the indulgence-hawker), preaches not a human fiction, but a pure Catholic truth." Respecting the Pope, he takes the ground that he is virtually the whole Church, and adds this declaration: "Whoever does not rest on the doctrine of the Roman Church and the Roman Pontiff, as the infallible rule of faith from which even Holy Scripture derives its strength and authority, is a heretic." 2 Löscher, ii. 14, 15. It may inspire a grain of charity for the violent language which Luther came to employ, when it is observed that he was himself first assailed with opprobrium and abuse. Prierias, in the dialogue from which quotation has just been made, sets out the Wittenberg theologian in the most virulent and contemptuous phrases. 1 Luther appears quite urbane, in consideration of his provocation, when he writes to Prierias respecting his treatise, "dialogus ille tuus satis superciliosus, et plane totus Italicus et Thomisticus" (Epist. 1xxvii.). A third reply came from a man possessing much better talents than Tetzel or Prierias, though bound scarcely less than they by the cords of the scholastic theology,--from John Meyer of the University of Ingolstadt, commonly known from the place of his birth as Dr. Eck. The strictures which he wrote on Luther's theses were the prelude to the energetic crusade which he undertook against the Reformer.


Meanwhile Leo X. was less concerned for himself than his partisans appeared to be for him. "It is a mere monkish squabble," said he. "A drunken German has written these theses: when he has become sober, he will talk very differently." These words are characteristic of Leo X.; a man too indifferent in religion to be very zealous or bigoted, more interested in art, literature, and worldly success, than in upholding a purely ecclesiastical dominion. A Roman Catholic writer thus describes him: Standing between Charles V. and Francis I., "Lee X. showed not so much a wavering as a shrewdly calculating temper, in that he continually bestowed his favor upon the momentary victor. Herein he declined to observe the words of Ægidius of Viterbo, and showed himself more concerned about a piece of land than about the real welfare of the Church. In his neighborhood he used the greatest liberality in behalf of the arts and sciences, and patronized them not merely out of vanity, but from understanding and conviction, whereby he was able to restore a living image of the Augustan age. But of the blessing and power of Christianity he seems to have had less experience. This explains his dealing with Luther, in many respects so destitute of resolution. In the degree in which he failed to make religion the highest concern of life, he was unable to conceive that another in the face of deadly peril would hazard so much in its behalf. Hence his splendid pontificate worked to the detriment of the Church, especially since his excessive expenditures gave rise to troublesome religious strife, and also impaired the standing of his successor at Rome, who cherished the noblest designs." 1 Alzog, Kirchengeschichte, § 304.


War, therefore, was not at once declared against Luther by the Pope. Luther on his part had no desire to precipitate such. In a letter to Leo (May 30, 1518), he declared the honest and pure motives by which he had been guided, and expressed himself as willing to submit to the papal decision. He used terms as humble as could well be asked from any subject of Rome: "Wherefore, most blessed father, prostrate I present myself at thy feet, with all that I am and all that I possess. Make alive, destroy, establish, revoke, approve, or condemn, as it may please thee. Thy voice will I acknowledge as the voice of Christ, who presides and speaks in thee. If I have deserved death, I will not refuse to die." 1 Epist. lxviii.


There is no reason to impugn the sincerity of Luther in making this humble submission. At the same time, we are compelled to think that it was not based upon a full understanding of his own heart. His principles had a deeper hold upon his nature than he himself was aware of; and it is probable that if Leo had commanded a positive repudiation of these the next day after the letter was written, Luther would have found it impossible to comply. That a man in process of transition, making his own way into a new theological world, should not clearly apprehend his own position at every point, is no marvel.


A test of the hold which his principles had upon his heart was not long delayed for Luther. The Pope soon yielded to the clamors of monks and theologians, and assumed a more positive attitude. A commission was nominated and empowered to try Luther in Rome. On the 7th of August, 1518, he received a summons to appear before this commission within sixty days. At the intercession of his friends, and especially of the Elector Frederic, the case was allowed to be heard upon German soil, and Luther was summoned before the legate Cajetan in Augsburg.


The legate addressed Luther in sufficiently polite phrase, but still as a man who had no cause to plead, and whose one duty was to recant. Being requested to name the teachings which he regarded as heretical, Cajetan cited two; namely, the denial that the treasure of indulgences is identical with the merits of Christ, and the declaration that one who comes to the sacrament must exercise faith relative to the grace therein offered. Retraction of the former teaching, as being directly in the face of a decision of Pope Clement VI., was especially insisted upon. Luther, in reply, endeavored to show that the Scriptures sustained his view. As respects the declaration of Clement VI., he did not hesitate to affirm that in the sense attributed to it by the legate, it appeared to contradict God's Word. A veritable contradiction of this kind, he said, was quite possible, since a pope is not altogether secure from errors. At the same time, he did not choose directly to challenge the papal declaration, and suggested that it might be understood in a different sense from the one advocated by the champions of indulgences. In relation to the second of the views pronounced erroneous, he declared that unless he were proffered new light which should enable him to gain a different understanding of the Scriptures, as also of confirmatory passages in Augustine and Bernard, he could not retract. "So long as these authorities stand, I cannot do otherwise, and only know that it behooves one to obey God rather than man." 1 Epist. lxxxiv. A threat of the ban was the legate's response to Luther's refusal to comply with his demands. The personal interview closed with the ill-tempered words: "Hence, and return not again until you are ready to recant." 2 Luther, Epist. lxxxiii. Cajetan had evidently had all the disputation that he wanted with the powerful monk, and had learned to his heart's content that here was a subject which the hand of arbitrary authority could not easily mould. The words which Myconius reports him to have said to Staupitz are entirely credible. The latter was asked to use his influence to convince Luther of his errors. Staupitz answered that he was not adequate to the task, and suggested that the talents of the legate were best suited to such an undertaking. To this Cajetan replied: "I wish to have nothing more to say to the beast, for he has deep eyes and wonderful speculations in his head." Luther, on his part, gave this concise estimate of Cajetan: "He is, perhaps, an eminent Thomist, but an unclear, obscure, ill-informed theologian and Christian; and therefore no more fitted to understand and judge matters in this domain than an ass is to play the harp!" 1 Epist. lxxxv. An agreement was, under the conditions, next to impossible, Luther, however, thought it best, before finishing with the legate, to render a species of peace-offering. Accordingly, in a letter which he wrote to him, while declining to recant, he expressed regret for any indiscreet and violent language which he might have employed, and agreed to keep silent on the subject of indulgences, provided restraint should be put upon the opposing party. 2 Epist. lxxxvi. No notice was taken of this communication. Luther shortly afterwards left Augsburg, glad to escape in safety from a place to which, as he himself has testified, he had journeyed with many a foreboding of the martyr's fate. 3 For Luther's own account of his interview with Cajetan, see Epist. lxxxiii., lxxxiv., lxxxv., xcv.


The next move on the part of Rome was the publishing of a bull, which, indeed, did not mention Luther by name, but was aimed against his opinions, and asserted the doctrine of indulgences precisely in the points attacked. Luther, however, had anticipated the issue thus raised, by appealing from the Pope to a general council (Nov. 28, 1518).


To rise above the decisions both of popes and councils, and appeal to the binding authority of the Scriptures, was no inconsiderable advance beyond the position then held by Luther. But events were urging on toward this result. To be sure, the adroitness of the new legate, Miltitz, delayed their course a little. He resolved to try the power of kindness and flattery. He blamed Tetzel much more than Luther, and summoned the former to answer for his misdeeds. These tactics were not without their reward. Luther doubtless had no great confidence that a sincere heart was back of the rather excessive friendliness which Miltitz professed. 1 Epist.cxv. Still, before he had fully resolved on the desperate venture of throwing off allegiance to the old Church, he could not well be averse to a friendly negotiation. accordingly, he agreed to keep silence on the matters in dispute, provided his adversaries would do the same, and to await the decision of his case at the hands of some German bishop. But Providence seemed not to favor this truce. That a Divine hand urged on to the conflict, was the verdict of the Reformer himself; and not many weeks after his conference with the papal commissioner, he wrote to Staupitz: "God snatches me away, pushes me forward, rather than leads me. I am not master of myself. I wish to live in quiet, and I am hurried into the midst of tumults." 2 cxxiii

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