History of the christian church



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Prierias came to the conclusion that Luther was an ignorant and blasphemous arch-heretic, and hastily wrote a Latin dialogue against his Theses, hoping to crush him by subtile scholastic distinctions, and the weight of papal authority (June, 1518). He identified the Pope with the Church of Rome, and the Church of Rome with the Church universal, and denounced every departure from it as a heresy. He said of Luther’s Theses, that they bite like a cur.

Luther republished the Dialogue with a reply, in which he called it "sufficiently supercilious, and thoroughly Italian and Thomistic "(August, 1518).

Prierias answered with a Replica (November, 1518). Luther republished it likewise, with a brief preface, and sent it to Prierias with the advice not to make himself any more ridiculous by writing books.

The effect of this controversy was to widen the breach.

In the mean time Luther’s fate had already been decided. The Roman hierarchy could no more tolerate such a dangerous man than the Jewish hierarchy could tolerate Christ and the apostles. On the 7th of August, 1518, he was cited to appear in Rome within sixty days to recant his heresies. On the 23d of the same month, the Pope demanded of the Elector Frederick the Wise, that he should deliver up this "child of the Devil" to the papal legate.

But the Elector, who was one of the most powerful and esteemed princes of Germany, felt unwilling to sacrifice the shining light of his beloved university, and arranged a peaceful interview with the papal legate at the Diet of Augsburg on promise of kind treatment and safe return.


§ 35. Luther and Cajetan. October, 1518.
The transactions at Augsburg were published by Luther in December, 1518, and are printed in Löscher, II. 435–492; 527–551; in Walch, XV. 636 sqq.; in the Weim. ed., II. 1–40. Luther’s Letters in De Wette, I. 147–167. Comp. Kahnis, I. 215–235; Köstlin, I. 204–238 (and his shorter biogr., Eng. trans., p. 108).
Luther accordingly proceeded to Augsburg in humble garb, and on foot, till illness forced him within a short distance from the city to take a carriage. He was accompanied by a young monk and pupil, Leonard Baier, and his friend Link. He arrived Oct. 7, 1518, and was kindly received by Dr. Conrad Peutinger and two counselors of the Elector, who advised him to behave with prudence, and to observe the customary rules of etiquette. Everybody was anxious to see the man who, like a second Herostratus, had kindled such a flame.

On Oct. 11, he received the letter of safe-conduct; and on the next day he appeared before the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan (Thomas de Vio of Gaëta), who represented the Pope at the German Diet, and was to obtain its consent to the imposition of a heavy tax for the war against the Turks.

Cajetan was, like Prierias, a Dominican and zealous Thomist, a man of great learning and moral integrity, but fond of pomp and ostentation. He wrote a standard commentary on the Summa of Thomas Aquinas (which is frequently appended to the Summa); but in his later years, till his death (1534),—perhaps in consequence of his interview with Luther,—he devoted himself chiefly to the study of the Scriptures, and urged it upon his friends. He labored with the aid of Hebrew and Greek scholars to correct the Vulgate by a more faithful version, and advocated Jerome’s liberal views on questions of criticism and the Canon, and a sober grammatical exegesis against allegorical fancies, without, however, surrendering the Catholic principle of tradition.

There was a great contrast between the Italian cardinal and the German monk, the shrewd diplomat and the frank scholar; the expounder and defender of mediaeval scholasticism, and the champion of modern biblical theology; the man of church authority, and the advocate of personal freedom.

They had three interviews (Oct. 12, 13, 14). Cajetan treated Luther with condescending courtesy, and assured him of his friendship.201 But he demanded retraction of his errors, and absolute submission to the Pope. Luther resolutely refused, and declared that he could do nothing against his conscience ; that one must obey God rather than man ; that he had the Scripture on his side; that even Peter was once reproved by Paul for misconduct (Gal. 2:11), and that surely his successor was not infallible. Still be asked the cardinal to intercede with Leo X., that he might not harshly condemn him. Cajetan threatened him with excommunication, having already the papal mandate in his hand, and dismissed him with the words: "Revoke, or do not come again into my presence." He urged Staupitz to do his best to convert Luther, and said he was unwilling to dispute any further with that deep-eyed German beast filled with strange speculations."202

Under these circumstances, Luther, with the aid of friends who provided him with an escort, made his escape from Augsburg, through a small gate in the city-Wall, in the night of the 20th of October, on a hard-trotting hack, without pantaloons, boots, or spurs. He rode on the first day as far as the town of Monheim203 without stopping, and fell utterly exhausted upon the straw in a stable.204

He reached Wittenberg, in good spirits, on the first anniversary of his Ninety-five Theses. He forthwith published a report of his conference with a justification of his conduct. He also wrote (Nov. 19) a long and very eloquent letter to the Elector, exposing the unfairness of Cajetan, who had misrepresented the proceedings, and demanded from the Elector the delivery of Luther to Rome or his expulsion from Saxony.

Before leaving Augsburg, be left an appeal from Cajetan to the Pope, and "from the Pope ill informed to the Pope to be better informed "(a papa male informato ad papam melius informandum). Soon afterwards, Nov. 28, he formally and solemnly appealed from the Pope to a general council, and thus anticipated the papal sentence of excommunication. He expected every day maledictions from Rome, and was prepared for exile or any other fate.205 He was already tormented with the thought that the Pope might be the Anti-Christ spoken of by St. Paul in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, and asked his friend Link (Dec. 11) to give him his opinion on the subject.206 Ultimately he lost faith also in a general council, and appealed solely to the Scriptures and his conscience. The Elector urged him to moderation through Spalatin, but Luther declared: "The more those Romish grandees rage, and meditate the use of force, the less do I fear them, and shall feel all the more free to fight against the serpents of Rome. I am prepared for all, and await the judgment of God."


§ 36. Luther and Miltitz. January, 1519.
Löscher, II. 552–569; III. 6–21, 820–847. Luther’s Werke, Walch, XV. 308 sqq.; Weimar ed., II. 66 sqq. Letters in De Wette: I. 207 sqq., 233 sqq.

Joh. K. Seidemann: Karl Von Miltitz .... Eine chronol. Untersuchung. Dresden, 1844 (pp. 37). The respective sections in Marheineke, Kahnis (I. 235 sqq.), and Köstlin (I. 238 sqq. and 281 sqq.).
Before the final decision, another attempt was made to silence Luther by inducing him to revoke his heresies. Diplomacy sometimes interrupts the natural development of principles and the irresistible logic of events, but only for a short season. It usually resorts to compromises which satisfy neither party, and are cast aside. Principles must work themselves out.

Pope Leo sent his nuncio and chamberlain, Karl von Miltitz, a noble Saxon by birth, and a plausible, convivial gentleman,207 to the Elector Frederick with the rare present of a golden rose, and authorized him to negotiate with Luther. He provided him with a number of the highest recommendations to civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries.

Miltitz discovered on his journey a wide-spread and growing sympathy with Luther. He found three Germans on his side, especially in the North, to one against him. He heard bad reports about Tetzel, and summoned him; but Tetzel was afraid to travel, and died a few months afterwards (Aug. 7, 1519), partly, perhaps, in consequence of the severe censure from the papal delegate. Luther wrote to his opponent a letter of comfort, which is no more extant. Unmeasured as he could be in personal abuse, he harbored no malice or revenge in his heart.208

Miltitz held a conference with Luther in the house of Spalatin at Altenburg, Jan. 6, 1519. He was exceedingly polite and friendly; he deplored the offence and scandal of the Theses-controversy, and threw a great part of the blame on poor Tetzel; he used all his powers of persuasion, and entreated him with tears not to divide the unity of the holy Catholic Church.

They agreed that the matter should be settled by a German bishop instead of going to Rome, and that in the mean time both parties were to keep silence. Luther promised to ask the pardon of the Pope, and to warn the people against the sin of separating from the holy mother-church. After this agreement they partook of a social supper, and parted with a kiss. Miltitz must have felt very proud of his masterpiece of ecclesiastical diplomacy.

Luther complied with his promises in a way which seems irreconcilable with his honest convictions and subse-quent conduct. But we must remember the deep conflicts of his mind, the awful responsibility of his undertaking, the critical character of the situation. Well might he pause for a while, and shrink back from the idea of a separation from the church of his fathers, so intimately connected with his religious life as well as with the whole history of Christianity for fifteen hundred years. He had to break a new path which became so easy for others. We must all the more admire his conscientiousness.

In his letter to the Pope, dated March 3, 1519, he expressed the deepest personal humility, and denied that he ever intended to injure the Roman Church, which was over every other power in heaven and on earth, save only Jesus Christ the Lord over all. Yet he repudiated the idea of retracting his conscientious convictions.

In his address to the people, he allowed the value of indulgences, but only as a recompense for the "satisfaction" given by, the sinner, and urged the duty of adhering, notwithstanding her faults and sins, to the holy Roman Church, where St. Peter and St. Paul, and many Popes and thousands of martyrs, had shed their blood.

At the same time, Luther continued the careful study of history, and could find no trace of popery and its extraordinary claims in the first centuries before the Council of Nicaea. He discovered that the Papal Decretals, and the Donation of Constantine, were a forgery. He wrote to Spalatin, March 13, 1519, "I know not whether tho Pope is anti-christ himself, or his apostle; so wretchedly is Christ, that is the truth, corrupted and crucified by him in the Decretals."209
§ 37. The Leipzig Disputation. June 27-July 15, 1519.
I. Löscher, III. 203–819. Luther’s Works, Walch, XV. 954 sqq.; Weim. ed. II. 153–435 (see the literary notices of Knaake, p. 156). Luther’s letters to Spalatin and the Elector, in De Wette:, I. 284–324.

II. Joh. K. Seidemann: Die Leipziger Disputation im Jahre 1519. Dresden and Leipzig, 1843 (pp. 161). With important documents (pp. 93 sqq.) The best book on the subject. Monographs on Carlstadt by Jäger (Stuttgart, 1856), on Eck by Wiedemann (Regensburg, 1865), and the relevant sections in Marheineke, Kahnis (I. 251–285), Köstlin, Kolde, and the general histories of the Reformation. The account by Ranke (I. 277–285) is very good. On the Roman side, see Janssen, II. 83–88 (incomplete).


The agreement between Miltitz and Luther was only a short truce. The Reformation was too deeply rooted in the wants of the age to be suppressed by the diplomacy of ecclesiastical politicians. Even if the movement had been arrested in one place, it would have broken out in another; indeed, it had already begun independently in Switzerland. Luther was no more his own master, but the organ of a higher power. "Man proposes, God disposes."

Before the controversy could be settled by a German bishop, it was revived, not without a violation of promise on both sides,210 in the disputation held in the large hall of the Castle of Pleissenburg at Leipzig, under the sanction of Duke George of Saxony, between Eck, Carlstadt, and Luther, on the doctrines of the papal primacy, free-will, good works, purgatory, and indulgences. It was one of the great intellectual battles; it lasted nearly three weeks, and excited universal attention in that deeply religious and theological age. The vital doctrines of salvation were at stake. The debate was in Latin, but Luther broke out occasionally in his more vigorous German.

The disputation began with the solemnities of a mass, a procession, an oration of Peter Mosellanus, De ratione disputandi, and the singing of Veni, Creator Spiritus. It ended with a eulogistic oration by the Leipzig professor John Lange, and the Te Deum.

The first act was the disputation between Eck and Carlstadt, on the freedom of the human will, which the former maintained, and the latter denied. The second and more important act began July 4, between Eck and Luther, chiefly on the subject of the papacy.

Dr. Eck (Johann Mair), professor of theology at Ingolstadt in Bavaria, was the champion of Romanism, a man of great learning, well-stored memory, dialectical skill, ready speech, and stentorian voice, but overconfident, conceited, and boisterous. He looked more like a butcher or soldier than a theologian. Many regarded him as a mere charlatan, and expressed their contempt for his audacity and vanity by the nicknames Keck (pert) and Geck (fop), which date from this dispute.211

Carlstadt (Andreas von Bodenstein), Luther’s impetuous and ill-balanced friend and colleague, was an unfortunate debater.212 He had a poor memory, depended on his notes, got embarrassed and confused, and furnished an easy victory to Eck. It was ominous, that, on entering Leipzig, his wagon broke down, and he fell into the mud.

Luther was inferior to Eck in historical learning and flowing Latinity, but surpassed him in knowledge of the Bible, independent judgment, originality, and depth of thought, and had the law of progress on his side. While Eck looked to the fathers, Luther went back to the grandfathers; he ascended from the stream of church history to the fountain of God’s Word; yet from the normative beginning of the apostolic age he looked hopefully into the future. Though pale and emaciated, he was cheerful, wore a little silver ring, and carried a bunch of flowers in his hand. Peter Mosellanus, a famous Latinist, who presided over the disputation, thus describes his personal appearance at that time:213

"Luther is of middle stature; his body thin, and so wasted by care and study that nearly all his bones may be counted.214 He is in the prime of life. His voice is clear and melodious. His learning, and his knowledge of Scripture are so extraordinary that he has nearly every thing at his fingers’ ends. Greek and Hebrew he understands sufficiently well to give his judgment on interpretations. For conversation, he has a rich store of subjects at his command; a vast forest (silva ingens) of thoughts and words is at his disposal. He is polite and clever. There is nothing stoical, nothing supercilious, about him; and he understands how to adapt himself to different persons and times. In society he is lively and agreeable. He is always fresh, cheerful, and at his ease, and has a pleasant countenance, however hard his enemies may threaten him, so that one cannot but believe that Heaven is with him in his great undertaking.215 Most people, however, reproach him with want of moderation in polemics, and with being rather imprudent and more cutting than befits a theologian and a reformer."

The chief interest in the disputation turned on the subject of the authority of the Pope and the infallibility of the Church. Eck maintained that the Pope is the successor of Peter, and the vicar of Christ by divine right; Luther, that this claim is contrary to the Scriptures, to the ancient church, to the Council of Nicaea,—the most sacred of all Councils,—and rests only on the frigid decrees of the Roman pontiffs.

But during the debate he changed his opinion on the authority of Councils, and thereby injured his cause in the estimation of the audience. Being charged by Eck with holding the heresy of Hus, he at first repudiated him and all schismatic tendencies; but on mature reflection he declared that Hus held some scriptural truths, and was unjustly condemned and burnt by the Council of Constance; that a general council as well as a Pope may err, and had no right to impose any article of faith not founded in the Scriptures. When Duke George, a sturdy upholder of the Catholic creed, heard Luther express sympathy with the Bohemian heresy, he shook his head, and, putting both arms in his sides, exclaimed, so that it could be heard throughout the hall, "A plague upon it!"216

From this time dates Luther’s connection with the Bohemian Brethren.

Luther concluded his argument with these words: "I am sorry that the learned doctor only dips into the Scripture as the water-spider into the water-nay, that he seems to flee from it as the Devil from the Cross. I prefer, with all deference to the Fathers, the authority of the Scripture, which I herewith recommend to the arbiters of our cause."

Both parties, as usual, claimed the victory. Eck was rewarded with honors and favors by Duke George, and followed up his fancied triumph by efforts to ruin Luther, and to gain a cardinal’s hat; but he was also severely attacked and ridiculed, especially by Willibald Pirkheimer, the famous humanist and patrician of Nürnberg, in his stinging satire, "The Polished Corner."217 The theological faculties of Cologne, Louvain, and afterwards (1521) also that of Paris, condemned the Reformer.

Luther himself was greatly dissatisfied, and regarded the disputation as a mere waste of time. He made, however, a deep impression upon younger men, and many students left Leipzig for Wittenberg. After all, he was more benefited by the disputation and the controversies growing out of it, than his opponents.

The importance of this theological tournament lies in this: that it marks a progress in Luther’s emancipation from the papal system. Here for the first time he denied the divine right and origin of the papacy, and the infallibility of a general council. Henceforward he had nothing left but the divine Scriptures, his private judgment, and his faith in God who guides the course of history by his own Spirit, through all obstructions by human errors, to a glorious end. The ship of the Reformation was cut from its moorings, and had to fight with the winds and waves of the open sea.

From this time Luther entered upon a revolutionary crusade against the Roman Church until the anarchical dissensions in his own party drove him back into a conservative and even reactionary position.

Before we proceed with the development of the Reformation, we must make the acquaintance of Melanchthon, who had accompanied Luther to the Leipzig disputation as a spectator, suggesting to him and Carlstadt occasional arguments,218 and hereafter stood by him as his faithful colleague and friend.
§ 38. Philip Melanchthon. Literature (Portrait).
The best Melanchthon collection is in the Royal Library of Berlin, which I have consulted for this list (July, 1886). The third centenary of Mel.’s death in 1860, and the erection of his monument in Wittenberg, called forth a large number of pamphlets and articles in periodicals.

I. Works of Melanchthon. The first ed. appeared at Basel, 1541, 5 vols. fol.; another by Peucer (his son-in-law), Wittenberg, 1562–64, 4 vols. fol.; again 1601. Selection of his German works by Köthe. Leipzig, 1829–30, 6 vols. *Best ed. of Opera omnia (in the "Corpus Reformatorum") by Bretschneider and Bindseil. Halle, 1834–60, 28 vols. 4°. The most important vols. for church history are vols. i.-xi. and xxi.-xxviii. The last vol. (second part) contains Annates Vitae (pp. 1–143), and very ample Indices (145–378).

Add to these: Epistolae, Judicia, Consilia, Testimonia, etc., ed. H. E. Bindseil. Halle, 1874. 8°. A supplement to the "Corpus Reform." Compare also Bindseil’s Bibliotheca Melanthoniana. Halis 1868 pp. 28). Carl Krause: Melanthoniana, Regesten und Briefe über die Beziehungen Philipp Mel. zu Anhalt und dessen Fürsten. Zerbst, 1885. pp. 185.

II. Biographies of Mel. An account of his last days by the Wittenberg professors: Brevis narratio exponens quo fine vitam in terris suam clauserit D. Phil. Mel. conscripta a professoribus academiae Vitebergensis, qui omnibus quae exponuntur interfuerunt. Viteb. 1560. 4°. The same in German. A funeral oration by Heerbrand: Oratio in obitum Mel. habita in Academia Tubingensi die decima quinta Maji. Vitebergae, 1560. *Joachim Camerarius: Vita Mel. Lips. 1566; and other edd., one with notes by Strobel. Halle, 1777; one with preface by Neander in the Vitae quatuor Reformatorum. Berlin, 1841.



Strobel: Melanchthoniana. Altdorf, 1771: Die Ehre Mel. gerettet, 1773; and other works. A. H. Niemeyer: Phil. Mel. als Praeceptor Germaniae. Halle, 1817. Fr. Aug. Cox: Life of Mel., comprising an account of the Reform. Lond. 1815, 2d ed. 1817. G. L. Fr. Delbrück: Ph. Mel. der Glaubenslehrer. Bonn, 1826. Heyd: Mel. und Tübingen, 1512–18. Tüb. 1839. *Fr. Galle: Characteristik Melanchth. als Theol. und Entw. seines Lehrbegr. Halle, 1840. *Fr. Matthes: Ph. Mel. Sein Leben u. Wirken aus den Quellen. Altenb. 1841. 2d ed. 1846. Ledderhose: Phil. Mel. nach seinem aüsseren u. inneren Leben dargestellt. Heidelberg, 1847 (English translation by Dr. Krotel. Phila. 1855). By the same: Das Leben des Phil. Mel. für das Volk. Barmen, 1858. *Mor. Meurer: Phil. Mel.’s Leben. Leipzig u. Dresden, 1860. 2d ed. 1869. Heppe: Phil. Mel. der Lehrer Deutschlands. Marburg, 1860. *Carl Schmidt: Philipp Melanchthons Leben und ausgewählte Schriften. Elberfeld, 1861 (in the "Reformatoren der Luth. Kirche"). * Herrlinger: Die Theologie Mel.’s in ihrer geschichtl. Entwicklung. Gotha, 1879.

III. Brief sketches, by Neander, in Piper’s "Evang.-Kalender" for 1851. By Nitzsch, in the "Deutsche Zeitschrift für christl. Wissenschaft," 1855. Is. Aug. Dorner: Zum dreihundertjährigen Gedächtniss des Todes Melanchthons, 1860. Volbeding: Mel. wie er liebte und lebte (Leipz. 1860.). Kahnis: Rede zum Gedächtniss Mel.’s (Leipz. 1860). Wohlfahrt: Phil. Mel. (Leipzig, 1860). W. Thilo: Mel. im Dienste der heil. Schrift (Berlin, 1860). Paul Pressel: Phil. Mel. Ein evang. Lebensbild (Stuttg. 1860). Festreden zur Erinnerung an den 300 jährigen Todestag Phil. Mel.’s und bei der Grundsteinlegung zu dessen Denkmal zu Wittenberg, herausgeg. von Lommatzch (Wittenb. 1860). Henke: Das Verhältniss Luthers und Mel. zu einander (Marburg, 1860), and Memoria B. Phil. Mel. (Marburg, 1860). Ad. Planck: Mel. Praeceptor Germ. (Nördlingen, 1860). Tollin: Ph. Mel. und Mich. Servet. Eine Quellenstudie (Berlin, 1876). Landerer: Mel., in Herzog1 and Herzog2 ix. 471–525, revised by Herrlinger. Thiersch: Mel. (Augsburg, 1877, and New York, Am. Tract Soc. 1880). Luthardt: Melanchthon’s Arbeiten im Gebiete der Moral (Leipz. 1884). Wagenmann: Ph. Mel. (in the "Allgem. Deutsche Biographie"). Paulsen in "Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts "(Leipz. 1885. pp. 34 sqq.). Schaff in St. Augustin, Melanchthon, Neander (New York and London, 1886. pp. 107–127).

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