IV. On Mel.’s Loci, see Strobel: Literärgesch. von Ph. Mel.’s locis theologicis. Altdorf and Nürnberg, 1776. Plitt: Melanchthons Loci in ihrer Urgestalt. Erlangen, 1864.
§ 40. Melanchthon’s Early Labors.
Although yet a youth of twenty-one years of age, Melanchthon at once gained the esteem and admiration of his colleagues and hearers in Wittenberg. He was small of stature, unprepossessing in his outward appearance, diffident and timid. But his high and noble forehead, his fine blue eyes, full of fire, the intellectual expression of his countenance, the courtesy and modesty of his behavior, revealed the beauty and strength of his inner man. His learning was undoubted, his moral and religious character above suspicion. His introductory address, which he delivered four days after his arrival (Aug. 29), on "The Improvement of the Studies of Youth,"227 dispelled all fears: it contained the programme of his academic teaching, and marks an epoch in the history of liberal education in Germany. He desired to lead the youth to the sources of knowledge, and by a careful study of the languages to furnish the key for the proper understanding of the Scriptures, that they might become living members of Christ, and enjoy the fruits of His heavenly wisdom. He studied and taught theology, not merely for the enrichment of the mind, but also and chiefly for the promotion of virtue and piety.228
He at first devoted himself to philological pursuits, and did more than any of his contemporaries to revive the study of Greek for the promotion of biblical learning and the cause of the Reformation. He called the ancient languages the swaddling-clothes of the Christ-child: Luther compared them to the sheath of the sword of the Spirit. Melanchthon was master of the ancient languages; Luther, master of the German. The former, by his co-operation, secured accuracy to the German Bible; the latter, idiomatic force and poetic beauty.
In the year 1519 Melanchthon graduated as Bachelor of Divinity; the degree of Doctor he modestly declined. From that time on, he was a member of the theological faculty, and delivered also theological lectures, especially on exegesis. He taught two or three hours every day a variety of topics, including ethics, logic, Greek and Hebrew grammar; he explained Homer, Plato, Plutarch, Titus, Matthew, Romans, the Psalms. In the latter period of his life he devoted himself exclusively to sacred learning. He was never ordained, and never ascended the pulpit; but for the benefit of foreign students who were ignorant of German, he delivered every Sunday in his lecture-room a Latin sermon on the Gospels. He became at once, and continued to be, the most popular teacher at Wittenberg. He drew up the statutes of the University, which are regarded as a model. By his advice and example the higher education in Germany was regulated.
His fame attracted students from all parts of Christendom, including princes, counts, and barons. His lecture-room was crowded to overflowing, and he heard occasionally as many as eleven languages at his frugal but hospitable table. He received calls to Tübingen, Nürnberg, and Heidelberg, and was also invited to Denmark, France, and England; but he preferred remaining in Wittenberg till his death.
At the urgent request of Luther, who wished to hold him fast, and to promote his health and comfort, he married (having no vow of celibacy to prevent him) as early as August, 1520, Catharina Krapp, the worthy daughter of the burgomaster of Wittenberg, who faithfully shared with him the joys and trials of domestic life. He had from her four children, and was often seen rocking the cradle with one hand, while holding a book in the other. He used to repeat the Apostles’ Creed in his family three times a day. He esteemed his wife higher than himself. She died in 1557 while he was on a journey to the colloquy at Worms: when he heard the sad news at Heidelberg, he looked up to heaven, and exclaimed, "Farewell! I shall soon follow thee."
Next to the "Lutherhaus" with the "Luthermuseum," the most interesting dwelling in the quaint old town of Wittenberg on the banks of the Elbe is the house of Melanchthon in the Collegienstrasse. It is a three-story building, and belongs to the Prussian government, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV. having bought it from its former owner. Melanchthon’s study is on the first story; there he died. Behind the house is a little garden which was connected with Luther’s garden. Here, under the shade of the tree, the two Reformers may often have exchanged views on the stirring events of the times, and encouraged each other in the great conflict. The house bears in German the inscription on the outer wall: —
"Here lived, taught, and died
§ 41. Luther and Melanchthon.
P. Schaff: Luther und Melanchthon, In his "Der Deutsche Kirchenfreund," Mercersburg, Pa., vol. III. (1850), pp. 58–64. E. L. Henke: Das Verhältniss Luthers und Melanchthons zu einander. Festrede am 19 April, 1860. Marburg (28 pages). Compare also Döllinger: Die Reformation, vol. i. 349 sqq.
"Wo sich das strenge mit dem Zarten,
Wo Starkes sich und Mildes paarten,
Da giebt es einen guten Klang." (Schiller.)
In great creative epochs of the Church, God associates congenial leaders for mutual help and comfort. In the Reformation of the sixteenth century, we find Luther and Melanchthon in Germany, Zwingli and Oecolampadius, Farel and Viret, Calvin and Beza in Switzerland, Craniner, Latimer, and Ridley in England, Knox and Melville in Scotland, working together with different gifts, but in the same spirit and for the same end. The Methodist revival of the eighteenth century was carried on by the co-operation of the two Wesleys and Whitefield; and the Anglo-Catholic movement of the nineteenth, by the association of Pusey, Newman, and Keble.
Immediately after his arrival at the Saxon University, on the Elbe, Melanchthon entered into an intimate relation with Luther, and became his most useful and influential co-laborer. He looked up to his elder colleague with the veneration of a son, and was carried away and controlled (sometimes against his better judgment) by the fiery genius of the Protestant Elijah; while Luther regarded him as his superior in learning, and was not ashamed to sit humbly at his feet. He attended his exegetical lectures, and published them, without the author’s wish and knowledge, for the benefit of the Church. Melanchthon declared in April, 1520, that "he would rather die than be separated from Luther;" and in November of the same year, "Martin’s welfare is dearer to me than my own life." Luther was captivated by Melanchthon’s first lecture; he admired his scholarship, loved his character, and wrote most enthusiastically about him in confidential letters to Spalatin, Reuchlin, Lange, Scheurl, and others, lauding him as a prodigy of learning and piety.229
The friendship of these two great and good men is one of the most delightful chapters in the religious drama of the sixteenth century. It rested on mutual personal esteem and hearty German affection, but especially on the consciousness of a providential mission intrusted to their united labors. Although somewhat disturbed, at a later period, by slight doctrinal differences and occasional ill-humor,230 it lasted to the end; and as they worked together for the same cause, so they now rest under the same roof in the castle church at Wittenberg, at whose doors Luther had nailed the war-cry of the Reformation.
Melanchthon descended from South Germany, Luther from North Germany; the one from the well-to-do middle classes of citizens and artisans, the other from the rough but sturdy peasantry. Melanchthon had a quiet, literary preparation for his work: Luther experienced much hardship and severe moral conflicts. The former passed to his Protestant conviction through the door of classical studies, the latter through the door of monastic asceticism; the one was fore-ordained to a professor’s chair, the other to the leadership of an army of conquest.
Luther best understood and expressed the difference of temper and character; and it is one of his noble traits, that he did not allow it to interfere with the esteem and admiration for his younger friend and colleague. "I prefer the books of Master Philippus to my own," he wrote in 1529.231 "I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike. I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils. I must remove stumps and stones, cut away thistles and thorns, and clear the wild forests; but Master Philippus comes along softly and gently, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him."
Luther was incomparably the stronger man of the two, and differed from Melanchthon as the wild mountain torrent differs from the quiet stream of the meadow, or as the rushing tempest from the gentle breeze, or, to use a scriptural illustration, as the fiery Paul from the contemplative John. Luther was a man of war, Melanchthon a man of peace. Luther’s writings smell of powder; his words are battles; he overwhelms his opponents with a roaring cannonade of argument, eloquence, passion, and abuse. Melanchthon excels in moderation and amiability, and often exercised a happy restraint upon the unmeasured violence of his colleague. Once when Luther in his wrath burst out like a thunderstorm, Melanchthon quieted him by the line, —
"Vince animos iramque tuam qui caetera vincis."
Luther was a creative genius, and pioneer of new paths; Melanchthon, a profound scholar of untiring industry. The one was emphatically the man for the people, abounding in strong and clear sense, popular eloquence, natural wit, genial humor, intrepid courage, and straightforward honesty. The other was a quiet, considerate, systematic thinker; a man of order, method, and taste, and gained the literary circles for the cause of the Reformation. He is the principal founder of a Protestant theology, and the author of the Augsburg Confession, the chief symbol of the Lutheran Church. He very properly represented the evangelical cause in all the theological conferences with the Roman-Catholic party at Augsburg, Speier, Worms, Frankfort, Ratisbon, where Luther’s presence would only have increased the heat of controversy, and widened the breach. Luther was unyielding and uncompromising against Romanism and Zwinglianism: Melanchthon was always ready for compromise and peace, as far as his honest convictions would allow, and sincerely labored to restore the broken unity of the Church. He was even willing, as his qualified subscription to the Articles of Smalcald shows, to admit a certain supremacy of the Pope (jure humano), provided he would tolerate the free preaching of the gospel. But Popery and evangelical freedom will never agree.
Luther was the boldest, the most heroic and commanding; Melanchthon, the most gentle, pious, and conscientious, of the Reformers. Melanchthon had a sensitive and irritable temperament, though under good control, and lacked courage; he felt, more keenly and painfully than any other, the tremendous responsibility of the great religious movement in which he was engaged. He would have made any personal sacrifice if he could have removed the confusion and divisions attendant upon it.232 On several occasions he showed, no doubt, too much timidity and weakness; but his concessions to the enemy, and his disposition to compromise for the sake of peace and unity, proceeded always from pure and conscientious motives.
The two Wittenberg Reformers were brought together by the hand of Providence, to supply and complete each other, and by their united talents and energies to carry forward the German Reformation, which would have assumed a very different character if it had been exclusively left in the hands of either of them.
Without Luther the Reformation would never have taken hold of the common people: without Melanchthon it would never have succeeded among the scholars of Germany. Without Luther, Melanchthon would have become a second Erasmus, though with a profounder interest in religion; and the Reformation would have resulted in a liberal theological school, instead of giving birth to a Church. However much the humble and unostentatious labors and merits of Melanchthon are overshadowed by the more striking and brilliant deeds of the heroic Luther, they were, in their own way, quite as useful and indispensable. The "still small voice" often made friends to Protestantism where the earthquake and thunder-storm produced only terror and convulsion.
Luther is greatest as a Reformer, Melanchthon as a Christian scholar. He represents in a rare degree the harmony of humanistic culture with biblical theology and piety. In this respect he surpassed all his contemporaries, even Erasmus and Reuchlin. He is, moreover, the connecting link between contending churches, and a forerunner of Christian union and catholicity which will ultimately heal the divisions and strifes of Christendom. To him applies the beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God."
The friendship of Luther and Melanchthon drew into its charming circle also some other worthy and remarkable residents of Wittenberg,—Lucas Cranach the painter, who lent his art to the service of the Reformation; Justus Jonas, who came to Wittenberg in 1521 as professor and provost of the castle church, translated several writings of Luther and Melanchthon into German, and accompanied the former to Worms (1521), and on his last journey to Eisleben (1546); and Johann Bugenhagen, called Doctor Pomeranus, who moved from Pomerania to Wittenberg in 1521 as professor and preacher, and lent the Reformers most effective aid in translating the Bible, and organized the Reformation in several cities of North Germany and in Denmark.
§ 42. Ulrich von Hutten and Luther.
Böcking’s edition of Ulrichi Hutteni equitis Germani Opera. Lips, 185–1861. 5 vols. with three supplements, 1864–1870. Davie, Friedrich Strauss (the author of the Leben Jesu): Gespräche von Ulrich von Hutten, übersetzt und erläutert, Leipz. 1860, and his biography of Ulrich von Hutten, 4th ed., Bonn, 1878 (pp. 567). A masterly work by a congenial spirit. Compare K. Hagen, Deutschlands liter. und Rel. Verh. in Reformationszeitalter, II. 47–60; Ranke, D. Gesch. I. 289–294; Janssen, II. 53 sqq. Werckshagen: Luther u. Hutten, 1888.
While Luther acquired in Melanchthon, the head of the Christian and theological wing of the humanists, a permanent and invaluable ally, he received also temporary aid and comfort from the pagan and political wing of the humanists, and its ablest leader, Ulrich von Hutten.
This literary Knight and German patriot was descended from an ancient but impoverished noble family of Franconia. He was born April 21, 1488, and began life, like Erasmus, as an involuntary monk; but he escaped from Fulda in his sixteenth year, studied humanities in the universities of Erfurt, Cologne, and Frankfurt-on-the-Oder, law at Pavia and Bologna, traveled extensively, corresponded with the most prominent men of letters, was crowned as poet by the Emperor Maximilian at Augsburg (1517), and occupied an influential position at the court of Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz (1517–1520), who had charge of the sale of indulgences in Germany.
He took a lively part in Reuchlin’s conflict with the obscurantism of the Dominicans of Cologne.233 He is, next to his friend Crotus of Erfurt, the chief author of the Epistolae obscurorum Virorum, that barbarous ridicule of barbarism, in which the ignorance, stupidity, bigotry, and vulgarity of the monks are exposed by factitious letters in their own wretched Latin with such success that they accepted them at first as genuine, and bought a number of copies for distribution.234 He vigorously attacked the abuses and corruptions of the Church, in Latin and German pamphlets, in poetry and prose, with all the weapons of learning, common-sense, wit, and satire. He was, next to Luther, the boldest and most effective polemical writer of that period, and was called the German Demosthenes on account of his philippics against Rome. His Latin is better than Luther’s, but his German far inferior. In wit and power of ridicule he resembles Lucian; at times he reminds one of Voltaire and Heine. He had a burning love of German liberty and independence. This was his chief motive for attacking Rome. He laid the axe at the root of the tree of tyranny. His motto was, "Iacta est alea. Ich hab’s gewagt."235
He republished in 1518 the tract of Laurentius Valla on the Donation of Constantine, with an embarrassing dedication to Pope Leo X., and exposed on German soil that gigantic fraud on which the temporal power of the papacy over all Christian Europe was made to rest. But his chief and most violent manifesto against Rome is a dialogue which he published under the name "Vadiscus, or the Roman Trinity," in April, 1520, a few months before Luther’s "Address to the German Nobility" (July) and his "Babylonian Captivity" (October). He here groups his experiences in Rome under several triads of what abounds in Rome, of what is lacking in Rome, of what is forbidden in Rome, of what one brings home from Rome, etc. He puts them into the mouth of a Roman consul, Vadiscus, and makes variations on them. Here are some specimens:236 —
"Three things keep Rome in power: the authority of the Pope, the bones of the saints, and the traffic in indulgences.
"Three things are in Rome without number: strumpets, priests, and scribes.
"Three things abound in Rome: antiquities, poison, and ruins.
"Three things are banished from Rome: simplicity, temperance, and piety (or, in another place: poverty, the ancient discipline, and the preaching of the truth).
"Three things the Romans trade in: Christ, ecclesiastical benefices, and women.
"Three things everybody desires in Rome: short masses, good gold, and a luxurious life.
"Three things are disliked in Rome: a general council, a reformation of the clergy, and the fact that the Germans begin to open their eyes.
"Three things displease the Romans most: the unity of the Christian princes, the education of the people, and the discovery of their frauds.
"Three things are most valued in Rome: handsome women, fine horses, and papal bulls.
"Three things are in general use in Rome: luxury of the flesh, splendor in dress, and pride of the heart.
"Three things Rome can never get enough of: money for the episcopal pallium, monthly, and annual incomes from vacant benefices.237
"Three things are most praised and yet most rare in Rome. devotion, faith and innocence.
"Three things Rome brings to naught: a good conscience, devotion, and the oath.
"Three things are necessary in Rome to gain a lawsuit: money, letters of recommendation, and lies.
"Three things pilgrims usually bring back from Rome: a soiled conscience, a sick stomach, and an empty purse.
"Three things have kept Germany from getting wisdom: the stupidity of the princes, the decay of learning, and the superstition of the people.
"Three things are feared most in Rome: that the princes get united, that the people begin to open their eyes, and that Rome’s frauds are coming to light.
"Three things only could set Rome right: the determination of the princes, the impatience of the people, and an army of Turks at her doors."
This epigrammatic and pithy form made the dialogue popular and effective. Even Luther imitated it when, in his "Babylonian Captivity," he speaks of three walls, and three rods of the Papists. Hutten calls the Roman court a sink of iniquity, and says that for centuries no genuine successor of Peter had sat on his chair in Rome, but successors and imitators of Simon Magus, Nero, Domitian, and Heliogabalus.
As a remedy for these evils, he advises, not indeed the abolition of the papacy, but the withdrawal of all financial support from Germany, a reduction of the clerical force, and the permission of clerical marriage; by these means, luxury and immorality would at least be checked.
It is characteristic of the church of that age, that Hutten was on terms of intimacy with the first prelate of Germany, even while he wrote his violent attacks on Rome, and received a salary, and afterwards a pension, from him. But he lauded Albrecht to the skies for his support of liberal learning. He knew little of, and cared less for, doctrinal differences. His policy was to fight the big Pope of Rome with the little Pope of Germany, and to make the German emperor, princes, and nobles, his allies in shaking off the degrading yoke of foreign tyranny. Possibly Albrecht may have indulged in the dream of becoming the primate of an independent Catholic Church of Germany.
Unfortunately, Hutten lacked moral purity, depth, and weight. He was Frank, brave, and bold, but full of conceit, a restless adventurer, and wild stormer; able to destroy, but unable to build up. In his twentieth year he had contracted a disgusting disease which ruined him physically, and was used by his Roman opponents to ruin him morally. He suffered incredibly from it and from all sorts of quack remedies, for ten years, was attacked by it again after his cure, and yet maintained the vigor and freshness of his spirit.238
Hutten hailed the Wittenberg movement, though at first only as "a quarrel between two hot-headed monks who are shouting and screaming against each other" and hoped "that they would eat each other up." After the Leipzig disputation, he offered to Luther (first through Melanchthon) the aid of his pen and sword, and, in the name of his noble friend the Knight Franz von Sickingen, a safe retreat at Ebernburg near Kreuznach, where Martin Bucer, Johann Oecolampadius, and other fugitives from convents, and sympathizers with reform, found a hospitable home. He sent him his books with notes, that he might republish them.
But Luther was cautious. He availed himself of the literary and political sympathy, but only as far as his theological and religious position allowed. He respected Reuchlin, Erasmus, Crotus, Mutian, Pirkheimer, Hutten, and the other humanists, for their learning and opposition to monkery and priestcraft; be fully shared the patriotic indignation against Romish tyranny: but he missed in them moral earnestness, religious depth, and that enthusiasm for the pure gospel which was his controlling passion. He aimed at reformation, they at illumination. He did not relish the frivolous satire of the Epistolae obscurorum virorum; he called them silly, and the author a Hans Wurst (Jack Sausage); he would grow indignant, and weep rather than laugh, over the obscurantism and secret vices of the monks, though he had as keen a sense of the ridiculous as Crotus and Hutten. He deprecated, moreover, the resort to physical force in a spiritual warfare, and relied on the power of the Word of God, which had founded the Church, and which must reform the Church. His letters to Hutten are lost, but he wrote to Spalatin (Jan. 16, 1521): "You see what Hutten wants. I would not have the gospel defended by violence and murder. In this sense I wrote to him. By the Word the world was conquered; by the Word the Church was preserved; by the Word she will be restored. Antichrist, as he began without violence, will be crushed without violence, by the Word."
Hutten was impatient. He urged matters to a crisis. Sickingen attacked the Archbishop and Elector of Trier (Treves) to force the Reformation into his territory; but he was defeated, and died of his wounds in the hands of his enemies, May 7, 1522. Within one month all his castles were captured and mostly burnt by the allied princes; two of his sons were banished, a third was made prisoner. Luther saw in this disaster a judgment of God, and was confirmed in his aversion to the use of force.239
Hutten fled, a poor and sick exile, from Germany to Basel, and hoped to find a hospitable reception by Erasmus, his former friend and admirer; but he was coldly refused by the cautious scholar, and took bitter revenge in an unsparing attack on his character. He then went to Zürich, and was kindly and generously treated by Zwingli, who provided him with books and money, and sent him first to the hot bath of Pfeffers, and then to a quiet retreat on the island of Ufnau in the Lake of Zürich, under medical care. But he soon died there, of the incurable disease of his youth, in August, 1523, in the Prime of life (thirty-five years and four months of age), leaving nothing but his pen and sword, and the lesson: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).
With Hutten and Sickingen the hope of a political reconstruction of Germany through means of the Reformation and physical force was destroyed. What the knights failed to accomplish, the peasants could still less secure by the general revolt two years later. But notwithstanding these checks, the Reformation was bound to succeed with spiritual weapons.
§ 43. Luther’s Crusade against Popery. 1520.
After the disputation at Leipzig, Luther lost all hope of a reformation from Rome, which was preparing a bull of excommunication.
Here begins his storm and pressure period,240 which culminated in the burning of the Pope’s bull, and the protest at the Diet of Worms.
Under severe mental anguish he was driven to the conviction that the papacy, as it existed in his day, was an anti-christian power, and the chief source and support of abuses in the Church. Prierias, Eck, Emser, and Alveld defended the most extravagant claims of the papacy with much learning, but without any discrimination between fact and fiction. Luther learned from the book of Laurentius Valla, as republished by Ulrich von Hutten, that the Donation of Constantine, by which this emperor conferred on Pope Sylvester and his successors the temporal sovereignty not only over the Lateran Palace, but also over Rome, Italy, and all the West, was a baseless forgery of the dark ages. He saw through the "devilish lies," as he called them, of the Canon law and the pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. "It must have been a plague sent by God," he says (in his "Address to the German Nobility"), "that induced so many people to accept such lies, though they are so gross and clumsy that one would think a drunken boor could lie more skillfully." Genuine Catholic scholars of a later period have exposed with irrefragable arguments this falsification of history. His view of the Church expanded beyond the limits of the papacy, and took in the Oriental Christians, and even such men as Hus, who was burned by an oecumenical council for doctrines derived from St. Paul and St. Augustin. Instead of confining the Church, like the Romanists, to an external visible communion under the Pope, he regarded it now as a spiritual communion of all believers under Christ the only Head. All the powers of indignation and hatred of Roman oppression and corruption gathered in his breast. "I can hardly doubt," he wrote to Spalatin, Feb. 23, 1520, "that the Pope is the Antichrist." In the same year, Oct. 11, he went so far as to write to Leo X. that the papal dignity was fit only for traitors like Judas Iscariot whom God had cast out.241
Luther was much confirmed in his new convictions by Melanchthon, who had independently by calm study arrived at the same conclusion. In the controversy with Eck, August, 1519, Melanchthon laid down the far-reaching principle that the Scriptures are the supreme rule of faith, and that we must not explain the Scriptures by the Fathers, but explain and judge the Fathers by the Scriptures. He discovered that even Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustin had often erred in their exegesis. A little later (September, 1519), he raised the same charge against the Councils, and maintained that a Catholic Christian could not be required to believe any thing that was not warranted by the Scriptures. He expressed doubts about transubstantiation and the whole fabric of the mass. His estimate of the supreme value of the Scriptures, especially of Paul, rose higher and higher, and made him stronger and bolder in the conflict with mediaeval tradition.
Thus fortified by the learning of Melanchthon, encouraged by the patriotic zeal of Hutten and Sickingen, goaded by the fury of his enemies, and impelled, as it were, by a preternatural impulse, Luther attacked the papal power as the very stronghold of Satan. Without personal ill-will against anybody, he had a burning indignation against the system, and transcended all bounds of moderation.242 He felt the inspiration of a prophet, and had the courage of a martyr ready to die at any moment for his conviction.
He issued in rapid succession from July till October, 1520, his three most effective reformatory works: the, "Address to the German Nobility," the "Babylonian Captivity of the Church," and the, "Freedom of a Christian Man."243 The first two are trumpets of war, and the hardest blows ever dealt by human pen to the system of popery; while the third is peaceful, and shines like a rainbow above the thunderclouds. A strange contrast! Luther was the most conservative of radicals, and the most radical of conservatives. He had all the violence of a revolutionary orator, and at the same time the pious spirit of a contemplative mystic.
The sixteenth century was the age of practical soteriology. It had to settle the relation of man to God, to bring the believer into direct communion with Christ, and to secure to him the personal benefits of the gospel salvation. What was heretofore regarded as the exclusive privilege of the priest was to become the common privilege of every Christian. To this end, it was necessary to break down the walls which separated the clergy from the laity, and obstructed the approach to God. This was most effectually done by Luther’s anti-papal writings. On the relation of man to God rests the relation of man to his fellow-men; this is the sociological problem which forms one of the great tasks of the nineteenth century.
§ 44. Address to the German Nobility.
An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation: von des christlichen Standes Besserung. In Walch’s ed., X. 296 sqq.; Erl. ed., XXI. 274–360; Weimar ed., VI. 404. Köstlin (in his shorter biography of Luther, p. 197 New York ed.) gives a facsimile of the title-page of the second edition. Dr. Karl Benrath of Bonn published a separate ed., with introduction and notes, as No. 4 of the "Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte." Halle, 1886 (114 pages).
"The time for silence is gone, and the time for speaking has come." With these words (based on Eccles. 3:7) of the dedicatory preface to Amsdorf, Luther introduces his address, to his most Serene and Mighty Imperial Majesty, and to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, respecting a Reformation of the Christian Estate." The preface is dated on the Eve of St. John the Baptist (June 23), 1520; the book was hastily completed July 20,244 and before Aug. 18 no less than four thousand copies—an enormous number for those days—were published, and a new edition called for, besides reprints which soon appeared in Leipzig and Strassburg.
The book is a most stirring appeal to the German nobles, who, through Hutten and Sickingen, had recently offered their armed assistance to Luther. He calls upon them to take the much-needed Reformation of the Church into their own hands; not, indeed, by force of arms, but by legal means, in the fear of God, and in reliance upon his strength. The bishops and clergy refused to do their duty; hence the laity must come to the front of the battle for the purity and liberty of the Church.
Luther exposes without mercy the tyranny of the Pope, whose government, he says, "agrees with the government of the apostles as well as Lucifer with Christ, hell with heaven, night with day; and yet he calls himself Christ’s Vicar, and the Successor of Peter."
The book is divided into three parts: —
1. In the first part, Luther pulls down what he calls the three walls of Jericho, which the papacy had erected in self-defense against any reformation; namely, the exclusion of the laity from all control, the exclusive claim to interpret the Scriptures, and the exclusive claim to call a Council.
Under the first head, he brings out clearly and strongly, in opposition to priestcraft, the fundamental Protestant principle of the general priesthood of all baptized Christians. He attacks the distinction of two estates, one spiritual, consisting of Pope, bishops, priests, and monks; and one temporal, consisting of princes, lords, artificers, and peasants. There is only one body, under Christ the Head. All Christians belong to the spiritual estate. Baptism, gospel and faith,—these alone make spiritual and Christian people.245 We are consecrated priests by baptism; we are a royal priesthood, kings and priests before God (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:10). The only difference, then, between clergy and laity, is one of office and function, not of estate.
Luther represents here the ministerial office as the creature of the congregation; while at a later period, warned by democratic excesses, and the unfitness of most of the congregations of that age for a popular form of government, he laid greater stress upon the importance of the ministry as an institution of Christ. This idea of the general priesthood necessarily led to the emancipation of the laity from priestly control, and their participation in the affairs of the Church, although this has been but very imperfectly carried out in Protestant state churches. It destroyed the distinction between higher (clerical and monastic), and lower morality; it gave sanctity to the natural relations, duties, and virtues; it elevated the family as equal in dignity to virginity; it promoted general intelligence, and sharpened the sense of individual responsibility to the Church. But to the same source may be traced also the undue interference of kings, princes, and magistrates in ecclesiastical matters, and that degrading dependence of many Protestant establishments upon the secular power. Kingcraft and priestcraft are two opposite extremes, equally opposed to the spirit of Christianity. Luther, and especially Melanchthon, bitterly complained, in their later years, of the abuse of the episcopal power assumed by the magistrate, and the avarice of princes in the misappropriation of ecclesiastical property.
The principle of the general priesthood of the laity found its political and civil counterpart in the American principle of the general kingship of men, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that "all men are born free and equal."
2. In the second part, Luther chastises the worldly pomp of the Pope and the cardinals, their insatiable greed, and exactions under false pretenses.
3. In the third part, he deals with practical suggestions. He urges sweeping reforms in twenty-seven articles, to be effected either by the civil magistrate, or by a general council of ministers and laymen.
He recommends the abolition of the annates, of the worldly pomp and idolatrous homage paid to the Pope (as kissing his feet), and of his whole temporal power, so that he should be hereafter merely a spiritual ruler, with no power over the emperor except to anoint and crown him, as a bishop crowns a king, as Samuel crowned Saul and David.
He strongly demands the abrogation of enforced clerical celibacy, which destroys instead of promoting chastity, and is the cause of untold misery. Clergymen should be allowed to marry, or not to marry, according to their gift and sense of duty.
Masses for the dead should be abolished, since they have become a solemn mockery, and devices for getting money, thus exciting the anger of God.
Processions, saints’ days, and most of the public festivals, except Sunday, should be abrogated, since holy days have become most unholy by drinking, gambling, and idling.
Monasteries should be reduced in number, and converted into schools, with freedom to enter and to leave without binding vows.
Certain punishments of the Canon law should cease, especially the interdict which silences God’s word and service,—a greater sin than to kill twenty Popes at once.
Fasts should be voluntary and optional; for whilst at Rome they laugh at fasts, they let us abroad eat oil which they would not think fit for greasing their boots, and then sell us the liberty of eating butter and other things; whereas the apostle says that the gospel has given us liberty in all such matters (1 Cor. 10:25 sq.).
He also would forbid all begging in Christendom; each town should support its own poor, and not allow strange beggars to come in, whether pilgrims or mendicant monks; it is not right that one should work that another may be idle, and live ill that another may live well, but "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10).
He counsels a reduction of the clerical force, and the prohibition of pluralities. "As for the fraternities, together with indulgences, letters of indulgence, dispensations, masses, and all such things, let them all be drowned and abolished."
He recommends (Art. 24) to do justice to, and make peace with, the Bohemians; for Hus and Jerome of Prague were unjustly burnt, in violation of the safe-conduct promised by the Pope and the Emperor. Heretics should be overcome with books, not with fire; else, the hangmen would be the most learned doctors in the world, and there would be no need of study."
In Art. 25, Luther urges a sound reformation of the universities, which had become "schools of Greek fashion" and "heathenish manners" (2 Macc. 4:12, 13), and are, full of dissolute living." He is unjustly severe upon Aristotle, whom he calls a "dead, blind, accursed, proud, knavish heathen teacher." His logic, rhetoric, and poetic might be, retained; but his physics, metaphysics, ethics, and the book "Of the Soul" (which teaches that the soul dies with the body) ought to be banished, and the study of the languages, mathematics, history, and especially of the Holy Scriptures, cultivated instead. "Nothing is more devilishly mischievous," he says, "than an unreformed university." He would also have the Canon law banished, of which there is "nothing good but the name," and which is no better than "waste paper."
He does not spare national vices. He justly rebukes the extravagance in dress, the usury, and especially the intemperance in eating and drinking, for which, he says, "we Germans have an ill reputation in foreign countries, as our special vice, and which has become so common, and gained so much the upper hand, that sermons avail nothing." (His frequent protest against the "Saufteufel" of the Germans, as he calls their love of drink, is still unheeded. In temperance the Southern nations of Europe are far ahead of those of the North.)
In conclusion, he expresses the expectation that he will be condemned upon earth. "My greatest care and fear is, lest my cause be not condemned by men; by which I should know for certain that it does not please God. Therefore let them freely go to work, Pope, bishop, priest, monk, or doctor: they are the true people to persecute the truth, as they have always done. May God grant us all a Christian understanding, and especially to the Christian nobility of the German nation true spiritual courage, to do what is best for our unhappy Church. Amen."
The book was a firebrand thrown into the headquarters of the papal church. It anticipated a reply to the papal bull, and prepared the public mind for it. It went right to the heart of the Germans, in their own language wielded with a force as never before, and gave increased weight to the hundred grievances of long standing against Rome. But it alarmed some of his best friends. They condemned or regretted his biting severity.246 Staupitz tried at the eleventh hour to prevent the publication, and soon afterwards (Aug. 23, 1520) resigned his position as general vicar of the Angustinians, and retired to Salzburg, feeling himself unequal to the conflict. John Lange called the book a "blast for assault, atrocious and ferocious." Some feared that it might lead to a religious war. Melanchthon could not approve the violence, but dared not to check the spirit of the new Elijah. Luther defended himself by referring to the example of Paul and the prophets: it was necessary to be severe in order to get a hearing; he felt sure that he was not moved by desire for glory or money or pleasure, and disclaimed the intention of stirring up sedition and war; he only wished to clear the way for a free general council; he was perhaps the forerunner of Master Philippus in fighting Ahab and the prophets of Baal after the example of Elijah (1 Kings 18).247
The following extracts give a fair idea of Luther’s polemic against the Pope in this remarkable book: —
"The custom of kissing the Pope’s feet must cease. It is an un-Christian, or rather an anti-Christian example, that a poor sinful man should suffer his feet to be kissed by one who is a hundred times better than he. If it is done in honor of his power, why does he not do it to others in honor of their holiness? Compare them together: Christ and the Pope. Christ washed his disciples’ feet, and dried them, and the disciples never washed his. The Pope, pretending to be higher than Christ, inverts this, and considers it a great favor to let us kiss his feet: whereas if any one wished to do so, he ought to do his utmost to prevent them, as St. Paul and Barnabas would not suffer themselves to be worshiped as gods by the men at Lystra, saying, ’We also are men of like passions with you’ (Acts 14:14 seq.). But our flatterers have brought things to such a pitch, that they have set up an idol for us, until no one regards God with such fear, or honors him with such reverence, as they do the Pope. This they can suffer, but not that the Pope’s glory should be diminished a single hairsbreadth. Now, if they were Christians, and preferred God’s honor to their own, the Pope would never be willing to have God’s honor despised, and his own exalted; nor would he allow any to honor him, until he found that God’s honor was again exalted above his own.
"It is of a piece with this revolting pride, that the Pope is not satisfied with riding on horseback or in a carriage, but, though he be hale and strong, is carried by men like an idol in unheard-of pomp. I ask you, how does this Lucifer-like pride agree with the example of Christ, who went on foot, as did also all his apostles? Where has there been a king who lived in such worldly pomp as he does, who professes to be the head of all whose duty it is to despise and flee from all worldly pomp—I mean, of all Christians? Not that this need concern us for his own sake, but that we have good reason to fear God’s wrath, if we flatter such pride, and do not show our discontent. It is enough that the Pope should be so mad and foolish, but it is too much that we should sanction and approve it."
After enumerating all the abuses to which the Pope and his Canon law give sanction, and which he upholds with his usurped authority, Luther addresses him in this impassioned style: —
"Dost thou hear this, O Pope! not the most holy, but the most sinful? Would that God would hurl thy chair headlong from heaven, and cast it down into the abyss of hell! Who gave you the power to exalt yourself above God? to break and to loose what he has commanded? to teach Christians, more especially Germans, who are of noble nature, and are famed in all histories for uprightness and truth, to be false, unfaithful, perjured, treacherous, and wicked? God has commanded to keep faith and observe oaths even with enemies: you dare to cancel his command, laying it down in your heretical, antichristian decretals, that you have power to do so; and through your mouth and your pen Satan lies as he never lied before, teaching you to twist and pervert the Scriptures according to your own arbitrary will. O Lord Christ! look down upon this, let thy day of judgment come and destroy the Devil’s lair at Rome. Behold him of whom St. Paul spoke (2 Thess. 2:3, 4), that he should exalt himself above thee, and sit in thy Church, showing himself as God—the man of sin and the child of damnation .... The Pope treads God’s commandments under foot, and exalts his own: if this is not Antichrist, I do not know what it is."
Janssen (II. 100) calls Luther’s "Address to the German Nobility" "das eigentliche Kriegsmanifest der Lutherisch-Huttenschen Revolutionspartei," and "ein Signal zum gewaltsamen Angriff." But the book nowhere counsels war; and in the letter to Link he says expressly: "nec hoc a me agitur, ut seditionem moveam, sed ut concilio generali libertatem asseram"(De Wette, I. 479). Janssen quotes (p. 103) a very vehement passage from Luther’s contemporaneous postscript to a book of Prierias which he republished (De juridica et irrefragabili veritate Romanae Ecclesiae Romanique Pontificis), expressing a wish that the Emperor, kings, and princes would make a bloody end to Pope and cardinals and the whole rabble of the Romish Sodom. But this extreme and isolated passage is set aside by his repeated declarations against carnal warfare, and was provoked by the astounding assertions of Prierias, the master of the papal palace, that the Pope was the infallible judge of all controversies, the head of all spiritual, the father of all secular princes, the head of the Church and of the whole universe (caput totius orbis universi). Against such blasphemy Luther breaks out in these words: "Mihi vero videtur, si sic pergat furor Romanistarum, nullum reliquum esse remedium, quam ut imperator, reges et principes vi et armis accincti aggrediantur has pestes orbis terrarum, remque non jam verbis, sed ferro decernant .... Si fures furca, si latrones gladio, si haereticos igne plectimus, cur non magis hos magistros perditionis, hos cardinales, hos papas et totam istam romanae Sodomae colluviem, quae ecclesiam Dei sine fine corrumpit, omnibus armis impetimus, et manus nostras in sanguine eorum lavamus? tanquam a communi et omnium periculosissimo incendio nos nostrosque liberaturi." Erl. ed., Opera Latina, II. 107. He means a national resistance under the guidance of the Emperor and rightful rulers.
§ 45. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. October, 1520.
De Captivitate Babylonica Ecclesiae Praeludium D. Martini Lutheri. Wittenb. 1520. Erl. ed. Opera Lat., vol. V. 13–118; German translation (Von der Babylonischen Gefängniss, etc.) by an unknown author, 1520, reprinted in Walch, XIX. 5–153, and in 0. v. Gerlach, IV. 65–199; the Lat. original again in the Weimar ed., vol. V. An English translation by Buchheim in First Principles of the Reformation (London, 1883), pp. 141–245.
In closing the "Address to the Nobility," Luther announces: "I have another song still to sing concerning Rome. If they wish to hear it, I will sing it to them, and sing with all my might. Do you understand, my friend Rome, what I mean?"
This new song, or second war-trumpet, was the book on the, "Babylonian Captivity of the Church," published in the beginning of October, 1520.248 He calls it a "prelude," as if the real battle were yet to come. He intended it for scholars and the clergy, and therefore wrote in Latin. It is a polemical, theological work of far-reaching consequences, cutting one of the roots of Romanism, and looking towards a new type of Christian life and worship. He attacks the sacramental system of the Roman Church, by which she accompanies and controls the life of the Christian from the cradle to the grave, and brings every important act and event under the power of the priest. This system he represents as a captivity, and Rome as the modern Babylon. Yet he was very far from undervaluing the importance and benefit of the sacrament; and as far as the doctrine of baptism and the eucharist is concerned, he agreed better with the Catholic than with the Zwinglian view.
Luther begins by thanking his Romish opponents for promoting his theological education. "Two years ago," he says, "I wrote about indulgences when I was still involved in superstitious respect for the tyranny of Rome; but now I have learned, by the kind aid of Prierias and the friars, that indulgences are nothing but wicked devices of the flatterers of Rome. Afterwards Eck and Emser instructed me concerning the primacy of the Pope. While I denied the divine right, I still admitted the human right; but after reading the super-subtle subtilties of those coxcombs in defense of their idol, I became convinced that the papacy is the kingdom of Babylon and the power of Nimrod the mighty hunter. Now a learned professor of Leipzig writes against me on the sacrament in both kinds, and is about to do still greater wonders.249 He says that it was neither commanded nor decreed, whether by Christ or the apostles, that both kinds should be administered to the laity."
1. Luther first discusses the sacrament of the Holy Communion, and opposes three errors as a threefold bondage; namely, the withdrawal of the cup from the laity, the doctrine of transubstantiation, and the sacrifice of the mass.
(a) As regards the withdrawal of the cup, he refutes the flimsy arguments of Alveld, and proves from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul, that the whole sacrament was intended for the laity as well as the clergy, according to the command, "Drink ye all of this." Each writer attaches the mark of universality to the cup, not to the bread, as if the Spirit foresaw the (Bohemian) schism. The blood of Christ was shed for all for the remission of sins. If the laymen have the thing, why should they be refused the sign which is much less than the thing itself? The Church has no more right to take away the cup from the laity than the bread. The Romanists are the heretics and schismatics in this case, and not the Bohemians and the Greeks who take their stand on the manifest teaching of the Word of God. "I conclude, then, that to deny reception in both kinds to the laity is an act of impiety and tyranny, and one not in the power of any angel, much less of any Pope or council whatsoever." ... "The sacrament does not belong to the priests, but to all; nor are the priests lords, but servants, whose duty it is to give both kinds to those who seek them, as often as they seek them." ... "Since the Bishop of Rome has ceased to be a bishop, and has become a tyrant, I fear absolutely none of his decrees; for I know that neither he, nor even a general council, has authority to establish new articles of faith."
(b) The doctrine of transubstantiation is a milder bondage, and might be held alongside with the other and more natural view of the real presence, which leaves the elements unchanged. It is well known that Luther was to the end of life a firm believer in the real presence, and oral manducation of the very body and blood of Christ by unworthy as well as worthy communicants (of course, with opposite effects). He denied a miraculous change of the substance of the elements, but maintained the co-existence of the body and blood in, with, and under bread and wine, both being real, the one invisible and the other visible.250 In this book he claims toleration for both theories, with a personal preference for the latter. "Christians are at liberty, without peril to their salvation, to imagine, think, or believe in either of the two ways, since here there is no necessity of faith." ... "I will not listen to those, or make the slightest account of them, who will cry out that this doctrine is Wiclifite, Hussite, heretical, and opposed to the decisions of the Church." The Scripture does not say that the elements are transubstantiated: Paul calls them real bread and real wine, just as the cup was real. Moreover, Christ speaks (figuratively), "This cup is the new covenant in my blood," meaning his blood contained in the cup. Transubstantiation is a scholastic or Aristotelian figment of the twelfth century.251 "Why should Christ not be able to include his body within the substance of bread, as well as within the accidents? Fire and iron, two different substances, are so mingled in red-hot iron, that in every part of it are both fire and iron. Why may not the glorious body of Christ much more be in every part of the substance of the bread?" Common people do not understand the difference between substance and accidents, nor argue about it, but "believe with simple faith that the body and blood of Christ are truly contained in the elements." So also the incarnation does not require a transubstantiation of the human nature, that so the Godhead may be contained beneath the accidents of the human nature; "but each nature is entire, and we can say with truth, This man is God; this God is man."
(c) The sacrifice of the mass: that is, the offering to God of the very body and blood of Christ by the hands of the priest when he pronounces the words of institution; in other words, an actual repetition of the atoning sacrifice of the cross, only in an unbloody manner. This institution is the very heart of Roman-Catholic (and Greek-Catholic) worship. Luther attacks it as the third bondage, and the most impious of all. He feels the difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, of a task which involves an entire revolution of public worship. "At this day," he says, "there is no belief in the Church more generally received, or more firmly held, than that the mass is a good work and a sacrifice. This abuse has brought in an infinite flood of other abuses, until faith in the sacrament has been utterly lost, and they have made this divine sacrament a mere subject of traffic, huckstering, and money-getting contracts; and the entire maintenance of priests and monks depends upon these things." He goes back to the simplicity of the primitive institution of the Lord’s Supper, which is a thankful commemoration of the atoning death of Christ, with a blessing attached to it, namely, the forgiveness of sins, to be appropriated by faith. The substance of this sacrament is promise and faith. It is a gift of God to man, not a gift of man to God. It is, like baptism, to be received, and not to be given. The Romanists have changed it into a good work of man and an opus operatum, by which they imagine to please God; and have surrounded it with so many prayers, signs, vestments, gestures, and ceremonies, that the original meaning is obscured. "They make God no longer the bestower of good gifts on us, but the receiver of ours. Alas for such impiety!" He proves from the ancient Church that the offering of the eucharist, as the name indicates, was originally a thank-offering of the gifts of the communicants for the benefit of the poor. The true sacrifice which we are to offer to God is our thanks, our possessions, and our whole person. He also objects to the use of the Latin language in the mass, and demands the vernacular.
2. The sacrament of Baptism. Luther thanks God that this sacrament has been preserved uninjured, and kept from "the foul and impious monstrosities of avarice and superstition." He agrees essentially with the Roman doctrine, and considers baptism as a means of regeneration; while Zwingli and Calvin regarded it merely as a sign and seal of preceding regeneration and church-membership. He even makes more of it than the Romanists, and opposes the prevailing view of St. Jerome, that penitence is a second plank of refuge after shipwreck. Instead of relying on priestly absolution, it is better to go back to the remission of sins secured in baptism. "When we rise out of our sins, and exercise penitence, we are simply reverting to the efficacy of baptism and to faith in it, whence we had fallen; and we return to the promise then made to us, but which we had abandoned through our sin. For the truth of the promise once made always abides, and is ready to stretch out the hand and receive us when we return."
As to the mode of baptism, he gives here, as elsewhere, his preference to immersion, which then still prevailed in England and in some parts of the Continent, and which was not a point of dispute either between Romanists and Protestants, or between Protestants and Anabaptists; while on the question of infant-baptism the Anabaptists differed from both. "Baptism," he says, "is that dipping into water whence it takes its name. For, in Greek to baptize signifies to dip, and baptism is a dipping." "Baptism signifies two things,—death and resurrection; that is, full and complete justification. When the minister dips the child into the water, this signifies death; when he draws him out again, this signifies life. Thus Paul explains the matter (Rom. 6:4) .... I could wish that the baptized should be totally immersed, according to the meaning of the word and the signification of the mystery; not that I think it necessary to do so, but that it would be well that so complete and perfect a thing as baptism should also be completely and perfectly expressed in the sign."
Luther’s view of baptismal regeneration seems to be inconsistent with his chief doctrine of justification by faith alone. He says, "It is not baptism which justifies any man, or is of any advantage; but faith in that word of promise to which baptism is added: for this justifies and fulfills the meaning of baptism. For faith is the submerging of the old man, and the emerging of the new man." But how does this apply to baptized infants, who can not be said to have faith in any proper sense of the term, though they have undoubtedly the capacity of faith? Luther here brings in the vicarious faith of the parents or the Church. But he suggests also the idea that faith is produced in the children, through baptism, on the ground of their religious receptivity.
3. Lastly, Luther attacks the traditional number of the sacraments. He allows "only two sacraments in the Church of God, Baptism and Bread; since it is in these alone that we see both a sign divinely instituted, and a promise of remission of sins." In some sense he retains also the sacrament of Penance, as a way and means of return to baptism.
The rest of the seven Roman sacraments—confirmation, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction—he rejects because they can not be proved from Scripture, and are not commanded by Christ.
Matrimony has existed from the beginning of the world, and belongs to all mankind. Why, then, should it be called a sacrament? Paul calls it a "mystery," but not a sacrament, as translated in the Vulgate (Ep. 5:32); or rather he speaks there of the union of Christ and the Church, which is reflected in matrimony as in a sort of allegory. But the Pope has restricted this universal human institution by rigorous impediments derived from spiritual affinity and legal relationship. He forbids it to the clergy, and claims the power to annull rightful marriages, even against the will of one of the parties. "Learn, then, in this one matter of matrimony, into what an unhappy and hopeless state of confusion, hindrance, entanglement, and peril all things that are done in the Church have been brought by the pestilent and impious traditions of men! There is no hope of a remedy, unless we do away with all the laws of men, call back the gospel of liberty, and judge and rule all things according to it alone."
Luther closes with these words: "I hear a report that fresh bulls and papal curses are being, prepared against me, by which I am urged to recant, or else to be declared a heretic. If this is true, I wish this little book to be a part of my future recantation, that they may not complain that their tyranny has puffed itself up in vain. I shall also shortly publish, Christ being my helper, such a recantation as the See of Rome has never yet seen or heard, thus abundantly testifying my obedience in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.252 Amen.
" ’Hostis Herodes impie,
Christum venire quid times?
Non arripit mortalia
Qui regna dat coelestia.’ "
§ 46. Christian Freedom.—Luther’s Last Letter to the Pope. October, 1520.
Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen, Wittenberg, 1520; often reprinted separately, and in the collected works of Luther. See Walch, XIX. 1206 sqq.; Erl. ed., XXVII. 173–200 (from the first ed.); Gerlach’s ed. V. 5–46. The Latin edition, De Libertate Christiana, was finished a little later, and has some additions; see Erl. ed. Opera Lat., IV. 206–255. Luther’s letter to the Pope in Latin and German is printed also in De Wette, I. 497–515. English version of the tract and the letter by Buchheim, l.c. 95–137.
Although Rome had already condemned Luther, the papal delegate Miltitz still entertained the hope of a peaceful settlement. He had extracted from Luther the promise to write to the Pope. He had a final interview with him and Melanchthon at Lichtenberg (now Lichtenburg, in the district of Torgau), in the convent of St. Antony, Oct. 11, 1520, a few days after Luther had seen the bull of excommunication. It was agreed that Luther should write a book, and a letter in Latin and German to Leo X., and assure him that he had never attacked his person, and that Dr. Eck was responsible for the whole trouble. The book was to be finished in twelve days, but. dated back to Sept. 6 in order to avoid the appearance of being occasioned by the Pope’s bull.
This is the origin of two of the most remarkable productions of Luther,—his little book on "Christian Freedom," and a dedicatory letter to Leo X.
The beautiful tract on "Christian Freedom" is a pearl among Luther’s writings. It presents a striking contrast to his polemic treatises against Rome, which were intended to break down the tyranny of popery. And yet it is a positive complement to them, and quite as necessary for a full understanding of his position. While opposing the Pope’s tyranny, Luther was far from advocating the opposite extreme of license. He was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the Epistle to the Galatians, which protests against both extremes, and inspired the keynote to Luther’s Tract. He shows wherein true liberty consists. He means liberty according to the gospel; liberty in Christ, not from Christ; and offers this as a basis for reconciliation. He presents here a popular summary of Christian life. He keeps free from all polemics, and writes in the best spirit of that practical mysticism which connected him with Staupitz and Tauler.
The leading idea is: The Christian is the lord of all, and subject to none, by virtue of faith; he is the servant of all, and subject to every one, by virtue of love. Faith and love constitute the Christian: the one binds him to God, the other to his fellow-man. The idea is derived from St. Paul, who says, "Though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more" (1 Cor. 9:19); and "Owe no man any thing, save to love one another" (Rom. 13:8). It was carried out by Christ, who was Lord of all things, yet born of a woman, born under the law that he might redeem them who were under the law (Gal. 4:4); who was at once in the form of God, and in the form of a servant (Phil. 2:6, 7). The Christian life is an imitation of the’ life of Christ,—a favorite idea of the mediaeval mystics.
Man is made free by faith, which alone justifies; but it manifests itself in love, and all good works. The person must first be good before good works can be done, and good works proceed from a good person; as Christ says, "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). The fruit does not bear the tree, nor does the tree grow on the fruit; but the tree bears the fruit, and the fruit grows on the tree. So it is in all handicrafts. A good or bad house does not make a good or bad builder, but the good or bad builder makes a good or bad house. Such is the case with the works of men. Such as the man himself is, whether in faith or in unbelief, such is his work; good if it is done in faith, bad if in unbelief. Faith, as it makes man a believer, so also it makes his works good; but works do not make a believing man, nor a justified man. We do not reject works; nay, we commend them, and teach them in the highest degree. It is not on their own account that we condemn them, but on account of the perverse notion of seeking justification by them. "From faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord; and from love, a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbor voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss. Its object is not to lay men under obligations; nor does it distinguish between friends and enemies, or look to gratitude or ingratitude; but most freely and willingly it spends itself and its goods, whether it loses them through ingratitude, or gains good-will. For thus did its Father, distributing all things to all men abundantly and freely, making his sun to rise upon the just and the unjust. Thus, too, the child does and endures nothing except from the free joy with which it delights through Christ in God, the giver of such great gifts." ...
"Who, then, can comprehend the riches and glory of the Christian life? It can do all things, has all things, and is in want of nothing; is lord over sin, death, and hell, and, at the same time, is the obedient and useful servant of all. But alas! it is at this day unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached nor sought after, so that we are quite ignorant about our own name, why we are and are called Christians. We are certainly called so from Christ, who is not absent, but dwells among us, provided we believe in him; and are reciprocally and mutually one the Christ of the other, doing to our neighbor as Christ does to us. But now, in the doctrine of men, we are taught only to seek after merits, rewards, and things which are already ours; and we have made of Christ a task-master far more severe than Moses." ...
"We conclude, then, that a Christian man does not live in and for himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor, or else is no Christian; in Christ by faith, in his neighbor by love. By faith he is carried upwards above himself to God, and by love he descends below himself to his neighbor, still always abiding in God and his love; as Christ says, ’Verily I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man’ " (John 1:51
In the Latin text Luther adds some excellent remarks against those who misunderstand and distort spiritual liberty, turn it into an occasion of carnal license, and show their freedom by their contempt of ceremonies, traditions, and human laws. St. Paul teaches us to walk in the middle path, condemning either extreme, and saying, "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth" (Rom. 14:3). We must resist the hardened and obstinate ceremonialists, as Paul resisted the Judaizers who would compel Titus to be circumcised; and we must spare the weak who are not yet able to apprehend the liberty of faith. We must fight against the wolves, but on behalf of the sheep, not against the sheep.
This Irenicon must meet with the approval of every true Christian, whether Catholic or Protestant. It breathes the spirit of a genuine disciple of St. Paul. It is full of heroic faith and childlike simplicity. It takes rank with the best books of Luther, and rises far above the angry controversies of his age, during which he composed it, in the full possession of the positive truth and peace of the religion of Christ.253
Luther sent the book to Pope Leo X., who was too worldly-minded a man to appreciate it; and accompanied the same with a most singular and undiplomatic, yet powerful polemic letter, which, if the Pope ever read it, must have filled him with mingled feelings of indignation and disgust. In his first letter to the Pope (1518), Luther had thrown himself at his feet as an obedient son of the vicar of Christ; in his second letter (1519), he still had addressed him as a humble subject, yet refusing to recant his conscientious convictions: in his third and last letter he addressed him as an equal, speaking to him with great respect for his personal character (even beyond his deserts), but denouncing in the severest terms the Roman See, and comparing him to a lamb among wolves, and to Daniel in the den of lions. The Popes, he says, are vicars of Christ because Christ is absent from Rome.254 Miltitz and the Augustinian brethren, who urged him to write an apologetic letter to Leo, must have been sorely disappointed; for it destroyed all prospects of reconciliation, if they had not been destroyed already.
After some complimentary words about Leo, and protesting that he had never spoken disrespectfully of his person, Luther goes on to say, —
"The Church of Rome, formerly the most holy of all churches, has become the most lawless den of thieves, the most shameless of all brothels, the very kingdom of sin, death, and hell; so that not even Antichrist, if he were to come, could devise any addition to its wickedness.
"Meanwhile you, Leo, are sitting like a lamb in the midst of wolves, like Daniel in the midst of lions, and, with Ezekiel, you dwell among scorpions. What opposition can you alone make to these monstrous evils? Take to yourself three or four of the most learned and best of the cardinals. What are these among so many? You would all perish by poison, before you could undertake to decide on a remedy. It is all over with the court of Rome: the wrath of God has come upon her to the uttermost. She hates Councils, she dreads to be reformed, she cannot restrain the madness of her impiety; she fills up the sentence passed on her mother, of whom it is said, ’We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed; let us forsake her.’ It had been your duty, and that of your cardinals, to apply a remedy to these evils; but this gout laughs at the physician’s hand, and the chariot does not obey the reins. Under the influence of these feelings I have always grieved that you, most excellent Leo, who were worthy of a better age, have been made pontiff in this. For the Roman court is not worthy of you and those like you, but of Satan himself, who in truth is more the ruler in that Babylon than you are.
"Oh, would that, having laid aside that glory which your most abandoned enemies declare to be yours, you were living rather in the office of a private priest, or on your paternal inheritance! In that glory none are worthy to glory, except the race of Iscariot, the children of perdition. For what happens in your court, Leo, except that, the more wicked and execrable any man is, the more prosperously he can use your name and authority for the ruin of the property and souls of men, for the multiplication of crimes, for the oppression of faith and truth, and of the whole Church of God? O Leo! in reality most unfortunate, and sitting on a most perilous throne: verily I tell you the truth, because I wish you well; for if Bernard felt compassion for his Anastasius at a time when the Roman See, though even then most corrupt, was as yet ruling with better hope than now, why should not we lament, to whom so much additional corruption and ruin has happened in three hundred years?
Is it not true that there is nothing under the vast heavens more corrupt, more pestilential, more hateful, than the court of Rome? She incomparably surpasses the impiety of the Turks, so that in very truth she, who was formerly the gate of heaven, is now a sort of open mouth of hell, and such a mouth as, under the urgent wrath of God, can not be blocked up; one course alone being left to us wretched men,—to call back and save some few, if we can, from that Roman gulf.
"Behold, Leo my father, with what purpose and on what principle it is that I have stormed against that seat of pestilence. I am so far from having felt any rage against your person, that I even hoped to gain favor with you and to aid in your welfare, by striking actively and vigorously at that your prison, nay, your hell. For, whatever the efforts of all intellects can contrive against the confusion of that impious court will be advantageous to you and to your welfare, and to many others with you. Those who do harm to her are doing your work; those who in every way abhor her are glorifying Christ; in short, those are Christians who are not Romans ....
"In fine, that I may not approach your Holiness empty-handed, I bring with me this little book,255 published under your name, as a good omen of the establishment of peace and of good hope. By this you may perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your impious flatterers. It is a small book, if you look to the paper; but, unless I mistake, it is a summary of the Christian life put together in small compass, if you apprehend its meaning. I, in my poverty, have no other present to make you; nor do you need any thing else than to be enriched by a spiritual gift. I commend myself to your Holiness, whom may the Lord Jesus preserve for ever. Amen.
"Wittenberg, 6th September, 1520."
§ 47. The bull of Excommunication. June 15, 1520.
The bull "Exurge, Domine," in the Bullarium Romanum, ed. CAR. Cocquelines, Tom. III., Pars III. (ab anno 1431 ad 1521), pp. 487–493, and in Raynaldus (continuator of Baronius): Annal. Eccl., ad ann. 1520, no. 51 (Tom. XX. fol. 303–306). Raynaldus calls Luther "apostatam nefandissimum," and takes the bull from Cochlaeus, who, besides Eck and Ulemberg (a Protestant apostate), is the chief authority for his meager and distorted account of the German Reformation. A copy of the original edition of the bull is in the Astor Library, New York. See Notes.
U. v. Hutten published the bull with biting glosses: Bulla Decimi Leonis contra errores Lutheri et sequacium, or Die glossirte Bulle (in Hutten’s Opera, ed. Böcking, V. 301–333; in the Erl. ed. of Luther’s Op. Lat., IV. 261–304; also in German in Walch, XV. 1691 sqq.; comp. Strauss: U. v. Hutten, p. 338 sqq.). The glosses in smaller type interrupt the text, or are put on the margin. Luther: Von den neuen Eckischen Bullen und Lügen (Sept. 1520); Adv. execrabilem Antichristi bullam (Nov. 1520); Wider die Bullen des Endchrists (Nov. 1520; the same book as the preceding Latin work, but sharper and stronger); Warum des Papsts und seiner Jünger Bücher verbrannt sind (Lat. and Germ., Dec. 1520); all in Walch, XV. fol. 1674–1917; Erl. ed., XXIV. 14–164, and Op. Lat. V. 132–238; 251–271. Luther’s letters to Spalatin and others on the bull of excommunication, in De Wette, I. 518–532.
Ranke: I. 294–301. Merle D’Aubigné, bk. VI. ch. III. sqq. Hagenbach, III. 100–102. Kahnis: I. 306–341. Köstlin: I. 379–382. Kolde: I. 280 sqq. Janssen: II. 108 sqq.
After the Leipzig disputation, Dr. Eck went to Rome, and strained every nerve to secure the condemnation of Luther and his followers.256 Cardinals Campeggi and Cajetan, Prierias and Aleander, aided him. Cajetan was sick, but had himself carried on his couch into the sessions of the consistory. With considerable difficulty the bull of excommunication was drawn up in May, and after several amendments completed June 15, 1520.257
Nearly three years had elapsed since the publication of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses. In the mean time he had attacked with increasing violence the very foundations of the Roman Church, had denounced popery as an antichristian tyranny, and had dared to appeal from the Pope to a general council, contrary to the decisions of Pius II. and Julius II., who declared such an appeal to be heresy. Between the completion and the promulgation of the bull, he went still further in his, "Address to the German Nobility," and the book on the "Babylonian Captivity," and made a reconciliation impossible except by an absolute surrender, which was a moral impossibility for him. Rome could not tolerate Lutheranism any longer without ceasing to be Rome. She delayed final action only for political and prudential considerations, especially in view of the election of a new German Emperor, and the influential voice of the Elector Frederick, who was offered, but declined, the imperial crown.
The bull of excommunication is the papal counter-manifesto to Luther’s Theses, and condemns in him the whole cause of the Protestant Reformation. Therein lies its historical significance. It was the last bull addressed to Latin Christendom as an undivided whole, and the first which was disobeyed by a large part of it. Instead of causing Luther and his friends to be burnt, it was burnt by Luther. It is an elaborate document, prepared with great care in the usual heavy, turgid, and tedious style of the curia. It breathes the genuine spirit of the papal hierarchy, and mingles the tones of priestly arrogance, concern for truth, abomination of heresy and schism, fatherly sorrow, and penal severity. The Pope speaks as if he were the personal embodiment of the truth, the infallible judge of all matters of faith, and the dispenser of eternal rewards and punishments.
He begins with the words of Ps. 74:22: "Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily. Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually." He calls St. Peter, St. Paul, and the whole body of the saints, to aid against "the boar out of the wood" and "the wild beast of the field" that had broken into the vineyard of the Lord, to waste and destroy it (Ps. 80:13). He expresses deep sorrow at the revival of the Bohemian and other heresies in the noble German nation which had received the empire from the Pope, and shed so much precious blood against heresy. Then he condemns forty-one propositions selected from Luther’s books, as heretical, or at least scandalous and offensive to pious ears, and sentences all his books to the flames. Among the errors named are those relating to the sacramental and hierarchical system, especially the authority of the Pope and the (Roman) Church. The denial of free will (liberum arbitrium) after the fall is also condemned, though clearly taught by St. Augustin. But Luther’s fundamental doctrine of justification by faith is not expressly mentioned. The sentences are torn from the connection, and presented in the most objectionable form as mere negations of Catholic doctrines. The positive views of the Reformer are not stated, or distorted.
For the person of Luther, the Pope professes fatherly love and forbearance, and entreats him once more, by the mercies of God and the blood of Christ, to repent and recant within sixty days after the publication of the bull in the Brandenburg, Meissen, and Merseburg dioceses, and promises to receive him graciously like the prodigal son. But failing to repent, he and his adherents will be cut off, as withered branches, from the vine of Christ, and be punished as obstinate heretics. This means that they shall be burned; for the bull expressly condemns the proposition of Luther which denounces the burning of heretics as "contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit." All princes, magistrates, and citizens are exhorted, on threat of excommunication and promise of reward, to seize Luther and his followers, and to hand him over to the apostolic chair. Places which harbor him or his followers are threatened with the interdict. Christians are forbidden to read, print, or publish any of his books, and are commanded to burn them.
We may infer from this document in what a state of intellectual slavery Christendom would be at the present time if the papal power had succeeded in crushing the Reformation. It is difficult to estimate the debt we owe to Martin Luther for freedom and progress.
The promulgation and execution of the bull were intrusted to two Italian prelates, Aleander and Caraccioli, and to Dr. Eck. The personal enemy of Luther, who had been especially active in procuring the bull, was now sent back in triumph with the dignity of a papal nuncio, and even with the extraordinary power of including by name several followers of Luther, among whom he singled out Carlstadt and Dolzig of Wittenberg, Adelmann of Augsburg, Egranus of Zwickau, and the humanists Pirkheimer and Spengler of Nürnberg. The selection of Eck, the most unpopular man in Germany, was a great mistake of the Pope, as Roman historians admit, and it helped the cause of the Reformation.258
The bull was published and carried out without much difficulty in Mayence, Cologne, and Louvain; and Luther’s books were committed to the flames, with the sanction of the new Emperor. But in Northern Germany, which was the proper seat of the conflict, it met with determined resistance, and was defeated. Eck printed and placarded the bull at Ingolstadt, at Meissen (Sept. 21), at Merseburg (Sept. 25), and at Brandenburg (Sept. 29). But in Leipzig where a year before he had achieved his boasted victory over Luther in public debate, he was insulted by the students (one hundred and fifty had come over from Wittenberg), and took flight in a convent; the bull was bespattered, and torn to pieces.259 He fared still worse in Erfurt, where he had been ridiculed and held up to scorn as a second Hochstraten in the satire Eccius dedolatus (printed at Erfurt in March, 1520): the theological faculty refused to publish the bull; and the students threw the printed copies into the water, saying, "It is only a water-bubble (bulla), let it float on the water."260
Eck sent the bull to the rector of the University of Wittenberg, Oct. 3, 1520, with the request to prohibit the teaching of any of the condemned propositions of Luther, and threatening that, in case of disobedience, the Pope would recall all the liberties and privileges of the university. The professors and counselors of the Elector declined the promulgation for various reasons.
The Elector Frederick was on the way to Aachen to assist at the coronation of Charles V., but was detained at Cologne by the gout. There he received the bull from Aleander after the mass, Nov. 4, and was urged with eloquent words to execute it, and to punish Luther or to send him to Rome; but he cautiously deferred an answer, and sought the advice of Erasmus in the presence of Spalatin. The famous scholar gave it as his judgment, that Luther’s crime consisted in having touched the triple crown of the Pope and the stomachs of the monks;261 he also wrote to Spalatin, after the interview, that the Pope’s bull offended all upright men by its ferocity and was unworthy of a meek vicar of Christ.262 The Elector was thus confirmed in his favorable view of Luther. He sent Spalatin to Wittenberg, where some students had left in consequence of the bull; but Spalatin was encouraged, and found that Melanchthon had about six hundred, Luther four hundred hearers, and that the church was crowded whenever Luther preached. A few weeks afterward the Pope’s bull was burnt.