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Martin Luther

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Leader of the great religious revolt of the sixteenth century in Germany ; born at Eisleben, 10 November, 1483; died at Eisleben, 18 February, 1546.

His father, Hans, was a miner, a rugged, stern, irascible character. In the opinion of many of his biographers, it was an expression of uncontrolled rage, an evident congenital inheritance transmitted to his oldest son, that compelled him to flee from Mohra, the family seat, to escape the penalty or odium of homicide. This, though first charged by Wicelius, a convert from Lutheranism, has found admission into Protestant history and tradition. His mother, Margaret Ziegler, is spoken of by Melancthon as conspicuous for "modesty, the fear of God, and prayerfulness" ("Corpus Reformatorum", Halle, 1834).

Extreme simplicity and inflexible severity characterized their home life, so that the joys of childhood were virtully unknown to him. His father once beat him so mercilessly that he ran away from home and was so "embittered against him that he had to win me to himself again." His mother, "on account of an insignificant nut, beat me till the blood flowed, and it was this harshness and severity of the life I led with them that forced me subsequently to run away to a monastery and become a monk." The same cruelty was the experience of his earliest school-days, when in one morning he was punished no less than fifteen times.

The meager data of his life at this period make it a work of difficulty to reconstruct his childhood. His schooling at Mansfeld, whither his parents had returned, was uneventful. He attended a Latin school, in which the Ten Commandments, "Child's Belief", the Lord's Prayer, the Latin grammar of Donatus were taught, and which he learned quickly.

In his fourteenth year (1497) he entered a school at Magdeburg, where, in the words of his first biographer, like many children "of honourable and well-to-do parents, he sang and begged for bread -- panem propter Deum " (Mathesius, op. cit.). In his fifteenth year we find him at Eisenach.

At eighteen (1501) he entered the University of Erfurt, with a view to studying jurisprudence at the request of his father. In 1502 he received the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy, being the thirteenth among fifty-seven candidates. On Epiphany (6 January, 1505), he was advanced to the master's degree, being second among seventeen applicants.

His philosophical studies were no doubt made under Jodocus Trutvetter von Eisenach, then rector of the university, and Bartholomaus Arnoldi von Usingen. The former was pre-eminently the Doctor Erfordiensis , and stood without an admitted rival in Germany. Luther addresses him in a letter (1518) as not only "the first theologian and philosopher ", but also the first of contemporary dialecticians. Usingen was an Augustinian friar, and second only to Trutvetter in learning, but surpassing him in literary productivity. Although the tone of the university, especially that of the students, was pronouncedly, even enthusiastically, humanistic, and although Erfurt led the movement in Germany, and in its theological tendencies was supposedly "modern", nevertheless "it nowise showed a depreciation of the currently prevailing [ Scholastic ] system" (ibid.). Luther himself, in spite of an acquaintaince with some of the moving spirits of humanism, seems not to have been appreciably affected by it, lived on its outer fringe, and never qualified to enter its "poetic" circle.

Luther's sudden and unexpected entrance into the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt occurred 17 July, 1505. The motives that prompted the step are various, conflicting, and the subject of considerable debate. He himself alleges, as above stated, that the brutality of his home and school life drove him into the monastery. Hausrath, his latest biographer and one of the most scholarly Luther specialists, unreservedly inclines to this belief. The "house at Mansfeld rather repelled than attracted him" (Beard, "Martin Luther and the Germ. Ref.", London, 1889, 146), and to "the question 'Why did Luther go into the monastery ?', the reply that Luther himself gives is the most satisfactory" (Hausrath, "Luthers Leben" I, Berlin, 1904, 2, 22). He himself again, in a letter to his father, in explanation of his defection from the Old Church, writes, "When I was terror-stricken and overwhelmed by the fear of impending death, I made an involuntary and forced vow ". Various explanations are given of this episode. Melancthon ascribes his step to a deep melancholy, which attained a critical point "when at one time he lost one of his comrades by an accidental death" (Corp. Ref., VI, 156). Cochlaeus, Luther's opponent, relates "that at one time he was so frightened in a field, at a thunderbolt as is commonly reported, or was in such anguish at the loss of a companion, who was killed in the storm, that in a short time to the amazement of many persons he sought admission to the Order of St. Augustine". Mathesius, his first biographer, attributes it to the fatal "stabbing of a friend and a terrible storm with a thunderclap" (op. cit.) Seckendorf, who made careful research, following Bavarus (Beyer), a pupil of Luther, goes a step farther, calling this unknown friend Alexius, and ascribes his death to a thunderbolt (Seckendorf, "Ausfuhrliche Historie des Lutherthums", Leipzig, 1714, 51). D'Aubigné changes this Alexius into Alexis and has him assassinated at Erfurt (D'Aubigné, "History of the Reformation", New York, s.d., I, 166). Oerger ("Vom jungen Luther", Erfurt, 1899, 27-41) has proved the existence of this friend, his name of Alexius or Alexis, his death by lightning or assassination, a mere legend, destitute of all historical verification. Kostlin-Kawerau (I, 45) states that returning from his "Mansfeld home he was overtaken by a terrible storm, with an alarming lightning flash and thunderbolt. Terrified and overwhelmed he cries out: 'Help, St. Anna, I will be a monk '." "The inner history of the change is far less easy to narrate. We have no direct contemporary evidence on which to rely; while Luther's own reminiscences, on which we chiefly depend, are necessarily coloured by his later experiences and feelings" (Beard, op.cit., 146).

Of Luther's monastic life we have little authentic information, and that is based on his own utterances, which his own biographers frankly admit are highly exaggerated, frequently contradictory, and commonly misleading. Thus the alleged custom by which he was forced to change his baptismal name Martin into the monastic name Augustine, a proceeding he denounces as "wicked" and "sacrilegious", certainly had no existence in the Augustinian Order. His accidental discovery in the Erfurt monastery library of the Bible , "a book he had never seen in his life" (Mathesius, op. cit.), or Luther's assertion that he had "never seen a Bible until he was twenty years of age", or his still more emphatic declaration that when Carlstadt was promoted to the doctorate "he had as yet never seen a Bible and I alone in the Erfurt monastery read the Bible ", which, taken in their literal sense, are not only contrary to demonstrable facts, but have perpetuated misconception, bear the stamp of improbability written in such obtrusive characters on their face, that it is hard, on an honest assumption, to account for their longevity. The Augustinian rule lays especial stress on the monition that the novice "read the Scripture assiduously, hear it devoutly, and learn it fervently" (Constitutiones Ordinis Fratr. Eremit. Sti. Augustini", Rome, 1551, cap. xvii). At this very time Biblical studies were in a flourishing condition at the university, so that its historian states that "it is astonishing to meet such a great number of Biblical commentaries, which force us to conclude that theres an active study of Holy Writ " (Kampschulte, op.cit., I, 22). Protestant writers of repute have abandoned this legend altogether. Parenthetical mention must be made of the fact that the denunciation heaped on Luther's novice-master by Mathesius, Ratzeberger, and Jurgens, and copied with uncritical docility by their transcribers -- for subjecting him to the most abject menial duties and treating him with outrageous indignity -- rests on no evidence. These writers are "evidently led by hearsay, and follow the legendary stories that have been spun about the person of the reformer" (Oerger, op.cit., 80). The nameless novice-master, whom even Luther designates as "an excellent man, and without doubt even under the damned cowl, a true Christian," must "have been a worthy representative of his order" (Oerger, op.cit.).

Luther was ordained to the priesthood in 1507. The precise date is uncertain. A strange oversight, running through three centuries, placed the date of his ordination and first Mass on the same day, 2 May, an impossible coincidence. Kostlin, who repeated it (Luther's Leben, I, 1883, 63) drops the date altogether in his latest edition. Oerger fixes on 27 February. This allows the unprecedented interval of more than two months to elapse between the ordination and first Mass. Could he have deferred his first Mass on account of the morbid scrupulosity, which played such a part in the later periods of his monastic life ?

There is no reason to doubt that Luther's monastic career thus far was exemplary, tranquil, happy ; his heart at rest, his mind undisturbed, his soul at peace. The metaphysical disquisitions, psychological dissertations, pietistic maunderings about his interior conflicts, his theological wrestlings, his torturing asceticism, his chafing under monastic conditions, can have little more than an academic, possibly a psychopathic value. They lack all basis of verifiable data. Unfortunately Luther himself in his self-revelation can hardly be taken as a safe guide. Moreover, with an array of evidence, thoroughness of research, fullness of knowledge, and unrivalled mastery of monasticism, scholasticism, and mysticism, Denifle has removed it from the domain of debatable ground to that of verifiable certainty. "What Adolf Hausrath has done in an essay for the Protestant side, was accentuated and confirmed with all possible penetration by Denifle ; the young Luther according to his self-revelation is unhistorical; he was not the discontented Augustinian, nagged by the monastic life, perpetually tortured by his conscience, fasting, praying, mortified, and emaciated -- no, he was happy in the monastery, he found peace there, to which he turned his back only later" (Kohler, op.cit., 68-69).

During the winter of 1508-09 he was sent to the University of Wittenberg, then in its infancy (founded 2 July, 1502), with an enrolment of one hundred and seventy-nine students. The town itself was a poor insignificant place, with three hundred and fifty-six taxable properties, and accredited the most bibulous town of the most bibulous province ( Saxony ) of Germany. While teaching philosophy and dialectics he also continued his theological studies. On 9 March, 1509, under the deanship of Staupitz, he became Baccalaureus Biblicus in the theological course, as a stepping-stone to the doctorate. His recall to Erfurt occurred the same year.

His mission to Rome, extending over an estimated period of five months, one of which he spent in the city of Rome, which played so important a part in his early biographies, and even now is far from a negligible factor in Reformation research, occurred in 1511, or, as some contend, 1510. Its true object has thus far baffled all satisfactory investigation. Mathesius makes him go from Wittenberg on "monastic business"; Melancthon attributes it to a "monkish squabble"; Cochlaeus, and he is in the main followed by Catholic investigators, makes him appear as the delegated representative of seven allied Augustinian monasteries to voice a protest against some innovations of Staupitz, but as deserting his clients and siding with Staupitz. Protestants say he was sent to Rome as the advocate of Staupitz. Luther himself states that it was a pilgrimage in fulfilment of a vow to make a general confession in the Eternal City.

The outcome of the mission, like its object, still remains shrouded in mystery. What was the effect of this Roman visit on his spiritual life or theological thought? Did "this visit turn his reverence for Rome into loathing"? Did he find it "a sink of iniquity, its priests, infidels, the papal courtiers, men of shameless lives?" (Lindsay, "Luther and the German Reformation", New York, 1900). "He returned from Rome as strong in the faith as he went to visit it. In a certain sense his sojourn in Rome even strengthened his religious convictions" (Hausrath, op.cit., 98), "In his letters of those years he never mentions having been in Rome. In his conference with Cardinal Cajetan, in his disputations with Dr. Eck, in his letters to Pope Leo, nay, in his tremendous broadside of invective and accusation against all things Romish, in his 'Address to the German Nation and Nobility', there occurs not one unmistakable reference to his having been in Rome. By every rule of evidence we are bound to hold that when the most furious assailant Rome has ever known described from a distance of ten years upwards the incidents of a journey through Italy to Rome, the few touches of light in his picture are more trustworthy than its black breadths of shade" (Bayne, "Martin Luther", I, 234). His whole Roman experience as expressed in later life is open to question. "We can really question the importance attached to remarks which in a great measure date from the last years of his life, when he was really a changed man. Much that he relates as personal experience is manifestly the product of an easily explained self-delusion" (Hausrath, op.cit., 79).

One of the incidents of the Roman mission, which at one time was considered a pivotal point in his career, and was calculated to impart an inspirational character to the leading doctrine of the Reformation, and is still detailed by his biographers, was his supposed experience while climbing the Scala Santa. According to it, while Luther was in the act of climbimg the stairs on his knees, the thought suddenly flashed through his mind : "The just shall live by faith ", whereupon he immediately discontinued his pious devotion. The story rests on an autograph insertion of his son Paul in a Bible, now in possession of the library of Rudolstadt. In it he claims that his father told him the incident. Its historic value may be gauged by the considerations that it is the personal recollections of an immature lad (he was born in 1533) recorded twenty years after the event, to which neither his father, his early biographers, nor his table companions before whom it is claimed the remark was made, allude, though it could have been of primary importance. "It is easy to see the tendency here to date the (theological) attitude of the Reformer back into the days of his monastic faith " (Hausrath, op.cit., 48).

Having acquitted himself with evident success, and in a manner to please both parties, Luther returned to Wittenberg in 1512, and received the appointment of sub-prior. His academic promotions followed in quick succession. On 4 October he was made licentiate, and on 19 October, under the deanship of Carlstadt -- successively friend, rival, and enemy -- he was admitted to the doctorate, being then in his thirtieth year. On 22 October he was formally admitted to the senate of the faculty of theology, and received the appointment as lecturer on the Bible in 1513. His further appointment as district vicar in 1515 made him the official representative of the vicar-general in Saxony and Thuringia. His duties were manifold and his life busy. Little time was left for intellectual pursuits, and the increasing irregularity in the performance of his religious duties could only bode ill for his future. He himself tells us that he needed two secretaries or chancellors, wrote letters all day, preached at table, also in the monastery and parochial churches, was superintendent of studies, and as vicar of the order had as much to do as eleven priors ; he lectured on the psalms and St. Paul, besides the demand made on his economic resourcefulness in managing a monastery of twenty-two priests, twelve young men, in all forty-one inmates. His official letters breathe a deep solicitude for the wavering, gentle sympathy for the fallen; they show profound touches of religious feeling and rare practical sense, though not unmarred with counsels that have unorthodox tendencies. The plague which afflicted Wittenberg in 1516 found him courageously at his post, which, in spite of the concern of his friends, he would not abandon.

But in Luther's spiritual life significant, if not ominous, changes were likewise discernible. Whether he entered "the monastery and deserted the world to flee from despair " (Jurgens, op.cit., I,522) and did not find the coveted peace; whether the expressed apprehensions of his father that the "call from heaven " to the monastic life might be a "satanic delusion" stirred up thoughts of doubt ; whether his sudden, violent resolve was the result of one of those "sporadic overmastering torpors which interrupt the circulatory system or indicate arterial convulsion" (Hausrath, "Luthers Leben", I, 22), a heritage of his depressing childhood, and a chronic condition that clung to him to the end of his life; or whether deeper studies, for which he had little or no time, created doubts that would not be solved and aroused a conscience that would not be stilled, it is evident that his vocation, if it ever existed, was in jeopardy, that the morbid interior conflict marked a drifting from old moorings, and that the very remedies adopted to re-establish peace all the more effectually banished it.

This condition of morbidity finally developed into formal scrupulosity. Infractions of the rules, breaches of discipline, distorted ascetic practices followed in quick succession and with increasing gravity; these, followed by spasmodic convulsive reactions, made life an agony. The solemn obligation of reciting the daily Office, an obligation binding under the penalty of mortal sin, was neglected to allow more ample time for study, with the result that the Breviary was abandoned for weeks. Then in paroxysmal remorse Luther would lock himself into his cell and by one retroactive act make amends for all he neglected; he would abstain from all food and drink, torture himself by harrowing mortifications, to an extent that not only made him the victim of insomnia for five weeks at one time, but threatened to drive him into insanity. The prescribed and regulated ascetical exercises were arbitrarily set aside. Disregarding the monastic regulations and the counsels of his confessor, he devised his own, which naturally gave him the character of singularity in his community. Like every victim of scrupulosity, he saw nothing in himself but wickedness and corruption. God was the minister of wrath and vengeance. His sorrow for sin was devoid of humble charity and childlike confidence in the pardoning mercy of God and Jesus Christ.

This anger of God, which pursued him like his shadow, could only be averted by "his own righteousness", by the "efficacy of servile works". Such an attitude of mind was necessarily followed by hopeless discouragement and sullen despondency, creating a condition of soul in which he actually "hated God and was angry at him", blasphemed God, and deplored that he was ever born. This abnormal condition produced a brooding melancholy, physical, mental, and spiritual depression, which later, by a strange process of reasoning, he ascribed to the teaching of the Church concerning good works, while all the time he was living in direct and absolute opposition to its doctrinal teaching and disciplinary code.

Of course this self-willed positiveness and hypochondriac asceticism, as usually happens in cases of morbidly scrupulous natures, found no relief in the sacraments. His general confessions at Erfurt and Rome did not touch the root of the evil. His whole being was wrought up to such an acute tension that he actually regretted his parents were not dead, that he might avail himself of the facilities Rome afforded to save them from purgatory. For religion's sake he was ready to become "the most brutal murderer", "to kill all who even by syllable refused submission to the pope " (Sämmtliche Werke, XXXX, Erlangen, 284). Such a tense and neurotic physical condition demanded a reaction, and, as frequently occurs in analogous cases, it went to the diametric extreme.

The undue importance he had placed on his own strength in the spiritual process of justification, he now peremptorily and completely rejected. He convinced himself that man, as a consequence of original sin, was totally depraved, destitute of free will, that all works, even though directed towards the good, were nothing more than an outgrowth of his corrupted will, and in the judgments of God in reality mortal sins. Man can be saved by faith alone. Our faith in Christ makes His merits our possession, envelops us in the garb of righteousness, which our guilt and sinfulness hide, and supplies in abundance every defect of human righteousness.

Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice : sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away thesins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders " (Enders, "Briefwechsel", III, 208).

The new doctrine of justification by faith, now in its inchoate stage, gradually developed, and was finally fixed by Luther as one of the central doctrines of Christianity. The epoch-making event connected with the publication of the papal Bull of Indulgences in Germany, which was that of Julius II renewed in adaptable form by Leo X, to raise funds for the construction of St. Peter's Church in Rome, brought his spiritual difficulties to a crisis.

Albert of Brandenburg was heavily involved in debt, not, as Protestant and Catholic historians relate, on account of his pallium, but to pay a bribe to an unknown agent in Rome, to buy off a rival, in order that the archbishop might enjoy a plurality of ecclesiastical offices. For this payment, which smacked of simony, the pope would allow an indemnity, which in this case took the form of an indulgence. By this ignoble business arrangement with Rome, a financial transaction unworthy of both pope and archbishop, the revenue should be partitioned in equal halves to each, besides a bonus of 10,000 gold ducats, which should fall to the share of Rome.

John Tetzel, a Dominican monk with an impressive personality, a gift of popular oratory, and the repute of a successful indulgence preacher, was chosen by the archbishop as general-subcommissary. History presents few characters more unfortunate and pathetic than Tetzel. Among his contemporaries the victim of the most corrosive ridicule, every foul charge laid at his door, every blasphemous utterance placed in his mouth, a veritable fiction and fable built about his personality, in modern history held up as the proverbial mountebank and oily harlequin, denied even the support and sympathy of his own allies -- Tetzel had to wait the light of modern critical scrutiny, not only for a moral rehabilitation, but also for vindication as a soundly trained theologian and a monk of irreproachable deportment. It was his preaching at Juterbog and Zerbst, towns adjoining Wittenberg, that drew hearers from there, who in turn presented themselves to Luther for confession, that made him take the step he had in contemplation for more than a year.

It is not denied that a doctrine like that of the indulgences, which in some aspects was still a disputable subject in the schools, was open to misunderstanding by the laity ; that the preachers in the heat of rhetorical enthusiasm fell into exaggerated statements, or that the financial considerations attached, though not of an obligatory character, led to abuse and scandal. The opposition to indulgences, not to the doctrine -- which remains the same to this day -- but to the mercantile methods pursued in preaching them, was not new or silent. Duke George of Saxony prohibited them in his territory, and Cardinal Ximenes, as early as 1513, forbade them in Spain.

On 31 October, 1517, the vigil of All Saints', Luther affixed to the castle church door, which served as the "black-board" of the university, on which all notices of disputations and high academic functions were displayed, his Ninety-five Theses. The act was not an open declaration of war, but simply an academic challenge to a disputation. "Such disputations were regarded in the universities of the Middle Ages partly as a recognized means of defining and elucidating truth, partly as a kind of mental gymnastic apt to train and quicken the faculties of the disputants. It was not understood that a man was always ready to adopt in sober earnest propositions which he was willing to defend in the academic arena; and in like manner a rising disputant might attack orthodox positions, without endangering his reputation for orthodoxy " (Beard, op. cit.). The same day he sent a copy of the Theses with an explanatory letter to the archbishop. The latter in turn submitted them to his councillors at Aschaffenburg and to the professors of the University of Mainz. The councillors were of the unanimous opinion that they were of an heretical character, and that proceedings against the Wittenberg Augustinian should be taken. This report, with a copy of the Theses, was then transmitted to the pope. It will thus be seen that the first judicial procedure against Luther did not emanate from Tetzel. His weapons were to be literary.

Tetzel, more readily than some of the contemporary brilliant theologians, divined the revolutionary import of the Theses, which while ostensibly aimed at the abuse of indulgences, were a covert attack on the whole penitential system of the Church and struck at the very root of ecclesiastical authority. Luther's Theses impress the reader "as thrown together somewhat in haste", rather than showing "carefully digested thought, and delicate theological intention"; they "bear him one moment into the audacity of rebellion and then carry him back to the obedience of conformity" (Beard, 218, 219). Tetzel's anti-theses were maintained partly in a disputation for the doctorate at Frankfort-on-the-Oder (20 Jan., 1518), and issued with others in am unnumbered list, and are commonly known as the One Hundred and Six Theses. They, however, did not have Tetzel for their author, but were promptly and rightfully attributed to Conrad Wimpina, his teacher at Leipzig. That this fact argues no ignorance of theology or unfamiliarity with Latin on the part of Tetzel, as has been generally assumed, is frankly admitted by Protestant writers. It was simply a legitimate custom pursued in academic circles, as we know from Melancthon himself.

Tetzel's Theses -- for he assumed all responsibility -- opposed to Luther's innovations the traditional teaching of the church; but it must be admitted that they at times gave an uncompromising, even dogmatic, sanction to mere theological opinions, that were hardly consonant with the most accurate scholarship. At Wittenberg they created wild excitement, and an unfortunate hawker who offered them for sale, was mobbed by the students, and his stock of about eight hundred copies publicly burned in the market square -- a proceeding that met with Luther's disapproval. The plea then made, and still repeated, that it was done in retaliation for Tetzel's burning Luther's Theses, is admittedly incorrect, in spite of the fact that it has Melancthon as sponsor. Instead of replying to Tetzel, Luther carried the controversy from the academic arena to the public forum by issuing in popular vernacular form his "Sermon on Indulgences and Grace". It was really a tract, where the sermon form was abandoned and twenty propositions laid down. At the same time his Latin defence of the Theses, the "Resolutiones", was well under way. In its finished form, it was sent to his ordinary, Bishop Scultetus of Brandenburg, who counselled silence and abstention from all further publications for the present. Luther's acquiescence was that of the true monk : "I am ready, and will rather obey than perform miracles in my justification."

At this stage a new source of contention arose. Johann Eck, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ingoldstadt, by common consent acknowledged as one of the foremost theological scholars of his day, endowed with rare dialectical skill and phenomenal memory, all of which Luther candidly admitted before the Leipzig disputation took place, innocently became involved in the controversy. At the request of Bishop von Eyb, of Eichstätt, he subjected the Theses to a closer study, singled out eighteen of them as concealing the germ of the Hussite heresy, violating Christian charity, subverting the order of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and breeding sedition. These "Obelisci" ("obelisks", the odd printer's device for noting doubtful or spurious passages) were submitted to the bishop in manuscript form, passed around among intimates, and not intended for publication. In one of the transcribed forms, they reached Luther and wrought him up to a high pitch of indignation. Eck in a letter of explanation sought to mollify the ruffled tempers of Carlstadt and Luther and in courteous, urgent tones begged them to refrain from public disputation either by lecture or print. In spite of the fact that Carlstadt forestalled Luther, the latter gave out his "Asterisci" (10 August, 1518). This skirmish led to the Leipzig Disputation. Sylvester Prierias, like Tetzel, a Dominican friar, domestic theologian of the Court of Rome, in his official capacity as Censor Librorum of Rome, next submitted his report "In præsumtuosas M. Lutheri, Conclusiones Dialogus". In it he maintained the absolute supremacy of the pope, in terms not altogether free from exaggeration, especially stretching his theory to an unwarrantable point in dealing with indulgences. This evoked Luther's "Responsio ad Silv. Prierietatis Dialogum". Hoogstraten, whose merciless lampooning in the "Epistolae Obscurorum Vivorum" was still a living memory, likewise entered the fray in defence of the papal prerogatives, only to be dismissed by Luther's "Schedam contra Hochstratanum", the flippancy and vulgarity of which one of Luther's most ardent students apologetically characterizes as being "in tone with the prevailing taste of the time and the circumstances, but not to be commended as worthy of imitation" (Loscher, op.cit., II, 325).

Before the "Dialogus" of Prierias reached Germany, a papal citation reached Luther (7 August) to appear in person within sixty days in Rome for a hearing. He at once took refuge in the excuse that such a trip could not be undertaken without endangering his life; he sought influence to secure the refusal of a safe-conduct through the electorate and brought pressure to bear on the Emperor Maximilian and Elector Frederick to have the hearing and judges appointed in Germany. The university sent letters to Rome and to the nuncio Miltitz sustaining the plea of "infirm health" and vouching for his orthodoxy. His literary activity continued unabated. His "Resolutiones", which were already completed, he also sent to the pope (30 May). The letter accompanying them breathes the most loyal expression of confidence and trust in the Holy See , and is couched in such terms of abject subserviency and fulsome adulation, that its sincerity and frankness, followed as it was by such an almost instantaneous revulsion, is instinctively questioned. Moreover before this letter had been written his anticipatory action in preaching his "Sermon on the Power of Excommunication" (16 May), in which it is contended that visible union with the Church is not broken by excommunication, but by sin alone, only strengthens the surmise of a lack of good faith. The inflammatory character of this sermon was fully acknowledged by himself.

Influential intervention had the effect of having the hearing fixed during the Diet of Augsburg, which was called to effect an alliance between the Holy See, the Emperor Maximilian, and King Christian of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, in the war against the Turks. In the official instructions calling the Diet, the name or cause of Luther does not figure.

The papal legate, Cajetan, and Luther met face to face for the first time at Augsburg on 11 October. Cajetan (b. 1470) was "one of the most remarkable figures woven into the history of the Reformation on the Roman side . . . a man of erudition and blameless life" (Weizacker); he was a doctor of philosophy before he was twenty-one, at this early age filling chairs with distinction in both sciences at some of the leading universities ; in humanistic studies he was so well versed as to enter the dialectic arena against Pico della Mirandola when only twenty-four. Surely no better qualified man could be detailed to adjust the theological difficulties. But the audiences were doomed to failure. Cajetan came to adjudicate, Luther to defend; the former demanded submission, the latter launched out into remonstrance; the one showed a spirit of mediating patience, the other mistook it for apprehensive fear ; the prisoner at the bar could not refrain from bandying words with the judge on the bench. The legate, with the reputation of "the most renowned and easily the first theologian of his age", could not fail to be shocked at the rude, discourteous, bawling tone of the friar, and having exhausted all his efforts, he dismissed him with the injunction not to call again until he recanted. Fiction and myth had a wide sweep in dealing with this meeting and have woven such an inextricable web of obscurity about it that we must follow either the highly coloured narratives of Luther and his friends, or be guided by the most trustworthy criterion of logical conjecture.

The papal Brief to Cajetan (23 August), which was handed to Luther at Nuremberg on his way home, in which the pope, contrary to all canonical precedents, demands the most summary action in regard to the uncondemned and unexcommunicated "child of iniquity", asks the aid of the emperor, in the event of Luther's refusal to appear in Rome, to place him under forcible arrest, was no doubt written in Germany, and is an evident forgery (Beard, op. cit., 257-258; Ranke, "Deutsche Gesch." VI, 97-98). Like all forged papal documents, it still shows a surprising vitality, and is found in every biography of Luther.

Luther's return to Wittenberg occurred on the anniversary of his nailing the Theses to the castle church door (31 October, 1518). All efforts towards a recantation having failed, and now assured of the sympathy and support of the temporal princes, he followed his appeal to the pope by a new appeal to an ecumenical council (28 November, 1518), which, as will be seen later, he again, denying the authority of both, followed by an appeal to the Bible .

The appointment of Karl von Miltitz , the young Saxon nobleman in minor orders, sent as nuncio to deliver the Golden Rose to the Elector Frederick, was unfortunate and abortive. The Golden Rose was not offered as a sop to secure the good graces of the elector, but in response to prolonged and importunate agitation on his part to get it (Hausrath, "Luther", I, 276). Miltitz not only lacked prudence and tact, but in his frequent drinking bouts lost all sense of diplomatic reticence; by continually borrowing from Luther's friends he placed himself in a position only to inspire contempt. It is true that his unauthorized overtures drew from Luther an act, which if it "is no recantation, is at least remarkably like one" (Beard, op.cit., 274). In it he promised:

  • to observe silence if his assailants did the same;
  • complete submission to the pope ;
  • to publish a plain statement to the public advocating loyalty to the Church ;
  • to place the whole vexatious case in the hands of a delegated bishop.
  • The whole transaction closed with a banquet, an embrace, tears of joy, and a kiss of peace -- only to be disregarded and ridiculed afterwards by Luther. The nuncio's treatment of Tetzel was severe and unjust. When the sick and ailing man could not come to him on account of the heated public sentiment against him, Miltitz on his visit to Leipzig summoned him to a meeting, in which he overwhelmed him with reproaches and charges, stigmatized him as the originator of the whole unfortunate affair, threatened the displeasure of the pope, and no doubt hastened the impending death of Tetzel (1 August, 1519).

    While the preliminaries of the Leipzig Disputation were pending, a true insight into Luther's real attitude towards the papacy, the subject which would form the main thesis of discussion, can best be gleaned from his own letters. On 3 March, 1519, he writes Leo X : "Before God and all his creatures, I bear testimony that I neither did desire, nor do desire to touch or by intrigue to undermine the authority of the Roman Church and that of your holiness" (De Wette, op. cit., I, 234). Two days later (5 March) he writes to Spalatin: "It was never my intention to revolt from the Roman Apostolic chair " (De Wette, op. cit., I, 236). Ten days later (13 March) he writes to the same: "I am at a loss to know whether the pope be antichrist or his apostle " (De Wette, op. cit., I, 239). A month before this (20 Feb.) he thanks Scheurl for sending him the foul "Dialogue of Julius and St. Peter", a most poisonous attack on the papacy, saying he is sorely tempted to issue it in the vernacular to the public (De Wette, op. cit., I, 230). "To prove Luther's consistency -- to vindicate his conduct at all points, as faultless both in veracity and courage -- under those circumstances, may be left to myth-making simpletons" (Bayne, op. cit., I, 457).

    The Leipzig disputation was an important factor in fixing the alignment of both disputants, and forcing Luther's theological evolution. It was an outgrowth of the "Obelisci" and "Asterisci", which was taken up by Carlstadt during Luther's absence at Heidelberg in 1518. It was precipitated by the latter, and certainly not solicited or sought by Eck. Every obstacle was placed in the way of its taking place, only to be brushed aside. The Bishops of Merseburg and Brandenburg issued their official inhibitions; the theological faculty of the Leipzig University sent a letter of protest to Luther not to meddle in an affair that was purely Carlstadt's, and another to Duke George to prohibit it. Scheurl, then an intimate of Luther's, tried to dissuade him from the meeting; Eck, in terms pacific and dignified, replied to Carlstadt's offensive, and Luther's pugnacious letters, in fruitless endeavour to avert all public controversy either in print or lecture; Luther himself, pledged and forbidden all public discourse or print, begged Duke Frederick to make an endeavour to bring about the meeting (De Wette, op.cit., I, 175) at the same time that he personally appealed to Duke George for permission to allow it, and this in spite of the fact that he had already given the theses against Eck to the public. In the face of such urgent pressure Eck could not fail to accept the challenge. Even at this stage Eck and Carlstadt were to be the accredited combatants, and the formal admission of Luther into the disputation was only determined upon when the disputants were actually at Leipzig.

    The disputation on Eck's twelve, subsequently thirteen, theses, was opened with much parade and ceremony on 27 June, and the university aula being too small, was conducted at the Pleissenburg Castle. The wordy battle was between Carlstadt and Eck on the subject of Divine grace and human free will. As is well known, it ended in the former's humiliating discomfiture. Luther and Eck's discussion, 4 July, was on papal supremacy. The former, though gifted with a brilliant readiness of speech, lacked -- and his warmest admirers admit it -- the quiet composure, curbed self-restraint, and unruffled temper of a good disputant. The result was that the imperturbable serenity and unerring confidence of Eck, had an exasperating effect on him. He was "querulous and censorious", "arbitrary and bitter" (Mosellanus), which hardly contributed to the advantage of his cause, either in argumentation or with his hearers. Papal supremacy was denied by him, because it found no warrant in Holy Writ or in Divine right. Eck's comments on the "pestilential" errors of Wiclif and Hus condemned by the Council of Constance was met by the reply, that, so far as the position of the Hussites was concerned, there were among them many who were "very Christian and evangelical". Eck took his antagonist to task for placing the individual in a position to understand the Bible better than the popes, councils, doctors, and universities, and in pressing his argument closer, asserting that the condemned Bohemians would not hesitate to hail him as their patron, elicited the ungentle remonstrance "that is a shameless lie". Eck, undisturbed and with the instinct of the trained debater, drove his antagonist still further, until he finally admitted the fallibility of an ecumenical council, upon which he closed the discussion with the laconic remark: "If you believe a legitimately assembled council can err and has erred, then you are to me as a heathen and publican " (Köstlin-Kawerau, op. cit., I, 243-50). This was 15 July. Luther returned sullen and crestfallen to Wittenberg, from what had proved to him an inglorious tournament.

    The disastrous outcome of the disputation drove him to reckless, desperate measures. He did not scruple, at this stage, to league himself with the most radical elements of national humanism and freebooting knighthood, who in their revolutionary propaganda hailed him as a most valuable ally.

    His comrades in arms now were Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen, with the motley horde of satellites usually found in the train of such leadership. With Melancthon, himself a humanist, as an intermediary, a secret correspondence was opened with Hutten, and to all appearances Sickingen was directly or indirectly in frequent communication. Hutten, though a man of uncommon talent and literary brilliancy, a moral degenerate, without conscience or character. Sickingen, the prince of condottieri , was a solid mercenary and political marplot, whose daring deeds and murderous atrocities form a part of German legendary lore. With his three impregnable fastnesses, Ebernburg, Landstuhl, and Hohenburg, with their adventurous soldiery, fleet-footed cavalry, and primed artillery, "who took to robbery as to a trade and considered it rather an

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