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Life of Luther by Julius Koestlin

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there, eating and drinking, as a matter of duty, but that he would
much rather be away.

To Luther, however, the post of high dignity to which he was now
promoted brought new fear and anxiety. He had now to appear before God
as a priest; to have Christ's Body, the very Christ Himself, and God
actually present before him at the mass on the altar; to offer the
Body of Christ as a sacrifice to the living and eternal God. Added
to this, there were a multitude of forms to observe, any oversight
wherein was a sin. All this so overpowered him at his first mass,
that he could scarcely remain at the altar; he was well-nigh, as he
said afterwards, a dead man.

With these priestly functions he united an assiduous devotion to his
saints. By reading mass every morning, he invoked twenty-one
particular saints, whom he had chosen as his helpers, taking three
at a time, so as to include them all within the week.

As regards the most important problems of life, his study of the
Scriptures gradually revealed to him the light which determined his
future convictions. The path had already been pointed out to him by
the words of St. Paul quoted by St. Bernard. When looking back, at
the close of his life, on this his inward development, he tells us
how perplexed he had been by what St. Paul said of the
'righteousness of God' (Rom. i. 17). For a long time he troubled
himself about the expression, connecting it as he did, according to
the ruling theology of the day, with God's righteousness in His
punishment of sinners. Day and night he pondered over the meaning
and context of the Apostle's words. But at length, he adds, God in
His great mercy revealed to him that what St. Paul and the gospel
proclaimed was a righteousness given freely to us by the grace of
God, Who forgives those who have faith in His message of mercy, and
justifies them, and gives them eternal life. Therewith the gate of
heaven was opened to him, and thenceforth the whole remaining
purport of God's word became clearly revealed. Still it was only by
degrees, during the latter portion of his stay at Erfurt, and even
after that, that he arrived at this full perception of the truth.

After their ordination the monks received the title of fathers.
Luther was not as yet relieved of the duty of going out with a
brother in quest of alms. But he was soon employed in the more
important business of the Order, as, for instance, in transactions
with a high official of the Archbishop, in which he displayed great
zeal for the priesthood and for his Order.

With the Scholastic theology of his time, albeit even now in a path
marked out by himself, his keen understanding and happy memory had
enabled him to become thoroughly familiar. He was scarcely twenty-five
years old when Staupitz, occupied with making provision for the
newly-founded university of Wittenberg, recognised in him the right
man for a professorial chair.



Wittenberg was at that time the youngest of the German universities.
It was founded in 1502 by the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony,
a man pre-eminent among the German princes, not only from his
prudence and circumspection, but also from his faithful care for his
country, his genuine love for knowledge, and his deep religious
feeling. His country was not a rich one. Wittenberg itself was a
poor, badly-built town of about three thousand inhabitants. But the
Elector showed his wisdom above all by his right choice of men whom
he consulted in his work, and to whose hands he entrusted its
conduct. These, in their turn, were very careful to select talented
and trustworthy teachers for the institution, which was to depend
for its success on the attractions offered by pure learning, and not
those of outward show and a luxurious style of life among the
students. The supervision of theology was entrusted by Frederick to
Staupitz, whom personally he held in high esteem, and who, together
with the learned and versatile Martin Pollich of Melrichstadt, had
already been the most active in his service in promoting the
foundation of the university. Staupitz himself entered the
theological faculty as its first Dean. A constant or regular
application to his duties was rendered impossible by the
multifarious business of his Order, and the journeys it entailed.
But in his very capacity of Vicar-General, he strove to supply the
theological needs of the university, and, by the means of education
thus offered, to assist the members of his Order. Already before
this the Augustinian monks had had a settlement at Wittenberg,
though little is known about it. A handsome convent was built for
them in 1506. In a short time young inmates of this convent, and
afterwards more monks of the same Order who came from other parts,
entered the university as students and took academical degrees. The
patron saint of the University was, next to the Virgin Mary, St.
Augustine. Trutvetter of Erfurt became professor of theology at
Wittenberg in 1507. It was early in the winter of 1508-9, when
Staupitz, who had been re-elected for the second time, was still
dean of the theological faculty, that Luther was suddenly and
unexpectedly summoned thither. He had to obey not merely the advice
and wish of an affectionate friend, but the will of the principal of
his Order.

As hitherto he had simply graduated as a master in philosophy, and
had not qualified himself academically for a professor of theology,
Luther at first was only called on to lecture on those philosophical
subjects which, as we have seen, occupied his studies at Erfurt.
Theologians, it is true, had been entrusted with these duties, just
as, here at Wittenberg, the first dean of the philosophical faculty
was a theologian, and, in addition to that indeed, a member of the
Augustinian Order. But from the beginning, Luther was anxious to
exchange the province of philosophy for that of theology, meaning
thereby, as he expressed it, that theology which searched into the
very kernel of the nut, the heart of the wheat, the marrow of the
bones. So far, he was already confident of having found a sure
ground for his Christian faith, as well as for his inner life, and
having found it, of being able to begin teaching others. Indeed,
while busily engaged in his first lectures on philosophy, he was
preparing to qualify himself for his theological degrees. Here also
he had to begin with his baccalaureate, comprising in fact three
different steps in the theological faculty, each of which had to be
reached by an examination and disputation. The first step was that
of bachelor of biblical knowledge, which qualified him to lecture on
the Holy Scriptures. The second, or that of a _Sententiarius_,
was necessary for lecturing on the chief compendium of mediaeval
School-theology, the so-called Sentences of Peter Lombardus, the due
performance of which duly led to the attainment of the third step.
Above the baccalaureate, with its three grades, came the rank of
licentiate, which gave the right to teach the whole of theology, and
lastly the formal, solemn admission as doctor of theology. Already,
on March 9, 1509, Luther had attained his first step in the
baccalaureate. At the end of six months he was qualified, by the
statutes of the university, to reach the second step, and in the
course of the next six months he actually reached it.

But before gaining his new rights as a _Sententiarius_, he was
summoned back by the authorities of his Order to Erfurt. The reason
we do not know; we only know that he entered the theological faculty
there as professor, receiving, at the same time, the recognition of
the academical rank he had acquired at Wittenberg. At Erfurt he
remained about three terms, or eighteen months. After that he
returned to the university at Wittenberg. Trutvetter, towards the
end of 1510, had received a summons back to Erfurt from Wittenberg.
The void thus caused by his summons away may have had something to
do with Luther's return thither. At all events his position at
Wittenberg was now vastly different from that which he had
previously held. No theologian, his superior in years or fame, was
any longer above him.

Ere long, however, Luther received another commission from his
Order; a proof of the confidence reposed also in his zeal for the
Order, his practical understanding, and his energy. It was about a
matter in which, by Staupitz's desire, other Augustinian convents in
Germany were to enter into a union with the reformed convents and
the Vicar of the Order. As opposition had been raised, Luther in
1511, no doubt at the suggestion of Staupitz, was sent on this
matter to Rome, where the decision was to be given. The journey
thither and back may easily have taken six weeks or more. According
to rule and custom, two monks were always sent out together, and a
lay-brother was given them for service and company. They used to
make their way on foot. In Rome the brethren of the Order were
received by the Augustinian monastery of Maria del Popolo. Thus
Luther went forth to the great capital of the world, to the throne
of the Head of the Church. He remained there four weeks, discharging
his duties, and surrounded by all her monuments and relics of
ecclesiastical interest.

No definite account of the result of the business he had to
transact, has been handed down to us. We only learn that Staupitz,
the Vicar of the Order, was afterwards on friendly relations with
the convents which had opposed his scheme, and that he refrained
from urging any more unwelcome innovations. For us, however, the
most important parts of this journey are the general observations
and experiences which Luther made in Italy, and, above all, at the
Papal chair itself. He often refers to them later in his speeches
and writings, in the midst of his work and warfare, and he tells us
plainly how important to him afterwards was all that he there saw
and heard.

The devotion of a pilgrim inspired him as he arrived at the city
which he had long regarded with holy veneration. It had been his
wish, during his troubles and heart-searchings, to make one day a
regular and general confession in that city. When he came in sight
of her, he fell upon the earth, raised his hands, and exclaimed
'Hail to thee, holy Rome!' She was truly sanctified, he declared
afterwards, through the blessed martyrs, and their blood which had
flowed within her walls. But he added, with indignation at himself,
how he had run like a crazy saint on a pilgrimage through all the
churches and catacombs, and had believed what turned out to be a
mass of rank lies and impostures. He would gladly then have done
something for the welfare of his friends' souls by mass-reading and
acts of devotion in places of particular sanctity. He felt downright
sorry, he tells us, that his parents were still alive, as he might
have performed some special act to release them from the pains of

But in all this he found no real peace of mind: on the contrary, his
soul was stirred to the consciousness of another way of salvation
which had already begun to dawn upon him. Whilst climbing, on his
knees and in prayer, the sacred stairs which were said to have led
to the Judgment-hall of Pilate, and whither, to this day,
worshippers are invited by the promise of Papal absolutions, he
thought of the words of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (i.
17), 'The just shall live by faith. As for any spiritual
enlightenment and consolation, he found none among the priests and
monks of Rome. He was struck indeed with the external administration
of business and the nice arrangement of legal matters at the Papal
see. But he was shocked by all that he observed of the moral and
religious life and doings at this centre of Christianity; the
immorality of the clergy, and particularly of the highest
dignitaries of the Church, who thought themselves highly virtuous if
they abstained from the very grossest offences; the wanton levity
with which the most sacred names and things were treated; the
frivolous unbelief, openly expressed among themselves by the
spiritual pastors and masters of the Church. He complains of the
priests scrambling through mass as if they were juggling; while he
was reading one mass, he found they had finished seven: one of them
once urged him to be quick by saying 'Get on, get on, and make haste
to send her Son home to our Lady.' He heard jokes even made about
the priests when consecrating the elements at mass, repeating in
Latin the words 'Bread thou art, and bread thou shalt remain: wine
thou art, and wine thou shalt remain.' He often remarked in later
years how they would apply in derision the term 'good Christian' to
those who were stupid enough to believe in Christian truth, and to
be scandalised by anything said to the contrary. No one, he
declared, would believe what villanies and shameful doings were then
in vogue, if they had not seen and heard them with their own eyes
and ears. But the truth of his testimony is confirmed by those very
men whose life and conduct so shocked and revolted him. He must have
been indignant, moreover, at the contemptuous tone in which the
'stupid Germans' or 'German beasts' were spoken of, as persons
entitled to no notice or respect at Rome.

He was astonished at the pomp and splendour which surrounded the
Pope when he appeared in public. He speaks, as an eye-witness, of
the processions, like those of a triumphing monarch. But the
horrible stories were then still fresh at Rome of the late Pope
Alexander and his children, the murder of his brother, the
poisoning, the incest, and other crimes. Of the then Pope, Julius
II., Luther heard nothing reported, except that he managed his
temporal affairs with energy and shrewdness, made war, collected
money, and contracted and dissolved, entered into and broke,
political alliances. At the time of Luther's visit, he was just
returning from a campaign in which he had conducted in person the
sanguinary siege of a town. Luther did not fail to observe that he
had established in the sacred city an excellent body of police, and
that he caused the streets to be kept clean, so that there was not
much pestilence about. But he looked upon him simply as a man of the
world, and afterwards fulminated against him as a strong man of

All these experiences at Rome did not, however, then avail to shake
Luther's faith in the authority of the hierarchy which had such
unworthy ministers; though, later on, when he was forced to attack
the Papacy itself, they made it easier for him to shape his judgment
and conclusions. 'I would not have missed seeing Rome,' he then
declared, 'for a hundred thousand florins, for I might then have
felt some apprehension that I had done injustice to the Pope. But as
we see, we speak.'

During his visit he also roamed about among the ruins of the ancient
capital of the world, and was astonished at the remains of bygone
worldly splendour. The works of the new art which Pope Julius was
then beginning to call into existence, did not appear to have
particularly engaged his attention. The Pope was then progressing
with the building of the new Church of St. Peter. The indulgence, of
which the proceeds were to enable the completion of this vast
undertaking, led afterwards to the struggle between the Augustinian
monk and the Papacy.



On his return to his Wittenberg convent, Luther was made sub-prior.
At the university he entered fully upon all the rights and duties of
a teacher of theology, having been made licentiate and doctor. Here
again it was Staupitz, his friend and spiritual superior, who urged
this step: Luther's own wish was to leave the university and devote
himself entirely to the office of his Order. The Elector Frederick,
who had been struck with Luther by hearing one of his sermons, took
this, the first opportunity, of showing him personal sympathy, by
offering to defray the expenses of his degree. Luther was reluctant
to accept this, and years after he was fond of showing his friends a
pear-tree in the courtyard of the convent, under which he discussed
the matter with Staupitz, who, however, insisted on his demand. He
must have felt the more sensibly the responsibility of his new task,
from his own personal strivings after new and true theological
light. It was a satisfaction to him afterwards, amidst the endless
and unexpected labours and contests which his vocation brought with
it, to reflect that he had undertaken it, not from choice, but so
entirely from obedience. 'Had I known what I now know,' he would
exclaim in his later trials and dangers, 'not ten horses would ever
have dragged me into it.'

After the necessary preliminaries and customary forms, he received
on October 4, 1512, the rights of a licentiate, and on the 18th and
19th was solemnly admitted to the degree of doctor. As licentiate he
promised to defend with all his power the truth of the gospel, and
he must have had this oath particularly in his mind when he
afterwards appealed to the fact of his having sworn on his beloved
Bible to preach it faithfully and in its purity. His oath as doctor,
which followed, bound him to abstain from doctrines condemned by the
Church and offensive to pious ears. Obedience to the Pope was not
required at Wittenberg, as it was at other universities.

Others, besides Staupitz, expected from the beginning something
original and remarkable from the new professor. Pollich, the first
great representative of Wittenberg in its early days, and who died
in the following year, said of him, 'This monk will revolutionise
the whole system of Scholastic teaching.' He seems, like others whom
we hear of afterwards, to have been especially struck with the depth
of Luther's eyes, and thought that they must reveal the working of a
wonderful mind.

A new theology, in fact, presented itself at once to Luther in the
subject which, as doctor, he chose and exclusively adhered to in his
lectures. This was the Bible, the very book of which the study was
so generally undervalued in School-theology, which so many doctors
of theology scarcely knew, and which was usually so hastily forsaken
for those Scholastic sentences and a corresponding exposition of
ecclesiastical dogmas.

Luther began with lectures upon the Psalms. It is his first work on
theology which has remained to posterity. We still possess a Latin
text of the Psalter furnished with running notes for his lectures (a
copy of it is given in these pages), and also his own manuscript of
those lectures themselves. In these also he states that his task was
imposed upon him by a distinct command: he frankly confessed that as
yet he was insufficiently acquainted with the Psalms; a comparison
of his notes and lectures shows further, how continually he was
engaged in prosecuting these studies. His explanations indeed fall
short of what is required at present, and even of what he himself
required later on. He still follows wholly the mediaeval practice of
thinking it necessary to find, throughout the words of the Psalmist,
pictorial allegories relating to Christ, His work of salvation, and
His people. But he was thus enabled to propound, while explaining
the Psalms, the fundamental principles of that doctrine of salvation
which for some years past had taken such hold on his inmost thoughts
and so engrossed his theological studies. And in addition to the
fruits of his researches in Scripture, especially in the writings of
St. Paul, we observe the use he made of the works of St. Augustine.
His acquaintance with the latter did not commence until years after
he had joined the Order, and had acquired independently an intimate
knowledge of the Bible. It was mainly through them that he was
enabled to comprehend the teaching of St. Paul, and to find how the
doctrine of Divine grace, which we have already alluded to, was
based on Pauline authority. Thus the founder of the Order became, as
it were, his first teacher among human theologians.

From his lectures on the Psalms Luther proceeded a few years later
to an exposition of those Epistles which were to him the main source
of his new belief in God's mercy and justice, namely, the Epistles
to the Romans and the Galatians.

In the convent also at Wittenberg, the direction of the theological
studies of the brethren was entrusted to Luther. His fellow-labourer
in this field was his friend John Lange, who had been with him also
in the convent at Erfurt. He was distinguished for a rare knowledge
of Greek, and was therefore a valuable help even to Luther, to whom
he was indebted in turn for a prolific advance in learning of
another kind. Closely allied with Luther also was Wenzeslaus Link,
the prior of the convent, who obtained his degree as doctor of the
theological faculty a year before him. These men were drawn together
by similarity of ideas, and by a strong and enduring personal
friendship; they had possibly been acquainted at the school at
Magdeburg. The new life and activity awakened at Wittenberg
attracted clever young monks more and more from a distance. The
convent, not yet quite finished, had scarcely room enough for them,
or means for their maintenance.

When in 1515 the associated convents had to choose at Gotha, on a
chapter-day, their new authorities, Luther was appointed, Staupitz
being still Vicar-General, the Provincial Vicar for Meissen and
Thuringia. He obtained by this office the superintendence of eleven
convents, to which in the next year he paid the customary
visitation. In person, by word of mouth, and equally by letters, we
see him labouring with self-sacrificing zeal for the spiritual
welfare of those committed to his care, for the correction of bad
monks, for the comfort of those oppressed with temptations, as also
for the temporal and domestic, and even the legal business of the
different convents.

In addition to his academical duties, he performed double service as
a preacher. In the first place he had to preach in his convent, as
he had already done at Erfurt. When the new convent at Wittenberg
was opened, the church was not yet ready; and in a small, poor,
tumbledown chapel close by, made up of wood and clay, he began to
preach the gospel and unfold the power of his eloquence. When,
shortly after, the town-priest of Wittenberg became weak and ailing,
his congregation pressed Luther to occupy the pulpit in his place.
He performed these different duties with alacrity, energy, and
power. He would preach sometimes daily for a week together,
sometimes even three times in one day; during Lent in 1517 he gave
two sermons every day in addition to his lectures at the university.
The zeal which he displayed in proclaiming the gospel to his hearers
in church, was quite as new and peculiar to himself as the lofty
interest he imparted to his professorial lectures on the Scriptures.

Melancthon says of these first lectures by Luther on the Psalms and
the Epistle to the Romans, that after a long and dark night, a new
day was now seen to dawn on Christian doctrine. In these lectures
Luther pointed out the difference between the law and the gospel. He
refuted the errors, then predominant in the Church and schools, the
old teaching of the Pharisees, that men could earn forgiveness by
their works, and that mere outward penance would justify them in the
sight of God. Luther called men back to the Son of God; and just as
John the Baptist pointed to the Lamb of God who bore our sins, so
Luther showed how, for his Son's sake, God in His mercy will forgive
us our sins, and how we must accept such mercy in faith.

In fact, the whole groundwork of that Christian faith on which the
inner life of the Reformer rests, for which he fought, and which gave
him strength and fresh courage for the fight, lies already before us
in his lectures and sermons during those years, and increases in
clearness and decision. The 'new day' had, in reality, broken upon
his eyes. That fundamental truth which he designated later as the
article by which a Christian Church must stand or fall, stands here
already firmly established, before he in the least suspects that it
would lead him to separate from the Catholic Church, or that his
adopting it would occasion a reconstruction of the Church. The primary
question around which everything else centred, remained always this--how
he, the sinful man, could possibly stand before God and obtain salvation.
With this came the question as to the righteousness of God; and now he
was no longer terrified by the avenging justice of God, wherewith He
threatens the sinner; but he recognised and saw the meaning of that
righteousness declared in the gospel (Rom. i. 17, iii. 25), by which
the merciful God justifies the faithful, in that He of His own grace
re-establishes them in His sight, and effects an inward change, and
lets them thenceforth, like children, enjoy His fatherly love and
blessing. Luther, in teaching now that justification proceeds from
faith, rejects, above all, the notion that man by any outward acts
of his own can ever atone for his sins and merit the favour of God.
He reminds us, moreover, with regard to moral works especially, that
good fruits always presuppose a good tree, upon which alone they can
grow, and that, in like manner, goodness can only proceed from a
man, if and when, in his inward being, his inward thoughts,
tendencies, and feelings, he has already become good; he must be
righteous himself, in a word, before he works righteousness. But it
is faith, and faith alone, which in the inward man determines real
communion with God. Then only, and gradually, can a man's own inner
being, trusting to God, and by means of His imparted grace, become
truly renovated and purged from sin. Had Luther, indeed, made
salvation depend on such a righteousness, derived from a man's own
works, as should satisfy the holy God, the very consciousness of his
own sins and infirmities would have made him despair of such
salvation. Moreover, all the working of the Holy Spirit, and His
gifts in our hearts, presuppose that we are already participators of
the forgiving mercy and grace of God, and are received into
communion with Him. To this, as Luther teaches after St. Paul, we
can only attain through faith in the joyful message of His mercy, in
His compassion, and in His Son, whom He has sent to be our Redeemer.
Thus he speaks of faith, even in his earliest notes on the Psalter,
as the keystone, the marrow, the short road. The worst enemy, in his
sight, is self-righteousness; he confesses having had to combat it

Herein also Luther found the theology of St. Augustine in accord
with the testimony of the great Apostle. While studying that
theology, his conviction of the power of sin and the powerlessness
of man's own strength to overcome it, grew more and more decided.
But St. Paul taught him to understand that belief somewhat
differently to St. Augustine. To Luther it was not merely a
recognition of objective truths or historical facts. What he
understood by it, with a clearness and decision which are wanting in
St. Augustine's teaching, was the trusting of the heart in the mercy
offered by the message of salvation, the personal confidence in the
Saviour Christ and in that which He has gained for us. With this
faith, then, and by the merits and mediation of the Saviour in whom
this faith is placed, we stand before God, we have already the
assurance of being known by God and of being saved, and we are
partakers of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies more and more the inner
man. According to St. Augustine, on the contrary, and to all
Catholic theologians who followed his teaching, what will help us
before God is rather that inward righteousness which God Himself
gives to man by His Holy Spirit and the workings of His grace, or,
as the expression was, the righteousness infused by God. The good,
therefore, already existing in a Christian is so highly esteemed
that he can thereby gain merit before the just God and even do more
than is required of him. But to a conscience like Luther's, which
applied so severe a standard to human virtue and works, and took
such stern count of past and present sins, such a doctrine could
bring no assurance of forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. It was in
faith alone that Luther had found this assurance, and for it he
needed no merits of his own. The happy spirit of the child of God,
by its own free impulse, would produce in a Christian the genuine
good fruit pleasing in God's sight. It was a long time before Luther
himself became aware how he differed on this point from his chief
teacher amongst theologians. But we see the difference appear at the
very root and beginning of his new doctrine of salvation; and it
comes out finally, based on apostolic authority, clear and sharp, in
the theology of the Reformer.

And inseparably connected with this is what Melancthon said about
the Law and the Gospel. Luther himself always declared in later
days, that the whole understanding of the truth of Christian
salvation, as revealed by God, depends on a right perception of the
relation of one to the other, and this very relation he explained,
shortly before the beginning of his contest with the Church, upon
the authority of St. Paul's Epistles. The Law is to him the epitome
of God's demands with regard to will and works, which still the
sinner cannot fulfil. The Gospel is the blessed offer and
announcement of that forgiving mercy of God which is to be accepted
in simple faith. By the Law says Luther, the sinner is judged,
condemned, killed; he himself had to toil and disquiet himself under
it, as though he were in the hands of a gaoler and executioner. The
Gospel first lifts up those who are crushed, and makes them alive by
the faith which the good message awakens in their hearts. But God
works in both; in the one, a work which to Him, the God of love,
would properly be strange; in the other, His own work of love, for
which, however, he has first prepared the sinner by the former.

Whilst Luther was prosecuting his labours in this path, he became
acquainted in 1516 with the sermons of the pious, deep-thinking
theologian Tauler, who died in 1361; and at the same time an old
theological tract, written not long after Tauler, fell into his
hands, to which he gave the name of 'German Theology.' Now for the
first time, and in the person of their noblest representatives, he
was confronted with the Christian and theological views which were
commonly designated as the practical German mysticism of the middle
ages. Here, instead of the value which the mediaeval Church, so
addicted to externals, ascribed to outward acts and ordinances, he
found the most devout absorption in the sentiments of real Christian
religion. Instead of the barren, formal expositions and logical
operations of the scholastic intellect, he found a striving and
wrestling of the whole inner man, with all the mind and will, after
direct communion and union with God, who Himself seeks to draw into
this union the soul devoted to Him, and makes it become like to
himself. Such a depth of contemplation and such fervour of a
Christian mind Luther had not found even in an Augustine. He
rejoiced to see this treasure written in his native German, and it
certainly was the noblest German he had ever read. He felt himself
marvellously impressed by this theology; he knew of no sermons, so
he wrote to a friend, which agreed more faithfully with the gospel
than those of Tauler. He published that tract--then not quite
complete--in 1516, and again afterwards in 1518. It was the first
publication from his hand. His further sermons and writings show how
deeply he was imbued with its contents. The influences he here
received had a lasting effect on the formation of his inner life and
his theology.

With regard to sin, he now learned that its deepest roots and
fundamental character lay in our own wills, in self-love and
selfishness. To enjoy communion with God it is necessary that the
heart should put away all worldliness, and let its natural will be
dead, so that God alone may live and work in us. So, as he says on
the title-page of 'German Theology,' shall Adam die in us and Christ
be made alive. But the essential peculiarity of Luther's doctrine of
salvation, grounded as it was directly on Scripture, still remained
intact, despite the theology no less of the mystics than of
Augustine, and, after passing through these influences, developed
its full independence during his struggles as a Reformer. For this
communion with God he never thought it necessary, as the mystics
maintained, to renounce one's personality and retire altogether from
the world and things temporal: a purely passive attitude towards
God, and a blessedness consisting in such an attitude, was not his
highest or ultimate ideal. A man's personality, he held, should only
be destroyed so far as it resists the will of God, and dares to
assert its self-righteousness and merits before Him. The road to
real communion with God was always that 'short road' of faith, in
which the contrite sinner, who feels his personality crushed by the
consciousness of sin, grasps the hand of Divine mercy, and is lifted
up by it and restored. Christ was manifested, as the mystics said
with Scripture, in order that the man's personality should die with
Him, and imitate Him in self-renunciation. But the faith, on which
Luther insisted, saw in Christ above all the Saviour who has died
for us, and who pleads for us before God with His holy life and
conduct, that the faithful may obtain through Him reconciliation and
salvation. What the Saviour is to us in this respect Luther has thus
summarised in words of his own: 'Lord Jesus,' he says, 'Thou hast
taken to Thyself what is mine, and given to me what is Thine.' The
main divergence between Luther and the German mysticism of the
middle ages consists primarily in a different estimate of the
general relations between God and the moral personality of man. With
the mystics, behind the Christian and religious, lay a metaphysical
conception of God, as a Being of absolute power, superior to all
destiny, apparently rich in attributes, but in reality an empty
Abstraction,--above all, a Being who suffers nothing finite to exist
in independence of Himself. With Luther the fundamental conception
of God remained this, that He is the perfect Good, and that, in His
perfect holiness, He is Love. This is the God by whom the sinner who
has faith is restored and justified. From this conception as a
starting-point, Luther acquired fresh strength and energy for
advancing in the fight, whilst the pious mystic remained passively
and quietly behind. From this also he learned to realise Christian
liberty and moral duty in regard to daily life and its vocations,
whilst the mystics remained shut off altogether from the world. The
intimate connection between the conclusions to which the views of
Tauler tended, and the principles from which Luther started, is
shown further by the superior attraction which those sermons, so
warmly recommended by Luther, continued to exercise upon members of
the Evangelical, compared with those of the Catholic Church.

What Christ has suffered and done for us, and how we gain through
Him the righteousness of God, peace, and real life,--these thoughts
of practical religion pervaded now all Luther's discourses. To the
saving knowledge of these facts he endeavoured to direct his
lectures, and discarded the dogmatical inquiries and subtle
investigations and speculations of School-theology. At first, and
even in his sermons at the convent, he had employed in his
exposition of Biblical truths, as was the custom of learned
preachers, philosophical expressions and references to Aristotle and
famous Scholastics. But latterly, and at the time we are speaking
of, he had entirely left this off; and, as regards the form of his
sermons, instead of a stiff, logical construction of sentences, he
employed that simple, lively, powerful eloquence which distinguished
him above all preachers of his time. In 1516 and 1517 he delivered a
course of sermons on the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer
before his town congregation, with the view of showing the
connection of the truths of Christian religion. He further had
printed in 1517, for Christian readers generally, an explanation of
the seven penitential psalms. He wished, as the title stated, to
expound them thoroughly in their Scriptural meaning, for setting
forth the grace of Christ and God, and enabling true self-knowledge.
It is the first of his writings, published by himself, and in the
German language, which we possess; for the later lectures that were
published were delivered by him in Latin, and the first sermons we
have of his were also written by him in that language. We give here
the title and preface from the original print.

[Illustration: FIG. 6--Title and Preface of Penitential Psalms.]

Luther had now become possessed with a burning desire to refute, by
means of the truth he had newly learned, the teaching and system of
that School-theology on which he himself had wasted so much time and
labour, and by which he saw that same truth darkened and obstructed.
He first attacked Aristotle, the heathen philosopher from whom this
theology, he said, received its empty and perverted formalism, whose
system of physics was worthless, and who, especially in his
conception of moral life and moral good, was blind, since he knew
nothing of the essence and ground of true righteousness. The
Scholastics, as Luther himself remarked against them, had failed
signally to understand the genuine original philosophy of Aristotle.
But the real greatness and significance which must be allowed to
that philosophy, in the development of human thought and knowledge,
were far removed from those profound questions of Christian morality
and religion which engrossed Luther's mind, and from those truths to
which he again had to testify. In theses which formed the subject of
disputation among his followers, Luther expressed with particular
acuteness his own doctrine, and that of Augustine, concerning the
inability of man, and the grace of God, and his opposition to the
previously dominant Schoolmen and their Aristotle. He was anxious
also to hear the verdict of others, particularly of his teacher
Trutvetter, upon his new polemics.

He already could boast that, at Wittenberg, his, or as he called it,
the Augustinian theology, had found its way to victory. It was
adopted by the theologians who had taught there, though wholly in
the old Scholastic fashion, before him, especially by Carlstadt, who
soon strove to outbid him in this new direction, and who, later on,
in his own zeal for reform, fell into disputes with the great
Reformer himself, and also by Nicholas von Amsdorf, whom we shall
see afterwards at Luther's side as his personal friend and strongest
supporter. At Erfurt, Luther's former convent, his friend and
sympathiser Lange was now prior, having returned thither from
Wittenberg, where indeed his former teachers could not yet
accommodate themselves to his new ways. Of great importance to
Luther's work and position was his friendship with George Spalatin
(properly Burkardt of Spelt), the court preacher and private
secretary of the Elector Frederick, a conscientious, clear-minded
theologian, and a man of varied culture and calm, thoughtful
judgment. He was of the same age as Luther; he had been with him at
Erfurt as a fellow-student, and at Wittenberg afterwards, whither he
came as tutor to the prince, and had remained on terms of intimacy
with him. To Luther he proved an upright, warmhearted friend, and to
the Elector a faithful and sagacious adviser. It was mainly due to
his influence that the Elector showed such continued favour to
Luther, marks of which he displayed by presents, such as that of a
piece of richly-wrought cloth, which Luther thought almost too good
for a monk's frock. Spalatin had also been a member of that circle
of 'poets' at Erfurt; he kept up his connection with them, and
corresponded with Erasmus, the head of the Humanists, and thus acted
as a medium of communication for Luther in this quarter. Elsewhere
in Germany we find the theology of Augustine or of St. Paul, as
represented by Luther, taking root first among his friends at
Nuremberg; in 1517 W. Link came there as prior of the Augustinian

[Illustration: Fig. 7.--SPALATIN. (from L. Cranach's Portrait.)]

We have seen how Luther as a student associated with the young
Humanists at Erfurt, and now, whilst striving further on that road
of theology which he had marked out for himself, he was still
accessible to the general interests of learning as represented by
the Humanistic movement. He made the acquaintance, at least by
letter, of the celebrated Mutianus Rufus of Gotha, whom those
'poets' honoured as their famous master, and with whom Lange and
Spalatin maintained a respectful intercourse. When the Humanist John
Reuchlin, then the first Hebrew scholar in Germany, was declared a
heretic by zealous theologians and monks, on account of the protests
he raised against the burning of the Rabbinical books of the Jews,
and a fierce quarrel broke out in consequence, Luther, on being
asked by Spalatin for his opinion, declared himself strongly for the
Humanists against those who, being gnats themselves, tried to
swallow camels. His heart, he said, was so full of this matter that
his tongue could not find utterance. Still, the bold satire with
which his former college friend Crotus and other Humanists lashed
their opponents and held them up to ridicule, as in the famous
'Epistolae Virorum Obscurorum,' was not to Luther's taste at all.
The matter was to him far too serious for such treatment.

The first place among the men who revived the knowledge of
antiquity, and strove to apply that knowledge for the benefit of
their own times and particularly of theology, belongs undoubtedly to
Erasmus, from his comprehensive learning, his refinement of mind,
and his indefatigable industry. Just when, in 1516, he brought out a
remarkable edition of the New Testament, with a translation and
explanatory comments, which forms in fact an epoch in its history.
Luther recognised his high talents and services, and was anxious to
see him exercise the influence he deserved. He speaks of him in a
letter to Spalatin as 'our Erasmus.' But nevertheless he steadily
asserted his own independence, and reserved the right of free
judgment about him. Two things he lamented in him; first of all that
he lacked, as was the case, the comprehension of that fundamental
doctrine of St. Paul as to human sin and righteousness by faith; and
further, that he made even the errors of the Church, which should be
a source of genuine sorrow to every Christian, a subject of
ridicule. He sought, however, to keep his opinion of Erasmus to
himself, to avoid giving occasion to his jealous and unscrupulous
enemies to malign him.

[Illustration: Fig. 8.--ERASMUS. (From the Portrait by A. Durer.)]

Bitterness and ill-will, aroused by Luther's words and works, were
already not wanting among the followers of the hitherto dominant
views of theology and the Church. But of any separation from the
Church, her authority and her fundamental forms, he had as yet no
intention or idea. Nor, on the other hand, did his enemies take
occasion to obtain sentence of expulsion against him, until he found
himself forced to conclusions which threatened the power and the
income of the hierarchy.

As yet he had not expressed or entertained a thought against the
ordinances which enslaved every Christian to the priesthood and its
power. He certainly showed, in his new doctrine of salvation, the
way which leads the soul, by simple faith in the message of mercy
sent to all alike, to its God and Saviour. But he had no idea of
disputing that everyone should confess to the priests, receive from
them absolution, and submit to all the penances and ordinances
ordained by the Church. And in that very doctrine of salvation he
knew that he was at one with Augustine, the most eminent teacher of
the Western Church, whilst the opposite views, however dominant in
point of fact, had never yet received any formal sanction of the
Church. Zealously, indeed, he soon exposed many practical abuses and
errors in the religious life of the Church. But hitherto these were
only such as had been long before complained of and combated by
others, and which the Church had never expressly declared as
essential parts of her own system. He gave vent freely to his
opinions about the superstitious worship of saints, about absurd
legends, about the heathen practice of invoking the saints for
temporal welfare or success. But praying to the saints to intercede
for us with God he still justified against the heresy originating
with Huss, and with fervour he invoked the Virgin from the pulpit.
He was anxious that the priests and bishops should do their duty
much better and more conscientiously than was the case, and that
instead of troubling themselves about worldly matters, they should
care for the good of souls, and feed their flocks with God's word.
He saw in the office of bishop, from the difficulties and
temptations it involved, an office fraught with danger, and one
therefore that he did not wish for his Staupitz. But the Divine
origin and Divine right of the hierarchical offices of pope, bishop,
and priest, and the infallibility of the Church, thus governed, he
held inviolably sacred. The Hussites who broke from her were to him
'sinful heretics.' Nay, at that time he used the very argument by
which afterwards the Romish Church thought to crush the principles
and claims of the Reformation, namely, that if we deny that power of
the Church and Papacy, any man may equally say that he is filled
with the Holy Ghost; everyone will claim to be his own master, and
there will be as many Churches as heads.

As yet he was only seeking to combat those abuses which were outside
the spirit and teaching of the Catholic Church, when the scandals of
the traffic in indulgences called him to the field of battle. And it
was only when in this battle the Pope and the hierarchy sought to
rob him of his evangelical doctrine of salvation, and of the joy and
comfort he derived from the knowledge of redemption by Christ, that,
from his stand on the Bible, he laid his hands upon the strongholds
of this Churchdom.





The first occasion for the struggle which led to the great division
in the Christian world was given by that magnificent edifice of
ecclesiastical splendour intended by the popes as the creation of
the new Italian art; by the building, in a word, of St. Peter's
Church, which had already been commenced when Luther was at Rome.
Indulgences were to furnish the necessary means. Julius II. had now
been succeeded on the Papal chair by Leo X. So far as concerned the
encouragement of the various arts, the revival of ancient learning,
and the opening up, by that means, to the cultivated and upper
classes of society of a spring of rich intellectual enjoyment, Leo
would have been just the man for the new age. But whilst actively
engaged in these pursuits and pleasures, he remained indifferent to
the care and the spiritual welfare of his flock, whom as Christ's
vicar he had undertaken to feed. The frivolous tone of morals that
ruled at the Papal see was looked upon as an element of the new
culture. As regards the Christian faith, a blasphemous saying is
reported of Leo, how profitable had been the fable of Christ. He had
no scruples in procuring money for the new church, which, as he
said, was to protect and glorify the bones of the holy Apostles, by
a dirty traffic, pernicious to the soul. Meanwhile, the popes were
not ashamed to appropriate freely to their own needs that indulgence
money, which was nominally for the Church and for other objects,
such as the war against the Turks.

In order to appreciate the nature of these indulgences and of
Luther's attack upon them, it is necessary first to realise more
exactly the significance which the teachers of the Church ascribed
to them. The simple statement that absolution or forgiveness of sins
was sold for money, must in itself be offence enough to any moral
Christian conscience; and we can only wonder that Luther proceeded
so prudently and gradually towards his object of getting rid of
indulgences altogether. But the arguments by which they were
explained and justified did not sound so simple or concise.

[Illustration: Leo X. (From his Portrait by Raphael.)]

Forgiveness of sins, it was maintained, must be gained by penance, namely,
by the so-called sacrament of penance, including the acts of private
confession and priestly absolution. In this the father-confessor promised
to him who had confessed his sins, absolution for them, whereby his guilt
was forgiven and he was freed from eternal punishment. A certain
contrition of the heart was required from him, even if only imperfect,
and proceeding perhaps solely from the fear of punishment, but which
nevertheless was deemed sufficient, its imperfection being supplied by
the sacrament. But though absolved, he had still to discharge heavy
burdens of temporal punishment, penances imposed by the Church, and
chastisements which, in the remission of eternal punishment, God in His
righteousness still laid upon him. If he failed to satisfy these penances
in this life, he must, even if no longer in danger of hell, atone for the
rest in the torments of the fire of purgatory. The indulgence now came in
to relieve him. The Church was content with easier tasks, as, at that
time, with a donation to the sacred edifice at Rome. And even this
was made to rest on a certain basis of right. The Church, it was
said, had to dispose of a treasure of merits which Christ and the
saints, by their good works, had accumulated before the righteous
God, and those riches were now to be so disposed of by Christ's
representatives, that they should benefit the buyer of indulgences.
In this manner penances which otherwise would have to be endured for
years were commuted into small donations of money, quickly paid off.
The contrition required for the forgiveness of sins was not
altogether ignored; as, for instance, in the official announcements
of indulgences, and in the letters or certificates granting
indulgences to individuals in return for payment. But in those
documents, as also in the sermons exhorting the multitude to
purchase, the chief stress, so far as possible, was laid upon the
payment. The confession, and with it the contrition, was also
mentioned, but nothing was said about the personal remission of sins
depending on this rather than on the money. Perfect forgiveness of
sins was announced to him who, after having confessed and felt
contrition, had thrown his contribution into the box. For the souls
in purgatory nothing was required but money offered for them by the
living. 'The moment the money tinkles in the box, the soul springs
up out of purgatory.' A special tariff was arranged for the
commission of particular sins, as, for example, six ducats for

The traffic in indulgences for the building of St. Peter's was
delegated by commission from the Pope, over a large part of Germany, to
Albert, Archbishop of Mayence and Magdeburg. We shall meet with this
great prince of the Church, as now in connection with the origin of
the Reformation, so during its subsequent course. Albert, the brother
of the Elector of Brandenburg, and cousin of the Grand-Master of the
Teutonic Order in Prussia, stood in 1517, though only twenty-seven
years old, already at the head of those two great ecclesiastical
provinces of Germany; Wittenberg also belonged to his Magdeburg
diocese. Raised to such an eminence and so rapidly by good fortune,
he was filled with ambitious thoughts. He troubled himself little
about theology. He loved to shine as the friend of the new Humanistic
learning, especially of an Erasmus, and as patron of the fine arts,
particularly of architecture, and to keep a court the splendour of
which might correspond with his own dignity and love of art. For this
his means were inadequate, especially as, on entering upon his
Archbishopric of Mayence, he had had to pay, as was customary, a heavy
sum to the Pope for the _pallium_ given for the occasion. For
this he had been forced to borrow thirty thousand gulden from the
house of Fugger at Augsburg, and he found his aspirations incessantly
crippled by want of money and by debts. He succeeded at last in
striking a bargain with the Pope, by which he was allowed to keep half
of the profits arising from the sale of indulgences, in order to repay
the Fuggers their loan. Behind the preacher of indulgences, who announced
God's mercy to the paying believers, stood the agents of that commercial
house, who collected their share for their principals. The Dominican monk,
John Tetzel, a profligate man, whom the Archbishop had appointed his
sub-commissioner, drove the largest trade in this business with an
audacity and a power of popular declamation well suited to his work.

[Illustration: Fig. 10.--The Archbishop Albert. (From Durer's

Contemporaries have described the lofty and well-ordered pomp with
which such a commissioner entered on the performance of his exalted
duties. Priests, monks, and magistrates, schoolmasters and scholars,
men, women, and children, went forth in procession to meet him, with
songs and ringing of bells, with flags and torches. They entered the
church together amidst the pealing of the organ. In the middle of
the church, before the altar, was erected a large red cross, hung
with a silken banner which bore the Papal arms. Before the cross was
placed a large iron chest to receive the money; specimens of these
chests are still shown in many places. Daily, by sermons, hymns,
processions round the cross, and other means of attraction, the
people were invited and urged to embrace this incomparable offer of
salvation. It was arranged that auricular confession should be taken
wholesale. The main object was the payment, in return for which the
'contrite' sinners received a letter of indulgence from the
commissioner, who, with a significant reference to the absolute
power granted to himself, promised them complete absolution and the
good opinion of their fellow-men.

[Illustration: Fig. 11--Title-page of a Pamphlet Written at the
Beginning of the Reformation, with an Illustration showing the Sale
of Indulgences.]

We have evidence to show how Tetzel preached himself, and what he
wished these sermons on indulgences to be like. Calling upon the
people, he summoned all, and especially the great sinners, such as
murderers and robbers, to turn to their God and receive the medicine
which God, in his mercy and wisdom, had provided for their benefit.
St. Stephen once had given up his body to be stoned, St. Lawrence
his to be roasted, St. Bartholomew his to a fearful death. Would
they not willingly sacrifice a little gift in order to obtain
everlasting life? Of the souls in purgatory it was said, 'They, your
parents and relatives, are crying out to you, "We are in the
bitterest torments, you could deliver us by giving a small alms, and
yet you will not. We have given you birth, nourished you, and left
to you our temporal goods; and such is your cruelty that you, who
might so easily make us free, leave us here to lie in the flames."'

To all who directly or indirectly, in public or in private, should
in any way depreciate, or murmur against, or obstruct these
indulgences, it was announced that, by Papal edict, they lay already
by so doing under the ban of excommunication, and could only be
absolved by the Pope or by one of his commissioners.

After Luther had once ventured to attack openly this sale of
indulgences, it was admitted even by their defenders and the violent
enemies of the Reformer, that in those days 'greedy commissioners,
monks and priests, had preached unblushingly about indulgences, and
had laid more stress upon the money than upon confession,
repentance, and sorrow.' Christian people were shocked and
scandalised at the abuse. It was asked whether indeed God so loved
the money, that for the sake of a few pence He would leave a soul in
everlasting torments, or why the Pope did not out of love empty the
whole of purgatory, since he was willing to free innumerable souls
in return for such a trifle as a contribution to the building of a
church. But not one of them found it then expedient to incur the
abuse and slander of a Tetzel by a word spoken openly against the
gross misconduct the fruits of which were so important to the Pope
and the Archbishop.

Tetzel now came to the borders of the Elector of Saxony's dominion,
and to the neighbourhood of Wittenberg. The Elector would not allow
him to enter his territory, on account of so much money being taken
away, and accordingly he opened his trade at Juterbok. Among those
who confessed to Luther, there were some who appealed to letters of
indulgence which they had purchased from him there.

In a sermon preached as early as the summer of 1516, Luther had
warned his congregation against trusting to indulgences, and he did
not conceal his aversion to the system, whilst admitting his doubts
and ignorance as to some important questions on the subject. He knew
that these opinions and objections would grieve the heart of his
sovereign; for Frederick, who with all his sincere piety, still
shared the exaggerated veneration of the middle ages for relics, and
had formed a rich collection of them in the Church of the Castle and
Convent at Wittenberg, which he was always endeavouring to enrich,
rejoiced at the Pope's lavish offer of indulgences to all who at an
annual exhibition of these sacred treasures should pay their
devotions at the nineteen altars of this church. A few years before
he had caused a 'Book of Relics' to be printed, which enumerated
upwards of five thousand different specimens, and showed how they
represented half a million days of indulgence. Luther relates how he
had incurred the Elector's displeasure by a sermon preached in his
Castle Church against indulgences: he preached, however, again
before the exhibition held in February 1517. The honour and
interest, moreover, of his university had to be considered, for that
church was attached to it, the professors were also dignitaries of
the convent, and the university benefited by the revenues of the

[Illustration: FIG. l2.--THE CASTLE CHURCH. (From the Wittenberg
Book of Relics, 1509: the hill in the background is an addition by
the artist.)]

Luther was then, as he afterwards described himself, a young doctor
of divinity, ardent, and fresh from the forge. He was burning to
protest against the scandal. But as yet he restrained himself and
kept quiet. He wrote, indeed, on the subject to some of the bishops.
Some listened to him graciously; others laughed at him; none wished
to take any steps in the matter.

He longed now to make known to theologians and ecclesiastics
generally his thoughts about indulgences, his own principles, his
own opinions and doubts, to excite public discussion on the subject,
and to awake and maintain the fray. This he did by the ninety-five
Latin theses or propositions which he posted on the doors of the
Castle Church at Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517, the eve of All
Saints' Day and of the anniversary of the consecration of the

These theses were intended as a challenge for disputation. Such
public disputations were then very common at the universities and
among theologians, and they were meant to serve as means not only of
exercising learned thought, but of elucidating the truth. Luther
headed his theses as follows:--

_'Disputation to explain the virtue of indulgences._-In charity
and in the endeavour to bring the truth to light, a disputation on
the following propositions will be held at Wittenberg, presided over
by the Reverend Father Martin Luther.... Those who are unable to
attend personally may discuss the question with us by letter. In the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.'

It was in accordance with the general custom of that time that, on
the occasion of a high festival, particular acts and announcements,
and likewise disputations at a university, were arranged, and the
doors of a collegiate church were used for posting such notices.

The contents of these theses show that their author really had such
a disputation in view. He was resolved to defend with all his might
certain fundamental truths to which he firmly adhered. Some points
he considered still within the region of dispute; it was his wish
and object to make these clear to himself by arguing about them with

Recognising the connection between the system of indulgences and the
view of penance entertained by the Church, he starts with
considering the nature of true Christian repentance; but he would
have this understood in the sense and spirit taught by Christ and
the Scriptures, as, indeed, Staupitz had first taught it to him. He
begins with the thesis 'Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He
says Repent, desires that the whole life of the believer should be
one of repentance.' He means, as the subsequent theses express it,
that true inward repentance, that sorrow for sin and hatred of one's
own sinful self, from which must proceed good works and
mortification of the sinful flesh. The Pope could only remit his sin
to the penitent so far as to declare that God had forgiven it.

Thus then the theses expressly declare that God forgives no man his
sin without making him submit himself in humility to the priest who
represents Him, and that He recognises the punishments enjoined by
the Church in her outward sacrament of penance. But Luther's leading
principles are consistently opposed to the customary announcements
of indulgences by the Church. The Pope, he holds, can only grant
indulgences for what the Pope and the law of the Church have
imposed; nay, the Pope himself means absolution from these
obligations only, when he promises absolution from all punishment.
And it is only the living against whom those punishments are
directed which the Church's discipline of penance enjoins: nothing,
according to her own laws, can be imposed upon those in another

Further on, Luther declares, 'When true repentance is awakened in a
man, full absolution from punishment and sin comes to him without
any letters of indulgence.' At the same time he says that such a man
would willingly undergo self-imposed chastisement, nay, he would
even seek and love it.

Still, it is not the indulgences themselves, if understood in the
right sense, that he wishes to be attacked, but the loose babble of
those who sold them. Blessed, he says, be he who protests against
this, but cursed be he who speaks against the truth of apostolic
indulgences. He finds it difficult, however, to praise these to the
people, and at the same time to teach them the true repentance of
the heart. He would have them even taught that a Christian would do
better by giving money to the poor than by spending it in buying
indulgences, and that he who allows a poor man near him to starve
draws down on himself, not indulgences, but the wrath of God. In
sharp and scornful language he denounces the iniquitous trader in
indulgences, and gives the Pope credit for the same abhorrence for
the traffic that he felt himself. Christians must be told, he says,
that if the Pope only knew of it, he would rather see St. Peter's
Church in ashes, than have it built with the flesh and bones of his

Agreeably with what the preceding theses had said about the true
penitent's earnestness and willingness to suffer, and the temptation
offered to a mere carnal sense of security, Luther concludes as
follows: 'Away therefore with all those prophets who say to Christ's
people "Peace, peace!" when there is no peace, but welcome to all
those who bid them seek the Cross of Christ, not the Cross which
bears the Papal arms. Christians must be admonished to follow Christ
their Master through torture, death, and hell, and thus through much
tribulation, rather than by a carnal feeling of false security, hope
to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Catholics objected to this doctrine of salvation advanced by
Luther, that by trusting to God's free mercy and by undervaluing
good works, it led to moral indolence. But on the contrary, it was
to the very unbending moral earnestness of a Christian conscience,
which, indignant at the temptations offered to moral frivolity, to a
deceitful feeling of ease in respect to sin and guilt, and to a
contempt of the fruits of true morality, rebelled against the false
value attached to this indulgence money, that these Theses, the
germ, so to speak, of the Reformation, owed their origin and
prosecution. With the same earnestness he now for the first time
publicly attacked the ecclesiastical power of the Papacy, in so far
namely as, in his conviction, it invaded the territory reserved to
Himself by the Heavenly Lord and Judge. This was what the Pope and
his theologians and ecclesiastics could least of all endure.

On the same day that these theses were published, Luther sent a copy
of them with a letter to the Archbishop Albert, his 'revered and
gracious Lord and Shepherd in Christ.' After a humble introduction,
he begged him most earnestly to prevent the scandalising and
iniquitous harangues with which his agents hawked about their
indulgences, and reminded him that he would have to give an account
of the souls entrusted to his episcopal care.

The next day he addressed himself to the people from the pulpit, in
a sermon he had to preach on the festival of All Saints. After
exhorting them to seek their salvation in God and Christ alone, and
to let the consecration by the Church become a real consecration of
the heart, he went on to tell them plainly, with regard to
indulgences, that he could only absolve from duties imposed by the
Church, and that they dare not rely on him for more, nor delay on
his account the duties of true repentance.



Anyone who has heard that the great movement of the Reformation in
Germany, and with it the founding of the Evangelical Church,
originated in the ninety-five theses of Luther, and who then reads
these theses through, might perhaps be surprised at the importance
of their results. They referred, in the first place, to only one
particular point of Christian doctrine, not at all to the general
fundamental question as to how sinners could obtain forgiveness and
be saved, but merely to the remission of punishments connected with
penance. They contained no positive declaration against the most
essential elements of the Catholic theory of penance, or against the
necessity of oral confession, or of priestly absolution, and such
subjects; they presupposed, in fact, the existence of a purgatory.
Much of what they attacked, not one of the learned theologians of
the middle ages or of those times had ever ventured to assert; as,
for instance, the notion that indulgences made the remission of sins
to the individual complete on the part of God. Moreover, the ruling
principles of the theology of the day, which defended the system of
indulgences, though resting mainly on the authority of the great
Scholastic teacher Thomas Aquinas, were not adopted by other
Scholastics, and had never been erected into a dogma by any decree
of the Church. Theologians before Luther, and with far more
acuteness and penetration than he showed in his theses, had already
assailed the whole system of indulgences. And, in regard to any idea
on Luther's part of the effects of his theses extending widely in
Germany, it may be noticed that not only were they composed in
Latin, but that they dealt largely with Scholastic expressions and
ideas, which a layman would find it difficult to understand.

Nevertheless the theses created a sensation which far surpassed
Luther's expectations. In fourteen days, as he tells us, they ran
through the whole of Germany, and were immediately translated and
circulated in German. They found, indeed, the soil already prepared
for them, through the indignation long since and generally aroused
by the shameless doings they attacked; though till then nobody, as
Luther expresses it, had liked to bell the cat, nobody had dared to
expose himself to the blasphemous clamour of the indulgence-mongers
and the monks who were in league with them, still less to the
threatened charge of heresy.

On the other hand, the very impunity with which this traffic in
indulgences had been maintained throughout German Christendom, had
served to increase from day to day the audacity of its promoters.
Ranged on the side of these doctrines of Thomas Aquinas, the chief
mainstay of this trade, stood the whole powerful order of the
Dominicans. And to this order Tetzel himself, the sub-commissioner of
indulgences, belonged. Already other doctrines of the Pope's authority,
of his power over the salvation of the human soul, and the infallibility
of his decisions, had been asserted with ever-increasing boldness. The
mediaeval writings of Thomas Aquinas had conspicuously tended to this
result. And a climax had just been reached at a so-called General
Council, which met at Rome shortly after Luther's visit there, and
continued its sittings for several years.

Tetzel, who hitherto had only made himself notorious as a preacher, or
rather as a bawling mountebank, now answered Luther with two series of
theses of his own, drawn up in learned scholastic form. One Conrad
Wimpina, a theologian of the university of Frankfort-on-the-Oder, whom
the Archbishop Albert had recommended, assisted Tetzel in this work.
The university of Frankfort immediately made Tetzel doctor of theology,
and thus espoused his theses. Three hundred Dominican monks assembled
round him while he conducted an academical disputation upon them. The
doctrines he now advanced were the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas. But at
the same time he took care to make the question of the Pope's position
and power the cardinal point at issue; he and his patrons knew well
enough, that for Luther, who in his theses had touched upon this
question so significantly though so briefly, this was the most fatal
blow that he could deal. 'Christians must be taught,' he declared,
'that in all that relates to faith and salvation, the judgment of the
Pope is absolutely infallible, and that all observances connected with
matters of faith on which the Papal see has expressed itself, are
equivalent to Christian truths, even if they are not to be found in
scripture.' With distinct reference to his opponent, but without
actually mentioning him by name, he insists that whoever defends
heretical error must be held to be excommunicated, and if he fails
within a given time to make satisfaction, incurs by right and law
the most frightful penalties. Furthermore, he argued--and this has
always been held up against Luther and Protestantism--that if the
authority of the Church and Pope should not be recognised, every man
would believe only what was pleasing to himself and what he found in
the Bible, and thus the souls of all Christendom would be

Luther's theses now found another assailant, and one stronger even
than Tetzel, in the person of a Dominican and Thomist, one Sylvester
Mazolini of Prierio (Prierias), master of the sacred palace at Rome,
and a confidant of the Pope. He too, like Tetzel, based his chief
contention on the question of Papal authority, and was the first to
carry that contention to an extreme. The Pope, he said, is the
Church of Rome; the Romish Church is the Universal Christian Church;
whoever disputes the right of the Romish Church to act entirely as
she may, is a heretic. In this way he treated as contemptuously as
he could the obscure German, whose theses, that 'bite like a cur,'
as he expressed it, he only wished to dismiss with all despatch.

Another Dominican, James van Hoogstraten, prior at Cologne, who had
already figured as the prime zealot in the affair about Reuchlin,
which he was still prosecuting, now demanded, in his preface to a
pamphlet on that subject, that Luther should be sent to the stake as
a dangerous heretic.

But a far more important, and to Luther an utterly unexpected
opponent, appeared in the person of John Eck, professor at the
university of Ingolstadt, and canon at Eichstadt. He was a man of
very extensive learning in the earlier and later Scholastic theology
of the Church; he was a sharp-witted and ready controversialist, and
he knew how to use his weapons in disputations. He was fully
conscious of these gifts, and made a bold push to advance himself by
their means, whilst troubling himself very little in reality about
the high and sacred issues involved in the dispute. He sought to
keep on friendly and useful relations with other circles than those
of Scholastic theology, such as with learned Humanists, and a short
time before, with Luther himself and his colleague Carlstadt, to
whom he had been introduced through a jurist of Nuremberg named
Scheuerl. Luther, after the publication of his theses, had written a
friendly letter to Eck. What then was his surprise to find himself
attacked by Eck in a critical reply entitled 'Obelisks.' The tone of
his remarks was as wounding, coarse, and vindictive as their
substance was superficial. They aimed a well-meditated blow, by
stigmatising Luther's propositions as Bohemian poison, mere Hussite
heresy. Eck, when reproached for such a breach of friendship,
declared that he had written the book for his bishop of Eichstadt,
and not with any view of publication.

Luther himself, loud as was his call to battle in his theses, had
still no intention of engaging in a general contest about the
leading principles of the Church. He had not yet realised the whole
extent and bearings of the question about indulgences. Referring
afterwards to the rapid circulation of his theses through Germany,
and to the fame which his onslaught had earned him, he says, 'I did
not relish the fame, for I myself was not aware of what there was in
the indulgences, and the song was pitched too high for my voice.'
People far and wide were proud of the man who spoke out so boldly in
his theses, while the multitude of doctors and bishops kept silence;
but he still stood alone before the public, confronting the storm
which he had aroused against himself. He did not conceal the fact,
that now and then he felt strange and anxious about his position.
But he had learned to take his stand singly and firmly on the word
of Scripture, and on the truth which God therein revealed to him and
brought home to his conviction. He was only the more strengthened in
that conviction by the replies of his opponents; for he must well
have been amazed at their utter want of Scriptural reference to
disprove his conclusions, and at the blind subservience with which
they merely repeated the statements of their Scholastic authorities.
The arrogant reply of Prierias, his opponent of highest rank, seemed
to him particularly poor. In confident words Luther assures his
friends of his conviction that what he taught was the purest
theology, that what he upheld and his opponents attacked, was a
revelation direct from God. He knew too, that, in the words of St.
Paul, he had to preach what to the holiest of the Jews was a
stumbling-block, and to the wisest of the Greeks foolishness. He was
none the less ready to do so, that Jesus Christ, his Lord, might say
of him, as He said once of that Apostle, 'I will show him how great
things he must suffer for my name's sake.' Luther's enemies in the
Romish Church have thought to see in these words an instance of
boundless self-assertion on the part of an individual subject.

From henceforth Luther, while pursuing with unabated zeal his active
duties at the university and in the pulpit at Wittenberg, and taking
up his pen again and again to write short pamphlets of a simple and
edifying kind, occupied himself untiringly with controversial
writings, with the object partly of defending himself against
attacks, partly of establishing on a firm basis the principles he
had set forth, and of further investigating and making plain the way
of true Christian knowledge. He first addressed himself to German
Christendom, in German, in his 'Sermon on Indulgences and Grace.'
His inward excitement is shown by the vehemence and ruggedness of
expression which now and henceforth marked his polemical writings.
It recalls to mind the tone then commonly met with not only among
ordinary monks, but even in the controversies of theologians and
learned men, and in which Luther's own opponents, especially that
high Roman theologian, had set him the example. In Luther we see
now, throughout his whole method of polemics, as we shall see still
more later on, a mighty, Vulcanic, natural power breaking forth, but
always regulated by the humblest devotion to the lofty mission that
his conscience has imposed upon him. Even in his most vehement
outbursts we never fail to catch the tender expressions of a
Christian warmth and fervour of the heart, and a loftiness of
language corresponding to the sacredness of the subject.

In the midst of these labours and controversies, Luther had to
undertake a journey in the spring of 1518 (about the middle of
April) to a chapter general of his Order at Heidelberg, where,
according to the rules, a new Vicar was chosen after a triennial
term of office. His friends feared the snares that his enemies might
have prepared for him on the road. He himself did not hesitate for a
moment to obey the call of duty.

The Elector Frederick, who owed him at least a debt of gratitude for
having helped to keep his territory free from the rapacious Tetzel,
but who, both now and afterwards, conscientiously held aloof from
the contest, gave proof on this occasion of his undiminished
kindness and regard for him, in a letter he addressed to Staupitz.
He writes as follows:--'As you have required Martin Luder to attend
a Chapter at Heidelberg, it is his wish, although we grudge giving
him permission to leave our university, to go there and render due
obedience. And as we are indebted to your suggestion for this
excellent doctor of theology, in whom we are so well pleased, ... it
is our desire that you will further his safe return here, and not
allow him to be delayed.' He also gave Luther cordial letters of
introduction to Bishop Laurence of Wurzburg, through whose town his
road passed, and to the Count Palatine Wolfgang, at Heidelberg. From
both of these, though many had already declaimed against him as a
heretic, he met with a most friendly and obliging reception.

His relations, moreover, at Heidelberg with his fellow-members of
the Order, and, above all, with Staupitz, remained unclouded.
Staupitz was re-elected here as Vicar of the Order; the office of
provincial Vicar passed from Luther to John Lange, of Erfurt, his
intimate friend and fellow-thinker. The question about indulgences
had not entered at all into the business of the chapter. But at a
disputation held in the convent, according to custom, Luther
presided, and wrote for it some propositions embodying the
fundamental points of his doctrines concerning the sinfulness and
powerlessness of man, and righteousness, through God's grace, in
Christ, and against the philosophy and theology of Aristotelian
Scholasticism. He attracted the keen interest of several young
inmates of the convent who afterwards became his coadjutors, such as
John Brenz, Erhardt Schnepf, and Martin Butzer. They marvelled at
his power of drawing out the meaning from the Scriptures, and of
speaking not only with clearness and decision, but also with
refinement and grace. Thus his journey served to promote at once his
reputation and his influence.

On his return to Wittenberg on May 15, after an absence of five
weeks, he hastened to complete a detailed explanation in Latin of
the contents of his theses, under the title of 'Solutions,' the
greatest and most important work that he published at this period of
the contest.

The most valuable fruit of the controversy so far as regards Luther
and his later work, and evidence of which is given in these
'Solutions,' was the advance he had made, and had been compelled to
make, in the course of his own self-reasoning and researches. New
questions presented themselves: the inward connection of the truth
became gradually manifest: new results forced themselves upon him:
his anxiety to solve his difficulties still continued.

Luther in his theses, when speaking of the call of Jesus to
repentance, had never indeed admitted that the sacrament of penance
enjoined by the Church, with auricular confession and the penances
and satisfactions imposed by the priest, was based on God's command
or the authority of the Bible. He now openly acknowledged and
declared that these ecclesiastical acts were not enjoined by Christ
at all, but solely by the Pope and the Church.

The contest about the indulgences granted by the Pope in respect of
these acts, opened up now the doctrine of the so-called treasures of
the Church, on which the Pope drew for his bounty. Luther, while
conceding to the Pope the right of dispensing indulgences in the
sense understood by himself, guarded himself against admitting that
the merits of Christ constituted that treasure, and so should be
disposed of by the Pope in this manner: the dispensation of
indulgences rested simply on the Papal power of the keys. It was now
objected to him that herein he was going counter to an express and
duly recorded declaration of a pope, Clement VI., namely, that the
merits of Christ were undoubtedly to be dispensed in indulgences.
Luther, who in his theses against the abuse of indulgences had
abstained as yet from propounding anything which might be
inconsistent with the ascertained meaning of the Pope, now insisted
without hesitation on this contradiction. That Papal pronouncement,
he declared, did not bear the character of a dogmatic decree, and a
distinction was to be drawn between a decree of the Pope and its
acceptance by the Church through a Council.

How then, Luther proceeded to inquire, should the Christian obtain
forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, righteousness before
God, peace and holiness in God? And in answering this question he
reverted to the key-note of his doctrine of salvation, which he had
begun to preach before the contest about indulgences commenced. He
had already declared that salvation came through faith; in other
words, through heartfelt trust in God's mercy, as announced by the
Bible, and in the Saviour Christ. How was that consistent with the
acts of ecclesiastical penance, such as absolution in particular,
which must be obtained from the priest? Luther now declared that God
would assuredly allow his offer of forgiveness to be conveyed to
those who longed for it, by His commissioned servant of the Church,
the priest, but that the assurance of such forgiveness must lean
simply on the promise of God, by virtue and on behalf of Whom the
priest performed his office. And at the same time he declared that
this promise could be conveyed to a troubled Christian by any
brother-Christian, and that full forgiveness would be granted to him
if he had faith. No enumeration of particular sins was necessary for
that end; it was enough if the repentant and faithful yearning for
the word of mercy was made known to the priest or brother from whom
the message of comfort was sought. Hence it followed, on the one
hand, that priestly absolution and the sacrament availed nothing to
the receiver unless he turned with inward faith to his God and
Saviour, received with faith the word spoken to him, and through
that word let himself be raised to greater faith. It followed also,
on the other hand, that a penitent and faithful Christian, holding
fast to that word, to whom the priest should arbitrarily refuse the
absolution he looked for, could, in spite of such refusal,
participate in God's forgiveness to the full. Herewith was broken at
once the most powerful bond by which the dominant Church enslaved
the souls to the organs of her hierarchy. Luther has humbled man to
the lowest before God, through Whose grace alone the sinner, in meek
and believing trustfulness, can be saved. But in God and through
this grace he teaches him to be free and certain of salvation.
Christ, he says, has not willed that man's salvation should lie in
the hand or at the pleasure of a man.

As for the outward acts and punishments which the Church and the
Pope imposed, he did not seek to abolish them. In this external
province at least he recognised in the Pope a power originating
direct from God. Here, in his opinion, the Christian was bound to
put up with even an abuse of power and the infliction of unjust

The whole contest turned ultimately on the question as to who
should determine disputes about the truth, and where to seek the
highest standard and the purest source of Christian verity.
Gradually at first, and manifestly with many inward struggles on the
part of Luther, his views and principles gained clearness and
consistency. Even within the Catholic Church the doctrine as to the
highest authority to be recognised in questions of belief and
conduct was by no means so firmly established as is frequently
represented by both Protestants and Roman Catholics. The doctrine of
the infallibility of the Pope, and of the absolute authority
attaching thereby to his decisions, however confidently asserted by
the admirers of Aquinas and accepted by the Popes, was not erected
into a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church until 1870. The other
theory, that even the Pope can err, and that the supreme decision
rests with a General Council, had been maintained by theologians
whom, at the same time, no Pope had ever ventured to treat as
heretics. It was on the ground of this latter theory that the
University of Paris, then the first university in Europe, had just
appealed from the Pope to a General Council. In Germany opinions
were on the whole divided between this and the theory of Papal
absolutism. Again, the view that neither the decisions of a Council
nor of a Pope were _ipso facto_ infallible, but that an appeal
therefrom lay to a council possibly better informed, had already
been advanced with impunity by writers of the fifteenth century. The
only point as to which no doubt was expressed, was that the
decisions of previous General Councils, acknowledged also by the
Pope, contained absolutely pure Divine truth, and that the Christian
Universal Church could never fall into error; but even then, with
reference to this Church, the question still remained as to who or
what was her true and final representative.

Luther now followed what he found to be the teaching of the Bible,
so far as that teaching presented itself to his own independent and
conscientious research, and as, traced home in the New Testament and
especially in the Epistles of St. Paul, it shaped itself to his
perception. But for all this, he would not yet abandon his agreement
with the Church of which he was a member. The very man whom Eck had
branded as full of 'Bohemian poison,' complained of the Bohemian
Brethren or Moravians for exalting themselves in their ignorance
above the rest of Christendom. A Thomist indeed, who to him was only
a Scholastic among others, he fearlessly opposed; but still we find
no expression of a thought that the Church, assembled at a General
Council, had ever erred, nor even that any future Council could
pronounce an erroneous decision upon the present points in dispute.
Nay, he awaits the decision of such a Council against the charges of
heresy already brought against him, though without ever admitting
his readiness, if such a Council should assemble, to submit
beforehand and unconditionally to its decision, whatever it might
be. Above and before any such decision he held firm to the authority
of his own conviction: his conscience, he said, would not allow him
to yield from that resolve; he was not standing alone in this
contest, but with him stood the truth, together with all those who
shared his doubts as to the virtue of indulgences.

Still, while rejecting the doctrine of the infallibility of the
Popes, it was a hard matter for Luther to reproach them also with
actual error in their decisions. We have seen how necessity forced
him to do so in the case of Clement VI. Towards the existing Head of
the Church he desired to remain, as far as possible, in concord and
subjection. It was not for mere appearance' sake, that in his
ninety-five theses he represented his own view of indulgences as
being also that of the Pope. He hoped, at all events, and wished
with all his heart that it was so; and later on, towards the close
of his life, he tells us how confidently he had cherished the
expectation that the Pope would be his patron in the war against the
shameless vendors of indulgences. Even after those hopes had failed,
he spoke of Leo X. with respect as a man of good disposition and an
educated theologian, whose only misfortune was that he lived in an
atmosphere of corruption and in a vicious age. He was none the less
assured of his Divine credentials as the supreme earthly Shepherd of
Christendom, and the depositary of all canonical power. The duty of
humility and obedience, impressed on him to excess as a monk, must,
no less than the fear of the possible dangers and troubles in store
for himself and his Christian brethren, have made Luther shrink from
the thought of having actually to testify and fight against him. He
ventured to dedicate his 'Solutions' to the Pope himself. The letter
of May 30, 1518, in which he did this, shows the peculiar,
anomalous, and untenable position in which he now found himself
placed. He is horrified, he says, at the charges of heresy and
schism brought against himself. He who would much prefer to live in
peace, had no wish to set up any dogmas in his theses, provoked as
they were by a public scandal, but simply in Christian zeal, or, as
others might have it, in youthful ardour, to invite men to a
disputation, and his present desire was to publish his explanation
of them under the patronage and protection of the Pope himself. But
at the same time he declares that his conscience was innocent and
untroubled, and he adds with emphatic brevity, 'Retract I cannot.'
He concludes by humbly casting himself at the Pope's feet with the
words, 'Give me life or death, accept or reject me as you please.'
He will recognise the Papal voice as that of the Lord Jesus Himself.
He will, if worthy of death, not flinch from it. But that
declaration of his, which he could not retract, must stand.



The task that Luther had now undertaken lay heavy upon his soul. He
was sincerely anxious, whilst fighting for the truth, to remain at
peace with his Church, and to serve her by the struggle. Pope Leo,
on the contrary, as was consistent with his whole character, treated
the matter at first very lightly, and when it threatened to become
dangerous, thought only how, by means of his Papal power, to make
the restless German monk harmless.

Two expressions of his in these early days of the contest are
recorded. 'Brother Martin,' he said, 'is a man of a very fine
genius, and this outbreak the mere squabble of envious monks;' and
again, 'It is a drunken German who has written the theses; he will
think differently about them when sober.' Three months after the
theses had appeared, he ordered the Vicar-General of the
Augustinians to 'quiet down the man,' hoping still to extinguish
easily the flame. The next step was to institute a tribunal for
heretics at Rome, for Luther's trial: what its judgment would be was
patent from the fact that the single theologian of learning among
the judges was Sylvester Prierias. Before this tribunal Luther was
cited on August 7; within sixty days he was to appear there at Rome.
Friend and foe could well feel certain that they would look in vain
for his return.

Papal influence, meanwhile, had been brought to bear on the Elector
Frederick, to induce him not to take the part of Luther, and the
chief agent chosen for working on the Elector and the Emperor
Maximilian was the Papal legate, Cardinal Thomas Vio of Gaeta,
called Caietan, who had made his appearance in Germany. The
University of Wittenberg, on the other hand, interposed on behalf of
their member, whose theology was popular there, and whose biblical
lectures attracted crowds of enthusiastic hearers. He had just been
joined at Wittenberg by his fellow-professor Philip Melancthon, then
only twenty-one years old, but already in the first rank of Greek
scholars, and the bond of friendship was now formed which lasted
through their lives. The university claimed that Luther should at
least be tried in Germany.

Luther expressed the same wish through Spalatin to his sovereign. He
now also answered publicly the attack of Prierias upon his theses,
and declared not only that a Council alone could represent the
Church, but that even a decree of Council might err, and that an Act
of the Church was no final evidence of the truth of a doctrine.
Being threatened with excommunication, he preached a sermon on the
subject, and showed how a Christian, even if under the ban of the
Church, or excluded from _outward_ communion with her, could
still remain in true _inward_ communion with Christ and His
believers, and might then see in his excommunication the noblest
merit of his own.

The Pope, meanwhile, had passed from his previous state of haughty
complacency to one of violent haste. Already, on August 23, thus
long before the sixty days had expired, he demanded the Elector to
deliver up this 'child of the devil,' who boasted of his protection,
to the legate, to bring away with him. This is clearly shown by two
private briefs from the Pope, of August 23 and 25, the one addressed
to the legate, the other to the head of all the Augustinian convents
in Saxony, as distinguished from the Vicar of those congregations,
Staupitz, who already was looked on with suspicion at Borne. These
briefs instructed both men to hasten the arrest of the heretic; his
adherents were to be secured with him, and every place where he was
tolerated laid under the interdict. So unheard of seemed this
conduct of the Pope, that Protestant historians would not believe in
the genuineness of the briefs; but we shall soon see how Caietan
himself refers to the one in his possession.

Other and general relations, interests, and movements of the
ecclesiastical and political life of the German nation now began to
exercise an influence, direct or indirect, upon the history of
Luther and the development of the struggles of the Reformation, and
even caused the Pope himself to moderate his conduct.

Whilst questions of the deepest kind about the means of salvation,
and the grounds and rules of Christian truth, had been opened up for
the first time by Luther during the contest about indulgences, the
abuses, encroachments, and acts of tyranny committed by the Pope on
the temporal domain of the Church, and closely affecting the
political and social life of the people, had long been the subject
of bitter complaints and vigorous remonstrances throughout Germany.
These complaints and remonstrances had been raised by princes and
states of the Empire, who would not be silenced by any theories or
dogmas about the Divine authority and infallibility of the Pope, nor
crushed by any mere sentence of excommunication. And in raising them
they had made no question of the Divine right of the Papacy. Was it
not natural that, in the indignation excited by their wrongs, they
should turn to the man who had laid the axe to the root of the tree
which bore such fruit, and at least consider the possibility of
profiting by his work? Luther, on his part, showed at first a
singularly small acquaintance with the circumstances of their
complaints, and seemed hardly aware of the loud protests raised so
long on this subject at the Diets. But with the question of
indulgences the field of his experience broadened in this respect.
The care he evinced in this matter for the care of souls and true
Christian morality made him the ally of all those who were alarmed
at the vast export of money to Rome, about which he had already said
in his theses that the Christian sheep were being regularly fleeced.

In another respect, also, the ecclesiastical policy of the Papal see
was closely interwoven with the political condition and history of
Germany. If in theory the Pope claimed to control and confirm the
decrees even of the civil power, in practice he at least attempted
to assert and maintain an omnipresent influence. And with regard to
Germany it was all-important to him that the Empire should not
become so powerful as to endanger his authority in general and his
territorial sovereignty in Italy. However loftily the Popes in their
briefs proclaimed their immutable rights, derived from God, and
their plenary power, and took care to let theologians and jurists
advance such pretensions, they understood clearly enough in their
practical conduct to adjust those relations to the rules of
political or diplomatic necessity.

In the summer of 1518 a Diet was held at Augsburg, at which the
Papal legate attended. The Pope was anxious to obtain its consent to
the imposition of a heavy tax throughout the Empire, to be applied
ostensibly for the war against the Turks, but alleged to be wanted
in reality for entirely other objects. The Emperor Maximilian, now
old and hastening to his end, was endeavouring to secure the
succession of his grandson Charles, and Caietan's chief task was to
exert his influence with Maximilian and the Elector Frederick to
bring Luther into their disfavour. The Archbishop Albert, who had
been hit so hard by Luther's attack on the traffic in indulgences,
was solemnly proclaimed Cardinal by order of the Pope.

Of Maximilian it might fairly have been expected that, after his
many experiences and contests with the Popes, he would at least
protect Luther from the worst, however unlikely it might be that he
should entertain the idea of effecting, by his help, a great reform
in the National Church. He did indeed express his wish to
Pfeffinger, a counsellor of the Elector, that his prince should take
care of the monk, as his services might some day be wanted. But he
supported the Pope in the matter of the tax, and hoped to gain him
for his own political ends. He opposed Luther also in his attack on
indulgences, on the ground that it endangered the Church, and that
he was resolved to uphold the action taken by the Pope.

This demand for a tax, however, was received with the utmost
disfavour both by the Diet and the Empire; and a long-cherished
bitterness of feeling now found expression. An anonymous pamphlet
was circulated, from the pen of one Fischer, a prebendary of
Wiirzburg, which bluntly declared that the avaricious lords of Rome
only wished to cheat the 'drunken Germans,' and that the real Turks
were to be looked for in Italy. This pamphlet reached Wittenberg and
fell into the hands of Luther, whom now for the first time we hear
denouncing 'Roman cunning,' though he only charged the Pope himself
with allowing his grasping Florentine relations to deceive him. The
Diet seized the opportunity offered by this demand for a tax, to
bring up a whole list of old grievances; the large sums drawn from
German benefices by the Pope under the name of annates, or extorted
under other pretexts; the illegal usurpation of ecclesiastical
patronage in Germany, the constant infringement of concordats, and
so on. The demand itself was refused, and in addition to this, an
address was presented to the Diet from the bishop and clergy of
Liege, inveighing against the lying, thieving, avaricious conduct of
the Romish minions, in such sharp and violent tones that Luther, on
reading it afterwards when printed, thought it only a hoax, and not
really an episcopal remonstrance.

This was reason enough why Caietan, to avoid increasing the
excitement, should not attempt to lay hands on the Wittenberg
opponent of indulgences. The Elector Frederick, from whose hands
Caietan would have to demand Luther, was one of the most powerful
and personally respected princes of the Empire, and his influence
was especially important in view of the election of a new Emperor.
This prince went now in person to Caietan on Luther's behalf, and
Caietan promised him, at the very time that the brief was on its way
to him from Rome, that he would hear Luther at Augsburg, treat him
with fatherly kindness, and let him depart in safety.

Luther accordingly was sent to Augsburg. It was an anxious time for
himself and his friends when he had to leave for that distant place,
where the Elector, with all his care, could not employ any physical
means for his protection, and to stand accused as a heretic before
that Papal legate who, from his own theological principles, was
bound to condemn him, Caietan being a zealous Thomist like Prierias,
and already notorious as a champion of indulgences and Papal
absolutism. 'My thoughts on the way,' said Luther afterwards, 'were
now I must die; and I often lamented the disgrace I should be to my
dear parents.'

He went thither in humble garb and manner. He made his way on foot
till within a short distance of Augsburg, when illness and weakness
overcame him, and he was forced to proceed by carriage. Another
younger monk of Wittenberg accompanied him, his pupil Leonard Baier.
At Nuremberg he was joined by his friend Link, who held an
appointment there as preacher. From him he borrowed a monk's frock,
his own being too bad for Augsburg. He arrived here on October 7.

The surroundings he now entered, and the proceedings impending over
him, were wholly novel and unaccustomed. But he met with men who
received him with kindness and consideration; several of them were
gentlemen of Augsburg favourable to him, especially the respected
patrician, Dr. Conrad Peutinger, and two counsellors of the Elector.
They advised him to behave with prudence, and to observe carefully
all the necessary forms, to which as yet he was a stranger.

Luther at once announced his arrival to Caietan, who was anxious to
receive him without delay. His friends, however, kept him back until
they had obtained a written safe-conduct from the Emperor, who was
then hunting in the environs. In the meantime, a distinguished
friend of Caietan, one Urbanus of Serralonga, tried to persuade him,
in a flippant, and, as Luther thought, a downright Italian manner,
to come forward and simply pronounce six letters,--_Revoco_--I
retract. Urbanus asked him with a smile if he thought his sovereign
would risk his country for his sake. 'God forbid!' answered Luther.
'Where then do you mean to take refuge?' he went on to ask him.
'Under Heaven,' was Luther's reply.

To Melancthon Luther wrote as follows: 'There is no news here,
except that the town is full of talk about me, and everybody wants
to see the man who, like a second Herostratus, has kindled such a
flame. Remain a man as you are, and instruct the youth aright. I go
to be sacrificed for them and for you, if God so will. For I will
rather die, and, what is the hardest fate, lose for ever the sweet
intercourse with you, than revoke anything that it was right for me
to say.'

On October 11 Luther received the letter of safe-conduct, and the
next day he appeared before Caietan. Humbly, as he had been advised,
he prostrated himself before the representative of the Pope, who
received him graciously and bade him rise.

The Cardinal addressed him civilly, and with a courtesy Luther was
not accustomed to meet with from his opponents; but he immediately
demanded him, in the name and by command of the Pope, to retract his
errors, and promise in future to abstain from them and from
everything that might disturb the peace of the Church. He pointed
out, in particular, two errors in his theses; namely, that the
Church's treasure of indulgences did not consist of the merits of
Christ, and that faith on the part of the recipient was necessary
for the efficacy of the sacrament. With respect to the second point,
the religious principles upon which Luther based his doctrine were
altogether strange and unintelligible to the Scholastic standpoint
of Caietan; mere tittering and laughter followed Luther's
observations, and he was required to retract this thesis
unconditionally. The first point settled the question of Papal
authority. On this, the Cardinal-legate took his chief stand on the
express declaration of Pope Clement: he could not believe that
Luther would venture to resist a Papal bull, and thought he had
probably not read it. He read him a vigorous lecture of his own on
the paramount authority of the Pope over Council, Church, and
Scripture. As to any argument, however, about the theses to be
retracted, Caietan refused from the first to engage in it, and
undoubtedly he went further in that direction than he originally
desired or intended. His sole wish was, as he said, to give fatherly
correction, and with fatherly friendliness to arrange the matter.
But in reality, says Luther, it was a blunt, naked, unyielding
display of power. Luther could only beg from him further time for

Luther's friends at Augsburg, and Staupitz, who had just arrived
there, now attempted to divert the course of these proceedings, to
collect other decisions of importance bearing on the subject, and to
give him the opportunity of a public vindication. Accompanied
therefore by several jurists friendly to his cause, and by a notary
and Staupitz, he laid before the legate next day a short and formal
statement of defence. He could not retract unless convicted of
error, and to all that he had said he must hold as being Catholic
truth. Nevertheless he was only human, and therefore fallible, and
he was willing to submit to a legitimate decision of the Church. He
offered, at the same time, publicly to justify his theses, and he
was ready to hear the judgment of the learned doctors of Basle,
Freiburg, Louvain, and even Paris upon them. Caietan with a smile
dismissed Luther and his proposals, but consented to receive a more
detailed reply in writing to the principal points discussed on the
previous day.

On the morrow, October 14, Luther brought his reply to the legate.
But in this document also he insisted clearly and resolutely from
the commencement on those very principles which his opponents
regarded as destructive of all ecclesiastical authority and of the
foundations of Christian belief. He spoke with crucial emphasis of
the trouble he had taken to interpret the words of Pope Clement in a
Scriptural sense. The Papal decrees might err, and be at variance
with Holy Writ. Even the Apostle Peter himself had once to be
reproved (Galat. ii. 11 sqq.) for 'walking not uprightly according
to the truth of the gospel;' surely then his successor was not
infallible. Every faithful believer in Christ was superior to the
Pope, if he could show better proofs and grounds of his belief.
Still he entreated Caietan to intercede with Leo X., that the latter
might not harshly thrust out into darkness his soul, which was
seeking for the light. But he repeated that he could do nothing
against his conscience: one must obey God rather than man, and he
had the fullest confidence that he had Scripture on his side.
Caietan, to whom he delivered this reply in person, once more tried
to persuade him. They fell into a lively and vehement argument; but
Caietan cut it short with the exclamation 'Revoke.' In the event of
Luther not revoking or submitting to judgment at Rome, he threatened
him and all his friends with excommunication, and whatever place he
might go to with an interdict; he had a mandate from the Pope to
that effect already in his hands. He then dismissed him with the
words, 'Revoke, or do not come again into my presence.'

Nevertheless he spoke in quite a friendly manner after this to
Staupitz, urging him to try his best to convert Luther, whom he
wished well. Luther, however, wrote the same day to his friend
Spalatin, who was with the Elector, and to his friends at
Wittenberg, telling them that he had refused to yield. The legate,
he said, had behaved with all friendliness of manner to Staupitz in
his affair, but neither Staupitz nor himself trusted the Italian
when out of sight. If Caietan should use force against him, he would
publish the written reply he gave him. Caietan might call himself a
Thomist, but he was a muddle-headed, ignorant theologian and
Christian, and as clumsy in giving judgment in the matter as a
donkey with a harp. Luther added further that an appeal would be
drawn up for him in the form best fitted to the occasion. He further
hinted to his Wittenberg friends at the possibility of his having to
go elsewhere in exile; indeed, his friends already thought of taking
him to Paris, where the university still rejected the doctrine of
Papal absolutism. He concluded this letter by saying that he refused
to become a heretic by denying that which had made him a Christian;
sooner than do that, he would be burned, exiled, or cursed.

The appeal of which Luther here spoke, was 'from the Pope ill-informed
to the same when better informed.' On October 16 he submitted it,
formally prepared, to a public notary. While Staupitz and Link, warned
to consult their personal safety, and despairing of any good result,
left Augsburg, Luther still remained there. He even addressed on
October 17 a letter to Caietan, conceding to him the utmost he thought
possible. Moved, as he said, by the persuasions of his dear father
Staupitz and his brother Link, he offered to let the whole question of
indulgences rest, if only that which drove him to this tragedy were
put a stop to; he confessed also to having been too violent and
disrespectful in dispute. In after years he said to his friends, when
referring to this concession, that God had never allowed him to sink
deeper than when he had yielded so much. The next day, however, he
gave notice of his appeal to the legate, and told him he did not wish
longer to waste his time in Augsburg. To this letter he received no

Luther waited, however, till the 20th. He and his Augsburg patrons
began to suspect whether measures had not already been taken to detain
him. They therefore had a small gate in the city wall opened in the
night, and sent with him an escort well acquainted with the road. Thus
he hastened away, as he himself described it, on a hard-trotting hack,
in a simple monk's frock, with only knee-breeches, without boots or
spurs, and unarmed. On the first day he rode eight miles, as far as
the little town of Monheim. As he entered in the evening an inn and
dismounted in the stable, he was unable to stand from fatigue, and
fell down instantly among the straw. He travelled thus on horseback
to Wittenberg, where he arrived well and joyful, on the anniversary of
his ninety-five theses. He had heard on the way of the Pope's brief to
Caietan, but he refused to think it could be genuine. His appeal,
meanwhile, was delivered to the Cardinal at Augsburg, who had it
posted by his notary on the doors of the cathedral.

From Augsburg Luther was followed by a letter from Caietan to the
Elector, full of bitter complaints against him. He had formed, he
said, the highest hopes of his spiritual recovery, and had been
grievously disappointed in him; the Elector, for his own honour and
conscience' sake, must now either send him to Rome or, at least,
expel him from his territory, since measures of fatherly kindness
had failed to make him acknowledge his error. Frederick, after
waiting four weeks, returned a quiet answer, showing how the conduct
of Luther quite agreed with his own view of the matter. He would
have expected that no recantation would have been required of Luther
till the matter in dispute had been satisfactorily examined and
explained. There were a number of learned men, also, at foreign
universities, from whom he could not yet have learned with certainty
that Luther's doctrine was unchristian; while, to say the least, it
was chiefly those whose personal and financial interests were
affected by it that had become his opponents. He would propose
therefore that the judgment of several universities should be
obtained, and have the matter disputed at a safe place. Luther,
however, to whom the Elector showed this letter, at once declared
himself ready to go into exile, but would not be deterred from
publishing new declarations or taking further steps.

He had a report of his conference with Caietan printed, with a
justification of himself to the readers. And in this he advanced
propositions against the Papacy which entirely shook its whole
foundation. Already, in the solutions to his theses, he had
incidentally, and without attracting further notice by the remark,
spoken of a time when the Papacy had not yet acquired supremacy over
the Universal Church, thereby contradicting what the Romish Church
maintained and had made into a dogma, namely, that the Papal see
possessed this primacy by original institution through Christ, and
by means of immutable Divine right. He now expressed this opinion as
a positive proposition. The Papal monarchy, he declared, was only a
Divine institution in the sense in which every temporal power,
advanced by the progress of historical development, might be called
so also. 'The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.'

Without waiting for an answer direct from Rome, Luther now abandoned
all thoughts of success with Leo X. On November 28 he formally and
solemnly appealed from the Pope to a General Christian Council. By
so doing he anticipated the sentence of excommunication which he was
daily expecting. With Rome he had broken for ever, unless she were
to surrender her claims and acquisitions of more than a thousand

After once the first restraints of awe were removed with which
Luther had regarded the Papacy, behind and beyond the matter of the
indulgences, and he had learned to know the Papal representative at
Augsburg, and made a stand against his demands and menaces, and
escaped from his dangerous clutches, he enjoyed for the first time
the fearless consciousness of freedom. He took a wider survey around
him, and saw plainly the deep corruption and ungodliness of the
powers arrayed against him. His mind was impelled forward with more
energy as his spirit for the fight was stirred within him. Even the
prospect that he might have to fly, and the uncertainty whither his
flight could be, did not daunt or deter him. His thought was how he
could throw himself with more freedom into the struggle, if no
longer hampered by any obligations to his prince and his university.
Writing at that time to his friend Link, to inform him of his new
publications and his appeal, he invited his opinion as to whether he
was not right in saying that the Antichrist of whom St. Paul speaks
(2 Thess. ii.), ruled at the Papal court. 'My pen,' he went on to
say, 'is already giving birth to something much greater. I know not
whence these thoughts come. The work, as far as I can see, has
hardly yet begun, so little reason have the great men at Rome for
hoping it is finished.' Again, while informing Spalatin, through
whom the Elector always urged him to moderation, of new Papal edicts
and regulations aimed against him, he declared, 'The more those
Romish grandees rage and meditate the use of force, the less do I
fear them. All the more free shall I become to fight against the
serpents of Rome. I am prepared for all, and await the judgment of

He was really prepared for exile or flight at any moment. At
Wittenberg his friends were alarmed by rumours of designs on the
part of the Pope against his life and liberty, and insisted on his
being placed in safety. Flight to France was continually talked of;
had he not followed in his appeal a precedent set by the university
of Paris? We certainly cannot see how he could safely have been
conveyed thither, or where, indeed, any other and safer place could
have been found for him. Some urged that the Elector himself should
take him into custody and keep him in a place of safety, and then
write to the legate that he held him securely in confinement and was
in future responsible for him. Luther proposed this to Spalatin, and
added, 'I leave the decision of this matter to your discretion; I am
in the hands of God and of my friends.' The Elector himself, anxious
also in this respect, arranged early in December a confidential
interview between Luther and Spalatin at the Castle of Lichtenberg.
He also, as Luther reported to Staupitz, wished that Luther had some
other place to be in, but he advised him against going away so
hastily to France. His own wish and counsel, however, he refrained
as yet from making known. Luther declared that at all events, if a
ban of excommunication were to come from Rome, he would not remain
longer at Wittenberg. On this point also the prince kept secret his



The rumours of the dangers that threatened Luther from Rome had a
good foundation. A new agent from there had now arrived in Germany,
the Papal chamberlain, Charles von Miltitz.

His errand was designed to remove the chief obstacle to summoning

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