- Christogenea Saturdays
Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 10, Luther Declares War.
In our last segment of these presentations, we saw that with the promises of military support which were offered to him by Franz Sickingen and Sylvester von Schaumburg, Martin Luther was emboldened to the point of even declaring war against the papacy. With this we may feel the urge to jump ahead and get to the more exciting parts of this history, but then we would skip over the more important lessons which are found in the investigation of the motivations of individuals that lie behind the actual historical events. Taking the slow route, and examining the details, we shall indeed uncover at least many of the motives behind Martin Luther and the other men who led the Reformation and founded at least some varieties of the Protestant faith.
We left our author with his comments concerning Martin Luther's ‘Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation’ which he made in August of 1520, where he had concluded that “With unsparing energy Luther endeavoured to stir up German national feeling against Italy and in favour of his own cause. According to him the Italians were steeped in every kind of vice, and yet so proud and haughty that they looked upon the Germans as scarcely human. Luther’s address to the German nobility was a martial summons to the ﬁercest onslaught.”
Now we shall continue with our primary reference for these presentations, The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages by Johannes Janssen, Volume 3, Book 5, published in English in London in 1900, from the bottom of page 123. We shall begin where the author is referring to Luther's ‘Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation’:
Simultaneously with this address Luther published, with an accompanying marginal commentary, a pamphlet that had been written against himself by Sylvester Prierias, ‘on the Pope as an infallible teacher.’ In the preface to this pamphlet he calls pontiﬁcal Rome a ‘synagogue of Satan’s;’ congratulates the Greeks and the Bohemians, who have severed themselves from the Romish Babylon, and execrates all who have any connection with Rome. ‘Go to now, unhappy reprobate, godless man; may God’s wrath overtake you, as you richly deserve!’ In the epilogue he throws out a distinct challenge to a war of religion. ‘If the madness of the Romanists goes on like this,’ he says, ‘there seems to me no other way of escape than for the Emperor, the kings, and the princes to have recourse to arms, to make them ready for battle, to declare war against this pest of the universe, and to bring the matter to an issue not with words, but with iron and steel. If we punish thieves with the halter, murderers with the sword, heretics with the stake, why do we not still more chastise, with every weapon we can lay hands on, these teachers of corruption, these cardinals, these popes, and all the crawling vermin of this Romish Sodom, who go on unceasingly corrupting, degrading, ruining the Church of God? Why do we not wash our hands in their blood?’
According to an article on the Reformation found at the website belonging to the Concordia Seminary, Sylvester Prierias was a Dominican monk who began writing against Luther during the indulgences controversy in 1518. We will quote from the article because it gives good insight into the attitude of many defenders of the Roman Catholic Church at the time, and even today:
Prierias was drafted into the early Reformation conflict while serving in Leo X’s court. After receiving a copy of Luther’s 95 Theses and obtaining a verdict from the faculty at Mainz concerning the theses, Albrecht von Hohenzollern [aka Albrecht, bishop of Mayence, or Mainz] sent an official request to Rome for an investigation of Luther’s teachings. As part of the due process, Leo had canonist Jerome Ghinucci draft a letter summoning Luther to Rome for a hearing and ordered Prierias to provide a theological critique of the theses. Prierias was not unfamiliar with Wittenberg, being present when Luther’s own teacher, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt [a more radical reformer than Luther], underwent a 1516 public disputation in Rome to earn his doctorate in civil and canon law. Afterward, the two had a terse exchange over the role of Scripture in the debate that would suggest the later conflict with Luther.
In 1518, Prierias wrote his Dialogus de potestate papae [Dialogue of the power of the pope], which set out a general critique of Luther’s arguments against the theology behind indulgences. Like Johannes Tetzel and Johannes Eck, Prierias embodied the common attempt of Luther’s rivals to shift the debate toward church authority rather than focusing solely on the question of indulgences. He argued that Luther’s theses were methodologically unclear, then offered a fourfold set of principles drawn from the Thomistic tradition [named after Thomas Aquinas] for proceeding with debate: the Roman church and the papacy were equivalent with the universal church; neither the Roman church, the papacy, nor a rightly constituted council can err theologically; anyone who disagrees with the infallible proclamations of the Roman church, the papacy, or a council is a heretic; and this judgment extends to both official teachings and official practices. The last of the four would prove the most pivotal to the ensuing debate.
Continuing from page 124 of our source:
For such outbursts of unbridled passion there is but one explanation, which we ﬁnd in some of his conﬁdential utterances to his friends. In a letter to Johann Lange on August 18, 1520, Luther wrote that against the papacy, ‘the seat of the real veritable Antichrist,’ he considered every possible mode of attack permissible for the sake of the salvation of souls.
Lange was a humanist who lectured on Pliny under the name Joachim Camerarius. Lange had studied surgery with Prince Carpi in Italy, who was an adversary of Italian humanists. He was better known for his career in medicine that for anything else.
The fury of his enemies, he said in another letter, was so great that he was no longer master of himself, and was impelled by he knew not what manner of a spirit.
Luther seemed to be implying that he was guided by a Divine spirit, but in a letter that our author is about to present his opponent, Hieronymus Emser, will suggest otherwise. Emser is a member of the court of Duke George of Saxony. Another constant correspondent of Luther's, the humanist priest Spalatin, whose real name was Georg Burkhardt, was a secretary, librarian, court chaplain and tutor for Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, a man who would figure prominently in Luther's life and success a little later on. Continuing from page 125:
‘Your overbearing temper,’ wrote Hieronymus Emser, court chaplain and secretary of Duke George of Saxony, to Luther, his former friend, ‘your overbearing temper cannot brook that any one should contradict you by speech or by pen, lets you listen to no one, allows no one to know better than you. For this reason it cannot verily be the Spirit of the Lord, but must be some other spirit; for, as the prophet says, the Spirit of the Lord dwells with none but the humble-minded, the lowly, and the peaceable. Now it is everywhere notorious that you, like a wild and tempestuous sea, neither by day nor by night have any rest and peace for yourself, and will not allow other people to be at rest, but as waves dash up against the ships so you rub yourself up now against this person, now against that, and are always seeking whom you may quarrel with. By my faith as a priest, in place of an oath, I say it, I have never conceived in my heart hatred or envy against your person, but only against your presumptuous behaviour to our Mother, the Holy Christian Church, against your false doctrines and your perverse interpretations of the Scriptures, which are contrary to all Christian teaching; against these I am and ever shall be incensed, and so much the more as from day to day “the more you spin the coarser your thread becomes.” I have now three times warned you as a brother, and entreated you for the love of God, to spare and have pity on this poor nation which is growing visibly irritated by this business, and you answer me at last with the words: “Let the Devil have his way; the matter was not begun for the love of God, and it shall be ended for the love of God.”’
This reflects the two-edged sword of prophet of God vs. perception of man. The ancient Judahites threw Jeremiah into prison. Countless other supposed prophets of God turned out to be wicked frauds. Luther seems to have sincerely believed that he was indeed a messenger of God, if not a prophet. Would anyone convince an Isaiah or a Jeremiah that they were wrong? We would not put Luther on their level, or any other man, however legitimate conviction must come from Scripture. The humble-minded are men willing to listen to the Scripture. Luther believed he had Scripture on his side, and therefore he thought he could do no wrong.
Like Emser, Spalatin urged Luther not to war against the papacy. But when Luther decided to war, Spalatin supported his friend. In 1521 Emser published an attack on Luther's Appeal to the German Nobility, and continued to oppose him until his death in 1527.
Continuing with our source from page 125:
At the end of the year 1520 Emser writes that the time of the visitation of the German people has now come. ‘Worthy Germans,’ he says, ‘God is visiting and proving each one of you, in order to see how steadfast and loyal each of you will remain to the holy faith and to the Christian Church. Hitherto, praised be the Germans in this for evermore, it has never come to pass that any single German emperor, king, prince, or community, after having once acknowledged the Christian faith, has fallen away from it again, or become heretical, like the princes, kings, and emperors of other nations, who have often let themselves be so miserably seduced by heretics that they have become renegades to the faith of Christ, have worshipped gods that are no gods, have destroyed churches and monasteries, have persecuted, driven out, and slain priests, bishops, and popes - one here, another there, as the chronicles credibly show. Furthermore, whole provinces, empires, and kingdoms have sometimes in the time of their visitation been led away from the holy faith through curious prying into new doctrines and obstinate persistence in their sins. The two largest quarters of the world, Asia and Africa, have withdrawn from the Roman dominion and Church, so that scarcely any Christians are to be found there; and in the third quarter, Europe, no small number have followed this example. And now the turn has come for us Germans, as indeed was foretold many years ago, that in these our days a monk would lead the German nation into great errors, as in truth Christ himself has warned us generally that wolves would come among us in sheep’s clothing.’
We do not know what supposed prophet it is to which Emser is referring, but Emser is obviously a papist, who, like Prierias, insists that the Roman Catholic Church is the only legitimate Christian church, something which is quite contrary to Scripture, and then he insists on the infallibility of the popes and their councils, which is also contrary to Scripture.
Here Emser is spinning history for the purposes of propaganda. It is true that China expelled Franciscan missionaries in the 14th century, and the Catholics did not have a presence in China again for 300 years. But China was never under Roman dominion. Neither was the Near East, although there were Christians there before the Islamic conquests. So by Asia, Emser must be referring to the formerly Christian worlds of Anatolia and the Middle East which along with North Africa were lost to the conquests of the Arabs and the Turks, but they were not lost to princes who voluntarily withdrew from Christianity. It would only be true in Europe, of the Greeks and the Bohemians. In fact, Africa and the Middle East were hardly under the dominion of Roman popes, since the papacy as it was later known did not come into being until the time of Justinian, and those lands were lost within a hundred years of Justinian. They may have been under the dominion of the Byzantine emperors, but never of the Catholic bishops of Rome. But perhaps the papist Emser sees the papacy as an extension of Roman imperialism, and with that we would agree.
Continuing with page 127 of our source, and Emser's letter to Luther:
‘And now, whereas openly in the day time, with all vehement earnestness and purpose, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, has dared and presumed for a long time, through much strange and novel teaching, disputation, preaching, and writing, to throw contempt on the chief overseers and prelates of the Church, to give free licence to sin, thereby to gain over the common people and make the German nation independent of the Roman Church. There is verily cause for fear that this man is not far removed from that one, or perhaps is the very same, whom the prophecies have foretold, and against whom Christ and the Apostles warned us.’
Luther’s proceedings, it was asserted, were entirely opposed to Gospel teaching; ‘for the Gospel teaches us that in no case, even if they have sinned, are we to allow our prelates to be put to open shame, scourging, and disgrace; furthermore it is contrary to the natural as well as to the statute rights of emperors, who are enjoined to inflict capital punishment for sins of this sort and contempt of majesty. The Gospel nowhere teaches us that we ought to stir up such discord, tumult, and division among the people. Cyprian says : “Whosoever disturbs the peace of Christ and the concord of the people of God, is not with Christ but against him.” Neither does the Gospel say that we ought to despise the commandments, ordinances, and opinions of the Church, and oppose them with such sacrilege, and still less that we ought to cause scandal and vexation to any one.’
Here is the appropriated church defended by a supposed traditionalist. The Gospel says that we are not to despise the commandments and ordinances of God. But the same Gospel says that man should study the Scriptures and come to his own opinion, as it says in Acts of the Bereans, that “that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”, and as Paul had assured the Corinthians “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.” There is no such church in the Gospel which forms its own commandments, ordinances and opinions and holds men to them. In this manner does the Roman Church attempt to replace the God of Scripture with itself, and the wicked substitution is clear to anyone who read the Gospel honestly. The Catholic traditionalists are not defending Christian tradition. Rather they are defending the traditions of an empirical Rome which have merely been adorned with Christian decoration.
Continuing from the bottom of page 127:
‘But what has ever been more scandalous. injurious, poisonous to the German nation than Luther’s teaching, books, and writings, which in so short a time have occasioned such quarrelling, tumult, and uproar that there is no province, town, village, or house which is not torn by party spirit and where people are not divided one against the other? And this not for a trifling cause, but for the sake of the holy Christian faith, which our forefathers handed down to us and which they served so steadily and loyally, by deeds rather than by words.’
But the Christian faith and the Catholic tradition are two different things. We can only wonder if Catholic traditionalists actually ever study the Scriptures. Luther and the humanists had legitimate complaints, even if they were not being made for entirely legitimate motives, as we shall see.
‘Luther,’ said Emser, ‘brought forth his errors not from his own storehouse, but from the books of his models and examples, Wickliffe and Huss. It was from them that he learnt to call the Pope Antichrist, Christians Romanists, and heretics Christians, and to reject the holy Sacraments, the Mass, the consecration of priests, and all Christian ritual and ordinances. He despised all Church authority, all the doctrines of the Fathers, and referred each one for himself to the Holy Scriptures. But if every fanatic were to interpret the Scriptures according to his own taste, the Bible would have more meanings than there were heads to the Hydra, and there would never be any agreement in the matter. Through the rejection and contempt of all Church ordinances and authority the fear of God would be extinguished in the land, and what manner of obedience would then be yielded to the secular ruler, every honest man could decide for himself.
Emser's arguments are not legitimate. Men feared God long before there was a pope. None of the holy sacraments, the ritual of the mass, the consecration of priests, and “all of the Christian ritual” to which he refers are found in the New Testament. But Luther did not even argue man of these points, and actually retained most of them. The Roman church picked and chose among the “doctrines of the Fathers”, because many of them did not proscribe these things. The model which the apostles left was one of independent community assemblies governed by Scripture which regulated themselves and which both coexisted with and acknowledged secular authority. That was the model which the churches lived under from the time of Constantine to the time of Justinian, when the emperor and the bishop of Rome took it upon themselves to create the papacy. The papacy is not traditional Christianity.
There were two assertions of Luther’s which were most especially subversive of all order and discipline: “Christ has made us free from all laws of man,” and, Call it what you will, what has been decreed by man is the work of man, and nought that is good can ever come of it...”’ ‘The liberty,’ says Emser, ‘on which Luther insists,’ St. Peter calls ‘a cloak of maliciousness, and St. Paul an occasion of sin.’ ‘One must not thus utterly despise the works of men, or speak of them so indiscreetly before the common people, as to say that never at any time did or could any good come of what was decreed or ordained by men, nor any good could ever result therefrom; for what would King Charles, or any future Council of State, be able to accomplish for a reformation, or for opinions and ordinances, if we approached them with the assertion that from their laws no good thing could at any time proceed?’ Reforms were urgently needed, but Luther was not agitating for the reform of abuses and scandals, but for the sweeping away of the Church itself, for the uprooting of its divine foundation, and if his schemes succeeded there would be anarchy among all classes, in the Church and in society, such as had followed in Bohemia from the agitation of the Hussites.
Here Emser admits reforms were needed, but he doesn't quantify them. Emser had written in opposition to Luther regarding the indulgences dispute. And of course Luther had hoped for reform throughout the entire indulgence dispute, but his petitions had been rejected and the indulgences upheld. The upholding of indulgences, which are absolutely contrary to Scripture on so many levels, was justified only by the claims of the infallibility of the popes. With that mentality, there is no end to the crimes which the popes may perpetrate. That is tyranny, and it is certainly not Christianity. On another point, Emser does have a legitimate complaint where Luther believed that “Christ has made us free from all laws of man,” which by itself is not entirely accurate and may be contrary to the Gospel and apostles. Actually, Christians are free from law so long as they are obedient to Christ, and nevertheless should not resist the appropriate worldly authorities.
Continuing from the bottom of page 129:
‘Open your eyes,’ he writes imploringly to Luther, ‘and behold the wretched misery, heresy, error, degradation, destruction, and murder of God’s worship and glory which has come upon the Bohemians through the teaching of Huss - a noble kingdom laid waste, ruined, and disgraced, as the people themselves feel more and more.’
The argument is false, kingdom was only laid waste because of the papal brutality in the Roman wars against it.
‘See that you do not bring us Germans into a plight such as that into which Huss led the Bohemians; for it would almost seem as if you were sparing no trouble and turning all your energies to bring things to this pass. God preserve us from your ideas!’
This the end end of our author's record of Emser's letter, and it seems to be nearly prophetic, because Germany would indeed suffer the same papal brutality which the Bohemians had already suffered.
After long and mature deliberations a papal bull was completed on June 15, 1520, which condemned twenty-four statements of doctrine contained in Luther’s writings, ordered the destruction of the books in which they occurred, and directed that Luther himself, after an interval of sixty days allowed him for recantation, should be delivered up to the full severity of ecclesiastical punishment. ‘After the pattern of the divine mercy, which does not will the death of the sinner, but rather that he should repent and live, we have resolved,’ said the Pope [the de Medici pope Leo X died on December 1st, 1521, 10 days before he was to turn 46], ‘disregarding the insults against ourselves and this Apostolic Chair, to use the utmost clemency, and as much as lies in our power to do everything to induce the Brother Martin, by gentle methods, to repent and to renounce his errors. By the depths of the Divine compassion, and by the blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which he shed for the human race and for the foundation of our holy Church, we exhort and conjure the Brother Martin himself, as also all his followers and supporters, that they do desist from further disturbing the peace, unity, and truth of the Church, for which the Saviour has prayed so earnestly, and that they do renounce their corrupting heresies.’
It should go without saying, that the so-called “truth of the Church” is certainly not the truth of the Scriptures. But perhaps the Church itself even admitted this in the very papal bull which our author describes here. The Bull of Pope Leo X issued June 15, 1520 was titled “Condemning the Errors of Martin Luther”, and it too is very revealing concerning the attitudes and the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. We shall read the opening paragraphs:
Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. When you were about to ascend to your Father, you committed the care, rule, and administration of the vineyard, an image of the triumphant church, to Peter, as the head and your vicar and his successors. The wild boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast feeds upon it.
Rise, Peter, and fulfill this pastoral office divinely entrusted to you as mentioned above. Give heed to the cause of the holy Roman Church, mother of all churches and teacher of the faith, whom you by the order of God, have consecrated by your blood. Against the Roman Church, you warned, lying teachers are rising, introducing ruinous sects, and drawing upon themselves speedy doom. Their tongues are fire, a restless evil, full of deadly poison. They have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie against the truth.
The effrontery of the language is worse even that that, as well as its pomposity, but since it is quite lengthy we shall omit it here. The copy of the Bull available to us in English has 41 points of contention with Luther. Much of it is based on the disagreements found in the indulgences dispute. The first point reads “It is a heretical opinion, but a common one, that the sacraments of the New Law give pardoning grace to those who do not set up an obstacle.” The third point reads “The inflammable sources of sin, even if there be no actual sin, delay a soul departing from the body from entrance into heaven.” Of course, these ideas are entirely contrary to Scripture. Then it has a strange statement in point 34 where it says “To go to war against the Turks is to resist God who punishes our iniquities through them”, as if the pope believed that the Muslim faith was better for Christians. Even stranger is point 37, since the entire idea of indulgences hinged on the existence of a state of purgatory, but it says: “Purgatory cannot be proved from Sacred Scripture which is in the canon.” There are other apparent contradictions, however for now we shall return to our source narrative, from The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages, Volume 3, Book 5, from page 130:
By a grievous error of judgment Luther’s opponent Eck was entrusted with the proclamation of the bull and the execution of its sentence, as regarded Luther’s partisans, in several of the German dioceses. In Leipzig, where the bull was to be posted up, Eck was in danger of his life from the Wittenberg students, and in Erfurt the fury and violence of the young academicians were equally uncontrollable. [Erfurt was the epicenter of humanism in the universities of Germany.] All existing copies of the obnoxious decree were carried off from the book-shops and either torn up or thrown into the river Gera. When the news spread that Eck was coming to Erfurt, armed students went forth to meet him.
To Luther himself it made no difference who was selected to proclaim the bull, for he had been firmly resolved ever since 1519 to break for ever with the Papal Chair and the Catholic Church. In his treatise on the ‘Babylonish Captivity of the Church’ he had once more represented the Pope as Antichrist, he had rejected the doctrines of the sevenfold number of the Holy Sacraments and of the Sacred Mass, and at the same time by novel views concerning marriage had attacked the recognised basis of the Christian family. He not only robbed marriage of its sacramental character, but removed the prohibition of marriage between Christians and non-Christians. With regard to certain circumstances of married life he laid down principles unheard of before in Christian Europe. Already at that time he put forward the same views which he expressed at a later date in a German ‘Sermon on Married Life ’ in the following words: ‘Know then that marriage is an outward matter, like any other worldly transaction. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride, buy, talk, and do business with a heathen, a Jew, a Turk, a heretic, so also I may marry any of them. Do not give heed to the fool’s law which forbids this. One ﬁnds plenty of Christians who are more hardened in unbelief inwardly, the greater part of them indeed, than any Jew, heathen, Turk, or heretic. A heathen is just as much a man or a woman created by God as St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Lucia; be silent then, thou false, mischievous Christian.’
We should be appalled, that Luther was advocating the inter-marriage between Christians and non-Christians in 16th century Germany. In Luther's Germany, European pagans were a thing of the past, and this would only serve to allow for marriages between Christians and Jews. With all of its many faults, for a thousand years the Roman Catholic Church had at least guarded against this. When Paul of Tarsus advised the Corinthian Christians that they should endeavor to stay married to unbelieving spouses, it was because they were new to Christianity and they were already married to pagans of their own kind. Paul would not have recommended that Christians seek pagan or Jewish spouses. In fact, Paul told those same Corinthians in that same epistle, that If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. Except for the word Maranatha, that is the way Luther rendered the verse in his own translation of the New Testament made in 1545, and he must have known what the Greek word anathema meant. It is telling that he did not render the word in German.
It must be questioned, why Luther would have condoned this. It could only have been to satisfy the Jews. Perhaps that is also why, in 1 Corinthians chapter 16, he did not render anathema as verflucht, which is the German word for accursed. Then he rendered Maranatha in a rather strange way, as Maharam Motha, words unlike the original of any Greek manuscript, as if he received some sort of inside information from a Jewish commentator. The rendering of that particular word merits further investigation.
In any event, omitting Maranatha, Paul had clearly said that “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed”, and that admonishment is clearly aimed at Jewry. The apostle John said that anyone who so much as greets a denier of the Christ is a partner in his evil works. So Luther advocates Christian intermarriage with Jews, and that fact, as well as his league with the humanists who were protectors of the Jewish literature, reveals to us the Jewish influences behind Luther's actions.
Luther could not have understood the Biblical meaning of fornication, or perhaps he was not concerned with it, and he certainly neglected to understand the Christian rejection of Jews expressed by the apostles. With this, there are glimpses of the real influences behind Martin Luther, which come out later in his essay On the Jews and Their Lies, since he consistently quoted Jews as authorities on Scripture.
To return to our source, from page 131:
After the proclamation of the bull, Luther appealed, on November 17, 1520, from the Pope, as from ‘an unjust judge, a stiffnecked, erring heretic and apostate, condemned by all the writings of Scriptures,’ to a general council of Christians, and called upon the Emperor and the princes and the whole commonwealth to withstand the unchristian proceedings and the monstrous sacrilege of the Pope. Whoever submitted to the Pope, he (Martin Luther) delivered up to the Divine tribunal. ‘Never once since the creation of the world,’ he said in a letter to Spalatin, ‘had Satan spoken out so shamelessly against God as in this bull; it was impossible that any one could be saved who either supported it or did not ﬁght against it.' ‘I have come to the conviction,’ he wrote to another friend, ‘that nobody can be saved who does not with all his might make war to the death against the statutes and mandates of the Pope and the bishops.’ Starting from his accustomed premiss [sic] that ‘his teaching alone was the truth,’ he said amongst other things, in a treatise ‘Against the Bull of Antichrist:’ ‘I have always held that whoever sets error above truth denies God and worships the Devil; and that is what this most precious and famous Bull tries to compel us to do with threats of interdict.’ ‘Who could wonder if the princes, nobles, and laity were to knock the Pope, bishops, priests, and monks on the head and drive them all out of the country? Is it not an unheard-of, an outrageous thing in Christendom that Christian people should be publicly commanded to deny and condemn the truth and to destroy it by ﬁre? Is it not heretical, false, scandalous, misleading, insufferable stuff for all Christian ears? But now all things are turned upside down, and I hope it has become manifest that the Pope, bishops, priests, and monks are ringing their own knell and not Dr. Luther’s with this wicked and scandalous bull, and summoning the laity to cut their own throats.’ ‘The bull deserves that all true-hearted Christians should trample it under foot, and send the Romish Antichrist, and Dr. Eck his apostle, about their business with ﬁre and sword.’
Here Luther really betrayed his massive ego, where he said “I have come to the conviction that nobody can be saved who does not with all his might make war to the death against the statutes and mandates of the Pope and the bishops”, simply because he himself has declared that war. That attitude was apparent in his past writings, and is consistent throughout his subsequent writings as well. But his humanist compatriots certainly helped to encourage it. Returning to page 133 of our source:
Simultaneously with this Lutheran storm Ulrich von Hutten also broke out in revolutionary proceedings. ‘Already the axe is laid to the roots,’ he wrote in a pamphlet addressed ‘To all Free-men in Germany’ in May 1520, ‘and every tree shall be cut down that beareth not good fruit. The vineyard of the Lord shall be cleansed. This is no longer a thing you may hope for; you will see it soon with your eyes. Meanwhile be of good heart, ye men of Germany, and encourage each other to good cheer. Your leaders are not weak and inexperienced, but strong for the recovery of freedom.’
On his return home from his journey to the court of the Archduke Ferdinand, whom he had endeavoured, without success, to win over for the great cause against Rome, Hutten learnt that a papal brief had been sent to the Archbishop of Mayence enjoining the latter to put a stop to his (Hutten’s) presumptuous and dangerous agitations, and if necessary to use strong measures against him. This brief threw Hutten into the greatest fury and fanned his dreams of a sacerdotal war into ﬁery determination. ‘Hutten has written me letters,” says Luther to his friend Spalatin on September 11, 1520, ‘which breathe fury against the Pope. He intends now, he writes, to combat priestly tyranny with all his weapons of ink and steel. The Pope is pursuing him with dagger and poison, and has ordered the Archbishop of Mayence to take him prisoner and send him in chains to Rome.’ Luther says in a later letter to Spalatin, October 3: ‘Hutten is arming against the Pope with indomitable spirit, and is ﬁghting it out with his sword and his wit.’
As we observed in our last presentation, Hutten had gone to the court of Maximillian in Brussels, who was the brother of emperor Charles V, hoping to gain support for Luther's Reformation. Instead, he had fled a fugitive, and here it is clear that he remains one. Hutten's new campaign is one of constant flattery towards Charles, making every last-ditch attempt to win the emperor over to his cause, but it never bears fruit. From page 134:
Hutten’s ‘wit" had its fling in September 1520 in several printed letters which he addressed from Ebernburg, the chief stronghold of his friend Sickingen, to the Emperor Charles, the Elector Frederic of Saxony, and all the Estates of the Empire. His cause, he said in the ﬁrst letter, was the cause of the Emperor; it was only on account of his imperialist views that he was persecuted by Rome; Charles was appointed by Providence to destroy the dominion of the Pope, which was a disgrace to the German nation. He openly confessed to the Emperor that he had contemplated a complete subversion of the existing order of things. ‘Rome, the great Babylon, the mother of all the most execrable, inhuman deeds of the universe, Rome, which has poisoned and corrupted the whole earth,’ he says in his letter to Frederic of Saxony, ‘Rome must be overthrown.’ ‘Can this tyranny be allowed to go on growing worse? Must it not be stamped out? But who is to achieve this consummation? God Almighty! None other than God Himself; but through the instrumentality, as always, of human hands. And what part will you take, you princes and lords? What counsel and support will you contribute?’ He then appeals to the princes to come to the help of himself and his confederates against this many-horned, savage beast, or otherwise, so he threatens, he will ﬁnd some other remedy for the disease. In Rome in olden times Cato the elder had said that the rulers and ofﬁcers who might prevent evil and who did not do so ought to be stoned to death. [Cato's usual enemy the object of his vitriol was the Carthaginians, but it is unlikely that he would have advocated stoning, a means of punishment not commonly used in Rome.] The present issue could not be settled without slaughter and bloodshed. Desperate diseases required desperate remedies. So it must be in this case; no other means will serve.’ ‘If the Emperor wishes it, we will give back Rome to him, and the Roman Bishop shall be put on an equality with other bishops. The number of the clergy must be reduced by one per cent., and the monastic orders entirely done away with. His address ‘to Germans of all classes,’ in which he again vividly depicted the ‘Romish master-craftsman in deceit, the fountain of all roguery,’ concluded with these words from one of the Psalms: ‘Let us rend their fetters asunder and cast away their cords from us.’
The minimal reforms which von Hutten calls for here seem to hardly make a difference beyond the demotion of the papacy itself. The demolition of the monastic orders would seem to have a greater impact on the average community, and especially on the universities to whom they supplied the instructors. But the result would be localized control, and a return of much greater autonomy to the princes and nobles. It seems that framing reform in this manner was calculated so as to attract the support of Charles V.
When Luther received through Crotus Rubianus these ﬁre-brand letters of Hutten’s he wrote to Spalatin: ‘I am beginning to believe that this hitherto irresistible Pontiﬁcate may really be overturned, contrary to all expectation, or that the day of judgment is at hand.’
On December 5, 1520, Crotus had again addressed himself to Luther, calling him ‘the most holy High Priest, the most evangelical being that the heavenly powers had given to this degenerate age, and proffering him his unqualiﬁed devotion and cooperation. As to those people of Cologne who had burnt Luther’s books, Crotus said that in so doing they had burnt the Gospel of Christ, or rather Christ himself.
Luther obviously thought very highly of himself, which is fully manifest in his decrees concerning salvation and the Protestant cause. But his already inflated ego appears to have been greatly fueled by his humanist sycophants.
Five days later Luther, in his character of ‘New Evangelist,’ convoked the professors and students of Wittenberg outside the Elster Gate, and in their presence he burnt the papal bull and the books of the Canon law, saying as he did so: ‘Because thou hast destroyed the Holy One of the Lord, therefore I destroy thee in everlasting ﬁre.’ And then he invoked the name of the Apostle Paul, who had burnt the books of the sorcerers. ‘This deed of Luther’s, the like of which had never before been heard of in all Christendom,’ says the Bernese chronicler Anshelm, ‘has caused great surprise and indignation.’
The following day Luther declared to his audience in the university that this bonﬁre was only a triﬂe; it was imperative to burn the Pope himself - that is to say, the Papal Chair. Whoever did not, with all his heart, struggle against papacy could not attain salvation. ‘The clearness and the beauty of his fatherly address,’ an eye-witness assures us, ‘were so convincing that one must have been more senseless than a stick not to perceive that all that Luther said was Gospel truth, and he himself an angel of the living God, called by Him to feed his erring sheep with the words of truth.’
Here we can say that Martin Luther has single-handedly declared war on Rome. While the struggle will be long and not always triumphant, eventually he will prevail. He may have been a man of great ego, but this act certainly also took great courage.
After the year 1520 Luther’s Latin and German publications were frequently accompanied by a woodcut in which he was represented with a glory round his head, or with the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove hovering over him. Among the populace it was rumoured that in Wittenberg, while Luther was burning the papal decretals and bulls, angels had been seen up in the clouds, looking on with approval at the spectacle.
[The author has a footnote here for the remark concerning the depictions of Luther he says “See Schuchardt, ii. 312-313, catalogue of the writings, where there occurs one of these woodcuts, from a drawing by Lucas Cranach. In a reprint of the Latin edition of De Captivitate Babylonica this picture is found with the following inscription at the bottom:—
‘Numina coelestem nobis peperere Lutherum,
Nostra diu majus saecla videre nihil.
Quem si pontificum crudelis deprimit error,
Non feret iratos impia terra deos.’
See my pamphlet Ein zweites Wort an meine Kritiker (‘A Second Word to my Critics’), p. 69 (new edition, 1895, p. 70). Luther’s portrait was ﬁrst engraved in copper by Lucas Cranach in the year 1519, then in 1520, and again in 1521 (Schuchardt, ii. 189-191). For the oldest pictures of Luther see the Katholik, 1894, ii. 191.]
[Here the author refers primarily to the works of a humanist artist named Lucas Cranach.]
In a letter which recounts this popular rumour we read that ‘Luther holds out the threat that seven provinces have sworn to support him, that the Bohemians have promised him 35,000 men, and the Saxons and other tribes of the north as many more, in order to invade Italy and Rome, after the example of the Goths and Vandals.’ ‘The poison has gone so deep,’ this letter goes on to say, ‘that it can scarcely be got rid of without great suffering of all sorts; for all classes of Germans who are opposed to the clerical orders, and whose hearts are set on plunder, look upon Luther’s scheme as an opportunity for demolishing the hated and opulent race of ecclesiastics, and for turning everything upside down.’ Not all Luther’s friends, however, concurred in these violent measures. Wolfgang Capito, court preacher to the Archbishop of Mayence, warned Luther on December 4 against exciting the people to fury. ‘You are frightening your supporters away from you,’ he wrote, ‘by your constant reference to troops and arms. We can easily enough throw everything into confusion, but it will not be in our power, believe me, to restore things to peace and order.’ Besides the people were by no means to be relied on. ‘Experience teaches how easily the masses are moved; to-day they are all for us, to-morrow all against us.’ The court preacher was not a little alarmed at Luther’s having so often sounded a trumpet-note of war and incited Hutten to battle, and at his expressed intention of ‘soon making an attempt with arms.’
Earlier in this series of presentations, we saw the opulent and lascivious lifestyle of the Archbishop of Mayence, and he was not alone. Here Luther seems to call for total destruction of the priesthood. But not even Hutten, in his latest diatribes at least, had called for the destruction of the priests. The priestly class in Medieval Europe certainly lived as well, or sometimes better, than the nobles themselves. But often the bishops and other high-ranking priests were scions of the noble families, second and third sons for whom the clerical life was chosen because they would not inherit the family estates as counts or dukes. We read on page 138:
According to Hutten’s plan the war of religion was to begin in this very year 1520.
The first real war of the Lutheran Reformation did not happen until 1524, and we hope to discuss it here in the near future.
On December 9 of this year Hutten communicated to his ‘dearest brother and friend Luther,’ ‘to the invincible herald of the Divine Word,’ a more detailed account of his progress. ‘Whilst I am gaining new adherents and supporters,’ he writes, ‘old ones fall away; so deep-rooted and widespread is still the superstition that whoever rises against the Pope commits an unpardonable sin. Franz Sickingen is the only one who stands by us with unswerving loyalty.’ And even Sickingen had almost begun to waver, but he (Hutten) had so fed his enthusiasm that now scarcely a day passed without his having something from Luther’s or Hutten’s writings read out to him at supper. To all friends who tried to dissuade him from supporting Luther Sickingen had represented that the welfare of the Fatherland required that ‘Luther’s and Hutten’s counsels should be listened to, and the true faith defended.’ Meanwhile Hutten goes on: ‘I do not conceal from you, dearest brother, that Franz has hitherto restrained me from active measures against our enemies, in order to lead them on to greater presumption. Moreover he considers it advisable to await what the Emperor shall decide.’ Sickingen hopes, he says, that the Emperor will realise what is to be expected from the Pope and his following; a great split between the Pope and the Emperor is predicted, and Sickingen will appeal to the Emperor at the proper moment. ‘I have just written to Spalatin asking him to sound the Elector as to his intentions, and to inform me of them as far as he can. I want to know, for instance, how far we may reckon on his protection, and I should like this to be known not only to you, but also to all who will help us with their swords. Do you too, I beg of you, insist on this. You have no idea how immensely serviceable to our cause it would be that the Elector should either aid those who have taken up arms, or should at least be willing to connive at our enterprise so far as to allow us to take refuge in his territory if the state of affairs should make it necessary. As soon as I have got this information I think of coming to you in person; for I can no longer put off seeing face to face a man I so greatly admire for his virtues.’
With this letter Hutten sent Luther his latest poetical writings, in the hope that he would have them published at Wittenberg. In these verses, destined for the people, and therefore written in the German language, he urges an armed rising of the nation against the papacy and the clergy:
Upon the nobles proud I call,
Ye pious towns, too, rouse ye all;
We’ll stand together for our right;
Leave me not lonely in the ﬁght.
Have pity on the Fatherland,
Ye valiant Germans, lift the hand!
Now is the time to wield the sword
For Liberty: so wills the Lord.
High and low must join together in the war for religion:
I summon all the princely host,
The noble Emperor Charles foremost,
That they support right valiantly
The cities and nobility.
All men whose hearts this does not sway
No love for Fatherland have they,
Nor do they rightly God obey.
Flock hither every German youth
And with God’s help sound forth the truth!
Landsknechts and troopers, do your part,
And all who have a patriot’s heart,
To root out superstition black
And bring the truth of heaven back.
And, since no gentle means bestead,
We must have warfare and bloodshed!
Armour and horse we have galore,
Of swords and halberds a goodly store,
And we will use them, by the Lord,
If they are deaf to warning word.
We’ll heed no more how men may yelp,
Almighty God will be our help!
Hutten was also prepared to seek aid from foreign countries:
Now hear me swear upon my soul,
If God with favour on me look,
Who ne’er the righteous yet forsook,
I’ll cleanse the Empire with my hands,
Though help I crave from foreign lands.
We will refrain from reading von Hutten's poetry here, and only remark that his short verses were meant to incite the patriotic spirit in common people, and unite them with the noble class in what was characterized as a fight for the German Fatherland. He characterized the Roman church as an institution of superstition which was contrary to Scriptural truth, lamented that there could be no peaceful settlement, and that war was absolutely necessary for Germany to return to a true faith in God. To continue with page 140 of our source:
In another pamphlet, with the lengthy title ‘Anzeige, wie allwegen sich die römischen Bischöfe oder Päpste gegen die deutschen Kaiser gehalten haben,’ he presumed to instruct the Emperor Charles in his duties and privileges with regard to Rome. As an imperial papist he said that the emperors formerly, before they became subject to the Pope, had had the power of appointing and deposing the Christian bishops. The despotic Henry IV., he said, was a hero in his eyes, although not born in German land. But the greater his valour, spirit, and virtue, the more he had had to suffer persecution from the Popes; for as soon as they began to recognise his great courage and ability they set themselves against him, to prevent his rising up over their heads. And this not in the case of one or two Popes only, but with four or ﬁve of them, amongst whom, however, that execrable monk, by name Hildebrand, pressed him most sorely.
The reference is to the 11th century German king and the monk who became Pope Gregory VII. The main focus of their struggle was the investiture controversy, and whether the right to appoint bishops and other local church leaders lay with the kings or the popes. In 1122 it was settled at Worms, mostly in favor of the pope, whereby the power of the Holy Roman emperor was diminished. Other such controversies had occurred both elsewhere and earlier.
Hutten’s historical knowledge was most extraordinary. In proof of the rights that former emperors had exercised against the popes he related that the Emperor Otto III. had had Pope John XIV.’s eyes put out; in proof of the tyranny that popes had been guilty of in murdering emperors he informed his readers that Clement IV. had had King Conrad IV. put to death. In these statements there was not a word of truth.
Here Hutten was lying, obviously for the purposes of propaganda. Otto III was born in 980, and Pope John XIV died in 984 after being imprisoned by the so-called anti-Pope, Boniface VII. However Hutten was correct that at this time the Popes were appointed by the emperors. John XIV was appointed by Otto II, who died, and apparently the court of Otto III was not strong enough to protect him. In the mid-13th century, the German king Conrad IV was at war with the pope, but died of malaria some time after invading Italy. Even at this time, the Papacy was only a political tool controlled by whomever was powerful enough to seize it. Returning to page 141 of our source:
With a View to feeding the frenzy of the populace Hutten now published his Latin dialogues in German, as a Gesprächbüchlein. The moral of them was set forth in a picture on the title-page. On the right hand, at the top, stands King David addressing God the Father (who is depicted on the left hand hurling down lightning) with the words of the psalmist: ‘Arise, thou Judge of the world, and reward the proud after their deserving.’ In the middle space Luther and Hutten appear side by side as the twin heralds of freedom. At the bottom of the page armed warriors with outstretched spears are chasing a crowd of yelling priests who are ﬂeeing in terror, while the Pope, the cardinals, and the bishops are just visible below them. At the end of the book also there is a pictorial representation of Luther and Hutten side by side, and it became customary to depict these two together as ‘inseparable instruments of God.’ ‘God has sent forth two specially chosen, bold, and enlightened messengers,’ said Eberlin of Günzburg in his pamphlet ‘Fünfzehn Bundesgenossen’ (‘Fifteen Confederates’), which appeared in 1521. ‘These two messengers are Martin Luther and Ulrich von Hutten: they are both natives of Germany, deeply learned and Christian men, who have devoted all their days to the furtherance of God’s glory, as is shown by their present insurrection.’ A ‘Litanei der Deutschen’ was circulated, in which divine help was asked for on behalf of these two men.
Hutten in his writings gave the impression that he was conﬁdent that the Emperor would place himself at the head of the contemplated bloody revolution; a poem addressed to Charles runs as follows :—
For what herein is done by me
Is for thy glory and thy praise,
Or else it would not ﬁtting be
That I should thus a tumult raise.
All free Germanics I exhort
(Yet as thy subject vassals brave)
To lend me gladly their support,
And from disgrace the Empire save.
And as our leader thee alone,
Most gracious Emperor, we’ll own.
Here our author reproduces another panegyric poem by Hutten which urged on war against the papists and patronizing the emperor Charles V, hoping to encourage him to join the Reformers. When we return to our narrative, we will learn that in reality his outlook was really not so confident. This is where we will leave our account for now, with that image of Hutten and Luther standing sie-by-side to conquer the terrible power of the papacy. But we will always have that sneaking suspicion, that the Jews were lurking behind the curtains and pulling at least some of the strings.