- Christogenea Saturdays
Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 9: The Point of No Return
In the last two segments of our series Martin Luther in Life and Death, we hope to have demonstrated that the Protestant Reformation was not only religious, but it was also political, and that regardless of the religious principals, it is absolutely naive to think that the princes of Germany joined the Reformation because of those principles alone. Rather, politics was much more responsible for the success of the Reformation than religion. If it were not for certain German princes and their enmity with the pope of Rome, Martin Luther would have been burned at the stake before his Lutheran church even became established. And while we may begin to understand a lot of the politics, the sinister forces behind some of the players will forever remain in the shadows.
A backdrop to Luther's Reformation were the Italian Wars which spanned over 60 years and most of Luther's life. Involved at diverse times were the French, Spanish, Austrians, Germans, Venetians, English, Scots, and, of course, the Popes. The papacy had been reduced to the role of just another political player in the struggles for the political control of the various parts of Europe. But the Papacy had an advantage because it was attributed with ecclesiastical authority. When its ecclesiastical authority was challenged by the religious Reformers, the objectives of the Reformers simply became a tool used by the political players to undermine the authority of the Popes. Some German princes put their lot with the Reformers, hoping to gain greater power or at least greater autonomy for themselves. Others chose to remain allied to the popes, as Roman Catholics, but their decisions were usually for relatively the same reasons.
In the background of the political struggle, we began to see how the humanists of Germany had rallied to Martin Luther's cause. We described how those humanists, once they realized the value of Luther's rebellion against the Papacy, had begun writing books and pamphlets propagandizing in favor of Luther. We saw how many of the pagan humanists who had opposed the scholarly theologians for so long were suddenly themselves transformed into Christian theologians virtually overnight, while humanists inside of the church itself had also rallied to Luther's cause.
These humanists soon found themselves at the lead of Luther's reform movement, and the two most prominent among them were Philip Melanchthon and Ulrich von Hutten. Melanchthon was within the church, and von Hutten was without. Melanchthon was the grand-nephew of Johann Reuchlin, and Hutten had been one of the more active of Reuchlin's many humanist supporters. As we have also seen, Reuchlin was a student of the Talmud, and especially the Cabala, and he had waged a lengthy campaign against Catholic officials who sought to destroy the writings of the Jews. So the pagan humanists had joined Reuchlin's efforts as a champion of the Jewish cause. Much earlier in this series, we had seen that many of those pagan humanists were of indiscernible ethnic origin, as they had taken to writing under Greek or Latin pseudonyms. While Jews were not in the foreground of the Reformation, we can be assured that they were certainly in the background, and after the Reuchlin controversy, the same pagan humanists rallied to Luther as their next opponent to Catholic Church authority.
But Luther did have some antagonists among the humanists. Erasmus had openly opposed some of his doctrines, and Reuchlin had also opposed him, even writing to the Bavarian authorities in opposition to him. On the other hand, Erasmus had sung the praises of Melanchthon, and Reuchlin was Melanchthon's uncle, however the humanist Melanchthon was also lauded by Luther, and the two became very close. Neither did the pagan humanists appreciate Luther at first, and even von Hutten originally saw Luther as just another monk arguing over petty dogmas. Von Hutten became a supporter of Luther for his own purposes, and not for Luther's religious merit. If it were not for the support of the humanists, Luther would have been just another voice in a crowd of petty dissenters. There were other Reformers at least as worthy, but many of them were too extreme for the German princes. They wanted change and to be free of the popes, but they did not want too much change. The freedom they wanted was mostly for themselves, and not necessarily for the spiritual relief of their subjects.
So we left off this series last July with part 8, which was subtitled Politics and Religion Must Mix. That is not to say that Christians should get involved in the worldly political process. Rather, the point we tried to make is that if Christians are ever to create the Kingdom of Heaven, they must be the political process. In the time of Luther, Lutherans themselves were divided over a solution to their quandary, whether to win their cause by scholarly persuasion, or force of arms, or open revolt. But none of those methods would have actually succeeded, if they had not won certain German princes to their cause, princes who would agree to adopt Lutheranism, and fight against the outside forces to protect it in their own lands. So without the political allies, the religious revolution would have failed.
The lesson we must learn from the last 500 years of our history, is that our Christian religion must be our politics as well our faith. The German politicians, as well as the pagan humanists, were quick to come to the side of the Jews, and demonstrated that by their continued defense of Reuchlin. This also proves that Germanism alone, without a solid Christian foundation, had no defense against the Jews. The Reformation ultimately succeeded. But it only succeeded for political reasons, and the humanists who made it succeed were more than friendly to the Jews. So while the Protestant churches opposed the tyrannical popes, they never opposed Jewry and even supported it. When Luther finally awoke to the treachery of the Jews, it was too late and his church never followed his call. The truth is that the Christian religion must also become Christian politics, and if we refuse to mix the two we assure our own destruction.
In spite of all of its other faults, the Catholic Church managed to suppress the Jew. The Protestants failed to do so, and embraced them instead. The pagans and humanists were the primary reason why the Protestants in Germany failed to do so. It is no mistake that Philip Melanchthon, the nephew and student of the foremost defender of the religious liberty of Judaism in Germany in the 16th century, became the second most important man in the Lutheran Church, only behind Luther himself. Today, the decline of America and all of the West is evident in the rising of the Jew because we have now taken Christian practice and Christian morality from public life in order to appease those same Jews. We can only find redemption and salvation when we bring our politics under the shield of our Christian religion, and acknowledge that Christ is King, while the infernal Jew is His eternal enemy.
We had last discussed three men, Ulrich Duke of Würtemberg, Ulrich von Hutten and Franz von Sickingen. The Duke of Würtemberg we will probably revisit later in our series of presentations. This Ulrich appears to be one of the signal examples of the noblemen who joined the Reformation not for religious reasons, but for political reasons. He was a murderer, an adulterer, and an oppressor of the poor, and therefore he could hardly care much about religion.
Ulrich von Hutten, the notable pagan humanist writer, had realized the value of Luther's position against the Roman church and how it may be used to advance his own humanist agenda. He initially received help from Erasmus which enabled him to support the cause of Luther, even though, as we have noted, Erasmus had theological disagreements with Luther. We had already explained at length how the pagan von Hutten had earlier gained employment in the court of a Catholic bishop. So Erasmus arranged for von Hutten to leave the court of the Archbishop of Mayence, while continuing to collect his salary. That situation also reflects the great influence of Erasmus himself, who as we have previously demonstrated, was a churchman with pagan sympathies who was the hero of pagan humanists.
During a campaign in 1519 for the expulsion of his long-time enemy, the Duke Ulrich of Würtemberg, Ulrich von Hutten became associated with Franz von Sickingen. Like von Hutten, von Sickingen could also be characterized as a “robber knight” selling his services to the higher nobles of Europe. At Hutten's instigation, Sickingen even became involved in the late stages of the Reuchlin controversy, on the side of the humanists and Jews. These two men supported the election of Charles V as emperor, hoping to persuade him to the protestant cause, however to their disappointment, Charles remained a Catholic. Later on, however, even though Charles was opposed to Luther's theology he never took up arms against the Reformers.
Sickingen was a knight powerful enough to execute wars against the cities of Hesse, and in support of Reuchlin threatened the same against Cologne and the Dominican monks. Eventually he and Hutten succeeded for a time in silencing the monk Jacob Hoogstraten, the leading opponent of Reuchlin and the books of the Jews. The intervention of the pope, Leo X, restored Hoogstraten to his position.
At this same time Luther and Hutten began working together closely. This is an unlikely pair, as the one was supposedly a pious Christian, and the other was a licentious pagan who ultimately died of syphilis. But Luther the Christian began adulthood as a humanist pagan in the company of pagans, and Hutten the pagan worked from within the court of a Catholic bishop. In the early months of 1520, Hutten and Luther began a public alliance through Hutten's friendship with Melanchthon, a fellow humanist and a fellow ally of Reuchlin. When the Reuchlin cause was finally lost, von Sickingen offered him shelter, and he instead chose to remain within the Catholic Orthodoxy, resigning to his defeat. Around this time Reuchlin began publicly writing against Luther, turning on his former supporters, which also caused his estrangement from his nephew, Philip Melanchthon. Reaching out to Luther, Hutten promised him protection if his rebellion against the pope threatened his being. Hutten was confident in his promise, because of the military capability of his friend von Sickingen. We had seen that in chapter 12 of his book, A Short History of Germany, Ernest F. Henderson described Sickingen thusly:
Sickingen was a robber knight, but with certain noble traits, and with such a conception of his calling, that one wonders if he ought not rather to be put on the level of a belligerent prince. In carrying on feuds he seldom aimed lower than a duke, or a free city of the empire; and there are persons who insist to this day that his weapons were only drawn in favor of the oppressed, and of those to whom justice had been denied. Be that as it may, he was not above exacting enormous ﬁnes; and being an excellent manager, he greatly increased his family possessions. He was lord of many castles, the chief of which were the Ebernburg, near Kreuznach, and Landstuhl, near Kaiserslautern, which he furnished with splendid defences.
Here we will return to 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 an English translation by A.M. Christie in London in 1900. Because of our long absence from this topic, we will repeat the point where we left off from the bottom of page 111, where Hutten and Luther begin their alliance, and our author is speaking of Hutten:
In the year 1519 his relations with the Archbishop of Mayence, from whom he received a salary, had debarred him from a public alliance with Luther. But in January and February 1520 he made advances to the reformer through the medium of Melanchthon, to whom he wrote on January 20: ‘Sickingen has charged me to make known to Luther that in case of his encountering opposition in his struggle, and having no hope of better help from any other quarter, he is to turn to him, and he will do all he can. Believe me he will scarcely obtain more trustworthy help in any other quarter. Luther is beloved by Sickingen.’ His letter from Steckelberg on February 28 was still more pressing. ‘Make haste and convey to Luther the message I sent him from Sickingen; but pray, between ourselves, I do not wish any one to know of my being mixed up in this affair. If difﬁculties accumulate round him he has no need to seek help from any others. With Franz at his side he may safely defy all his enemies. I am projecting great and important schemes with Sickingen. Were you here I would privately tell you all about them. I hope a bad end will overtake the barbarians and all who help to keep us under the Roman yoke. My dialogues, “The Romish Trinity” and “The Onlookers,” are already in the press; they are remarkable for great freedom of expression against the Pope and the blood-suckers of Germany.”
Of course by the term barbarians, the pagan humanist Hutten was describing the orthodox Catholic monks. As for the reference to the “blood-suckers of Germany”, we have already described at length the indulgences dispute whereby the popes of Rome were using the German people for a constant supply of revenue, although they also had other means of garnering money from them. Speaking of Hutten's dialogues, our author continues:
In the ﬁrst dialogue Hutten says: ‘Against the poison which exudes from the heart of the Pope there is no antidote; his protecting shield is a sure refuge when all other forms of imposture - stratagem, deceit, trickery, cunning, and artiﬁce - have failed.’ ‘The Pope is a bandit chief, and his gang bears the name of “the Church.” Why tarry we thus? Has Germany no longer any sense of honour? Has Germany no spirit left? If the Germans have none the Turks will have plenty.’ ‘The sword of the Turks must be called in if the Christians have no spirit, and go on letting themselves be fooled by superstition and will not stir to punish the wrongdoers. There were three evils he wished to see befall the ‘Roman cesspool,’ the ‘seat of corruption ’ - plague, famine, and war. Rome is a sea of impurity, a mire of ﬁlth, a bottomless sink of iniquity: should we not flock from all quarters to compass the destruction of this common curse of humanity? Should we not set all our sail, saddle all our horses, let loose sword and ﬁre?’
Such revolutionary writings are often purposely cynical, and typically offer irrationally extreme solutions to the problems for which they seek redress. But from our own Christian Nationalist perspective we can see and lament just how quickly Hutten would sacrifice European racial integrity, by expressing a willingness to turn the fate of Germany over to the Turks in order to defeat the popes. The threat, however, was real. The Turks were making constant warfare against Christendom at this time, had made gains into Central Europe, and had Vienna under siege in 1529, just a few short years after Hutten is writing. Continuing with our source on page 112:
In April 1520, after the publication of the above pamphlet, Hutten had an interview at Bamberg with his ally Crotus Rubianus, which was followed by important results for the cause of the league. The intention of the confederates was to bring their collective influence to bear on Luther, in order to drive him to the most extreme measures against Rome, and to make use of him as a tool for their politico-clerical revolution.
This Crotus Rubianus was a prominent pagan humanist, and as we had seen early on in this series, he was a close friend of Luther's before Luther had joined the monastery. He was one of those German pagans who went to the extreme of calling himself by a Latin name, which in effect was also a renunciation of his German heritage.
From Bamberg, in the same month, Crotus once more appealed by letter to Luther as ‘the greatest of theologians,’ ‘most excellent Polycletus,’ urging him to persevere in his path. The creatures of the Pope might boast as they would, and praise the infallible teaching of the Church, but he held by the text: ‘Thy Word is a lantern to my feet and a light unto my path.’ It was for Luther to undertake the protection and custody of this light, and he would do well to comply with the invitation of Sickingen, the great leader of the German nobility. Luther’s life was threatened by his enemies, but with Sickingen he would ﬁnd security against all their plots. ‘Be careful of the future, is my advice; write to Sickingen; keep yourself in his favour.’
The reference to Polycletus seems to be a reference to the Greek sculptor famous for endeavoring to specify beauty in exacting physical proportions. Here we see that not only Melanchthon, but also his old friend Crotus Rubianus was employed to ensure that Luther would accept an alliance with Hutten and Sickingen. Continuing with our volume from page 114:
The morbid terror of pursuit and assassination from which Luther was already at that time suffering was greatly increased by these warnings of danger to his life. On April 16, 1520, he wrote to Spalatin that he had been warned that a certain doctor of medicine, who by means of magic could make himself invisible at will, had been sent to kill him; that his fears had been specially aroused by Hutten. [Luther suggested that he had been poisoned by a doctor 23 years later in On the Jews ad Their Lies.] ‘Hutten cannot be urgent enough in his warnings,’ he wrote; ‘he is so dreadfully afraid of poison on my account.’ This terror of pursuit grew later into a perfect monomania. Luther, carried away by the rush of the forces once let loose, followed the advice of Crotus. He wrote to Sickingen and Hutten even before the latter had ventured to enter into open alliance with him. In May 1520 the knight Sylvester von Schaumburg also assured him of his protection, and on June 4, 1520, Hutten wrote openly to him from Mayence. Under the watchword of ‘Long live freedom’ he begged him to make common cause with them, and casting off his pagan opinions, he put himself suddenly forward as a champion of the Gospel, and spoke in biblical language. ‘We have not laboured altogether without result here. Christ be with us! Christ help us! For it is his precepts we are fighting for, his teaching, obscured by the mist of papal institutions, that we are bringing to light again, you successfully, I according to my powers.’ ‘We hate the assembly of wicked persons, and we will not sit in the seat of the scornful.’
So we see how quickly Hutten can pretend to be a pious man of God, if perhaps it will advance his pagan humanist cause. Note the call for freedom by Hutten, which has been an ideal of all of the European revolutions which followed. But Hutten's freedom is not Christian liberty. Rather it is a freedom seeking licentiousness quite consistent with the same sort of freedom which has been promoted by Jews throughout European history. Hutten's desired freedom is antithetical to Christian liberty, and despite all of their faults, the orthodox Catholic clergy were the primary obstacles to its realization.
Speaking of where Hutten first brings Luther to the attention of Sickingen, on page 296 of Ernest F. Henderson's A Short History of Germany the author also mentions Sylvester von Schaumburg and says: “Hutten now talked to Franz [Sickingen] of Luther, and little by little the knight became thoroughly interested in the man whom the Romanists so hated and pursued. He at last sent word to Wittenberg that, should Luther through his teachings come into difﬁculty and have no other resource, his castles were at his disposal. It was about this time that another knight, Sylvester von Schaumburg, offered to come to the reformer’s aid with a hundred followers. Luther was pleased, if only for the moment, and he wrote to Spalatin, “Schaumburg and Sickingen have made me secure from the fear of men.”
Now to return to The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages, Volume 3 from page 114, continuing with Hutten's initial letter to Luther:
‘Nevertheless look well before you and keep your eyes open and your senses about you. Be strong and fear not. In me you have a champion at every turn. Therefore be not afraid for the future to conﬁde all your plans to me. We will fight together for liberty, and set free the Fatherland, so long held in bondage. Sickingen urges you to come to him; he will entertain you in a manner worthy of your dignity and protect you valiantly against enemies of all kinds. Today I start on my journey to Ferdinand. I shall lose no time in doing there what I can for our cause.’
In Luther’s circle great expectations were based on this journey. Melanchthon wrote on June 8, 1520: ‘Hutten is betaking himself to Ferdinand, brother of King Charles, in order to prepare the way for freedom by the aid of the mightiest princes; what, then, may we not hope for?’
For the expenses of this journey to the Court of Brussels Hutten received money from Archbishop Albert of Mayence, with whom he was still on friendly terms, in spite of all his scurrilous writings against Rome. The Archbishop probably reckoned on the possibility that, in the event of the hoped-for separation of Germany from Rome and the establishment of a German national Church, the dignity of head of this Church might fall to him. ‘Hutten has been here,’ Agrippa von Nettesheim wrote from Cologne to a friend on June 16, ‘with several other members of the Lutheran party, who are letting ﬂy their shafts at the “ courtiers,” as they call them, and the Roman legates, and who are also full of hostility to the Pope himself. They are preparing the way, if God does not hinder it, for a great insurrection, and are urging on certain German princes, with ardent appeals, to shake off the Romish yoke. “What have we to do,” they are clamouring, “with Romish bishops? Have we not bishops and primates in Germany? Germany must have done with the Romans and return to her own primates and bishops and pastors.” You see what they are aiming at. Already some of the towns and the princes are lending willing ears to them. What the might of the Emperor may be able to accomplish, I know not.’
Because our primary source has not yet adequately expressed the precise reason for Hutten's travel to Brussels, we will try to fill in what detail we can garner from page 296 of Ernest F. Henderson's A Short History of Germany, and a section subtitled Hutten in danger from the Pope:
In the meantime Hutten’s affairs had taken a new turn. The matter is somewhat obscure, but it seems clear that, about the time of Charles V.’s arrival in Germany, the poet had the deﬁnite prospect of a position at the court of the archduke Ferdinand and set out for Brussels, rejoicing profoundly that a new ﬁeld for his activity had thus been opened. “Hutten goes to Ferdinand,” writes Melanchthon, “to prepare a path for liberty with the aid of the great princes. What hopes may we not justly cherish!” On the eve of departure Hutten wrote to Luther, renewing his protestations of absolute and entire devotion, and urging him to ﬁght for the common cause of liberty and to free the oppressed fatherland: “We have God on our side, if he be with us who can be against us?... To-day I start on my way to Ferdinand, to work for our cause as best I can.” Hutten reached Brussels; but what happened to him there is clouded in obscurity, and the next that we hear he is hurrying back as a fugitive to the refuge offered by the castle of his knightly friend. The Pope meanwhile had awakened to a sense of this man’s importance, and roundly rating the Archbishop of Mainz for having had him in his service, had sent word to a number of princes that Hutten must be seized and sent to Rome. Warnings of intended violence were sent him by his friends and caused him, in terror for his life, to write an appeal to the German nation. Was he, who had worked for the common good, to be torn with impunity from the land of his birth? Was he to be forced to leave altar and hearth, and to be dragged not even to a miserable life in exile, but to cruel tortures ' and to shameful death? “Help, help, my countrymen! Let not him who has undertaken to loose your chains himself lie in bondage!”
While we may never know just how Hutten got himself in trouble in Brussels, we should also observe the attitude here attributed to the archbishop of Mayence, who we have previously shown had indulged in a very extravagant and lascivious lifestyle, at the expense of his German subjects.
Returning to The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages, Volume 3 from page 116:
The long dormancy of the Emperorship between the death of Maximilian in 1519 and the accession of the Emperor Charles had thrown Germany into a state of anarchy, which favoured the proceedings of the revolutionary party. [Referring to the pagan humanists who had first rallied behind Reuchlin as their vehicle for dissent, attempting to undermine the authority of the Dominican monks who also served as the Inquisitors for the papacy in Germany.]
Luther’s alliance with the revolution party was now an accomplished fact.
‘In Sickingen,’ so he wrote to Hutten, ‘he placed greater confidence and hope than in any one of the princes. ‘It’s my belief,’ he said in a letter to Spalatin at the beginning of June 1520, ‘that at Rome they have all become idiotic, maniacal, insensate fools, sticks, stones, hell-ﬁends, and devils.’ When the knight Sylvester von Schaumburg offered, on June 11, to bring a hundred nobles to his assistance, Luther sent Sylvester’s letter to Spalatin, with the following words: ‘The die is cast; I despise the wrath of the Romans as much as their favour; never to all eternity will I again be reconciled to them, nor have any communion with them, though they should burn and damn me and all my belongings. And I too, in return, unless there should be no ﬁre to be had, will publicly damn and burn the whole popish crew - that learned monster of heresy. Thus at last will there be an end of that fruitless observance of humility and submission by which I will no longer let the enemies of the Gospel be magniﬁed. Sylvester von Schaumburg and Franz von Sickingen have set me at rest from the fear of men.’
‘Franz von Sickingen,’ he says in a letter to a Brother of his Order, ‘guarantees me, through Hutten, his protection against all my enemies. Sylvester does the same with regard to the Franconian nobles. I have had a beautiful letter from him. Now I have no more fears, and I am bringing out a book against the Pope on the improvement of the Christian estate. I attack his Holiness in it mercilessly, as though he were the Antichrist.’
Luther is not the first Christian in Europe to label the pope as an Anti-Christ. We have reproductions of artwork labeling the pope as a devil and anti-Christ from the 15th century and the time of pope Alexander VI, one of the allegedly crypto-jewish popes of the Borgia crime family. Returning to our source on page 117:
This book, which appeared at the beginning of August 1520, was the ‘Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,’ and the actual declaration of war of the Lutheran-Hutten revolutionary party.
With this, while we are certain that our source will cover it sufficiently, we must keep in mind that Leo X demanded a retraction from Luther this same year, and Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms at the insistence of Charles V in 1521. So he has not completely denounced the traditional authorities. To return to our source and the description of Luther's book:
The proposals it contained with regard to the suppression of secular iniquities were such as to command sympathy for Luther from many who opposed his religious views. ‘In the ﬁrst place,’ he says, ‘there is imperative need of agreement on the part of the German nation against the extravagant superﬂuity and costliness of clothing, by which so many nobles and rich peop1e have been impoverished. Has not God given to us, as to other countries, wool, hair, flax, and other materials amply sufﬁcient for seemly and comfortable clothing for all classes, so that we have no need to squander recklessly such terrible sums on silk, velvet, and cloth of gold, and all manner of other outlandish wares? ’
Similarly, there was, he said, no need for such large outlay on spices and groceries, which was one of the drains by which money was carried off from the German land. But the greatest curse of the German nation was undoubtedly the practice of buying on credit; if that was not allowed many a one would have to go without buying his silk, velvet, cloth of gold, spices, and all the rest of the luxuries. ‘Verily this buying on credit was a sign and a token that the world was sold to the devil with heavy sins, which must ruin us, both spiritually and temporally.’
Martin Luther, like the other German Reformers, was opposed to usury. However the nobles of Europe as well as the emperors and the popes had long borrowed on usury, and the jews were usually the purveyors of money for them. A short time before this, at the Fifth Lateran Council, the Roman Church officially sanctioned the Monte di' Pieta, which was basically a system of pawn shops operated by the Catholic Church, and forbid Catholic bishops from restricting their operations locally. So usury at this time was also being brought to the commoners, under the pretense of resistance to money-lending.
Returning to The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages, Volume 3 from page 118:
It was high time, indeed, to curb the Fuggers and other like companies. Could it possibly be godly and righteous that such a pile of kingly goods and treasures should be heaped up in the life of a human being? It would be far more godly to increase and spread agriculture and to restrict commerce; how much better were those who, according to the Scriptures, tilled the earth and got their food out of it, following the Bible precept: ‘In the sweat of thy brow shall thou eat bread!’
In these statements Luther was reiterating what the theological political economist of the ﬁfteenth century had preached over and over again.
‘Then,’ he goes on, ‘there is the excess in eating and drinking, for which we Germans have a bad reputation in foreign lands as our special vice, and which cannot be mended by preaching only, so ﬁrmly has it taken root and got the mastery of us. The waste of money that it causes would be the least evil; but in its train follow murder, adultery, theft, blasphemy, and every other vice. The temporal power should do something here, or it will come to pass, as Christ foretells, that “the last day will come like a thief in the night, and ye shall be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, building and planting, buying and selling,” just as things are going on now, and that so vigorously that I much fear the day of judgment is at hand, though we do not concern ourselves about it.’
‘Finally,’ he adds, ‘is it not a lamentable thing that we Christians should have among us free and public brothels? If the people of Israel maintained itself without such a disgrace, why should not a Christian nation be able to do as much? If so many of the small towns, villages, and hamlets can do without such houses, why cannot the great cities do the same?’
All these opinions, which are to be found in the concluding pages, are deserving of praise, but they did not form the substance of the address, the pith and marrow of which was that Luther, associating himself closely with Huss and with Hutten, attacked in its foundations the whole existing fabric of Church organisation, and made demands which aimed at the subversion of all traditional authority.
Starting from the Hussite doctrine of universal priesthood, he declared that all Christians were of the priestly caste. [We must interject, that both Paul and Peter would have agreed.] ‘Whatever issues from baptism,’ he says, ‘may boast that it has been consecrated priest, bishop, pope.’ There was no difference among Christians, except the nominal one of ‘ofﬁce.’
‘And if it should happen that any one appointed to one of these ofﬁces were deposed for abuses he would be just what he was before he was ordained.’ ‘If the community has deposed him, he becomes again a simple peasant, or citizen, just like the rest.’
Since all Christians are priests, all have the power to judge and decide what is right or wrong in belief; the standard of judgment is Holy Writ, which each one must interpret according to his reasonable faith. No one must let ‘the spirit of liberty, as St. Paul calls it, be cowed by words invented by the Pope; on the contrary, it behoves every Christian to understand the faith that he accepts, and to condemn all errors.’
And here more than anyplace else where we have investigated Luther's writings does he seem to be precisely following the Scriptures. We know today that Luther is correct about the evils of international trade, the evils of usury, and the evils of an organized and privileged professional priesthood. But in spite of these things, rather than because of them, did the pagans and humanists in Germany throw their support behind Martin Luther. The humanists only wanted to overthrow the power of the papacy, and Martin Luther was already their chosen vehicle.
But even our author seems not to understand the correct position of Luther on these theological issues and grasp its implications, as we return to our source on page 120:
This peculiar priesthood of Luther's and this Christian community invested with hierarchical prestige, each member of which was free to construct his own creed according to his own interpretation of Scripture, were to be subject to the temporal power.
‘Forasmuch as the temporal power is ordained by God to punish the wicked and to protect the good, therefore it must be allowed to do its work, unhindered, on the whole Christian body, without respect of persons, whether it strike popes, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, or whom it will;’ ‘whatever ecclesiastical law has said to the contrary, is only the invention of Romish arrogance.’ [Luther was teaching Romans chapter 13 and that government was a punishment form God. But at the same time he seems to be ingratiating the German princes, so he stops short of describing it in that manner.] Above all, ‘when necessity demands it, the secular power should provide for the meeting of a truly free council.” And in case of the Pope’s opposing such an assembly, and denouncing and anathematising it, his proceedings should be treated with contempt, like the behaviour of a madman, and he himself must in return be anathematised and placed under a ban.’
‘This free council, which is to be called together by secular authority, in deﬁance of the Pope, must reorganise the constitution of the Church from its foundations, and must liberate Germany from the Romish robbers, from the scandalous, devilish rule of the Romans.’ Rome was sucking out the Germans to such an extent that ‘it is a wonder that we have anything left to eat.’ The Pope lived in such pomp and splendour on the wealth of the Germans that ‘whenever he goes out riding he is accompanied by three or four thousand mule-riders, more than the escort of any king or emperor!’ Small wonder if God were to rain brimstone and ﬁre down on Rome, and doom it to destruction, as he did with Sodom and Gomorrah. O noble princes and sirs, how long will you suffer your land and your people to be the prey of these ravening wolves?’ Luther was not content with imitating the language of Crotus Rubianus and Hutten ; he even surpassed it in his description of Rome, which was such an iniquitous abode of plunder and theft, lying and cheating, that the rule of Antichrist himself could not be more abominably wicked.’ Meanwhile, since this devilish state of things is not merely open robbery, deceit and tyranny, such as proceeds from the gates of hell, but also destroys Christianity, body and soul, we are bound to use all diligence to put a stop to it. If we wish to ﬁght the Turks let us begin here, where they are worst.’ [At least Luther fell short of suggesting the introduction of the Turks as opposition to Rome.]
‘Either the secular power, or a general council, should prohibit for the future all payments of money to Rome, and should abolish all papal commendams and reservations; every courtling who comes from Rome should be strictly commanded to withdraw, to jump into the Rhine or the nearest river, and to administer a cold bath to the Interdict, seal and letter and all. The German bishops must no longer be mere puppets and tools of the Pope. It should be decreed by an Imperial law that no episcopal mitre, and no conﬁrmation of any appointment shall for the future be obtained from Rome. Also the ‘reserved cases’ (casus reservati) should be abolished, and the oaths of allegiance to the Pope which bishops are compelled to take. All matters relating to ecclesiastical ﬁefs and beneﬁces should be settled by the Primate of Germany with the assistance of a general consistory.
A translator's footnote says that “‘Casus reservati’ refers to those great sins for which the Pope or the bishops claimed that they only could give absolution.” Continuing with page 122 of our source:
By proposals of this sort Luther hoped to gain favour with the German Church dignitaries, especially the Archbishop of Mayence, the German Primate; his schemes for circumscribing the territory of the Church, and for depriving the Pope of the suzerainty of Naples would, he hoped, attach the Emperor to his cause, while the nobles would be attracted by hopes of cathedrals and abbeys for their younger sons.
Concerning Church ordinances and ceremonies he said: ‘We should abolish all Saints’ days or keep them on Sundays. Festivals, church-treasures, and ornamentation are offensive and pernicious; anniversaries must be abolished or reduced in number, chapels and Feldkirchen (ﬁeld-churches) rased to the ground. As it was to be feared that the many masses that had been endowed would provoke the wrath of God, it was advisable to endow no more, and to abolish many already endowed. All pilgrimages undertaken as “good works” must be forbidden; but if they were undertaken to gratify curiosity and the desire to see new lands, people might be left to do as they pleased.’ All fasts enjoined by the Church must be abolished. The Church punishments, such as interdicts, bans, suspension of priests, and so forth, ‘had been introduced into the heavenly kingdom of Christ by the spirit of evil, and were odious plagues and curses;’ an interdict more particularly was a greater crime than the strangling of twenty popes. Above all the canon law must be swept away from the ﬁrst letter of it to the last - particularly the decretals. ‘Everything that the Pontiﬁcate has instituted or ordained is calculated only to multiply sin and error.’
‘It is stated that there is no ﬁner government in the world than that of the Turks, who have neither a spiritual nor a secular code of law, but only their Koran. And it must be acknowledged that there is no more disgraceful system of rule than ours, with our canon law and our common law, whilst no class any longer obeys either natural reason or the Holy Scriptures.’
‘May God give to us all,’ says Luther in conclusion, ‘a Christlike understanding, and to the Christian nobility in particular a Christian mind and will to do the best for our poor Church!’
At this period Luther appears to have had implicit conﬁdence not only in the nobles but also in the Emperor Charles. In the opening lines of his letter he says: ‘God has given us a noble young sovereign for our head, in order that many hearts may be roused to great and good hopes.’
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.
Many of Luther's desired reforms are radical, proposing a German Church modeled after the Christian assemblies left to us by the original apostles. That model seems not to have been employed since as early as Galerius' Edict of Toleration, and it was not employed as a result of the Reformation. Others of his proposals sought to return to Christian principles which an earlier Catholic Church upheld, such as the prohibitions against usury. However Calvin was one notable Reformer of Luther's time who accepted the practice, but that is another story.
This was the point of no return. From here, Martin Luther would either succeed or die trying. The year following would once again contain some strange and unexpected turns of events. We shall return here next week, with further discussion of Luther's proposed reforms and the next stages of Martin Luther's Reformation.