Puslapio vaizdai

yet published, and was alone enough to make his condemnation for heresy imperative.

The sacramental system was the very heart of traditional Catholicism. Supernatural means by which alone the Church dispensed the divine grace intrusted to her, the sacraments, it had been believed since the second century, were absolutely essential to salvation. As their validity depended ordinarily upon their performance by duly ordained priests, Christians were obliged to rely altogether upon priestly ministrations and were quite helpless alone. The authority of church and hierarchy over the faith and life of Christendom was rooted in this fact and to deny it was to attack Catholicism at its most vital spot. Deny it Luther did, and with emphasis. Every Christian, he claimed, is truly a priest in the sight of God, and need depend on no one else for divine grace. And what was more, the sacraments themselves, he insisted, are mere signs of the forgiving love of God in Christ. Unless their message be believed they are of no help, and if it be believed without them they may be dispensed with. Thus while recognizing their value as aids to faith he freed Christians from slavish dependence on them and on church and priesthood as well. Never was man more independent of external and factitious means, franker and more fearless in declaring their needlessness. Splendidly regardless of consequences either to himself or to others he proclaimed his message of emancipation in ringing terms.


The work was a declaration of freedom such as alone made his own position tenable. It was of a piece with his sermon on the ban, published two years earlier, and in harmony with the religious point of view attained long before that as a result of his youthful struggles in the convent. Out of despair due to a vivid sense of the wrath of God he had been rescued by the recognition of divine love, and the ensuing peace was the salvation he sought. present reality it was, not simply a future hope, a state of mind and so the fruit of faith not of works. To one thus already saved sacraments and hierarchy were of secondary importance. Though Luther long remained unconscious of his inner independence of them, when the conflict came and he was threatened with their loss


he discovered he could do without them, and the discovery proved a new charter of liberty for himself and in the end for multitudes of others.

That charter found its clearest and most beautiful expression in a little tract published almost immediately after the work on the sacraments and entitled The Freedom of a Christian Man. At its very beginning were placed the paradoxical


A Christian man is a most free lord of all things and subject to no one; a Christian man is a most dutiful servant of all things and subject to every one.

What he meant by the former appears in such words as these:

Every Christian is by faith so exalted above all things that in spiritual power he is completely lord of all. Nothing whatever can do him any hurt, but all things are subject to him and are compelled to be subservient to his salvation. A Christian man needs no work, no law for salvation, for by faith he is free from all law and in perfect freedom does gratuitously all he does, seeking neither profit nor salvation, but only what is well-pleasing to God, since by the grace of God he is already satisfied and saved through his faith.

And what he meant by the second of his paradoxical statements appears with equal clearness in the following passage:

Though he is thus free from all works yet he ought again to empty himself of this liberty, take on the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion as a man, serve, help, and in every way act toward his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has acted and is acting toward him. All this he should do freely and with regard to nothing but the good pleasure of God; and he should reason thus: Lo, to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature, altogether without merit, my God of His pure and free mercy has given in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation, so that I am no longer in want of anything except faith to believe this is so. For such a father therefore, who has overwhelmed me with these inestimable riches of His, why should I not freely, gladly,

with a whole heart, and eager devotion, do all that I know will be pleasing and acceptable in His sight? I will therefore give myself as a sort of Christ to my neighbor, as Christ has given himself to me, and will do nothing in this life except what I see to be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbor, since through faith I abound in all good things in Christ.

The theme of the tract was not liberty as an end, as though it were a good in itself, without regard to the use made of it, but liberty as a means to the service of others. Just because a Christian is the most free lord of all and subject to no one, he can be the most dutiful servant of all and subject to every one. It was a profound observation of Luther's, based upon his own monastic experience, that so long as one is troubled and anxious about one's own fate single-minded devotion to others is very difficult. To be freed from concern for oneself, he felt, was the first requisite of genuine Christian living, for the Christian life meant not chiefly growth in character and piety, but unselfish labor for others' good. As he said later in one of his sermons: "What is it to serve God and do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to one's neighbor, for it is our neighbor needs our service, God in heaven needs it not."

Religion he saw, as commonly understood, had added burdens instead of removing them. From such burdens he would set men free, making religion wholly subservient to common human duty and service. And he would set them free not only from the trammels of religious obligation-skepticism and unbelief might do that equally well-but also from anxiety about the present, by giving them faith in their Father God, whose world this is and in whose hands all things are working for His children's good. Freedom from the fear both of present and of future wa Luther's gospel, a freedom making possible the living of a serene and confident and wholesome life of usefulness.


This most beautiful of all Luther's writings was preceded by a long letter to the pope penned at the solicitation of Miltitz and at his request dated back from October to September 6 that it might not seem to have been called forth, as it actually was not, by the papal bull recently

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Therefore, Leo, my father, beware of listening to those sirens who make you out to be not simply a man, but partly a god, so that you can command and require whatever you will. It will not happen so, nor will you prevail. A servant of servants you are, and above all men in a most pitiable and perilous position. Let not those deceive you who pretend that you are lord of the world; who will not allow any one to be a Christian without your authority; who babble of your having power over heaven, hell, and purgatory. They are your enemies and are seeking your soul to destroy it, as Isaiah says, "My people, they that call thee blessed are themselves deceiving thee." They are in error who raise you above councils and the universal church. They are in error who attribute to you alone the right of interpreting Scripture. All these are seeking to set up their own impieties in the church under your name, and alas, Satan has gained much through them in the time of your predecessors. In short, believe not those who exalt you, but those who humiliate you.

The year 1520, which saw the publication of Luther's greatest reformation tracts, witnessed also his complete and permanent break with the Roman Church. At the Leipsic debate he had shown himself sharply at variance with it, and while Miltitz and others were still hoping for reconciliation Eck saw the hope was vain and no course left the church but to condemn the dangerous heretic. Early in 1520 Eck betook himself to Rome with the express purpose of convincing the authorities of the need of decisive action. With devotion to the faith was perhaps associated, as many of his contemporaries believed, the desire for personal glory and aggrandizement, but his conduct was consistent throughout and much more to his credit than the vacillating and temporizing



The decoration of this title-page, designed in Cranach's studio, was used by the publisher,
Melchior Lotter, for a number of Luther's writings.

policy of the holy see. To be sure it was possible for him as a mere theologian to disregard considerations that must weigh heavily with the Roman authorities. They too knew that Luther was a heretic, but he had the backing of the most important prince in Germany and of an aroused public sentiment not to be lightly disregarded. Month after month they waited, hoping perhaps that Miltitz might succeed in effecting a compromise, or that Luther's growing radicalism might bring reaction in Germany and cost him the elector's support.

Finally, in the spring of 1520, formal process was once more instituted and condemnation definitely settled upon. Realizing the gravity of the situation the Curia went about the matter in the most careful way. No such summary proceedings as had been indulged in a couple of years before were now thought of. Nothing could better show the strength of the feeling against the papacy in Germany than the hesitation of

tect him, suspended him from the ministry, and announced his definitive excommunication, if he did not repent and recant within sixty days after the publication of the bull in Germany. As is apt to be the case, the document gave little hint of Luther's real interest or the fundamental differences between him and the church. Propositions concerning the sacraments, indulgences, excommunication, the authority of the pope, the condemnation of Hus,

From a copperplate engraving by Lucas Cranach


This engraving made in 1521, the year of the condemnation at Worms, by his friend Lucas Cranach, is the second earliest known likeness of Luther.

the Roman authorities at this time. Even after a carefully selected commission was at work upon the matter, as late as May, 1520, its sessions were suspended, when a report reached the Vatican that there was still some hope of an easier way out of the difficulty, and the decisive step was finally taken only in June, when the hope was seen to be groundless.

The papal bull Exurge Domine, published on the fifteenth of that month, condemned forty-one propositions drawn from Luther's writings, forbade the reading of his books and called upon Christians everywhere to burn them, threatened with the ban everybody who should support or pro

free will, purga

tory, and the men-
dicant orders, were
condemned, as was
also Luther's state-
ment that to burn
heretics is against
the will of the
Spirit. The list of
errors might easily
have been made
more formidable
by any one inti-
mately acquainted
with Luther's wri-
tings, but it seemed
to the papal com-
mission quite suffi-
cient for the pur-



The bull clearly reflected the difficulties of the situation. In its phraseology it was a mild document, in striking contrast with Luther's heated denunciations of the holy see. Full of

pathos it was too, and almost apologetic in tone:

So far as concerns Martin himself, good God, what have we omitted, what have we not done, what have we neglected of paternal charity, that we might recall him from his errors? After we had summoned him, desiring to deal more mildly with him, we urged and exhorted him, through our legate and by letter, to renounce his errors, or to come without any hesitation or fear-for perfect love should cast out fear—and after the example of our Saviour and the blessed Apostle Paul, talk not secretly but openly and face to face. To this end we offered

him a safe conduct and money for the journey. If he had done this he would certainly, we believe, have seen his errors and repented. Nor would he have found so many evils in the Roman curia which, relying upon the empty rumors of its enemies, he vituperates much more than is seemly. We should also have taught him more clearly than light that the holy Roman pontiffs, though he abuses them beyond all modesty, have never erred in their canons or constitutions.

Luther's disobedience and contumacy were then recited and his appeal to a future council was condemned with special emphasis in accordance with a constitution of Pius II and Julius II which threatened any one thus appealing with punishment for heresy.

With a singular disregard for the demands of the situation, betrayed not infrequently in the Curia's dealings with Luther, Eck was appointed one of two commissioners to publish the papal bull in Germany. At best it was bound to be unpopular there, and Eck's connection with it served only to discredit it the more, giving currency to the belief that it was a partizan document, wrung from the papal see by Luther's principal antagonist. To make matters worse Eck was given authority to insert in the bull the names of a limited number of Luther's supporters, an opportunity he used to revenge himself upon some of his own antagonists, among them the famous humanist Willibald Pirkheimer, author of the stinging satire "Der abgehobelte Eck" (The Corner [Eck] Rounded-off).

As might have been expected, the reception accorded the bull in Germany was far from cordial. Coming "bearded, bulled, and monied," as Luther put it, Eck found himself almost everywhere an object of hatred and contumely. In many places

the bull was treated with open contempt, in others its publication was delayed or prevented altogether on technical grounds

of one kind and another. To be sure, there were those who welcomed it warmly, and here and there its provisions were put into immediate effect. Whole wagonloads of Luther's books were burned at Cologne, Mayence, and some other towns. It had also the desired effect in leading not a few of his adherents, real or supposed, to renounce all connection with

him. Eck had the satisfaction of seeing Pirkheimer, Spengler, and others of the Nuremberg group sue humbly for pardon and seek his good offices in their behalf.

Staupitz, although not named in the bull, had to suffer for his known sympathy with the Wittenberg heretic. The relations between the two old friends had been strained for some time. Luther's radicalism greatly distressed the older man and led to a growing estrangement. Already in the spring of 1519 Luther complained to Lang that Staupitz had completely forgotten him, and in the fall of the same year he appealed to his beloved superior in the following affecting words:

You forsake me too much. I have sorrowed for you like a weaned child for its mother. I beseech you praise the Lord even in me a sinner. Last night I dreamed of you. I thought you were leaving me, and as I was weeping and lamenting most bitterly, you waved your hand and told me to be quiet for you would return.

For a time, indeed, communication was resumed between the two old friends but was soon interrupted again. In August, feeling unequal to the strain put upon him by his position as vicar in the troublous days upon which the Augustinian order had fallen, Staupitz resigned his office, and soon afterward retired to Salzburg, where he ultimately joined the Dominicans. He hoped his retirement would bring him peace, but he was not allowed to escape so easily. The pope called upon him to join in the condemnation of Luther's heresies. Sorely stricken by the necessity laid upon him, he wrote pathetically to his successor, Wenceslaus Link, "Martin has undertaken a dangerous task and is carrying it on with high courage under the guidance of God. But I stammer, and

am a child in need of milk."

Finally he yielded, at least so far as to declare his complete submission to the

pope, and with this the Curia was satisfied. His action drew from Luther a sharp protest, showing how deeply he was grieved by the weakness of his old superior. Thus Luther wrote to him:

This is no time for fear, but for crying aloud, when our Lord Jesus Christ is condemned, cast off, and blasphemed. As you exhorted me to humility I exhort you to

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