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MARTIN LUTHER AND HIS WORK
SIXTH PAPER: THE WIDENING OF THE BREACH
BY ARTHUR C. McGIFFERT
Professor of Church History in Union Theological Seminary, New York
HE summer of 1519 witnessed two Not for centuries had such power been
events each in its way of cardinal lodged in the hands of a single man. Inimportance for the career of Luther and heriting the crown of Spain and the the progress of the Reformation-the elec- Netherlands and large possessions in Italy tion of an emperor of Germany and the from his Spanish mother, his Hapsburg Leipsic disputation.
father brought him Austria and BurThe Emperor Maximilian had died un- gundy, and now the empire of Germany expectedly on the twelfth of January. The was added. Great things were expected two most prominent candidates for the of him by his new subjects, particularly imperial throne were his grandson Charles, by the members of the young German King of Spain and the Netherlands, and party. Their watchword was “Germany King Francis I of France. Maximilian for the Germans," and they hoped for the had already been laying the wires for creation of a strong and united nation, Charles's election, but the pope favored sufficient unto itself and independent of the candidacy of Francis. The election all foreign control. In Germany, as in lay in the hands of three ecclesiastical many other parts of Europe, the new and four secular princes, the archbishops spirit of nationalism was running high, of Treves, Jayence, and Cologne, the and everywhere it gave rise to a growing electors of Brandenburg and Saxony, the impatience with the papacy, for the latCount Palatinate, and the King of Bo- ter's cosmopolitanism seemed to many the hemia. Large sums of money were spent greatest obstacle to national development. by the candidates and their supporters in The pope's support of the candidature of forwarding their interests, and Frederick Francis only made matters worse and inthe Wise was apparently the only one of creased the hostility to his interference in the seven who was above accepting bribes. German affairs. It looked for a time as if the prize would
The election of Charles was hailed with go to the highest bidder, but as the possi- enthusiasm, and hope everywhere ran bility of Francis's election became immi- high. But those who expected much were nent, national feeling asserted itself, and doomed to disappointment. Instead of demanded an emperor of German blood. putting himself at the head of the naPressure proved too strong to be resisted, tional movement and devoting his energies and when the supporters of Francis found to the building up of a strong and indeit impossible to secure his election, they pendent empire, he treated Germany only compromised on Frederick the Wise, as an appendage of Spain, where alone his easily the most influential and respected heart lay. Though German blood flowed of German princes. Feeling his resources
in his veins, he was by temperament and unequal to the task, Frederick declined training far more Spanish than German. the proffered crown and threw the weight He had little understanding of his Teuof his influence upon the side of Charles, tonic subjects, or sympathy with them, who was elected on the twenty-eighth of and to their new hopes and aspirations he .
was altogether blind.
hardly more than a pawn in his political countrymen's enthusiasm for the young game, and when he needed the support of ruler was reflected in his writings. Over the papacy, he was quite willing to use and over again not only then, but years his power to suppress heresy and schism afterward, he spoke in terms of warm in the empire, as he was equally ready to admiration of the emperor, and it was
From a carbon print by Braun & Co. of the painting by Clouet in the Louvre
Half-tone plate engraved by H. Davidson
THRONE OF GERMANY
permit both to flourish when he wished to long before he could bring himself to bebring the pope to terms. The Lutheran lieve that he would disappoint the nation's movement thus proved frequently of no hopes. little advantage to him, but of real sym- In the meantime, while the intrigues pathy with it he never showed a trace, preceding the election were distracting the and his general policy was hostile to it. attention of the princes of Germany, Lu
At the time of Charles's election, Lu- ther was preparing himself all unconther shared the common mood, and his sciously to fill the place of national leader declined by Charles. As yet his work was tracted negotiations Leipsic was agreed almost exclusively religious and theologi- upon as the scene of the disputation. cal, and its wider implications were no- In the winter Eck published the theses where understood, but as the event proved he purposed to defend, and sent a copy of the structure ultimately reared was the them to Luther. Instead of dealing with more permanent because of the solidity the matters in dispute between himself and depth of the foundations he was lay- and Carlstadt, they had to do wholly with ing. His break with the papacy, a neces- Luther's teachings, showing it was he sary step in his progress toward national whom Eck wished to meet. Indeed, in the leadership, was becoming more and more letter accompanying the theses he said: imminent during the early months of 1519, and was greatly hastened by the
As Carlstadt is your champion, but you second of the two notable events of that are the principal, who have disseminated year, the Leipsic disputation.
throughout Germany dogmas which seem to The ablest Catholic theologian of the my small and feeble judgment false and day in Germany was Dr. John Eck of the erroneous, it is fitting that you also should University of Ingolstadt. Some three come and either defend your own positions years younger than Luther, he took his or disprove mine. You see from the inmaster's degree at the University of closed document that the propositions have Tübingen at the early age of fourteen,
been aimed not so much at Carlstadt as at while Luther was still only an under- your teachings. graduate. Interested in mathematics, geography, physics, philosophy, and law, Luther felt much aggrieved at this new as well as theology, he was a man of un- and public attack, made as it was under common learning and extraordinary at- cover of the approaching debate with tainments in many fields. For a time he Carlstadt and despite renewed protestawas generally reckoned a member of the tions of friendship. In deference to Milgrowing humanistic party, and was on titz, he had maintained strict silence, and terms of intimacy with many of its lead- had even allowed a recent pamphlet of ers. Luther spoke of him with marked Prierias to pass unnoticed; but Eck's asrespect in some of his earlier letters, and sault was too serious to be ignored. He frequently sent him greetings through was the first German theologian of any common friends. But the appearance of importance to come out in open opposithe ninety-five theses led to a permanent tion, and Luther felt that his own honor break and the alinement of Eck upon the and the honor of the university required side of reaction. He criticized them se- him to meet his antagonist in debate. verely in a paper intended for private Considering himself absolved from his circulation called "Obelisks." Outraged promise of silence by what had happened, that a man he supposed his friend should he decided to join Carlstadt in the apattack him without giving him any warn- proaching disputation, leaving to his coling, Luther replied with considerable league the defense of the Augustinian theasperity in a similar paper entitled “Aster- ology, and devoting himself to the points
Thenceforth, although the forms specifically impugned in Eck's theses. of friendship were observed for a while, He found considerable difficulty in getthere was growing enmity between the ting Duke George's permission to take two men.
part. It seemed almost an affront to the In May, 1518, Luther's friend Carl- papal see to allow him to appear in Leipstadt, who had some time before commit- sic and defend propositions that he had ted himself publicly and enthusiastically already been called upon to recant. But to the Augustinian theology of his younger he was very eager, and wrote a number colleague, assailed Eck in an extended of urgent letters to the duke. Finally series of theses, and the controversy, thus Carlstadt was authorized to bring with opened, was carried on vigorously for him such friends as he pleased, and under months. The Wittenberg faculty finally cover of this indirect permission, Luther invited Eck, an experienced, one might als appeared and bore his share in the debate. most say a professional, disputant, to meet Like Tetzel and Prierias, Eck was a Carlstadt in public debate, and after pro- believer in papal absolutism and infalli