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bility, and he took occasion in his final thesis to declare the pope successor of Peter and universal vicar of Christ, thus challenging Luther to debate the question of his supremacy. Luther saw clearly enough that the matter was of fundamental importance and its discussion sooner or later inevitable. He therefore spent the months preceding the debate in the most diligent study of the whole topic. As he gathered his material, he became convinced that the papal claims had no warrant in Christian history. He discovered the untrustworthiness of many of the documents appealed to in their support, and was led to the conclusion that the whole structure was based on fraud and was of comparatively recent growth. The conclusion, as a matter of fact, was quite unwarranted. Papal supremacy was much older than he thought, and was due in no small part to natural causes. But his opinion was not surprising in the circumstances, and was shared by many others. As a consequence, his bitterness steadily increased, and it became more and more difficult for him to distinguish between the current theory and the papal institution itself. Writing to his friend Lang on the third of February, he said:
Our Eck is waging new wars against me, and it will come to pass that I shall do with Christ's aid what I have long had in mind; namely, attack sometime the Roman scarecrows in a serious book. For hitherto I have only sported and played with the Roman affair, although they complain loudly as if it were real earnest.
And before the end of the same month he wrote to Christopher Scheurl:
Our Eck, after beautifully hiding his madness against me until now, has finally let it be seen. Behold what kind of a man he is! But God is in the midst of the gods, and knows what he purposes to bring out of this tragedy. Neither Eck nor I can serve our own ends in this affair. The counsel of God, so I believe, will be accomplished. I have often said that hitherto I have been playing; now at length serious things against the Roman pontiff and Roman arrogance are under way.
A few days later he declared in a letter to Spalatin:
I am studying the papal decretals in preparation for my disputation, and, between us, I am ignorant whether the pope is antichrist himself or his apostle, so miserably is Christ--that is, the truth-corrupted and crucified by him in his decretals.
Already in December, in writing to his friend Link about the meeting with Cajetan at Augsburg, he had said:
I send you my account of the Augsburg interview, couched in sharper terms than the legate wished; but my pen is already pregnant with much greater matters. I do not know where my ideas come from. The affair, in my judgment, is not yet begun, much less is it nearing its end, as the Romans hope. I will send you my trifles, that you may see whether I rightly divine that the antichrist, of whom Paul speaks, reigns in the Roman curia. I think I am able to show that he is worse to-day than the Turk.
The idea was not a novel one. In the Middle Ages the word antichrist was frequently used by disputants as a term of opprobrium for political or ecclesiastical opponents of whatever sort, and long before Luther's time it had been repeatedly applied to the pope by those who saw in the political power and worldly interests of the papacy the profanation of a holy office and the betrayal of Christ. It was this that led Luther to the same condemnatory judgment. Not the personal character of the popes, but the secularization of the papacy chiefly aroused his resentment. As he discovered how consciously and deliberately and often by what devious means its political power had been attained, his anger waxed hot within him. In another letter to Spalatin, written about the same time, he says:
Many things I suppress and hold back for the sake of the prince and our university. If I were elsewhere, I should vomit them out against Rome, or rather Babylon, the devastator of Bible and church. The truth about the Bible and the church, my Spalatin, cannot be discussed without offending this beast. Therefore do not hope that I shall be quiet and undisturbed unless you wish me to give up theology altogether. Let our friends think me mad. This affair will not have an end, if it be of God, until all my friends desert me, as his disciples and ac
quaintances deserted Christ, and truth be left alone, which will save itself by its own power and not by mine nor thine nor any man's. This hour I have expected from the beginning. If I perish, the world will lose nothing. The Wittenbergers, by the grace of God, have already progressed so far that they do not need me at all. What will you? I, worthless man that I am, fear I may not be counted worthy to suffer and die for such a cause. That felicity belongs to better men, not to so vile a sinner.
He evidently realized the seriousness of the outlook. It was generally believed that insubordination to the pope could have only one result, the condemnation and. death of the rebel. He was hastening on, it must seem, to certain destruction. His friends were in terror, and urged him to be careful. Carlstadt, radical and impetuous as he was, tried to hold him back. He was ready and eager to defend the Augustinian theology, but was not prepared to attack the pope, and Luther's course sorely alarmed him.
distinguished personages. A number of professors and two hundred students from Wittenberg were in attendance, and the latter kept the town well stirred up with their noisy and not always orderly demonstrations in support of the Wittenberg champions.
Peter Mosellan, a Leipsic professor of humanistic sympathies, gives us a vivid description of the participants in the debate. The following pen-picture of Lu
From a copperplate engraving by Lucas Cranach MARTIN LUTHER IN 1520-HIS EARLIEST KNOWN LIKENESS
But Luther was not to be dissuaded. Expediency meant little to him, his own reputation and safety still less. When once convinced that a certain evil needed mending, no other consideration, however important, could long hold him back. He would often restrain himself for the sake of others when he would not for his own, but the restraint could be only temporary, and the deed had at length to be done, whatever it cost either them or him.
The great debate began on the twentyseventh of June in the hall of the Pleissenburg, Duke George's palace, in the presence of the duke himself and many other
ther, then thirtyfive years old, is worth quoting:
Martin is of medium height and slender form, with a body so wasted both with cares and study that you can almost count all his bones. He is just in the prime of life, with a clear and penetrating voice. His learning and his knowledge of Scripture are admirable, and he has almost everything at command. He knows enough Greek and Hebrew to decide between different interpretations. Nor is he wanting in matter, for he has a great forest both of ideas and words. Judgment, perhaps,
and discretion you might miss in him. In his life and manners he is polite and affable, not in the least stoical or supercilious, and he is able to adapt himself to all occasions. In company he is a gay and merry jester, alert and goodhumored, everywhere and always with a bright and cheerful face, however terribly his enemies threaten him, so that you find it difficult to believe the man could undertake so arduous a task without divine aid. But there is one thing nearly all count a vice in him: he is a little more imprudent and biting in reproof than is either safe in one who goes new ways in theology or decorous in a theologian, a fault which I am not sure
does not attach to all that have learned late.
During the first week the debate was between Eck and Carlstadt, and Luther entered the fray only on the fourth of July. It was for this both Eck and the spectators had been eagerly waiting, and the disputation now assumed for the first time the aspect of a real and serious struggle. The disputants began at once with the fundamental question of the nature of papal authority. Luther was very careful and moderate in his utterances. He did not deny the supremacy of the pope. He claimed only that he ruled by human, not divine, right, and a Christian might therefore be saved even if he refused to submit to his authority. This, Eck at once declared, sounded very like the opinion of John Hus, who had been condemned by the Council of Constance and burned at the stake a hundred years before. The spread of Hus's views in Bohemia, his native land, had led to civil war and cost Germany much blood and treasure. The Bohemian heresy had become the synonym of riot and revolution, and to accuse Luther of sympathy with it was to hold him up to general execration. He felt the gravity of the accusation, and at first repelled it angrily. "Never," he retorted, "have I taken pleasure in any schism whatsoever, nor will I to the end of time. The Bohemians have done wrong in voluntarily separating from our communion, even if they have divine right on their side; for the highest divine right is love and unity of the Spirit."
But after thinking the matter over, he declared, "It is certain that among the articles of John Hus and the Bohemians are many most Christian and evangelical, and those the universal church cannot condemn."
This was the climax of the debate. Luther's words were heard with horror by his enemies and with consternation by his friends. From the duke they elicited an angry oath audible to the whole assembly. Seeing the effect produced, Luther tried to qualify his statement and make it less offensive; but he had expressed his real opinion, as everybody saw, and explanation did not help the matter. couple of days later, in response to Eck's continued appeal to the authority of the
Council of Constance, he declared: "I shall not be moved until the most excellent doctor proves that a council is unable to err, has not erred, and does not err. For a council cannot make divine right of what is not by its nature such, nor can it make that heresy which is not against divine right."
To which Eck replied: "The Reverend Father begs me to prove that a council cannot err. I am ignorant what he means by this unless he wishes to throw suspicion on the praiseworthy Council of Constance. This I say to you, Reverend Father, if you believe that a council lawfully assembled errs and has erred, you are to me as a heathen and a publican."
Eck was fully justified in taking this position, for to deny or doubt the infallibility of a general council was to reject the one ultimate authority depended upon for centuries by Catholic Christians. That Luther took his stand upon the Bible did not help the matter. It was Catholic belief that the church alone could properly interpret the Bible, and to set the teaching of the one in opposition to the other was nothing less than heresy.
The remainder of the debate, dealing with purgatory, indulgences, penance, and related matters, was of little importance, and the interest of the spectators flagged. It is significant of the change wrought in a year and a half that the discussion of indulgences aroused very little interest. Eck was quite ready to admit the justice of many of his opponent's strictures upon the practice, and Luther declared there never would have been any trouble if the ecclesiastical authorities had taken this attitude in the beginning. The conflict had been carried so much further, and had come to involve so much graver things, that agreement or disagreement about the matter originally in dispute counted for little. Luther had been driven by his opponents, and led by his own study and reflection, to positions so radical as to make his earlier criticism of abuses seem of small importance. He might be orthodox in every other respect, and accept without question all the doctrines and practices of the church, but to deny its infallible authority was to put himself outside the Catholic pale. Unless he repented and recanted, his excommunication was a foregone conclusion.
The debate from Luther's point of view was not a success. He had hoped much from it, and returned home greatly disappointed. Despite his own and his supporters' claims, the victory was really Eck's, not his, and it was fairly won. No other outcome was possible, and the result might have been foreseen. Luther made
a much better showing against the powerful and resourceful debater than Carlstadt, but even his skill was unequal to the task of defending an essentially indefensible position. He committed the mistake of supposing that the radical views reached under the influence of his own religious experience were in harmony with the faith of the church. It is a common mistake. Some men, when they find themselves out of sympathy with the prevailing beliefs of the institution wherein they have been born and bred, at once turn their backs upon it. Others of a more sanguine temperament, or with more of the reformer's instinct, read its faith in the light of their own opinions, and endeavor to call their fellows back to what they believe its real platform. When, as is very apt to happen, a conflict comes and they try to defend as orthodox what they were originally led to accept as true, they only invite defeat. Luther maintained at Leipsic not merely that his interpretation of the papacy was correct, but that it was orthodox, and in this, as Eck showed, he was wrong. There remained only the alternative of abandoning his interpretation and accepting the traditional view or of foregoing the claim of orthodoxy. Consciously and deliberately he chose the latter course, and in doing so broke decisively with all his past. Eck repeatedly protested that he held all his opinions subject to correction by the ecclesiastical authorities, but Luther avowed submission to no one. Only to the clear teaching of the divine word would he bow, and he would read it with his own and not with other men's eyes. In his attack on indulgences he had appealed from the indulgence-venders to the pope; at Augsburg, from the pope ill informed to the pope to be better informed; and soon afterward from the pope to a council. Now, when the decision of a council was cited against him, he declined to be bound by it, and took his stand upon the sole authority of the Scriptures. But even this was not final. The Bible
itself, he maintained, has to be used with discrimination, for parts of it do not teach Christian truth. He really substituted for all external authorities the enlightened conscience of the individual Christian. The Bible he read for himself and admitted the claim of no council or body of men to read it for him. This, in principle, though he never fully realized it, and seldom acted upon. it, meant the right of private judgment in religious things, and in it lay the promise of a new age.
It was not skepticism or indifference to religion that enabled Luther thus to stand upon his own feet. Rather it was the vividness of his religious experience, making him sure of acceptance with God. cause of this he found it possible to dispense with the traditional authorities. Had he not come into conflict with the rulers of the church, he might have lived to the end of his days quite unaware of any difference between himself and his fellow-Christians. Many another had had his experience and had lived and died content in the communion of the Catholic Church. There was nothing in his faith to cause a break. But when it became impossible to speak his mind about abuses and remain within the Roman fellowship, he discovered his faith was such that he could get along outside. He justified his attitude not by declaring the church unnecessary,
even when most radical he was still conservative,-but by interpreting it as the community of Christian believers wherever found and however governed. Greeks, Bohemians, and others condemned by Rome he now regarded as members of the universal church, and in their communion he felt it possible to enjoy all the blessings of Christianity. He did not for a moment imagine that the Roman Church was not a true church, but he came to feel that it was not the only one, and if forced without its pale, he would still be a member of the Christian family.
The significance of the Leipsic debate for Luther's own development it is impossible to exaggerate. It meant the final parting of the ways. It showed him clearly where he stood and emancipated him once and for all from the delusion that he was in harmony with the Roman Church and could remain permanently within it. His condemnation he saw must
After a drawing made by Braun and Hogenberg, dated 1572
LEIPSIC, AS IT APPEARED FIFTY-THREE YEARS AFTER THE DISPUTATION
The debate occurred in the Pleissenburg, Duke George's palace, which is shown at the extreme left.
follow in due time, and while Miltitz was
It shows the distance traveled and the lessons learned from the experiences of the last two years that he was neither crushed nor apparently greatly distressed by the outlook. His development had been gradual, and he was fully prepared to take the final step when confronted by it. He had not foreseen the outcome, and, as he often said, would never have dared to begin had he known whither he was going; but he was driven against his will from point to point, and could not turn back without denying his faith. History presents no more striking example of the iron logic of events.
Though startled when he first discovered his agreement with Hus, he soon recovered his equanimity, and was heartened rather than dismayed. During the summer he received letters from prominent Bohemians expressing their joy in him and his work and likening his place in Saxony to that of Hus in Bohemia. Instead of denying all sympathy with the condemned heretic, as he would have done sometime before, he acknowledged the letters with thanks, and after reading for the first time some of Hus's writings, declared, with his usual impulsiveness and frank generosity: "Hitherto I have unconsciously held and taught all the doctrines of John Hus. John Staupitz has also taught them in like ignorance. Briefly we are all Hussites without knowing it."
Evidently he had come to look upon the Bohemians as allies, and felt confirmed in his own position rather than frightened from it because it was shared by them.
The same sympathy with outsiders appeared in the debate itself, when he referred to the Eastern Church in support of his contention that submission to the pope was not necessary to salvation. Most of the Greek fathers either knew nothing of papal supremacy or consciously rejected it. In them he found kindred spirits, and thenceforth was always fond of appealing to them. His attitude was not a sign, as is often said, of his native breadth of view, -liberality was not one of his virtues,but of the instinctive feeling of comradeship with others like himself in opposition. He began to feel that he was not merely a single individual engaged in a petty contest of his own, but one of a long line of fighters against ecclesiastical tyranny and corruption. His consciousness expanded, and his work came to seem of national and even world-wide meaning.
He always had an uncommonly vivid sense of fulfilling the divine will in everything he undertook. Now the conviction dominated him more completely than ever. Henceforth he believed himself one of God's chosen instruments, called to carry on the labors of the great leaders who had fought and fallen in earlier days. Martyrdom he was in constant expectation of, looking forward to the fate that had overtaken so many. But he was inspired rather than oppressed by the thought, and rejoiced in the opportunity to suffer as they had suffered. He also saw more clearly than before the difficulties of the task