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A VIEW OF WORMS IN 1572, FIFTY-ONE YEARS AFTER LUTHER'S CONDEMNATION
episcopal palace, in which
the imperial diet was held, stood near the cathedral, the
church with four towers.
of the finding of his body in this or that spot. When the news reached Albrecht Dürer, who was traveling at the time in the Netherlands, he made a long entry in his diary expressing in impassioned terms his devotion to Luther and his sorrow at his death. "O God, is Luther dead, who will henceforth proclaim the gospel so clearly to us? O God, what might he not still have written for us in ten or twenty years!"
Luther himself reports that a Romanist wrote to the Archbishop of Mayence, "We are rid of Luther, as we wished to be; but the people are so stirred up that I suspect we shall scarcely escape with our lives unless with lighted candles we seek him everywhere and bring him back."
Aleander, as well as many others, guessed the truth, but neither he nor any one else knew where the condemned monk was hidden. Even the elector remained in ignorance of his whereabouts, that he might be able publicly to deny all knowledge of what had become of him. His identity was carefully concealed. He allowed his hair and beard to grow, put on the costume of a knight, wore a gold chain, carried a sword, and engaged occasionally in the sports and occupations of a young nobleman. He went by the name of Junker Jörg, and was generally supposed to be a knight living in temporary retirement. He had some difficulty in maintaining the character he had assumed, and in his rides and walks the attendant who always accompanied him frequently had much ado to keep him from betraying himself by his interest in books, so foreign to one of his supposed class, and by his tendency to enter into theological discussion with those he happened to meet.
His letters to his friends dated from "the region of the birds," from "the desert," or from "the Island of Patmos," show how lonely he was and how eager for news of the progress of events in Wittenberg and elsewhere. To be set aside as he was, and unable to go on with the great work, was a sore trial. He wrote to Melanchthon, begging to know what he thought of his retirement, and expressing the fear that it might be supposed he had fled from the conflict in cowardice. To his friend Agricola he wrote: "I am an extraordinary captive, sitting here willing and unwilling at the same time. Willing, because the Lord wills thus; unwilling, because I should prefer to stand publicly for the word, but not yet am I worthy." At first he was very impatient, but gradually, amazing as it
seems in one like him, he grew accustomed to his enforced confinement, and even felt relief at being once more by himself and apart from the strife and turmoil he had endured for three years. "What is going on in the world I care nothing for," he wrote Spalatin. "Here I sit in quiet."
The largeness and generosity of his nature were strikingly shown in his complete freedom from petty jealousy and from regard for his own importance. His letters reveal no trace of annoyance because the movement he had started was going on as prosperously under the lead of others. On the contrary, he was continually rejoicing to find himself unnecessary to it, and when his friends lamented his absence and longed for his return, he kept assuring them with unmistakable sincerity that the cause was better off without him. "I rejoice so greatly in your fullness," he wrote Amsdorf, "that I bear my absence most tranquilly. For I see it is not you who need me, but I who need you." To Spalatin he wrote, "I am pleased with the news from Wittenberg, and give thanks to Christ who has raised up others in my place so that I see they now have no need of me, though Philipp gives way too much to his affections and bears the cross more impatiently than becomes a disciple, still less such a master." And to Melanchthon himself:
You are already full, you reign without me, nor do I see why you desire me so greatly, or what need you have of my labors. You seem to invent difficulties, for your affairs go better in my absence than when I am present. Although I should most gladly be with you, since you have all you need, I should not be reluctant to go to Erfurt or Cologne or wherever else the Lord might think good to open a door for me to preach. How great is the harvest everywhere, and there are no laborers! But you are all laborers. We ought not to think of ourselves but of our brethren scattered everywhere, lest perchance we live for ourselves, that is, for the devil, and not for Christ.
Nevertheless, he began now to suffer a return of the mental depression of his earlier days. For some years he had apparently been almost free from it; but being again by himself and without absorbing
activities, he was once more plagued by. what he called the assaults of Satan. His own references to the devil's nightly visitations were richly embellished by his early biographers, and a whole crop of legends has grown up about the chambers he occupied in the lonely castle. Creaking shutters, gnawing rats, howling winds, the thousand and one noises which hammer at the ears of the sleepless and make night hideous when the nerves are all awry, were interpreted as demoniacal attacks, and were met by Scriptural quotation or muttered prayer. Poor health, due to his unaccustomed mode of living, had something to do with his troubles; loneliness and loss of the engrossing occupations and responsibilities of recent years even more. was plagued not only with physical manifestations of the enmity of the evil one, but also with excruciating doubts and fears. What if he were all wrong and were deceiving and leading to perdition the multitudes who were looking to him for leadership? "Are you alone wise, and has all the world gone wrong until you came to set it right?" was a taunt that caused him many an agonized hour. Struggle as he might, anxiety would overwhelm him at times, until he wished he were dead or had never been born.
Relief he found sometimes in prayer, sometimes in out-of-door excursions, in the course of which he now and then visited the surrounding towns and mingled unrecognized with the crowds in market-place and inn. On one occasion he even took part in a two-days' hunt. His description of it in a letter to Spalatin is beautifully characteristic:
Last week I followed the chase for two days that I might taste that bitter-sweet pleasure of heroes. We caught two hares and three poor little partridges-a worthy occupation indeed for men of leisure. Even there among the nets and dogs I reflected upon theology, and great as was the pleasure of the scene, I was made sorrowful and wretched by the thoughts it suggested. For what else did it signify than the devil; who pursues these innocent little beasts with his snares and impious dogs of teachers, the bishops and theologians? Only too sensible It was of this sad picture of simple and believing souls. A still more dreadful symbol followed. When by my exertions a little
hare had been preserved alive, and concealing him in my sleeve I had withdrawn to one side, the dogs found the poor beast and bit it through my coat, breaking its leg and strangling it. Thus the pope and Satan rage that they may destroy even saved souls regardless of my efforts. I have had enough of such hunting. It is sweeter, in my opinion, to slay with darts and arrows bears, wolves, wild boars, foxes, and impious teachers such as these. But I comfort myself with the thought that it is a symbol of salvation when hares and harmless beasts are caught by a man rather than by bears, wolves, rapacious hawks, and similar bishops and theologians. For in the latter case they are devoured, as it were, for hell, in the former for heaven. I have written you this pleasantry that you may know that you hunters at court will also be the hunted in paradise whom Christ, the best of hunters, shall scarcely with the greatest effort seize and save. When you are having sport in the chase, it is you who are sported with.
Relief from his mental distress Luther found still oftener in work. Though he was continually complaining of his indolence and lack of occupation, he really did an enormous amount of study and writing. "Here I sit with nothing to do, like a freeman among prisoners," he wrote Amsdorf; but for an idle man he accomplished extraordinary things. Though his place of concealment was kept a secret from the world at large, he did not hesitate to publish freely on all sorts of questions, and it was not long before enemies and friends alike knew the Reformer was still alive and in touch with all that was going on.
One of the most interesting incidents of his stay at the Wartburg was his tilt with Archbishop Albert of Mayence. Made bold by Luther's disappearance from the scene, the archbishop ventured to open a new sale of indulgences at Halle, where he had gathered an extraordinary collection of relics, beside which the treasures of the castle church at Wittenberg paled into insignificance. From the proceeds of this new traffic he hoped to replenish his exhausted exchequer and also to build a university at Halle to rival the one at Wittenberg. When the matter came to Luther's knowledge, he sat down in the first. flush of indignation to write a severe tract "Against the Idol at Halle," informing
Spalatin of what he was doing. The elector promptly protested and ordered Luther to leave the Archbishop of Mayence alone. The one thing Frederick did not want was to have his professor get embroiled again with so prominent a prince of the realm. He was secretly defying the emperor and diet in protecting Luther, but he hoped the excitement would soon quiet down and the whole affair be forgotten. If the condemned monk were again to break the peace in such a fashion, Frederick's policy would be altogether shattered, and his position, he felt, would become intolerable. His command, communicated through Spalatin, drew from Luther the following fiery protest:
A more displeasing letter I have scarcely ever read than your last one, so that I not only put off answering it, but even determined not to reply at all. In the first place, I will not endure what you say, that the prince will not permit Mayence to be written against or the public peace disturbed. Rather I will lose you and the prince himself and every creature. For if I have withstood his creator the pope, why should I yield to his creature? Beautifully indeed you say that the public peace must not be disturbed while you suffer the eternal peace of God to be broken by the impious and sacrilegious acts of that son of perdition. Not so, Spalatin! Not Prince! So, For the sake of Christ's sheep, this most terrible wolf must be resisted with all one's powers, as an Therefore I send the example to others. little book against him, finished before your letter came. I have not been moved by what you write to make any alterations, although I have submitted it to the pen of Philipp that he may change it as he sees fit. Beware you do not return the book to Philipp, or dissuade him from publishing it. It is settled that you will not be listened to.
A few weeks later he took matters into his own hands and wrote Archbishop Albert one of his characteristic letters, threatening to pillory him before all the world if he did not at once put an end to his new indulgence campaign.
Your Electoral Grace perhaps thinks that, now I am off the scene, you are safe from me and the monk is smothered by his Imperial Majesty. That may be as it is, but
your Electoral Grace shall know that I will do what Christian love demands, regardless of the gates of hell, to say nothing of the unlearned, popes, cardinals, and bishops. It is so well known that indulgences are mere knavery and deception, and Christ alone ought to be preached to the people, that your Electoral Grace cannot excuse yourself on the ground of ignorance. Therefore your Electoral Grace is hereby informed in writing, if the idol is not done away with, I shall be unavoidably compelled, for the sake of divine doctrine and Christian salvation, to attack your Electoral Grace openly as well as the pope, to denounce the undertaking merrily, to lay at the door of the Bishop of Mayence all the old enormities of Tetzel, and to show the whole world the difference between a bishop and a wolf. I have no pleasure in your Electoral Grace's shame and humiliation, but if a stop is not put to the profaning and desecrating of God's truth, I and all Christians are in duty bound to maintain His honor, although the whole world, to say nothing of a poor man, a cardinal, be thereby disgraced. I shall not keep still, and even if I do not succeed, I hope you bishops will no longer sing your little song with joy. You have not yet got rid of all those whom Christ has awakened against your idolatrous tyranny. Within a fortnight I shall expect your Electoral Grace's favorable reply, for at the expiration of that time my little book "Against the Idol at Halle" will be issued if a public answer is not received.
The wholesome respect in which Luther's pen was held is shown by the complete submission of the frightened ecclesiastic. At the end of three weeks he wrote the irate monk an apologetic letter full of expressions of personal humility, assuring him that the traffic had been already stopped and that he would do nothing unbecoming a pious clergyman and Christian prince. The archbishop's prompt submission made the publication of the tract against him unnecessary, and it never saw the light.
FAR and away the most important fruit of Luther's stay at the Wartburg was his translation of the New Testament, begun at Melanchthon's solicitation in December, and completed in less than three months. After a careful revision it was
hurried through the press, and in September appeared in its first edition in a large folio volume embellished with many woodcuts. It was soon followed by a translation of successive books of the Old Testament, until, in 1534, the whole Bible was issued together. issued together. Even then Luther did
not stop, but went on revising and improving until his death, and no fewer than ten editions of the complete work were published during his lifetime.
He was not the first to put the Scriptures into the German language. Vernacular translations were very common and had a wide circulation among the people. During the previous half-century, eighteen German editions of the whole Bible had been published, and some of Luther's own acquaintances were engaged in the task of translating before he began. Writing to his friend Lang, who had recently issued a German version of the Gospel of Matthew, he urged him to go on with the work, and expressed the wish that every town might have its own translator, that the Bible might be the better understood by the people.
That he had many predecessors diminishes in no degree the importance of Luther's work. Though his was not the first German Bible, it soon won its way to general favor and crowded all others out of
The contrast with the earlier versions was very great. They were based on the Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Catholic Church, and smacked largely of their source. Written in a curious Latinized German, most of them were unattractive and sometimes almost unintelligible. Luther translated his New Testament direct from the Greek, and his Old Testament from the Hebrew. Besides getting nearer to the original, he was thus able to avoid the deleterious influence of the Latin, and produce a translation genuinely German in style and spirit.
His qualifications for the work were many. Though he was not one of the great philologists of the day, he had an excellent knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek, and a very unusual faculty, quite out of proportion to his grammatical attainments, for getting at the meaning of an author and divining the sense of obscure and difficult passages. He could also call upon Melanchthon and other eminent lin
guists in Wittenberg for assistance when home, the child in the street, the common needed.
His long and intimate acquaintance with the Bible likewise stood him in good stead. Ever since his Erfurt days he had been a diligent student of it and had fairly saturated himself with its spirit and contents. His profound religious experience gave him a sympathy with it he could have gained in no other way. He found his own innermost feelings expressed in it, and his translation of many a passage was as truly the free and spontaneous expression of his own heart as the reproduction of the words of another. He doubtless had this in mind when he wrote: "Translating is not everybody's gift. It demands a genuinely pious, true, industrious, reverent, Christian, learned, experienced, and practised heart. Therefore I hold that no false Christian or sectary can translate correctly, as appears, for instance, in the Worms edition of the prophets. Great labor was employed in its preparation, and my German was closely imitated; but the translators were Jews, with little loyalty to Christ, and so their art and industry were vain."
His intimate contact in the confessional with the religious emotions, aspirations, and weaknesses of his fellows had also thrown light upon his own experiences and sharpened his insight into the hearts He had a profound knowledge of human nature, as his letters, sermons, and tracts abundantly show, and it enabled him to understand as few have understood the most widely and variously human of all the world's books.
Most important of all was his extraordinary command of the German language. It is not often a writer of the first rank gives himself to the translation of another's work. Such a writer Luther was, and his version remains one of the great classics of the world. He had a command of idiomatic, racy, colloquial German seldom equaled and never surpassed, and he undertook to make the Bible really a German book.
In a tract on the subject of translating, defending his work against the strictures. of his enemies, he remarked, "I have tried to talk German, not Latin and Greek"; and again, "You must not get your German from the Latin, as these asses do, but you must get it from the mother in the
man in the market-place." The difficulties of the task he indicated in the words, "In translating I have always made the effort to write pure and clear German; and it has often happened that we have sought a fortnight or even three and four weeks for a single word, and then sometimes not found it." And in a letter to his friend Link: "How great and laborious a task it is to force Hebrew writers to talk German! How they strive against it and rebel at being compelled to forsake their native manner and follow the rough German style! It is just as if a nightingale were made to give up its own sweet melody and imitate the song of the cuckoo, though disliking it extremely.
He did not try to transport his readers back into Bible days, but to bring the Bible down to their own day. It was not a scholar's book he aimed to produce, done so literally that it might be retranslated into the original languages, but a people's book, so idiomatic and modern that its readers might forget it was written in a foreign tongue, in a distant land, and in an age long past. He therefore allowed himself many liberties with the text, often substituting the name of a more for a less familiar object, and adding words freely where needed to bring out the sense or to make the scene vivid and real. The result of his efforts was a Bible translation which, after the lapse of four centuries, still stands unapproached in its vital and compelling power.
The German employed by him was not his own creation, but it owed him much. The dialects of the day were many and various, so that people living only a few score miles apart, as he once remarked, could scarcely understand each other. But
common diplomatic language had already developed, and become the medium of official communication between all the principalities of the land. This he made the basis of his written German. “I use no special dialect of my own," he once said, "but the common German language, that I may be understood by all alike. I use the speech of the Saxon chancery, which is followed by all the princes and kings of Germany."
Formal, stilted, and clumsy enough it was as employed in the state documents of the day, but Luther greatly modified and