Martin Luther in Life and Death

The Christogenea Commentary on Martin Luther in Life and Death.

While all of our podcasts and notes are freely available here at our website, now there is also a single CD containing all of the podcasts in MP3 format and notes in Open Document Format of William Finck's Christogenea Internet Radio presentation Martin Luther in Life and Death, from his youth to the Diet of Worms, broadcast over 14 programs throughout 2015 and early 2016.

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Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 1

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Martin Luther: In Life and Death, Part 1

Martin Luther's famous “95 Theses” were written in 1517 and are generally considered to be the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation, however there were certainly many related historical events and many martyrs of reform before Luther came along. Popularly the theses are more fully titled The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. My own translation of the original Latin title might be A Dispute Regarding the Proclamation of the Power of Indulgences (Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum). However in spite of its title, besides the sale of indulgences the disputation also protests against many other clerical abuses. It especially mentions nepotism [favoring of family members by church superiors], simony [the purchase of offices within the church], usury [which had recently been allowed by Rome], and pluralism [agreement that other religions have legitimacy, which allows multiculturalism and leads to ecumenism – in Rome at the time, this primarily allowed for the legitimacy of Jews].

October 31st is called Reformation day, which is celebrated as a religious holiday in many places in Europe. Some sources state that on this day in 1521 Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms. That is not true. Other sources say that October 31st was the day in 1517 that Luther had nailed his 95 “theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Whether the original publication of his disputation with the Roman Catholic Church ever happened in precisely that manner is also arguable, and here we will see that and several other myths about Luther called into question. Whether or not the story is true, it has for five centuries been used as a powerful symbol representing the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 2: The Devil in Luther's Dreams

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The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 1

Last week, in the first installment of this series, which we shall re-title “Martin Luther in Life and Death”, we gave a background on the life of the Reformer, and the events which sent him on the course which he followed. To fully understand Martin Luther as well as this entire period of German history, we must understand the work of John Wycliffe, and the earlier and notable Czech reformer Jan Huss, who inspired the Hussite Wars in rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church in the opening quarter of the 15th century, a hundred years before Luther's own contentions with the church were published. Later, even Luther considered himself a Hussite. We shall present pertinent information about these men in the near future.

However now, in order to understand the pressing need for what is called the Reformation, we must understand what it was that men such as Luther sought to reform. His initial desires were not to break from the Roman Church, but to bring Church policies into line with Scripture. When he saw that was impossible, only then the Lutheran Church was formed. Last week, presenting a summary of Luther's life and some of the myths surrounding it which was written by John Tiffany, we saw the story of The Devil and Luther's Inkwell. Because Luther had written that he “threw his inkwell at the devil”, the myth arose that he was pestered at night by a demon and he had thrown his inkwell to chase it away. Yet it is more likely that Luther was describing the publication of his 95 Theses as the throwing of his inkwell at the devil, the devil being the Roman Church itself.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 3: The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 2

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The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 2

The purpose of this series of presentations, entitled The Devil of Luther's Dream, is to show the condition of the Catholic faith in Germany at the time of Martin Luther, the character of the Roman Catholic Church, and the extant struggle which Christians such as Luther were having with both Jews and Humanists, many of whom who were basically Catholics-turned-pagan, and a great number of them were monks and priests. Understanding these things, we may better understand the causes of the Reformation, and why Martin Luther and many others believed that it was necessary.

In our last program, we exhibited the fact that the celebrated Catholic priest, Erasmus, was actually a humanist and not at all a Christian. In turn, Erasmus had fostered the development of an entire collection of fellow humanists inside the Catholic church organization in Germany. However we also were able to see in the words of Albert III of Pio, the Prince of Carpi, and from his own correspondence with Erasmus, that humanism had already become prominent within the structure of the Catholic church in Italy, and that many more conservative Italian Catholics were dissatisfied with that development, himself included. Carpi had spent much of his time over several decades challenging and feuding with Erasmus, until he was left bereft of his principality by Charles V of Germany, the Holy Roman emperor.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 4: The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 3

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The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 3

This is our third presentation of what we have loosely titled The Devil of Martin Luther's Dreams, invoking the myth that Luther had thrown his inkwell at the devil literally, when indeed he threw his inkwell at the devil by spilling it out onto hundreds of pages of paper in his writings against both the Roman Church and the Jews. The purpose of these presentations is to describe the devil which Luther was railing against, a Roman Catholic Church fully infiltrated by humanists who scoffed at religion, except as a device by which to fleece the common people of Europe, and especially of Germany.

We have been discussing the humanists in the educational institutions and monasteries of Germany, and also of Italy, in the 15th and 16th centuries. There are some things taken for granted which we had presumed that people would understand. Among those, is that before the Reformation, for Christian Europeans there was no advanced education outside of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The universities and monasteries were the educational system, and they all operated somewhere within the Roman Church structure. Therefore humanists within the church were not really a force which was contrary to the Church itself, although many of them despised the papal authority, but rather if they continued to prevail they would change the entire Church theology to something other than Christianity, and if the Roman Catholic Church continued to dominate European government, religion and education, then the people would have no choice but to submit to the whims of the humanists. In the background was the Jew, playing an influential role in all of this while avoiding any of the blame.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 5: The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 4

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The Devil in Luther's Dreams, Part 4

Here is our fourth discussion on the Roman Catholic Church and the humanists of Martin Luther's Germany. This is really a sub-topic in a broader discussion which we hope to continue throughout the coming year, which we have titled Martin Luther in Life and Death. In our first presentation in this endeavor, we discussed aspects of Luther's own life, and we saw that he himself was a humanist, one of the so-called “poets”, who upon having had an epiphany, suddenly turning to Christianity and joined a monastery.

From there we have been presenting a series which we have subtitled The Devil in Luther's Dream, where we have hoped to illustrate the nature of the Roman Catholic Church that the humanist-turned-priest Martin Luther had later sought to reform, and when he found that he could not reform it, he sought to liberate himself and his German Catholic Church from its clutches. What we call the Reformation should in that essence have instead been called the Liberation. It would eventually result in the 30 Years' War and the destruction of much of Medieval Germany.

We have been following something called The Reuchlin Controversy, and that is because the historian that we chose to follow for this series, Johannes Janssen, had wisely chosen this controversy as the centerpiece in order to describe the turmoil which was rising in Germany at the time. There were many Germans, as well as Italians, who sought to destroy the books and the writings of the Jews. As this issue was once again surfacing in Germany, the lawyer, Cabalist and humanist philosopher Johann Reuchlin came to the defense of the Jewish writings in published booklets of his own. As Reuchlin was opposed by the Theologians of the University at Cologne, which was Germany's largest university, the case came to be heard in the courts of bishops, the emperor, and then the pope. It not only became a defining case in the struggle between Christianity and the survival of Judaism in Europe in Luther's time, but we have also seen that the greater number of Germany's humanists and young pagans, whose new philosophy was the direct result of humanism, were rallying to Reuchlin's side of the debate.

Martin Luther in Life and Death: Part 6, the Indulgence Dispute

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Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 6, the Indulgence Dispute.

Here we will continue our presentation of Martin Luther in Life and Death, and we are still in the portion of this endeavor which concerns Luther's life. Today we hope to focus upon the dispute concerning indulgences. The Roman Catholic Church dogmas on indulgences were the primary complaint against the church in Martin Luther's famous 95 theses, and these would ultimately spark the Reformation. Doing this, we shall also discuss a man named Johann Tetzel, the leading Romish Catholic indulgence preacher of this time.

In our last presentation in this series, we hope to have illustrated the humanist influences in the court of the de Medici papacy of Leo X and in the courts of the German archbishops, especially in that of Albrecht of Brandenburg, the archbishop of both Mayence and Magdeburg. These men were not only surrounded by immoral humanists who scoffed at the Christian religion, but they also led lavish and immoral lifestyles which required vast sums of money to maintain. Besides his lifestyle, we saw that Bishop Albrecht was heavily indebted to the Fuggers, the banking family of Augsburg. He was counting on the sale of indulgences in the churches of Germany to pay off the bankers, after he had split the proceeds with the pope. The pope would use his half of the indulgence money to help finance his building projects in Rome.

To sell the indulgences which both the pope and the archbishop required, the Roman Catholic Church would have to convince the German people to buy them. To do this, they needed propagandists within the Church. A man named Johann Tetzel became the leading of these propagandists, who went from church to church preaching indulgences. For this cause Tetzel should be the poster child exemplifying just how a man with a doctorate degree in Theology could be nothing more than a whore for the state. He also exemplifies the childish level at which religion is peddled to the masses of the people, and how that was just as effective five hundred years ago as it is today. In fact, the Grahams, Hagees, Warrens and Osteens of today all have their forerunner in Johann Tetzel. They are whores for the State no differently than Tetzel, except that the goals of the state have now changed.

Martin Luther in Life and Death: Part 7, Luther and the Humanists

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Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 7, Luther and the Humanists.

Here we will continue our presentation of Martin Luther in Life and Death, and we are still in the portion of this endeavor which concerns Luther's life. This is the 7th installment of this series, and we hope to eventually present an understanding of the events relating to the Reformation up to the time of the Thirty Years' War. I do not know exactly why this took so long to get back to, because tonight is a culmination of what we presented over the first 6 segments, where the reason for presenting everything which we did in those segments should become manifest.

When we last discussed the life of Martin Luther, we talked at length about the indulgence dispute, and then about exchanges of letters which Luther had with certain of the Hussites, the followers of Jan Huss in Bohemia who had successfully broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. We saw that in 1519 Luther had been criticizing the Hussites for breaking from the Roman Catholic Church, but then in 1520 he began commending them. Luther's sudden admiration for the Hussites whom he had formerly criticized corresponds to his own change-of-heart and ambitions towards the Romish Church.

Martin Luther In Life and Death: Part 8, Politics and Religion Must Mix

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Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 8, Politics and Religion Must Mix

Studying Medieval European history is like untying a bundle of knots, and you have to untie one before you can get to the next. But then every so often you get one that can't be undone, so you are forced to cut the rope because there are some knots that can never be untied. The Protestant Reformation was not only religious, but it was also political. We can discuss all of the religious principals, but it is absolutely naive to think that the princes of Germany joined the Reformation because of those principles alone. Rather, politics is much more responsible for the success of the Reformation than religion. We can understand a lot of the politics, but because the sinister forces that had driven some of the players were successful at remaining in the shadows, there are always going to be some things which we cannot truly understand.

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, the Spanish, the Austrians, the Germans, the Popes, the Republic of Venice, and even the English and the Scots. These wars began as disputes over Naples and Milan, resulted in several invasions of Italy, and continued as struggles for control between the royal houses all over Europe. They were marked by alliances, counter-alliances, and betrayals no different than those which we have seen in the World Wars of the twentieth century. In the meantime the Austrians and the Venetians were fighting the Turks on other fronts. At one point in the wars, the French, who under Charles VIII had originally sought to use Naples as a base for the war against the Turks, had under Francis I been so treacherous as to ally themselves with the Turks, and allowed the Ottomans to use Toulon as a winter port for the alien fleets. As a result, over thirty thousand Muslims had occupied the city for about eight months, as Christians kidnapped from the coasts were being sold as slaves in its streets.

Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 9, The Point of No Return

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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.

Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 10, Luther Declares War

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Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 10, Luther Declares War.

In our last segment of these presentations, we saw that with the promises of military support which were offered to him by Franz Sickingen and Sylvester von Schaumburg, Martin Luther was emboldened to the point of even declaring war against the papacy. With this we may feel the urge to jump ahead and get to the more exciting parts of this history, but then we would skip over the more important lessons which are found in the investigation of the motivations of individuals that lie behind the actual historical events. Taking the slow route, and examining the details, we shall indeed uncover at least many of the motives behind Martin Luther and the other men who led the Reformation and founded at least some varieties of the Protestant faith.

We left our author with his comments concerning Martin Luther's ‘Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation’ which he made in August of 1520, where he had concluded that “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.”

Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 11, The Cause of Dread

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Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 11, The Cause of Dread

Tonight's program is subtitled The Cause of Dread. As we near the end of our presentation, the reasons for that shall become more evident. As we progress through our study of the early stages of Martin Luther's Reformation, there are two subjects raised from our recent presentations of Luther's life which merit discussion. The first is his view on marriage, and the second his understanding of the consequences of international trade.

Throughout the history of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, marriage was treated as a religious sacrament, as it remains with Catholics today, even though we should understand that it is often merely superficial. While the modern church marriage ceremonies are relatively new in history and the actual act of marriage did not occur in the church itself, the local churches nevertheless consecrated marriages, which ensured that the union was within certain church laws. A Catholic in good standing could not marry someone who was already known to have been married, unless they were widowed, and Catholics were also expected to marry other Catholics. They certainly were not permitted to marry Jews or Muslims if they themselves wanted to remain Catholics in good standing, and it was important for people to be in good standing with their local church if they desired to be in good standing with their community, as the two were very closely related. Of course, that did not stop people from converting their religion solely for the purposes of getting married, but we may observe in modern times that very frequently, religion and custom are far stronger barriers to the mixing of the races than race itself. However the point to understand here is that since the act of getting married was in accordance with local custom, and since the bounds of legitimate marriage were supervised by the local churches, the governments of the various states had very little to do with marriage, if anything at all.

Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 12: The Emperor Strikes Back

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Martin Luther, In Life and Death: Part 12: The Emperor Strikes Back

In our last presentation of Martin Luther in Life and Death, we saw some of the recorded responses from notable clergymen who were opposed to Luther, notably from Thomas Murner, who expressed the fear that Luther's direction would plunge Germany into a horrible war. This is in spite of the fact that Murner also agreed that the Roman Catholic Church was in need of reform. In one of his writings, Murner had also addressed the new emperor, Charles V, as those of Luther's party had also been doing, and said “The ruling powers... were sunk in indolence: discord and envy reigned among the clergy. But these evils could not be cured by a revolutionary upheaval and by the complete shattering of all existing institutions, which was what the new religious movement must lead to.” With these and other responses to Luther and Hutten and their followers, we see that the writings of the Reformers are not merely academic, but were actually having a great impact on much of the clergy and the common people of Germany, and for many men within the Catholic Church structure Luther truly was a cause of dread.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 13: Luther Remains Defiant

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Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 13: Luther Remains Defiant

Frederick III of the House of Wettin, who also known as Frederick the Wise, was the Elector of Saxony and Landgrave of Thuringia and, upon the death of Maximilian I, he was also the preferred choice to become emperor by the de Medici Pope Leo X. However Frederick chose instead to support the efforts of Charles V in his bid to become emperor, and Frederick was instrumental in assuring his election. Martin Luther had long been a friend and correspondent of George Spalatin. Like Luther, Spalatin was a priest, and he was also one of the young humanists at the University of Erfurt who were under the tutelage and leadership of the Catholic prebendary and famous humanist, Conrad Mutianus, whom we had discussed at length in the earlier presentations of this subject. It was Mutianus, or Mutian, who had introduced Spalatin to Frederick, and in 1509 Spalatin became Frederick's librarian, but quickly rose to the position of court chaplain and secretary. Spalatin was with Frederick at the election of Charles V, during his coronation, and also at the Diets of Augsburg in 1518, and of Worms in 1521, where Luther faced trial. During the years from his time at Erfurt and up to this time approaching the Diet of Worms, Spalatin had always urged Luther to caution. But he nevertheless supported Luther even after Luther failed to heed his advice.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 14: Luther at Worms

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Ebernburg Castle
Franz von Sickingen's Ebernburg Castle.

Martin Luther in Life and Death, Part 14: Luther at Worms

Not all historians have all the facts, or think that all of the facts which they do have may be important enough to include in any particular narrative. It is probably impossible to get every detail and angle of any story into a single historical account, as that may require so many digressions that it is easy to wander so far from the central narrative so as to never return. As exhaustive as our source volume is for the account of the Reformation in Germany, there are some things which it overlooks, and we may not ever realize most of what it misses. So we can never presume to know everything about any historic event, because we can always be blindsided by some new discovery or revelation, which someone else may even have known and written about much earlier. But with multiple witnesses and well-cited sources, we can be confident with what things we do know. Examining history, both humility and discernment are important qualities to develop.

We have already presented the account of our source historian, Johannes Janssen, of Luther's travel from Wittenberg to Worms, under a promise of safe conduct, to appear before the emperor. Janssen had given an appropriate but general account of the festivities which accompanied Luther in his travels, and the places where he had spoken and the things which he said on the way. Today it is a six-hour drive, but back in horse-and-carriage days, it would have taken well over a week to make the journey of approximately 320 miles, and longer because Luther's route was not as direct as the modern highways. So here we have another account of this journey from a book titled Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483 – 1521 by Martin Brecht and translated into English by James Schaaf. Brecht not only seems to draw a more complete and colorful picture of the journey, but he also includes an account which Janssen may not have been aware of, detailing some behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the part of Glapion, the priest and confessor of Charles V, which was evidently an attempt to cut Luther off before he reached Worms. So here we will present Martin Brecht's account of Luther's journey, found on pages 449 to 451 of his book: