- Christogenea Saturdays
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.
Luther had many legitimate complaints about how the Catholic Churches had been consecrating marriages, and breaking its own rules for the sake of monetary gain. The church had come to develop laws much more restrictive than we see in Scripture, as to marriages between cousins, or between people with certain community or ecclesiastical relationships. In his 1522 treatise on marriage titled The Estate of Marriage, Luther wrote concerning the Roman Church laws on marriage where there was already an affinity or relationship through marriage, and he said “Here too they have set up four degrees, so that after my wife's death I may not marry into her blood relationship, where my marriage extends up to the third and fourth degrees, unless money comes to my rescue! But God has forbidden only these persons, namely, my father's brother's wife; my son's wife; my brother's wife; my stepdaughter; the child of my stepson or stepdaughter; my wife's sister while my wife is yet alive [Leviticus 18:14-18]. I may not marry any of these persons; but I may marry any others, and without putting up any money for the privilege. [The Roman Church was demanding money for the privilege.] For example, I may marry the sister of my deceased wife or fiancée; the daughter of my wife's brother; the daughter of my wife's cousin; and any of my wife's nieces, aunts, or cousins. In the Old Testament, if a brother died without leaving an heir, his widow was required to marry his closest relative in order to provide her deceased husband with an heir [Deuteronomy 25:5-9]. This is no longer commanded, but neither is it forbidden.”
Then, writing in the same regard but speaking of people with community or ecclesiastical relationships, which Luther calls “spiritual relationships”, he says “If I sponsor a girl at baptism or confirmation, then neither I nor my son may marry her, or her mother, or her sister, unless an appropriate and substantial sum of money is forthcoming! This is nothing but pure farce and foolishness, concocted for the sake of money and to befuddle consciences. Just tell me this: isn't it a greater thing for me to be baptised myself than merely to act as sponsor to another? Then I must be forbidden to marry any Christian woman, since all baptised women are the spiritual sisters of all baptised men by virtue of their common baptism, sacrament, faith, Spirit, Lord, God, and eternal heritage [Ephesians 4:4-6].”
So Luther railed against the Roman Church for setting up draconian marriage laws by which it could profit. Of course, he had many other issues with the Roman Church concerning marriage, and especially the prohibition of marriage for priests. But Luther's remedy was to put the governance of marriage into the hands of the State, at least in Germany. With this, Luther also encouraged that the civil authority oversee divorce cases, at least on certain grounds. All of that certainly helped to pave the way for where we are today, where once the State has come to control marriage, the State has also come to define what marriage is, and we suffer all sorts of gross perversions. Of course, Luther himself could never have foreseen this, and we hope to discuss more on Luther's role in the modern perception of marriage in the future.
But what was most striking when we touched on this topic recent presentations was Luther's insistence in The Estate of Marriage that people should be permitted to marry outside of their faith. For this he abused the text of Paul of Tarsus in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. Luther wrote: “I may not marry a Turk, a Jew, or a heretic. I marvel that the blasphemous tyrants are not in their hearts ashamed to place themselves in such direct contradiction to the clear text of Paul in I Corinthians 7[:12-13], where he says, 'If a heathen wife or husband consents to live with a Christian spouse, the Christian should not get a divorce.' And St. Peter, in I Peter 3 [:1], says that Christian wives should behave so well that they thereby convert their non-Christian husbands; as did Monica, the mother of St. Augustine.” Monica of Hippo was born around 322 AD, and while it is said that her parents were Christians, we would contest the certainty of that since she was married to a pagan Roman who was also a government official.
But what is more important, is that Paul's words were written to Christians who had recently converted to Christ – as he himself had established the Christian assembly in Corinth, and those new Christians were already married before coming to Christ. There is no evidence in Scripture that Paul would have advised those who were already Christians to marry pagans or Jews. In fact, Paul told those same Corinthians in that same epistle, that If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, they were to be considered anathema, which is accursed. There is no doubt that Luther had taken Paul's words out of context. There is also no doubt, that in Luther's Germany, the only beneficiaries of this position were the Jews of Germany.
Luther went on to say that “Know therefore that marriage is an outward, bodily thing, like any other worldly undertaking. Just as I may eat, drink, sleep, walk, ride with, buy from, speak to, and deal with a heathen, Jew, Turk, or heretic, so I may also marry and continue in wedlock with him. Pay no attention to the precepts of those fools who forbid it. You will find plenty of Christians, and indeed the greater part of them, who are worse in their secret unbelief than any Jew, heathen, Turk, or heretic. A heathen is just as much a man or a woman - God's good creation - as St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Lucy, not to speak of a slack and spurious Christian.” Here we have serious disagreement with Luther, especially where he is ignorant of the issue of race with regards to marriage. First, we assert that he did not understand the Biblical grounds for legitimate marriage, which is racial homogeneity. Eve was flesh of Adam's flesh and bone of his bone, and therefore she was able to be his wife. Secondly, since Paul said that Christians must “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body”, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, then it is evident that marriage being the opposite of fornication, that marriage transcends other worldly activities just as much as fornication transcends other worldly sins. In fact, earlier in the same treatise Luther exhibited the understanding that the act of sexual intercourse was indeed marriage in the eyes of God.
The second subject of Luther's understanding which we believe merits further discussion is his contention against international trade. Luther knew that international trade was draining the German people, and that it was destructive to the nation. From our modern perspective and understanding, while Luther's position on marriage certainly benefited the Jews, Luther's position on trade would be contrary to our general perception of the traditional role of Jews in Germany. So while on this issue Luther's position would not be found compatible with the commonly perceived stereotype, that does not mean that Luther was not very much influenced by the Jews of his time. Luther's position on trade was one which favored German national interests, apart from his other positions which also often favored Jewish interests. From this time that we currently discuss, it would still be 20 years before Luther felt betrayed and turned on the Jews. Further this evening that this issue of trade is soon raised again. We shall soon discuss it at greater length.
We left our source, The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages by Johannes Janssen, Volume 3, Book 5, published in English in London in 1900 in a translation by A.M. Christie, where the humanist writer Ulrich von Hutten is publishing books and poetry against the Roman Catholic Church in which he also rather frequently sings the praises of the Emperor, Charles V, in the hopes of winning him over to the cause of the Reformers. We read that “Hutten in his writings gave the impression that he was confident that the Emperor would place himself at the head of the contemplated bloody revolution” against the Roman Church. Here as we return to page 142 of our source volume, we will find that privately Hutten was not so optimistic:
In his private correspondence, on the other hand, it transpires that, after his visit to the Court of the Emperor’s brother Ferdinand had proved fruitless, he had little hope left that Charles would assume the leadership of the revolutionary forces. ‘I place but little hope on the Emperor,’ he wrote, ‘for he is surrounded by crowds of priests, some of whom especially have won his entire confidence.’ And in a letter to Erasmus on November 13, 1520, he expresses the same hopelessness with regard to the Emperor, but at the same time his intention of proceeding to revolutionary measures without his help. He exhorted Erasmus most urgently to be careful of his personal safety in the coming struggle, and to take refuge at Basle. The conﬂict would already have begun if Sickingen had not advised delay on account of the Emperor. ‘If you too,’ he writes to Luther, ‘do not approve of my strong measures, you cannot, at any rate, blame my intention of setting Germany free and gaining new glory for learning. Should the undertaking not succeed, still no skill or artiﬁce of the popish Court will be able to extinguish the ﬁre that we shall have kindled for its destruction. That ﬁre will burn on, even though we ourselves should be consumed in it, and from our ashes there will arise yet stronger and more valiant defenders of liberty. It is just because I am persuaded of this that I mean to attempt all, and not to let myself be deterred by any threats. Even if an imperial edict goes out against us, every place of refuge will not be closed to us, or all means of help taken from us.’ The Romish tyranny was beyond all measure terrible, and could no longer, as Erasmus had thought, be stayed by gentle means; there was nothing for it but to resort to arms, and ‘to cast away, to burn, to destroy the putrid corpse.’ He did not stand alone in the ﬁght, he said in a song for the people:
There’s many a one
Will join the fun,
Though death should prove his master.
Brave troopers, rise,
Save Hutten from disaster.
The burden of another popular song is the glory he will earn as the champion of the Gospel:
Ah, noble Hut. Franconian,
Go forward undismayed;
Anon thou shalt sing praises
To God, who gave thee aid
For justice well to ﬁght:
Thou shalt uphold the right
With peasant and with knight,
With pious warriors good
Defend Christ’s Holy Blood.
So we see that Hutten, in his own poetry, has portrayed himself a champion of the Gospel. However throughout his entire adult life up to this point, he has been a pagan humanist and has traditionally despised the monks and others who were legitimately engaged in the study of the Scriptures. He was also a hedonist and the promoter of pagan immorality. When Hutten was supporting Reuchlin and the cause for the preservation of the literature of the Jews, he encouraged the infiltration of the courts of the bishops by his fellow humanists as a means of subversion. He himself became employed in that same purpose at the court of Albrecht of Mainz. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Hutten was not merely a sworn enemy of the Catholic Church, but that he had also been an enemy of Christian morality and true Christian learning. He has transformed himself into an angel of light for the purpose of overthrowing the tyranny of Rome, but he is no true friend of Christianity. As we have also previously discussed, Erasmus was a humanist who espoused many anti-Christian ideas, and who fostered many younger humanists within the Roman Church organization itself. Continuing with our source from page 144:
At the beginning of the year 1521 Hutten brought out a further collection of ‘Gespräche’ (Dialogues). In the ﬁrst of these, ‘The Bull-slayer,’ he repeats the call to arms. ‘This is a matter which concerns us all; we are carrying on business for the proﬁt of all. Come, all ye who wish to be free, here is something of great value for sale. Here tyrants are expelled. Here bondage is broken. Where are the lovers of freedom, who cannot all have disappeared from the land? Where are the wise and the enlightened, those men of illustrious names? Where are ye, ye leaders of nations? Why come ye not to the muster, to join with me in ridding our common Fatherland of this pest? Is there none who cannot endure to be a bondsman? Is there none who is ashamed of oppression and can wait no longer to become free? In one word, are there none left who have any manly courage and spirit? Where are all those who but lately were ready to march against the Turks? As if wild raging bulls were not far worse enemies for Germany.’ ‘You have heard me! I see a hundred thousand armed men, and at their head my brave friend Sickingen. The gods be thanked! Germany has come to its senses and means to be free!’
Hutten may pretend to be a defender of the Gospel, but cannot conceal his pagan intellectual background. Our source continues:
In the dialogue of ‘The Robbers’ he depicts four classes of thieves. The most harmless and inoffensive are the so-called street robbers; a far worse kind are the merchants, who by the introduction of foreign wares outrageously rob the German people every year, and who ought to be driven out of the country; worse still are the lawyers, who defeat all justice and who should to be completely extirpated; but the very worst class of all are the robber-bands of proﬂigate priests. If Germany is not freed from this last class, so Hutten makes Sickingen say in the dialogue, there is no hope for the land. He will never cease to urge on the Emperor that he must relieve the priests of their burden of riches ‘for the increase of their piety;’ and that he ought to have all the gold and the silver in the churches melted down, and all the jewels sold, and raise armies with the money thereby realised.
Earlier in these presentations, we had seen that Luther, in his 1520 Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, had scorned international trade as a drain on the German people. There our author had informed us that the subject had frequently been raised by “the theological political economist[s] of the ﬁfteenth century”, and we see Hutten has also adopted it, demonstrating the understanding that the international merchants were in essence robbing the people.
Interestingly, when Charles Martel raised armies to defend France from the marauding muslims, he was also compelled to loot the churches in order to pay for his armies. Martel was later despised by the French Catholics priests, who seem to have preferred the opportunity to keep their riches and turn to islam, rather than to remain as Christians and be impoverished. Wherever they are established in White European nations, the Roman Catholic churches have historically been very wealthy, just as the ancient pagan temples were centers for wealth, but contrary to the Gospel of Christ which would exhort them to use that wealth for the benefit of the community.
It was not by Rome only that the German people were plundered without measure and without end; the Emperor’s own German prelates were just as bad, and so mighty had they grown through fraud and robbery that they had gained possession of all the fairest regions and most fruitful plains of Germany. The ill-fated tribe of the Franconians was especially in subjection to the godless rule of the priests, and had forfeited the glorious name of ‘free Franconians’ by accepting this yoke more servilely than any other tribe. But the day of delivery from these most pestilential robbers was at hand.
Franconia is that part of southern central Germany which lies east of Frankfort and west of the Czech border, in the northern parts of Bavaria. The prelates were the bishops and other senior ecclesiastical dignitaries. We have already portrayed at length the luxury in which Albrecht, the bishop of Mayence, had lived, and the licentiousness of his court. Ironically, Hutten was a beneficiary of that wealth, and without it he could not have waged his war against the Roman Church. Continuing from page 145:
Thus we see that in these projects of emancipation it was not merely the diminution of the wealth of the church and the plunder of churches that was planned, but also the transformation of ecclesiastical principalities into secular ones - such as Sickingen, for instance, later on tried to effect in the case of the archbishopric of Treves [or Trier, the Germany city on the Moselle river near modern Luxembourg].
As soon as the moment of deliverance had come, said Hutten, the knights of the realm must try and persuade all the most honourable townships of Germany to put aside all old quarrels and differences and to unite in common action. ‘For I see them aspiring after freedom and protesting against this scandalous bondage as no other class does. They have strength moreover, and money in abundance, so that if it comes to ﬁghting - and in my opinion it must - they will be able to supply the necessary sinews of war.’
‘All this,’ says a merchant whom Hutten brings into the dialogue, ‘seems to point to a war against the priests, which may Christ, the Saviour, hasten. For according to my holding there has never been a more just or more urgent cause for war.’ Whereupon Hutten answers: ‘It is as you say. If it has always been held necessary to ﬁght against every kind of tyranny, what zeal must we now evince when we have to do with tyrants who not only lay hands on our property and rob us of our civil freedom, but who also undermine our faith, our religion, all we hold sacred; who suppress the truth and even endeavour to drive Christ Himself from our thoughts!
Another Hussite whirlwind was to be let loose on German soil.
Accordingly in another dialogue, “The Second Admonisher ’ (‘Zweiter Warner’), Hutten introduces the Hussite leader Ziska in the character of a deliverer. He makes Sickingen say: ‘And in order that you may see that it has not always fared ill with those who have been enemies of the priesthood I will mention to you one man, instead of many, the Bohemian Ziska, the invincible leader in the ﬁercest and longest war ever waged against sacerdotalism. In what respect does Ziska fall short of the most glorious renown of the greatest of generals? Has he not left behind him the fame of having freed his country from tyranny, of having rid all Bohemia of those good-for-nothing wretches the lazy priests and lazier monks; of having distributed their goods among the different foundations and the community at large; of having closed the country against the attacks and robberies of the Pope; of having manfully avenged the martyrdom of the saintly John Huss; and with all this of having sought no reward, of having in no wise enriched himself?’ When the ‘Admonitor’ objects that he has heard say that ‘Ziska’s deeds were full of atrocity and godlessness,’ Sickingen answers that ‘it is no crime to punish the guilty and to deprive the haughty, avaricious, luxurious, and idle men of that which they had taken possession unlawfully, and to drive them out of the Fatherland, where their presence in such numbers causes famine and scarcity.’ ‘Why,’ asks Sickingen, ‘should I not follow such an example?’
This John Ziska is worthy of further attention which we will not pay him this evening. He was a Czech general and leader of the Hussite rebellion against Rome. He defeated the armies of the German Holy Roman empire, the Teutonic Order and of the Hungarians, all of which Rome had brought against the Bohemians. He was also the first general known to have used artillery in the field, against cavalry, which turned out to be a very effective strategy. He consequently went undefeated in battle, and Bohemia remained free of Roman Church tyranny until it fell to the political subjection of the Habsburgs, where in the early 17th century Czech Protestants were either destroyed or expelled. Continuing with page 147 of our source:
Hutten desired to gain the Emperor to his side, but he meant to go through with his plans even if Charles was not favourable; for he said ‘There are cases in which not to obey is the truest obedience.’ ‘The Emperor lets himself be made use of by the worst of men for things that are of no proﬁt.’ ‘If it is his destiny so promptly to follow bad counsellors, I think that speedy downfall will also be his destiny.’ Surrounded as he was by a host of honourable men, the Emperor ought to deprive the Bishops of their inordinate power, abolish superstition, bring in the true religion and the light of the faith, and restore the freedom of Germany. It was not the opinions of single individuals, but the will of God, that should be considered: truth and religion were at stake!’ ‘If the Emperor, however,’ he said, ‘will not take up this cause, and no hope any longer remains that he will interest himself in the welfare of the Fatherland, I have resolved to make a venture at my own risk, be the result what it may.’
Even if he were not elected emperor, Charles V was still the hereditary king of Germany, Italy and Spain, archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy and lord of the Netherlands. But he was by birth a Habsburg, and therefore considered a German. Continuing from page 148:
The politico-ecclesiastical revolutionary party was. in great measure responsible for the state of things in Germany which is deplored by the Franciscan monk Thomas Murner, in his lament on ‘The Downfall of the Christian Faith.’ In this poem he says that no right-minded person can defend the existing evils and abuses of the Church, and that the Church-people themselves are partly to blame for the revolutionary movement that has broken out:
Here we have an interesting conflict. The Hebraist and Cabalist theologian Johannes Reuchlin was Ulrich von Hutten's mentor, although Hutten was actually a pagan humanist. In 1517 Hutten was honored as poet laureate and with knighthood by the emperor Maximilian. But Thomas Murner was a more traditional theologian, a priest who held a doctoral degree in theology, and custodian of the Franciscan monastery at Strasbourg. But he too was a poet and in 1505 had an appointment as poet laureate by the same emperor Maximilian. On a separate note, Murner also met and had the favor of Henry VIII. We will read the poem, or at least, the parts of it offered by our author, because it reflects the effects which Luther and Hutten were having on Germany, as well the way in which Lutheran theology was being interpreted by traditional churchmen of the time.
The evils they deplore [speaking of Luther and Hutten]
No man of honour lauds;
God will endure no more,
Methinks, these Romish frauds.
Yet herein do I grieve,
And all my heart is rent,
Our faith they will upheave:
This is my sore lament.
I must in truth say this,
We are to blame indeed;
To sell indulgences
May many a man mislead:
Who thus forgiveness buys,
And thinks ‘all’s even now,’
That man will lightly prize
All sacraments, I trow. [The word trow is archaic, and means to believe or think.]
These verses reveal that like Luther, Murner also believed that the practices of the Roman Church were fraudulent and needed to be reformed. However we will see that he believed that the party of the Lutherans would destroy the Faith in Europe rather than repair it. Our author says in response to these verses:
The ruling powers, he goes on to say, 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. The whole fabric of Church organisation would be destroyed by the new doctrines that were being preached:
The shepherd is struck down,
And scattered are the sheep;
The Pope’s expelled; his crown
No longer he can keep.
And scarcely now is named
The name of Christ the Lord,
Lies everywhere proclaimed
And venom rank outpoured.
The patriarchs and all
The cardinals are gone,
No bishop’s in his stall -
The parson’s left alone.
The people now decree,
In ignorance most dense,
Who shall their shepherd be:
Ah, woe the shame immense!
The Holy Mass is nil,
In life, or yet in death;
The sacraments they will
Revile with every breath.
Five of them they’ve annulled,
And left us two alone,
But so to pieces pulled
They’ll also soon be gone.
Of Luther’s doctrine of universal priesthood he says :-
We’re priests now, every one,
All women and all men,
Though Orders we have none,
Nor have anointed been.
The stool stands on the table,
The coach before the steed,
The faith is quite unstable,
And soon will fall indeed.
In some half-dozen more verses he describes the misery and discord caused throughout the Empire by the new doctrines; he laments that the Gospel, which once ﬁlled men’s hearts with joy and gladness, is now only the cause of tumult and bloodshed.
The apple is thrown down,
And discord’s everywhere,
In Village and in town;
No one will give a hair.
No, not a single mite:
The magistrates are spurned:
By cunning and by spite
Our hearts to gall are turned.
The Gospel was of old
A message of glad mirth,
Which heaven did unfold
To ﬁll with peace the earth.
But now they’ve poisoned it
With wrath and bitterness;
The sacred Holy Writ
Brings only wretchedness.
Of God’s most Holy Word
Complaint I dare not make,
But these men do pervert
The truth for slaughter’s sake.
The Word of endless life,
Which Christ brought from above,
They’ve used for war and strife,
Instead of peace and love.
Had Turkish armies won
Each Allemanic town,
From rising of the sun
To where it goeth down,
They could not have destroyed
Our holiness as much
As we have been annoyed
By Christians yelept such. [The precise meaning of yelept is thus far elusive.]
Since Christ his time indeed,
Upon my oath I say,
There ne’er was such sore need
’Mong Christians as to-day.
The beauty of our trust
Has fallen with great might;
Our crown lies in the dust
And is bemocked outright
Agitators who entrapped the people and inculcated contempt for all authority would bring about the complete ruin of the Faith:
W'ho now can best befool
With lying words, and teach
Contempt for law and rule,
And insurrection preach,
Him ﬂock the masses round
To hear him shout and smash
Our faith, till on the ground
It crumbles into ash.
Through the responses in the writings of Thomas Murner we see that everything which we have read from Luther and Hutten in all of their writings described here has indeed had a notable impact on the people of Germany, and that traditional German churchmen feared the ultimate results of that impact. What also must be noted, however, is that while Luther ventured for reform in the indulgences dispute, he does not seem to have had a lot of popular support, which may have been for a lack of bravery on the part of these same churchmen. Luther did not want to break from the Roman Church, and hardly imagined such a thing to be necessary until after 1519. Our author continues to address the writings of Murner:
In an exhaustive reply to Luther’s ‘Address to the German Nobility’ Murner speaks out frankly concerning the abuses of the Church - annates, pallium money, commendams, reservations, and others - and will ‘excuse no one for their abuses.’ As for the contempt into which the Church penalty of the ban has fallen he says: ‘Nobody is to blame for it but the priests and bishops, who have used or rather abused it so lightly, often inﬂicting it for a mere theft of two or three hazel nuts or some such paltry matter. These abuses should be put down in a constitutional manner by the ecclesiastical courts, the Emperor, and the Estates, but they should not be used, as Luther is using them, to ‘injure our faith.’ Luther, he said, as nobody could doubt, was only taking up the grievances of the German nation against the Court of Rome as a lever and a plausible pretext for upsetting the Christian faith, for spreading his poison over the land, and proclaiming Hussite and Lollard doctrines. Whilst endeavouring to unite Germany with the Bohemians and the Muscovites [evidently referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church] he would ‘separate the country, as regards its creed, from all other Christian fellowship.’ ‘I hope to God that we Germans will in time have got rid of all our grievances, and will afterwards remain pious Christians, and submissive to the laws of our Fatherland.’ Whether for the removal of these grievances a council would be necessary he left to the Emperor and the Estates to decide. Luther, he said, had talked of appealing to a Council, ‘but I should have thought,’ he continues, addressing himself to Luther, ‘that since you long so much for a Council you would have trusted to that same Council, inspired by the Holy Ghost, to make all necessary reforms and to redress all grievances. You are disregarding this right and proper course, and embarking on a fatal line of action.’ Everywhere, he complains, Luther is counseling arbitrary measures; his language to the Pope is outrageous: ‘I will say in truth that the meanest scullion has never been more shamefully scolded and abused than the Pope; and even if he were a murderer and the greatest villain on the earth he ought not to be treated so scandalously.’ No improvement in the condition of the Church would ever be effected by such calumnious writings as Luther’s.
Whilst refuting Luther’s dogmatic and doctrinal assertions Murner becomes particularly ﬁerce in the passage where he treats of the holy Mass. To Luther’s assertion ‘that the establishment of masses is not only of little use, but also provokes God’s anger against us,’ he answers: ‘I must tear open my heart here in great bitterness, and speak with you brieﬂy, but in plain German. And I will set aside all priestcraft, doctor’s degrees, monkhood, monasticism, vows, oaths, promises, and what not, by which I might seem laid under obligation, and will be simply a pious Christian. Well, then, my father taught me from my youth up to show reverence to the Mass as to a memorial of the sufferings of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and thus all are taught who learn in the holy Scriptures about our common Saviour, Christ, that the Mass is a sacriﬁce, proﬁtable for the living and for the dead: all sacred teachers are of this opinion; it is our holy usage that has grown up with us since the time of the twelve Apostles. See to it now and remember, you high priests of the faith, that you teach us the truth in this matter of the Mass, for it lies at the heart’s core of every Christian man. For if this should not be, and any error were found here, it may well be conjectured what might happen in other cases. See to it, and remember that here in this matter of the Mass you do not delay or spare; for you see that they do not delay or spare who are combating our reverence for the Holy Mass. But if you delay you will rue the evil.’
Of course, we would also contest the legitimacy of the ritual of mass, because the Scriptures truly teach that we are to honor the memory of Christ with every meal, and not just in a temple one morning each week. To call the mass a sacrifice is blasphemy, because no sacrifice of men could add anything to the ultimate sacrifice made for all Adamic men by Yahweh our God. But the Lutheran Church ultimately retained the ritual of the mass, as well as many other Roman Catholic rituals. Continuing with our author's reproduction of Murner's essay against Luther, on page 153 of our source:
‘This I say from my Christian heart, and my father’s teaching: If all the bishops were silent as death, so that the worship of the Holy Mass became extinct, still I would testify with this my handwriting that I will die out of this world in the paternal doctrine of the worship of the Mass, and will trust for salvation to the contemplation of the cross of Christ.’
Referring to Luther’s proposal that the ancient abbeys should be reserved for the younger sons of the nobility he says: ‘In this the Holy Ghost does not speak through you, Luther, but you are holding out a bait to the nobility. For you say: We are all of the priestly order. If, then, we are all of the same order, why do you give privileges to the children of the nobles before all others? Do you mean to say that Christ admitted only nobles to the high dignity of the twelve Apostles? As you pride yourself on being a truth-speaking man, this ﬂattery does not become you. But if you cannot prove this from Holy Writ I let it stand for human speech.’
And of course Murner would be correct in this criticism, for Luther was indeed coddling the nobles, as well as the emperor and the archbishop of Mainz, hoping to gain their approval and support for his Reformation. Luther's goal is to overthrow the supremacy of the Pope, and all else is merely a tool in that endeavor. Our author continues to describe Murner's defense of traditional Roman Catholicism:
Again and again he begs and conjures the nobles to ﬁght for and protect the ancient Christian faith. [Murner confused Roman Catholicism for the “ancient Christian faith”, and we should not share that confusion.] ‘I will not have it denied that Dr. Luther is in the wrong and has spoken untruth in everything, but in many things he has been found not unskilful.’ In this, he blames him however, ‘most of all for that he has so mixed up truth with falsehood that the one cannot be separated from the other or understood by simple-minded Christians; also because by means of you the chief and the most prominent people he has abused his noble profession and his reason for seditious, separatist, and unchristian ends to lead Christ’s poor lambs into unbelief.’
Luther’s turbulent proceedings must inevitably lead to a ‘Bundschuh’ (a rising of the peasants), and to frantic and senseless agitation.
Here our translator has a footnote concerning the word Bundschuh, “So called from the device - a Bundschuh, or rough kind of peasants shoe - stuck on a pole as a banner at the ﬁrst peasants’ rising in 1431….”
There is indeed such a peasant's uprising in the works, which occurred in 1524 and 1525, mainly in western and southern Germany. However Luther himself condemned the war, and his condemnation seems to have greatly attributed to its defeat. The lives of perhaps a hundred thousand peasants were lost. The war was chiefly economic, and not religious, as the peasants were demanding agrarian rights and freedom from the nobles. Continuing with our source on page 154:
Murner too, addressed himself as Luther and Hutten had done, to the newly elected Emperor Charles. He begged and implored him to stand up for the old faith. Never since its foundation, he said at the beginning of his address to Charles, had the empire been more dangerously attacked than it was now by Luther and his party. This so-called reformer, like a second Catiline, was fomenting civil war, ‘as if such insurrection, innovation, and forcible revolution were in accordance with the Christian faith,’ and as if ‘God’s command could in such wise be obeyed and no sin committed.’
‘Church and State are tottering to their foundations,’ wrote the prebendary Charles von Bodmann shortly before King Charles came over from Spain [evidently after he was seated as emperor in 1520], ‘and the eyes of the world are turned to the young emperor, who is assuming the reins of government under more difficult and distressing circumstances than any of his predecessors on the throne. How will he be able to avert the imminent danger of intestine war? What remedies will he discover for the daily and rapid spread of heresy? The nation looks to him as to its saviour in its extremest need.’
So we see that Martin Luther was indeed a cause of dread among the traditional theologians of Germany, and his threat to the old order was being taken very seriously.
This ends Book Five of our source volume, and when we commence with this series we shall proceed with Book Six, and the account of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, and the sentence passed on his new gospel.