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.

The House of Wettin figured prominently throughout these early decades of the Reformation, but not all of its members were sympathetic to its cause. The titles of Duke of Saxony and Elector of Saxony were both held by Frederick II, the common grandfather of Frederick III and his first cousin, George, who was the Duke of Saxony at this time. George remained a faithful Catholic until his death in 1539, and his continued allegiance to the Church of Rome would have a significant impact on the early history of the Reformation. However the successors of Frederick III, both his brother John the Constant and then his nephew Frederick John I of Saxony, were strong supporters of the Lutheran cause. John was the first head of the Schmalkaldic League, a confederation of German states formed to protect the Reformation, and his son Frederick John, who had received his education from Spalatin, continued on the path which was begun by his father and uncle. This branch of the House of Wettin, more than any of the other noble families of Germany, was responsible for the ultimate success of the Reformation.

For now, we shall return to the account of the events leading to the trial of Luther at the Diet of Worms, in 1521. As we have seen, almost immediately after the coronation of Charles V as emperor, he announced a Diet to be held at Worms, intended “to stem the existing turbulence and confusion”, as he had put it, which was resulting from the inflammatory writings and sermons of the Reformers and the clergy who had taken up their cause. At this same time, the Pope had sent his emissaries, Caraccioli and Aleander, to the various principalities and cities of Germany to see that the papal bull and the imperial ban which were issued against Martin Luther were enforced. But when Caraccioli and Aleander had reached Cologne in Saxony, they ran into the resistance of Frederick III, the Elector of Saxony. As we have seen, Frederick III was already familiar with Luther. His cousin Henry IV, the brother of Duke George of Saxony and a man we have not yet mentioned, was also familiar with Luther, and had already considered himself a Lutheran. Of course, Frederick III's chaplain and secretary, Spalatin, was a long-time friend of Luther and a champion of his cause.

More notably, we had seen that Frederick had conferred with Erasmus, the famous humanist, professor and Catholic priest, who was also Germany's most noted scholar at this time. While Erasmus had never before defended Martin Luther, he did so here, where we are informed that Erasmus spoke quite favorably to Frederick of Luther, convincing him that the pope's bull was tyrannical, and that Luther's cause was just. But we have also seen that, until this time, Erasmus had more or less managed to remain rather neutral in the cause of the Reformers in the eyes of the public, while he often wrote against Luther to the notables of Germany. Spalatin had persuaded Erasmus to put in writing his opinions in support of Luther for the Elector, and then he had copies made of the documents before Erasmus realized that he should request they be returned. Spalatin had the opinions published, and in that manner Erasmus' support for Luther before Frederick was made public. It is at this point that we return to our source narrative, where we see Aleander responding to the remarks of Erasmus.

Once again, we shall continue with our primary source for these presentations, The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages by Johannes Janssen, which was published in English in London in 1900 in a translation by A.M. Christie, with Volume 3, Book 6. This first chapter is subtitled The Diet of Worms and the Sentence on the New Gospel, and we shall commence with page 175 of our source volume:

Erasmus was worse than Luther, Aleander said; he was the real originator of the new heresies.

And after a single sentence, we must stop to comment. As we have seen, this is true to a great extent, but it is not directly true. Until the end of his life, Erasmus remained rather loyal to the Roman Catholic Church government and structure, although he also sought to reform it from within. Even his former schoolmate, Conrad Mutianus, felt the same way, and while Mutianus supported Luther in the early years, he split with him later. However both men, Erasmus and Mutian, were responsible for fostering and nurturing within the Church an entire generation of German humanists who were much more radical. These humanists had supported Reuchlin in his struggle on behalf of the writings of the Jews, and then they also supported Luther in his struggle against the pope. Most of these humanists had despised the presumed authority of Rome, and that of the established Roman Catholic clergy in Germany. So quite indirectly, Erasmus and Mutianus were just as responsible for the Reformation as Luther, who was merely the vehicle chosen by their students. To many of them, it was not Luther's doctrine that mattered so much as the opportunity he created and the manner by which it could be used to persuade Germany out from under the Roman Catholic authority. Likewise, for the German Princes it was an opportunity to gain political autonomy from Rome.

Continuing from page 175:

After his talk with Erasmus the Elector Frederic sent the following answer to the papal nuncios: ‘He could not comply with their request, for Luther had lodged an appeal, and it seemed that a considerable number of people, learned and unlearned, clergy and laity, approved of this step. There was not sufficiently convincing evidence of the danger of Luther’s doctrines, sermons, and books to warrant their destruction; the best plan would be to grant Luther a safe-conduct to appear before a tribunal of learned and unprejudiced judges.’ Frederic accordingly interceded on Luther’s behalf with the influential imperial councillors Herr von Chièvres and Count Henry of Nassau, and, on November 28, the Emperor sent instructions to the Elector to bring Luther with him to Worms for trial, but, in the meanwhile, to forbid his publishing any more writings against the Pope and the Roman See. On December 17, however, after Luther had burnt the bull and the books of canon law, the Emperor, under the influence of Aleander, cancelled these instructions. But Luther was encouraged in his revolutionary course by Duke John Frederic of Saxony, who, on December 20, expressed his gratitude to him for having continued to preach and to write as before, in spite of the Pope’s sentence.

Our historian's reference to Duke John Frederick of Saxony is out of time. John Frederick did not become the Duke of Saxony until 1547, but he was Elector of Saxony from 1532. He was the nephew of Frederick III the Elector, and received his education from Spalatin, but he was presently only about 17 years of age. However his support would still have been very encouraging to Luther. The reference to Herr von Chièvres is to William II de Croÿ, Lord of Chièvres in Belgium. He was the chief tutor and First Chamberlain to Charles V. He had great influence over Charles from his infancy, and was also said to have been opposed to using violence against Luther and his followers. He died later that year, in May of 1521, and was replaced in his position by Henry of Nassau. This Henry was a close confidant and prominent member of the court of Charles V, and while he always remained a Catholic, at this time he was not opposed to Luther. So Frederick's communications with these two men were certainly calculated. Continuing from page 176:

Luther persisted unweariedly in stirring up the people against the head of Christendom. In a sermon preached at the festival of the Three Kings in 1521 he compared the Pope to King Herod, ‘who with a hypocrite’s heart dares to come forward and worship Christ, and means all the while to cut his throat.’ [The festival of the Three Kings, referring to the three magi, is the old Catholic Church Feast of the Epiphany held in early-to-mid January. It was highly esteemed by early Catholics as the first presentation of Christ to the so-called Gentiles.] The rule of the Pope and that of Christ’s kingdom, he said, were as opposite to each other as fire and water, or the devil and angels. The Pope, he said in a pamphlet published on March 1 in the German language, was ‘more wicked than all devils; for he damned the faith, which no devil had ever done.’ ‘Therefore, because I call the Pope the greatest murderer that has ever been since the beginning of the world, in that he kills souls as well as bodies, I am, God be praised, a heretic in His Holiness’s papistical eyes.’ At the same time he re-asserted his contempt for the Councils, especially the Council of Costnitz, at which the gospel had been anathematised in the person of John Huss, and in its place the ‘hellish dragon of learning’ set up. Huss had done too little, and had only made a beginning of opening up the Gospel. ‘I have done five times as much,’ he said, ‘and yet I fear that I too am doing too little. John Huss did not deny that the Pope is supreme over all the world: he only insisted that a wicked Pope is not a member of Holy Christendom, however necessary it may be to put up with him as a tyrant. For all the members of Holy Christendom must either be holy or become holy. But if at this very day St. Peter himself were sitting in the Papal Chair I should deny that he was Pope by Divine appointment over all the other bishops. All churches are alike.’ ‘All papal decretals,’ he said, ‘were unchristian, antagonistic to Christ, written by inspiration of the Evil Spirit;’ he had therefore burnt them with great delight.

Luther's position concerning the pope as the Bishop of Rome is the proper Christian position. After the Edict of Toleration and the time of Constantine, it is evident in the pages of Eusebius that as early as the 4th century, the bishops of Rome sought to assert some ecclesiastical authority over the other Christian bishops of the empire. But they were rejected and rebuffed. There is nothing in Scripture which suggests that any Christian bishop or assembly should assert rule over any other Christian bishop or assembly. However, in the time of Justinian, who codified Roman law and added a new book of his own laws, called the Novels, only then was there a law made that the Bishop of Rome would have authority over the other Christian bishops of the empire. From that time, the authority has been taken for granted by many, but it is certainly not Christian.

From the Enactments of Justinian, The Novels, Part 131 Chapter 2: “Hence, in accordance with the provisions of these Councils [described in Chapter 1], We order that the Most Holy Pope of ancient Rome shall hold the first rank of all the Pontiffs, but the Most Blessed Archbishop of Constantinople, or New Rome, shall occupy the second place after the Holy Apostolic See of ancient Rome, which shall take precedence over all other sees.” Only by the powers of deception and persuasion, and by the ability to pit kingdom against kingdom, had the Romish Pope been able to maintain the position which it acquired from Justinian for so long after Byzantium had fallen.

Returning to page 177 of our source, and the description of Luther's continued defiance:

His own books [meaning Luther's], on the other hand, must not be burnt or interdicted: for ‘his teaching had not yet been demolished.’ ‘ If the whole world were on the side of the Pope and his bulls,’ he said in the matter of his outlawed books, in a manual of ‘Instruction to Penitents,’ ‘the whole world would deserve to be burnt up and destroyed, as it would undeniably be condemning the Gospel and the true faith.’

Luther had always exhibited a very high opinion of his own writings. Our historian continues:

In all the writings which Luther published in these last years [ostensibly referring to his last years within the Church] he stood forth as a complete separatist from the Church. He rejected in its entirety the whole body of Church tradition and Church authority, and with regard to the relations of man to God he set up a new dogma, of which he said that it had been buried in oblivion since the days of the Apostles. His theories on the universal priesthood and the Christian community struck at the roots of the whole fabric of Church organisation. According to his ideas the Church ought to break with the whole of her past - in her teaching, her sacraments, her worship, in short, in all her ordinances. Formerly there had been talk of a reform of the Church in its head and members; but Luther insisted that the Church should altogether dissolve itself - in one word, should commit suicide.

Here more than anywhere we should agree with Martin Luther. All of the things by which the Roman Catholic Church claims its authority are indeed the traditions of men. For most everything the Roman Catholic Church upholds, there is either nothing in Christian scripture, or we find instructions teaching just the opposite in Christian Scripture. None of the sacramentalism, idolatry, or the imperialism of the Roman Church can be considered Christian. This begs the question, as to how so many churchmen could be so wrong, and invites the answer, that political aspirations, personal agendas and organized indoctrination have much greater power over the minds of men than what may be achieved through honest individual study. And even men who stumble across the Truth, refuse to bear it for fear of their fellows and for love of the world. But, as we see when continuing with page 178 of our history, Luther could be as bad as the pope when it came to claims of authority. In his defense, perhaps the circumstances of the time required his having adopted the attitude:

And whatever he insisted on was to be accounted infallible gospel truth. There could be no question with him of compromise or reconciliation; all attempts at anything of the sort must in the nature of things be shipwrecked, as was soon proved at the Diet of Worms.

At the first general assembly of the Estates on February 13, Aleander read out a papal brief in which the Emperor was required, if he had the unity of the Church at heart, to confer the sanction of legal authority on the bull of excommunication against Luther, by issuing a general edict for its enforcement. [This was an effort to force the compliance of Frederick the Elector] In a speech which lasted three hours Aleander showed that Luther’s teaching not only shook the Church to its foundations, but would also have the most fatal effects on society. Just as the Bohemians formerly, in the name and semblance of the Gospel, had overthrown all law and order, so Luther, with his aiders and abettors, was on the way to do now; had he not, indeed, in one of his writings openly declared that ‘they ought to wash their hands in the blood of the clergy’? Some people, said Aleander, were of opinion that Luther ought to be summoned to Worms and allowed a hearing [a reference to Frederick]. But how could one give a hearing to a man who had declared publicly that he would not submit to be instructed by any one, not even by an angel from heaven, and that excommunication was what he wanted? Luther had appealed to a Council, but he despised Councils and maintained that the Council of Costnitz had condemned John Huss falsely. As all gentle measures hitherto employed to bring Luther back to a right mind had been fruitless, and had only driven him to fiercer resistance, there was no effectual method left but the declaration of the imperial ban, which according to the constitution of the Empire ought to follow the papal ban.

We have seen Luther's comments from his own writing as it compares to this position which Rome had no choice but to maintain. So it was Luther who had left the Church and the Emperor, with little choice. There must either be a break from the Pope, or Luther would have to be executed, as Jan Huss was before him. There was no middle ground, and it was the rhetoric of Luther which did not allow for any compromise. But this was, in essence, all caused by the failure of the Church to submit to the Gospel of Christ, where it had instead resorted to its own devices in its defense in the indulgences dispute. We had seen that through things such as the selling of indulgences, the Romish pope and his priests were bleeding the wealth of Germany dry. It was during the indulgences dispute that Martin Luther realized that men could never reason with the Roman Church on the basis of Scripture. So either Martin Luther was to die, or there had to be a Reformation in Germany. It was the resoluteness of Frederick the Elector who saved both Luther and the Reformation. Continuing from page 179:

Aleander’s speech made a deep impression on all present. In compliance with the Pope’s brief the Emperor laid before the notables the draft of a mandate to be issued against Luther and his followers. Amongst other things it was said in this draft that Luther by his sermons and his books had most scandalously attacked the Papal Chair, the decrees of the Councils, and the faith and unity of the Church; regardless of all the lenity [leniency] and forbearance shown to him, and in the semblance of a minister of religion, he was still persisting in enticing the piously disposed among the common people into new and damnable errors, and in stirring up rebellion and bloodshed against the Pope, the priests, and all in authority. As this matter touched the faith so closely, the Pope, in virtue of his office, had repeatedly summoned Luther to appear before him, and now at length, since he had not put in an appearance, and had gone on teaching and preaching to the utmost of his power against the Church and the decisions of the Council, His Holiness publicly declared him a heretic, and condemned him as such. As the highest temporal protector of Christianity, and in conformity with the dictates of his own Christian feelings, he, the Emperor, was firmly resolved to defend and safeguard with all his might the Holy Faith, the decrees and doctrines of the Church and of his ancestors, the Pope, and the Roman See. To hear Luther further was neither necessary nor desirable. If the latter would not desist from his undertaking, and make a public recantation, he must be put under restraint; his books, under decree of the imperial ban, must not be sold or read in any part of the Empire, but must be burnt and destroyed, because they tended only to the ruin of the Christian faith, to the fostering of insurrection and bloodshed, and to the destruction of all religious and secular authority and public well-being. Luther’s partisans and supporters were to be punished as state criminals.

The last thing the de' Medici Pope Leo X should have been considered was the “highest temporal protector of Christianity”, and the last thing this emperor was during his own rule was the “highest temporal protector of Christianity”. During this period both the emperor and the Roman church did virtually nothing against the Turks, who were continually waging wars against Christendom. Instead, the popes themselves were continually involved in wars between the French and the Spaniards, which included the Italian states, and at diverse times the English, and, with the ascension of Charles V as emperor, the German states as well. Of course, Charles V was continually engaged in these wars against the French, which were waged mostly in Italy. He was fighting not for Christendom, but for the maintenance of his own land holdings. During these wars, the French often even allied themselves with the Moslems, and permitted to them the use of French ports on the Mediterranean. During this time the papacy had been just another political player vying for dominance in Europe, and was powerless to unite Christendom in its own defense. For whatever reasons Charles V stood for upholding the Catholic tradition, it was of great detriment to Germany and to Europe.

Continuing from page 180 of our source volume:

Whilst the electors and princes were debating over the Emperor’s draft they became so angry and excited that, according to Aleander, the Electors Frederic of' Saxony and Joachim of Brandenburg were on the verge of a hand-to-hand fight. At last they came to the unanimous conclusion that the Emperor might of course have sent forth his mandate without consulting the notables, but that such a proceeding would have caused great offence in Germany. The notables were willing and anxious to confer with the Emperor and to assist him in any measures that would be most serviceable to the Church and the Empire, but they ventured to suggest that, ‘seeing what kind of thoughts, fancies, and desires had been excited in the minds of the common people by Luther’s books and preaching, it would be wise and prudent to consider well what might be the result of issuing this mandate in a harsh uncompromising manner, without having first cited Luther to appear and answer for himself. It was their opinion that Luther ought to be conveyed to and from the Diet under sufficient escort, and that he should be questioned by a few learned and expert men, not in order to engage him in a disputation, but simply to find out from him whether or not it was his intention to stand by the writings he had published against the holy Christian faith. In case of his being ready to retract these he should then be heard further concerning other points and matters, and be dealt with accordingly; if, however, he should answer that he meant to stand by all he had written against the Christian faith and doctrines that they and their fathers had hitherto held and believed, then all the electors, princes, and other notables of the realm, in conjunction with the Roman Imperial Majesty, must, without further discussion, declare their intention of standing by the faith of their fathers and forefathers and all the articles of the Christian Creed, and helping to enforce them, and the Emperor must then give the necessary orders for having his mandate proclaimed in all parts of the Holy Empire.’

‘Nevertheless the notables,’ so ran the final clause, ‘do humbly petition your Majesty that your Majesty would graciously weigh and consider what grievances and abuses are imposed on the Holy Empire, and are suffered in a variety of ways from the See of Rome, and that your Majesty would graciously see to it that such grievances be removed and a proper, suitable, and bearable state of things restored.’

The Emperor showed great discretion and the utmost loyalty to the Church in dealing with this memorial of the notables. He advised that Luther’s attacks on the faith should not be mixed up with grievances against the Court of Rome; he would write to the Pope himself, he said, concerning these complaints, and should hope for removal of the abuses as soon as they were brought to the notice of His Holiness; also the notables were advised that they should themselves point out to him all the grievances which the nation suffered from the Court of Rome and the priesthood, and should communicate to him their opinion and advice on the subject; he would then, in conjunction with them, deal with this separate matter. But concerning the authority of the Pope and his decretals there must be no discussion. In these questions the Emperor did not consider the Diet qualified to pronounce judgment.

With regard to allowing Luther a hearing, he said that if the latter was really to be summoned to the Diet he must only be asked whether or not he had written the books in question. If he confessed to this, and was willing to retract, the Emperor would then intercede with the Pope to have the ban annulled and Luther received back into the Church; but if he continued obstinate in his heresy he must be dealt with as a heretic.

Under the above conditions Luther was invited by the Emperor on March 6 to come to the Diet, in order to give information concerning his teaching and his books. ‘You need fear no violence or molestation,’ Charles assured him, ‘for you have our safe-conduct.’ On the Emperor’s asking the notables what ought to be done if Luther refused to come, or if, having come, he refused to recant, they answered that he must then be condemned as a public heretic, held up as such to universal opprobrium, and proceeded against by mandates. ‘God grant,’ wrote Aleander, ‘that Luther’s presence here may result in peace and tranquillity to the Church.’

The Emperor’s father confessor, Jean Glapion, an austere Franciscan monk, had some time before done all he could to induce the Elector Frederic of Saxony to restrain Luther in his revolutionary course, and to get the necessary reforms carried out in a religious spirit. He conveyed to the Elector the information that he had warned the Emperor that God would punish him and all the princes if they did not free the Church from the innumerable abuses that disgraced it; Luther, he said, had been sent by God as a scourge on account of the iniquities of mankind. From many of his writings, Glapion said, the Church might get good fruit; care must therefore be taken that his good wares were brought into harbour; but no Christian could tolerate his teaching on the universal priesthood, his denial of the authority of the Church, and other such heresies. The book on the Babylonish captivity of the Church had affected him (Glapion) most painfully; he had felt while reading it as if he was being scourged from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. The Bible, on which alone Luther took his stand, became in his hands like a book made of soft wax, which could be squeezed and stretched to suit each individual’s taste; if it was well to propagate heresy and error he himself could prove still more startling things out of the Bible than any that Luther had asserted. Glapion pointed out categorically the articles which Luther should be made to retract, so that they might be able to co-operate harmoniously with him in effecting those ecclesiastical reforms which the Emperor had so keenly at heart. If the true reformation made shipwreck, and discontent, war, and insurrection were stirred up in Germany, the disaffected kings of France and England, and other lands as well, would rejoice over the misfortunes of the Fatherland.

This and other similar representations were made by Glapion to the Saxon Chancellor Brück; he did not succeed in procuring an interview with the Elector himself.

The papal nuncio, Aleander, recognised as clearly as did Glapion the necessity for much reform in ecclesiastical matters. He implored of the Pope that the multitude of papal reservations and dispensations might be abolished, and that the papal Court would renounce its habit of annulling the concordats concluded with the German nation, and would relieve Germany of the heavy burdens imposed; that a check might be put to the practice of benefice-hunting, and that all energy might be devoted to restoring chastity among the clergy. Duke George of Saxony, Luther’s most inveterate opponent, said in the petition against Church abuses presented by him to the Diet by the Emperor’s wish: ‘The heaviest curse of all arises out of the scandals among the clergy; hence a general reform is urgently needed; this would best be arrived at by means of a general council.’ [Duke George is the first cousin of Frederick the Elector, and a steadfast Catholic.] In his list of grievances Duke George laid special stress on annates, dispensations, commendams, and indulgences.

Yet, as we had noted in our presentation of the indulgences dispute, it seems that few men had vocally supported Luther in his struggle at that time. After the indulgences dispute, a dejected but resolute Luther, a Luther who in 1519 would never have supported breaking away from Rome, began to denounce the pope and the Church itself, and felt that he had no choice but to break from Rome. Perhaps if men of note such as Thomas Murner and Glapion and Duke George had been so outspoken two years sooner, the Reformation would have also had an entirely different course. Continuing from the bottom of page 184:

“With regard to complaints of this sort,’ the canonicus Karl von Bodmann wrote to Rome, ‘all people in Germany are of one mind, from the Emperor down to the meanest man. The whole nation is indignant at the continually increasing oppression of the pallium fees. These complaints are vociferously echoed at the Diet.’

A committee chosen from the notables was appointed to draw up a list of grievances against the Papal Chair, and also against the archbishops and bishops, the monastic orders, and the rest of the clergy. Amongst other things it was objected that the spiritual tribunals legislated in matters purely secular [the separation of Church and State two hundred and fifty years before the American Revolution]; that benefices were frequently bestowed on unsuitable persons; that the ban was often enforced in purely trivial cases, and interdicts pronounced unjustly; that pastors were too often absent from their cures; that bishops were very negligent in holding and attending the synods prescribed by the canon law; that the mendicant orders were allowed too much license in begging and in collecting food; and that the monastic Orders of St. Benedict, St. Bernhard, and the Premonstratenses, in spite of their already great possessions, went on accumulating to themselves by commerce the property of the laity, and thus became inordinately wealthy. Moreover the affluence of the priestly class in general was outrageous.

This comprehensive list of grievances came before the Imperial Council to be read. ‘One sees from it,’ wrote the Palatine-Neuburg ambassador, ‘what influence Luther’s and Hutten’s writings have had on the notables, in matters even which have no connection with the Christian faith.’

The Emperor, on his part, was as eager as any one in Christendom for the redress of real abuses and grievances; and as for Pope Adrian VI., who within a year from that date succeeded Leo X., all the world was convinced of his ardour for reform.

Adrian VI, from the Netherlands, became pope in January, 1522, but lived to hold the office for only about 20 months. His papers were “lost” after his death, and the Italian people were said to rejoice in the streets of Rome when he died, since they detested the idea of a pope who was not an Italian. There was not another non-Italian pope elected until 1978. Adrian was succeeded by another de' Medici, Clement VII. It is amazing, that the rest of the world, and especially the Germans, did not then see that the papacy was only a charade. Continuing from page 186:

At no former period of German history would the prospects of genuine reform in the Church - both as to the head and as to the members - have been more favourable, if only the movement could have been carried on without violent uprooting and destruction, and with the harmonious co-operation of the chief spiritual and secular powers. There might then have been some chance of preserving the allegiance of the Fatherland to the Church of its fathers, cleansed and purified and re-established on a sound and lasting basis.

And our historian, a Catholic apologist, laments as if he believes that the Roman Church was legitimate, and not operating as just another crime ring in a world perverted by money and Jews, or crypto-Jews.

But already at the Diet of Worms things wore a bellicose and revolutionary aspect. In the town itself anarchy was rampant. ‘Scarcely a night passes,’ wrote thence Dietrich Butzbach on March 7, ‘that two or three people are not murdered. The Emperor has a provost who has drowned, hanged, and murdered over a hundred people.’ ‘The fasts are no longer observed. They stab one another; they commit fornication; they eat flesh, fowls, pigeons, eggs, cheese (in Lent) and carry on their revels as if they were in Mistress Venus’s palace.’ ‘Know also that there are many gentlemen and foreign folk here who have drunk themselves to death with strong wine.’

After his speech on February 13, Aleander’s life was not safe in the place; he could not show himself in the streets without being hooted by the mob and threatened with death. Luther was glorified by the people as a new Moses, a second Paul. He was a greater Church Father than Augustine, so one of his followers declared in the public market-place before an assembled multitude; Augustine had been a sinner, capable of erring, and he had erred; but Luther was without sin and had never erred. The pictures of the reformer, which had already come into vogue, with the saint’s halo, or the Holy Ghost hovering over him in the shape of a dove, were offered publicly for sale, as also the representations of Luther and Hutten together as just combatants for Christian freedom. The Lutherans erected a printing press at Worms, which confined itself to the issue of writings hostile to the Church; Hutten’s missives, and innumerable pamphlets, full of scorn and raillery against Luther’s opponents, flew from hand to hand.

So we see here the atmosphere of Worms leading up to Luther's appearance before the Diet, was an atmosphere of almost open revolution: for many of the actions on the part of Luther's supporters which are being described here were already forbidden by order of the emperor.

From his [Luther's] pen came the grossest menaces against the papal legates, whom he represented as the fiercest of robbers and the most heinous of impostors. ‘I shall use the utmost diligence,’ he wrote to Aleander. ‘I shall put forth all the zeal I am capable of, I shall spare no exertions, I shall risk all hazards so that you may be carried away a lifeless corpse, you, who came among us bent on fury, vengeance, crime, and injustice.’ He hurled the most offensive slanders at the ecclesiastical princes and higher Church dignitaries who were present at the Diet. ‘Begone from the pure stream, you unclean swine! Off with you out of the sanctuary, you godless traders! Do you not see that the winds of liberty are beginning to stir, that the people, disgusted with present conditions, are seeking to establish new ones? I mean to goad, spur, agitate, and storm for freedom. None with the least spark of valour in them can any longer refrain from breaking out in fierce onslaught against you, and taking your life.’ He even directed his threats at the Emperor. ‘Our hope had been,’ he said in a missive to the latter, ‘that you would have lifted the Roman yoke from off our necks and have put an end to papal supremacy. The gods grant that this beginning of yours may be followed by something better!’ But if the Emperor himself consented to the degradation of Germany there were other German men who, even at the risk of offending His Imperial Majesty, would bestir themselves to action.

At this point our translator offers a footnote, along with the appropriate citations, and he says: “The English ambassador Tunstall reports from Worms to King Henry VIII. That Luther had promised the Emperor, if he would march to Rome against the Pope, to bring 100,000 men into the field.” Continuing with page 188:

Excitement of the wildest description seized all minds. It was everywhere murmured that a portentous blow was about to be struck at the clergy, and that the knights would seize all Church property. [Which was always Hutten's aspiration.] Aleander’s reports show that there was daily fear that the city would be attacked by the revolutionary party and a mine sprung on the Diet - a danger all the more to be apprehended as the Emperor was without an armed escort.

‘Sickingen, truly, is king in Germany,’ writes Aleander, ‘for he can command followers when and where he will.’ ‘The Emperor is unarmed.’ ‘The princes are passive; the prelates quake and tremble and let themselves be swallowed up like rabbits; Sickingen is, indeed, under present circumstances, the terror of Germany, before whom all others pale.’

In such circumstances the arrival of Luther was awaited at Worms.

Luther had started from Wittenberg on April 2. Four days later he was received at Erfurt as a triumphant hero by the whole band of humanists, who were entirely favourable to him. ‘Exult, rejoice, thou glorious Erfurt,’ exclaimed Eobanus Hessus in rapturous strain at the news of his advent, ‘for, lo! he comes who shall deliver thee from the ignominy under which thou hast too long groaned. He, first, has dared with iron spade to root up the poisonous weeds that have overgrown the acres of Christ.’ Eobanus goes on to picture the river Gera coming forward to do homage to the expected hero, who will ‘bear down all before him, were it the whole vast universe.’ Crotus Rubianus, then Rector of the University of Erfurt, at the head of forty members of the university and followed by a large crowd of the townspeople, went three miles beyond the city gates, to receive the ‘hero of the evangel,’ and addressed him as ‘the judge of wickedness,’ adding that for himself and his friends to be allowed to gaze on his features was almost like a divine revelation.

Here we are going to take a short digression, to recall the characters of Eobanus Hessus and Crotus Rubianus, both of whom were friends of Luther in his years as a student. In Part 2 of this series on Luther in Life and Death, we were describing the humanist poets from page 30 of this same source volume of our history, where we had read the following:

But as crowning specimens of bad taste and utter worthlessness we commend those humanist poems which deal with Christian material, representing the Divine Creator as ruler of high Olympus, and as a thundering Zeus, turning sacred things, in short, into mere child’s play. Eobanus Hessus, for instance, in the year 1514, published a volume of ‘Christian Heroids,’ or love-letters from Christian heroines to their lovers after the model of Ovid. Amongst these are letters from St. Mary of Magdalen to Christ: and even God the Father is made to exchange letters with the Virgin Mary. One cannot read this sort of thing without a shudder. Erasmus, however, declared himself delighted with the work, and greeted Eobanus on the strength of it as the German Ovid who alone could rescue Germany from barbarism.

We had also noted previously, it was Crotus Rubianus who introduced Ulrich von Hutten into the circle of humanists at Erfurt led by Mutian, and later enticed Hutten to leave school at the age of 17. Some time after that, Rubianus and Hutten together had written the so-called Letters of Obscure Men, among other works which had ridiculed the Dominican monks of Cologne in favor of Reuchlin and the writings of the Talmudic Jews.

Further on in that same presentation in Part 2 of this series, we read this concerning Mutian and Rubianus:

The personal influence that Mutian exercised over the humanists who frequented his house corresponded with the spirit that characterises his letters. Irreverent jesting against sacred things was encouraged, and we read that in conversation with Mutian and his associates, and to the general satisfaction of the company, Crotus Rubianus used to call the Holy Mass a popish comedy, the holy relics ravens’ bones, and the prayers at canonical hours a mere baying of hounds. He used to say that Cicero was a saintly apostle and a greater Roman hierarch than Pope Leo X.

This contemptuous bearing towards the Church and its sacred teaching was often accompanied by unlimited license in conduct. Concerning the sexual transgressions of his friends Mutian was wont to speak with a cynicism compared with which the erotic writers of antiquity seem almost chaste. Even the seduction and carrying off of a nun was treated by him as a good joke.

These humanists may have worked within the Church, and they may have righteously been outraged with the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church. But they were not Christians, and outside of Luther and perhaps Melanchthon, they rarely addressed the faults of the Church on the grounds of Christian Scripture. Rather, these men were licentious, decadent pagans who used the Church as a cover for their sins. Erasmus often applauded their licentiousness, and when Erasmus defended Luther before Frederick the Elector, it certainly seems that he was actually defending the cause of his fellow humanists, who we see here were actively supporting Luther. They cared not for Christianity, but rather they were using Luther as a vehicle so that they could destroy the power of the Pope and the clergy over the German people, both for better and for worse.

But the humanists were excellent propagandists, having had much practice, as we shall see by continuing from page 189 of our source volume:

On the following day Luther preached in the Augustinian church to a great crowd of people. ‘The Athenians were not filled with such astonishment,’ exclaimed Eobanus, ‘at the speech of Demosthenes, nor Rome when she sat at the feet of her great orator, nor did Paul stir the hearts of his listeners as Luther’s sermon moved the populace on the banks of the Gera.’ ‘One man builds churches,’ said Luther in his sermon, ‘another makes pilgrimages to the shrine of St. James or St. Peter, a third fasts and prays, wears the monk’s cowl, goes barefoot… all such works are nothing and must be done away with. Note well these words: “All our works have no power. I am your righteousness, says the Lord Christ; I have destroyed the sins with which you are loaded; believe, therefore, that it is I who have done this, and you will be justified.”

And this theological teaching of Luther's is relatively sound. But rather than encouraging moderation and departure from sin, he often encouraged more sin, that grace would abound, quite the contrary to the admonitions of Paul, but quite pleasing to the licentious humanists. Then from page 190:

What does this mean? That if we commit a fresh sin we need not at once despair, but say: “O God, thou livest still; Christ, my Lord, is the destroyer of sin:” and the sin is at once taken away. Thus we care nothing for the laws of men, not even if the Pope should come down upon us with his ban, for we are reconciled to God, so that calamities, bans, laws are as nothing to us.’ Luther fired invectives against the intolerable yoke of papacy and against the ecclesiastics who ‘tended their sheep much as butchers do on Easter eve.’ ‘There are at least three thousand pastors,’ he said, ‘amongst whom not four good ones are to be found.’

In the course of his sermon, according to the report of his admirers, he performed a miracle. When suddenly a noise was heard in the overcrowded church, and all became bustle and confusion, Luther said: ‘Be still, dear people; it is the Devil, who is getting up a sham fight; Be still, there is nothing to fear.’ ‘And he exorcised the Devil,’ says a chronicler, ‘and all became quite quiet.’ ‘This is the first miracle that Luther did,’ adds another chronicler, ‘and his disciples believed on him and worshipped him.’

It was no wonder that Luther’s vehement preaching fanned to a fierce flame the animosity that had already so long smouldered against the Church and the clergy. Luther himself was far from wishing that the seed he sowed should grow to a firebrand, but none the less it was bound to do so.

The very day after his departure riots broke out in Erfurt. Students assembled in a threatening attitude before the house of Doliator, deacon of the Church of St. Severus. The latter had expelled the prebendary John Draco from the choir for having taken part in the welcome given to Luther, and had thus merited punishment. Threatening letters were sent to him at his house and notices to the same effect posted on the church doors. Doliator was so much alarmed that he received Draco back into the choir. These proceedings were only the prelude to the tumultuous uproar of the so-called ‘Pfaffensturm’ (priest riot) in June of the same year.

On April 16 Luther arrived at Worms, with his escort, among whom was the humanist Justus Jonas [another of young poets from the circle of humanists led by Mutian at Erfurt]. He was firmly resolved, he said, ‘to defy all the gates of hell and the principalities of the air.’ ‘Say a Pater Noster for our Lord Christ,’ he had said on the journey to the principal of the cloister of Reinhardsbrunn, ‘to ask His Father to be gracious to Him.’ If God maintains Christ’s cause mine also is won.’ To Spalatin he wrote: ‘It is our intention to defy and terrify Satan.’

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