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.

For much of this presentation, we shall continue to use as our primary source The History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages by Johannes Janssen, Volume 3, Book 5, published in an English translation by A.M. Christie in London in 1900.

In the first part of our presentation of Martin Luther in Life and Death, we had discussed how in the year 1505 Martin Luther had taken the vow of the Eremites of St. Augustine and had entered the monastery. Formerly Luther had been studying law, and had entered the monastery as a humanist, one of the so-called “poets”, among whom he had many friends and acquaintances. [We hope to discuss these later in this series, because it is evident that the humanists had contributed significantly to Luther's efforts once he had decided to split from the Romish Church. As we have said, the humanists who despised Christianity also embraced Luther, as they saw in him an opportunity in their own desire for liberation from the oppressive Roman Church. That is a topic for a later time.]

Luther's had many tortured experiences while he was in the monastery, mostly relating to the self-imposed penances such as fastings, prayer vigils and other self-mortifications that the monks had evidently prided themselves upon. In his ascetic monastical life, Luther had described himself as having been in a state of spiritual despair. Yet during this period he also said that he was loyal to the Church to the point that he was “ready to kill any one and every one for daring to refuse obedience to one syllable from the Pope.” While at the beginning he had engaged himself with these vigorously, he had struggled within himself to reconcile the Roman Catholic Church teachings relating to works with the Gospel of Christ relating to mercy and forgiveness. That struggle had caused him to completely reject the Roman Church teachings on not only those matters, but many others as well. Later, criticizing the ascetic practices of monastic life, Luther said that “I was a most outrageous believer in self-justification, a right presumptuous seeker of salvation through works, not trusting in God's righteousness, but in my own.” (History of the German People, Vol. 3 p. 84). Luther characterized the monastical emphasis on asceticism as having alienated him from God and Christ, as he grew hostile to the personal sufferings which the monastic life had imposed.

Our historian has criticized Martin Luther for his position on these church teachings. On pages 84 and 85 of our volume, he says in response to Luther that “Any manual of religious instruction and devotion might have taught him that the Church repudiated all Pharisaic doctrines of self-justification, and considered Christ and His merits as the sole foundation of Christian righteousness, and the grace of Christ as the source of all life and action that was pleasing in the sight of God; and, above all, in the eyes of the Church ascetic practices were merely means to an end, wholesome discipline for weakening and overcoming sinful inclinations with the help of grace, but in no way meritorious actions on which man could build hopes of acceptance with God.” But what the historian may have been missing is this: that what the monks were instructing and what the policies were that were buried in the Church's academic treatises, or even published in its Catechisms, may well have been two different things. It should be obvious even to a neophyte reader of Scripture that repetitive prayer, openly visible fasting, and other such things which were taught and practiced regularly by the monks were indeed criticized by Christ. The selling of indulgences in order to buy one's dead relations out of an imagined state of purgatory is another matter entirely, since none of that bears any semblance to Christianity.

However Luther's repudiation of salvation based upon works went far beyond the denial of the necessity of asceticism. Speaking of Luther's transition from obedient monk to radical Theologian, we read this from page 86 of our volume:

Such a state of religious exaltation could not but be followed by a violent reaction. Racked thus in the innermost depths of his being, and tortured to death by his conscience, Luther ended by passing over to the other extreme. If he had hitherto put overmuch confidence in his own good deeds, he now cast away all reliance whatever on human strength and righteousness in the work of salvation. He began to believe that man, by reason of inherited sin, had become altogether depraved and had no free-will; that all human action whatever, even that which was directed towards good, was an emanation from man’s corrupt nature and therefore, in the sight of God, nothing more or less than deadly sin; that it was by faith alone that man could be saved. ‘When we believe in Christ we make His merits our own possession;’ it was thus that he now taught. ‘We put on the garment of His righteousness, which covers all our guilt and our condition of perpetual sinfulness, and furthermore makes up in superfluity for all human shortcomings; hence, when once we believe, we need no longer be tormented in our consciences.’ ‘Be a sinner if you will,’ he writes to a friend, ‘and sin right lustily, but believe still more lustily, and rejoice in Christ, who is the vanquisher of sin.’ ‘From the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, sin will not separate men, even though they should commit fornication a thousand times a day and murders as frequently.’

Luther seems to have not only repudiated works-based salvation, but to have also formulated an ideal pseudo-Christian religion for the humanist, and one which is absolutely contrary to sound Christian doctrine. While we may realize that the children of God shall not be judged by the law, we are also instructed that they should nevertheless seek to establish the law. Paul spoke of establishing the law and also of the necessity for conforming to obedience. While the Roman Catholic Church created its own works, none of which are necessary for salvation, Luther seems to have been confused the abandonment of Catholic rituals and also to have despised any need for the Law of God. On the contrary, Christ had said “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Luther tells his friend to “sin right lustily, but believe still more lustily”, but Paul of Tarsus said in Romans 3:31: “31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” To return to page 87 of volume 3 of The History of the German People:

This new doctrine of justification by faith alone Luther considered the central point of Christianity. It summed up for him the whole of Scripture; it was the truth which had long lain hidden on a shelf; he called it, in short, the ‘New Gospel,’ the only medicine for the salvation of Christendom. His teachings, he declared, contained Gospel truth as pure and unadulterated almost as that of the Apostles; what, indeed, did the word ‘ gospel’ mean but a new, a good, a joyful message, or good news, the announcement of something that people rejoice to hear ? This can never be laws or commandments, for the breaking of which we shall be punished with damnation; for no one would rejoice at such an announcement.

This new doctrine began shaping itself gradually in Luther’s mind in the year 1508, after his appointment to the professorship of philosophy at the Wittenberg university, founded six years before. This post had been conferred on him by the Elector Frederic of Saxony at the instigation of Luther’s intimate friend Johann von Staupitz. Luther’s departure from Erfurt, according to contemporary records of the year 1508, was not a matter of regret to the ‘Brothers’ there, for Luther ‘was always in the right’ in all disputations, and he dearly loved disputing.

So we see that Martin Luther, who had an incomplete education in law, was made a professor of philosophy at a large university after as little as 3 years in the monastery studying religion. As we had seen in our first presentation in this series, Luther was absolutely unfamiliar with Scripture before entering the monastery. Yet he gained his position through a political connection. This von Staupitz was a doctor of Theology, in 1503 elected the Vicar-General of the Augustinian order in Germany and he himself was a teacher at the University of Wittenberg. He had a close relationship with Luther, as his confessor and his mentor, and empowered Luther while also officially opposing him later. Some sources appropriately contend that most of what Luther had studied in the monastery was not Biblical, but were rather extra-Biblical ecclesiastical writings. While at Wittenberg Luther's role would cause him to begin more serious study of the Bible itself, it is clear that he had already established his doctrines on faith and grace and law before becoming a serious student of Scripture itself. Returning to page 87 of our history:

At Wittenberg Luther devoted himself chiefly to Biblical and theological studies ; he was invested with the dignity of Doctor of Divinity in 1512, and lectured to admiring audiences on the Pauline letters - the letters to the Romans especially - the Psalms, and St. Augustine. He also gained great fame as preacher in the Cathedral Church. ‘This Brother has deep-set eyes,’ said Martin Pollich, the first rector of the Wittenberg University, of Luther; ‘he must have wonderful thoughts and ideas.’

Already several years before the outbreak of the indulgence controversy Luther had put himself outside the teaching of the Church by his opinions on grace and justification and the absence of free-will; and in the year 1515, according to the testimony of his eulogist Mathesius, he was denounced as a heretic. ‘Our righteousness,’ he said in a sermon preached at Christmas 1515, ‘is only sin; each one of us, therefore, must accept the grace offered by Christ.’ ‘Learn, dear brother,’ he wrote on April 7, 1516, to the Augustinian George Spenlein at Memmingen, ‘learn to despair of thyself and say: “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness; I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken what is mine and given me what is Thine.” Only through Christ, and through utter abnegation of thyself and thine own works, shalt thou find peace.’ He was already so firmly convinced of the truth of this teaching that he added an anathema to it: ‘Cursed be whoever does not believe this.’ His tenets are expressed in the most outspoken terms in the report of a disputation held at the university in September 1516, on which occasion he had asked to be elected president of the debate - an honour which ought by right to have been conferred on another member. In this discussion the following thesis, among others, was defended: ‘Man commits sin whenever he acts according to his own impulses, for of himself he can neither think nor will rightly. Of the twenty-nine theses which he wrote out for a Doctoranden the fourth runs thus: ‘The truth is that man, after having become a corrupt tree, can will and do nothing but what is bad;’ and the 5th: ‘It is false to say that the will of man is free and can decide one way or another: our wills are not free, but in captivity.’

It was during the Lent of 1517 that he began preaching his new tenets openly among the people. In these sermons he inveighed fiercely against those vain babblers who had filled Christendom with their chatter, and had misled the poor credulous folk with their pulpit utterances, telling them that they ought to have or to cultivate good wills, good intentions, good ways of thinking. Where no will whatever existed, Luther taught them, God’s will was the best of all.

Already in July 1517, three months before the beginning of the indulgence controversy, Duke George of Saxony expressed his fears of the effect of such teaching on the people. When Luther proclaimed, in a sermon preached at Dresden on July 25 by desire of the Duke, that the mere acceptance of the merits of Christ insured salvation, and that nobody who possessed this faith need doubt of his salvation, the Duke said more than once at table, in serious earnest, ‘he would give a great deal not to have heard this sermon, which would only make the people restive and mutinous.’

Luther’s doctrines, for which he thought he found support in St. Augustine, had spread through the whole University of Wittenberg, so he writes, as early as the year 1516.

It was after October 31, 1517, that they began to be disseminated throughout Germany.

It was on this day that Luther, incensed by the indulgence preacher Johann Tetzel, affixed to the church door at Wittenberg twenty-nine theses attacking the virtue of indulgences.

We will reserve a discussion of free-will for another time, and for now suffice to say that the topic of free-will, like the topic of the role of the law in Christianity, is highly oversimplified by Christian pastors. We will only say that while free-will appears to be an illusion because Yahweh God already knows all outcomes, men nevertheless choose the paths that Yahweh God already knows that they will take. In that manner, men must accept responsibility for their own sins, and not lay them off on God.

Here, between what Luther represents and what Tetzel represents, Germany seems to be caught between two extremes. Luther was not alone, and there were other reformers who were in some areas more extreme than Luther was. However Luther having the political advantage as well as apparently having had the favor of the humanists, other reformers, notably Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein von Karlstadt, were demonized or fell into relative obscurity. Starting from the very bottom of page 89 of our history:

Tetzel, a Dominican monk and a favourite popular preacher, had been appointed by Albert, Archbishop of Mayence, sub-commissioner in Upper Germany, to carry on the sale of indulgences established by Leo X. for the building of St. Peter’s Church. His sermons attracted everywhere immense crowds of people.

In the paragraphs which follow, our historian appears to be something of a Catholic apologist, to a certain degree, who assumes that many of the things which the Church had historically required of its members had been correct in the first place. He does, however, illustrate the fact that indulgences for the dead are definitely wrong. From page 90 of our volume:

The erroneous views still current concerning these sermons on the sale of indulgences spring chiefly from the reason that things of very different natures have not been carefully enough distinguished. Whoever wished to procure an indulgence for him or herself was required first to make confession in true penitence, to attend church devoutly, and to contribute to the building of St. Peter’s Church in proportion to his or her means. The indulgence preachers were expressly enjoined ‘to dismiss no applicant without grace, as in this transaction the welfare of Christian believers was no less considered than the building of the church. Those who had no money to contribute were to give their prayers and faith, for the kingdom of heaven was not open to the rich more than to the poor.’

With regard to the granting of indulgences to the living, Tetzel’s teaching was throughout irreproachable, and the statement that he sold pardon for sin for the sake of gain without requiring penitence has no warrant in fact. [We must assert that this idea has no place in Scripture, regardless of the historian's defense.] His proceedings with regard to indulgences for the dead are more open to criticism. It has often been alleged, though from all appearances unjustly, that if Tetzel’s preaching on this point was not exactly open to reproach it corresponded closely, at any rate, to the sense of the lines -

As soon as the gold in the casket rings

The rescued soul to heaven springs.

In order to feel empowered to proclaim this teaching the preacher of indulgences had only to believe that an indulgence for a dead person could certainly be obtained by payment of the prescribed sum, and that the indulgence procured would, without doubt, be applied to the particular soul it was bought for. Now both in the papal bulls of that period and in the Mayence ‘Instructions’ drawn up for the guidance of the preachers the only condition insisted on in applicants for indulgences for the dead is a gift of money towards the building of St. Peter’s Church; it is expressly stated that for obtaining this kind of indulgence no repentance or confession is necessary. Was there any certainty, however, that the indulgences obtained would be applied to the souls for which they were bought? In the Mayence ‘Instructions’ this question is answered decidedly in the affirmative. And on this point the compiler of the ‘Instructions’ was able to support his statement by a scholastic interpretation recognised by eminent theologians. It was merely a scholastic opinion, however, not Church dogma, that indulgences for the dead were quite certain to benefit the particular souls they had been procured for. Cardinal Cajetanus proves that in the Rome of Leo X. such a statement certainly did not hold good. No credence, he said, must be given to theologians and preachers who made such unfounded assertions. ‘The preachers,’ said Cajetanus emphatically, ‘come forward in the name of the Church in so far as they proclaim the teaching of Christ and of the Church; but if they teach out of their own heads, and for their own profit, things about which they have no knowledge, they cannot pass as representatives of the Church, and one cannot wonder if in such cases they fall into error.’ [We must interject that at the fifth Council of the Lateran (1512 to 1517) Cajetanus urged church reform which never happened. Pope Leo X made him a cardinal in 1517.] It would have been better for the Catl1olic cause if, in so delicate a matter, the German indulgence preachers had observed the same reticence as Cajetanus. As, however, the indulgence commissioners themselves inserted in an official document a very dubious scholastic opinion as if it were positive truth, what was to be expected from the ordinary indulgence preacher? Grievous abuses there certainly were in the proceedings and the behaviour of the preachers, and the manner of offering the indulgence bills and touting for customers caused all sorts of scandal; Tetzel especially cannot be altogether acquitted of blame. It was not, however, the abuses of the sale which impelled Luther to the course he took, but the doctrine of indulgences itself - above all the Church teaching of good works, which was contrary to his views concerning justification and free-will. The satisfaction which Christ requires, he says, is in the heart, so that you must not go off to Rome, or to Jerusalem, or to St. Jacob, or hither and thither in search of absolution. Christ’s letter of indulgence runs thus: ‘If you forgive your debtors my Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive them, neither will my Father forgive you your debts.’

Thus the Church also had always taught; she insisted continually on the necessity of a real conversion of the heart and a worthy reception of the Eucharist for each one who wished to obtain absolution - that is to say, remission of the temporal penalties of sin. Luther, however, preached that ‘this so-called indulgence brief of Christ’s, sealed with His wounds and ratified by His death, was almost entirely obliterated and washed out by the deluge of Romish indulgences.’ Christ did not say, ‘“ You must observe so many fasts for your sins, say so many prayers, give so much in alms ; you must do this, that, or the other:” He only required us to renounce all our sins and forgive those who had trespassed against us. Such indulgence bills as this would not erect a new Church of St. Peter, which, no doubt, was what the Devil wanted, but they would build up the Church of Christ, which the Devil does not want at all.’ Such indulgences, moreover, could not lose their significance through his (Luther’s) adding that he did not want to reject Romish indulgences altogether. Pointing out the deeper ground of his objections, he wrote later on to Tetzel: ‘You need not trouble and distress yourself, for the matter did not begin with you: this child had, indeed, quite a different father.’ ‘The Church was full of spiritual abuses,’ he said once in a memorandum drawn up for the Elector of Saxony; ‘the notables of the Empire had complained of them, and the Pope had promised redress; as, however, the abuses had not been suppressed by those whose business it was to get rid of them, the people were beginning to do away with them themselves all over Germany, and the clergy were despised and regarded as ignorant, unworthy, yea, pernicious people....’ This sweeping away of abuses was already to a great extent in full swing before Luther’s teaching began; for the whole world had grown sick and weary of them. Luther, however, gave all the credit to his own teaching, through which he said religion would be saved.

In opposition to Luther’s theses Tetzel, on January 20, 1518, posted up a hundred and six antitheses at the University of Frankfort on the Oder, where he had taken his degree of doctor of theology. In these the Church teaching on indulgences was briefly and clearly set forth. Indulgences do not blot out sins, but only remit the temporal punishment due to sin, and that only when the sins have been confessed and truly repented of. Indulgences do not stultify the merits of Christ, but substitute for expiatory penalties the expiatory sufferings of Christ.

Here the historian presents the teachings of Tetzel which the historian himself claimed were “irreproachable throughout”, and we can see that assessment certainly is not true. The idea that men can expiate sin through any sacrifice at all is wholly done away with in Christ. To continue that idea into the Christian era is anti-Christian, since as Paul says in Hebrews chapter 10 “ 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God”. However to refute Martin Luther's contrary position, Paul had also said in that epistle “ 26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins”. Therefore the historian, while he is generally quite fair and without doubt quite informative, nevertheless reveals some of his own Romish Catholic bias. Here at the bottom of page 93 of our volume there is a footnote by the English editor that states: “The common supposition that Tetzel burnt Luther‘s theses publicly is incorrect. See Grone, pp. 122-126. Tetzel’s antitheses were burnt by the Wittenberg students in the market-place. See Luther’s Letters of March 21 and May 9. 1518, edited by De Wette.” To continue with page 94 of The History of the German People:

‘In the holy council of Costnitz,’ writes Tetzel, ‘it was decided anew that any one wishing to obtain an indulgence must first have confessed at the Sacrament of Penitence, according to the ordinance of the Holy Church, or must intend so to do.’ All papal indulgence bulls and letters lay down also the same condition. ‘ Only those persons are deserving of indulgences who are truly penitent, and filled with love for God, which love does not allow them to remain lazy and indolent, but stimulates them to serve God and do great works for His glory.’ It is moreover a known fact that it is Christian, God-fearing, pious people, and not lewd, idle ones, who are eager to obtain indulgences. For all indulgences are given first and foremost for the sake of God’s glory. Consequently whoever gives alms to procure an indulgence bill, gives to the honour of God, seeing that no one can obtain indulgence who has not attained to true penitence and love of God, and whoever does good works out of love for God lives to the glory of God. ‘It is not for any works of righteousness we accomplish ourselves that God gives us salvation, but through His holy mercy.’ Such was the teaching which, according to Tetzel, the preachers of indulgences were enjoined to impress on the hearts of their hearers.

Within the Gospel framework, Tetzel's language is double-speak. According to the grace and mercy of God, Christians who are repentant will not suffer the temporal results of their sin. This is seen, for instance, in the words of Christ in Luke chapter 13: “1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” The forgiveness and mercy of Christ are free, but the Roman Catholic Church was dividing it up and placing a value upon it. While reading Tetzel's words there is the implication that the poor may share in indulgences as well as the rich, the effect in real life is that the common people were humiliated with the prospect of neglecting their own futures if they did not buy into the indulgence scheme. As for bailing their dead ancestors out of purgatory, that fallacy perpetrated by the Roman Church is even more contrary to the Word of God.

Among the papal bulls and letters of indulgence, in which the nature of indulgences was clearly stated, We may specially notice a decree issued by Leo X. in 1518. The Pope, it said, as successor of St. Peter, the holder of the keys, and as Vicar of Christ, had authority, through the power handed over to him with the keys of the Church, to remit both the sins of Christian believers and the penalties incurred by those sins. The sins themselves were remitted by the priests in the sacrament of penitence, but the temporal punishment of the sins by the absolution of the Church. [This would inevitably result in the ability of the wealthy to buy their way out of jail for their crimes.]

As the agitation proceeded Tetzel plainly recognised that it was no mere scholastic dispute that Luther had started, but a serious conflict, involving fundamental principles of Christian doctrine and Church authority. Already in 1518, in his refutation of Luther’s ‘Articles on Absolution and Grace,’ he had said: ‘ These articles inculcate contempt of the Pope and of the Church; henceforth people will no longer believe in the teaching of the Church, and will interpret Holy Scripture just as it pleases them; whereby great spiritual danger will arise among the Christian populace; for each one will believe only what suits him or her.’

The Emperor Maximilian also thoroughly grasped the whole scope of the contention. Luther’s innovations, he said in a letter to the Pope on August 5, 1518, ‘if not strenuously opposed, would imperil the unity of the faith, and private opinion would take the place of traditional dogma.’

Luther claimed from the outset that his cause was the cause of God; he expected his assertions to be accepted as fixed and unalterable truth. When he sent his first indulgence theses to his friend Johannes Lange, on November 11, 1517, he wrote as follows: ‘They reproach me with rashness, arrogance, and a passion for anathematising, but without some arrogance and combativeness - or at any rate the semblance of them - nothing new can be accomplished.’ In support of this statement he alleged the example of Christ and all the holy martyrs. Why had they been put to death, why had these teachers been the marks of hatred and envy, but because they had been regarded as arrogant contemners of time-honoured wisdom, or because, without the concurrence of those who were versed in old-established beliefs, they had introduced new ideas and opinions? He, Luther, taught the purest theology, which no doubt was a ‘stumbling-block to the Jews and to the Greeks foolishness.’ All that he preached, and that his adversaries thus contested, he had received straight from the Almighty.

Here Luther reveals his own humanism. He has reduced the Messiah, God in the flesh, to a mere man who had only “introduced new ideas and opinions”. This shows that Luther still had not studied his Bible very well, basically denying all of the prescience and purpose of the Christ, and at the same time mischaracterizing the nature of His enemies. To continue with page 96 of our history:

Luther’s reiterated declaration, during the earlier years of this great controversy, that he would remain subject to the Pope and the Church, while all the time he was maintaining his new doctrine of justification by faith only and of the non-freedom of the human will, could only be taken to mean that he would remain true to the Church if the Church came round to his views. Under these circumstances there could be no hope that any amount of disputation would lead to a satisfactory result, neither could any accommodation be arrived at either through the negotiations held with Luther by Cardinal Cajetanus at Augsburg in 1518 by order of the Pope, or by the derogatory attempts at reconciliation of Carl von Miltitz. In the sure conviction that he would be excommunicated, Luther had already in July 1518 preached a sermon on the power of the papal ban, in which he propounded a new theory entirely opposed to Church teaching - namely, that the true fellowship of the Church was not a visible but an invisible reality, from which one could not be excluded by a ban, but only by sin.

Luther’s conviction that he was called by God to proclaim anew the fundamental truths of Christianity, which had been falsified and distorted since the days of the Apostles, led him to declare that he would have his teaching amended by no one, not even by angels. ‘Whoever rejects my doctrine,’ he said, ‘cannot be saved.’ It also led him to the opinion, long held by the Hussites and other heretical teachers of the fifteenth century, that the Pope was Antichrist, and that the Church was languishing in Babylonish captivity. And these two fixed ideas that he was a divinely inspired teacher and that the Pope was Antichrist dominated his whole life and work.

On December 11, 1518, Luther sent to a friend the report of his negotiations with Cardinal Cajetanus at Augsburg with the following remark: ‘My pen is already busy with far more important matters, but I send you my “trifles,” in order that you may judge whether I am right in supposing that the veritable Antichrist, of whom St. Paul speaks, is now ruling at the Court of Rome. [This is an allusion to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, where Paul describes the Edomite Jews at the temple in Jerusalem as Satan seated in the temple of God.] That the latter is even worse than the Turks I think I shall have no difficulty in proving.’ ‘The Court of Rome,’ he wrote to Spalatin on December 21, 1518, ‘is fighting Christ and His Church with an army of monsters that surpasses all the horrors of the Turks.’ And again on March 13, 1516: ‘I don’t mind telling you, between ourselves, that I am not sure whether the Pope is Antichrist himself or only his apostle.’ Ten days before he had written to the Pope that he swore before God and all His creatures that he had never dreamt of impeaching the Catholic Church, that there was nothing in heaven or earth that he preferred before her. And immediately after, in the following May, he declared that it was solely for the sake of the Elector Frederic and the university that he suppressed much which otherwise he should ‘spue forth’ against Rome, or rather Babylon, the spoiler of the Church and the perverter of the Holy Scriptures.'

Such was Luther’s frame of mind whilst engaged in the famous disputation with John Eck at Leipzig during the months of June and July 1519.

When Eck, in the course of the controversy, objected against him that his views concerning the papal supremacy scarcely differed from those of the Hussites, and that the latter consequently boasted of having found in Luther a new supporter of their cause, Luther denied that he had anything in common with the Hussites; ‘he had never,’ he said, ‘countenanced schismatics, and never would do so.’ In February 1519 he had written that ‘no matter could be great enough, or become great enough, to ‘justify separation from the Roman Church; nay, that for no sin or evil of any kind that one could name or think of, ought one to renounce one’s love for the Church and rend asunder its spiritual unity. Huss and the Hussites he hated as heretics, principally because they rejected the doctrine of purgatory and the worship of the saints.’ In Leipzig also, he said, the Hussites had acted very wrongly, because they had separated from the Roman Church.

So we see that Luther, at this point, had still advocated the legitimacy of the Roman Church as an empirical institution, and upheld the notion of purgatory as a doctrine, as well as the worship of men, who are mere elements of the Creation and not to be worshipped.

Soon after this, however, he formed an entirely different opinion about the Hussites. On October 3, 1519, he received letters from two Hussite leaders, urging him to proceed courageously in the path he had entered on. ‘What John Huss was formerly in Bohemia,’ wrote the provost of the university of Prague, 'you, Martin, are now in Saxony. I charge you, therefore, to pray and to be strong in the Lord; do not despair if you are excommunicated as a heretic; remember what Christ suffered, and the Apostles.’ The other Hussite exhorted him as follows: ‘Do not let the Antichrist lay hold of you; he has a thousand ways of doing harm, may Christ preserve you!'

In February 1520 Luther came to recognise that he was in truth a Hussite, and that John Huss had proclaimed the true Gospel. ‘The battle is the Lord’s,’ he wrote to Spalatin in February 1520, ‘who did not come to bring peace on earth.’ ‘I, fool, without knowing it have taught and held all the doctrines of John Huss; we are all of us Hussites, without having been aware of it; yea, Paul and Augustine are Hussites to the very letter. For very terror I know not what to think about the awful judgments of God on mankind, for that men have burnt and condemned evangelical truth which has been openly proclaimed for more than a hundred years, and that one is not allowed to confess it.’

At the council of Costnitz he said that the Pope and his followers had set forth the doctrines of the dragon of hell in place of the Gospel, that ‘Huss was a noble martyr of Christ,’ and that he ought to be canonised.

What the historian has not asked or explained, is why are there any so-called “indulgence preachers” in the first place? The very fact that specialized preachers, such as Tetzel, were appointed to preach indulgences demonstrates the departure of Roman Church dogma from its own recorded doctrines. The refusal of the church to recognize any error in the practice forced Martin Luther's hand, and Luther got the victory over the Roman Church. However Luther's victory would be bittersweet, since it eventually resulted in the 30 Years' War, but also had given license to the pagan humanists in Germany, and helped them prevail in their own battle with Rome.

Here I am going to present what Bertrand Comparet said about Luther and Tetzel, from Part 2 of his sermons on the Revelation of Yahshua Christ:

Martin Luther was a Catholic priest. He is the man who actually got the Reformation going as a really effective movement. The others had been sowing the seed, but he was really getting a crop now that could be reaped. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1507, became a lecturer at the University of Wittenberg. He was a pretty good language scholar and he was not content merely with being told what was official doctrine. He read the Bible of course, in the Latin of the Vulgate, which was the official Bible of the Catholic “Church.” And even there he discovered that it said “the just shall live by his faith” – not by indulgences, not by pilgrimages to Rome, not by the worship of “Saint who’s-it”, but by his faith. [Comparet glossed over the rather slow development of Luther's specific beliefs.] Hence, it jolted him to see how far the customs of the “church” and their doctrines strayed from actual Scripture. Thus, he went into the whole thing, and in fact he translated the entire Bible into German. In 1517, things came to a head. The Pope had sent traveling through Germany a Dominican monk named Tetzel whose job it was to sell indulgences to raise a vast sum of money for the repair of the “Church” of Saint Peter in Rome. [Actually it was to replace the basilica with a copy of a pagan temple.] It was an out and out sale. Tetzel had reduced to verse one of which read: “The money rattles in the box, the soul from purgatory flies. Aren’t you willing to give the “church” so much money so that your mother will escape thousands of years she is going to have to burn in purgatory otherwise? You give us something for the ‘church’, and for that good act you get an indulgence that gets her out a whole hundred years earlier.” Well, that was more than Martin Luther could stomach, so on the door of the “church” at Wittenberg he nailed up papers stating 95 theses that he was prepared to debate with any comer. He picked out all these things that were corrupt in “church” doctrine and practice, and stated that they were unscriptural. They were, in fact, contrary to Scripture, and he was prepared to debate that with anybody. That was the point where the Reformation really got underway.

Martin Luther did not intend to start a separate Protestant “church”. He was a Catholic priest, and all he wanted was to clean up the things in his own “church” that he found shouldn’t be there. He intended to save all that part which was good, and he had no intention of cutting himself off from it. Well, there was all the usual “church” strategy. He was excommunicated. He was summoned to attend a great gathering, a diet at the city of Worms. He was outlawed, with any man encouraged to kill him with no penalty. But he went there. He was given the safe conduct promise: he could go and return to his own home. But there was intention to treacherously capture him and murder him. But by this time his doctrines had spread to some pretty influential places. He came there – he refused to recant – he defended his doctrines, showed where they were sound according to the Bible, and he just planted himself. He said “Here I stand, God helping me, I can do no other.” He wouldn’t yield one inch. Prince Frederick of Saxony knew of the plot to arrest and murder him, so he had some of his troops kidnap Martin Luther and rush him out to safety, and for a bit over a year he hid Luther in his own castle where Luther continued his writings. Finally, after a bit more than a year, it was safe to let Luther out again. Lutheranism spread very rapidly through Germany and Scandinavia from then on. Now the “church”, having refused to clean up any of this thing – the people who saw that these things were contrary to the Bible had no choice left to them but to leave the “church” and organize their own “church” which would not have these doctrinal errors. As I say, that is not what Martin Luther started out trying to do. He wanted the “church” to clean up its own mistakes and to keep all its people, but it was so not to be.

With all of the sins of the papacy and the German bishops, it was ultimately the selling of indulgences, which actually amount to the selling of temporal justice, which forced the Reformation and the split from the Roman Church. With this, we hope to have made it clear that Johan Tetzel, while the man had a doctorate degree in theology, was little more than a whore for the establishment. If only Lutherans and other Christians today could understand this, and also perhaps notice that many prominent modern theologians are also Tetzels in our own time.

What we lack, are sufficient electors of Saxony.

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