- Christogenea Saturdays
Martin Luther In Life and Death, Part 7: Luther and the Humanists.
Here we will continue our presentation of Martin Luther in Life and Death, and we are still in the portion of this endeavor which concerns Luther's life. This is the 7th installment of this series, and we hope to eventually present an understanding of the events relating to the Reformation up to the time of the Thirty Years' War. I do not know exactly why this took so long to get back to, because tonight is a culmination of what we presented over the first 6 segments, where the reason for presenting everything which we did in those segments should become manifest.
When we last discussed the life of Martin Luther, we talked at length about the indulgence dispute, and then about exchanges of letters which Luther had with certain of the Hussites, the followers of Jan Huss in Bohemia who had successfully broken away from the Roman Catholic Church. We saw that in 1519 Luther had been criticizing the Hussites for breaking from the Roman Catholic Church, but then in 1520 he began commending them. Luther's sudden admiration for the Hussites whom he had formerly criticized corresponds to his own change-of-heart and ambitions towards the Romish Church.
We also noticed that Luther had revealed his own humanistic beliefs, where in his letters he had reduced the nature of the Messiah, who was God in the flesh, to a mere man that had only “introduced new ideas and opinions”, as Luther called the Gospel. 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 he was mischaracterizing the nature of the Jews, who were the eternal enemies of Christ. Now here we hope to demonstrate that Luther's humanism and an attraction to Luther by the humanists in Germany would be the key to his successful break from the Roman Catholic Church and the founding of his own church, as his fellow humanists were his most important allies.
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.
Because it has been so long, and because we feel that understanding the Reformation is an important matter to Identity Christians, we will repeat a few of the things we had already presented in part 6 of this series, but our remarks shall be in a somewhat different context. We will pick up our story from page 96 of our history. Where the historian is referring to the dispute over indulgences:
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.
While Identity Christians would agree with Luther's new theory on the true nature of the church in some degree, it was not at all new. Rather, among the Reformers it first belonged to John Wycliffe, over a hundred years before Luther. However the events of Luther's life and the development of his doctrines show that Luther was not well-grounded in Scripture. It is quite obvious that Luther developed new theories and doctrines which satisfied his own circumstances as he debated his positions on other newly-developed doctrines. Our history continues:
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.
Depictions of the Pope as anti-Christ date back to at least the time of Pope Alexander VI, whose real name was Borgia, in the late 15th century. It is, of course, true that the Roman Catholic Church was never truly Christian. The Church never properly taught Scripture. But aside from Luther's impious arrogance, his approach was also backwards. Rather than simply starting with Roman Catholicism and making corrections, he should have wiped the slate clean and started with the Gospels and the apostles of Christ. For this reason, the resulting Lutheran Church was not at all a far departure from the Roman Catholic, and Luther held onto many Roman Catholic errors, as we shall see.
The Pope at this point in Luther's life was Leo X, whose real name was Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici. We have every reason to suspect that the de' Medicis were crypto-Jews themselves, although I do not know if that can be proven definitively. This Pope sat over the Fifth Lateran Council, the last major Church council before the Reformation. During the council, Pope de' Medici issued a papal bull sanctioning the Monti di pietà, which were roughly the equivalents of church-operated pawn shops. There was also a papal bull barring the publication of ay book without consent of the local bishop, and another barring any preacher from assailing the character of any bishop or others in authority. These and other bulls issued during the Fifth Lateran Council put the Roman Catholic Church and its officials above criticism, barred even the publication of Bibles, and condoned the practice of usury among Christians for the first time in nearly a thousand years. Returning to page 97 of our history:
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 a reference 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 Turks were still a very serious threat to Christendom in Luther's day, and remained a serious threat through the end of the 18th century. The Turks were always on the advance, and had conquered much of Serbia by 1459, only 60 years prior to this time.] ‘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, 1518: ‘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 who are certainly not to be worshipped. There were other serious Roman Church errors which Luther had also retained in his later catechism. But on the other hand, he saw the Pope as the Antichrist seated in the temple of God, as he also inferred by alluding to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 in reference to the Pope. Continuing from page 99 of our history:
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.
Between 1519 and 1520 Martin Luther had taken a complete about-face, and began to embrace the Hussites whom he had formerly condemned. Doing this he begins to advocate that it is acceptable for Christians to break from the Roman Catholic Church, and that it is even noble and Godly to do so. But Luther was not the innovator. That distinction belongs first to the Englishman John Wycliffe, and then even more so to the Czech reformer Jan Huss, who acted on Wycliffe's scholarship.
It was inevitable, that good men reading the Word of God would eventually stand up to the evils of the Roman Catholic Church, and John Wycliffe was the first of these to take such a significant stand. While he did not garner sufficient support for a successful English reformation before his own untimely sickness and death, it was not before he had the opportunity to write many books, create his own translation of the Bible, and see the founding of an early Protestant movement called the Lollards who were advocates of his work. Wycliffe was preaching against indulgences and many of the other evils of the Romans Catholic clergy over a century before Martin Luther was even born. While the Reformation in England had to wait another 150 years and even then it had happened for all the wrong reasons, the seeds which were sown by Wycliffe had sprouted in Bohemia.
Jan Huss, a Czech priest and professor at a university in Prague, had translated some of Wycliffe's writings into the Czech language, and through his preaching the first real Protestant reformation took place in Bohemia. While Hus himself was burned at the stake in 1415 for his teaching by the Catholic Church, his students, called Hussites, continued to rebel against Roman Catholic rule and from 1420 to 1431 they prevailed over five consecutive papal military crusades in what became known as the Hussite Wars. By the time of Martin Luther's recognition of Jan Huss, at least ninety percent of the inhabitants of Bohemia were non-Catholic and were following the teachings of Hus and his successors.
With this we can see that Martin Luther was a late-comer to the Reformation, and that even he did not accept Jan Huss and his followers until he saw that the obstinacy of the Roman Catholic Church had left him little choice. Continuing from page 100 of our history:
As Luther maintained that the Gospel truth had been revealed to him by God, and that he was the divinely appointed means for proclaiming it anew to the people, the question arose by what means the Papal Chair, as the seat of Antichrist, was to be fought against, and the true Gospel to acquire dominion over the earth.
The Hussites had spread their evangel with ﬁre and sword, and Luther also in the ﬁrst years, after he had acknowledged himself a Hussite, had no scruples about advising recourse to violent measures. ‘I implore you,’ he wrote to Spalatin in February 1520, ‘if you rightly understand the Gospel, do not imagine that its cause can be furthered without tumult, distress, and uproar. You cannot make a “pen” out of a “sword,” or “peace” out of “war." The Word of God is a sword, is warfare, is destruction, is wrath, is spoiling, is an adder's tongue, and, as Amos says, like the lion in the footpath and the bear in the forest.’
When Luther wrote these words he had already gained over to his evangel a powerful confederacy, on the strength of which he deﬁed all the ‘bans, threats, and spectres of his enemies.'
Everything which we have already presented in the first six parts of this presentation on the life of Martin Luther is relative to what we are about to present here.
In the earlier portions of this presentation, we have already discussed at length how Luther had fallen in with many of the noted German humanists while he was a young student at the university of Erfurt, where among his closest friends was the future noted humanist and so-called 'poet' called Crotus Rubianus. We saw that when Luther had decided to enter the monastery after a personal epiphany, many of his humanist friends had been shocked at his sudden piety and his turn to Christianity.
We had also discussed at length the humanism of the Catholic priest Erasmus, and how Erasmus had used his own name, position and notoriety to encourage and cultivate many of the young German humanists from inside of the Church itself. Another Catholic priest turned impious pagan humanist was Mutian, who was a Catholic prebendary and professor at Erfurt and who became the leader of the rather large group of humanists there. Mutian's group of humanists came to the very vocal and active support of Johann Reuchlin in the Reuchlin Controversy, which we had also discussed here at length.
We had also seen illustrated that the objectives of these humanists was to replace Christianity with immoral and pagan humanism within the church itself, and that they also promoted lasciviousness and all forms of immorality including even the promotion of perverted forms of sexual awareness among children.
In the meantime, humanists such as Ulrich von Hutten were advocating that the humanists infiltrate the courts of the German bishops, and Hutten himself took the lead in this endeavor, where he had ingratiated and gained the favor of the archbishop Albrecht of Mainz. But Erasmus and Albrecht had already been flattering and supporting one another, and Erasmus had assisted Hutten in his endeavors. We had also seen that Albrecht lived a splendid lifestyle at the expense of common Germans, while the luxuries of his court were enjoyed by all sorts of flatterers and impious humanists. Furthermore, we had seen that the court of the de Medici pope in Rome was also saturated with humanists, and together with the German bishops were living rather well off of the indulgence monies collected from the common people. We then saw from Hutten's own writings that he was an immoral cretin, but that Erasmus was promoting him as a genius.
In addition to all of that, we discussed the Reuchlin Controversy at length. Reuchlin was a German lawyer and a student of the Cabala who advocated the preservation and maintenance of the books of the Talmud and other Jewish writings in the hands of the Jews at a time when traditional Catholic theologians were promoting the removal and destruction of those books. The German humanists, led by Mutian, Crotus Rubianus and von Hutten, campaigned heavily in favor of Reuchlin and the Jews, attacking the positions and the character of the traditional German Catholic theologians unmercifully.
It is evident that the German humanists hated the Church, but not simply because they saw the Pope as an anti-Christ or a tyrant like Luther did. Rather, they hated Christian morality and ethics and sought to replace them with immorality and hedonism as they celebrated such Roman perverts as Ovid and Martial. Erasmus, Mutian, Hutten and Rubianus were all supporters of Reuchlin and the preservation of the writings of the Jews in Jewish hands in Germany. While our historian does not discuss the Jews themselves at any great length in relation to this controversy, it is clear that the German humanists all sided with the Jews against traditional German theologians. Their position was absolutely contrary to most Church Reformers and papal critics of the time, who portrayed the Jews as devils and evil beasts.
We had observed how the German humanists despised all things German, and how many of them took it upon themselves to lay aside their German names and adopt Latin or Greek names. We see this in the name of Crotus Rubianus and many others of the German humanists. With this practice, it becomes difficult to tell just how many of these German humanists were really Germans, and whether any of them may actually have been Jews. Something else which is not entirely clear is whether the German humanists were sincere in their support of Reuchlin, or if they merely selected his cause as a vehicle in their own endeavor to undermine the authority of the church. In any case, the German humanists displayed a clear lack of morals.
We had previously commented that Luther wanted to reform the Church, and sought to keep it a wholly Christian church, which is true. Therefore Luther's reform was a positive reform in stark contrast to that which was sought by the German humanists. However Luther was nevertheless infected with at least some humanist ideas, and he evidently also lacked moral and intellectual integrity in at least some degree, which becomes evident as we see Luther coddle and flatter the ungodly humanists of his time.
With all of this in mind, we again continue from page 100 of our history:
Luther’s first confederates were the humanists. In their struggle against scholastic learning and ecclesiastical authority the latter welcomed this audacious reformer, and entered the lists for him in the same manner as they had previously done for Reuchlin.
‘With their lips and their pens,’ wrote Cochlaeus, ‘the humanists fought unweariedly for Luther, and disposed the hearts of the laity towards his cause. They attacked the prelates and theologians with all manner of abusive and derisive language, accused them of covetousness, pride, envy, ignorance, and coarseness, and said that they only persecuted the innocent Luther because he was more learned than themselves, and because he had sufﬁcient candour to speak out the truth’ in opposition to the deceit and falsehood of hypocrites. As these humanists, besides being shrewd and gifted men, could also use both spoken and written language with eloquence and skill, it was an easy matter for them to excite pity and regard for Luther among the laity, and to make out that for the sake of truth and justice he was persecuted by a set of envious, grasping, unlearned clergy, who, living themselves in idleness and debauchery, endeavoured to get money out of the poor silly people by working on their superstitions. Luther’s friendship with Philip Melanchthon, who already in early years had become famous as a humanist all over Germany, served to strengthen the favourable attitude of the ‘poets’ towards the ‘Wittenberg herald of new truth.’
Here it must be noted that Philip Melanchthon was the grandson of Johann Reuchlin's sister. Melanchthon is said to have spent a good part of his life under the guidance and tutelage of Reuchlin, who had died in 1522. From 1521 Melanchthon became a defender of Luther, and eventually his collaborator and partner in the founding of the Lutheran Church.
Melanchthon was 14 years younger than Luther, and died 14 years after Luther had died. So the second most important figure in the Lutheran Reformation was a famous humanist in his own right, and the close nephew of a man who spent his life studying and defending the Talmud and the Cabala!
Continuing from page 101:
Luther himself had tried at a fairly early date to ingratiate himself with the humanist confederacy, and had addressed his homage in ﬂattering letters to its leaders, Mutian, Reuchlin, and Erasmus. To Mutian, ‘that most learned man, of most exquisite culture,’ he spoke of him- self as a ‘barbarian who had always been accustomed to the cackling of geese,’ and begged for the favour of his friendship. In a letter to Reuchlin on December 14, 1518, he called himself Reuchlin’s successor, who, like him, was suffering persecution, but whose courage was undaunted; thanks to Reuchlin, Germany had begun to breathe again after long centuries during which it had been not simply crushed but almost annihilated. ‘The beginnings of better knowledge,’ he wrote to Reuchlin, ‘could only come through a man endowed with no small portion of grace.’ For as God had trodden into the dust of death the greatest of all mountains, Jesus Christ, and from that dust had sprung numbers of other mountains, so Reuchlin, he wrote, would have brought forth but little fruit if he too had not similarly been slain and trampled into dust, from which dust so many defenders of the Holy Scriptures had arisen. His language towards Erasmus was even more subservient. He was ‘the ornament and hope of his age, a man after my own heart, with whom I commune daily in spirit,’ so Luther wrote on March 28, 1519; ‘for where is there any one whose inner being Erasmus does not take in at a glance, whom Erasmus does not instruct, whom Erasmus does not rule?’ ‘He himself,’ he went on, ‘during his time with the sophists had not even got so far as to be on terms of correspondence with any learned man, but now that his name had become known to Erasmus through the indulgence controversy, and that he had learnt from the preface to the new edition of the “Manual of a Christian Soldier” that Erasmus approved of his writings, he ventured to approach him and to beg for his favour.’ He subscribed himself as his most devoted admirer.
Here we must ask whether Luther had really abandoned the humanism which he became so intimately acquainted with as a young student at Erfurt. This same Erasmus had also approved of the sexually perverted writings of men like Crotus Rubianus and Ulrich von Hutten, and Luther is actively seeking his approbation. We have also established in the early segments of this presentation that Mutian was a pagan humanist and a supporter of all immorality, and Luther was seeking his approbation as well. Reuchlin was a famous scholar second only to Erasmus, but he was also a cabalist, a student of the Talmud and a defender of the Jews. We must stop short of considering him to be a Jew himself, since he was apparently born to a Christian family and had a father who was an official at a Dominican monastery. However it is clear that Luther was willing and even happy to associate himself with many of the leading pagan humanists and defenders of the Jews. It would not be for at least another 20 years that Luther would actually take up a pen against the Jews. Continuing from page 102:
Mutian, whom Luther approached ﬁrst, was also the ﬁrst among the prominent humanists who saw in Luther’s proceedings against Rome the dawn of a better future; among his circle the ‘new Hercules,’ the ‘second Paul,’ found the most ardent supporters. In satires and university lectures Erfurt humanists, such as Euricius Cordus, Justus Jonas, Eobanus Hessus, entered the lists against the ‘unholy band’ who were oppressing Luther, and it was a chief incentive to them that Erasmus, their venerated leader, had taken Luther’s cause under his protection.
The works and letters of Erasmus were to the humanists a well-spring of ever fresh enthusiasm for Luther. ‘Whoever read them,” wrote one of themselves, ‘could no longer turn aside from the great work begun by Luther.’
After the example of Luther the humanists accustomed themselves to a Biblical style of language, which soon pervaded all humanistic literature; they even became of a sudden scholars of divinity, and delivered lectures on theological subjects. Whereas formerly a colleague of Mutian’s had devoted a special lecture to the exposition of the ‘Praise of Folly,’ Eobanus Hessus, in 1519, chose the ‘Manual of a Christian Soldier’ as the subject of his discourse. Erasmus, he said, had brought the world back to the fountain of true piety, the Bible, and the yoke of superstition, hypocrisy, and degradation must now be thrown off. It was not to be tolerated that the Christian populace, the simple and unlearned masses, should be any longer deceived by foolish, deceitful trickery. Under the banner of Christ they must destroy the host of the enemy. Euricius Cordus praised Luther as the saviour and emancipator of piety, as a hero greater than Achilles. Justus Jonas saw in the whole world nothing but sin and corruption, and called for a complete breach with the past. But the most extravagant of them all was Crotus Rubianus, with whom Luther had in former years stood in close friendship at Erfurt. After having, in 1518, in the character of a genuine humanist, extolled the Italian Petrus Pomponatius, who had questioned the immortality of the soul, and having welcomed him as an associate in the work of exterminating the sophists and monks, he now began to realise how greatly his ends would be furthered by Luther’s campaign. [Petrus Pomponatius was a 16th century humanist and Aristotelian philosopher.] He at once became ‘biblically minded’ and chose ‘The sword of the Holy Scriptures’ as his new watchword. On October 16, 1519, he wrote to Luther as his ‘learned and saintly friend,’ urging him, as the chosen of the Lord, to the most reckless steps against the ‘Papal Chair, the seat of corruption, the very sight of which caused nausea.’ The stroke of lightning which had once struck Luther to the ground at Erfurt was a sign that, like a second St. Paul, he had received a special call from heaven; he must go on as he had begun, and all Germany would receive the Word of God from him with rejoicing.
So we see that the pagan humanists, who formerly called the scholiasts “barbarians” and who had always had a disdain for book learning and the study of Scripture, were all of a sudden claiming to be Bible experts in support of the cause of Luther. Earlier in this volume, our historian had said of these same men that “Germany was completely overrun with literary parasites, charlatans, and lampoonists, who made the viliﬁcation of the Church and the clergy and the monastic orders a special branch of their newly acquired ‘culture.’” That was indeed the Modus Operandi of the humanists, who failed to undermine the church in Germany during the Reuchlin Controversy, and now these chameleons have adapted to a new struggle by falling behind Martin Luther, who for them must only have been a convenient ally because these licentious and immoral men never really cared about Christianity.
Continuing from page 104 of our history:
In Lower Germany [which actually refers to northern Germany], Luther, on his ﬁrst coming forward, found the most enthusiastic supporters among the humanists, the Roman lawyers, and the patricians of Nuremberg; men like Christopher Scheurl, Hieronymus Ebner, Johann Holzschuher, Lazarus Spengler, and others vied with each other in tokens of approval. ‘Luther has become Germany‘s most illustrious man,” wrote Scheurl in the year 1518 ; ‘his name is on every one’s lips.’ ‘His friends extol him, worship him, ﬁght for him, and are ready to go through ﬁre and water for him; they kiss his writings, they call him a herald of truth, a trumpet of the gospel, a preacher of the one Christ, through whom alone the Apostle Paul speaks.’ Even Albert Dürer [the great artist most famous for his woodcuts] could scarcely ﬁnd words with which to praise Luther as a man enlightened by the Holy Ghost and a follower of the true Christian Faith, ‘who had written with clearer vision than any other man who had lived during the last hundred and forty years.’ From men like Luther, Dürer hoped for the realisation of the unity of the Christian Church, so that all unbelievers, as he said, ‘on account of our good works may turn to us of their own accord and accept the Christian Faith.’
So too Dürer’s friend Wilibald Pirkheimer was for many years a staunch supporter of Luther, [Also spelled Willibald Pirckheimer, he was a German lawyer and humanist who was also a close friend of Erasmus.] till his eyes were opened to see the sad effects of the new Gospel, the ‘evangelical’ rascalism which became so common, and the not evangelical but diabolical libertinism of so many apostates, both men and women. Pirkheimer [ostensibly before his eyes were opened to the diabolical libertinism of the new Gospel] called the scholastic philosophers wild beasts and hobgoblins, who ought to be thrashed.
In the Latin satire ‘Eccius Dedolatus,” presumably written by Pirkheimer, a dialogue in the spirit of the ‘Letters of Obscure Men,’ [an immoral treatise written primarily by Crotus Rubianus against the Dominican theologians during the Reuchlin Controversy] Eck is held up to general scorn. He is represented as a thoroughly bad man and made to say ‘that in heart he was one with Luther, for he was inspired only by the greed of gain, and that he played upon the superstition and stupidity of the people to get money out of them.’ [Eck was a one-time opponent of Luther's within the Church, and remained a Catholic afterward.] Luther had also most zealous partisans among the humanists of Augsburg, Strassburg, Schlettstadt, Basle, and Zurich. The literary clubs in these towns distributed freely among the people pamphlets, fugitive pieces, and caricatures inimical to the Church. They sent hawkers round, who went from house to house and were only allowed to sell opposition literature.
[Translator's note concerning the Latin phrase Eccius Dedolatus: Der abgeholte Eck. Dr. Charles Beard, in his Life of Luther, says of this title: ‘Recollecting that “Eck” in German means “a corner,” we may translate this “the corner planed away.”’]
The sale of Lutheran books was enormous, and side by side with them appeared thousands of leaﬂets, satires, and pasquils, which struck at all existing institutions of Church and society.
In no other period of German history did revolutionary journalism acquire such importance and such wide circulation as at that time. Crowds of adherents ﬂocked round Luther, not from any preference for his religious opinions, but, as Melanchthon explains, because they looked upon him as the restorer of liberty, under which name each one understood the removal of whatever stood in his own way, and the attainment of the particular form of happiness he individually wished for. Many of his supporters were actuated by no other motive than the love of destroying. By speech and by pen they laboured for the destruction of social order, and undermined through all classes of society all respect for the inward restraints of religion and conscience, and the outward control of the law.
So we see that the Reformation in the time of Luther was a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it gave many of the Christians of Europe the opportunity to break from the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church and the ability to study the Scriptures and the Gospel from the Word of God unhindered.
On the other hand, it opened the door for many immoral and pagan humanists to peddle their immorality apart from the restraints imposed by what they saw as the authoritarian church. They not only wanted to see church oppression come to an end, but they wanted an end to law itself.
While the humanists had certainly sided with the Jews in the past, the hand of the Jews in all of this is not entirely clear, at least in the sources which we currently have available. However those humanists to came to Luther's fight certainly seemed to be well-equipped and well-funded.
However it is also apparent that not even the humanists were in complete agreement in their motives, as we have seen that Wilibald Pirkheimer developed a disdain for Luther's new gospel because it held open the door for what he called the “diabolical libertinism” of “so many apostates, both men and women.” A perfect example of the immoral nature of those humanists who nevertheless saw an opportunity in Martin Luther was Ulrich von Hutten, which our historian now proceeds to document, from page 106 of his volume:
The most violent and at the same time the most gifted of these enemies of the existing order was Ulrich von Hutten. A man without any respect for or understanding of questions of Christian doctrine, he had from the ﬁrst, while viewing Luther’s controversy as a contemptible monkish quarrel, realised nevertheless how much it might advance his own ends. ‘Perhaps you do not yet know,’ he wrote to a friend in April 1518, ‘that at Wittenberg, in Saxony, one party has risen up against the power of the Pope, while the other party is defending papal indulgences with all its might. Monks are at the head of the combatants, and passionate, hot-headed, fanatical leaders they are, now shouting triumphantly, now wailing and lamenting. Lately they have also taken to writing. The printers have their work cut out for them.’
‘My hope is that they will mutually work each other’s ruin. When a Brother of a certain order told me a short time ago what was going on in Saxony, I answered: “Bite and devour one another, so that ye be consumed of one another.” Heaven grant that our enemies may ﬁght each other as ﬁercely as possible, and ﬁnally destroy one another in internecine strife.’ Even after the transactions of Luther with Cardinal Cajetanus, Hutten, at the end of October 1518, still viewed the matter from the same point of view; he rejoiced at the spectacle of theologians tearing each other to pieces. He, personally, he said, at about the same time, had set himself a distinct aim: amid his literary pursuits he did not intend to miss the opportunity of establishing his hereditary nobility by personal merit and deeds of prowess and adding to the fame and glory of his family; in his plans, he said, he reckoned with fortune; he could not lose anything by the venture, for he had not enough to live on as it was, but through good luck he might gain something.
He did not believe at that time that the Lutheran movement could forward his object of revolutionising political conditions in favour of the nobility. Towards the end of the year 1518 he published a pamphlet entitled the ‘Türkenrede,’ which had been written in May, in which he denounced not only the Court of Rome but also the German princes and their reciprocal robbing and plundering, burning and pillaging, and foretold an early rising of the people. While he himself, the year before, had undertaken a mission from the Elector Albrecht of Mayence to the French Court, in order to conclude an alliance with Francis I., and to promise the latter Albrecht’s vote at the election of a new Emperor, he now declared that it was a scandalous, ungerman, and treasonable plan to transfer the imperial crown to a foreigner, as though princely blood had died out in Germany. In an appendix to the ‘Türkenrede’ for ‘all free and loyal Germans’ he turned the point of his attack against Rome. Rome must take care, he said, that ‘Liberty gagged and wellnigh strangled did not suddenly break loose.’
As we had discussed earlier in this series, Ulrich von Hutten was born in 1488 a scion of a Franconian knightly family, at the castle of Steckelberg. Here he is revealed to have had ambitions based on his own sense of entitlement that were far beyond his actual merits and abilities. In any event, he was an immoral man with an incontinent lifestyle, a parasite at the court of Albrecht and an opportunist who saw in Luther a chance for achieving his own personal goals rather than any truly noble cause. Quite fittingly, he died of syphilis in 1523.