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bitter prejudice on his journey to Italy, so the extremely
worldly and regrettable action of the Curia, and episcopal
toleration of actual abuses in the promulgation of the
Indulgence, supplied him with welcome matter for his

^ See below, ix. 2.

2 A. Schulte, " Die Fugger in Rom 1495-1523," 2 vols., Leipzig,
1904. W. Schors, " Die Mainzer Erzbisohofswahl und der Ablass vom
Jahre 1514," in the Innsbruck " Zeitschrift fur kath. Theol.," 31, 190|7,
pp. 267-302. For details on this matter see the next section.


charges aiid with a deceitful pretext for the seducing of
countless souls.

Luther learned many discreditable particulars con-
cerning the arrangement arrived at between Rome and
Mayence for the preaching of the Indulgence and the use to
which half of the spoils was to be applied. What provoked
Luther and many others was not only the abuses which
prevailed in the use of Indulgences, about which there was
much grumbling, and the constantly recurring collections
which were a burden both to the rulers and their people, but
also the tales current regarding the behaviour of the monk
acting as Indulgence-preacher. Tetzel did not exactly
shine as an example of virtue, although the charges against
his earlier life are as baseless as the reproach of gross ignor-
ance. He was, as impartial historians have established,
forward and audacious and given to exaggeration. In his
sermons, mainly owing to his popular style of address, he
erred by using expressions only to be styled as strained and
ill-considered. He even employed phrases of a repulsive
nature in his attempts to extol the power of the Indulgence
preached by him. In addition to this, in explaining how
the Indulgence might be applied to the departed, he made
his own the wrong, exaggerated and quite unauthorised
opinions of certain isolated theologians, putting them on an
equal footing with the real teaching of the Church. Such
private opinions, it is true, had also found their way into
some of the official instructions on Indulgences. At any
rate, Tetzel, with misplaced zeal, mingled what was true
with what was false or uncertain. The great concourse of
peojjle who gathered to hear the celebrated preacher also
led to many disorders, more particularly when, as was the
case at Annaberg, the occasion of the yearly fair was turned
to account in order to publish the Indulgence.

Shortly after the sermon already spoken of Luther
preached again at Wittenberg on the Indulgence and its
abuses, but without expressly referring to Tetzel. Another
sermon on the same subject was delivered at the Castle in
the presence of the Elector on the occasion of the exposition
of the rich collection of relics belonging to the Castle Church.
He still openly admitted the value of Indulgences, but
more and more he was disposed to find fault with the formal-
ism into which the system had degenerated. Later he


declared that he had begun, already in 1516, " to dispute
about Indulgences and to write against the Pope " ; only the
first part of this clause is, however, true, and that only in a
certain sense. He had as yet written nothing against the
Primacy or against Indulgences as such. There is also no
foundation for the statement that, as soon as he heard
from Staupitz (at Grimma) of Tetzel's behaviour, he
exclaimed : " Please God, I will knock a hole in his drum."

It was on the question of Indulgences that the wider
controversy around his new doctrines, which were now
complete, was to commence. In October, 1517, he decided
to make a public attack on Tetzel. This he did when, on
the Eve of All Saints, October 31, 1517, he nailed up his 95
theses on Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church at
Wittenberg. As All Saints was the Titular Feast of the
Church 1 and as, on that day, numbers would be flocking
thither to celebrate the festival, he counted on securing
wide publicity for his theses. As a matter of fact, by
this means, and thanks to the efforts of Luther and his
friends, the printed theses were soon known everywhere.
Their very boldness and impudence also contributed to
their popularity. They were soon being read throughout
Germany, exciting general surprise and even admiration of
the Monk's language. The number of those who sincerely
applauded the theses, or who, at any rate, approved of the
greater part of their contents, was much greater than has
been generally believed.

The theses, of course, contained things which were
incomprehensible to non-theologians, but the very tone in
which they were written showed all the stupendous im-
portance of the step which had been taken. The more
timid were pacified by an introductory explanation of the
author embodied in the paper containing the theses, which
stated that the propositions did not determine anything
definite, but that " out of love and zeal for the ascertaining
of the truth " a public Disputation on these questions
would be held by Luther at Wittenberg, and that those who
were precluded from taking a personal part in the debate
might state their objections in writing. ^

* Not the anniversary of its dedication. Cp. N. Muller in the
" Arohiv filr Eeformationsgesch.," (6), 1909, p. 184, n. 4.

" " Luthers Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 529. For the theses see also,
Erl. ed., " 0pp. Lat. var.," 1, p. 285 seq.


If we examine the theses more closely and watch the
behaviour of their author after they were made public, there
appears to be no doubt that they were considered by him as
settled beforehand and not merely as tentative propositions.
Many of them, from the theological point of view, go far
beyond a mere opposition to the abuse of Indulgences.
Luther, stimulated by contradiction, had to some extent
altered his previous views on the nature of Indulgences, and
brought them more into touch with the fundamental prin-
ciples of his erroneous theology.

A practical renunciation of the doctrine of Indulgences, as
it had been held up to that time, is to be found in the
theses, where Luther states that Indulgences have no value
in God's sight, but are merely to be regarded as the re-
mission by the Church of the canonical punishment (theses
5, 20, 21, etc.). This destroys the theological meaning of
Indulgences, for they had always been considered as a
remission of the temporal punishment of sin, but as a
remission which held good before the Divine Judgment-
seat. ^ In some of the theses (58, 60) Luther likewise
attacks the generally accepted teaching with regard to the
Church's treasury of grace, on which Indulgences are based.
Erroneous views concerning the state of purgation of the
departed occur in some of the propositions (18, 19, 29).
Others appear to contain what is theologically incorrect,
and connected with his opinion regarding grace and justifica-
tion ; this opinion is not, however, clearly set forth in the
list of theses.

Many of the statements are mere irritating, insulting and
cynical observations on Indulgences in general, no distinction
being made between what was good and what was perverted.
Thus, for instance, thesis 66 declares the " treasures of
Indulgences " to be simply nets " in which the wealth of
mankind is caught." Others again scoff and mock at the
authority of the Church, as, for example, thesis 86. " Why
does not the Pope build the Basilica of St. Peter with his
own money and not with that of the poverty-stricken
faithful, seeing that he possesses to-day greater riches than
the most wealthy Croesus ? "

In order that a certain echo of the author's mystical

• Cp. Nos. 19, 20 and 21 of the 41 propositions of Luther condemned
in 1520.


Theologia Crucis may not be wanting even in this public
document, the last two theses contain a protest against the
formalism of the system of Indulgences : " Let Christians
be exhorted to follow Christ, their Head, through suffering
and through the pains of death and hell," " in order the
better to reach heaven they should put their trust in much
tribulation rather than in the certainty of peace."

The 95 theses spread rapidly through Germany, adding
dangerously to the already widespread dissatisfaction with
the Church and the Pope.

To Scultetus, Bishop of Brandenburg, within whose jurisdic-
tion Wittenberg lay, and to others, too, Luther continued
to explain the matter as though the theses were merely
intended to serve as the basis for a useful Disputation,^
which, however, as a matter of fact, never took place. He
assured the chief pastor of Brandenburg of his absolute
submission and his readiness to follow the Catholic Church in
everything. At the same time, however, he stated quite
clearly that, in his opinion, nothing could be advanced
against his theses either from Holy Scripture, Catholic
doctrine or canon law, with the exception of the utterances
" of some few canonists, who spoke without proofs, and of
some of the scholastic Doctors who cherished similar views,
but who also were unable to demonstrate anything " ; it
was not, of course, for him to give any decision, but he
might surely be permitted to open a discussion by means
of the Disputation.

Relying on his skill at debate, he looked forward to a
victory over Tetzel and to an opening for commencing the
struggle against the abuses connected with the preaching of
the Indulgence. Here we may recall the words of his pupil
Oldecop, already quoted before : "He spoke in unmeasured
terms against it [i.e. Indulgence-preaching], with great
impetuosity and audacity." He started the controversy,
being, says Oldecop, " by nature proud and audacious."^

Carried away by the astounding and ever-growing
applause of those who were otherwise loyal to the Church,
and deaf to the warnings and admonitions given him,
Luther launched among the people a German work entitled

1 Letter to Bishop Hieronymus Scultetus of May 22, 1518 (?),
" Briefweohsel," 1, p. 150 : " Inter quad sunt de quibus dubito, nonnulla
ignoro, aliqua et nego." P. 151 : " Disputo non asse.ro" etc.

2 " Chronik," ed. K. Euling, p. 48 f. Cp. above, p. 280.


"A Sermon on Indulgences and Grace," which contains
statements yet more vehement and seditious. Almost at
the same time, and in the greatest haste, he put on paper the
weighty " Resolutions " on his theses, written in Latin
for the benefit of the more learned. The latter appeared in
print in the spring of 1518.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of 1518, the Archbishop of
Mayence had forwarded to Rome an account of the move-
ment which had been started and of the Monk's theses.
As a result of this step the Pope, Leo X, on February 3,
instructed P. Gabriele della Volta, Vicar to the General of
the Augustinians, to seek to turn Luther aside from his
erroneous views by letter and by the admonitions of honest
and learned men ; delay might fan the spark into a flame
which it might be impossible to extinguish.'^

There is no doubt that instructions to this effect were
despatched by Volta to Staupitz, and probably other
measures were contemplated at the approaching Chapter of
the German Augustinian Congregation at Heidelberg ; the
calming of the storm was a duty incumbent primarily on
the Order itself, and the Holy See accordingly decided ±o
act through Luther's immediate superiors. Unfortunately,
nothing whatever is known of any steps taken by the Order
at this early stage. At the Heidelberg Chapter, which was
held towards the end of April (above, p. 315) the election of
a new Vicar-General of the Congregation to which Luther
belonged had to take place ; a new Rural Vicar had also to
be elected in place of Luther, as the latter had now com-
pleted his term of office. It seems plain that Staupitz and
the large party who favoured Luther wished to act as gently
as possibfe and not to interfere in the movement beyond
making the necessary change in the person of the Rural

After Luther had received the summons to Heidelberg,
the Elector wrote to Staupitz a letter dated Friday in

^ Cp. Pastor, "History of the Popes," volume vii., English trans-
lation, p. 361. Kalkoff, " Forschungen zu Luthers romischem Prozess,"'
Rom., 1905, p. 44 f., and " Zu Luthers romischem Prozess : Das
Verfahren des Erzbischofs v. Mainz gegen Luther," in " Zeitschrift
fur Kirohengesch.," 31, 1910, pp. 48-65. Cp. ibid., p. 368 ff., on the
Dominicans. Both authors should be consulted for the subsequent
history of Rome's intervention. The Papal letter in Bembi, EpiatbJ.ce
Lemiis X, 1, 16, n. 18.


Easter week, with a request to see that Luther, on account
of his lectures, " shall return here at the very earliest and not
be delayed or detained." ^ We cannot infer from this or
from the Elector's letter of safe conduct for Luther himself,
that measures against him were anticipated at the Chapter.
These documents merely prove the exceptional favour
which Luther enjoyed with the reigning Prince.

Luther started from Wittenberg on April 11. Being a monk
he had to make the journey on foot as far as Wtirzburg ;
after having been hospitably entertained by the Bishop,
Lorenz von Bibra, who was very well disposed towards him,
he proceeded to Heidelberg by coach, together with Johann
Lang and some other monks. The Chapter re-elected
Staupitz and made Johann Lang Rural Vicar in Luther's
stead, a choice which, as already hinted, expressed approval
rather than disapproval of what Luther had done. It was
also very significant of the position adopted by the Augus-
tinian Congregation, that Luther should have been per-
mitted to preside at the Heidelberg Disputation. He
advanced the theses, which have already been discussed
(above, p. 317), containing the denial of free will, i.e. the
most important element of his new teaching, and entrusted
their defence to Master Leonard Beyer, an Augustinian of
Wittenberg, who conducted the debate in the presence of the
assembled Chapter and professors of Heidelberg University,
who had also been invited. It is remarkable that the
question of Indulgences, which was so greatly agitating
the minds of all, was not touched upon in the Disputation.
Perhaps it was thought better, from motives of prudence,
to avoid this subject altogether at Heidelberg.

At the beginning of May Luther returned to Wittenberg
by way of Wiirzburg and Erfurt. He took advantage of his
stay at Dresden to preach a sermon before Duke George
and his Court on July 25, 1518. In this sermon he spoke
in such a way of " the true understanding of the Word of
God," of the " Grace of Christ and eternal Predestination,"
and of the overcoming of the " Fear of God," that the Duke,
who was a staunch adherent of the Church, was much
displeased, and often declared afterwards that such teaching
only made men presumptuous. The account of the sermon
and of Duke George's opinion is first found in the" Origines
^ Kolde, " Die deutsohe Augustinerkongregation," p. 313.


SaxoniccB " i of George Fabricius, who died in 1571. But
Luther himself refers to the opposition excited in several
quarters by a controversial sermon he preached there,
and remarks, cynically : such fault-finders only speak
from an idle desire for praise ; these gossips want everything
and are able to do nothing, they are a " serpent's brood,"
" masked faces " whom I despise.^

On his return to Wittenberg he devoted himself to finishing
the Resolutions on the Indulgence theses. On August 21
he sent the first printed copy to Spalatin.

These Latin Resolutiones disputationis de virtute indul-
gentiarum, which dealt exclusively with the defence of the
95 theses, were more hostile in tone towards the whole
system of Indulgences than any of his previous utterances.
They show Luther's fiery temper and his state of irritation
even more plainly than the theses themselves. In them his
new teaching on faith and grace was for the first time
launched on the public in unmistakable outline. Even
abroad the learned were drawn into the movement by the
Latin publication which brought the matter within their

Together with his Resolutions, Luther published two
letters, very submissive in tone, addressed, one to the Bishop
of Brandenburg, as Ordinary of Wittenberg, and the other
to Pope Leo X. To the Pope he said that he had ventured
to address himself to him because he had learned that some
persons at Rome were attempting to blacken his reputation,
as though he were infringing the power of the Keys of
the successor of St. Peter. He explained the reason of the
controversy from his own point of view and declared : "I
cannot recant." In the same letter, however, he asserts
his readiness to listen to Leo's voice " as to the Voice of
Christ, who presides in him and speaks through him " ; one
thing only he asks, viz. that the Pope will deal with him just

1 " Origines illustr. stirpis SaxoniccB I. 7," lense, 1597, p. 859.
Seckendorf, in his " Comment, de Lutheranismo," relates the same
from Fabriciiis. Both, however, make the mistake of placing the
event a year too early. N. Paulus, in the " Histor.-polit. Blatter," 137,
1996, p. 51 f., doubts the credibility of the story, because Fabricius is
devoid of the critical spirit. It is not clear whether Luther refers to
some other sermon.

2 To Spalatin, January 14, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 349. For
further particulars with regard to the Dresden visit, which has been
so much misrepresented, see below, ix. 4.


as he pleases. " Enliven me, kill me, call me back, confirm
me, reject me, just as it pleases you ! " ^ In the Resolutions,
on the other hand, we read : "It makes no impression on
me what pleases or does not please the Pope. He is a man
like other men. There have been many Popes to whom not
only errors and vices, but even enormities (monstra) were
pleasing. I attend to the Pope as Pope, i.e. as he speaks
in the laws of the Church, or when he decides in accordance
with them, or with a Council, but not when he speaks out of
his own head." ^

At a later date he did not make any secret of the weakness
of so ambiguous a position. On one occasion in later years
when looking back upon the commencement of the struggle,
he said he had begun the controversj^ "as an unreflecting
and stupid Papist," that he had been drawn into the
business by " his own foolishness," that his " weakness and
inconsequence " had been deplorably exhibited, seeing that
he then still worshipped the Pope ; before this Lord of
Heaven and Earth, he writes, everything still trembled,
and he, the little monk, more like a corpse than a man, had
only dared to advance with lamentable uncertainty and

In the same passage, he says : " I was certainly not glad and
confident at the outset." " What my heart sufi'ered in the
first and second years, how I lay on the ground, yea, almost
despaired, of that they [my rivals, the fanatics] know
nothing, though they were happy to fall upon the Pope after
he had been severely wounded [by me]. They have sought
to take this honour to themselves, and, for all I care, they
are welcome to it." " They are ignorant of the Cross and of
Satan " ; but I only attained " to strength and wisdom
through death agonies and combats."

While Luther was superintending the printing of the
Resolutions at Wittenberg he was at the same time engaged
on other works.

Johann Eck had replied to his Indulgence theses by the
so-called " Obelisci," which Luther met with the " Aster-
isci," and as Tetzel, for his part, had issued a refutation of
the sermon on Indulgence and Grace, Luther brought out a

1 May 30, 1518 (?), " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 200 f. Weim, ed., 1,
p. 527 ff.

2 " 0pp. Lat. var.," 2, p. 220. Weim. ed., p. 582, Concl. 26.

5 " 0pp. Lat. var.," 4, p. 328 seg., in a Preface to his Disputations.


work in reply, entitled " Freedom of the Sermon on
Indulgence and Grace."

Fearing that the Pope would excommunicate him, Luther
preached a sermon to the inhabitants of Wittenberg in the
early summer of 1518, possibly on May 16, on the power of
excommunication ; what he there put forth excited wide-
spread comment and irritation. This sermon he issued in
print in August, but in an amended form. In it he says
excommunication is invalid in the ease of one who honestly
asserts the truth ; nevertheless, it must be obeyed. He
blames the all too frequent use of excommunication, as
many good Churchmen had done before him. It had been
recognised and taught from Patristic times that unjust
excommunication did not deprive the excommunicate of
a part in the inward life of the Church {anima ecclesice).
This Luther emphasises for his own party purposes, but
without as yet setting up " a new view of the nature of the

He says, in a letter to his elderly friend Staupitz, that,
owing to the action of his adversaries, " a new flame " would
surely be kindled by this sermon, though he had extolled the
power of the Pope in it, as was fitting ; he declares that he
is the persecuted party ; " but Christ still lives and reigns
yesterday, to-day and for ever. My conscience tells me I
have taught the truth ; but it is just this which is hated
whenever its name is mentioned. Pray for me that I may
not rejoice overmuch nor be over-confident in myself in this
trouble." He trusts to triumph, by printing the sermon
referred to, over all those who had listened to.it with jealousy,
and maliciously misrepresented it. Yet his mood is by no
means one of unmixed joy ; he hints in the same letter to
Staupitz at mysterious interior sufferings which weigh upon
him " incomparably more heavily," so he says, than the
fear of any measures Rome may take. At the same time
he is quite carried away by the idea that he must, at any
cost, fight against the contempt which the Romanists are
heaping upon the Kingdom of Christ.^

Meanwhile, in March, 1518, complaints had again been

carried to Rome by some Dominicans. Towards the middle

of June fresh' official steps were taken by Rome against

Luther's person, this time without the intervention of the

1 Sept. 1, 1518, " Briefwechsel," 1, p. 223.


Order. The course of these proceedings has been made
plain by recent research. The Papal Procurator Fiscal,
Mario de Perusco, raised a formal charge against the monk
on the suspicion of spreading heresy. By order of the Pope,
the preliminary examination was conducted by the Bishop
of Ascoli, Girolamo Ghinucci, as Auditor-General for suits
in the Apostolic Camera, while Silvester Mazzolini of Prierio
(Prierias), the Magister S. Palatii, who, like all Mayors of the
Apostolic Palace, belonged to the Dominican Order, was
entrusted with the task of penning a learned opinion on the
questions involved.

As Prierias had already made a study of the Indulgence
theses, he, as he himself says, took only three days to draw
up the opinion, which, moreover, he did not intend to stand
as an actual theological refutation. It was at once printed,
being entitled " In prcesumptuosas M. Lutheri conclusiones
de pptestate papce dialogus." The work was not free from
exaggerations and gratuitous insults.

At the beginning of July, 1518, Luther was summoned to
appear within sixty days at Rome to stand his trial.
Ghinucci and Prierias sent the summons to Cardinal Cajetan,
who was then stopping at Augsburg, in order that he might
forward it to the Wittenberg Professor. Prierias's pamphlet
accompanied it, and Luther received both together on
August 7. He said at a later date in his Table-Talk, alluding
to the work of the Mayor of the Apostolic Palace, that the
despatch from Rome had stirred his blood to the utmost, as
he had then realised that the matter was deadly earnest,
since Rome was inexorable.

The very next day, with many contemptuous and dis-
affected remarks on the citation, he set about inducing the
Elector to use his influence with the Holy See in order that
judges might be appointed to try the case in Germany ; he
hoped to be thereby spared the dreaded journey to Rome.
It was at that time that he published the sermon on excom-
munication referred to above. On the day following the
receipt of the summons he set to work on a pamphlet in
reply to the Dialogus of Prierias, which appeared at the
end of August. 1 This Latin Responsio he finished in two
days, thus beating Prierias, as he triumphantly informs
him. It is arrogant and insulting in tone, vindicates all the
1 " Werke," Weim. ed., 1, p. 647 fi.


theses one by one, and asserts some of the errors contained
in them in still stronger terms than before. He does not

Online LibraryHartmann GrisarLuther → online text (page 39 of 47)