Acta et res gestae D. M. Luth. in Comitiis Principum Wormatiae. Anno 1521. 4°. Acta Lutheri in Comitiis Wormatiae ed. Pollicarius, Vitb. 1546. These and other contemporary documents are reprinted in the Jena ed. of Luther’s Opera (1557), vol. II.; in Walch’s German ed., vols. XV., 2018-2325, and XXII., 2026 sqq.; and the Erlangen-Frankf. ed. of the Opera Lat., vol. VI. (1872); Vermischte deutsche Schriften, vol. XII. (or Saemmtl. Werke, vol. LXIV., pub. 1855), pp. 366-383. Foerstemann: Neues Urkundenbuch, 1842, vol. I. Luther’s Letters to Spalatin, Cuspinianus, Lucas Cranach, Charles V., etc., see in De Wette, I. 586 sqq. Spalatin: Ann. Spalatin is also, according to Koestlin, the author of the contemporary pamphlet: Etliche wunderliche fleissige Handlung in D. M. Luther’s Sachen durch geistliche und weltliche Fuersten des Reich’s; but Brieger (in his “Zeitschrift fuer Kirchengesch.,” Gotha, 1886, p. 482 sqq.) ascribes it to Rudolph von Watzdorf.
On the Roman-Cath. side, Cochlaeus (who was present at Worms): Pallavicini (who used the letters of Aleander); and especially the letters and dispatches of Aleander, now published as follows: Johann Friedrich: Der Reichstag zu Worms im Jahr 1521. Nach den Briefen des paepstlichen Nuntius Hieronymus Aleander. In the “Abhandlungen der Bayer. Akad.,” vol. XI. Muenchen, 1870. Pietro Balan (R. Cath.): Monumenta Reform. Lutheranae ex tabulariis S. Sedis secretis. 1521-1525. Ratisb. Fasc. I., 1883. Contains Aleander’s reports from the papal archives, and is one of the first fruits of the liberal policy of Leo XIII. in opening the literary treasures of the Vatican. Theod. Brieger (Prof. of Ch. Hist. in Leipzig): Aleander und Luther, 1521. Die vervollstaendigten Aleander-Depeschen nebst Untersuchungen ueber den Wormser Reichstag. 1 Abth. Gotha, 1884 (315 pages). Gives the Aleander dispatches in Italian and Latin from a MS. in the library of Trent, and supplements and partly corrects, in the chronology, the edition of Balan.
II. Special Treatises
Boye: Luther zu Worms. Halle, 1817, 1824. Zimmer: Luther zu Worms. Heidelb. 1521. Tuzschmann: Luther in Worms. Darmstadt, 1860. Soldan: Der Reichstag zu Worms. Worms, 1863. Steitz: Die Melanchthon- und Luther-Herbergen zu Frankfurt-a.-M. Frankf., 1861. Contains the reports of the Frankfurt delegate Fuerstenberg, and other documents. Hennes (R. Cath.): M. Luther’s Aufenthalt in Worms. Mainz, 1868. Waltz: Der Wormser Reichstag und seine Beziehungen zur reformator. Bewegung, in the “Forschungen zur deutschen Gesch.” Goettingen, 1868, VIII. pp. 21-44. Dan. Schenkel: Luther in Worms. Elberfeld, 1870. Jul. Koestlin: Luther’s Rede in Worms am 18. April, 1521. Halle, 1874 (the best on Luther’s famous declaration). Maurenbrecher: Der Wormser Reichstag von 1521, in his “Studien und Skizzen zur Gesch. der Reform. Zeit,” Leipzig, 1874 (pp. 241-275); also in his Gesch. der kathol. Reformation, Noerdlingen, 1880, vol. I., pp. 181-201. Karl Jansen (not to be confounded with the Rom.-Cath. Janssen): Aleander am Reichstage zu Worms, 1521. Kiel, 1883 (72 pages). Corrects Friedrich’s text of Aleander’s letters. Th. Kolde: Luther und der Reichstag zu Worms. 2d ed. Halle, 1883. Brieger: Neue Mittheilungen ueber L. in Worms. Program to the Luther jubilee, Marburg, 1883 (a critique of Balan’s Monumenta). Kalkoff: Germ. transl. of the Aleander Dispatches, Halle, 1886. Elter: Luther u. der Wormser Reichstag. Bonn, 1886.
III. Ranke, I. 311-343. Gieseler, IV. 56-58 (Am. ed.). Merle D’aub., bk. VII. chs. I. -XI. Hagenbach, III. 103-109. G. P. Fisher, pp. 108-111. Koestlin, chs. XVII. and XVIII. (I. 411-466). Kolde, I. 325 sqq. Janssen (R. Cath.), II. 131-166. G. Weber: Das Zeitalter der Reformation (vol. X. of his Weltgeschichte), Leipzig, 1886, pp. 162-178. Baumgarten: Gesch. Karls V. Leipzig, l885, vol. I. 379-460.
The Diet of Worms
On the 28th of January, 1521, Charles V. opened his first Diet at Worms. This was a free imperial city on the left bank of the Rhine, in the present grand-duchy of Hesse. It is famous in German song as the scene of the Niebelungenlied, which opens with King Günther of Worms and his sister Chriemhild, the world’s wonder for grace and beauty. It is equally famous in ecclesiastical history for “the Concordat of Worms,” which brought to an end the long contest between the Emperor and the Pope about investiture (Sept. 23, 1122). But its greatest fame the city acquired by Luther’s heroic stand on the word of God and the rights of conscience, which made the Diet of 1521 one of the most important in the history of German Diets. After that event two conferences of Protestant and Roman-Catholic leaders were held in Worms, to heal the breach of the Reformation, — one in 1541, and one in 1557; but both failed of their object. In 1868 (June 25) a splendid monument to Luther and his fellow-laborers by Rietschel was erected at Worms, and dedicated with great national enthusiasm.
The religious question threw all the political and financial questions into the background, and absorbed the attention of the public mind.
At the very beginning of the Diet a new papal brief called upon the Emperor to give, by an imperial edict, legal force to the bull of January 3, by which Luther was finally excommunicated, and his books condemned to the flames. The Pope urged him to prove his zeal for the unity of the Church. God had girded him with supreme earthly power, that he might use it against heretics who were much worse than infidels. On Maundy Thursday, March 28, the Pope, in proclaiming the terrible bull In Coena Domini, which is annually read at Rome, expressly condemned, among other heretics, Martin Luther by name with all his adherents. This was the third or fourth excommunication, but produced little effect.
The Pope was ably represented by two Italian legates, who were afterwards created cardinals, — Marino Caracciolo (1459-1538) for the political affairs, and Jerome Aleander (1480-1542) for the ecclesiastical interests. Aleander was at that time librarian of the Vatican, and enjoyed great reputation as a Greek scholar. He had lectured at Paris before two thousand hearers of all classes. He stood in friendly relations to Erasmus; but when the latter showed sympathy with the Reformation, be denounced him as the chief founder of the Lutheran heresy. He was an intense papist, and skilled in all the arts of diplomacy. His religious wants were not very pressing. During the Diet of Worms he scarcely found time, in the holy week, “to occupy himself a little with Christ and his conscience.” His sole object was to maintain the power of the Pope, and to annihilate the new heresy. In his letters he calls Luther a fool, a dog, a basilisk, a ribald. He urged everywhere the wholesale burning of his books. He employed argument, persuasion, promises, threats, spies, and bribes. He complained that he could not get money enough from Rome for greedy officials. He labored day and night with the Emperor, his confessor, and the members of the privy council. He played on their fears of a popular revolution, and reminded them of the example of the Bohemians, the worst and most troublesome of heretics. He did not shrink from the terrible threat, “If ye Germans who pay least into the Pope’s treasury shake off his yoke, we shall take care that ye mutually kill yourselves, and wade in your own blood.” He addressed the Diet, Feb. 13, in a speech of three hours, and contended that Luther’s final condemnation left no room for a further hearing of the heretic, but imposed upon the Emperor and the Estates the simple duty to execute the requirements of the papal bull.
The Emperor hesitated between his religious impulses — which were decidedly Roman Catholic, though with a leaning towards disciplinary reform through a council — and political considerations which demanded caution and forbearance. He had already taken lessons in the art of dissimulation, which was deemed essential to a ruler in those days. He had to respect the wishes of the Estates, and could not act without their consent. Public sentiment was divided, and there was a possibility of utilizing the dissatisfaction with Rome for his interest. He was displeased with Leo for favoring the election of Francis, and trying to abridge the powers of the Spanish Inquisition; and yet he felt anxious to secure his support in the impending struggle with France, and the Pope met him half-way by recalling his steps against the Inquisition. He owed a debt of gratitude to the Elector Frederick, and had written to him, Nov. 28, 1520, to bring Luther to Worms, that he might have a hearing before learned men; but the Elector declined the offer, fearing the result. On the 17th of December, the Emperor advised him to keep Luther at Wittenberg, as he had been condemned at Rome.
At first he inclined to severe measures, and laid the draft of an edict before the Diet whereby the bull of excommunication should be legally enforced throughout all Germany. But this was resisted by the Estates, and other influences were brought to bear upon him. Then he tried indirectly, and in a private way, a compromise through his confessor, John Glapio, a Franciscan friar, who professed some sympathy with reform, and respect for Luther’s talent and zeal. He held several interviews with Dr. Brück (Pontanus), the Chancellor of the Elector Frederick. He assured him of great friendship, and proposed that he should induce Luther to disown or to retract the book on the “Babylonian Captivity,” which was detestable; in this case, his other writings, which contained so much that is good, would bear fruit to the Church, and Luther might co-operate with the Emperor in the work of a true (that is, Spanish) reformation of ecclesiastical abuses. We have no right to doubt his sincerity any more than that of the like-minded Hadrian VI., the teacher of Charles. But the Elector would not listen to such a proposal, and refused a private audience to Glapio. His conference with Hutten and Sickingen on the Ebernburg was equally unsuccessful.
The Estates were in partial sympathy with the Reformation, not from doctrinal and religious, but from political and patriotic motives; they repeated the old one hundred and one gravamina against the tyranny and extortions of the Roman See (similar to the charges in Luther’s Address to the German Nobility), and resisted a condemnation of Luther without giving him a hearing. Even his greatest enemy, Duke George of Saxony, declared that the Church suffered most from the immorality of the clergy, and that a general reformation was most necessary, which could be best secured by a general council.
During the Diet, Ulrich von Hutten exerted all his power of invective against the Pope and for Luther. He was harbored at Ebernburg, a few leagues from Worms, with his friend, the valorous Francis of Sickingen. He poured contempt and ridicule on the speech of Aleander, and even attempted to catch him and Caracciolo by force. But he and Sickingen favored, at the same time, the cause of the young Emperor, from whom they expected great things, and wished to bring about an anti-papal revolution with his aid. Hutten called upon him to dismiss his clerical counsellors, to stand on his own dignity, to give Luther a hearing, and to build up a free Germany. Freedom was now in the air, and all men of intelligence longed for a new and better order of things.
Aleander was scarcely safe on the street after his speech of February 13. He reported to his master, that for nine-tenths of the Germans the name of Luther was a war-cry, and that the last tenth screamed “Death to the court of Rome!” Cochlaeus, who was in Worms as the theological adviser of the Archbishop of Treves, feared a popular uprising against the clergy.
Luther was the hero of the day, and called a new Moses, a second Paul. His tracts and picture, surrounded by a halo of glory, were freely circulated in Worms.
At last Charles thought it most prudent to disregard the demand of the Pope. In an official letter of March 6, he cited Luther to appear before the Diet within twenty-one days under the sure protection of the Empire. The Elector Frederick, Duke George of Saxony, and the Landgrave of Hesse, added letters of safe-conduct through their respective territories.
Aleander now endeavored to make the appearance of Luther as harmless as possible, and succeeded in preventing any discussion with him. The heretic was simply to recant, or, in case of refusal, to suffer the penalties of excommunication.
54. Luther’s Journey to Worms
“Mönchlein, Mönchlein, Du gehest einen schweren Gang.”
Luther, from the first intimation of a summons by the Emperor, regarded it as a call from God, and declared his determination to go to Worms, though he should be carried there sick, and at the risk of his life. His motive was not to gratify an unholy ambition, but to bear witness to the truth. He well knew the tragic fate which overtook Hus at Constance notwithstanding the safe-conduct, but his faith inspired him with fearless courage. “You may expect every thing from me,” he wrote to Spalatin, “except fear or recantation. I shall not flee, still less recant. May the Lord Jesus strengthen me.”
He shared for a while the hope of Hutten and Sickingen, that the young Emperor would give him at least fair play, and renew the old conflict of Germany with Rome; but he was doomed to disappointment.
While the negotiations in Worms were going on, he used incessantly his voice and his pen, and alternated between devotional and controversial exercises. He often preached twice a day, wrote commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, and the Magnificat (the last he finished in March), and published the first part of his Postil (Sermons on the Gospels and Epistles), a defense of his propositions condemned by Rome, and fierce polemical books against Hieronymus Emser, Ambrose Catharinus, and other papal opponents.
Emser, a learned Romanist, and secretary of Duke George of Saxony, had first attacked Luther after the Leipzig disputation, at which he was present. A bitter controversy followed, in which both forgot dignity and charity. Luther called Emser “the Goat of Leipzig” (in reference to the escutcheon of his family), and Emser called Luther in turn, the Capricorn of Wittenberg.” Luther’s Antwort auf das ueberchristliche, uebergeistliche, und ueberkuenstliche Buch Bock Emser’s, appeared in March, 1521, and defends his doctrine of the general priesthood of believers. Emser afterwards severely criticised Luther’s translation of the Bible, and published his own version of the New Testament shortly before his death (1527).
Catharinus, an eminent Dominican at Rome, had attacked Luther toward the end of December, 1520. Luther in his Latin reply tried to prove from Dan_8:25 sqq.; 2Th_2:3 sqq.; 2Ti_4:3 sqq.; 2Pe_2:1 sqq.; and the Epistle of Jude, that popery was the Antichrist predicted in the Scriptures, and would soon be annihilated by the Lord himself at his second coming, which he thought to be near at hand.
It is astonishing that in the midst of the war of theological passions, he could prepare such devotional books as his commentaries and sermons, which are full of faith and practical comfort. He lived and moved in the heart of the Scriptures; and this was the secret of his strength and success.
On the second of April, Luther left Wittenberg, accompanied by Amsdorf, his friend and colleague, Peter Swaven, a Danish student, and Johann Pezensteiner, an Augustinian brother. Thus the faculty, the students, and his monastic order were represented. They rode in an open farmer’s wagon, provided by the magistrate of the city. The imperial herald in his coat-of-arms preceded on horseback. Melanchthon wished to accompany his friend, but he was needed at home. “If I do not return,” said Luther in taking leave of him, “and my enemies murder me, I conjure thee, dear brother, to persevere in teaching the truth. Do my work during my absence: you can do it better than I. If you remain, I can well be spared. In thee the Lord has a more learned champion.”
At Weimar, Justus Jonas joined the company. He was at that time professor and Canon at Erfurt. In June of the same year he moved to Wittenberg as professor of church law and provost, and became one of the most intimate friends and co-workers of Luther. He accompanied him on his last journey to Eisleben, and left us a description of his closing days. He translated several of his and Melanchthon’s works.
The journey to Worms resembled a March of triumph, but clouded with warnings of friends and threats of foes. In Leipzig, Luther was honorably received by the magistrate, notwithstanding his enemies in the University. In Thuringia, the people rushed to see the man who had dared to defy the Pope and all the world.
At Erfurt, where he had studied law and passed three years in a monastic cell, he was enthusiastically saluted, and treated as “the hero of the gospel.” Before he reached the city, a large procession of professors and students of his alma mater, headed by his friends Crotus the rector, and Eoban the Latin poet, met him. Everybody rushed to see the procession. The streets, the walls, and roofs were covered with people, who almost worshiped Luther as a wonder-working saint. The magistrate gave him a banquet, and overwhelmed him with demonstrations of honor. He lodged in the Augustinian convent with his friend Lange. On Sunday, April 7, he preached on his favorite doctrine, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and against the intolerable yoke of popery. Eoban, who heard him, reports that he melted the hearts as the vernal sun melts the snow, and that neither Demosthenes nor Cicero nor Paul so stirred their audiences as Luther’s sermon stirred the people on the shores of the Gera.
During the sermon a crash in the balconies of the crowded church scared the hearers, who rushed to the door; but Luther allayed the panic by raising his hand, and assuring them that it was only a wicked sport of the Devil.
In Gotha and Eisenach he preached likewise to crowded houses. At Eisenach he fell sick, and was bled; but a cordial and good sleep restored him sufficiently to proceed on the next day. He ascribed the sickness to the Devil, the recovery to God. In the inns, he used to take up his lute, and to refresh himself with music.
He arrived at Frankfurt, completely exhausted, on Sunday, April 14. On Monday he visited the high school of William Nesse, blessed the children and exhorted them “to be diligent in reading the Scriptures and investigating the truth.” He also became acquainted with a noble patrician family, von Holzhausen, who took an active part in the subsequent introduction of the Reformation in that city.
As he proceeded, the danger increased, and with it his courage. Before be left Wittenberg, the Emperor had issued an edict ordering all his books to be seized, and forbidding their sale. The herald informed him of it already at Weimar, and asked him, “Herr Doctor, will ye proceed?” He replied, “Yes.” The edict was placarded in all the cities. Spalatin, who knew the critical situation, warned him by special messenger, in the name of the Elector his patron, not to come to Worms, lest he might suffer the fate of Hus.
Luther comforted his timid friends with the words: Though Hus was burned, the truth was not burned, and Christ still lives. He wrote to Spalatin from Frankfurt, that he had been unwell ever since he left Eisenach, and had heard of the Emperor’s edict, but that he would go to Worms in spite of all the gates of hell and the evil spirits in the air. The day after, he sent him from Oppenheim (between Mainz and Worms) the famous words: —
“I shall go to Worms, though there were as many devils there as tiles on the roofs.”
A few days before his death at Eisleben, he thus described his feelings at that critical period: “I was fearless, I was afraid of nothing; God can make one so desperately bold. I know not whether I could be so cheerful now.” Mathesius says, with reference to this courage: “If the cause is good, the heart expands, giving courage and energy to evangelists and soldiers.”
Sickingen invited Luther, through Martin Bucer, in person, to his castle Ebernburg, where he would be perfectly safe under the protection of friends. Glapio favored the plan, and wished to have a personal conference with Luther about a possible compromise and co-operation in a moderate scheme of reform. But Luther would not be diverted from his aim, and sent word, that, if the Emperor’s confessor wished, he could see him in Worms.
Luther arrived in Worms on Tuesday morning, April 16, 1521, at ten o’clock, shortly before early dinner, in an open carriage with his Wittenberg companions, preceded by the imperial herald, and followed by a number of gentlemen on horseback. He was dressed in his monastic gown. The watchman on the tower of the cathedral announced the arrival of the procession by blowing the horn, and thousands of people gathered to see the heretic.
As he stepped from the carriage, he said, “God will be with me.”
The papal legate reports this fact to Rome, and adds that Luther looked around with the eyes of a demon. Cardinal Cajetan was similarly struck at Augsburg with the mysterious fire of the “profound eyes,” and the “wonderful speculations,” of the German monk.
Luther was lodged in the house of the Knights of St. John with two counselors of the Elector. He received visitors till late at night.
The city was in a fever-heat of excitement and expectation.
55. Luther’s Testimony before the Diet. April 17 and 18, 1521
See Lit. in § 53.
On the day after his arrival, in the afternoon at four o’clock, Luther was led by the imperial marshal, Ulrich von Pappenheim, and the herald, Caspar Sturm, through circuitous side-streets, avoiding the impassable crowds, to the hall of the Diet in the bishop’s palace where the Emperor and his brother Ferdinand resided. He was admitted at about six o’clock. There he stood, a poor monk of rustic manners, yet a genuine hero and confessor, with the fire of genius and enthusiasm flashing from his eyes and the expression of intense earnestness and thoughtfulness on his face, before a brilliant assembly such as he had never seen: the young Emperor, six Electors (including his own sovereign), the Pope’s legates, archbishops, bishops, dukes, margraves, princes, counts, deputies of the imperial cities, ambassadors of foreign courts, and a numerous array of dignitaries of every rank; in one word, a fair representation of the highest powers in Church and State. Several thousand spectators were collected in and around the building and in the streets, anxiously waiting for the issue.
Dr. Johann von Eck, as the official of the Archbishop of Treves, put to him, in the name of the Emperor, simply two questions in Latin and German, — first, whether he acknowledged the books laid before him on a bench (about twenty-five in number) to be his own; and, next, whether he would retract them. Dr. Schurf, Luther’s colleague and advocate, who stood beside him, demanded that the titles of those books be read. This was done. Among them were some such inoffensive and purely devotional books as an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer and of the Psalms.
Luther was apparently overawed by the august assembly, nervously excited, unprepared for a summary condemnation without an examination, and spoke in a low, almost inaudible tone. Many thought that he was about to collapse. He acknowledged in both languages the authorship of the books; but as to the more momentous question of recantation he humbly requested further time for consideration, since it involved the salvation of the soul, and the truth of the word of God, which was higher than any thing else in heaven or on earth.
We must respect him all the more for this reasonable request, which proceeded not from want of courage, but from a profound sense of responsibility.
The Emperor, after a brief consultation, granted him “out of his clemency” a respite of one day.
Aleander reported on the same day to Rome, that the heretical “fool” entered laughing, and left despondent; that even among his sympathizers some regarded him now as a fool, others as one possessed by the Devil; while many looked upon him as a saint full of the Holy Spirit; but in any case, he had lost much of his reputation.
The shrewd Italian judged too hastily. On the same evening Luther recollected himself, and wrote to a friend: I shall not retract one iota, so Christ help me.”
On Thursday, the 18th of April, Luther appeared a second and last time before the Diet.
It was the greatest day in his life. He never appeared more heroic and sublime. He never represented a principle of more vital and general importance to Christendom.
On his way to the Diet, an old warrior, Georg von Frundsberg, is reported to have clapped him on the shoulder, with these words of cheer: “My poor monk, my poor monk, thou art going to make such a stand as neither I nor any of my companions in arms have ever done in our hottest battles. If thou art sure of the justice of thy cause, then forward in God’s name, and be of good courage: God will not forsake thee.”
He was again kept waiting two hours outside the hall, among a dense crowd, but appeared more cheerful and confident than the day before. He had fortified himself by prayer and meditation, and was ready to risk life itself to his honest conviction of divine truth. The torches were lighted when he was admitted.
Dr. Eck, speaking again in Latin and German, reproached him for asking delay, and put the second question in this modified form:, Wilt thou defend all the books which thou dost acknowledge to be thine, or recant some part?”
Luther answered in a well-considered, premeditated speech, with modesty and firmness, and a voice that could be heard all over the hall.
After apologizing for his ignorance of courtly manners, having been brought up in monastic simplicity, he divided his books into three classes: (1) Books which simply set forth evangelical truths, professed-alike by friend and foe: these he could not retract. (2) Books against the corruptions and abuses of the papacy which vexed and martyred the conscience, and devoured the property of the German nation: these he could not retract without cloaking wickedness and tyranny. (3) Books against his popish opponents: in these he confessed to have been more violent than was proper, but even these he could not retract without giving aid and comfort to his enemies, who would triumph and make things worse. In defense of his books he could only say in the words of Christ:, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” If his opponents could convict him of error by prophetic and evangelical Scriptures, he would revoke his books, and be the first to commit them to the flames. He concluded with a warning to the young Emperor not to begin his reign by condemning the word of God, and pointed to the judgments over Pharaoh, the king of Babylon, and the ungodly kings of Israel.
He was requested to repeat his speech in Latin. This he did with equal firmness and with eyes upraised to heaven.
The princes held a short consultation. Eck, in the name of the Emperor, sharply reproved him for evading the question; it was useless, he said, to dispute with him about views which were not new, but had been already taught by Hus, Wiclif, and other heretics, and had been condemned for sufficient reasons by the Council of Constance before the Pope, the Emperor, and the assembled fathers. He demanded a round and direct answer, “without horns.”
This brought on the crisis.
Luther replied, he would give an answer “with neither horns nor teeth.” From the inmost depths of his conscience educated by the study of the word of God, he made in both languages that memorable declaration which marks an epoch in the history of religious liberty: —
“Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils alone; it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I can not and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do any thing against the conscience.”
So far the reports are clear and harmonious. What followed immediately after this testimony is somewhat uncertain and of less importance.
Dr. Eck exchanged a few more words with Luther, protesting against his assertion that Councils may err and have erred. “You can not prove it,” he said. Luther repeated his assertion, and pledged himself to prove it. Thus pressed and threatened, amidst the excitement and confusion of the audience, he uttered in German, at least in substance, that concluding sentence which has impressed itself most on the memory of men: —
“Here I stand. [I can not do otherwise.] God help me! Amen.”
The sentence, if not strictly historical, is true to the situation, and expresses Luther’s mental condition at the time, — the strength of his conviction, and prayer for God’s help, which was abundantly answered. It furnishes a parallel to Galileo’s equally famous, but less authenticated, “It does move, for all that” (E pur si muove).
The Emperor would hear no more, and abruptly broke up the session of the Diet at eight o’clock, amid general commotion.
On reaching his lodgings, Luther threw up his arms, and joyfully exclaimed, “I am through, I am through!” To Spalatin, in the presence of others, he said, “If I had a thousand heads, I would rather have them all cut off one by one than make one recantation.”
The impression he made on the audience was different according to conviction and nationality. What some admired as the enthusiasm of faith and the strength of conviction, appeared to others as fanaticism and heretical obstinacy.
The Emperor, a stranger to German thought and speech, declared after the first hearing: “This man will never make a heretic of me.” He doubted the authorship of the famous books ascribed to him. At the second hearing he was horrified at the disparagement of general Councils, as if a German monk could be wiser than the whole Catholic Church. The Spaniards and Italians were no doubt of the same opinion; they may have been repelled also by his lowly appearance and want of refined manners. Some of the Spaniards pursued him with hisses as he left the room. The papal legates reported that he raised his hands after the manner of the German soldiers rejoicing over a clever stroke, and represented him as a vulgar fellow fond of good wine. They praised the Emperor as a truly Christian and Catholic prince who assured them the next day of his determination to treat Luther as a heretic. The Venetian ambassador, otherwise impartial, judged that Luther disappointed expectations, and showed neither much learning, nor much prudence, nor was he blameless in life.
But the German delegates received a different impression. When Luther left the Bishop’s palace greatly exhausted, the old Duke Erik of Brunswick sent him a silver tankard of Eimbeck beer, after having first drunk of it himself to remove suspicion. Luther said, “As Duke Erik has remembered me to-day, may the Lord Jesus remember him in his last agony.” The Duke thought of it on his deathbed, and found comfort in the words of the gospel: “Whosoever shall give unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” The Elector Frederick expressed to Spalatin the same evening his delight with Luther’s conduct: “How excellently did Father Martin speak both in Latin and German before the Emperor and the Estates! He was bold enough, if not too much so.” The cautious Elector would have been still better pleased if Luther had been more moderate, and not attacked the Councils. Persons of distinction called on him in his lodgings till late at night, and cheered him. Among these was the young Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who afterwards embraced the cause of the Reformation with zeal and energy, but did it much harm by his bigamy. After a frivolous jest, which Luther smilingly rebuked, he wished him God’s blessing.
The strongest sympathizers with Luther were outside of the Diet, among the common people, the patriotic nobles, the scholars of the school of Erasmus, and the rising generation of liberal men. As he returned from the Diet to his lodgings, a voice in the crowd was heard to exclaim: “Blessed be the womb that bare this son.” Tonstal, the English ambassador, wrote from Worms, that “the Germans everywhere are so addicted to Luther, that, rather than he should be oppressed by the Pope’s authority, a hundred thousand of the people will sacrifice their lives.” In the imperial chambers a paper was found with the words: “Woe to the nation whose king is a child” (Ecc_10:16). An uprising of four hundred German knights with eight thousand soldiers was threatened in a placard on the city hall; but the storm passed away. Hutten and Sickingen were in the Emperor’s service. “Hutten only barks, but does not bite,” was a saying in Worms.
The papal party triumphed in the Diet. Nothing else could be expected if the historic continuity of the Latin Church and of the Holy German Roman Empire was to be preserved. Had Luther submitted his case to a general council, to which in the earlier stages of the conflict he had himself repeatedly appealed, the result might have been different, and a moderate reform of the mediaeval Church under the headship of the Pope of Rome might have been accomplished; but no more. By denying the infallibility of a council, he openly declared himself a heretic, and placed himself in opposition to the universal opinion, which regarded ecumenical Councils, beginning with the first of Nicaea in 325, as the ultimate tribunal for the decision of theological controversies. The infallibility of the Pope was as yet an open question, and remained so till 1870, but the infallibility of a general council was at that time regarded as settled. A protest against it could only be justified by a providential mission and actual success.
It was the will of Providence to prepare the way, through the instrumentality of Luther, for independent church-organizations, and the development of new types of Christianity on the basis of the word of God and the freedom of thought.
Note on Luther’s Sentence: “Here I Stand,” Etc
These words of Luther have been reported again and again, not only in popular books, but in learned histories, without a doubt of their genuineness. They are engraven on his monument at Worms.
But this very fact called forth a critical investigation of the Saxon Archivarius, Dr. C. A. H. Burkhardt (author of the learned work: Luther’s Briefwechsel), Ueber die Glaubwuerdigkeit der Antwort Luthers: “Hie steh’ ich, ich kann nicht anders, Gott helff mir. Amen,” in the “Theol. Studien und Kritiken” for 1869, III. pp. 517-531. He rejects all but the last three words (not the whole, as Janssen incorrectly reports, in his History, II. 165, note). His view was accepted by Daniel Schenkel (1870), and W. Maurenbrecher (Gesch. d. kath. Reform., 1880, I. 398). The latter calls the words even “Improper and unworthy,” because theatrical, which we cannot admit.
On the other hand, Professor Koestlin, the biographer of Luther, has come to the rescue of the whole sentence in his Easter-program: Luther’s Rede in Worms, Halle, 1874; comp. his notes in the “Studien und Kritiken” for 1882, p. 551 sq., and his Martin Luther, I. 453, and the note, p. 800 sq. (second Ed. 1883). His conclusion was accepted by Ranke in the sixth Ed. of his Hist. of Germany (I. 336), and by Moenckeberg (pastor of St. Nicolai in Hamburg), who supports it by new proofs, in an essay, Die Glaubwuerdigkeit des Lutherwortes in Worms, in the “Studien und Kritiken” for 1876, No. II. pp. 295-306.
The facts are these. In Luther’s own Latin notes which he prepared, probably at Worms, for Spalatin, there is no such sentence except the words, “God help me.” The prayer which he offered loudly in his chamber on the evening before his second appearance before the Diet, and which some one has reported, concludes with the words, “Gott helfe mir, Amen!” (Walch, X. 1721; Erl. -Frkf. Ed., LXIV. 289 sq.). Spalatin in his (defective) notes on the acts of the Diet, preserved at Weimar (Gesammtarchiv, Reichtagsacten, 1521), and in his Annals (Ed. by Cyprian, p. 41), vouches likewise only for the words, “Gott helfe mir, Amen!” With this agrees the original edition of the Acta Lutheri Wormatiae habita which were published immediately after the Diet (reprinted in the Frankf. ed. of the Opera Lat., vol. VI. p. 14, see second foot-note).
But other contemporary reports give the whole sentence, though in different order of the words. See the comparative table of Burkhardt, I.c. pp. 525-529. A German report (reprinted in the Erl. -Frkf. ed., vol. LXIV. p. 383) gives as the last words of Luther (in reply to Eck): “Gott kumm mir zu Hilf! Amen. Da bin ich.” The words “Da bin ich” (Here I am) are found also in another source. Mathesius reports the full sentence as coming from the lips of Luther in 1540. In a German contemporary print and on a fly-leaf in the University library of Heidelberg (according to Koestlin), the sentence appears in this order: “Ich kann nicht anders; hier steh’ ich; Gott helfe mir.” In the first edition of Luther’s Latin works, published 1546, the words appear in the present order: “Hier steh’ ich,” etc. In this form they have passed into general currency.
Koestlin concludes that the only question is about the order of words, and whether they were spoken at the close of his main declaration, or a little afterwards at the close of the Diet. I have adopted the latter view, which agrees with the contemporary German report above quoted. Kolde, in his monograph on Luther at Worms (p. 60), agrees substantially with Koestlin, and says: “Wir wissen nicht mehr, in welchem Zusammenhang diese Worte gesprochen worden sind, auch können sie vielleicht etwas anders gelautet haben; bei der herrschenden Unruhe hat der eine Berichterstatter den Ausspruch so, der andere ihn so verstanden; sicherlich drückten sie zu gleicher Zeit seine felsenfeste Ueberzeugung von der Wahrheit seines in sich gewissen Glaubens aus, wie das Bewusstsein, dass hier nur Gott helfen könne.”
56. Reflections on Luther’s Testimony at Worms
Luther’s testimony before the Diet is an event of world-historical importance and far-reaching effect. It opened an intellectual conflict which is still going on in the civilized world. He stood there as the fearless champion of the supremacy of the word of God over the traditions of men, and of the liberty of conscience over the tyranny of authority.
For this liberty, all Protestant Christians, who enjoy the fruit of his courage, owe him a debt of gratitude. His recantation could not, any more than his martyrdom, have stopped the Reformation; but it would have retarded its progress, and indefinitely prolonged the oppressive rule of popery.
When tradition becomes a wall against freedom, when authority degenerates into tyranny, the very blessing is turned into a curse, and history is threatened with stagnation and death. At such rare junctures, Providence raises those pioneers of progress, who have the intellectual and moral courage to break through the restraints at the risk of their lives, and to open new paths for the onward march of history. This consideration furnishes the key for the proper appreciation of Luther’s determined stand at this historical crisis.
Conscience is the voice of God in man. It is his most sacred possession. No power can be allowed to stand between the gift and the giver. Even an erring conscience must be respected, and cannot be forced. The liberty of conscience was theoretically and practically asserted by the Christians of the ante-Nicene age, against Jewish and heathen persecution; but it was suppressed by the union of Church and State after Constantine the Great, and severe laws were enacted under his successors against every departure from the established creed of the orthodox imperial Church. These laws passed from the Roman to the German Empire, and were in full force all over Europe at the time when Luther raised his protest. Dissenters had no rights which Catholics were bound to respect; even a sacred promise given to a heretic might be broken without sin, and was broken by the Emperor Sigismund in the case of Hus.
This tyranny was brought to an end by the indomitable courage of Luther.
Liberty of conscience may, of course, be abused, like any other liberty, and may degenerate into heresy and licentiousness. The individual conscience and private judgment often do err, and they are more likely to err than a synod or council, which represents the combined wisdom of many. Luther himself was far from denying this fact, and stood open to correction and conviction by testimonies of Scripture and clear arguments. He heartily accepted all the doctrinal decisions of the first four ecumenical Councils, and had the deepest respect for the Apostles’ Creed on which his own Catechism is based. But he protested against the Council of Constance for condemning the opinions of Hus, which he thought were in accordance with the Scriptures. The Roman Church itself must admit the fallibility of Councils if the Vatican decree of papal infallibility is to stand; for more than one ecumenical council has denounced Pope Honorius as a heretic, and even Popes have confirmed the condemnation of their predecessor. Two conflicting infallibilities neutralize each other.
Luther did not appeal to his conscience alone, but first and last to the Scripture as he understood it after the most earnest study. His conscience, as he said, was bound in the word of God, who cannot err. There, and there alone, he recognized infallibility. By recanting, he would have committed a grievous sin.
One man with the truth on his side is stronger than a majority in error, and will conquer in the end. Christ was right against the whole Jewish hierarchy, against Herod and Pilate, who conspired in condemning him to the cross. St. Paul was right against Judaism and heathenism combined, “unus versus mundum;” St. Athanasius, “the father of orthodoxy,” was right against dominant Arianism; Galileo Galilei was right against the Inquisition and the common opinion of his age on the motion of the earth; Doellinger was right against the Vatican Council when, “as a Christian, as a theologian, as an historian, and as a citizen,” he protested against the new dogma of the infallibility of the Pope.
That Luther was right in refusing to recant, and that he uttered the will of Providence in hearing testimony to the supremacy of the word of God and the freedom of conscience, has been made manifest by the verdict of history.
57. Private Conferences with Luther. The Emperor’s Conduct
On the morning after Luther’s testimony, the Emperor sent a message — a sort of personal confession of faith — written by his own hand in French, to the Estates, informing them, that in consistency with his duty as the successor of the most Christian emperors of Germany and the Catholic kings of Spain, who had always been true to the Roman Church, he would now treat Luther, after sending him home with his safe-conduct, as an obstinate and convicted heretic, and defend with all his might the faith of his forefathers and of the Councils, especially that of Constance.
Some of the deputies grew pale at this decision; the Romanists rejoiced. But in view of the state of public sentiment the Diet deemed it expedient to attempt private negotiations for a peaceful settlement, in the hope that Luther might be induced to withdraw or at least to moderate his dissent from the general Councils. The Emperor yielded in spite of Aleander’s protest.
The negotiations were conducted chiefly by Richard von Greiffenklau, Elector and Archbishop of Treves, and at his residence. He was a benevolent and moderate churchman, to whom the Elector Frederick and Baron Miltitz had once desired to submit the controversy. The Elector of Brandenburg, Duke George of Saxony, Dr. Vehus (chancellor of the Margrave of Baden), Dr. Eck of Treves, Dean Cochlaeus of Frankfort, and the deputies of Strasburg and Augsburg, likewise took part in the conferences.
These men were just as honest as Luther, but they occupied the standpoint of the mediaeval Church, and could not appreciate his departure from the beaten track. The archbishop was very kind and gracious to Luther, as the latter himself admitted. He simply required that in Christian humility he should withdraw his objections to the Council of Constance, leave the matter for the present with the Emperor and the Diet, and promise to accept the final verdict of a future council unfettered by a previous decision of the Pope. Such a council might re-assert its superiority over the Pope, as the reformatory Councils of the fifteenth century had done.
But Luther had reason to fear the result of such submission, and remained as hard as a rock. He insisted on the supremacy of the word of God over all Councils, and the right of judging for himself according to his conscience. He declared at last, that unless convinced by the Scriptures or “clear and evident reasons,” he could not yield, no matter what might happen to him; and that he was willing to abide by the test of Gamaliel, “If this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it” (Act_5:38, Act_5:39).
He asked the Archbishop, on April 25, to obtain for him the Emperor’s permission to go home. In returning to his lodgings, he made a pastoral visit to a German Knight, and told him in leaving: “To-morrow I go away.”
Three hours after the last conference, the Emperor sent him a safe-conduct for twenty-one days, but prohibited him from writing or preaching on the way. Luther returned thanks, and declared that his only aim was to bring about a reformation of the Church through the Scriptures, and that he was ready to suffer all for the Emperor and the empire, provided only he was permitted to confess and teach the word of God. This was his last word to the imperial commissioners. With a shake of hands they took leave of each other, never to meet again in this world.
It is to the credit of Charles, that in spite of contrary counsel, even that of his former teacher and confessor, Cardinal Hadrian, who wished him to deliver Luther to the Pope for just punishment, he respected the eternal principle of truth and honor more than the infamous maxim that no faith should be kept with heretics. He refused to follow the example of his predecessor, Sigismund, who violated the promise of safe-conduct given to Hus, and ordered his execution at the stake after his condemnation by the Council of Constance. The protection of Luther is the only service which Charles rendered to the Reformation, and the best thing, in a moral point of view, he ever did. Unfortunately, he diminished his merit by his subsequent regret at Yuste. He had no other chance to crush the heretic. When he came to Wittenberg in 1547, Luther was in his grave, and the Reformation too deeply rooted to be overthrown by a short-lived victory over a few Protestant princes.
It is interesting to learn Aleander’s speculations about Luther’s intentions immediately after his departure. He reported to Rome, April 29, 1521, that the heretic would seek refuge with the Hussites in Bohemia, and do four “beastly things” (cose bestiali): 1, write lying Acta Wormaciensia, to incite the people to insurrection; 2, abolish the confessional; 3, deny the real presence in the sacrament; 4, deny the divinity of Christ.
Luther did none of these things except the second, and this only in part. To prevent his entering Bohemia, Rome made provision to have him seized on the way.
58. The Ban of the Empire. May 8 (26), 1521
After Luther’s departure (April 26), his enemies had full possession of the ground. Frederick of Saxony wrote, May 4: “Martin’s cause is in a bad state: he will be persecuted; not only Annas and Caiaphas, but also Pilate and Herod, are against him.” Aleander reported to Rome, May 5, that Luther had by his bad habits, his obstinacy, and his “beastly” speeches against Councils, alienated the people, but that still many adhered to him from love of disobedience to the Pope, and desire to seize the church property.
The Emperor commissioned Aleander to draw up a Latin edict against Luther. It was completed and dated May 8 (but not signed till May 26). On the same day the Emperor concluded an alliance with the Pope against France. They pledged themselves “to have the same friends and the same enemies,” and to aid each other in attack and defense.
The edict was kept back till the Elector Frederick and the Elector of the Palatinate with a large number of other members of the Diet had gone home. It was not regularly submitted to, nor discussed and voted on, by the Diet, nor signed by the Chancellor, but secured by a sort of surprise. On Trinity Sunday, May 26, Aleander went with the Latin and German copy to church, and induced the Emperor to sign both after high mass, “with his pious hand.” The Emperor said in French, “Now you will be satisfied.” — “Yes,” replied the legate in the same language, “but much more satisfied will be the Holy See and all Christendom, and will thank God for such a good, holy, and religious Emperor.”
The edict is not so long, but as turgid, bombastic, intolerant, fierce, and cruel, as the Pope’s bull of excommunication. It gave legal force to the bull within the German Empire. It denounces Luther as a devil in the dress of a monk, who had gathered a mass of old and new heresies into one pool, and pronounces upon him the ban and re-ban. It commands the burning, and forbids the printing, publication, and sale, of his books, the sheltering and feeding of his person, and that of his followers, and directs the magistrates to seize him wherever he may be found, and to hand him over to the Emperor, to be dealt with according to the penal laws against heretics. At the same time the whole press of the empire was put under strict surveillance.
This was the last occasion on which the mediaeval union of the secular empire with the papacy was expressed in official form so as to make the German emperor the executor of the decrees of the bishop of Rome. The gravamina of the nation were unheeded. Hutten wrote: “I am ashamed of my fatherland.”
Thus Luther was outlawed by Church and State, condemned by the Pope, the Emperor, the universities, cast out of human society, and left exposed to a violent death.
But he had Providence and the future on his side. The verdict of the Diet was not the verdict of the nation.
The departure of the Emperor through the Netherlands to Spain, where he subdued a dangerous insurrection, his subsequent wars with Francis in Italy, the victorious advance of the Turks in Hungary, the protection of Luther by the Elector Frederick, and the rapid spread of Protestant doctrines, these circumstances, combined to reduce the imperial edict, as well as the papal bull, to a dead letter in the greater part of Germany. The empire was not a centralized monarchy, but a loose confederation of seven great electorates, a larger number of smaller principalities, and free cities, each with an ecclesiastical establishment of its own. The love of individual independence among the rival states and cities was stronger than the love of national union; and hence it was difficult to enforce the decisions of the Diet against a dissenting minority or even a single recalcitrant member. An attempt to execute the edict in electoral Saxony or the free cities by military force would have kindled the flame of civil war which no wise and moderate ruler would be willing to risk without imperative necessity. Charles was an earnest Roman Catholic, but also a shrewd statesman who had to consult political interests. Even the Elector Albrecht of Mainz prevented, as far as he could, the execution of the bull and ban in the dioceses of Mainz, Magdeburg, and Halberstadt. He did not sign the edict as chancellor of the empire. Capito, his chaplain and private counselor, described him in a letter to Zwingli, Aug. 4, 1521, as a promoter of “the gospel,” who would not permit that Luther be attacked on the pulpit. And this was the prelate who had been intrusted by the Pope with the sale of indulgences. Such a change had been wrought in public sentiment in the short course of four years.
The settlement of the religious question was ultimately left to the several states, and depended very much upon the religious preferences and personal character of the civil magistrate. Saxony, Hesse, Brandenburg, the greater part of Northern Germany, also the Palatinate, Würtemberg, Nürnberg, Frankfurt, Strassburg, and Ulm, embraced Protestantism in whole or in part; while Southern and Western Germany, especially Bavaria and Austria, remained predominantly Roman Catholic. But it required a long and bloody struggle before Protestantism acquired equal legal rights with Romanism, and the Pope protests to this day against the Treaty of Westphalia which finally secured those rights.
59. State of Public Opinion. Popular Literature
K. Hagen: Der Geist der Reformation und seine Gegensaetze. Erlangen, 1843. Bd. I. 158 sqq. Janssen, II. 181-197, gives extracts from revolutionary pamphlets to disparage the cause of the Reformation.
Among the most potent causes which defeated the ban of the empire, and helped the triumph of Protestantism, was the teeming ephemeral literature which appeared between 1521 and 1524, and did the work of the periodical newspaper press of our days, in seasons of public excitement. In spite of the prohibition of unauthorized printing by the edict of Worms, Germany was inundated by a flood of books, pamphlets, and leaflets in favor of true and false freedom. They created a public opinion which prevented the execution of the law.
Luther had started this popular literary warfare by his ninety-five Theses. He was by far the most original, fertile, and effective controversialist and pamphleteer of his age. He commanded the resources of genius, learning, courage, eloquence, wit, humor, irony, and ridicule, and had, notwithstanding his many physical infirmities, an astounding power of work. He could express the deepest thought in the clearest and strongest language, and had an abundant supply of juicy and forcible epithets. His very opponents had to imitate his German speech if they wished to reach the masses, and to hit the nail on the head. He had a genial heart, but also a most violent temper, and used it as a weapon for popular effect. He felt himself called to the rough work of “removing stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing the wild forests.” He found aid and comfort in the severe language of the prophets. He had, as he says, the threefold spirit of Elijah, — the storm, the earthquake, and the fire, which subverts mountains and tears the rocks in pieces. He thoroughly understood the wants and tastes of his countrymen who preferred force to elegance, and the club to the dagger. Foreigners, who knew him only from his Latin writings, could not account for his influence.
Roman historians, in denouncing his polemics, are apt to forget the fearful severity of the papal bull, the edict of Worms, and the condemnatory decisions of the universities.
His pen was powerfully aided by the pencil of his friend Lucas Cranach, the court-painter of Frederick the Wise.
Melanchthon had no popular talent, but he employed his scholarly pen in a Latin apology for Luther “against the furious decree of the Parisian theologasters.” The Sorbonne, hitherto the most famous theological faculty, which in the days of the reformatory Councils had stood up for the cause of reform, followed the example of the universities of Louvain and Cologne, and denounced Luther during the sessions of the Diet of Worms, April 15, 1521, as an arch-heretic who had renewed and intensified the blasphemous errors of the Manichaeans, Hussites, Beghards, Cathari, Waldenses, Ebionites, Arians, etc., and who should be destroyed by fire rather than refuted by arguments. Eck translated the decision at once into German. Melanchthon dared to charge the faculty of Paris with apostasy from Christ to Aristotle, and from biblical theology to scholastic sophistry. Luther translated the Apology into German at the Wartburg, and, finding it too mild, he added to it some strokes of his “peasant’s axe.”
Ulrich von Hutten was almost equal to Luther in literary power, eloquence, wit, and sarcasm, as well as in courage, and aided him with all his might from the Ebernburg during his trial at Worms; but he weakened his cause by want of principle. He had previously republished and ridiculed the Pope’s bull of excommunication. He now attacked the edict of Worms, and wrote invectives against its authors, the papal legates, and its supporters, the bishops. He told the former how foolish it was to proceed with such impudence and violence against Luther, in opposition to the spirit of the age, that the time of revenge would soon come; that the Germans were by no means so blind and indifferent as they imagined; that the young Emperor would soon come to a better knowledge. He indignantly reminded Aleander of his shameful private utterance (which was also reported to Luther by Spalatin), that, if the Germans should shake off the papal yoke, Rome would take care to sow so much seed of discord among them that they would eat each other up. He reproached the archbishops and higher clergy for using force instead of persuasion, the secular magistrate instead of the word of Christ against Luther. He told them that they were no real priests; that they had bought their dignities; that they violated common morality; that they were carnal, worldly, avaricious; that they were unable or ashamed to preach the gospel which condemned their conduct, and that if God raised a preacher like Luther, they sought to oppress him. But the measure is full. “Away with you,” he exclaims, “ye unclean hogs, away from the pure fountains! Away with you, wicked traffickers, from the sanctuary! Touch no longer the altars with your profane hands! What right have ye to waste the pious benefactions of our fathers in luxury, fornication, and vain pomp, while many honest and pious people are starving? The measure is full. See ye not that the air of freedom is stirring, that men, disgusted with the present state of things, demand improvement? Luther and I may perish at your hands, but what of that? There are many more Luthers and Huttens who will take revenge, and raise a new and more violent reformation.”
He added, however, to the second edition, a sort of apologetic letter to Albrecht, the head of the German archbishops, his former friend and patron, assuring him of his continued friendship, and expressing regret that he should have been alienated from the protection of the cause of progress and liberty.
In a different spirit Hans Sachs, the pious poet-shoemaker of Nürnberg, wrote many ephemeral compositions in prose and poetry for the cause of Luther and the gospel. He met Luther at Augsburg in 1518, collected till 1522 forty books in his favor, and published in 1523 a poem of seven hundred verses under the title: “Die Wittenbergisch Nachtigall, Die man jetzt hoert ueberall,” and with the concluding words: “Christus amator, Papa peccator.” It was soon followed by four polemical dialogues in prose.
Among the most popular pamphleteers on the Protestant side were a farmer named “Karsthans,” who labored in the Rhine country between Strassburg and Basel, and his imitator, “Neukarsthans.” Many pamphlets were anonymous or pseudonymous.
It is a significant fact, that the Reformation was defended by so many laymen. All the great German classics who arose in more recent times (Klopstock, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Uhland, Rueckert), as well as philosophers (Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Herbart, Lotze), are Protestants, at least nominally, and could not have grown on papal soil.
The newness and freshness of this fugitive popular literature called out by the Reformation, and especially by the edict of Worms, made it all the more effective. The people were hungry for intellectual and spiritual food, and the appetite grew with the supply.
The polemical productions of that period are usually brief, pointed, and aimed at the common-sense of the masses. They abound in strong arguments, rude wit, and coarse abuse. They plead the cause of freedom against oppression, of the laity against priestcraft and monkery. A favorite form of composition was the dialogue in which a peasant or a laboring-man defeats an ecclesiastic.
The Devil figures prominently in league with the Pope, sometimes as his servant, sometimes as his master. Very often the Pope is contrasted with Christ as his antipode. The Pope, says one of the controversialists, proclaimed the terrible bull of condemnation of Luther and all heretics on the day commemorative of the institution of the holy communion; and turned the divine mercy into human wrath, brotherly love into persecuting hatred, the very blessing into a curse.
St. Peter also appears often in these productions: he stands at the gate of heaven, examining priests, monks, and popes, whether they are fit to enter, and decides in most cases against them. Here is a specimen: A fat and drunken monk knocks at the gate, and is angry that he is not at once admitted; Peter tells him first to get sober, and laughs at his foolish dress. Then he catechises him; the monk enumerates all his fasts, self-mortifications, and pious exercises; Peter orders that his belly be cut open, and, behold! chickens, wild game, fish, omelets, wine, and other contents come forth and bear witness against the hypocrite, who is forthwith sent to the place of punishment.
The writer of a pamphlet entitled “Doctor Martin Luther’s Passion,” draws an irreverent parallel between Luther’s treatment by the Diet, with Christ’s crucifixion: Luther’s entry into Worms is compared to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the Diet to the Sanhedrin, Archbishop Albrecht to Caiaphas, the papal legates to the Pharisees, the Elector of Saxony to Peter, Eck and Cochlaeus to the false witnesses, the Archbishop of Treves to Pilate, the German nation to Pilate’s wife; at last Luther’s books and likeness are thrown into the fire, but his likeness will not burn, and the spectators exclaim, “Verily, he is a Christian.”
The same warfare was going on in German Switzerland. Nicolas Manuel, a poet and painter (died 1530), in a carnival play which was enacted at Berne, 1522, introduces first the whole hierarchy, confessing one after another their sins, and expressing regret that they now are to be stopped by the rising opposition of the people; then the various classes of laymen attack the priests, expose their vices, and refute their sophistries; and at last Peter and Paul decide in favor of the laity, and charge the clergy with flatly contradicting the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.
These pamphlets and fugitive papers were illustrated by rude woodcuts and caricatures of obnoxious persons, which added much to their popular effect. Popes, cardinals, and bishops are represented in their clerical costume, but with faces of wolves or foxes, and surrounded by geese praying a Paternoster or Ave Maria. The “Passion of Christ and Antichrist” has twenty-six woodcuts, from the elder Lucas Cranach or his school, which exhibit the contrast between Christ and his pretended vicar in parallel pictures: in one Christ declines the crown of this world, in the other the Pope refuses to open the gate to the Emperor (at Canossa); in one Christ wears the crown of thorns, in the other the Pope the triple crown of gold and jewels; in one Christ washes the feet of his disciples, in the other the Pope suffers emperors and kings to kiss his toe; in one Christ preaches the glad tidings to the poor, in the other the Pope feasts with his cardinals at a rich banquet; in one Christ expels the profane traffickers, in the other the Pope sits in the temple of God; in one Christ rides meekly on an ass into Jerusalem, in the other the Pope and his cardinals ride on fiery steeds into hell.
The controversial literature of the Roman-Catholic Church was far behind the Protestant in ability and fertility. The most popular and effective writer on the Roman side was the Franciscan monk and crowned poet, Thomas Murner. He was an Alsatian, and lived in Strassburg, afterwards at Luzern, and died at Heidelberg (1537). He had formerly, in his Narrenbeschwoerung (1512) and other writings, unmercifully chastised the vices of all classes, including clergy and monks, and had sided with Reuchlin in his controversy with the Dominicans, but in 1520 he turned against Luther, and assailed his cause in a poetical satire: “Vom grossen lutherischen Narren wie ihn Doctor Murner beschworen hat, 1522.”