Book 6 - The Papal Bull (1520)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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Book 6 – The Papal Bull (1520)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 1

After the death of Maximilian, a new leader was needful. Three men claimed right to throne. First, there was Charles, grandson to Maximilian, at only 19 years old. He was already enthralled with military and political affairs, and desired the imperial throne. Francis I, king of France was the second to desire the throne. His council pressed him to take up the throne in an attempt at copying the achievements of Charlemagne. They desired him to be king of the West, in order to overthrow the Crescents who threatened their empire. The third was Henry VIII of England.

Some believed that Frederick could take the throne and do well upon it. Certainly he had gained the love and respect of the people, but his associations with the theological disputes around Luther at Wittenberg may make things difficult. In any case, his own refusal of the crown was due to his “lack of faith” that he would be able to have a positive affect on the country as a whole – he opted for one stronger to take charge of the country.

Since Rome saw that Charles was the most likely candidate, the Pope retracted his concerns that one already set in the affairs of the empire would be a bad choice, and Charles was nominated for the post. He received patronage from surrounding countries, and on October 22, 1520 he was crowned king.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 2

King Charles was now on the throne – how would the reformation fair under his guidance? Luther desired Charles to begin his reign on a sound note, and wrote to him. He admonished him to act justly and stand for the cause of the truth. Charles, though, upon receiving the letter, made no reply to it. This was a poor beginning for the new emperor, especially in light of the theological differences and disputations surround him in his kingdom. Hochstraten was extracting excerpts of Luther’s works in order to stir up persecution against those in the universities who believed this. Fanaticism has begun.

Frederick sent an envoy to Rome in order to express his sentiments to the Pope concerning the matters surrounding Luther and Germany. He told the Pope that with all the learned doctors and the laity through the kingdom who are beginning to understand the Bible, how could he oppose the work of Luther? Luther’s teachings had affected a great number of people, and by attempting to destroy him by ecclesiastical power, rather than refuting him by the Scriptures, Rome would be causing greater problems for the people in pressing them to revolt.

Melancthon was worried about the state of affairs and rallied with Wittenberg to pray for Luther, and ask that God’s hand would be upon him in keeping him alive with all the turmoil that was surrounding him and the university. In hearing this prayer, noblemen were raised up by God to stand with Luther: Sylvester of Schaumburg (one of the most powerful knights) Francis of Sickingen, Harmuth of Cronberg and Ulric of Hutten were among them.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 3

Luther did not stop at attacking indulgences or the mass. On June 23, 1520 he published a treatise against the papacy in general. This deciding blow would rupture, forever, any attempts at the two systems (Luther’s and the Roman Church’s) to ever come together again. He attacked the papacy by demonstrating the futility of their claims in a succession from Peter, and in contrast, that all Christians are priests. He exposed the nature of the papacy as one which desired to obtain wealth, and that they exercised the same spirit as theirs and robbers over the people they purport to spiritually enlighten.
Though Luther attacked the papacy, he also stressed remedies to its evil. Such remedies consisted in its overthrow and eradication. The Pope should give up his governmental stances, his political subtleties, and rather, he should be given to preaching and praying. Such a combination of politics and religion masked behind the desire for wealth was a damnable mix according to Luther.

The Reformation intended to restore the church to its proper state of morality and purity. In order to do this the people must come out from among the Catholic Church and continue in the proper biblical teachings of the Bible, not the whims of the Pope. Festivals should be abolished, superstitions, commemorations, fasts, and other burdens that Rome had utilized to claim sovereignty over the consciences of the people.

Luther did not stop in attempting to cleanse the church; he also desired to help the universities. Unless the universities diligently followed and taught the Holy Scriptures, they would continually be a den of iniquity. He pressed parents to consider never putting their child at risk by placing them in a university that did not stand on the Bible.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 4

It was obvious that Rome could not allow Luther to go unanswered. Luther has not just attacked indulgences, or had a debate with their champion theologian – now he was tipping the Pope’s hat and attacking the papacy. Voices from all over the country, and of Europe, pressed Rome to forcefully deal with Luther.

John Eck was already in the thrall of planning continual recourse against Luther for the sting of failure at the Leipsic disputations where Luther demonstrated to be superior in intellect and argument. But also that Luther was now stretching his hand to his mother church, and attempting to overthrow its authority. Sylverster Mazzolini de Priero was active along side of Eck, and a supporter of him, believing that the papacy was the fifth kingdom prophesied about in the book of Daniel. He was convinced that the Pope was the ruler of the only true monarchy and that all others, including kings and princes, should bow to the Pope. For Luther, then, to attack this authority threw Eck and his associates into an outrage. It was now necessary to make distinctions on key doctrines that would forever divide Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Many desired to place their hands in the condemnation of Luther. Eck, Mazzolini, De Vio, and the Roman pontiff were predominant at this time. On June 15th at Sacred College the famous papal bull was drawn up against Luther. It consisted of condemning 41 propositions from Luther’s works, and calling on the saints and the Lord to vindicate them against the Wild Boar who had terrorized the mother Church.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 5

Though tumults were rising for Luther, Melancthon resided in the calmer atmosphere of Wittenberg in teaching and exposition. His classrooms were always full, and men from all over Europe attended to hear the eloquent theologian discuss the Bible. Being such a man of study, his friends prompted him to take a wife to diversify his social aspects. He married Catherine Krapp, the burgomaster’s daughter. She was a very affectionate wife, even though, in the beginning, Melancthon was cold toward her marrying her more out of pressure than of love for her. Melancthon’s marriage brought in a domestic flavor to the Reformers since Luther had not married and time for family and domestic duties were not a question.

Melancthon wrote extensively. His best time of study was after midnight and up to three in the morning. His passion was to learn, and then to teach others what he had learned, which made him an exceptional theologian in this regard.

Melancthon regretted seeing some of the students of Wittenberg fighting with the citizens of Wittenberg who were not as learned, or carried differing opinions. Luther, in observing such outbursts was as saddened by it all as well. Luther had been in danger in Augsburg, Leipsic, and now, Wittenberg. Tumults raged on around the Reformation. Though Melancthon was teaching the Bible and the necessary obedience that is due the fellow man, the superiority or elite nature of the students caused them to go overboard in their thinking.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 6

While Rome was busy excommunicating Luther, and shouting anathemas against him, the Gospel also made its way into Italy. Letters received from Venice stated the reception of the Gospel favorably. Though the Gospel penetrated the country, it was not as largely disseminated throughout as much as Luther would have hoped. The Pope’s own country converted? That would have been a special providence.

Luther continued his attacks against Romanism. He preached against the Mass in Wittenberg that caused much distress to the church, and penned the Babylonian Captivity of the Church speaking quite plainly against the Roman Church as the harlot. It was published October 6, 1520 and demonstrated great courage in the Reformer to take such a stand against the pontiff. He claimed, rightly so, that the design of the Roman Church was to destroy souls. It captured ignorant men and sent them to hell with its doctrines of meritorious salvation by works. He attacked the sacraments of Rome, monastic vows, and other errors, continuing his onslaught against the heresies that remained a facade for a money hungry political system that reigned by superstition over the lives of men.

Luther’s objective was to demonstrate that the Roman Church had no right to impose authority or bind the conscience of any man unless it is with his own consent; this goes for the Lord’s Supper as well as Baptism. Both these sacraments had been twisted into manipulation tactics by Rome. He reemphasized the need for personal faith, and the need for men to repent and follow Christ alone.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 7

After the publication of the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther had strategically set the division between protestants and Catholics as a line of demarcation that could never again be resolved unless one or the other repented for their errors. However, just before this publication the Augustinian monks gathered for a meeting on desiring to negotiate peace. Staupitz resigned as general vicarship and it was conferred over to Wenceslas Link, the same man who accompanied Luther when he went to Augsburg. Miltitz arrived and desired to address his brother Italians in order to mend, as much as possible, a reconciliation between them and Luther. Miltitz, upon a favorable reception, had a letter sent to Luther to encourage him to write to the Pope and settle the differences. Luther did so, never endangering his ideas about the Pope’s person, but only his doctrine. However, Luther was informed of the arrival of the papal bull on the 3rd of October and would, then, not write to the Pope, and instead published the Babylonian Captivity of the Church on the 6th.

Though Miltitz heard that Luther would not write a letter, and instead published his book, he was not dissuaded. He met with Luther and encouraged him, quite diplomatically, that he ought to write a friendly letter to the Pope. Luther agreed in order to pursue everything he could in seeking peace. He also sent the Pope a little book called Christian Liberty, in which Luther expressed that men cannot be bound by the church to do anything their consciences would not allow, but ought, out of charity and freedom follow the church’s lead.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 8

Since John Eck was associated with Luther in a scholastic and collegiate manner he would be Rome’s message boy. He would deliver the papal bull to Luther, though stopping along the way he published a copy of the bull in Meissen, Merseburg, and Brandenburg. As a Catholic theologian Eck understood the dangerous and heretical nature of Luther’s work to the pontificate. He had felt the power of Luther’s attack both in debate and in writing more than anyone else, so it was befitting that Eck should deliver the news that the Pope was excommunicating Luther unless he recanted.

Upon nearing Wittenberg with the bull, and stopping in Leipsic, Eck was confronted all around by letters and angry students from the university who shunned the notion that Luther should be excommunicated. He escaped secretly at night for fear of pain or death, and resided at Coburg. Gradually, Eck revived his former passion to see Luther scandalized and excommunicated. Eck did not go to Wittenberg, out of fear, but sent the bull to the rector threatening him if he did not comply with the Pope’s wishes to have Luther handed over. He also, at the same time, sent another letter to Duke John, Frederick’s brother, in appeal of the same.

In having become aware of these proceedings, Ulrich Zwingli published the first of his works in support of the Reformer of Germany, though he did not know Luther, and had never met him. Though Zwingli’s plea for a proper judgment based on the Scriptures made its way to Germany, it had no real affects on the situation. The Church was destined to go through schism, and only through schism would a medicine for its sickness be found.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 9

Luther laughed at the reception of the papal bull in Wittenberg. He assumed its falsity and Eck’s incompetence to formulate something that would refute the Scriptures. Luther said, “Already I feel greater liberty in my heart, for at last I know the Pope is the Antichrist, and that his throne is that of Satan himself.” His opinion of the bull, then, was that it simply widened the breach between him and the reformation of the church, and founded the reality that the Pope was the true enemy of the truth of God.

At first Luther entertained the idea that the bull may have been a ploy form Eck himself and not the Pope, but such a reality was only a thought. On November 4, 1520 Luther wrote a treatise against the bull called Against the Bull of the Antichrist. Here is entreated the reader to understand that he only desired the people to learn their Bible and that souls would be saved. He condemned the papacy for burning his books, and reiterated again the utter necessity of true saving faith for those who would follow Christ.

While Luther was engaged in Wittenberg upon refuting the bull, the Leipsic theologians joined with Duke George and the Bishop of Merseburg to separate, in some way, the heretic Luther from his heretical university, Wittenberg. If the two were ripped apart, Luther’s influence would diminish, or so they thought.

The papal bull began its authoritative reign when in Ingolstadt, the home city of Eck, Luther’s books were taken from the bookseller’s shops and burned. Erasmus said that Eck was filling everywhere with his smoke. From the Louvain doctors who appealed to Margaret, governor of the Netherlands, to burn Luther’s books, to the viceroy of Holland, Eck’s fires were burning and Luther’s works were diminishing.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 10

On November 17th Luther drew up a protest against the papal bull. There Sarctor of Eisleben wrote up the protest as Luther dictated it. He condemned the Pope as an unjust judge, heretic, apostate, misled blasphemer and condemned by the Holy Scriptures themselves. He appealed to all to resist with him the antichristian principles of the Pope, and warned all faithfully by the Scriptures what is true. This was not all he did in protest.

On December 10th a placard was posted on the walls of the university at Wittenberg inviting students and faculty to rally in the morning at the Eastern Gate by the Holy Cross. A scaffold was prepared, and the decreetals of the Pope were placed upon it. One of the oldest teachers of the school lit fire to it, as Luther stood before the burning mass. In Luther’s mind, previously, he had only been toying with the Pope, but now, it became very serious. Luther threw the papal bull into the raging fire and burned it. At Leipsic, in his battle with Eck and the theologians of the church, his ties with the pontificate had crumbled internally. But now, by burning the official stance of the Pope publicly, he severed all ties with the antichristian harlot forever.

There were some among the Reformation who cried with alarm, but to no great avail. Staupitz himself was deeply troubled and anxious about the entire situation. But Luther was resolved to stand firm against the tyranny of the pontificate. Luther was aware that on all sides he was receiving criticism, but so long as he stood steadfast on the Word of God he knew he would never be moved.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 11

After the burning of the papal bull, the question that now arose politically would be the response of the emperor. Mario Caraccioli and Jerome Aleander, two bull enthusiasts, were hired by the emperor to advise him on political matters. Aleander was sent to meet with the emperor, and his agenda was to dissuade him of the Reformation completely and encourage him to destroy all its efforts. However, after Aleander’s plea to the emperor that the book burning and papal bull were necessary, the emperor could not make such a rash decision as to simply overthrow Luther since many powerful delegates, such as the elector Frederick, were on Luther’s side. Political expediency would not allow the emperor to act as hastily as Aleander would have liked. So instead, Aleander took Caraccioli to the Saxony defender.

Frederick met with Aleander, but again, denied Aleander’s immediate requests to overthrow Luther. However, he was in a precarious position. Would he side with Luther or ultimately the emperor? Should Frederick sow discord throughout the country? Frederick was anxious. Gradually, though, he regained his resolve and requested that Luther be heard before the emperor in order to state his case clearly and that, if any error were to be found by the Holy Scriptures, that such could be recanted.

Frederick, in desiring full counsel, summoned Erasmus to come and speak with him about the matters. Erasmus replied in a sarcastic tone, “Luther has committed two great faults: he has attacked the crown of the Pope and the bellies of the monks.” Then more seriously, he counseled Frederick that the universities and the Pope have condemned Luther, but had not proven Luther wrong.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 6, Chapter 12

Luther was resolved to stand upon the Word of God no matter what Rome decided to do. He did not believe he should simply defend him, but that he should attack, blow by blow, all of the threats of Rome against him and the Word of God. Nobles and peasants heard Luther preach unreservedly and all who regularly listened came to the conclusion, along with Luther, that the Pope was antichrist.

Luther’s writings became immensely popular at this time, especially his Lord’s Prayer and the new edition of a German Theology. Other pastors all over Germany recommended these works. In these works the native tongue was employed, and the encouragement for pastors to continue preaching in this way caught on. The people were persuaded that pastors would preach in their own native tongue, and anything less than this would be manipulation by the Roman Church against the unveiling of the truth – and this Luther continued to press.

Laity and Nobles alike pressed the cause of the Reformation. Ulrich Hutten never tired of taking up the cause of reform. He addressed letters to most of the nobles of Germany and the important legates, as well as writing to encourage Luther. Even Lucas Cranach, the painter, published a set of engravings called the Passion of Christ and Antichrist, which demonstrated the self-made glory of the Pope on the one hand, and the sufferings and humiliation of Christ on the other.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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