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Book 4 - Luther Before the Legate (May to December 1518)

A History of the Reformation in the 16th Century

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Book 4 – Luther Before the Legate (May to December 1518)

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 1

After returning from Heidelberg, Luther wrote again to clarify his ninety-five Theses in which he thought were misunderstood. He sent them to the highest court in Rome. He softened the blow, but did not water down the doctrine. He stood as firm as he had upon his original Theses but with a greater humility. In essence, he demonstrated that faith in Christ was enough, and that indulgences bought or sold were not Scriptural and not needful. His point in all this was to inform the Roman Church, formally, that it was in need of Reformation.

After sending the new Resolutions Luther decided to send a letter to the Pope believing that he was a sincere and just man. In his letter there is a sincere desire to gain Leo over to a knowledge of Christ and the truth. However, though Luther was writing with humility, at the same time Cardinal Raphael of Rovera had written the Elector Frederick, warning him not to protect Luther. Rome was readying herself against Luther, while Luther was attempting to win over the Pope to the Gospel.

The spiritual kingdoms at war here now had a dividing line. Luther stood upon the Word of God to determine the form of worship through the Spirit of God, and the Roman Church stood upon the form of the Church to contend against the Spirit and the Word of God. This line could not be compromised. One would have to hate one or the other, and choose the side they would stand upon.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 2

The emperor Maximillian held a Diet at Augsburg where he wanted to have his son, Charles, proclaimed king over the Romans. This designed failed because of opposition, especially of Frederick, who knew that the emperor’s intention was to rule the Diet. Instead, Frederick sought to gain the full confidence of the Pope against the emperor in order to subvert his plans.

Luther waited patiently for a reply from the Pope based on a humble letter he had sent. He hoped that the Pope would see his desire to submit to the Word of God, and that the Pope who would handle the Word of God correctly. Instead, the news that he was to be tried as a heretic caused him alarm. He wrote to Spalatin in order to persuade him to use his regal powers with Frederick to his advantage so that he could gain a safe conduct. However, Luther decided not to go, and Wittenberg wrote a letter to the Pope explaining Luther’s situation and his decision to stay in Wittenberg. This did not please the Pope, and some of the most threatening words he ever said against Luther came out at this point. The Pope decided that Luther should be excommunicated, along with anyone aiding him in his endeavors, no matter what rank they were.

Although through men like Miltitz, flattery was offered to Luther from one hand of the church, at the same time, the other hand – that of the Pope and cardinals – sought to execute him and rid the church of his heresy forever.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 3

Before Luther was compelled to attend the legal courts of Rome, God sent him a man named Schwartzerd, to befriend him. George Schwartzerd was a master-armorer of Bretten who had a son named Philip. Years later, this “Philip Schwartzerd” would be known as Philip Melancthon, a Greek designation meaning “black earth.” Philip attended the school at Pforzheim after the death of his father, and his grandfather, who had been taking care of him. Reuchlin, who frequently visited the school, met with Philip and gave him a Greek Grammar and a Bible, something he would study for the rest of his life.

At twelve years old Melancthon went to the university of Heidelberg. He earned his bachelors degree at age fourteen, and then in 1512, Reuchlin invited him to come to Tubingen. In 1514 he earned the doctor of philosophy degree and then began to teach at Leipsic. Because of his vast learning, especially in philosophy and exegesis, he became widely known. Frederick, the founder of the university at Wittenberg, called Melancthon to the university at age 21. Luther esteemed him as one with great learning and a sound judgment.

Melancthon lectured on Homer and the letter to Titus. His lecture room, as Luther has told Spalatin, was always full. No doubt, Luther found Melancthon a breath of fresh air, and they were friends until death. They complimented each other in their respective roles, and it was Melancthon that inspired Luther to write a German New Testament. It is even said that after Melancthon arrived at Wittenberg, it was then that the school became the “school of the nation.”

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

Melancthon’s arrival had a profound impact on the disposition of Luther. As he had been concerned before about his reckoning with Rome, at Rome, now, he was confident no matter what Rome decided because of the knowledge that the continuation of the work could be had in the eminent Melancthon. He wrote to Spalatin demonstrating his resolve to stand firm no matter what Rome threw his way. Though he did not go to Rome knowing that scandal would meet him on the way, or while he was there, the letter finally came from Rome that he should be summoned to Augsburg.

Luther journeyed to Augsburg though he knew he traveled without a safe conduct. Frederick’s influence preceded Luther, and made his journey to Weimar, and then Nuremberg. He met a friend (Wenceslas Link) who was a preacher of Nuremberg, and borrowed some clothing that he was in need of. He also visited Scheurl, and Albert Durer.

After the time spent with visiting his friends, Link and an Augustinian monk, named Leonard, decided to accompany Luther the rest of the journey. Providence demanded them to stop along the way since Luther had stomach pains and his friends hired a wagon to take him the rest of the way. On October 7th he arrived in Augsburg. Though Luther was ill and tired, God saw it fit to allow him a recovery just before reaching the city.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 5

Luther was about to meet a worthy rival named Thomas De Vio. He is better known as Cajetan, a cardinal of the holy mother church, and the defender of scholastic theology which Luther had often spoken and written against. However, Cajetan has a power given to him that would be a thorn for Luther, no matter how well Luther could outwit him – Cajetan has the power to arrest the heretic and sentence him to death if he did not recant of what the Catholic Church thought were his heresies.

Serra Longa, an Italian, met Luther and would be the one to lead him into the hall where Cajetan was waiting. He instructed Luther to perform certain acts of reverence before the cardinal. Certain kinds of bows and kneeing at certain times would be befitting of the honor due the cardina’ls position. Luther seemed to comply just as well with it all. Then a conversation took place in attempting to find out what Luther’s intentions would become before the cardinal. Luther assured Serra Longa that his intentions were purely based on holiness and a desire to serve the church, though he could not forfeit his convictions to the Word of God. Serra Longa asked if Luther had the Pope, bishops and cardinals in the palm of his hand, what would he do with them? Luther responded with reverence in saying he would pay them much honor, however, not at the expense of the Word of God. Serra Longa did not believe he would be so honorable, and his answers took him by surprise.

Luther was informed that Cajetan would see him tomorrow. Cajetan took time in assembling the Germans and Italians to receive advice on how to deal well with the monk.

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

On the next day, the interview was ready to commence, and Luther was lead into the hall where Cajetan was waiting. Some of the Italians and Germans made their way into the hall in order to hear Luther grovel at the feet of the cardinal. However, they would receive no such pleasure.

Luther humbled himself before the cardinal and bowed prostrate, then knelt down, and then stood before him. Luther spoke first knowing Cajetan was giving him leave to address him. He made it known that he was appearing before Cajetan as a child of the holy Church, and would gladly be instructed by him in matters of the truth. Cajetan responded in a friendly tone, attempting to play the role of the father over a wayward child. Cajetan no doubt, simply wanted Luther to recant. Luther wanted to be instructed in the truth. Cajetan then gave Luther two propositions that he had made: 1) that indulgences were wrong, and 2) that one who takes of the sacrament must have faith. Cajetan said he would use the Scriptures to refute Luther on this, but instead, used the Popes and fathers. They argued and neither backed down, though Luther stood on the power of the Scriptures.

Cajetan asked Luther if he would accept a safe conduct to Rome. This would have led the lamb to the butcher. Luther refused. Cajetan dismissed him politely, for he did not want Luther to know how much he had vexed him. Luther, on the other hand, wrote to Spalatin saying that Cajetan was no contest, in so many words.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 7

The next day Luther and Cajetan were to meet for a second, but decisive, interview. Staupitz, Peutinger and Doctor Ruhel all arrived, and Staupitz even encouraged Luther saying he had begun in Christ and should keep his eyes fixed upon him. The interview, again, began with a declaration of Luther, but this time it was a protest. Luther did not like the idea of being asked to retract his writings and work without having first been refuted by the Holy Scriptures. In this protest he desired to have his works submitted to the four universities of Basle, Friburg, Louvain, and Paris so that the doctors there would rightly instruct him in his error by the Word of God.

Cajetan was irritated by Luther’s protest. It was obvious that Luther’s comment surpasses, or presupposed surpassing Cajetan’s authority. Cajetan did not see a need for such a protest at all. He could sway the monk back to Rome; he was learned enough to deal with Luther. But Luther said that he had enough debating since the previous day’s debate came to nothing. Luther would not retract his ideas or his writings unless Cajetan could prove from the Bible he was wrong. Cajetan denied that he had “debated” anything and his wish was only to please the Elector Frederick in settling Luther’s disputations with Rome.

Luther than asked to write a reply to the legate, which Staupitz seconded, and that Cajetan accepted. Cajetan would have simply liked Luther to “retract”, but the stubborn monk was dead set upon a right use of the Scriptures that evaded Cajetan. The meeting broke, and Luther was pleased to be able to reply to the indulgence and faith accusations in writing.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 8

On the following Friday, Luther returned to the cardinal for the third interview. Luther gave his paper to Cajetan, and demonstrated in it both his inconsistencies in using Pope Clement instead of the Scriptures, as well as the groundless and contradictory assertions that the Church has made about indulgences, as he had written in his Theses. Indulgences cannot be the merit of the saints, much more the merit of Jesus Christ in a piece of paper bought for a copper coin.

Cajetan accused Luther of a display of “idle words” and “useless verbiage.” He told Luther than upon the last two meetings he was very inclined to talk with him because of his humility, and now his obstinacy was coming out. Cajetan accused Luther of missing the point, that Christ’s suffering attained a treasure of merit. Luther responding with logic – for how can that which attained the thing, be the thing itself? Cajetan was caught in own words. After this, Cajetan could only rant “retract, retract!” “Retract or return no more,” were the last of his words.

These three interviews and the outcome of Cajetan’s ranting and Luther’s steadfastness upon truth and the Word, marked the first step in the separation of Luther’s movement and the Church. The Reformation made its first large step between the mother Church and the new way. Luther and Cajetan would not meet again. Cajetan was to take the response of Luther back to Rome, and Luther was to return to Wittenberg.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 9

Luther had heard that the legate meant violence against him and that Staupitz had consented to it. He could not believe this. Though it was true, Cajetan decided that he could not in good conscience go against the safe passage already given to the Saxon monk. Cajetan and Staupitz talked over dinner about Luther. Could Staupitz convince Luther of his errors? Cajetan wanted him to try, but Staupitz made it known that Luther’s superior intellectual ability was no match for his mentor.

Staupitz visited Luther and told him that Cajetan had sent Luther’s points to Rome in order to illicit a response. Cajetan would then send him a letter of precisely the points they wished him to retract. Luther waited the next day for the letter, but it did not arrive. Luther sent Wenceslas Link, a friend, to go to the cardinal. Cajetan told Link that he did not think of Luther as a heretic, and treated Link quite cordially. Cajetan’s sole desire was that Luther would simply retract what he has said about indulgences, this demonstrating the monetary pressure that the Catholic Church had over its people to support the Pope.

Luther received no reply and no letters from Cajetan. He decided to leave Augsburg. He wrote a letter to the Pope which was pinned to city gates after his departure. Luther had received no response from Cajetan, and so appealed to Leo. Cajetan and his court hoped that time would simply break the monk, but to their surprise he had left. Cajetan was outraged. They had been outwitted by a monk, and their plan had backfired. What would Rome say now?

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 10

During this “escape” from Augsburg, Luther was reminded of John Huss; his flight, trial and execution. However, knowing full well that he had just come from being under the hand of Rome for ten days, his anxiety dispersed him quickly, and he rested in the sovereign grace of God watching over him.

Luther rode with a guide who led him to Nuremburg where he met with Staupitz for a time. Then he moved on to Graefenthal where he met with Count Albert. Albert had warned Luther not to go to Augsburg, but was tickled at the outcome of his dealings with Cajetan. He insisted on Luther staying as a guest, and Luther did so for a short time, and then continued on. Luther arrived at Wittenberg on October 30th hoping to get there to see the elector.

Cajetan wrote a letter to the elector not long after Luther’s departure. Cajetan conveyed an attitude of displeasure, and vengeance. He wanted the elector to expel Luther from Wittenberg, and his whole province, in order to send him to Rome to stand trial for his errors. The elector forwarded a copy of the letter to Luther, and Luther was resolved towards fighting for the truth after reading it. Luther then wrote a letter of resolve to the elector, and Frederick was moved by it.

The elector sent a letter to Cajetan stating that Luther’s visit to Augsburg should be enough. He also said that Cajetan should not expect Luther to retract any error that is not demonstrated to him to be an error. Luther was overjoyed to see this letter and was strengthened in heart at the help of the elector.

History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century: Book 4, Chapter 11

Since Luther thought he might soon be expelled from Germany, he wrote up a document outlining a report of the occurrences at Augsburg. Even his friends feared for his life, and desired that he would give himself over to the elector to be secured by him. Luther thought, though, about leaving for the sake of propagating the Gospel. His enemies could not understand where the resolve he had for the truth derived from.

Luther thought about going to France. He believed the Gospel would flourish there without opposition thinking that the doctors in Paris would be kindred spirits. However, Frederick summoned Luther through Spalatin to come to Lichtemberg to talk with him. They spoke freely for a long while about the affairs of the land. Luther was instructed to wait on the elector’s movements.

Luther published his “Report of the Conference at Augsburg.” Spalatin had written to Luther on behalf of the elector not to publish the document, but Luther received it too late.

Threatening reports came to Luther from all over Europe. Rome itself was angry at the outcome of the Conference, especially at Cajetan’s failure to control the monk. Instead of attacking Luther, or resorting to violence, the Pope published a bull that confirmed the indulgence precisely on the points in which Luther attacked the monetary doctrine. Cajetan had it published at Lintz, Austria on December 13, 1518.

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