Short Papers on Church History — Chapter 34

The First Papal Jubilee

The avarice of the Roman clergy, and the superstition of the people, had been greatly excited by the Crusades. For two hundred years these were the source of enormous wealth and power to the church, and of incalculable misery, ruin, and degradation to the nations of Europe. In these so-called holy wars about six millions of Europeans perished, and about two hundred millions of money were expended; besides, the property of the crusader was commonly placed during the expedition under the bishop's protection, and in case of his death — which generally happened — it remained in his hands. But happily that which "stands singularly marked in the temple of history as a monument of human absurdity, of unanimous infatuation," came to an end with the close of the thirteenth century.

In the year 1291 Acre, the last military station held by the Christians in Palestine, fell into the hands of the Turks. The unbelievers were then in possession of the sepulchre of Christ, and of all the holy places and objects of pilgrimage. Thus ended the great papal scheme and the boasted glory of the Crusades to the Holy Land.

Two grave questions now arose: How is the papal treasury to be filled, and the desire of the people for indulgences to be satisfied? The pope wants money, the people want their sins forgiven and are willing to pay for it. To meet these two important objects, the pope discovered a new and most successful way. We have reached the last year of the thirteenth century, said Boniface; let the first year of the fourteenth be a year of Jubilee. Palestine was irrecoverably lost; the cross and the Saviour's sepulchre were in the hands of the Saracens; but the holy city of Rome, and the tombs of the apostles were open to the pilgrims. By skilfully changing the place of pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Rome the desired end was gained. Never was superstition more successful.

On the 22nd of February, 1299, a bull was issued, promising indulgences of extraordinary fulness to all who, within the following year, should, with due penitence and devotion, visit the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul — the Romans once a day for thirty successive days, and strangers for fifteen. The bull was immediately promulgated throughout Christendom. It asserted that all who should confess and lament their sins, and devoutly make pilgrimage to the tomb of the "chief of the apostles," should receive a plenary indulgence; or, in other words, a complete remission of all sins, past, present, and to come. An indulgence of this kind had hitherto been limited to the crusaders; the consequence was that all Europe was in a frenzy of religious excitement. Multitudes hastened to Rome from all parts. The welcome sound of the Jubilee drew all western Christendom into this vast peaceful crusade. "Throughout the year, the roads in the remotest parts of Germany, Hungary, Britain, were crowded with pilgrims of all ages, of both sexes, who sought to expiate their sins, not by an armed and perilous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but by a less costly, and a less dangerous, journey to Rome. "

The Golden Year

The calculations of the number cannot be easy or accurate; but we are assured by those who assisted at the ceremony, that there were always about two hundred thousand present in the city, and the total concourse of the year has been fixed at two millions. The wealth which flowed into the papal coffers from the Jubilee was enormous. Supposing that each individual gave only a small sum, what a royal treasure must have been collected! But offerings were heaped up on the altars. It was called by the Romans the Golden Year. An eye-witness tells us that he saw two priests with rakes in their hands, employed day and night in raking, without counting, the heaps of gold and silver that were laid on the tombs of the apostles. Nor was this tribute, like offerings or subsidies for crusades, to be devoted to special uses, such as provisions or freight of armies, but it was entirely at the free and irresponsible disposal of the pope. But from the benefits of this indulgence the enemies of the church were to be excluded, or rather the enemies of Boniface.

Christendom, with the exception of a few noted rebels against the See of Rome, had now received the gift of pardon and eternal life, and in return, of its own accord, heaped up at the pope's feet this extraordinary wealth. The authorities had taken wise and effective measures against famine for such accumulating multitudes, but many were trampled down, and perished by suffocation.

The experiment far exceeded the expectations of the pope and his partisans. Boniface had proposed that the Jubilee should be celebrated every hundredth year, but the advantages to the church were so great, that the interval was naturally thought to be too long. Clement VI., therefore, repeated the Jubilee in 1350, which drew vast multitudes of pilgrims to Rome, and incredible wealth. The numbers were nearly as great as in 1300. The streets leading to the churches which were to be visited — St. Peter's, St. Paul's, and St. John Lateran — were so crowded as to admit of no movement, except with the stream of the multitudes. High prices were charged by the Romans for food and lodgings, many had to spend their nights in the churches and streets, and not a few of the poor deluded pilgrims perished. Urban VI., in 1389, reduced the interval to thirty-three years, the supposed length of time to which the life of our Lord on earth extended. Finally, Paul II. in 1475, established that the festival of the Jubilee should be celebrated every twenty-five years, which continues to this day to be the interval at which the great festival is observed.

With the great religious impostures of the dark ages, and the sin of deluding a credulous people, we have become familiar; but it is truly heart-breaking to find that such blasphemies are believed and practised in our own day, notwithstanding the state of education and the number of witnesses to the truth of the word of God and the finished work of Christ. The following extract from a bull that was issued by the pope in 1824, appointing the Jubilee for the ensuing year, will explain what we mean.

"We have resolved, by virtue of the authority given to us from heaven, fully to unlock that sacred treasure composed of the merits, sufferings, and virtues of Christ our Lord, and of his virgin mother, and of all the saints which the Author of human salvation has entrusted to our dispensation. To you, therefore, venerable brethren, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, bishops, it belongs to explain with perspicuity the power of indulgences; what is their efficacy in the remission, not only of the canonical penance, but also of the temporal punishment due to the divine justice for past sin; and what succour is afforded out of this heavenly treasure, from the merits of Christ and His saints, to such as have departed real penitents in God's love, yet before they had duly satisfied by fruits worthy of penance, for sins of omission and commission, and are now purifying in the fire of purgatory."*

{*Gardner's Faiths of the World, vol. 2, p. 252.}

The Sale of Indulgences

Leo the tenth ascended the papal throne in the year 1513. He was the third son of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent, and brought with him to the pontifical court the refined, luxurious, and expensive style of his family. Besides, Michael Angelo had furnished him with finished design of St. Peter's, which was then in progress, and greatly increased his expenditure. The important question now was, how to find money to complete the grand cathedral, and to replenish the papal treasury for the purposes of Leo's pontificate?

The letters of Luther to this pontiff are misleading. He seems not to have known Leo's character, though he had so much to do with him, they have all the appearance of flattery. While Leo has the reputation of being one of the most polished and cultivated men of his day, he was far from being even a moral man. His court was gay, he was devoted to pleasure, and utterly careless of the duties of religion. Compared with his immediate predecessors — the dissolute Alexander VI., whose name can never be mentioned without loathing — and the wild warrior-pope, Julius II., whose stormy career filled a great part of Europe with blood and massacres — compared, we say, with such popes, the person and court of Leo would present a favourable contrast; and Luther no doubt addressed him under his superstitious veneration for the head of the church, and because of his fame as a man of learning.

To meet the various and heavy expenses of the extravagant Leo, the cry for money became louder and louder. "Money! money!" was the cry. "It was money," says one, "not charity, that covered a multitude of sins." Necessity suggested that the price of indulgences should be lowered, and that clever salesmen should be employed to push the trade all over Europe. The plan was adopted; but God overruled the shameless traffic for the accomplishment of the Reformation, and for the overthrow of the despotism of Rome. Germany, it was agreed, should be the first and especially favoured place with the sale of indulgences, as the geographical position of the country might have prevented many of the faithful from reaping the advantages of the Jubilee in Rome.

The original idea of indulgences seems to have been nothing more than a shortening of the outward penance imposed on penitents by the payment of a fine, such as we have constantly decreed in our courts of law — say, "Fined in fifty pounds, or six months' imprisonment." If the money is paid, it is placed to the credit of the criminal, and he is released and receives his discharge. In like manner the poor deluded papist supposes that the indulgence which he buys is placed to his credit in the statute-book of heaven, which balances the account against him for lies, slanders, robberies, murders, and wickedness of all kinds; or, as some have compared it, to a letter of credit on heaven, signed by the pope, in consideration of value received. Of course, if the delinquent's sins are great and many, he must pay heavily for his indulgences.

This pardon system expanded, and was so worked by the priesthood, that it became the means of enormous wealth to the papacy. Works meet for repentance were demanded from the sinner — and all were sinners — works such as fasting, castigation, pilgrimages, and after death so many years in purgatory. But the sinner was reminded that the burden of these works might be removed, and the years of purgatorial fire shortened, through the power delegated by Christ to the blessed Peter and his successors, on certain conditions. The easiest of these conditions to the penitent, and the most convenient to the pope, was "money! money!"

The Pope's Agents — John Tetzel

The speculation of Leo was a great commercial success. He sent out suitable agents into different parts of Europe with sacks of indulgences and dispensations. For a given amount a dispensation could be purchased to eat meat on Fridays and fast days, to marry one's near relation, and to indulge in every forbidden pleasure. The pedlars moved on; they extolled their wares with shouts and jokes; they assured the people that pardon and the salvation of their souls could now be purchased at greatly reduced prices. Crowds of buyers came forward, and the money of the faithful flowed in plentifully. At length they appeared in Saxony. The Archbishop of Mayence, and other spiritual dignitaries, had promised the pope their support in this shameless and iniquitous traffic, in consideration that they would receive a share of the profits; so business went on increasingly and uninterruptedly until the noisy hawkers came near to Wittemberg.

Amongst the many salesmen in this great papal fair, one man in particular attracted the attention of the spectators; this was the Dominican monk, John Tetzel, a name which has acquired an odious notoriety in European history. These dealers traversed the country in great state, lived in good style, and spent money freely. When the procession approached a town, a deputy waited on the magistrate, and said, "The grace of God and of the holy father is at your gates." Such a proclamation in those times of superstition was enough to move the quietest cities of Germany to the greatest excitement. The clergy, priests, nuns, town-councils, and trades with their banners, men and women, old and young, went out to meet the merchants, bearing lighted tapers in their hands, and advancing to the sound of music. The streets everywhere were hung with flags; bells were pealed; nuns and monks walked in procession, crying, "Buy! buy!" The great merchant monk himself sat in a chariot, holding a large red cross in his hand, and with the papal bull on a velvet cushion before him. The churches were the sale-rooms; the arms of the pope were hung on the red cross, and placed before the altar. Tetzel now ascended the pulpit, and loudly extolled in rude eloquence the efficacy of indulgences.*

{*See D'Aubigné, vol. 1, p. 322. Froude's Short Studies, vol. 1, p. 96.}

A Specimen of Tetzel's Preaching

Take the following extracts as a specimen of the blasphemous speeches of this daring impostor, and all under the sanction of the pope and the archbishop of the place.

"Indulgences are the most precious and the most noble of God's gifts. Come, and I will give you letters, all properly sealed, by which even the sins that you intend to commit may be pardoned. I would not change my privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven, for I have saved more souls by my indulgences than the apostle by his sermons. There is no sin so great that an indulgence cannot remit. But, more than this, indulgences avail not only for the living but for the dead. Priest! noble! merchant! wife! youth! maiden! do you not hear your parents and your other friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom of the abyss? We are suffering horrible torments! a trifling alms would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not! Oh, stupid and brutish people, who do not understand the grace so richly offered! Why, the very instant your money rattles at the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory, and flies liberated to heaven. The Lord our God no longer reigns, He has resigned all power to the pope."

The wild harangue of the coarse bellowing monk being over, the terrified and superstitious crowd hastened to purchase the pardon of their sins and the deliverance of their friends from the fires of purgatory. From the royal family down to those who lived on alms, all found money to buy forgiveness. Money poured in plentifully; the papal chest overflowed; but alas! alas! the moral effects were fearful. The easy terms on which men could obtain the pope's licence for every species of wickedness, opened the way to the grossest immorality, and insubjection to all authority. Even Tetzel himself was convicted of adultery and infamous conduct at Innsbruck, and sentenced by the Emperor Maximilian to be put into a sack and thrown into the river; but the Elector Frederick of Saxony interfered, and obtained his pardon. The unblushing Dominican proceeded on his way as the representative of his holiness the pope, just as if nothing had happened.

Luther's Public Appeal

A.D. 1517

Things were now coming to a crisis. Luther, who had been watching narrowly the progress of Tetzel, stepped forward; made his grand appeal to the common sense and to the conscience of the German people; nailed his theses to the church door at Wittemberg, and in ninety-five propositions challenged the whole Catholic church to defend Tetzel and the sale of indulgences.

The axe was now laid at the root of the tree. The germs of the Reformation were contained in these propositions. "The pope's indulgence," said Luther, "cannot take away sins; God alone remits sins, and He pardons those who are truly penitent without help from man's absolutions. The church may remit penalties which the church inflicts. But the church's power is in this world only, it extends not beyond death. Who is this man who dares to say that for so many crowns the soul of a sinner can be saved? Every true Christian participates in all the blessings of Christ, by God's grace, and without a letter of indulgence." Such was the style of Luther's noble protest, though mixed with much that still savoured of Catholicism.

Luther had now entered the field against the doctrine and the abuses of the church of Rome. The university and the whole city of Wittemberg were in commotion. All read the theses; the startling propositions passed from mouth to mouth; pilgrims from all quarters then present in Wittemberg, carried back with them the famous theses of the Augustinian monk, circulating the news everywhere. "This was the first electric flash," says Pfizer, "from the torch that was kindled at the funeral pile of the Martyred Huss, and, reaching the remotest corner of the land, gave the signal of mighty future events." In less than fourteen days, it is said, these theses were read through every part of Germany; and, ere four weeks had elapsed, they had overspread the whole of Christendom, as if the angels of heaven had been the messengers to exhibit them to universal gaze.

Rome clamoured for fire and faggot. "The religious houses all Germany over," says Froude, "were like kennels of hounds howling to each other across the spiritual waste. If souls could not be sung out of purgatory, their occupation was gone. But to the young laymen, to the noble spirits all Europe over, Wittemberg became a beacon of light shining in the universal darkness." Had Luther not been guided by the wisdom of God, he might have been swept away by his sudden popularity; but of himself, through grace, he thought very little, and remained quietly at his post in the Augustinian church at Wittemberg, waiting till God in His own time and way called him forth.

Luther at Heidelberg

In the spring of 1518 a general assembly of the Augustinian order was held at Heidelberg: Luther, by invitation, was present. His friends, knowing the designs and treachery of the Dominicans, did all they could to dissuade him from going; but Luther was not the man to be hindered by the fear of danger from the accomplishment of what he believed to be his duty. His trust was in the living God. So favourable an opportunity for preaching the gospel, the spread of the truth, and the diffusion of his propositions, was not to be neglected. He started on the 13th of April, with a guide who assisted him to carry his baggage, and performed the greater part of the journey on foot.

General curiosity, the name of Luther, the fame of his theses, attracted large crowds to the city and the university of Heidelberg. Here, before a large assembly, he disputed with five doctors of divinity on a variety of subjects, but relating chiefly to theology and philosophy. His knowledge of scripture, of the traditional dogmas of the church, his want of respect for the name and system of Aristotle, his great argumentative power, proved to his opponents that he was a polemic of no common order. He returned to Wittemberg, well protected and accompanied by many friends.

The wonderful effect produced by these controversies moved Tetzel to attempt a reply to Luther's attack on the sale of indulgences. Full of vain boasting and blasphemy, he asserts and reasserts the power of the pope, and of the clergy as deputed by him, fully and for ever to forgive all sins. In answer to these daring assertions, Luther wrote a further series of propositions which he termed "Resolutions," or explanations of his former theses. In this treatise the Reformer is more distinctly seen. He brings prominently forward the great truth of the Reformation — that man is justified by faith alone without deeds of law. "For he hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21)

Luther now challenges the decision of the pope himself. He sent him a copy of his Resolutions, accompanied by a very humble letter, dated May 30th, 1518. Utterly careless as Leo really was as to the interests of religion, he could not treat with entire indifference the letter of Luther; especially as the emperor Maximilian had solicited his interference about the same time. He ordered Luther to be sent to Rome and there to answer for his audacity. Luther refused to obey the summons, declaring, however, his readiness to appear and defend his cause before pious, impartial, and learned judges in Germany. The pope, finding that Luther was under the protection of Frederick elector of Saxony, wrote to that prince desiring him to deliver the heretical monk to the Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, who had full instructions how to act with regard to the disobedient doctor. But, to the praise of that singularly wise and excellent prince, he refused to obey the pope's orders and protected Luther. The pope was now obliged to propose less hasty, less blood-thirsty, and more formal measures. Accordingly the citation to Rome was changed into a summons to Augsburg, which Luther declared his intention to obey.

Luther at Augsburg

Some of his friends, concerned for the safety of his valuable life, attempted to dissuade him from his purpose; but regardless of danger, and confiding in the watchful care of divine providence, he was determined to appear. In his monk's brown frock, he started on foot from Wittemberg, and accompanied by the citizens, high and low, to the gates, he cheerfully walked to Augsburg.

The cardinal assumed the appearance of a tender and compassionate father, and addressed Luther as his dear son; giving him to understand, however, in plainest language that the pope insisted on recantation, and that he would accept of nothing else. "Condescend then," said Luther, "to inform me in what I have erred." The cardinal and his Italian courtiers, who had expected the poor German monk to fall down on his knees and plead for pardon, were astonished at his calm but dignified manner. "I am here to command," replied Cajetan, "not to argue." "Rather," answered Luther, "let us reason on the points in dispute and settle them by the decisions of sacred scripture." "What!" exclaimed the cardinal, "do you think the pope cares for the opinion of a German boor? The pope's little finger is stronger than all Germany. Do you expect your princes to take up arms to defend you — you, a wretched worm like you? I tell you, No! and where will you be then — where will you be then?"

Mark the noble answer, not of a poor monk merely, but of the man of God in trying circumstances. "Then, as now, in the hands of Almighty God." Rome was vanquished. The court dissolved. "To the amazement of the proud Italian, a poor peasant's son — a miserable friar of the provincial German town — was prepared to defy the power and resist the prayers of the sovereign of Christendom." Though armed with full power to crush his victim, he had to return to Rome and report his defeat, and tell his master that neither remonstrances, threatenings, entreaties, nor promises of the highest distinction could move the stubborn German from his wicked heresies. The faithful witness, finding his person in extreme peril, secretly left the place and returned to Wittemberg.

Incensed to the utmost by this failure, the pope wrote again to the Elector, entreating him to render up the criminal to justice or expel him from his dominions. Frederick hesitated. Many serious questions were involved in an open collision with the pope. Rather than bring his prince into trouble, Luther seriously thought of escaping to France. But He who "turneth the hearts of kings whithersoever he will," led the good Elector to throw the shield of his protection over his subject.

As nothing satisfactory had resulted from the mission of Cajetan, Leo dispatched another agent in the person of the papal nuncio, Charles von Miltitz. This emissary brought with him a golden rose, richly perfumed, as a present from the pope to the Elector Frederick. This gift was usually esteemed as a special token of the pontiff's favour, but in this instance it was doubtless intended as a bribe to the hesitating Frederick.

On reaching Saxony, Miltitz met with his old friend Spalatin, who made him acquainted with the real state of things in Germany. He assured the legate, that the divisions of the church were chiefly owing to the falsehoods, impostures, and blasphemies of Tetzel the indulgence-seller. Miltitz appeared to be astonished, and summoned Tetzel to appear before him at Altenburg and answer for his conduct. But things were greatly changed with the Dominican; he was no longer going from town to town with his papal bull and gilt car, but was hiding from the anger of his enemies in the college at Leipsic. "I should not care," he wrote to Miltitz, "about the fatigue of the journey if I could leave Leipsic without danger to my life; but the Augustinian, Martin Luther, has so excited and aroused the men of power against me, that I am nowhere safe." What an end, and what a picture, of those who engage to be the servants of men against God and His truth! With a bad conscience, and as a mean coward, he died shortly after this in great misery. But mark the contrast in the moral courage of the servant of God and of His truth, travelling on foot from Wittemberg to Augsburg.

Luther at Altenburg

The papal legate soon saw the general popularity of Luther's cause, and adopted a course directly opposite to that of the haughty Cajetan. He approached him with great demonstrations of friendliness, addressing him as "My dear Martin." His grand object was to allure the Reformer by flattery and deception to recant, and so bring the dispute to a close. And so far the crafty nuncio succeeded. He was a cunning diplomatist and a fawning papist, and Luther for the moment was caught in the snare.

"I offer," said Luther, "on my part, to be silent for the future on this matter, and to let it die away of itself, provided my opponents are silent on their part." Miltitz accepted the offer with overflowing joy, kissed the heretical monk, induced him to write a penitent letter to the pope, and lavished on him every expression of affection and kindness. Thus the great controversy between truth and falsehood, between the papacy and the dawning Reformation, seemed on the point of being terminated; but the Reformation was not to be hindered by Luther's apparent reconciliation to Rome.

Just at this time, when Luther was silenced, when he had concluded an unworthy peace with Rome, another voice is heard. Doctor Eck, the author of the Obelisken, and the champion of the papacy, challenged Carlstadt, the friend of Luther, to a public disputation on the contested points of theology, and Luther's declaration on indulgences. This aroused the energies, and awoke the eloquence, of Luther once more. A public discussion was conducted soon after at Leipsic, which lasted several weeks. Doctor Eck contended for the papacy, and Luther and Carlstadt for the Reformation. These celebrated discussions were overruled by God for the spread of the truth, not only over Germany, but over all Christendom. Luther's appeals to scripture created in the minds of many — especially in the minds of the students of the universities of Leipsic and Wittemberg — a spirit of inquiry which nothing short of the solid truth of God could satisfy. Thus the work of the Lord progressed, and the mind of Europe was prepared for the great revolution which was so soon to take place.

Distinguished Men of the Sixteenth Century

Here we may pause for a moment and note some of the great actors which now crowd the scene of this busy epoch. The age of the Reformation is one of the most remarkable in history for great men and great events.

Martin Luther, the one whom the Spirit of God is especially using, stands before us the most central and the most prominent figure. In his situation of peculiar danger, he might think that he was almost done; but God was gathering around him some of those distinguished men who early declared their entire sympathy with his position, and engaged all their powers in its defence. In the year 1518 Philip Melancthon was appointed professor of Greek in the university at Wittemberg; and from that period he became the intimate friend and the faithful fellow-labourer of the Reformer, even to the end of his life. Oecolampadius, professor at Basle, Ulric Zwingle, doctor of divinity at Zurich, Martin Bucer, and many others, did a gracious providence raise up just at this time, who have ever since been numbered among the most illustrious instruments of the Reformation.

The imperial throne falling vacant by the death of Maximilian in January 1519 proved favourable to the cause of Reform. The attention of the court of Rome was diverted from the affairs of Luther to the more pressing business of the new emperor. And Frederick, during the interregnum as vicar of the empire, was able to afford Luther a still more secure protection. The imperial crown was offered by the electors to Frederick, but he declined the perilous distinction, not caring to trouble himself with the weight of empire. The election fell on Maximilian's grandson Charles — grandson also of Ferdinand the Catholic. The youthful, handsome, and chivalrous princes, — Henry VIII. king of England, and Francis I. king of France, — aspired also to the imperial dignity, but the hereditary claims and possessions of Charles speedily turned the balance in his favour. He was sovereign of Spain, of Burgundy and the low countries, of Naples and Sicily, of the new empire of the Indies, and the discovery of America by Columbus added, to his many kingdoms, the new world. Since the days of Charlemagne, no monarch had swayed a sceptre over such vast dominions.

The pope, though at first opposed to the elevation of Charles, from the conflicting interests of the Vatican, withdrew his objections, seeing he would be elected; and Charles was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, on the 22nd of October, 1520.

Thus at the early age of nineteen, as Charles V. emperor of Germany, he assumed the imperial power. He is described as a youth of great intelligence, with a strong natural taste for military exercises. He was remarkable for a gravity and sedateness far beyond his years, and most amiable when it suited him. He possessed the subtlety and penetration of the Italian, with the taciturnity and reserve of the Spaniard; and withal he was a firm and devoted Catholic. "He was pious and silent," said Luther; "I will wager that he does not talk so much in a year as I do in a day."

This is the man to whom Luther's case must now be referred. No fitter man could have been found to execute the decrees and do the work of the Vatican. The pious reflections of D'Aubigné on this change of government are worthy of the warm-hearted biographer of Luther. "A new actor was about to appear on the scene. God designed to bring the Wittemberg monk face to face with the most powerful monarch that had appeared in Christendom since the days of Charlemagne. He selected a prince in the vigour of youth, and to whom everything seemed to announce a long reign .... and to him he opposed that lowly Reformation, begun in the secluded cell of a convent at Erfurt by the anguish and the sighs of a poor monk. The history of this monarch and of his reign was destined, it would seem, to teach the world an important lesson. It was to show the nothingness of all the strength of man when it presumes to measure itself with the weakness of God. If a prince, a friend to Luther, had been called to the imperial throne, the success of the Reformation might have been ascribed to his protection. If even an emperor opposed to the new doctrines, but yet a weak ruler, had worn the diadem, the triumph of this work might have been accounted for by the weakness of the monarch. But it was the haughty conqueror at Pavia who was destined to vail his pride before the power of God's word; and the whole world beheld the man who found it an easy task to drag Francis I. a prisoner to Madrid obliged to lower his sword before the son of a poor miner!"*

{*Vol. 2, p. 109. See also Froude's Short Studies on Great Subjects vol. 1. Universal History, Bagster, vol. 8. Waddington's Reformation, vol. 1. Mosheim, vol. 3.}

Luther and the Bull of Excommunication

We return to Luther and the close of the debate at Leipsic. Dr. Eck, the famous papal theologian, irritated by his defeat, and burning with rage against Luther, hurried away to Rome that he might obtain a bull of excommunication against his opponent. Unable to refute the camest and fervent appeals of the Reformer to the word of God, he immediately sought his condemnation and destruction. Such has ever been the way of the emissaries of Rome.

Overcome by the clamorous and the importunate applications of Eck and his friends, especially the Dominicans, Pope Leo, most unwisely, as most think, issued the desired bull on the 15th of June, 1520. Luther's writings were condemned to the flames, and he himself delivered over to Satan as a wicked heretic, unless he recanted and implored the clemency of the pontiff within sixty days. But the time was past for Luther and his friends to be silenced by ecclesiastical thunders. Had such a thing happened fifty years before, it would have been widely different. But neither Leo, Charles, Henry, nor Francis, knew the state of the public mind in Germany, or the silent but sure effects of the printing press throughout Europe. He who saw Guttenberg pulling at his press, Columbus returning from the discovery of America, Vasco di Gama from having doubled the Cape of Storms, or the learned Greeks scattered over the nations of Europe after the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, saw events which revived reaming, which expanded the human mind, and which aroused it from the lethargy into which it had fallen during the long dark night of the middle ages.*

{*James White's Eighteen Christian Centuries, p. 381.}

Before the bull of Leo reached Wittemberg, the best part of Germany was at heart with Luther, but especially the students, the artisans, and the tradesmen. He saw the ground on which he stood. The decisive step must now be taken. Open war must be proclaimed. He had written the most submissive and pacific letters to the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the princes, and the learned men; he had appealed from the pontiff to the supreme tribunal of a general council, but all to no purpose. He now determined to withdraw from the church of Rome and publicly to resist her authority. On the 10th of December, 1520, at nine in the morning, public notice having been given, Luther took the bull, together with a copy of the pontifical canon law, and some of the writings of Eck and Emser, and in the presence of a vast crowd of spectators committed them to the flames. This being done without the city walls, Luther re-entered, accompanied by the doctors of the university, the students, and the people. Having thus thrown off the yoke of Rome, he addressed the people as to their duty with great energy. The public caught his fire and the whole nation rallied around him. Luther was now set at liberty. The tie which had so long bound him to Rome was broken. From this time he assumed the attitude of an open and uncompromising antagonist of the pope and of his emissaries. He also published many pamphlets against the Romish system and for the truth of God.

Luther and Charles the Fifth

Leo, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, thus defied by Luther, son of the miner of Mansfield, turned to Charles for help. He reminded the youthful emperor of the vows he had just taken- as the advocate and defender of the church; and called upon him to inflict due punishment upon that audacious and rebellious monk — Martin Luther. Considerable anxiety prevailed in many quarters as to what would be the policy of the new emperor. Will he sympathize with the principles of progress which are everywhere at work in literature, politics, and religion? or will he be the pliant instrument of the papal power? were questions of great importance at that moment.

Charles was reserved. He had many things in hand. Two years elapsed before he was at leisure to take up the question. The interval was profitably employed by Luther and his friends. During the years 1518-19-20, the numerous pamphlets and expositions of the word of God, which issued from the press, had done their work. By the good providence of God, the new opinions were making rapid progress not only in Germany, but in Switzerland, France, and England. The deeply-rooted prejudices of many centuries were being overturned in the minds of multitudes in many parts of Europe.

Charles at length found that something more than polemical discussion was required to arrest the progress of a movement which threatened to overthrow the religion of his ancestors and disturb the peace of his empire. His first diet, or assembly of the States of the German monarchy, was appointed to be held at Worms. Before this assembly he cited Luther to appear and answer for his contumacious conduct. The pope and his party now expected that by fair means or foul, they would certainly get rid of their adversary. But the Elector, knowing the treachery of the ecclesiastics, and suspecting that Luther might meet with the fate of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, when they attended the Council of Constance, would only consent to his subject going to Worms on two conditions: — "1, That he should have a safe-conduct under the Emperor's hand and seal; 2, That Luther, if judgment went against him, should be free for the time to return to the place from which he had come; and that he, the Elector, should determine afterwards what should be done with him." Luther himself was ready to obey the citation when the Elector was satisfied as to his safety.

The Diet of Worms

A.D. 1521 — January Till May

The monk of Erfurt, armed with the word of God, and confidence in the divine presence, had put to flight the army of indulgence-sellers, had gained an easy victory over the pope's legate at Augsburg, and the champions of the papacy in the halls of Leipsic. He had also replied to the thunders of the pope by burning his bull at Wittemberg. Rome was paralysed. Her strength was spent. Her threatenings were disregarded. The so-called church could no longer carry things in the old style. Men had begun to think for themselves, and to think how far such orders should be obeyed. But a good Catholic prince was now on the throne of the empire, and the final struggle must be with him.

Charles, the faithful servant of St. Peter, opened the diet on the 28th of January, the festival of Charlemagne. Never before, in any age of the world, had so many kings, princes, prelates, nobles, and powers of this world, met together in diet. "Electors, dukes, archbishops, landgraves, margraves, counts, bishops, barons, and lords of the realm, as well as the deputies of the towns, and the ambassadors of the kings of Christendom, thronged with their brilliant trains the roads that led to Worms. Great questions, affecting the peace of Europe, of the world, and the triumph of truth, were here to be fully and gravely discussed." But we have chiefly to do with Luther and the Reformation.

Aleander, the pope's nuncio, a man of great eloquence, addressed the Emperor, the princes, and the deputies, for about three hours. He had Luther's books before him and the papal bulls. He had said all that Rome could say against the books and their author. He maintained that there were errors enough in Luther's writings to burn a hundred thousand heretics. The power of his oratory and the enthusiasm of his language produced a deep impression on the assembly. Murmurs soon arose from every quarter against Luther and his partisans. But it is perfectly clear from Meander's long oration, that his one grand object was to prevent the bold Reformer from being cited to appear. The papal party dreaded the prominence which would necessarily be given to the new opinions by the presence of Luther in so august an assembly. Leo wrote himself to beg that Luther's safe-conduct should not be observed. The bishops agreed with the pope that safe-conducts could not protect heretics.

Luther's Summons and Safe-Conduct

The young Emperor was encompassed with difficulties. Placed between the papal nuncio and the Elector, to whom he was indebted for his crown, what must he do? He wished to please both: to spare or to sacrifice a monk was a small consideration with Charles, but not so in the sight of Him who overrules all rulers. Luther must bear witness for the truth of God and against the lie of Satan in that great assembly. The Emperor at length made up his mind. Luther's appearance before the diet seemed the only means likely to terminate an affair which engaged the attention of all the empire. At last the summons and safe-conduct were sent, and Luther prepared to obey the imperial mandate.

On the 2nd of April, Luther took leave of his friends and began his journey. He rode in a modest conveyance, accompanied by his friends Schurff, Amsdorf, and Suaven; the imperial herald with the safe-conduct rode in front. Luther discovered at every stage of his journey, that gloomy forebodings filled the hearts of all friends. He was warned that "foul play was intended, that he was condemned already that his books had been burned by the hangman, and that he was a dead man if he proceeded." But Luther, undismayed, replied, "I trust in God Almighty, whose word and commandments I have before me. " He preached at several places on his way, and accepted the entertainment of his friends. But as he drew near to Worms, the storm which he had raised became more violent. The enemies of the Reformation were boiling with indignation when they heard he was approaching the city. Spalatin, the Elector's chaplain, and Luther's faithful friend, sent a messenger to meet him with these words, "Do not enter Worms!" But the intrepid monk, full of holy courage, turned his eyes on the messenger, and said, "Tell your master, I will go if there are as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs of the houses." On the morning of the 16th of April, he discovered the walls of the ancient city. Noblemen of high rank went out to meet him, and more than two thousand accompanied him to his lodgings. From the pavement to the roofs of the houses, every place seemed covered with spectators.

The following day he was conducted to the diet by the marshal of the empire, Ulrich of Pappenheim. The crowd that filled the streets to see him pass along was so great that it was necessary to lead him through private houses and gardens to the hall of audience. Many of the knights and nobles who thronged the body of the hall spoke encouragingly to Luther as he pressed his way to the council chamber. One, who probably had received the truth and loved the Saviour, reminded him of the Master's words, "When they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." Another, though clad in gleaming armour, touched him on the shoulder with his gauntlet, saying, "Pluck up thy spirit, little monk: some of us here have seen warm work in our time, but neither I nor any knight in this company ever needed a stout heart more than thou needest it now. If thou hast faith in these doctrines of thine, go on in the name of God." "Yes, in the name of God," said Luther, throwing back his head, "in the name of God forward!"

Luther Appears Before the Assembly

To one who had been educated and trained amid the retirement of a cloister, the sight of such an assembly must have been overwhelming. There sat Charles, sovereign of half the world. And there on either side of him were ranged the peers and potentates of the German empire — bishops and archbishops, cardinals in their scarlet robes, papal nuncios in their official magnificence, ambassadors from the mightiest kingdoms of Christendom, to say nothing of deputies and officials. Such was the assembly of the States-General at Worms. And gathered, the reader may ask, for what? It was really to hear the trial and judge the son of a poor miner. Dressed in his monk's frock and hood, pale-faced and worn with the fatigues and hazards of his recent life, he stood silent and self-possessed in the midst of more than five thousand spectators. "Yet prophet-like that lone one stood, with dauntless words and high," answering all questions with force and modesty.

After a moment of intense stillness, the chancellor of Treves addressed him in a loud voice, first in Latin and then in German: "Martin Luther, You are called upon by his imperial Majesty to answer two questions: first, Do you admit that these books," pointing to about twenty volumes placed on a table, "were written by you? Secondly, Are you prepared to retract these books, and their contents, or do you persist in the opinions you have advanced there?" Then Luther replied: That, in respect to the first question, he did undoubtedly acknowledge these books, and would never disclaim any one of them. As to the second, he asked that some further space for consideration might be granted him, that he might so frame his answer as neither to offend the word of God nor endanger his own soul. One day was granted. Whatever may have been Luther's reason for this request we need not stay to inquire: one thing is certain, that it was overruled by God to discover and reveal the secret springs of Luther's strength and courage, and the strength and courage of faith in all ages. That wonderful prayer which was offered up shortly before his second appearing, is the most precious document in the whole history of the Reformation. We cannot characterize it; we give it from D'Aubigné's history.

Luther's Prayer

For a moment Luther felt troubled; his eye was off the blessed Lord; he was thinking of the many great princes before whom he had to stand; his faith grew weak, he was like Peter when he looked at the waves in place of the Person of Christ, he felt as if he would sink. In this state of soul he fell on his face and groaned deep thoughts which could not be uttered. It was the Spirit making intercession for him. A friend hearing his distress, listened, and was privileged to hear the broken cries of a broken heart ascending to the throne of God.

"O Almighty and Everlasting God! How terrible is this world! Behold, it openeth its mouth to swallow me up, and I have so little trust in Thee! . . . How weak is the flesh, and Satan how strong! If it is only in the strength of this world that I must put my trust, all is over! . . . My last hour is come; my condemnation has been pronounced! . . . O God! O God! . . . O God! Do Thou help me against all the wisdom of the world! Do this; Thou shouldest do this .... Thou alone ... for this is not my work, but Thine. I have nothing to do here, nothing to contend for with these great ones of the world! I should desire to see my days flow on peaceful and happy. But the cause is Thine.... And it is a righteous and eternal cause. O Lord! help me! Faithful and unchangeable God! in no man do I place my trust. It would be vain! All that is of man is uncertain, all that cometh of man fails.... O God! my God! hearest Thou me not? . . . Thou hidest Thyself! Thou hast chosen me for this work. I know it well! . . . Act, then, O God! . . . Stand at my side, for the sake of Thy well-beloved Jesus Christ, who is my defence, my shield, and my strong tower."

After a short time of silent struggling with the Lord, he again broke out in those short, deep, broken utterances, which must be experienced before they can be understood. It is the breaking of the bones of carnal confidence and self-importance; this is being broken down in the presence of God "Lord! where stayest Thou? . . . O my God! where art Thou? . . . Come! Come! I am ready! . . . I am ready to lay down my life for Thy truth .... patient as a lamb. For it is the cause of justice — it is Thine! . . . I will never separate Thyself from me, neither now nor through eternity! . . . And though the world should be filled with devils .... though my body, which is still the work of Thy hands, should be slain, be stretched upon the pavement, should be cut in pieces .... reduced to ashes .... my soul is Thine? ... Yes! Thy word is my assurance of it. My soul belongs to Thee! It shall abide for ever with Thee.... Amen.... O God! help me! ... Amen."

This prayer explains the state of Luther's mind and the character of his communion with God, better far than any description from the pen of his biographer. Here the living God is qualifying His servant for His work by giving him to taste the bitterness of death. (2 Cor. 4:7-12) Luther was but emerging from the darkness of superstition; he had not fully learnt the blessed truth of death and resurrection, of his oneness with Christ, of his acceptance in the Beloved. But his nearness to God, the power of his prayer, and the reality of his communion, refresh our hearts after an interval of three hundred years.

Luther's Second Appearance

The fruits of his prayer were soon to be seen. Finding himself again standing before Charles, the chancellor began by saying, "Martin Luther, Yesterday you begged for a delay, which has now expired.... Reply, therefore, to the question put by his Majesty. Will you defend your books, or will you retract them?" Luther turned towards the Emperor, and with a serious countenance, wherein modesty, mildness, and firmness, were strikingly blended, he entered fully into the contents of his books. Much that he said must have been very gratifying to the Germans, but most galling to the Romans. Take the following as an example: — "In one class of my books I have written against the papacy and the doctrines of the papists, as of men who by their iniquitous tenets and examples have desolated the christian world both with temporal and spiritual calamities. Their false doctrines, their scandalous lives, their evil ways, are known to all mankind. And is it not evident that the human doctrines and laws of the popes entangle, torment, and grieve the consciences of the faithful, while at the same time the crying and perpetual extortions of Rome swallow up the wealth and the riches of Christendom, and especially of this illustrious nation!" But such explanations of his books were not what the diet required. He was pressed for a distinct avowal of retractation. "Will you or will you not retract?" exclaimed the orator of the diet.

Luther now replied without hesitation. "Since your most serene Majesty and the princes require from me a clear, simple, and precise answer, I will give it thus: — I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is as clear as day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience." And then, looking round on the assembly — on all that was mighty in power, on all that was venerable for antiquity — he nobly said, "Here I take my stand; I cannot do otherwise: may God be my help! Amen. "

Astonished at a display of courage and veracity entirely new to them, many of the princes found it difficult to conceal their admiration, while others were utterly confounded. But, as some have said, in these words, in Luther's honest protest, the whole heart and meaning of the Reformation lay. Were men to go on for ever saying that this and that was true, because the pope affirmed it? or were the decrees of popes and the canons of councils thenceforward to be tried, like the words of other men, by the ordinary laws of evidence, by the infallible standard of the word of God? The death-knell of Absolutism was rung.

When Luther had ceased speaking, the chancellor said, "Since you do not retract, the Emperor and the States of the empire will consider what course they must adopt towards an obstinate heretic. The diet will meet tomorrow morning to hear the Emperor's decision."

The general effect produced on the diet both by the address and the demeanour of Luther was unquestionably favourable to his position. He gave his enemies cause to fear him. In the presence of so many powerful ecclesiastics, who were thirsting for his blood, he feared not to denounce in his usual vigorous style the iniquities of popery. But what was even more for the cause of Reform, he inspired his friends with his own confidence in the truth. After a night of restless anxiety and discussion by all parties, the morning came, and with it heavy tidings for Luther. The policy of the Vatican prevailed in the councils of Charles. The following edict he presented to the diet: -

"Descended from the christian emperors of Germany, from the Catholic kings of Spain, from the archdukes of Austria, from the dukes of Burgundy, who have all been renowned as defenders of the Roman faith, I am firmly resolved to imitate the example of my ancestors. A single monk, misled by his own folly, has risen against the faith of Christendom. To stay such impiety, I will sacrifice my kingdoms, my treasures, my friends, my body, my blood, my soul, and my life. I am about to dismiss the Augustinian Luther, forbidding him to cause the least disorder amongst the people, I shall then proceed against him and his adherents, as contumacious heretics, by excommunication, by interdict, and by every means calculated to destroy them. I call on the members of the States to behave like faithful Christians."

Severe as this sentence may appear, it was far from satisfying the papists. They endeavoured to procure the violation of the safe-conduct, and re-enact the tragedy perpetrated by their ancestors at Constance. "The Rhine," said they, "should receive his ashes as it had received those of John Huss a century ago." But these treacherous suggestions were overthrown by the spirit of national honour which prevailed among the German princes, and which animated the greater part of the diet. There remained now one only hope for the papal party, and that — we blush to write — assassination. "A plot," says Froude, "was formed to assassinate Luther on his return to Saxony. The insulted majesty of Rome could be vindicated at least by the dagger. But this, too, failed. The Elector heard what was intended. A party on horse, disguised as banditti, waylaid the Reformer upon the road, and carried him off to the Castle of Wartburg, where he remained out of harm's way till the general rising of Germany placed him beyond the reach of danger."*

{*Short Studies on Great Subjects.}

Reflections on the Appearance of Luther at Worms

That such a thing should have happened at all, was of itself a signal victory over the papacy. His entry into Worms was like a triumphal procession. There, although a twice-condemned, excommunicated heretic and cut off from all human society, he is privileged to stand before the most august assembly in the world. The pope had condemned him to perpetual silence, and he is now invited, in most respectful language, to speak before thousands. And, by the good providence of God, he was permitted to address attentive hearers from all parts of Christendom, at considerable length and with great boldness, yet without interruption and almost without reproof. "An immense revolution," says D'Aubigné, "had thus been effected by Luther's instrumentality. Rome was already descending from her throne, and it was the voice of a monk that caused this humiliation." The mere fact of his trial at Worms announced to the world that the spell of popery was broken, and that the victory of the Reformation was secured. A poor, persecuted, friendless, solitary monk sets himself against the majesty of the triple crown. The secular arm is called in, but the Emperor refuses to execute the pope's decree. The ban falls to the ground. A spiritual power superior to both prevails, and the shout of triumph is heard in many lands.

It is perfectly clear that neither pope, prelate, nor sovereign knew the real condition of the public mind. A generation had grown up to manhood who had been taught by the men of letters to think for themselves and to have opinions of their own. Luther knew that his own thoughts about popery and the word of God were the thoughts of thousands. Nevertheless he stood alone in that assembly as God's witness for the truth. He maintained the private right of reading and interpreting the word of God, the duty of submitting to its authority, in the face of the high-handed assumption of both church and emperor. Among all the princes present Luther had not so much as one openly avowed protector, or even a single advocate of any rank or influence, in the assembly. But the God who strengthened Elijah to withstand the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, and who stood by Paul when he appeared before the nobles and princes of this world, and before Caesar himself, gave a wisdom and power to the monk of Wittemberg which nothing could overcome, and which made all men to see that true spiritual power and happy liberty were only to be found in a good conscience, through faith in the truth, but more especially through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.*

{*Universal History, Bagster, vol. 7, p. 18. Waddington, vol. 1, p. 364. D'Aubigné, vol. 2, p. 347. For lengthy details, see Milner, vol. 4.}