Chapter 9: An Account of the Life and Persecutions of Martin Luther (2/4)

Leo X who succeeded Julius II in March, 1513, formed a design of building the magnificent Church of St. Peter’s at Rome, which was, indeed, begun by Julius, but still required very large sums to be finished. Leo, therefore, in 1517 published general indulgences throughout all Europe, in favor of those who contribute any sum to the building of St. Peter’s; and appointed persons in different countries to preach up these indulgences, and to receive money for them. These strange proceedings gave vast offence at Wittenberg, and particularly inflamed the pious zeal of Luther; who, being naturally warm and active, and in the present case unable to contain himself, was determined to declare against them at all adventures.

Upon the eve of All-saints, therefore, in 1517, he publicly fixed up, at the church next to the castle of that town, a thesis upon indulgences; in the beginning of which he challenged any one to oppose it either by writing or disputation. Luther’s propositions about indulgences were no sooner published, than Tetzel, the Dominican friar, and commissioner for selling them, maintained and published at Frankfort, a thesis, containing a set of propositions directly contrary to them. He did more; he stirred up the clergy of his order against Luther; anathematized him from the pulpit, as a most damnable heretic; and burnt his thesis publicly at Frankfort. Tetzel’s thesis was also burnt, in return, by the Lutherans at Wittenberg; but Luther himself disowned having had any hand in that procedure.

In 1518, Luther, though dissuaded from it by his friends, yet, to show obedience to authority, went to the monastery of St. Augustine, at Heidelberg, while the chapter was held; and here maintained, April 26, a dispute concerning “justification by faith”; which Bucer, who was present at, took down in writing, and afterward communicated to Beatus Rhenanus, not without the highest commendations.

In the meantime, the zeal of his adversaries grew every day more and more active against him; and he was at length accused to Leo X as a heretic. As soon as he returned therefore from Heidelberg, he wrote a letter to that pope, in the most submissive terms; and sent him, at the same time, an explication of his propositions about indulgences. This letter is dated on Trinity Sunday, 1518, and was accompanied with a protestation, wherein he declared, that he did not pretend to advance or defend anything contrary to the Holy Scriptures, or to the doctrine of the fathers, received and observed by the Church of Rome, or to the canons and decretals of the popes: nevertheless, he thought he had the liberty either to approve or disapprove the opinions of St. Thomas, Bonaventure, and other schoolmen and canonists, which are not grounded upon any text.

The emperor Maximilian was equally solicitous, with the pope about putting a stop to the propagation of Luther’s opinions in Saxony; troublesome both to the Church and empire. Maximilian, therefore, applied to Leo, in a letter dated August 5, 1518, and begged him to forbid, by his authority, these useless, rash, and dangerous disputes; assuring him also that he would strictly execute in the empire whatever his holiness should enjoin.

In the meantime Luther, as soon as he understood what was transacting about him at Rome, used all imaginable means to prevent his being carried thither, and to obtain a hearing of his cause in Germany. The elector was also against Luther’s going to Rome, and desired of Cardinal Cajetan, that he might be heard before him, as the pope’s legate in Germany. Upon these addresses, the pope consented that the cause should be tried before Cardinal Cajetan, to whom he had given power to decide it.

Luther, therefore, set off immediately for Augsburg, and carried with him letters from the elector. He arrived here in October, 1518, and, upon an assurance of his safety, was admitted into the cardinal’s presence. But Luther was soon convinced that he had more to fear from the cardinal’s power than from disputations of any kind; and, therefore, apprehensive of being seized if he did not submit, withdrew from Augsburg upon the twentieth. But, before his departure, he published a formal appeal to the pope, and finding himself protected by the elector, continued to teach the same doctrines at Wittenberg, and sent a challenge to all the inquisitors to come and dispute with him.

As to Luther, Miltitius, the pope’s chamberlain, had orders to require the elector to oblige him to retract, or to deny him his protection: but things were not now to be carried with so high a hand, Luther’s credit being too firmly established. Besides, the emperor Maximilian happened to die upon the twelfth of this month, whose death greatly altered the face of affairs, and made the elector more able to determine Luther’s fate. Miltitius thought it best, therefore, to try what could be done by fair and gentle means, and to that end came to some conference with Luther.

During all these treaties, the doctrine of Luther spread, and prevailed greatly; and he himself received great encouragement at home and abroad. The Bohemians about this time sent him a book of the celebrated John Huss, who had fallen a martyr in the work of reformation; and also letters, in which they exhorted him to constancy and perseverance, owning that the divinity which he taught was the pure, sound, and orthodox divinity. Many great and learned men had joined themselves to him.

In 1519, he had a famous dispute at Leipsic with John Eccius. But this dispute ended at length like all others, the parties not the least nearer in opinion, but more at enmity with each other’s persons.

Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, Chapter 9

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