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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 5 — History of Protestantism in Germany to the Leipsic Disputation, 1519

Chapter 11 — Luther's journey to Augsburg

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Luther Advances — Eyes of the Curia begin to Open — Luther Cited to Rome — University of Wittemberg Intercedes for him — Cajetan Deputed to Try the Cause in Germany — Character of Cajetan — Cause Prejudged — Melancthon — Comes to Wittemberg — His Genius — Yoke-fellows — Luther Departs for Augsburg — Journey on Foot — No Safe-conduct — Myconius — A Borrowed Coat — Prognostications — Arrives at Augsburg

THE eyes of the Pope and the adherents of the Papacy now began to open to the real importance of the movement inaugurated at Wittemberg. They had regarded it slightingly, almost contemptuously, as but a quarrel amongst that quarrelsome generation the monks, which had broken out in a remote province of their dominions, and which would speedily subside and leave Rome unshaken. But, so far from dying out, the movement was every day deepening its seat and widening its sphere; it was allying itself with great spiritual and moral forces; it was engendering new thoughts in the minds of men; already a phalanx of disciples, created and continually multiplied by its own energies, stood around it, and, unless speedily checked, the movement would work, they began to fear, the downfall of their system.

Every day Luther was making a new advance. His words were winged arrows, his sermons were lightning-flashes, they shed a blaze all around: there was an energy in his faith which set on fire the souls of men, and he had a wonderful power to evoke sympathy, and to win confidence. The common people especially loved and respected him. Many cheered him on because he opposed the Pope, but not a few because he dealt out to them that Bread for which their souls had long hungered.

His "Theses" had been mistaken or misrepresented by ignorant or prejudiced persons; he resolved to explain them in clearer language. He now published what he styled his "Resolutions," in which, with admirable moderation and firmness, he softens the harder and lights up the darker parts of his "Theses," but retracts nothing of their teaching.

In this new publication he maintains that every true penitent possesses God's forgiveness, and has no need to buy an indulgence; that the stock of merit from which indulgences are dispensed is a pure chimera, existing only in the brain of the indulgence-monger; that the power of the Pope goes no farther than to enable him to declare the pardon which God has already bestowed, and that the rule of faith is the Holy Scriptures. These statements were the well-marked stages the movement had already attained. The last especially, the sole infallible authority of the Bible, was a reformation in itself — a seed from which must spring a new system. Rome, at this crisis, had need to be decided and prompt; she strangely vacillated and blundered. Leo X. was a skeptic, and skepticism is fatal to earnestness and rigor. The Emperor Maximilian was more alive to the danger that impended over the Papal See than Leo. He was nearer the cradle of the movement, and beheld with dismay the spread of the Lutheran doctrines in his own dominions. He wrote energetically, if mayhap he might rouse the Pope, who was slumbering in his palace, careless of everything save his literary and artistic treasures, while this tempest was gathering over him. The Diet of the Empire was at that moment (1518) sitting at Augsburg. The emperor sought to inflame the members, of the Diet by pronouncing a furious philippic against Luther, including the patrons and defenders whom the Reformer had found among the powerful. The Elector Frederick of Saxony was especially meant. It helped to augment the chagrin of the emperor, that mainly through the influence of Frederick he had been thwarted in carrying a project through the Diet, on which he was much set as tending to the aggrandizement of his dynasty — the election of his grandson, the future Charles V., to succeed him in the Empire. But if Frederick herein did the emperor a disfavor, he won for himself greater consideration at the court of the Pope, for there were few things that Leo X. dreaded more than the union of half the scepters of Europe in one hand. Meanwhile the energetic letter of Maximilian was not without effect, and it was resolved to lay vigorous hold upon the Wittemberg movement. On the 7th August, 1518, Luther was summoned to answer at Rome, within sixty days, to the charges preferred against him. [1] To have gone to Rome would have been to march into his grave. But the peril of staying was scarcely less than the peril of going. He would be condemned as contumacious, and the Pope would follow up the excommunication by striking him, if not with his own hand, with that of the emperor. The powers of earth, headed by the King of the Seven Hills, were rising up against Luther. He had no visible defense — no acknowledged protector. There seemed no escape for the unbefriended monk.

The University of Wittemberg, of which Luther was the soul, made earnest intercession for him at the court of the Vatican, [2] dwelling with special emphasis upon the unsuspected character of his doctrine, and the blameless manners of his life, not reflecting, apparently, how little weight either plea would carry in the quarter where it was urged. A more powerful intercessor was found for Luther in the Elector Frederick, who pleaded that it was a right of the Germans to have all ecclesiastical questions decided upon their own soil, and urged in accordance therewith that some fit person should be deputed to hear the cause in Germany, mentioning at the same time his brother-elector, the Archbishop of Treves, as one every way qualified to discharge this office. The peril was passed more easily than could have been anticipated. The Pope remembered that Frederick of Saxony had done him a service at the Diet of

Augsburg, and he thought it not improbable that he might need his good offices in the future. And, further, his legate-a-latere, now in Germany, was desirous to have the adjudication of Luther's case, never doubting that he should be able to extinguish heresy in Germany, and that the glory of such a work would compensate for his mortification at the Diet of Augsburg, where, having failed to engage the princes in a war against the Turk, he was consequently without a pretext for levying a tax upon their kingdoms. The result was that the Pope issued a brief, on the 23rd of August, empowering his legate, Cardinal de Vio, to summon Luther before him, and pronounce judgment in his case. [3] Leo, while appearing to oblige both Frederick and the cardinal, did not show all his hand. This transference of the cause to Germany was but another way, the Pope hoped, of bringing Luther to Rome.

Thomas de Vio, Cardinal St. Sixti, but better known as Cardinal Cajetan, cited the doctor of Wittemberg to appear before him at Augsburg. The man before whom Luther was now about to appear was born (1469) at Gaeta, a frontier town of the Neapolitan kingdom, to which events in the personal history of a subsequent Pope (Pius IX.) long afterwards gave some little notoriety. He belonged to the Dominican order, and was, moreover, a warm admirer and a zealous defender of the scholastic philosophy. The cardinal's manners were suave to a degree, but his spirit was stern. Beneath a polished, courtly, and amiable exterior, there lurked the Dominican. His talents, his learning, and his fame for sanctity made him one of the most distinguished members of the Sacred College. His master, the Pope, reposed great confidence in him, and he merited it; for De Vie was a sincere believer in all the dogmas of the Church, even in the gross forms into which they now began to develop; and no one placed the Papal prerogatives higher, or was prepared to do stouter battle for them, than he. Cardinal Cajetan took his place on the judgment-seat with much pomp, for he held firmly by the maxim that legates are above kings; but he sat there, not to investigate Luther's cause, but, to receive his unqualified and unconditional submission. The cause, as we shall afterwards see, was already decided in the highest quarter. The legate's instructions were brief but precise, and were to this effect: that he should compel the monk to retract; and, failing this, that he should shut him up in safe custody till the Pope should be pleased to send for him. [4] This was as much as to say, "Send him in chains to Rome."

We must pause here, and relate an episode which took place just as Luther was on the point of setting out for Augsburg, and which, from a small beginning, grew into most fruitful consequences to the Reformation, and to Luther personally. A very few days before Luther's departure to appear before the cardinal, Philip Melancthon arrived at Wittemberg, to fill the Greek chair in its university. [5] He was appointed to this post by the Elector Frederick, having been strongly recommended by the famous Reuchlin. [6] His fame had preceded him, and his arrival was awaited with no little expectations by the Wittemberg professors. But when he appeared amongst them, his exceedingly youthful appearance, his small figure, his shy manners, and diffident air, but ill corresponded with their preconceptions of him. They looked for nothing great from their young professor of Greek. But they did not know as yet the treasure they had found; and little especially did Luther dream what this modest, shrinking young man was to be to him in after-days.

In a day or two the new professor delivered his inaugural lecture, and then it was seen what a great soul was contained in that small body. He poured forth, in elegant Latintry, a stream of deep, philosophical, yet luminous thought, which delighted all who listened, and won their hearts, as well as compelled the homage of their intellects. Melancthon displayed in his address a knowledge so full, and a judgment so sound and ripened, combined with an eloquence of such grace and power, that all felt that he would make for himself a great name, and extend the fame of their university. This young scholar was destined to do all this, and a great deal more. [7]

We must devote a few sentences to his previous life — he was now only twenty-one. Melancthon was the son of a master armourer in Bretten in the Palatinate. His birth took place on February 14th, 1497. His father, a pious and worthy man, died when he was eleven years of age, and his education was cared for by his maternal grandfather. [8] His disposition was as gentle as his genius was beautiful, and from his earliest years the clearness and strength of his understanding made the acquisition of knowledge not only easy to him, but an absolute pleasure. His training was conducted first under a tutor, next at the public school of Pforzheim, and lastly at the University of Heidelberg, [9] where he took his bachelor's degree at fourteen. It was about this time that he changed his name from the German Schwartzerd to the Greek Melancthon. [10] The celebrated Reuchlin was a relation of his family, and charmed with his genius, and his fondness for the Greek tongue, he presented him with a Greek grammar and a Bible: two books which were to be the study of his life. [11]

Luther now stood on the threshold of his stormy career. He needed a companion, and God placed Melancthon by his side. These two were the complement the one of the other; united, they formed a complete Reformer. In the one we behold a singular assemblage of all the lovelier qualities, in the other an equally

singular combination of all the stronger. The gentleness, the timidity, the perspicacity of Melancthon were the companion graces of the strength, the courage, the passionate energy of Luther. It doubled the working powers of each for both to draw in the same yoke. Genius alone would have knit them into friendship, but they found a yet more sacred bond in their love of the Gospel. From the day that the two met at Wittemberg there was a new light in the heart of Luther, a new force in the movement of the Reformation.

As at the beginning of Christianity, so was it now as regards the choice of instruments by whom the work of reforming, as before of planting, the Church, was to be done. From no academy of Greek philosophy, from no theater of Roman eloquence, from no school of Jewish learning were the first preachers of the Gospel taken. These bottles were too full of the old wine of human science to receive the new wine of heavenly wisdom. To the hardy and unlettered fishermen of Galilee was the call addressed, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

All the leading Reformers, without exception, were of lowly birth. Luther first saw the light in a miner's cottage; Calvin was the grandson of a cooper in Picardy; Knox was the son of a plain burgess of a Scottish provincial town; Zwingle was born in a shepherd's hut in the Alps; and Melancthon was reared in the workshop of an armourer. Such is God's method. It is a law of the Divine working to accomplish mighty results by weak instruments. In this way God glorifies himself, and afterwards glorifies his servants.

We return to the scenes which we recently left. Luther departed, amid the trembling of his friends, to appear before the Legate of Rome. He might be waylaid on the road, or his journey might end in a Roman dungeon. Luther himself did not share these apprehensions. He set out with intrepid heart. It was a long way to Augsburg, and it had all to be gone on foot, for whatever the conflict had brought the monk, it had not brought him wealth. The Elector Frederick, however, gave him money for his journey, [12] but not a safe-conduct. [13] This last, he said, was unnecessary. The fate of John Huss, which many called to mind, did not justify his confidence.

On September 28th, our traveler reached Weimar, and lodged in the convent of the Bare-footed friars. A young inmate of the monastery, who had already received Luther's doctrine into his heart, sat gazing upon him, but durst not speak to him. This was Myconius. [14] The Cordeliers were not favorably disposed to their guest's opinions, and yet one of their number, John Kestner, the purveyor, believing that Luther was going to his death, could not help expressing his sympathy. "Dear brother," he said, "in Augsburg you will meet with Italians, who are learned men, but more likely to burn you than to answer you." [15] "Pray to God, and to his dear Son Jesus Christ," replied Luther, "whose cause it is, to uphold it for me." Luther here met the elector, who was returning from Augsburg, and at his request preached before the court on St. Michael's day, but said not a word, as was remarked, in praise of the saint.

From Weimar, Luther pursued his way, still on foot, to Nuremberg. Here he was welcomed by warm friends. Among these were the illustrious painter and sculptor, Albert Durer, Wenceslaus Link, monk and preacher, and others. Nuremberg had formerly enjoyed an enriching trade; it was still famous for the skill of its artists; nor were letters neglected, and the independence of mind thus engendered had led to the early reception of Luther's doctrines within it. Many came to see him, but when they found that he was traveling without a safe-conduct, they could not conceal their fears that he would never return from Augsburg. They tried to dissuade him from going farther, but to these counsels Luther refused to listen. No thoughts of danger could alter his purpose or shake his courage. "Even at Augsburg," wrote he, "in the midst of his enemies, Christ reigns. May Christ live, may Luther die: may the God of my salvation be exalted."

There was one favor, however, which Luther did not disdain to accept at the hands of his friends in Nuremberg. His frock, not the newest or freshest when he started from Wittemberg, by the time he reached the banks of the Pegnitz bore but too plain marks of his long journey, and his friends judged that it was not fit to appear in before the legate. They therefore attired him in a frock belonging to his friend Link. On foot, and in a borrowed cloak, he went on his way to appear before a prince of the Church, but the serge of Luther was more sublime than the purple and fine linen of De Vio.

Link and another friend accompanied him, and on the evening of October 7th they entered the gates of Augburg, and took up their abode at the Augustine monastery. On the morrow he sent Link to notify his arrival to the cardinal.

Had Luther come a few weeks earlier he would have found Augsburg crowded with princes and counts, among whom would have been found some willing to defend him; but now all had taken their departure, the Diet being at an end, and no one remained save the Roman Legate, whose secret purpose it was that Luther should unconditionally submit, or otherwise never depart alive out of those gates within which, to De Vio's delight, he had now entered.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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