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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 14 — Miltitz — Carlstadt — Dr Eck

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Miltitz — Of German Birth — Of Italian Manners — His Journey into Germany — The Golden Rose — His Interview with Luther — His Flatteries — A Truce — Danger — The War Resumed — Carlstadt and Dr. Eck — Disputation at Leipsic — Character of Dr. Eck — Entrance of the Two Parties into Leipsic — Place and Forms of the Disputation — Its Vast Importance — Portrait of the Disputants

WE left Luther dispirited to the last degree. A terrible storm seemed to be gathering over him, and over the work which he had been honored to begin, and so far auspiciously to advance. He had incurred the displeasure of a foe who had at command all the powers of Europe. Maximilian, Emperor of Germany, seemed even more intent on crushing the monk of Wittemberg, and stamping out the movement, than Leo himself was. Letter after letter did he dispatch to Rome chiding the delays of the Vatican, and urging it to toy no longer with a movement which threatened to breed serious trouble to the chair of Peter. The Pope could not close his ear to appeals so urgent, coming from a quarter so powerful. The Elector Frederick, Luther's earthly defender, was standing aloof. Wittemberg could no longer be the home of the Reformer. He had taken farewell of his congregation; he had spoken his parting words to the youth who had gathered round him from all the provinces of Germany, and from distant countries; he had bidden adieu to his weeping friends, and now he stood, staff in hand, ready to go forth he knew not whither, when all at once the whole face of affairs was unexpectedly changed.

Rome was not yet prepared to proceed to extremities. She had not fully fathomed the depth of the movement. Scarce an age was there in the past, but some rebellious priest had threatened his sovereign lord, but all such attempts against the Pontiff had been in vain. The Wittemberg movement would, like a tempest, exhaust itself, and the waves would dash harmlessly against the rock of the Church. True, the attempts of Leo to compose the Wittemberg troubles had so far been without result, or rather had made the matter worse; but, like the conjurer in the tale, Rome had not one only, but a hundred tricks; she had diplomatists to flatter, and she had red hats to dazzle those whom it might not be convenient as yet to burn, and so she resolved on making one other trial at conciliation. [1]

The person pitched upon to conduct the new operation was Charles Miltitz. Cajetan was too stately, too haughty, too violent; Miltitz was not likely to split on this rock. He was the chamberlain of the Pope: a Saxon by birth, but he had resided so long at Rome as to have become a proficient in Italian craft, to which he added a liking for music. [2] The new envoy was much more of a diplomatist than a theologian. This, however, did not much matter, seeing he came not to discuss knotty points, but to lavish caresses and lay snares. As he was a German by birth, it was supposed he would know how to manage the Germans.

Miltitz's errand to Saxony was not avowed. He did not visit the elector's court on Luther's business; not at all. He was the bearer from the Pope to Frederick of the "golden rose," [3] a token of regard which the Pope granted only to the most esteemed of his friends, and being solicitous that Frederick should believe himself of that number, and knowing that he was desirous of receiving this special mark of Papal affection, [4] he sent Miltitz this long road, with the precious and much-coveted gift. Being on the spot he might as well try his hand at arranging "brother Martin's" business. But no one was deceived. "The Pope's chamberlain comes," said Luther's friends to him, "laden with flattering letters and Pontifical briefs, the cords with which he hopes to bind you and carry you to Rome." "I await the will of God," replied the Reformer.

On his journey Miltitz made it his business to ascertain the state of public feeling on the question now in agitation. He was astonished to find the hold which the opinions of Luther had taken on the German mind. In all companies he entered, in the way-side taverns, in the towns, in the castles where he lodged, he found the quarrel between the monk and the Pope the topic of talk. Of every five Germans three were on the side of Luther. How different the mental state on this side the Alps from the worn-out Italian mind! This prognosticated an approaching emancipation of the young and ingenuous Teutonic intellect from its thraldom to the traditionalism of Italy. At times the Pope's chamberlain received somewhat amusing answers to his interrogatories. One day he asked the landlady of the inn where he had put up, what her opinion was of the chair of Peter? "What can we humble folks," replied the hostess, pawkily, "know of Peter's chair? we have never seen it, and cannot tell whether it be of wood or of stone." [5]

Miltitz reached Saxony in the end of the year 1518, but his reception at Frederick's court was not of a kind to inspire him with high hopes. The elector's ardor for the "golden rose" had cooled; its fragrance had been spoiled by the late breezes from Augsburg and Rome, and he gave orders that it should be delivered to him through one of the officers of the palace. The letters which Miltitz carried to Spalatin and Pfeffinger, the elector's councilors, though written with great fervor, did but little to thaw the coldness of these statesmen. The envoy must reserve all his strength for Luther himself, that was clear; and he did reserve it, and to such purpose

that he came much nearer gaining his point than Cajetan had done. The movement was in less danger when the tempest appeared about to burst over it, than now when the clouds had rolled away, and the sun again shone out.

Miltitz was desirous above all things of having a personal interview with Luther. His wish was at last gratified, and the envoy and the monk met each other in the house of Spalatin at Altenberg. [6] The courtier exhausted all the wiles of which he was master. He was not civil merely, he was gracious; he fawned upon Luther. [7] Looking full into his face, he said that he expected to see an old theologian, prosing over knotty points in his chimney-corner; to his delight he saw, instead, a man in the prime of life. He flattered his pride by saying that he believed he had a larger following than the Pope himself, and he sought to disarm his fears by assuring him that, though he had an army of 20,000 men at his back, he would never be so foolish as to think of carrying off one who was so much the idol of the people. [8] Luther knew perfectly that it was the courtier who was speaking, and that between the words of the courtier and the deeds of the envoy there might possibly be some considerable difference. But he took care not to let Miltitz know what was passing in his mind.

The envoy now proceeded to business. His touch was adroit and delicate. Tetzel, he said, had gone beyond his commission; he had done the thing scandalously, and he did not greatly wonder that Luther had been provoked to oppose him. Even the Archbishop of Mainz was not without blame, in putting the screw too tightly upon Tetzel as regarded the money part of the business. Still the doctrine of indulgences was a salutary one; from that doctrine the German people had been seduced, and they had been so by the course which he, Luther, had felt it his duty to pursue. Would he not confess that herein he had erred, and restore peace to the Church? — a matter, the envoy assured him, that lay very much upon his heart. [9]

Luther boldly answered that the chief offender in this business was neither Tetzel nor the Archbishop of Mainz, but the Pope himself, [10] who, while he might have given the pallium freely, had put upon it a price so exorbitant as to tempt the archbishop to employ Tetzel to get the money for him by hook or by crook. "But as for a retractation," said Luther in a very firm tone, "never expect one from me."

A second and a third interview followed, and Miltitz, despairing of extorting from Luther a recantation, professed to be satisfied with what he could get; and he got more than might have been expected. It is evident that the arts of the envoy, his well-simulated fairness and moderation, and the indignation, not wholly feigned, which he expressed against Tetzel, had not been without their effect upon the mind of Luther. The final arrangement come to was that neither side should write or act in the question; that Luther should revoke upon proof of his errors, and that the matter should be referred to the judgment of an enlightened bishop. The umpire ultimately chosen was the Archbishop of Treves. [11]

The issue to which the affair had been brought was one that threatened disaster to the cause. It seemed to prelude a shelving of the controversy. It was gone into for that very purpose. The "Theses" will soon be forgotten; the Tetzel scandal will fade from the public memory; Rome will observe a little more moderation and decency in the sale of indulgences; and when the storm shall have blown over, things will revert to their old course, and Germany will again lie down in her chains. Happily, there was a Greater than Luther at the head of the movement.

Miltitz was overjoyed. This troublesome affair was now at an end; so he thought. His mistake lay in believing the movement to be confined to the bosom of a single monk. He could not see that it was a new life which had come down from the skies, and which was bringing on an awakening in the Church. Miltitz invited Luther to supper. At table, he did not conceal the alarm this matter had caused at Rome. Nothing that had fallen out these hundred years had occasioned so much uneasiness in the Vatican. The cardinals would give "ten thousand ducats" to have it settled, and the news that it was now arranged would cause unbounded joy. The repast was a most convivial one; and when it was ended, the envoy rose, took the monk of Wittemberg in his arms, and kissed him — "a Judas kiss," said Luther, writing to Staupitz, "but I would not let him perceive that I saw through his Italian tricks." [12]

There came now a pause in the controversy. Luther laid aside his pen, he kept silence on indulgences; he busied himself in his chair; but, fortunately for the cause at stake, this pause was of no long duration. It was his enemies that broke the truce. Had they been wise, they would have left the monk in the fetters with which Miltitz had bound him. Not knowing what they did, they loosed his cords.

This brings us to the Leipsic Disputation, an affair that made a great noise at the time, and which was followed by vast consequences to the Reformation.

Such disputations were common in that age. They were a sort of tournament in which the knights of the schools, like the knights of the Middle Ages, sought to display their prowess and win glory. They had their uses. There were then no public meetings, no platforms, no daily press; and in their absence,

these disputations between the learned came in their stead, as arenas for the ventilation of great public questions.

The man who set agoing the movement when it had stopped, thinking to extinguish it, was Doctor John Eccius or Eck. He was famed as a debater all over Europe. He was Chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt; deeply read in the school-men, subtle, sophistical, a great champion of the Papacy, transcendently vain of his dialectic powers, vaunting the triumphs he had obtained on many fields, and always panting for new opportunities of displaying his skill. A fellow-laborer of Luther, Andrew Bodenstein, better known as Carlstadt, Archdeacon of the Cathedral at Wittemberg, had answered the Obelisks of Dr. Eck, taking occasion to defend the opinions of Luther. Eck answered him, and Carlstadt again replied. After expending on each other the then customary amenities of scholastic strife, it was ultimately agreed that the two combatants should meet in the city of Leipsic, and decide the controversy by oral disputation, in the presence of George, Duke of Saxony, uncle of the Elector Frederick, and other princes and illustrious personages.

Before the day arrived for this trial of strength between Carlstadt and Eck, the latter had begun to aim at higher game. To vanquish Carlstadt would bring him but little fame; the object of Eck's ambition was to break a lance with the monk of Wittemberg, "the little monk who had suddenly grown into a giant." [13] Accordingly, he published thirteen Theses, in which he plainly impugned the opinions of Luther.

This violation of the truce on the Roman side set Luther free; and, nothing loth, he requested permission from Duke George to come to Leipsic and take up the challenge which Eck had thrown down to him. The duke, who feared for the public peace, should two such combatants wrestle a fall on his territories, refused the request. Ultimately, however, he gave leave to Luther to come to Leipsic as a spectator; and in this capacity did the doctor of Wittemberg appear on a scene in which he was destined to fill the most prominent place.

It affords a curious glimpse into the manners of the age, to mark the pomp with which the two parties entered Leipsic. Dr. Eck and his friends came first, arriving on the 21st of June, 1519. Seated in a chariot, arrayed in his sacerdotal garments, he made his entry into the city, at the head of a procession composed of the civic and ecclesiastical dignitaries who had come forth to do him honor. He passed proudly along through streets thronged with the citizens, who rushed from their houses to have a sight of the warrior who had unsheathed his scholastic sword on so many fields — in Pannonia, in Lombardy, in Bavaria — and who had never yet returned it into its scabbard but in victory. He was accompanied by Poliander, whom he had brought with him to be a witness of his triumph, but whom Providence designed, by the instrumentality of Luther, to bind to the chariot of the Reformation. There is a skeleton at every banquet, and Eck complains that a report was circulated in the crowd, that in the battle about to begin it would be his fortune to be beaten. The wish in this case certainly was not father to the thought, for the priests and people of Leipsic were to a man on Eck's side.

On the 24th of June the theologians from Wittemberg made their public entry into Leipsic. Heading the procession came Carlstadt, who was to maintain the contest with Eck. Of the distinguished body of men assembled at Wittemberg, Carlstadt was perhaps the most impetuous, but the least profound. He was barely fit to sustain the part which he had chosen to act. He was enjoying the ovation of his entry when, the wheel of his carriage coming off, he suddenly rolled in the mud. The spectators who witnessed his mischance construed it into an omen of a more serious downfall awaiting him, and said that if Eck was to be beaten it was another than Carlstadt who would be the victor.

In the carriage after Carlstadt rode the Duke of Pomerania, and, one on each side of him, sat the two theologians of chief note, Luther and Melancthon. Then followed a long train of doctors-in-law, masters of arts, licentiates in theology, and surrounding their carriages came a body of 200 students bearing pikes and halberds. It was not alone the interest they took in the discussion which brought them hither; they knew that the disposition of the Leipsickers was not over-friendly, and they thought their presence might not be unneeded in guarding their professors from insult and in-jury. [14]

On the morning of the 27th, mass was sung in the Church of St. Thomas. The princes, counts, abbots, councilors, and professors walked to the chapel in procession, marching to the sound of martial music, with banners flying, and accompanied by a guard of nearly 100 citizens, who bore halberds and other weapons. After service they returned in the same order to the ducal castle of Pleisenberg, the great room of which had been fitted up for the disputation. Duke George, the hereditary Prince John of Saxony, the Duke of Pomerania, and Prince John of Anhalt occupied separate and conspicuous seats; the less distinguished of the audience sat upon benches. At each end of the hall rose a wooden pulpit for the use of the disputants. Over that which Luther was to occupy hung a painting of St. Martin, whose name he bore; and above that which had been assigned to Dr. Eck was a representation of St. George trampling the dragon under foot: a symbol, as the learned doctor doubtless viewed it, of the feat he was to perform in slaying with scholastic sword the dragon of the Reformation. In the middle of the hall were tables for the notaries-public, who were to take notes of the


All are in their places: there is silence in the hall. Mosellanus ascends the pulpit and delivers the introductory address. He exhorts the champions to bear themselves gallantly yet courteously; to remember that they are theologians, not duellists, and that their ambition ought to be not so much to conquer as to be conquered, so that Truth might be the only victor on the field now about to open. [15] When the address had terminated, the organ pealed through the hall of the Pleisenberg, and the whole assembly, falling on their knees, sang the ancient hymn — Veni, Sancte Spiritus. Three times was this invocation solemnly repeated. [16]

The Church now stood on the line that divided the night from the day. The champions of the darkness and the heralds of the light were still mingled in one assembly, and still united by the tie of one ecclesiastical communion. A little while and they would be parted, never again to meet; but as yet they assemble under the same roof, they bow their heads in the same prayer, and they raise aloft their voices in the same invocation to the Holy Spirit. That prayer was to be answered. The Spirit was to descend; the dead were to draw to the dead, the living to the living, and a holy Church was to look forth "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners."

It was now past noon. The opening of the discussion was postponed till after dinner. Duke George had prepared a sumptuous repast for the two disputants and their friends, and they accordingly adjourned to the ducal table. At two o'clock they re-assembled in the hall where the disputation was to take place. [17]

The battle was now joined, and it continued to be waged on this and the sixteen following days. The questions discussed were of the very last importance: they were those that lie at the foundations of the two theologies, and that constitute an essential and eternal difference between the Roman and Protestant Churches, in their basis, their character, and their tendencies. The discussion was also of the last importance practically. It enabled the Reformers to see deeper than they had hitherto done into fundamentals. It convinced them that the contrariety between the two creeds was far greater than they had imagined, and that the diversity was not on the surface merely, not in the temporal wealth and spiritual assumptions of the hierarchy merely, not in the scandals of indulgences and the disorders of the Papal court merely, but in the very first principles upon which the Papal system is founded, and that the discussion of these principles leads unavoidably into an examination of the moral and spiritual condition of the race, and the true character of the very first event in human history.

Before sketching in outline — and an outline is all that has come down to us — this celebrated disputation, it may not be uninteresting to see a pen-and- ink sketch, by an impartial contemporary and eye-witness, of the three men who figured the most prominently in it. The portraits are by Peter Mosellanus, Professor of Greek in the University of Leipsic, the orator who opened the proceedings.

"Martin Luther is of middle stature, and so emaciated by hard study that one might almost count his bones. He is in the rigor of life, and his voice is clear and sonorous. His learning and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures are beyond compare: he has the whole Word of God at command. In addition to this he has great store of arguments and ideas. It were, perhaps, to be wished that he had a little more judgment in arranging his materials. In conversation he is candid and courteous; there is nothing stoical or haughty about him; he has the art of accommodating himself to every individual. His address is pleasing, and replete with good-humor; he displays firmness, and is never discomposed by the menaces of his adversaries, be they what they may. One is, in a manner, to believe that in the great things which he has done God has assisted him. He is blamed, however, for being more sarcastic in his rejoinders than becomes a theologian, especially when he announces new ideas."

"Carlstadt is of smaller stature; his complexion is dark and sallow, his voice disagreeable, his memory less retentive, and his temper more easily ruffled than Luther's. Still, however, he possesses, though in an inferior degree, the same qualities which distinguish his friend."

"Eck is tall and broad-shouldered. He has a strong and truly German voice, and such excellent lungs that he would be well heard on the stage, or would make an admirable town-crier. His accent is rather coarse than elegant, and he has none of the gracefulness so much lauded by Cicero and Quintilian. His mouth, his eyes, and his whole figure suggest the idea of a soldier or a butcher rather than a theologian. His memory is excellent, and were his intellect equal to it he would be faultless. But he is slow of comprehension, and wants judgment, without which all other gifts are useless. Hence, when he debates, he piles up, without selection or discernment, passages from the Bible, quotations from the Fathers, and arguments of all descriptions. His assurance, moreover, is unbounded. When he finds himself in a difficulty he darts off from the matter in hand, and pounces upon another; sometimes, even, he adopts the view of his antagonist, and, changing the form of expression, most dexterously charges him with the very absurdity which he himself was defending." [18]

Such were the three men who now stood ready to engage in battle, as sketched by one who was too thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ancient pagan literature to care about the contest farther than as it might afford him a little amusement or some pleasurable excitement. The eyes of this learned Grecian were

riveted on the past. It was the scholars, heroes, and battles of antiquity that engrossed his admiration. And yet what were these but mimic conflicts compared with the tremendous struggle that was now opening, and the giants that were to wrestle in it! The wars of Greece and Rome were but the world's nursery tales; this war, though Mosellanus knew it not, was the real drama of the race — the true conflict of the ages.

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