Story type: Essay
Only slaves die of overwork. Work a weariness, a danger, forsooth! Those who say so can know very little about it. Labor is neither cruel nor ungrateful; it restores the strength we give it a hundredfold and, unlike financial operations, the revenue is what brings in the capital. Put soul into your work, and joy and health will be yours.
The idea of the monastery is as old as man, and its rise is as natural as the birth and death of the seasons.
We need society, and we need solitude. But it happens again and again that man gets a surfeit of society–he is thrown with those who misunderstand him, who thwart him, who contradict his nature, who bring out the worst in his disposition: he is sapped of his strength, and then he longs for solitude. He would go alone up into the mountain. What is called the “monastic impulse” comes over him–he longs to be alone–alone with God.
The monastic impulse can be traced back a thousand years before Christ: the idea is neither Christian, Jewish, Philistine nor Buddhist. Every people of which we know have had their hermits and recluses.
The communal thought is a form of monasticism–it is a getting away from the world. Monasticism does not necessarily imply celibacy, but as unrequited or misplaced love is usually the precursor of the monastic impulse, celibacy or some strange idea on the sex problem usually is in evidence.
Monasticism has many forms: College Settlements, Zionism, Deaconesses’ Homes, Faith Cottages, Shakerism, Mormonism, are all manifestations of the impulse to get away from the world, and still benefit the world by standing outside of it. This desire to get away from the world and still mix in it shows that monasticism is not quite sincere–we want society no less than we want solitude. Very seldom, indeed, has a monk ever gone away and remained: he comes back to the world, occasionally, to beg, or sell things, and to “do good.”
The rise of the Christian monastery begins with Paul the Hermit, who in the year Two Hundred Fifty withdrew to an oasis in the desert, and lived in a cave before which was a single palm-tree and a spring.
Other men worn with strife, tired of stupid misunderstanding, persecution and unkind fate, came to him. And there they lived in common. The necessity of discipline and order naturally presented itself, so they made rules that governed conduct. The day was divided up into periods when the inmates of this first monastery prayed, communed with the silence, worked and studied.
Within a hundred years there were similar religious communities at fifty or more places in Upper Egypt.
Women have always imitated men, and soon nunneries sprang up here and there. In fact, the nunnery has a little more excuse for being than the monastery. In a barbaric society an unattached woman needs protection, and this she gets in the nunnery. Even so radical a thinker as Max Muller regarded the nunnery as a valuable agent in giving dignity to woman’s estate. If she was mistreated and desired protection, she could find refuge in this sanctuary. She became the Bride of Christ, and through the protection of the convent, man was forced to be civil, and chivalry came to take the place of force.
Most monasteries have been mendicant institutions. As early as the year Five Hundred we read of the monks going abroad a-questing, a bag on their backs. They begged as a business, and some became very expert at it, just as we have expert evangelists and expert debt-raisers. They took anything that anybody had to give. They begged in the name of the poor; and as they traveled they undertook to serve those who were poorer than themselves. They were distributing agents.
They ceased to do manual labor and scorned those who did. They traversed the towns and highways by trios and asked alms at houses or of travelers. Occasionally they carried cudgels, and if such a pair asked for alms it was usually equal to a demand. These monks made acquaintances, they had their friends among men and women, and often being far from home they were lodged and fed by the householders. In some instances the alms given took the form of a tax which the sturdy monks collected with startling regularity. We hear of their dividing the country up into districts, and each man having a route that he jealously guarded.
They came in the name of the Lord–they were supposed to have authority. They said, “He who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.” They blessed those who gave, and cursed those who refused. Some of them presumed to forgive the sins of those who paid. And soon the idea suggested itself of forgiving in advance, or granting an indulgence. They made promises of mansions in the skies to those who conformed, and threatened with the pains of hell those who declined their requests. So the monks occasionally became rich.
And when they grew rich they often became arrogant, dictatorial, selfish, gluttonous and licentious. They undertook to manage the government which they had before in their poverty renounced. They hired servants to wait upon them. The lust of power, and the lust of the flesh, and the pride of the heart all became manifest.
However, there were always a few men, pure of heart and earnest in purpose, who sought to stem the evil tendencies. And so the history of monasticism and the history of the Church is the record of a struggle against idleness and corruption. To shave a man’s head, give him a new name, and clothe him in strange garments, does not change his nature. Monks grown rich and powerful will become idle, and the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are then mere jokes and jests.
No man knew this better than Benedict, who lived in the Sixth Century. The profligacy, ignorance and selfishness of the fat and idle monks appalled him. With the aid of Cassiodorus he set to work to reform the monasteries by interesting the inmates in beautiful work. Cassiodorus taught men to write, illumine and bind books. Through Italy, France and Germany he traveled and preached the necessity of manual labor, and the excellence of working for beauty. The art impulse in the nunneries and monasteries began with Benedict and Cassiodorus, who worked hand in hand for beauty, purity and truth. Benedict had the greater executive ability, but Cassiodorus had the more far-reaching and subtle intellect. He anticipated all that we have to say today on the New Education–the necessity of playing off one faculty of the mind against another through manual labor, play and art creation. He even anticipated the primal idea of the Kindergarten, for he said, “The pleasurable emotion that follows the making of beautiful forms with one’s hands is not a sin, like unto the pleasure that is gained for the sake of pleasure–rather to do good and beautiful work is incense to the nostrils of God.”
In all Benedictine monasteries flagellations ceased, discipline was relaxed, and the inmates were enjoined to use their energies in their work, and find peace by imitating God, and like Him creating beautiful things.
Beautiful bookmaking traces its genesis almost directly to Benedict and Cassiodorus.
But a hundred years after the death of these great men, the necessity of reform was as great as ever, and other men took up the herculean task.
And so it has happened that every century men have arisen who protested against the abuses inside the Church. The Church has tried to keep religion pure, but when she has failed and scandalized society at large, monasteries were wiped out of existence and their property confiscated. Since the Fifteenth Century, regularly once every hundred years, France has driven the monks from her borders, and in this year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred Three she is doing what Napoleon did a hundred years ago; what Cromwell did in England in Sixteen Hundred Forty-five; what has been done time and again in every corner of Christendom.
Martin Luther’s quarrel with the Church began simply as a protest against certain practises of the monks, and that his protests should develop into a something called “Protestantism” was a thing he never for a moment anticipated or desired. He had no thought of building an institution on negation; and that he should be driven from the Church, because he loved the Church and was trying to purify and benefit it, was a source to him of deepest grief.
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Martin Luther was thirty-five years old. He was short in stature, inclining to be stout, strenuous and bold. His faults and his virtues were all on the surface. He neither deceived nor desired to deceive–the distinguishing feature of his character was frankness. He was an Augustinian monk, serving as a teacher in the University of Wittenberg.
Up to this time his life had been uneventful. His parents had been very poor people–his father a day-laborer, working in the copper-mines. In his boyhood Martin was “stubborn and intractable,” which means that he had life plus. His teachers had tried to repress him by flogging him “fifteen times in a forenoon,” as he himself has told us.
In childhood he used to beg upon the streets, and so he could the better beg he was taught to sing. This rough, early experience wore off all timidity, and put “stage-fright” forever behind. He could not remember a time when he could not sing a song or make a speech.
That he developed all the alertness and readiness of tongue and fist of the street-urchin there is no doubt.
When he was taken into a monastery at eighteen years of age, the fact that he was a good singer and a most successful beggar were points of excellence that were not overlooked.
That the young man was stubbornly honest in his religious faith, there is not a particle of doubt. The strength of his nature and the extent of his passion made his life in the monastery most miserable. He had not yet reached the point that many of the older monks had, and learned how to overcome temptation by succumbing to it, so he fasted for days until he became too weak to walk, watched the night away in vigils, and whipped his poor body with straps until the blood flowed.
We now think it is man’s duty to eat proper food, to sleep at night, and to care for his body, so as to bring it to the most perfect condition possible–all this that he may use his life to its highest and best. Life is a privilege and not a crime.
But Martin Luther never knew of these things and there was none to teach him, and probably he would have rejected them stoutly if they had been presented–arguing the question six nights and days together.
The result of all that absurd flying in the face of Nature was indigestion and its concomitant, nervous irritability. These demons fastened upon him for life; and we have his word for it in a thousand places that he regarded them as veritable devils–thus does man create his devil in his own image. Luther had visions–he “saw things,” and devils, witches and spirits were common callers to the day of his death.
In those early monastery days he used to have fits of depression when he was sure that he had committed the “unpardonable sin,” and over and over in his mind he would recount his shortcomings. He went to confession so often that he wore out the patience of at least one confessor, who once said to him, “Brother Martin, you are not so much a sinner as a fool.” Still another gave him this good advice, “God is not angry with you, but He will be if you keep on, for you are surely angry with Him–you had better think less about yourself and more of others: go to work!”
This excellent counsel was followed. Luther began to study the Scriptures and the writings of the saints. He took part in the disputes which were one of the principal diversions of all monasteries.
Now, a monk had the privilege of remaining densely ignorant, or he could become learned. Life in a monastery was not so very different from what it was outside–a monk gravitated to where he belonged. The young man showed such skill as a debater, and such commendable industry at all of his tasks, from scrubbing the floor to expounding Scripture, that he was sent to the neighboring University of Erfurt. From there he was transferred to the University of Wittenberg. In the classes at these universities the plan obtained, which is still continued in all theological schools, of requiring a student to defend his position on his feet. Knotty propositions are put forth, and logical complications fired at the youth as a necessary part of his mental drill. Beside this there were societies where all sorts of abstrusities and absurdities were argued to a standstill.
At this wordy warfare none proved more adept than Martin Luther. He became Senior Wrangler; secured his degree; remained at the college as a post-graduate and sub-lecturer; finally was appointed a teacher, then a professor, and when twenty-nine years old became a Doctor of Theology.
He took his turn as preacher in the Schlosskirche, which was the School Chapel, and when he preached the place was crowded. He was something more than a monotonous mumbler of words: he made his addresses personal, direct, critical. His allusions were local, and contained a deal of wholesome criticism put with pith and point, well seasoned with a goodly dash of rough and surprising wit.
Soon he was made District Vicar–a sort of Presiding Elder–and preached in a dozen towns over a circuit of a hundred miles. On these tours he usually walked, bareheaded, wearing the monk’s robe. Often he was attended by younger monks and students, who considered it a great privilege to accompany him. His courage, his blunt wit, his active ways–all appealed to the youth, and often delegations would go out to meet him. Every college has his kind, whom the bantlings fall down and worship–fisticuffs and books are both represented, and a touch of irreverence for those in authority is no disadvantage.
Luther’s lack of reverence for his superiors held him back from promotion–and another thing was his imperious temper. He could not bear contradiction. The orator’s habit of exaggeration was upon him, and occasionally he would affront his best friends in a way that tested their patience to the breaking-point. “You might become an Abbot, and even a Bishop, were it not for your lack of courtesy,” wrote his Superior to him on one occasion.
But this very lack of diplomacy, this indifference to the opinions of others, this boldness of speech, made him the pride and pet of the students. Whenever he entered the lecture-room they cheered him, and often they applauded him even in church.
Luther was a “sensational preacher,” and he was an honest preacher. No doubt the applause of his auditors urged him on to occasional unseemliness. He acted upon his audience, and the audience reacted upon him. He thundered against the profligacy of the rich, the selfishness of Society, the iniquities of the government, the excesses of the monks, the laxity of discipline in the schools, and the growing tendency in the Church to worship the Golden Calf. In some instances priests and monks had married, and he thundered against these.
All of the topics he touched had been treated by Savonarola in Italy, Wyclif in England, Brenz at Heidelberg, Huss in Bohemia, Erasmus in Holland and Bucer in Switzerland–and they had all paid the penalty of death or exile.
It is well to be bold, but not too bold. Up to a certain point the Church and Society will stand criticism: first it is diverting, next amusing, then tiresome, finally heretical–that is to say, criminal.
There had been a good deal of heresy. It was in the air–men were thinking for themselves–the printing-presses were at work, and the spirit of the Renaissance was abroad.
Martin Luther was not an innovator–he simply expressed what the many wished to hear–he was caught in the current of the time: he was part and parcel of the Renaissance. And he was a loyal Churchman. None of his diatribes were against the Church itself–he wished to benefit the Church by freeing it from the faults that he feared would disintegrate it.
And so it happened that on the Thirty-first day of October, Fifteen Hundred Seventeen, Martin Luther tacked on the church-door at Wittenberg his Ninety-five Theses.
The church-door was the bulletin-board for the University. The University consisted of about five hundred students. Wittenberg was a village of three or four thousand people, all told. The Theses were simply questions for discussion, and the proposition was that Martin Luther and his pupils would defend these questions against all comers in public debate.
Challenges of this sort were very common, public debates were of weekly occurrence; and little did Martin Luther realize that this paltry half-sheet of paper was to shake the world.
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The immediate cause of Luther’s challenge was the presence of a Dominican monk by the name of John Tetzel. This man was raising money to complete Saint Peter’s Church at Rome, and he was armed with a commission direct from Pope Leo the Tenth.
That Brother John was an expert in his line, no one has ever denied. He had been in this business of raising money for about ten years, and had built monasteries, asylums, churches and convents. Beginning as a plain, sturdy beggar, this enterprising monk had developed a System–not entirely new, but he had added valuable improvements.
There is a whole literature on the subject of the “indulgence,” and I surely have no thought of adding to the mighty tomes on this theme. But just let me briefly explain how John worked: When he approached a town, he sent his agents ahead and secured the co-operation of some certain priest, under the auspices of whose church the place was to be worked. This priest would gather a big delegation of men, women and children, and they would go out in a body to meet the representative of God’s Vicegerent on earth. The Pope couldn’t come himself, and so he sent John Tetzel.
Tetzel was carried on a throne borne on the shoulders of twenty-five men. His dress outshone any robe ever worn by mortal Pope. Upon his head was a crown, and in his hand a hollow, golden scepter that enclosed his commission from the Pope. In advance of this throne was carried an immense cross, painted red. As the procession entered a village, people would kneel or uncover as the Agent of the Pope passed by; all traffic would cease–stores and places of business would be closed. In the public square or marketplace a stage would be erected, and from this pulpit Tetzel would preach.
The man had a commanding presence, and a certain rough and telling eloquence. He was the foremost Evangelist of his day. He had a chorus of chanters, who wore bright robes and sang and played harps. It will thus be seen that Moody and Sankey methods are no new thing. Crowds flocked to hear him, and people came for many miles.
Tetzel reasoned of righteousness and judgment to come; he told of the horrors of sin, its awful penalties; he pictured purgatory, hell and damnation.
Men cried aloud for mercy, women screamed, and the flaming cross was held aloft.
Men must repent–and they must pay. If God had blessed you, you should show your gratitude. The Sacrament of Penance consists of three parts: Repentance, Confession, Satisfaction. The intent of Penance is educational, disciplinary and medicinal. If you have done wrong, you can make restitution to God, whom you have angered, by paying a certain sum to His Agent, for a good purpose.
The Church has never given men the privilege of wronging other men by making a payment. That is one of the calumnies set afloat by infidels who pretend that Catholics worship images. You can, however, show penitence, sincerity and gratitude by giving. Any one can see that this is quite a different thing from buying an indulgence.
This gift you made was similar to the “Wehrgeld,” or money compensation made to the injured or kinsmen of those who had been slain.
By giving, you wiped out the offense, and better still you became participant in all the prayers of those to whom you gave. If you helped rebuild Saint Peter’s, you participated in all the masses said there for the repose of the dead. This would apply to all your kinsmen now in Purgatory. If you gave, you could get them out, and also insure yourself against the danger of getting in. Repent and show your gratitude.
Tetzel had half a dozen Secretaries in purple robes, who made out receipts. These receipts were printed in red and gold and had a big seal and ribbon attached. The size of the receipt and seal was proportioned according to the amount paid–if you had a son or a daughter in Purgatory, it was wise to pay a large amount. The certificates were in Latin and certified in diffuse and mystical language many things, and they gave great joy to the owners.
The money flowed in on the Secretaries in heaps. Women often took their jewelry and turned it over with their purses to Tetzel; and the Secretaries worked far into the night issuing receipts–or what some called, “Letters of Indulgence.”
That many who secured these receipts regarded them as a license to do wrong and still escape punishment, there is no doubt. Before Tetzel left a town his Secretaries issued, for a sum equal to twenty-five cents, a little certificate called a “Butterbriefe,” which allowed the owner to eat butter on his bread on fast-days.
Then in the night Tetzel and his cavalcade would silently steal away, to continue their good work in the next town. This program was gone through in hundreds of places, and the amount of money gathered no one knew, and what became of it all, no one could guess.
Pope, Electors, Bishops, Priests and Tetzel all shared in the benefits.
To a great degree the same plans are still carried on. In Protestant churches we have the professional Debt-Raiser, and the Evangelist who recruits by hypnotic Tetzel methods.
In the Catholic Church receipts are still given for money paid, vouching that the holder shall participate in masses and prayers, his name be put in a window, or engrossed on a parchment to be placed beneath a cornerstone. Trinkets are sold to be worn upon the person as a protection against this and that.
The Church does not teach that the Pope can forgive sin, or that by mere giving you can escape punishment for sin. Christ alone forgives.
However, the Pope does decide on what constitutes sin and what not; and this being true, I, for myself, do not see why he can not decide that under certain conditions and with certain men an act is not a sin, which with other men is so considered. And surely if he decides it is not a sin, the act thereby carries no penalty. Thus does the Pope have the power to remit punishment.
Either the Pope is supreme or he is not.
Luther thought he was. The most that Luther objected to was Tetzel’s extreme way of putting the thing. Tetzel was a Dominican; Luther was an Augustinian; and between these two orders was continual friction. Tetzel was working Luther’s territory, and Luther told what he thought of him, and issued a challenge to debate him on ninety-five propositions. That priests in their zeal should overstep their authority, and that people should read into the preaching much more than the preacher intended, is not to the discredit of the Church. The Church can not be blamed for either the mistakes of Moses, or for the mistakes of her members.
We have recently had the spectacle of a noted Evangelist, in Vermont, preaching prohibition, indulging in strong drink, and making a bet with a Jebusite that he would turn all his clothing wrong side out–socks, drawers, trousers, undershirt, shirt, vest and coat–and preach with his eyes shut. The feat was carried out, and the preacher won the bet; but it would hardly be fair to charge this action up against either the Prohibition Party or the Protestant Religion.
* * * * *
Revolution never depended on any one man. A strong man is acted upon by the thought of others: he is a sensitive plate upon which impressions are made, and his vivid personality gathers up these many convictions, concentrates them into one focus, and then expresses them. The great man is the one who first expresses what the many believe. He is a voice for the voiceless, and gives in trumpet tones what others would if they could.
Throughout Germany there was a strong liberal movement. To obey blindly was not sufficient. To go to church, perform certain set acts at certain times, and pay were not enough–these things were all secondary–repentance must come first.
And along comes John Tetzel with his pagan processions, supplying salvation for silver! Martin Luther, the strenuous, the impulsive, the bold, quickly writes a challenge in wrath to public disputation. “If God wills,” said Martin to a friend, “I’ll surely kick a hole in his drum.”
Within two weeks after the Ninety-five Theses were nailed to the church-door, copies had been carried all over Germany, and in a month the Theses had gone to every corner of Christendom. The local printing-press at Wittenberg had made copies for the students, and some of these prints were carried the next day to Leipzig and Mainz, and at once recognized by publishers as good copy. Luther had said the things that thousands had wanted to say. Tame enough are the propositions to us now. Let us give a few of them:
The whole life of the faithful disciple should be an act of repentance.
Punishment remains as long as the sinner hates himself.
The Pope neither can nor will remit punishment for sin.
God must forgive first, and the Pope through his priests can then corroborate the remission.
No one is sure of his own forgiveness.
Every sinner who truly repents has a plenary remission of punishment due him without payment of money to any one.
Every Christian, living or dead, has a full share in all the wealth of the Church, without letters of pardon, or receipts for money paid.
Christians should be taught that the buying of pardons is in no wise to be compared to works of mercy.
To give to a poor man is better than to pay money to a rich priest.
Because of charity and the works of charity, man becomes better, whether he pays money to build a church or not.
Pardon for sin is from Christ, and is free.
The Pope needs prayers for himself more than ready money.
Christians should be taught that the Pope does not know of the exactions of his agents who rob the poor by threat, otherwise he would prefer that Saint Peter’s should lie in ashes than be built upon the skin, bones and flesh of his sheep.
If the Pope can release souls from Purgatory, why does he not empty the place for love and charity?
Since the Pope is the richest man in Christendom, why indeed does he not build Saint Peter’s out of his own pocket?
Such are the propositions that leaped hot from Luther’s heart; but they are not all of one spirit, for as he wrote he bethought himself that Tetzel was a Dominican, and the Dominicans held the key to the Inquisition. Luther remembered the fate of Huss, and his inward eye caught the glare of fagots afire. So, changing his tone, to show that he was still a Catholic, he said, “God forgives no man his sin until the man first presents himself to His priestly Vicar.”
Were it not for such expressions as this last, one might assume that man had no need of the assistance of priests or sacraments, but might go to God direct and secure pardon. But this would do away with even Martin Luther’s business, so Brother Martin affirms: “The Church is necessary to man’s salvation, and the Church must have a Pope in whom is vested Supreme Authority. The Church is not to blame for the acts of its selfish, ignorant and sinful professors.”
One immediate effect of the Theses was that they put a quietus on the work of Brother John Tetzel. Instead of the people all falling prostrate on his approach, many greeted him with jeers and mud-balls. He was only a few miles away from Wittenberg, but news reached him of what the students had in store, and immediately he quit business and went South.
But although he did not appear in person, Tetzel prepared a counter set of Theses, to the appalling number of one hundred thirteen, and had them printed and widely distributed. His agent came to Wittenberg and peddled the documents on the streets. The students got word of what was going on and in a body captured the luckless Tetzelite, led him to the public square, and burned his documents with much pomp and circumstance. They then cut off the man’s coat-tails, conducted him to the outskirts of the town, turned him loose and cheered him lustily as he ran.
It will thus be seen that the human heart is ever the same, and among college students there is small choice.
The following Sunday Luther devoted his whole sermon to a vigorous condemnation of the act of his students, admonishing them in stern rebuke. The sermon was considered the biggest joke of the season.
Tetzel seemed to sink out of sight. Those whom he had sought to serve repudiated him, and Bishops, Electors and Pope declined to defend his cause.
As for Luther, certain Bishops made formal charges against him, sending a copy of his Theses to Pope Leo the Tenth. The Holy Father refused to interfere in what he considered a mere quarrel between Dominicans and Augustinians, and so the matter rested.
But it did not rest long.
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The general policy of the Church in Luther’s time was not unlike what it is now. Had he gone to Rome, he would not have been humiliated–the intent would have been to pacify him. He might have been transferred to a new territory, with promise of a preferment, even to a Bishopric, if he did well.
To silence men, excommunicate them, degrade them, has never been done except when it was deemed that the safety of the Church demanded it.
The Church, like governments–all governments–is founded upon the consent of the governed. So every religion, and every government, changes with the people–rulers study closely the will of the people and endeavor to conform to their desire. Priests and preachers give people the religion they wish for–it is a question of supply and demand.
The Church has constantly changed as the intelligence of the people has changed. And this change is always easy and natural. Dogmas and creeds may remain the same, but progress consists in giving a spiritual or poetic interpretation to that which once was taken literally. The scheme of the Esoteric and the Exoteric is a sliding, self-lubricating, self-adjusting, non-copyrighted invention–perfect in its workings–that all wise theologians fall back upon in time of stress.
Had Luther obeyed the mandate and gone to Rome, that would have been the last of Luther.
Private interpretation is all right, of course: the Church has always taught it–the mistake is to teach it to everybody. Those who should know, do know. Spiritual adolescence comes in due time, and then all things are made plain–be wise!
But Luther was not to be bought off. His followers were growing in numbers, the howls of his enemies increased.
Strong men grow through opposition–the plummet of feeling goes deeper, thought soars higher–vivid and stern personalities make enemies because they need them, otherwise they drowse. Then they need friends, too, to encourage: opposition and encouragement–thus do we get the alternating current.
That Luther had not been publicly answered, except by Tetzel’s weak rejoinders, was a constant boast in the liberal camp; and that Tetzel was only fit to address an audience of ignorant peasantry was very sure: some one else must be put forward worthy of Martin Luther’s steel.
Then comes John Eck, a priest and lawyer, a man in intimate touch with Rome, and the foremost public disputant and orator of his time. He proposed to meet Luther in public debate. In social station Eck stood much higher than Luther. Luther was a poor college professor in a poor little University–a mere pedagog, a nobody. That Eck should meet him was a condescension on the part of Eck–as Eck explained.
They met at the University of Leipzig, an aristocratic and orthodox institution, Eck having refused to meet Luther either at Erfurt or at Wittenberg–wherein Eck was wise.
The Bishop at Leipzig posted notices forbidding the dispute–this, it is believed, on orders from Rome, as the Church did not want to be known as having mixed in the matter. The Bishop’s notices were promptly torn down, and Duke George decided that, as the dispute was not under the auspices of the Church, the Bishop had no business to interfere.
The audience came for many miles. A gallery was set apart for the nobility. Thousands who could not gain admittance remained outside and had to be content with a rehearsal of the proceedings from those who were fortunate enough to have seats.
The debate began June Twenty-seventh, Fifteen Hundred Nineteen, and continued daily for thirteen days.
Eck was commanding in person, deep of voice, suave and terrible in turn. He had all the graces and the power of a great trial lawyer. Luther’s small figure and plain clothes put him at a disadvantage in this brilliant throng, yet we are told that his high and piercing voice was heard much farther than Eck’s.
Duke George of Saxony sat on a throne in state, and acted as Master of Ceremonies. Wittenberg was in the minority, and the hundred students who had accompanied Luther were mostly relegated to places outside, under the windows–their ardor to cut off coat-tails had quite abated.
The proceedings were orderly and dignified, save for the marked prejudice against Luther displayed by Duke George and the nobility.
Luther held his own: his manner was self-reliant, with a touch of pride that perhaps did not help his cause.
Eck led the debate along by easy stages and endeavored to force Luther into anger and unseemliness.
Luther’s friends were pleased with their champion–Luther stated his case with precision and Eck was seemingly vanquished.
But Eck knew what he was doing–he was leading Luther into a defense of the doctrines set forth by Huss. And when the time was ripe, Eck, in assumed astonishment, cried out, “Why this is exactly that for which Huss the heretic was tried and rightly condemned!” He very skilfully and slyly gave Luther permission to withdraw certain statements, to which Luther replied with spirit that he took back nothing, “and if this is what Huss taught, why God be praised for Huss.”
Eck had gotten what he wanted–a defense of Huss, who had been burned at the stake for heresy.
Eck put his reports in shape and took them to Rome in person, and a demand was made for a formal Bull of Excommunication against Martin Luther.
Word came from Rome that if Luther would amend his ways and publicly disavow his defense of Huss, further proceedings would cease. The result was a volley of Wittenberg pamphlets restating, in still bolder language, what had already been put forth.
Luther was still a good Catholic, and his quarrel was with the abuses in the Church, not with the Church itself. Had the Pope and his advisers been wise enough they would have paid no attention to Luther, and thus allowed opinion inside the Church to change, as it has changed in our day. Priests and preachers everywhere now preach exactly the things for which Huss, Wyclif, Ridley, Latimer and Tyndale forfeited their lives.
But the Pope did not correctly gauge the people–he did not know that Luther was speaking for fifty-one per cent of all Germany.
Orders were given out in Leipzig from pulpits, that on a certain day all good Catholics should bring such copies of Martin Luther’s books as they had in their possession to the public square, and the books would there be burned.
On October Ninth, the Bull of Excommunication mentioning Luther and six of his chief sympathizers reached Wittenberg, cutting them off from the Church forever.
Luther still continued to preach daily, and declared that he was still a Catholic and that as Popes had made mistakes before, so had Pope Leo erred this time. With the Bull came a notice that, if Luther would recant, the Bull would be withdrawn and Luther would be reinstated in the Church.
To which Luther replied, “If the Bull is withdrawn I will still be in the Church.”
Bonfires of Luther’s books now burned bright in every town and city of Christendom–even in London.
Then it was that Wittenberg decided to have a bonfire of its own. A printed bill was issued calling upon all students and other devout Christians to assemble at nine o’clock on the morning of December Tenth, Fifteen Hundred Twenty, outside the Elster gate, and witness a pious and religious spectacle. A large concourse gathered, a pyre of fagots was piled high, the Pope’s Bull of Excommunication was solemnly placed on top, and the fire was lighted by the hand of Martin Luther.
* * * * *
The Theses prepared by Tetzel had small sale. People had heard all these arguments before, but Luther’s propositions were new.
Everything that Luther said in public now was taken down, printed and passed along; his books were sold in the marketplaces and at the fairs throughout the Empire. Luther glorified Germany, and referred often to the “Deutsche Theologie,” and this pleased the people. The jealousy that existed between Italians and Germans was fanned.
He occasionally preached in neighboring cities, and always was attended by an escort of several hundred students. Once he spoke at Nuremberg and was entertained by that great man and artist, Albert Durer. Everywhere crowds hung upon his words, and often he was cheered and applauded, even in churches. He denounced the extravagance and folly of ecclesiastical display, the wrong of robbing the poor in order to add to the splendor of Rome; he pleaded for the right of private interpretation of the Scriptures, and argued the need of repentance and a deep personal righteousness.
Not only was Luther the most popular preacher of that day, but his books outsold all other authors. He gave his writings to whoever would print them, and asked for no copyright nor royalties.
A request came from the Pope that he should appear at Rome.
Such a summons is considered mandatory, and usually this letter, although expressed in the gentlest and most complimentary way, strikes terror to the heart of the receiver. It means that he has offended or grieved the Head of the Church–God’s Vicegerent on earth.
In my own experience I have known several offending priests to receive this summons; I never knew of one who dared disregard the summons; I never knew of one who received it who was not filled with dire foreboding; and I never knew an instance where the man was humiliated or really punished.
A few years ago the American newspapers echoed with the name of a priest who had been particularly bold in certain innovations. He was summoned to Rome, and this was the way he was treated as told me with his own lips, and he further informed me that he ascertained it was the usual procedure:
The offender arrives in Rome full of the feeling that his enemies have wrongfully accused him. He knows charges have been filed against him, but what these charges are he is not aware. He is very much disturbed and very much in a fog. His reputation and character, aye! his future is at stake.
Before the dust of travel is off his clothes, before he shaves, washes his face or eats, he appears at the Vatican and asks for a copy of the charges that have been brought against him.
One of the Pope’s numerous secretaries, a Cardinal possibly, receives him graciously, almost affectionately, and welcomes him to Rome in the name of the Pope. As for any matter of business, why, it can wait: the man who has it in charge is out of the city for a day or so–rest and enjoy the splendor of the Eternal City.
“Where is the traveler’s lodging?”
“What? not that–here!”–a bell is rung, a messenger is called, the pilgrim’s luggage is sent for, and he is given a room in the Vatican itself, or in one of the nearby “Colleges.” A Brother is called in, introduced and duly instructed to attend personally on His Grace the Pilgrim. Show him the wonders of Rome–the churches, art-galleries, the Pantheon, the Appian Way, the Capitol, the Castle–he is one of the Church’s most valued servants, he has come from afar–see that he has the attention accorded him that is his due.
The Pilgrim is surprised, a trifle relieved, but not happy. He remembers that those condemned to die are given the best of food; but he tries to be patient, and so he accepts the Brother’s guidance to see Rome–and then die, if he must.
The days are crowded full–visitors come and go. He attends this congregation and that–fetes, receptions, pilgrimages follow fast.
The cloud is still upon him–he may forget it for an hour, but each day begins in gloom–uncertainty is the only hell.
At last he boldly importunes and asks that a day shall be set to try his case.
Nobody knows anything about his case! Charges–what charges? However, a Committee of Cardinals wish to see him–why, yes, Thursday at ten o’clock!
He passes a sleepless night, and appears at the time appointed, haggard, yet firm, armed with documents.
He is ushered into the presence of the Cardinals. They receive him as an equal. A little speech is made, complimenting him on his good work, upon his uprightness, and ends with a gentle caution concerning the wisdom of making haste slowly.
Charges? There are no charges against the Pilgrim–why should there be? And moreover, what if there are? Good men are always maligned. He has been summoned to Rome that the Cardinals might have his advice.
The Pope will meet him tomorrow in order to bestow his personal blessing.
It is all over–the burden falls from his back. He gasps in relief and sinks into a chair.
The greatness of Rome and the kindness and courtesy he has received have subdued him.
Possibly there is a temporary, slight reduction of position–he is given another diocese or territory; but there is a promise of speedy promotion–there is no humiliation. The man goes home subdued, conquered by kindness, happy in the determination to work for the Church as never before.
Rome binds great men to her; she does not drive them away: her policy is wise–superbly, splendidly wise.
* * * * *
Luther was now beyond the pale–the Church had no further power to punish him, but agents of the Church, being a part of the Government, might proceed against him as an enemy of the State.
Word came that if Luther would cease writing and preaching, and quietly go about his teaching in the University, he would not be troubled in any way.
This only fired him to stronger expression. He issued a proclamation to the German Nation, appealing from the sentence of the Pope, stating he was an Augustinian monk, a Doctor of Theology, a preacher of truth, with no stain upon his character. He declared that no man in Italy or elsewhere had a right to order him to be silent, and no man or set of men could deprive him of a share in God’s Kingdom.
He called upon all lovers of liberty who hoped for heaven to repudiate the “Babylonish Captivity”–only by so doing could the smile of God be secured. Thus did Martin Luther excommunicate the Pope.
Frederick, the Elector of Saxony, preserved a strictly neutral attitude. Martin Luther was his subject, and he might have proceeded against him on a criminal charge, and was hotly urged to do so, but his reply was, “Hands Off!”
The city of Worms was at this time the political capital of Germany. A yearly congress, or Diet, was held by the Emperor and his Electors, to consider matters of special import to the State.
As Frederick refused to proceed against Luther, an appeal was made to the Emperor, Charles the Fifth, asking that Luther be compelled to appear before the Diet of Worms and make answer to the charges that would there be brought against him.
It was urged that Luther should be arrested and carried to Worms and there be confined in the castle until the Diet should meet; but Charles had too much respect for Frederick to attempt any such high-handed procedure–it might mean civil war. Gladly would he have ignored the whole matter, but a Cardinal from Rome was at his elbow, sent purposely to see that Luther should be silenced–silenced as Huss was, if necessary. Charles was a good Catholic–and so for that matter was the Elector Frederick. The latter was consulted and agreed that if the Emperor would issue a letter of “safe-conduct,” and send a herald to personally accompany the Reverend Doctor Luther to Worms, the Elector would consent to the proceedings.
The letter sent summoning Luther to Worms was an exceedingly guarded document. It addressed the excommunicated heretic as “honorable, beloved and pious,” and begged him to accept the company and safe-conduct of the bearer to Worms and there kindly explain to the Emperor the import of his books and doctrines.
This letter might have been an invitation to a banquet, but Luther said it was an invitation to a holocaust, and many of his friends so looked upon it. He was urged to disregard it, but his reply was, “Though the road to Worms were lined with devils I’d go just the same.”
No more vivid description of Luther’s trial at Worms has been given than that supplied by Doctor Charles Beard. This man was neither Catholic nor Protestant, so we can not accuse him of hand-illumining the facts to suit his fancy. Says Doctor Beard:
Towards noon on the Sixteenth of April, Fifteen Hundred Twenty-one, the watchers on the tower gate of Worms gave notice by sound of trumpet that Luther’s cavalcade was drawing near. First rode Deutschland the Herald; next came the covered carriage with Luther and three friends; last of all, Justus Jonas on horseback, with an escort of knights who had ridden out from Worms to meet them. The news quickly spread, and though it was dinner-time, the streets were thronged, and two thousand men and women accompanied the heretic to his lodging in the house of the Knights of Saint John. Here he was close to the Elector, while his companions in his lodging were two Saxon councilors. Aleandro, the Papal Nuncio, sent out one of his servants to bring him news; he returned with the report that as Luther alighted from his carriage a man had taken him into his arms, and having touched his coat three times had gone away glorying as if he had touched a relic of the greatest saint in the world. On the other hand, Luther looked round about him, with his demoniac eyes, and said, “God will be with me.”
The audience to which Luther was summoned was fixed for four P.M., and the fact was announced to him by Ulrich von Pappenheim, the hereditary marshal of the Empire. When the time came, there was a great crowd assembled to see the heretic, and his conductors, Pappenheim and Deutschland, were obliged to take him to the hall of audience in the Bishop’s Palace through gardens and by back ways. There he was introduced into the presence of the Estates. He was a peasant and a peasant’s son, who, though he had written bold letters to Pope and Prelate, had never spoken face to face with the great ones of the land, not even with his own Elector, of whose good-will he was assured. Now he was bidden to answer, less for himself than for what he believed to be the truth of God, before the representatives of the double authority by which the world is swayed. The young Emperor looked at him with impassive eyes, speaking no word either of encouragement or rebuke. Aleandro represented the still greater, the intrinsically superior, power of the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ. At the Emperor’s side stood his brother Ferdinand, the new founder of the House of Austria, while round them were grouped six out of the seven Electors, and a crowd of princes, prelates, nobles, delegates of free cities, who represented every phase of German and ecclesiastical feeling.
It was a turning-point of modern European history, at which the great issues which presented themselves to men’s consciences were greater still than they knew.
The proceedings began with an injunction given by Pappenheim to Luther that he was not to speak unless spoken to. Then John von Eck, Official-General of the Archbishop of Trier, champion of the Leipzig deputation, first in Latin, then in German, put, by Imperial command, two questions to Luther. First, did he acknowledge these books here present–showing a bundle of books which were circulated under his name–to be his own; and secondly, was he willing to withdraw and recall them and their contents, or did he rather adhere to and persist in them? At this point, Schurf, who acted as Luther’s counsel, interposed with the demand, “Let the titles be read.” The official, in reply, recited, one by one, the titles of the books comprised in the collected edition of Luther’s works published at Basel, among which were the “Commentaries on the Psalms,” the “Sermon of Good Works,” the “Commentary on the Lord’s Prayer,” and besides these, other Christian books, not of a contentious kind.
Upon this, Luther made answer, first in German, then in Latin, that the books were his.
The form of procedure had been committed by the Emperor to Eck, Glapion, and Aleandro, and it may have been by their deliberate intention that Luther was now asked, whether he wished to defend all the books which he had acknowledged as his own, or to retract any part of them? He began his answer in Latin, by an apology for any mistakes that he might make in addressing personages so great, as a man versed, not in courts, but in monk-cells; then, repeating his acknowledgment of the books, proceeded to divide them into three classes. There were some in which he had treated the piety of faith and morals so simply and evangelically that his very adversaries had been compelled to confess them useful, harmless, and worthy of Christian reading. How could he condemn these? There were others in which he attacked the Papacy and the doctrine of the Papists, who both by their teachings and their wretched examples have wasted Christendom with both spiritual and corporal evil. Nor could any one deny or dissimulate this, since the universal experience and complaint bear witness that, by the laws of the Pope and the doctrines of men, consciences are miserably ensnared and vexed, especially in this illustrious German nation. If he should revoke these books, what would it be but to add force to tyranny, and to open, not merely the windows, but the doors to so great impiety? In that case, Good God, what a cover of wickedness and tyranny would he not become! A third class of his books had been written against private persons, those, namely, who had labored to protect the Roman tyranny and to undermine the piety which he had taught. In these he confessed that he had been more bitter than became his religion and profession. Even these, however, he could not recall, because to do so would be to throw his shield over tyranny and impiety, and to augment their violence against the people of God. From this he proceeded to ask for evidence against himself and a fair trial, adducing the words of Christ before Annas: “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.” Then, with a touch of his native boldness, he told his audience that it needed to beware lest the reign of this most excellent youth, Prince Charles, should become unhappy and of evil omen. “I might,” he continued, “illustrate the matter more copiously by Scriptural examples–as Pharaoh, the King of Babylon, the Kings of Israel–who most completely ruined themselves at the moment when by wisest counsels they were zealous to strengthen and pacify their kingdoms. For it is He who taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and overturns the mountains before they know it. Therefore it is needful to fear God. I do not say these things because my teaching or admonition is necessary to persons of such eminence, but because I ought not to withhold from Germany my due obedience. And with these things I commend myself to Your Most Serene Majesty, and to Your Lordships, humbly asking that you will not suffer me to be brought into ill repute by the efforts of my adversaries. I have spoken.”
This speech, spoken as it was with steady composure and a voice that could be clearly heard by the whole assembly, did not satisfy the official. His first demand was that, like the question to which it was in answer, it should be repeated in German. Next, Eck proceeded to point out that Luther’s errors, which were the errors of former heretics, Wyclif, Huss and the like, had been sufficiently condemned by the Church, and particularly by the Council of Konstanz. If Luther were willing to recant them, the Emperor would engage that his other works, in which they were not contained, should be tenderly handled: if not, let him recollect the fate of other books condemned by the Church. Then, with the customary exhortation to all theological innovators, not to set their own opinions against those of apostles, saints and martyrs, the official said that what he wanted was a simple and straightforward answer: was Luther willing to recant or not? To which Luther replied: “Since Your Most Serene Majesty and Your Lordships ask for a simple answer, I will give it, after this fashion: Unless I am convinced by witness of Scripture or plain reason (for I do not believe in the Pope or in Councils alone, since it is agreed that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am overcome by the Scriptures which I have adduced, and my conscience is caught in the Word of God. I neither can nor will recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience.” Then having given this answer in both languages, he added in German, “God help me! Amen.”
The semblance of trial, which alone was allowed to Luther, was now over; it only remained to pass sentence. Early on the morning of the Nineteenth of April the Emperor summoned the Diet once more to take counsel upon the matter. The Estates asked for time to deliberate; on which the Emperor, replying that he would first give them his own opinion, produced a document written in his own hand. Beginning with the statement of his descent from Emperors, Kings of Spain, Archdukes of Austria, and Dukes of Burgundy, all of whom had lived and died faithful sons of the Church and defenders of the Catholic faith, it announced the identity of his policy with theirs. Whatever his predecessors had decreed in matters ecclesiastical, whatever had been decided by the Council of Konstanz and other Councils, he would uphold. Luther had set himself against the whole of Christendom, alleging it to be, both now and for a thousand years past, in error, and only himself in possession of the truth. The Estates had heard the obstinate answer which he had made the day before; let him be no further heard, and let him be taken back whence he came, the terms of his safe-conduct being carefully observed; but let him be forbidden to preach, nor suffer to corrupt the people with his vile doctrine. “And as we have before said, it is our will that he should be proceeded against as a true and evident heretic.”
* * * * *
The difference between heresy and treason, at one time, was very slight. One was disloyalty to the Church, the other disloyalty to the State.
Luther’s peril was very great. The coils had been deliberately laid for him, and he had as deliberately placed his neck in the noose. Surely his accusers had been very patient–every opportunity had been given to him to recant.
Aleandro, the Papal Nuncio, argued that, in the face of such stubborn contumacy and insult to both Pope and Emperor, the Emperor would be justified in canceling his safe-conduct and arresting Luther then and there. His offense in refusing to retract was committed at Worms and his trial should be there–and there he should be executed.
The Elector Frederick was a stronger man far in personality than was the Emperor Charles. “The promise of safe-conduct must be kept,” said Frederick, and there he rested, refusing to argue the merits of the case by a word, one way or the other.
Frederick held the life of Luther in his hand–a waver, a tremor–and the fagots would soon crackle: for the man who pleads guilty and refuses pardon there is short shrift.
Luther started back for Saxony. All went well until he reached the Black Forest within the bounds of the domain of Frederick; when behold, the carriages and little group of horsemen were surrounded by an armed force of silent and determined men. Luther made a stout defense and was handled not over-gently. He was taken from his closed carriage and placed upon a horse–his friends and guard were ordered to be gone.
The darkness of the forest swallowed Luther and his captors.
News soon reached Wittenberg, and the students mourned him as dead.
His enemies gloried in his disappearance, and everywhere told that he had been struck by the vengeance of God.
Luther was lodged in the Castle of Wartburg, and all communication with the outside world cut off.
The whole scheme was a diplomatic move on the part of the Elector. He expected a demand would be made for the arrest of the heretic. To anticipate this demand he arrested the man himself; and thus placed the matter in position to legally resist should the prisoner be demanded.
The Elector was the Governor, and the Estate was what would be to us a State–the terms “state” and “estate” being practically the same word. It was the old question of State Rights, the same question that Hayne and Webster debated in Eighteen Hundred Thirty, and Grover Cleveland and John P. Altgeld fought over in Eighteen Hundred Ninety-four. The Elector Frederick prepared for a legal battle, and would defy the “Federal Arm” by force if worse came to worst.
Luther remained a prisoner for seven months, and so closely guarded was he that he only knew by inference that his keepers were his friends. The Elector was discreet: he held no personal communication with Luther.
In December, Fifteen Hundred Twenty-one, the prisoner was allowed to go to Wittenberg on a three-days’ parole. When he appeared at the University he came as one from the dead. The event was too serious for student jollification; many were struck dumb with astonishment and glad tears of joy were upon every cheek–and by common consent all classes were abandoned, and a solemn service of thanksgiving held in the church, upon the door of which, four years before, this little college professor had tacked his Theses.
All understood now that Luther was a prisoner–he must go back to his prison. He admonished his hearers to be patient, but to be firm; cleave to what they believed to be right, even though it led to the scaffold. He administered the sacrament, and through that congregation, and throughout Saxony, and throughout all Germany ran the vow, silent, solemn and serious, that Martin Luther’s defiance of Papal authority was right. The Church was made for man and not man for the Church–and come what may, this man Luther must be protected even though the gutters ran with blood.
When would his trial occur? Nobody knew–but there would be no haste.
Luther went back to prison, but not to remain there. His little lease of liberty had been given just to see which way the wind lay. He was a prisoner still–a prisoner on parole–and if he was taken out of Saxony it could only be by illegal means.
The action of the Elector was as wise and as successful a bit of legal procedure as ever mortal lawyer worked: that it was all done without the advice, consent or connivance of the prisoner makes it doubly admirable.
Luther set himself to work as never before, writing and preaching. He kept close to Wittenberg and from there sent forth his thunders of revolt. Outside of Saxony, at regular intervals, edicts were read from pulpits ordering any and all copies of Luther’s writings to be brought forward that they might be burned. This advertised the work, and made it prized–it was read throughout all Christendom.
That gentle and ascetic Henry the Eighth of England issued a book denouncing Luther and telling what he would do with him if he came to England. Luther replied, a trifle too much in kind. Henry put in a pious rejoinder to the effect that the Devil would not have Luther in hell. In their opinion of Luther the Pope and King Henry were of one mind.
So lived Martin Luther, execrated and beloved. At first he sought to serve the Church, and later he worked to destroy it. After three hundred years, the Catholic Church still lives, with more communicants than it had in the days of Luther. The fact that it still exists proves its usefulness. It will still live, and it will change as men change. The Church and the Pope are not the detestable things that Martin Luther pictured them; and Protestantism is not the sweet and lovely object that he would have us believe. All formal and organized religions will be what they are, as long as man is what he is–labels count for little.
In Fifteen Hundred Twenty-five Martin Luther married “Catharine the Nun,” a most excellent woman, and one whom rumor says had long encouraged and upheld him in his works. Children came to bless them, and the picture of the great heretic sitting at his wooden table with little Johnny Luther on his knee, his loving wife by his side, and kind neighbors entering for a friendly chat, shows the great reformer at his best.
He was the son of a peasant, all his ancestors were peasants, as he so often told, and he lived like a peasant to the last. For himself he wanted little. He sided with the people, the toilers, with those who struggled in the bonds of slavery and fear–for them he was an Eye, an Ear, a trumpet Voice.
There never lived a braver man–there never lived one more earnest and sincere. He fought freedom’s fight with all the weapons God had given him; and for the liberty we now enjoy, in great degree, we are debtors to Martin Luther.
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