In fourteen days, as he tells us, they ran through the whole of Germany, and were immediately translated and circulated in German.
Continuing Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany,
with a selection from Life of Luther History of the Life, the Works and the Doctrines of Luther by Julius Koestlin published in 1883. This selection is presented in 9 installments, each one 5 minutes long.
Previously in Luther Begins the Reformation in Germany.
On the same day that these theses were published, Luther sent a copy of them with a letter to the archbishop Albert, his “revered and gracious lord and shepherd in Christ.” After a humble introduction, he begged him most earnestly to prevent the scandalizing and iniquitous harangues with which his agents hawked about their indulgences, and reminded him that he would have to give an account of the souls entrusted to his episcopal care.
The next day he addressed himself to the people from the pulpit in a sermon he had to preach on the festival of All Saints. After exhorting them to seek their salvation in God and Christ alone, and to let the consecration by the Church become a real consecration of the heart, he went on to tell them plainly, with regard to indulgences, that he could only absolve from duties imposed by the Church, and that they dare not rely on him for more, nor delay on his account the duties of true repentance.
Theologians before Luther, and with far more acuteness and penetration than he showed in his theses, had already assailed the whole system of indulgences. And, in regard to any idea on Luther’s part of the effects of his theses extending widely in Germany, it may be noticed that not only were they composed in Latin, but that they dealt largely with scholastic expressions and ideas, which a layman would find it difficult to understand.
Nevertheless the theses created a sensation which far surpassed Luther’s expectations. In fourteen days, as he tells us, they ran through the whole of Germany, and were immediately translated and circulated in German. They found, indeed, the soil already prepared for them, through the indignation long since and generally aroused by the shameless doings they attacked; though till then nobody, as Luther expresses it, had liked to bell the cat, nobody had dared to expose himself to the blasphemous clamor of the indulgence-mongers and the monks who were in league with them, still less to the threatened charge of heresy. On the other hand, the very impunity with which this traffic in indulgences had been maintained throughout German Christendom had served to increase from day to day the audacity of its promoters.
The task that Luther had now undertaken lay heavy upon his soul. He was sincerely anxious, while fighting for the truth, to remain at peace with his Church, and to serve her by the struggle. Pope Leo, on the contrary, as was consistent with his whole character, treated the matter at first very lightly, and, when it threatened to become dangerous, thought only how, by means of his papal power, to make the restless German monk harmless.
Two expressions of his in these early days of the contest are recorded. “Brother Martin,” he said, “is a man of a very fine genius, and this outbreak the mere squabble of envious monks;” and again, “It is a drunken German who has written the theses; he will think differently about them when sober.” Three months after the theses had appeared, he ordered the vicar-general of the Augustinians to “quiet down the man,” hoping still to extinguish easily the flame. The next step was to institute a tribunal for heretics at Rome for Luther’s trial; what its judgment would be was patent from the fact that the single theologian of learning among the judges was Sylvester Prierias. Before this tribunal Luther was cited on August 7th; within sixty days he was to appear there at Rome. Friend and foe could well feel certain that they would look in vain for his return.
Papal influence, meanwhile, had been brought to bear on the elector Frederick to induce him not to take the part of Luther, and the chief agent chosen for working on the Elector and the emperor Maximilian was the papal legate, Cardinal Thomas Vio of Gaeta, called Cajetan, who had made his appearance in Germany. The University of Wittenberg, on the other hand, interposed on behalf of their member, whose theology was popular there, and whose biblical lectures attracted crowds of enthusiastic hearers. He had just been joined at Wittenberg by his fellow-professor Philip Melanchthon, then only twenty-one years old, but already in the first rank of Greek scholars, and the bond of friendship was now formed which lasted through their lives. The university claimed that Luther should at least be tried in Germany. Luther expressed the same wish through Spalatin to his sovereign.
 Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, was Luther’s friend and protector.
 Georg Spalatin, a friend and fellow-reformer of Luther’s, was in the diplomatic service of Elector Frederick.
The Pope meanwhile had passed from his previous state of haughty complacency to one of violent haste. Already, on August 23d, thus long before the sixty days had expired, he demanded the Elector to deliver up this “child of the devil,” who boasted of his protection, to the legate, to bring away with him. This is clearly shown by two private briefs from the Pope, of August 23d and 25th, the one addressed to the legate, the other to the head of all the Augustinian convents in Saxony, as distinguished from the vicar of those congregations, Staupitz, who already was looked on with suspicion at Rome. These briefs instructed both men to hasten the arrest of the heretic; his adherents were to be secured with him, and every place where he was tolerated laid under the interdict.
In the summer of 1518 a diet was held at Augsburg at which the papal legate attended. The Pope was anxious to obtain its consent to the imposition of a heavy tax throughout the empire, to be applied ostensibly for the war against the Turks, but alleged to be wanted in reality for entirely other objects. The demand for a tax, however, was received with the utmost disfavor both by the diet and the empire; and a long-cherished bitterness of feeling now found expression.
Jean-M.-Vincent Audin begins here.
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