Page images
PDF
EPUB

and full renunciation of all his opinions, and Luther appealed to a general Council as superior to the Pope.

Hoping to reclaim Luther by a messenger of more mildness and cunning than Cardinal Cajetan, Leo sent Charles Miltitz, a Saxon knight, in 1519, to negotiate with him. To conciliate the elector Frederick, Miltitz carried to him the golden consecrated rose, the peculiar mark of the Pope's favour; and to gain Luther, he rebuked Tetzel with the greatest severity. The elector received the bauble, which once he desired, with indifference, With the reformer, Miltitz had several interviews, but they were fruitless as to the great point. He persuaded Luther, however, to write a submissive letter to the Pope, and agreed with the elector to refer the whole subject to the first diet held by the new emperor of Germany, Charles V. In his letter, Luther expressed a great reverence for the church of Rome; declared that his great object was to honour that church, and, though he could not renounce his opinions without being convinced that he was in an error, yet he would, in future, be silent respecting indulgences, if his enemies would no longer persecute him.

Of the popularity of Luther at this period, some judgment may be formed from the following extract from one of his letters. “Charles Miltitz saw me at Altenburg, and complained that I had united the whole world to myself, and drawn it aside from the Pope; that he had discovered this at the inns as he travelled. Martin,' said he, "you are so much favoured with the popular opinion, that I could not expect, with the help of 25,000 soldiers, to force you with me to Rome.?"

Soon after his conferences with Miltitz, Luther was brought into a public dispute with Eckius. This learned and brilliant professor of theology, fattered himself, that, in public debate, he could silence these young reformers; and he challenged Carolstadt, the colleague and friend of Luther, to a public dispute on the controverted points, at Leipsic. The assembly was large, and the dispute between these combatants was carried on for fourteen days; and such were the plaudits bestowed upon Eckius, that he challenged Luther to engage in the combat. Luther accepted the challenge, and the Vispute continued ten days. But Eckius was not here as triumphant as before. He found his antagonist well acquainted with the sacred scripture honest in the sacred cause ; dexterous; eloquent, and a firm expectant of the blessing of Heaven. Many were the points in debate; but the chief one regarded the superiority of the Roman See. Luther declared it impious to maintain the die vine right of the Pope to act as the vicar of Christ, though he

CHAP. 11.

ZUINGLIUS.

ERASMUS.

247

willingly allowed him a supremacy above others, from the universal consent of the church. He was daily drawing nearer to the evangelical liberty of the gospel of Christ; though by slow advances. Both parties claimed the victory; but the dispute was in general advantageous to the reformation ; for the more the corruptions of Popery were discussed, the more were the minds of men enlightened, and their consciences set free. In the close of 1519, Luther began to preach and write on the administration of the sacrament, in both kinds, which exceedingly exasperated his enemies. But said he, “ Let us in faith and prayer commit the event to God, and we shall be safe.”

While Luther was thus gaining and diffusing knowledge in Germany, and opposing the corruptions of Popery, a spirit of reform similar to his own was roused in Switzerland. There the Franciscans had carried on the scandalous traffic to an awful extent, and the minds of the people were perfectly infatuated. Huldric Zuinglius, a man not inferior to Luther, dared to oppose it in the summer of 1518; and though condemned by the universities of Cologne and Louvaine, he advanced with bold and rapid steps toward a complete and thorough reformation.

The greatest scholar of the age was Erasmus. He was ordained a priest in 1492, at the age of twenty-six. The great object of his life was the revival of literature. He was extensively acquainted with the theology then universally received, and he became a most severe satirist upon all its superstitions and follies. He, by his sound reasoning, his invective and raillery, first sowed the seeds of reformation in Europe. But he had not the courage to become an open opponent of the Pope. “ Every man,” said he, “ hath not the courage requisite to inake a martyr; and I am afraid that if I were put to the trial, I should imitate St. Peter.” He repressed and moderated his zeal, therefore, against the errors of popery, while he was a friend and admirer of Luther; and did more than almost any other man in promoting the study of the sacred scriptures.

The celebrated Philip Melanchton, who became one of the most illustrious coadjutors of Luther, was at the public dispute at Leipsic. He was then twenty-three years of age; but such were his attainments in literature, that he had been made professor of Greek at Wittemberg. So fully was he convinced of the soundness of Luther's principles, that from the time of his dispute with Eckius, he enlisted with ardour in the cause of the reformation. Other men were present at the same disputation, who afterwards became distinguished lights and guides in the cause of truth and liberty.

But one prince, as yet, publicly declared in favour of Luther. This was his patron, Frederic, elector of Saxony. He was a diligent searcher of the sacred scriptures; had become much dissatisfied with the usual modes of interpretation, and wi!h the abominations of popery; and, as far as he could, without provoking the vengeance of Rome, to whom he still was consci. entiously subject, he aided Luther in his arduous work, At the death of Maximilian, the emperor, in 1519, Frederic acted as vicar of the empire during the interregnum, and protected Lutheranism from the violent assaults of its enemies.

On the fifteenth of June, one thousand five hundred and twenty, Luther was publicly denounced by the church of Rome. Forty-one propositions from bis works were condemned as he. retical; all pious persons were forbidden to rea'l his works on pain of excommunication ; such as had them, were commanded to burn them; and, be himself, if he did not in sixty days recant his errors and burn his books, was to be excommunicated and delivered unto Satan for the destruction of his flesh. All secular princes were required, under pain of incurring the same censures, and of forfeiting all their dignities, to seize his person, that he might be punished as his crimes deserved.

The church of Rome had become fully satisfied, that they could never reclaim him; and that the only way to saye themselves was to proceed violently against him. Luther had made astonishing advances in the discovery of truth, and by almost innumerable letters, tracts, sermons and commentaries on scrip. ture, had diffused his sentiments throughout Europe, and made many distinguished and powerful converts.

The papists exulted at the publication of the Pope's bull. They had been accustomed to see this terminate all controversies, and they supposed that it would for eyer silence the reformer. But it had very little effect upon his mind, or his cause. It came too late to command submission in Germany. This intrepid man erected without the walls of Wittemberg an immense pile of wood; and there, in presence of the professors and students of the university, and a vast crowd of spectators, committted the papal bull to the flames, together with the volumes of the canon law, the rule of the pontifical jurisdiction.

By this public act he left the Roman communion. He denounced the Pope of Rome as the Man of sin, He waged open war with the wbole papal establishment, and exhorted all Christian rulers and people to separate from it. By tbiş bold act the die was cast. There was henceforth no reconciliation.

CHAP. 11.

DIET AT WORMS.

249

[ocr errors]

In less than a month after, a second bull, a bull of excommunication, was issued against him, but it was only the distant echo of thunder which had already lost its power to terrify or destroy.

Luther now resolved upon re-establishing the Church of God upon a proper basis. In the Roman Church he could neither find the form nor spirit of the gospel. He saw and felt the necessity of a Church in which the Papal dominion, the injunction of celibacy in the clergy, the monastic vow, the intercession of saints, auricular confession, pilgrimage and penances, and the imaginary existence of purgatory, should find no place : and in which the true doctrine of justification and acceptance with God should be properly received and applied, and gospel discipline be duly administered. In his various schemes of reformation, he was warmly seconded by the members and professors of his own university, and by many pious and learned men scattered throughout Europe. But in the beginning of

the year 1521, he was summoned to appear at the diet of : Worms. x

This diet was the general assembly of the German empire, composed of all its princes, archbishops, and bishops, and many abbots, and convened by Charles V. for the purpose of checking the new religious opinions which threatened to destroy the ancient faith of Europe. No sooner was it convened, and certain formalities were settled, than the papal legates demanded an immediate procedure against Luther. But his friends plead the unreasonableness of condemning a man unheard, and the whole assembly concurred in admitting him to their peesence. Frederic, however, would not consent to his appearing without a safe conduct. This the emperor was compelled to grant. His friends, however, were very fearful of his suffering the fate of John Huss, and, on his way, besought him to retire to some place of safety. But, said the intrepid reformer, “ I am lawfully called to appear in that city, and thither will I go in the name of the Lord, though as many devils as there are tiles on the houses, were there combined against me.”

At Worms, Luther met with a reception which must have been gratifying to his feelings, though he feared God more than he desired the praise of man.

Vast crowds gathered around him to behold the man who had so boldly attacked the corruptious of popery and introduced a new religion. The most important characters in church and state filled his apartments, and he was conducted to the Diet by the martial of the empire. His conduct, in presence of that august assembly, was very becoming a man of God. He was meek and civil, but firm. When called upon to acknowledge his writings, be did it without hesitation ; but he solemnly and boldly refused to renounce his opinions, unless convinced of their error from the word of God." In a speech of two hours, first made in German, and then repeated in Latin, he boldly vindicated the course he had taken, and gained the applause of one half the assembly. But while the subject was in agitation, and while many efforts were making in private to reclaim the reformer, Luther received a message from the emperor, directing him immediately to depart from Worms and return home, because he persisted in his contumacy and would not return into the bosom of the church.

After he left the Diet, a decree was passed declaring him an excommunicated, notorious heretic; and forbidding all persons, under the penalty of high treason, to receive, maintain, or protect him.

Foreseeing the storm that was bursting upon his favourite professor, Frederic provided three or four horsemen, disguised in masks, in whom he could confide, and placed them in a wood near Eisnach ; from whence as he was returning home, they rushed out upon Luther, took him by force, and carried him to the castle of Wartburg. There he lay concealed for ten months from the search of his implacable adversaries, and in this retreat, which he called his Patmos, he pursued his studies, and produced some works, particularly a translation of the New Testament,wbich were highly useful to the cause of the reformation.

The friends of Luther were exceedingly discomfited at his sudden disappearance. They were generally ready to believe that a band of assassins had waylaid and killed him. They had not the courage or ability to do much without him, and were for a period covered with gloom. Luther had friends who communicated to him the knowledge of all that transpired. Here he was told that the University of Paris, the most venerable of the learned societies of Europe, from which he had hoped much favourable to his cause, had passed a solemn censure upon his writings; and that Henry VIII., king of England, had published an answer to a treatise of his, entitled the Babylonish Captivity, and for it had received from the Pope the title of Defender of the Faith. A circumstance, however, which affected him more than either of these (for Luther was not a man who was to be overawed by monarchs or universities) was the conduct of his own friend and partizan Carlostadt, who had attempted to carry on the work of reformation by violence; throwing down and breaking the images of saints, and stripping the churches and public

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »