Luther Examined and Reexamined A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Revaluation
By W.H.T. Dau, Professor, Concordia Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Mo. Concordia Publishing House 1917
PREFACE. One may deplore the pathetic courage which periodically heartens Catholic writers for the task of writing against Luther, but one can understand the necessity for such efforts, and, accordingly, feel a real pity for those who make them. Attacks on Luther are demanded for Catholics by the law of self-preservation. A recent Catholic writer correctly says: "There is no doubt that the religious problem to-day is still the Luther problem." "Almost every statement of those religious doctrines which are opposed to Catholic moral teaching find their authorization in the theology of Martin Luther."
Rome has never acknowledged her errors nor admitted her moral defeat. The lessons of past history are wasted upon her. Rome is determined to assert to the end that she was not, and cannot be, vanquished. In the age of the Reformation, she admits, she suffered some losses, but she claims that she is fast retrieving these, while Protestantism is decadent and decaying. No opposition to her can hope to succeed.
This is done to bolster up Catholic courage. The intelligent Catholic layman of the present day makes his own observations, and draws his own conclusions as to the status and the future prospect of Protestantism. Therefore, he must be invited to "acquaint himself with the lifestory of the man, whose followers can never explain away the anarchy of that immoral dogma: 'Be a sinner, and sin boldly; but believe more boldly still!' He must be shown the many hideous scenes of coarseness, vulgarity, obscenity, and degrading immorality in Martin Luther's life." When the Catholic rises from the contemplation of these scenes, it is hoped that his mind has become ironclad against Protestant argument. These attacks upon Luther are a plea pro domo, the effort of a strong man armed to keep his palace and his goods in peace.
Occurring, as they do, in this year of the Four-hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation, these attacks, moreover, represent a Catholic counter-demonstration to the Protestant celebration of the Quadricentenary of Luther's Theses. They are the customary cries of dissent and vigorous expressions of disgust which at a public meeting come from parties in the audience that are not pleased with the speaker on the stage. If the counter-demonstration includes in its program the obliging application of eggs in an advanced state of maturity to the speaker, and chooses to emphasize its presence to the very nostrils of the audience, that, too, is part of the prevailing custom. It is aesthetically incorrect, to be sure, but it is in line historically with former demonstrations. No Protestant celebration would seem normal without them. They help Protestants in their preparations for the jubilee to appreciate the remarks of David in Psalm 2, 11: "Rejoice with trembling." And if Shakespeare was correct in the statement: "Sweet are the uses of adversity," they need not be altogether deplored.
An attempt is made in these pages to review the principal charges and arguments of Catholic critics of Luther. The references to Luther's works are to the St. Louis Edition; those to the Book of Concord, to the People's Edition.
Authors must be modest, and as a rule they are. In the domain of historical research there is rarely anything that is final. This observation was forced upon the present writer with unusual power as the rich contents of his subjects opened up to him during his study. He has sought to be comprehensive, at least, as regards essential facts, in every chapter; he does not claim that his presentation is final. He hopes that it may stimulate further research.
This book is frankly polemical. It had to be, or there would have been no need of writing it. It seeks to meet both the assertions and the spirit of Luther's Catholic critics. A review ought to be a mirror, and mirrors must reflect. But there is no malice in the author's effort.
W. H. T. Dau.
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. May 10, 1917.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
l. Luther Worship 2. Luther Hatred 3. Luther Blemishes 4. Luther's Task 5. The Popes in Luther's Time 6. Luther's Birth and Parentage 7. Luther's Great Mistake 8. Luther's Failure as a Monk 9. Professor Luther, D. D. 10. Luther's "Discovery" of the Bible 11. Rome and the Bible 12. Luther's Visit at Rome 13. Pastor Luther 14. The Case of Luther's Friend Myconius 15. Luther's Faith without Works 16. The Fatalist Luther 17. Luther a Teacher of Lawlessness 18. Luther Repudiates the Ten Commandments 19. Luther's Invisible Church 20. Luther on the God-given Supremacy of the Pope 21. Luther the Translator of the Bible 22. Luther a Preacher of Violence against the Hierarchy 23. Luther, Anarchist and Despot All in One 24. Luther the Destroyer of Liberty of Conscience 25. "The Adam and Eve of the New Gospel of Concubinage" 26. Luther an Advocate of Polygamy 27. Luther Announces His Death 28. Luther's View of His Slanderers
1. Luther Worship.
Catholic writers profess themselves shocked by the unblushing veneration which Luther receives from Protestants. Such epithets as "hero of the Reformation," "angel with the everlasting Gospel flying through the midst of heaven," "restorer of the Christian faith," grate on Catholic nerves. Luther's sayings are cited with approval by all sorts of men. Men feel that their cause is greatly strengthened by having Luther on their side. Luther's name is a name to conjure with. Hardly a great man has lived in the last four hundred years but has gone on record as an admirer of Luther. Rome, accordingly, cries out that Luther is become the uncanonized saint of Protestantism, yea, the deified expounder of the evangelical faith.
Coming from a Church that venerates and adores and prays to—you must not say "worships"—as many saints as there are days in the calendar, this stricture is refreshing. Saints not only of questionable sanctity, but of doubtful existence have been worshiped—beg pardon! venerated— by Catholics. What does the common law say about the prosecution coming into court with clean hands? If there is such a thing among Protestants as "religious veneration" of Luther, what shall we call the veneration of Mary among Catholics? Pius IX, on December 8, 1854, proclaimed the "immaculate conception," that is, the sinlessness of Mary from the very first moment of her existence, thus removing her from the sphere of sin-begotten humanity. In 1913, the press of the country was preparing its readers for another move towards the deification of Mary: her "assumption" was to be declared. That is, it was to be declared a Catholic dogma that the corpse of Mary did not see corruption, and was at the moment of her death removed to heaven. The Pasadena Star of August 15th in that year wrote: "It is now known that since his recent illness Pope Pius, realizing that his active pontificate is practically at an end, has expressed to some of the highest dignitaries of the Catholic Church at Rome the desire to round out his career by this last great act." The Western Watchman of July 3d in that year had in its inimitable style referred to the coming dogma, thus: "What Catholic in the world to-day would say that the immaculately conceived body of the Blessed Virgin was allowed to rot in the grave? The Catholic mind would rebel against the thought; and death would be preferred to the blasphemous outrage." The grounds for wanting the "assumption" of Mary fixed in a dogma were these: "Catholics believe in the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin, because their faith instinctively teaches them that such a thing is possible and proper, and that settles it in favor of the belief. The body of our Lord should not taste corruption, neither should the body that gave Him His body. The flesh that was bruised for our sins was the flesh of Mary. The blood that was shed for our salvation was drawn from Mary's veins. It would be improper that the Virgin Mother should be allowed to see corruption if her Son was exempted from the indignity." If any should be so rash as to question the propriety of the new dogma, the writer held out this pleasant prospect to them: "Dogmas are stones at the heads of heretics. . . . The eyes of all Catholics see aright; if they are afflicted with strabismus, the Church resorts to an operation. All Catholics hear aright; if they do not, the Church applies a remedy to their organ of hearing. These surgical operations go under the name of dogmas." The world remembers with what success an operation of this kind was performed on a number of Roman prelates, who questioned the infallibility of the Pope. The dogma was simply declared in 1870, and that put a quietus to all Catholic scruples. Some day the "assumption" of Mary will be proclaimed as a Catholic dogma. We should not feel surprised if ultimately a dogma were published to the effect that the Holy Trinity is a Holy Quartet, with Mary as the fourth person of the Godhead.
The Roman Church is accustomed to speak of her Supreme Pontiff, the Holy Father, the Vicegerent of Christ, His Infallible Holiness, in terms that lift a human being to heights of adoration unknown among Protestants. For centuries the tendency in the Roman Church to make of the Pope "a god on earth" has been felt and expressed in Christendom.
This Church wants to preach to Protestants about the sin of man-worship! Verily, here we have the parable of the mote and the beam in a twentieth century edition. Catholic teachers would be the last ones, we imagine, whom scrupulous Christians would choose for instructing them regarding the sin of idolatry and the means to avoid it.
No Protestant regards Luther as Catholics regard Mary, not even Patrick. Luther has taught them too well for that. Unwittingly the Catholics themselves have immortalized Luther by naming the Evangelical Church after Luther. Luther declined the honor. "I beg," he said, "not to have my name mentioned, and to call people not Lutheran, but Christian. What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for any one. . . . The papists deserve to have a party-name, for they are not content with the doctrine and name of Christ; they want to be popish also. Well, let them be called popish, for the Pope is their master. I am not, and I do not want to be, anybody's master." (10, 371.)
It is likely that the frequent laudatory mention of Luther's name, especially in connection with the present anniversary of the Reformation, is taken as a challenge by Catholics. If it is that, it is so by the choice of Catholics. It is impossible to speak of a great man without referring to the conflicts that made him great. "He makes no friend," says Tennyson, "who never made a foe." "The man who has no enemies," says Donn Piatt, "has no following." Opposition is one of the accepted marks of greatness. The opposition which great men aroused during their lifetime lives after them, and crops out again on a given occasion. This is deplorable, but it is the ordinary course. Moreover, it is possible that in a season of great joy like that which the Quadricentenary of the Reformation has ushered in orators and writers may fail to put a due check on their enthusiasm and may overstate a fact. Such things happen even among Catholics, we believe, But they will be negligible quantities in the present celebration. The proper corrective for them will be provided by Protestants themselves. The vast majority of those who have embraced the spiritual leadership of Luther in matters pertaining to Christian doctrine and morals will prove again that they are in no danger of inaugurating man-worship. The spirit of Luther is too much alive in them for that. They will, with the Marquis of Brandenburg, declare: "If I be asked whether with heart and lip I confess that faith which God has restored to us by Luther as His instrument, I have no scruple, nor have I a disposition to shrink from the name Lutheran. Thus understood, I am, and shall to my dying hour remain, a Lutheran." They will ever be able to distinguish between the man Luther, prone to error and sin like any other mortal, and the Luther who fought the battle of the Lord and had a mission of everlasting import to the Church and the world. They have shown on numerous occasions that they can be friends of Luther, and yet criticize him or dissent from him. If they had not, there would be no Protestants whom Catholics can quote as "opponents" of Luther. On the other hand, if any one undertakes to enlighten the public with a view of Luther, Protestants will insist that his estimate comport with the facts in the case, and that the name of a great man who deserves well of posterity be not traduced. Why, even the Catholic von Schlegel thinks Luther has not been half esteemed as he ought to be.
2. Luther Hatred.
Catholic writers have found so much to censure in the character and writings of Luther that one is amazed, after reading them, how Luther ever could become regarded as a great and good man. Criminal blindness must have held the eyes, not only of Luther's associates, but of his entire age, yea, of men for centuries after, if they failed to see Luther's constitutional baseness. Quite recently a Catholic writer has told the world in one chapter of his book that "the apostate monk of Wittenberg" was possessed of "a violent, despotic, and uncontrolled nature," that he was "depraved in manners and in speech." He speaks of Luther's "ungovernable transports, riotous proceedings, angry conflicts, and intemperate controversies," of Luther's "contempt of all the accepted forms of human right and all authority, human and divine," of "his unscrupulous mendacity," "his perverse principles," "his wild pronouncements." He calls Luther "a lawless one," "one of the most intolerant of men," "a revolutionist, not a reformer." He says that Luther "attempted reformation and ended in deformation." He charges Luther with having written and preached "not for, but against good works," with having assumed rights to himself in the matter of liberty of conscience which "he unhesitatingly and imperiously denied to all who differed from him," with having "rent asunder the unity of the Church," with having "disgraced the Church by a notoriously wicked and scandalous life," with having "declared it to be the right of every man to interpret the Bible to his own individual conception," with "one day proclaiming the binding force of the Ten Commandments and the next declaring they were not obligatory on Christian observance," with having "reviled and hated and cursed the Church of his fathers."
These opprobrious remarks are only a part of the vileness of which the writer has delivered himself in his first chapter. His whole book bristles with assertions of Luther's inveterate badness. This coarse and crooked Luther, we are told, is the real Luther, the genuine article. The Luther of history is only a Protestant fiction. Protestants like Prof. Seeberg of Berlin, and others, who have criticized Luther, are introduced as witnesses for the Catholic allegation that Luther was a thoroughly bad man. We should like to ascertain the feelings of these Protestants when they are informed what use has been made of their remarks about Luther. Some of them may yet let the world know what they think of the attempt to make them the squires of such knights errant as Denifle and Grisar.
It is about ten years ago since the Jesuit Grisar began to publish his Life of Luther, twice that time, since Denifle painted his caricature of Luther. Several generations ago Janssen, in his History of the German Nation, gave the Catholic interpretation of Luther and the Reformation. Going back still further, we come to the Jesuit Maimbourg, to Witzel, and in Luther's own time to Cochlaeus and Oldecop, all of whom strove to convince the world that Luther was a moral degenerate and a reprobate. The book of Mgr. O'Hare, which has made its appearance on the eve of the Four-hundredth Anniversary of Luther's Theses, is merely another eruption from the same mud volcano that became active in Luther's lifetime. It is the old dirt that has come forth. Rome must periodically relieve itself in this manner, or burst. Rome hated the living Luther, and cannot forget him since he is dead. It hates him still. Its hatred is become full-grown, robust, vigorous with the advancing years. When Rome speaks its mind about Luther, it cannot but speak in terms of malignant scorn. If Luther could read Mgr. O'Hare's book, he would say: "Wes das Herz voll ist, des gehet der Mund ueber." (Matt. 12, 34: "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.")
Luther has done one thing which Rome will never pardon: he dared to attack the supreme authority of the Pope. He made men see the ignominious bondage in which cunning priests had ensnared them, and by restoring them to the liberty with which Christ had made them free Luther caused the papacy an irreparable loss. The papal system of teaching and government was so thoroughly exposed by Luther, and has since been so completely disavowed by a great part of professing Christians that Rome cannot practise its old frauds any longer. Men have become extremely wary of Rome. That is what hurts. The Catholic writer to whom we referred sums up the situation thus: Since Luther "all Protestant mankind descending by ordinary generation have come into the world with a mentality biased, perverted, and prejudiced." That is Rome's way of looking at the matter. The truth is: the world is forewarned, hence forearmed against the pleas of Rome. It pays only an indifferent attention to vilifications of Luther that come from that quarter, because it expects no encomiums and only scant justice for Luther from Rome. But it is the business of the teachers of Protestant principles in religion, particularly of the church historians of Protestantism, to take notice of the campaign of slander that is launched against Luther by Catholic writers at convenient intervals. It is not a task to delight the soul, rather to try the patience, of Christians. For in the study of the causes for these calumnies against a great man of history, and of the possible means for their removal, one is forced invariably to the conclusion that there is but one cause, and that is hatred. What can poor mortal man do to break down such a cause? It does not yield to logic and historical facts, because it is in its very nature unreasoning and unreasonable.
Still, for the hour that God sends to all the Sauls that roam the earth breathing threatening and slaughter, the counter arguments should be ready. No slander against Luther has ever gone unanswered. As the charges against Luther have become stereotyped, so the rejoinder cannot hope to bring forward any new facts. But it seems necessary that each generation in the Church Militant be put through the old drills, and learn its fruitful lessons of spiritual adversity. Thus even these polemical exchanges between Catholics and Protestants become blessings in disguise. But they do not affect Luther. The sublime figure of the courageous confessor of Christ that has stood towering in the annals of the Christian Church for four hundred years stands unshaken, silent, and grand, despite the froth that is dashed against its base and the lightning from angry clouds that strikes its top. "Surely, the wrath of man shall praise thee." (Ps. 76, 10.)
3. Luther Blemishes.
When Luther is charged with immoral conduct, and the specific facts together with the documentary evidence are not submitted along with the charge, little can be done in the way of rebuttal. One can only guess at the grounds on which the charge is based. For instance, when Luther is said to have disgraced the Church by a notoriously wicked and scandalous life, the reason is most likely because he married although he was a monk sworn to remain single. Moreover, he married a noble lady who was a nun, also sworn to celibacy. According to the inscrutable ethics of Rome this is concubinage, although the Scripture plainly declares that a minister of the Church should be the husband of one wife, 1 Tim. 3, 2, and no vows can annul the ordinance and commandment of God: "It is not good that man should be alone." Gen. 2, 18. Comp. 1 Cor. 7, 2, and Augsburg Confession, Art. 27.
When Luther is said to have reviled, hated, and cursed the Church of his fathers, the probable reason is, because he wrote the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and The Papacy at Rome Founded by the Devil. In these writings Luther depicts the true antichristian inwardness of the papacy. By so doing, however, Luther restored the Church of his fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers in Christ down to the first ancestor of our race. Luther's faith is none other than the faith of the true Church in all the ages. Luther's own father and mother died in that faith.
When Luther is said to have taught Nietzsche's insanity about the "Superhuman" (Uebermensch) before Nietzsche, to have put the Ten Commandments out of commission for Christians, and to have preached against good works, the reasons most likely are these: Luther taught salvation in accordance with Rom. 3, 25: "We conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law." Luther taught that a person is not saved by his own works, and if he performs good works with that end in view, he shames his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Rom. 10, 4), and he falls under the curse of God for placing his own merits alongside of the merit of the Redeemer's sacrifice. In no other connection has Luther spoken against good works. He has rather taught men how to become fruitful in well-doing by the sanctifying grace of God and according to the inspiring example of the matchless Jesus. Concerning the Law, Luther preached 1 Tim. 1, 9: "The Law is not made for a righteous man," that is, Christians do the works of the Law, not for the Law's sake, but for the sake of Christ, whom they love and whose mind is in them. They must not be driven like slaves to obey God, but their very faith prompts them to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world (Tit. 2, 12). But Luther always held that the rule for good works is laid down in the holy Law of God, and only in that; also that the Law must be applied to Christians, in as far as they still live in, the flesh, and are not become altogether spiritual. Luther's public activity as a preacher began with a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments, and this effort to expound the divine norm of righteousness was repeated several times during Luther's life. Luther's expositions of the Decalog are among the finest that the world possesses. Moreover, Luther wrote the Small Catechism. Hand any Catholic who talks about Luther having abolished the Ten Commandments this little book. That is a sufficient refutation. What Luther teaches in this book he has given his life to reduce to practise in himself and others. He says in a sermon on Easter Monday, 1530: "When rising in the morning, I pray with my children the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and some Psalm. I do this because I want to make myself cling to these truths. I shall not suffer my faith to become mildewed with the imagination that I am above these things (dass ich's koenne)." His sermon on the First Sunday in Advent in the same year he begins thus: "Dear friends, I am now an old Doctor, still I find every day that I must recite with the children the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, and I have always derived a great benefit and blessing from this practise." (12, 1611. 1641.)
Luther is charged with mendacity, that is, he is said to have lied. The reasons that will be given for this charge, when called for, will probably be these: Luther at various times in his life gave three different years as the year of his birth, three different years as the year when he made his journey to Rome, and advised somebody in 1512 to become a monk when he had already commenced to denounce the monastic life: It is true that Luther did all these things, but it is also true that Luther believed himself right in each of his statements. He was simply mistaken. Other people have misstated the year of their birth without being branded liars on that account. Sometimes even a professor forgets things, and Luther was a professor. What Luther has said about the rigor of his monastic life is perfectly true, but it was no reason why in 1512 he should counsel men to become monks. He had not yet come to the full knowledge of the wrong principles underlying that mode of life. To adduce such inaccuracies as evidence of prevarication is itself an insincere act and puts the claimant by right in the Ananias Club.
Luther is said to have been a glutton and a drunkard. "Let us examine the facts. What is the evidence? Luther's obesity and his gout. Is that evidence? Not in any court. It would be evidence if both conditions were caused, and caused only, by gluttony and tippling. But this notoriously is not the case. Obesity may be due to disease. A man may even eat little and wax stout if what he eats turns into adipose rather than into muscular tissue. As for gout, it is the result of uric acid diathesis. Now uric acid diathesis may be, and very often is, caused by high living, but often, too, it is due to quite different causes. Just as in the case of Bright's disease. I do not deny that Luther drank freely both beer and wine. So did everybody else. People drank beer as we do coffee. . . . Moreover, in the sixteenth century alcoholic beverages were prescribed for the maladies from which Luther suffered much—kidneys and nervous trouble. We now know that in such cases alcohol proves a very poison; but this Luther could not know. But intemperate . . . in his use of strong drink Luther was not. Neither was he a glutton. Before he married, he ate very irregularly, and often completely forgot his meals. When he could not get meat and wine, he contented himself with bread and water. . . . Melanchthon tells us that Luther loved the coarse food as he did the coarse speech of the peasantry, and even of that food ate little, so little that Melanchthon marveled how Luther could maintain strength upon such a diet.—It is further a noteworthy fact that, when we read the sermons of the day, we find nobody who so frequently and so earnestly attacks the prevailing vice of drunkenness as does Luther. Now, whatever Luther may or may not have been, hypocrite he was not. Had he himself been intemperate, he would not have preached against it in such a manner. Furthermore, Luther was under constant espionage. His every move was noted. People knew how many patches there were on his undergarments. Think you, think you for a moment, that the Wittenbergians would have listened meekly to Luther's repeated assaults upon the wide-spread sin of intemperance, had they known him for a confirmed tippler? It is too absurd.—But the best evidence for the defense comes from a mute witness—Luther's industry. He wrote more than four hundred books, brochures, sermons, and so forth, filling more than one hundred volumes of the Erlangen edition. There are extant more than three thousand of his letters, which represent only a small proportion of all that he wrote. Thus we know, for example, that one evening in 1544 Luther wrote ten letters, of which only two have been preserved. He was, furthermore, in frequent conference with leaders in both Church and State. He preached on Sundays and lectured on week-days. Now, a man may, it is true, perform a considerable amount of manual labor even after overeating and overdrinking, but every physician will admit the correctness of my assertion, it is a physiological impossibility that a man could habitually overindulge in food or liquor, or both, and still get over the enormous amount of intellectual work that Luther performed day to day" (Boehmer, The Man Luther, p. 16 f.)
Most shameless have been the charges of lewdness and immorality against Luther. His relation to Frau Cotta has been represented as impure. Think of it, a boy of sixteen to eighteen thus related to an honorable housewife! Illegitimate children have been foisted upon him. A humorous remark about his intention to marry and being unable to choose between several eligible parties has been twisted into an immoral meaning. The fact that he gave shelter overnight to a number of escaped nuns, when he was already a married man, has been meaningly referred to. Boehmer has exhaustively gone into these charges, examining without flinching every asserted fact cited in evidence of Luther's moral corruptness, and has shown the purity of Luther as being above reproach. Not one of the sexual vagaries imputed to Luther rests on a basis of fact. (Boehmer, Luther in Light of Recent Research, pp. 215-223.)
When the modern reader meets with a general charge of badness, or even with the assertion of some specific form of badness, in Luther, he should inquire at once to what particular incident in Luther's life reference is made. These charges have all been examined and the evidence sifted, and that by impartial investigators. Protestants have taken the lead in this work and have not glossed anything over. Boehmer's able treatise has been translated into English. Walther's Fuer Luther wider Rom will, no doubt, be given the public in an English edition soon. Works like these have long blasted the claim of Catholics that Protestants are afraid to have the truth told about Luther. They only demand that the truth be told.
4. Luther's Task.
One blemish in the character of Luther that is often cited with condemnation even by Protestants deserves to be examined separately. It is Luther's violence in controversy, his coarse language, his angry moods. All will agree that violence and coarse speech must not be countenanced in Christians, least of all in teachers of Christianity. In the writings of Luther there occur terms, phrases, passages that sound repulsive. The strongest admirer of Luther will have moments when he wishes certain things could have been said differently. Luther's language cannot be repeated in our times. Some who have tried to do that in all sincerity have found to their dismay that they were wholly misunderstood. What Jove may do any ox may not do, says an old Latin proverb.
Shall we, then, admit Luther's fault and proceed to apologize for him and find plausible reasons for extenuating his indiscretions in speech and his temperamental faults? We shall do neither. We shall let this "foul-mouthed," coarse Luther stand before the bar of public opinion just as he is. His way cannot be our way, but ultimately none of us will be his final judges. The character of the duties which Luther was sent to perform must be his justification.
It is true, indeed, that the manners of the age of Luther were generally rough. Even in polite society language was freely used that would make us gasp. Coarse terms evidently were not felt to be such. In their polemical writings the learned men of the age seem to exhaust a zoological park in their frantic search for striking epithets to hurl at their opponent. It was an age of strong feeling and sturdy diction. It is also true that Luther was a man of the people. With a sort of homely pride he used to declare: "I am a peasant's son; all my forbears were peasants." But all this does not sufficiently explain Luther's "coarseness."
Most people that criticize Luther for his strong speech have read little else of Luther. They are not aware that in the, great mass of his writings there is but a small proportion of matter that would nowadays be declared objectionable. Luther speaks through many pages, yea, through whole books, with perfect calmness. It is interesting to observe how he develops a thought, illustrates a point by an episode from history or from every-day life, urges a lesson with a lively exhortation. He is pleasant, gentle, serious, compassionate, artlessly eloquent, and, withal, perfectly pure in all he says. When Luther becomes "coarse," there is a reason. One must have read much in Luther, one should have read all of Luther, and his "billingsgate" will assume a different meaning. If there is madness in his reckless speech, there is method in it. One must try and understand Luther's objective and purpose.
Luther had a very coarse subject to deal with, and Luther believed that a spade is best called a spade. Luther never struck at wickedness with the straw of a fine circumlocution. He believed that he had the right, yea, the duty, to call coarse things by coarse names; for the Bible does the same. Luther has called the gentlemen at the Pope's court in his day some very descriptive names. He did not merely insinuate that the cardinals of his day were no angels, but said outright what they were. He did not feebly question the holiness of His Holiness, but he called some of the Popes monsters of iniquity and reprobates. We shall show anon that in that age there lived men who spoke of the same matters as Luther, who told tales and used expressions that would render their writings unmailable to-day.
The great men of any age are products of that age. Man is as much the creature of circumstances as circumstances are the creatures of men— Disraeli to the contrary notwithstanding. While men may create situations, they may also be made to fit into a situation. Men have become great for this very reason that they understand the spirit of their age and were able to respond to its call. Back of both men and circumstances, however, stands sovereign Providence, shaping our ends, rough-hew them how we will.
No character-study is just that fails to take into consideration the force of circumstances under which the subject of the study has acted at a given moment in his life. In the case of Luther there is a more than ordinary necessity for adopting this equitable method; for Luther has declared hundreds of times that his stirring utterances and incisive deeds were not the result of long premeditation, or the sudden outbursts of uncontrolled passion,—though neither he nor we would have any interest in denying that he could be angry and did become angry,—but the answer to crying needs of the times. This answer was on many a signal occasion wrung from Luther after much wrestling with God in prayer. He was moved to action by the heroism of that faith which had been kindled in him. He acted in harmony with the particular issue with which he was called upon to deal. Deep compassion at the sight of his suffering fellow-men put strong language on his lips. Between the pleading of friends and the storming of enemies he had no choice but to act as he did. Luther often seems unconscious of the greatness of his acts: he speaks of them as "his poor way of doing things," and invites others to improve what he has attempted. We fear that many in our day fail to see the greatness of the achievement while they stricture the manner of achieving it.
Few men have so utterly lived for a cause, in a cause, and with a cause as Luther. It is the heart of an entire people that cries out through Luther; it is the soul of outraged Christianity that moans in anguish, and speaks with the majesty of righteous anger through Luther. An age of unparalleled ferment that had begun long before Luther has reached its culminating point, and lifts up its strident voice of long-restrained expostulation through Luther. Remove the conditions under which Luther had to live and labor, and the Luther whom men bless or curse becomes an impossibility.
In Luther's life-work there is discernible the influence not only of good men, such as the scholarly Melanchthon, the faithful Jonas, the firm and kind Saxon electors, the eager Amsdorf, the alert Link, but also of evil men like the blunt Tetzel, the wily Prierias, and the horde of ignorant monks which the monasteries and chancelleries of Rome let loose upon one man. The course which Luther had to pursue was shaped for him by others. We do not mean to suggest that Luther in his polemical writings employed the cheap method of replying to the coarse language adopted by his opponents in similar language; but it is fair to him that this fact be recorded. Some people remember very well that Luther addressed the Pope "Most hellish father!" and are horrified, but they forget that the Pope had been extremely lurid in the appellatives which he applied to Luther. "Child of Belial," "son of perdition," were some of the endearing terms with which Luther was to be assured of the loving interest the Holy Father took in him. That Luther called Henry VIII "a damnable and rotten worm" seems to be well remembered, but that the British king had called Luther "a wolf of hell" is forgotten. It goes without saying that the contact with such opponents did for Luther what it does for every person who is not made of granite and cast iron: it roused his temper. It should not have been permitted to do that, we say. Assuredly. Luther thinks so too, but with a reservation, as we shall learn.
The "imperious spirit" and "violent measures" charged against Luther a careful reader of history will rather find on the side of Luther's opponents. They plainly relied on the power of Rome to crush Luther by brute force. What respect could a plain, honest man like Luther conceive for men like Cajetanus, Eck, and Hoogstraten, who were first sent by the Vatican to negotiate his surrender? For publishing simple Bible-truth the cardinal at Augsburg roared and bellowed at him, "Recant! Recant!" Even at this early stage of the affair matters assumed such an ominous aspect that Luther's friends urged him to quietly leave the city. They did not trust the amicable gentleman from the polished circle of the Pope's immediate counselors. At Leipzig, Eck had been driven into the corner by Luther's unanswerable arguments from Scripture; then he turned to abuse and called Luther a Bohemian and a Hussite, and finally left the hall with the air of a victor to celebrate his achievement in the taverns and brothels of the city, where he found his customary delights learned from his masters at Rome. Can any language of contempt in which Luther afterwards spoke of this doughty champion of Rome be too strong? Among the attendants at the Leipzig Debate was Hoogstraten. This gentleman followed the elevating profession of torturing and burning heretics in Germany,—the territory especially assigned to him. It looked as if he had come to Leipzig to follow up Eck's verbal thunder with the inquisitorial lightning, and make of Luther actually another Hus. When he found that he would not have an opportunity for plying his hideous trade this time, he ventured into territory where he was a stranger: he attempted a theological argument with Luther. He asserted that by denying the primacy of the Pope, Luther had contradicted the Scriptures and defied the Council of Nice, and must be suppressed. Luther called him an unsophisticated ass and a bloodthirsty enemy of the truth. Certainly, that does not sound nice, but such things happen, as a rule, when fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
What was the papal bull of excommunication against Luther, with its list of most opprobrious terms, but an unwarranted provocation of Luther, who had a right to expect different treatment from the foremost teacher of Christianity to whom he had entrusted his just grievance as a dutiful son of the Church? Thus we might go on for pages citing instances of reckless attack upon Luther, often by most unworthy persons, that drew from Luther a reply such as his assailants deserved.
It is a gratuitous criticism to say that Christians must not revile when they are reviled. Those who think that Luther did not know this rule of the Christian religion, or did not apply it to himself, do not know the full story of his life. He certainly did wrestle with the flesh and blood in himself. He sighed for peace, but the moment he seemed to become conciliatory and pacific, his enemies set up a shout that he was vanquished. It seemed that they could not be made to comprehend the issues confronting them unless they were blown in upon them on the wings of a hurricane. As early as 1520 Luther replies to an anxious letter of Spalatin, who thought that Luther had used too strong language against the Bishop of Meissen, as follows: "Good God! how excited you are, my Spalatin! You seem even more stirred up than I and the others. Do you not see that my patience in not replying to Emser's and Eck's five or six wagonloads of curses is the sole reason why the framers of this document have dared to attack me with such silly and ridiculous nonsense? For you know how little I cared that my sermon at Leipzig was condemned and suppressed by a public edict; how I despised suspicion, infamy, injury, hatred. Must these audacious persons even be permitted to add to these follies scandalous pamphlets crammed full of falsehoods and blasphemies against Gospel-truth? Do you forbid even to bark at these wolves? The Lord is my witness how I restrained myself lest I should not treat with reverence this accursed and most impotent document issued in the bishop's name. Otherwise I should have said things those heads ought to hear, and I will yet, when they acknowledge their authorship by beginning to defend themselves. I beg, if you think rightly of the Gospel, do not imagine its cause can be accomplished without tumult, scandal, and sedition. Out of the sword you cannot make a feather, nor out of war, peace. The Word of God is a sword, war, ruin, destruction, poison, and, as Amos says, it meets the children of Ephraim like a bear in the way and a lioness in the woods.—I cannot deny that I have been more vehement than is seemly. But since they knew this, they ought not to have stirred up the dog. How difficult it is to temper one's passions and one's pen you can judge even from your own case. This is the reason I have always disliked to engage in public controversy; but the more I dislike it, the more I am involved against my will, and that only by the most atrocious slanders brought against me and the Word of God. If I were not carried away thereby either in temper or pen, even a heart of stone would be moved by the indignity of the thing to take up arms; and how much more I, who am both passionate and possessed of a pen not altogether blunt! By these monstrosities I am driven beyond modesty and decorum. At the same time, I wonder where this new religion came from, that whatever you say against an adversary is slander. What do you think of Christ? Was He a slanderer when He called the Jews an adulterous and perverse generation, the offspring of vipers, hypocrites, sons of the devil? And what about Paul when he used the words dogs, vain babblers, seducers, ignorant, and in Acts 13 so inveighed against a false prophet that he seems almost insane: 'Oh, thou full of deceit and of all craft, thou son of the devil, enemy of the truth'? Why did he not gently flatter him, that he might convert him, rather than thunder in such a way? It is not possible, if acquainted with the truth, to be patient with inflexible and ungovernable enemies of the truth. But enough of this nonsense. I see that everybody wishes I were gentle, especially my enemies, who show themselves least so of all. If I am too little gentle, I am at least simple and open, and therein, as I believe, surpass them, for they dispute only in a deceitful fashion." (19, 482 f. Translation by McGiffert.)
Nobody should make Luther any better than he makes himself. Still, the question is pertinent whether violent polemics can ever be engaged in by Christians with a good conscience. Luther has asserted that, while he hurled his terrible denunciations against the adversaries of the truth, his heart was disposed to friendship and peace with them. (16, 1718 f.) Is a state of mind like this altogether inconceivable, viz., that a person can curse another for a certain act and at the same time love him? We think not. In his day this boisterous, turbulent Luther was understood, trusted, and loved by the people. After the publication of the Theses against Tetzel "the hearts of men in all parts of the land turned toward him, and his heart turned toward them. For the religious principles underlying the theses they cared little, for the arguments sustaining them still less. They saw only that here was a man, muzzled by none of the prudential considerations closing the mouths of many in high places, who dared to speak his mind plainly and emphatically, and was able to speak it intelligently and with effect upon a great and growing evil deplored by multitudes. It is such a man the people love and such a man they trust." (McGiffert, Luther, p. 98 f.)
McGiffert has the right perception of the Luther of 1517-1519 when he describes him as "the awakening reformer," thus: "He had the true reformer's conscience—the sense of responsibility for others as well as for himself, and the true reformer's vision of the better things that ought to be. He was never a mere faultfinder, but he was endowed with the gifts of imagination and sympathy, leading him to feel himself a part of every situation he was placed in, and with the irrepressible impulse to action driving him to take upon himself the burden of it. In any crowd of bystanders he would have been first to go to the rescue where need was, and quickest to see the need not obvious to all. The aloofness of the mere observer was not his; he was too completely one with all he saw to stand apart and let it go its way alone. Fearful and distrustful of himself he long was, but his timidity was only the natural shrinking before new and untried duties of a soul that saw more clearly and felt more keenly than most. The imperative demands inevitably made upon him by every situation led him instinctively to dread putting himself where he could not help responding to the call of unfamiliar tasks; but once there, the summons was irresistible, and he threw himself into the new responsibilities with a forgetfulness of self possible only to him who has denied its claims, and with a fearlessness possible only to him who has conquered fear. He might interpret his confidence as trust in God, won by the path of a complete contempt of his own powers; but however understood, it gave him an independence and a disregard of consequences which made his conscience and his vision effective for reform."
McGiffert suggests a comparison of Luther with, let us say, Erasmus. Had he been a humanist, he would have laughed the whole thing [Tetzel's selling of indulgences] to scorn as an exploded superstition beneath the contempt of an intelligent man; had he been a scholastic theologian, he would have sat in his study and drawn fine distinctions to justify the traffic without bothering himself about its influence upon the lives of the vulgar populace. But he was neither humanist nor schoolman. He had a conscience which made indifference impossible, and a simplicity and directness of vision which compelled him to brush aside all equivocation and go straight to the heart of things. With it all he was at once a devout and believing son of the Church, and a practical preacher profoundly concerned for the spiritual and moral welfare of the common people." (p. 66f. 87.) Had Luther considered his personal interests as Erasmus did, he would not have become the Luther that we know. Erasmus in his day was regarded as the wisest of men; Luther in his own view, like Paul, frequently had to make a fool of himself in order to achieve his purpose. For instance, when he wrote against the dullards at the University of Louvain, against the sacrilegious coterie at Rome that was running the Church and the world pretty much as they pleased, or against the brutal "Hans Wurst" (Duke Henry of Brunswick). Erasmus and his school of gentle reformers always counseled a slackening of the pace and the use of the soft pedal. Where is Erasmus to-day in the world's valuation? Even Rome, in whose bosom he nestled, and who fondled him for a season, has cast him aside as worthless. Luther lives yet, to the delight not only of Coleridge, but of millions of the world's best men, who, with the British divine, regard him this very hour as "a purifying and preserving spirit to Christianity at large."
Luther was conscious of the difference in the method of warfare between himself and his colaborer Melanchthon. He says: "I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether warlike. I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils. I must remove stumps and stones, cut away thistles and thorns, and clear wild forests; but Master Philip comes along softly and gently, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him," (14, 176.)
Dr. Tholuck, writing on "Luther's rashness," says: "What would have become of the Church if the Lord's servants and prophets had at all times done nothing else than spread salves upon sores and walk softly?" He introduces Luther in his own defense: "On one occasion, when asked by the Marquis Joachim I why he wrote against the princes, he returned the beautiful answer: 'When God intends to fertilize the ground, He must needs send first of all a good thunderstorm, and afterwards slow and gentle rain, and thus make it thoroughly productive.' Elsewhere he says: 'A willow-branch may be cut with a knife and bent with a finger, but for a great and gnarled oak we must use an ax and a wedge'; and again: 'If my teeth had been less sharp, the Pope would have been more voracious.' 'Of what use is salt,' he exclaims in another passage, 'if it do not bite the tongue? or the blade of a sword unless it be sharp enough to cut? Does not the prophet say, "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and keepeth back his sword from blood"?'"
One reflection suggests itself in this connection that goes far to exonerate Luther: the language which the Bible employs against heretics and ungodly men. It calls them dogs, Ps. 22, 20; 59, 6; Is. 56, 10; Matt. 7, 6; Phil. 3, 2; Rev. 22, 15; swine, Matt. 7, 6; boars and wild beasts, Ps. 80, 13; dromedaries and asses, Jer. 2, 23f.; bullocks, Jer. 31, 18; bellowing bulls, Jer. 50, 11; viper's brood, Matt. 3, 7; foxes, Cant. 2, 5; Luke 13, 32; serpents, Matt. 23, 33; sons of Belial, 1 Sam. 2, 12; children of the devil, Acts 13, 10; Satan's synagog, Rev. 2, 9. As regards its language, the Bible, too, agrees with the conditions of the times in which it was written. When God, to express His righteous anger, addresses the ungodly in such terms of utter contempt, He teaches us how to regard them and, on occasion, to speak of them. This "coarse" Luther is not more vehement and repulsive in his speech than the holy Word of God.
We remarked before that we would not apologize for Luther's rashness and coarse speech. Luther's acts are self-vindicating; they will approve themselves to the discriminating judgment of every reader of history. We can appreciate this sentiment of McGiffert : "As well apologize for the fury of the wind as for the vehemence of Martin Luther." The Psalmist calls upon the forces of nature: "Praise the Lord, fire, and hail; snow and vapors; stormy wind fulfilling His word." (Ps. 148, 7. 8.) God has a mission that our philosophy does not fathom for the mad hurry and destruction of the whirlwind. How silly it would be to criticize a cyclone because it is not a zephyr! We can imagine a scene like this: The battle of Gettysburg is in progress and a gentle lady is permitted to see it from a distance by a grim, warlike guide, and the following conversation ensues:
"Why, they are shooting at each other! Did you see that naughty man stab the pretty soldier right through his uniform?"
"Yes, madam, that is what he is there for."
"But is it not horrid?"
"Yes, madam, it is perfectly horrid. It is hell."
"But what are they doing this beastly work for?"
"Madam, they are fighting for a principle that is to keep this country a united republic."
"Can anything be more horrid?—I mean, not the principle, but this awful butchery."
"Yes, madam, there is something more horrid than that."
"What is it?"
"If there would be no one to fight for that principle."
War is never a pleasant affair. When men are forced to fight for what is dearer to them than life, they will strike hard and deep. It is silly to expect a soldier to walk up to his enemy with a fly brush and shoo him away, or to stop and consider what posterity would probably regard as the least objectionable way for dispatching an enemy. Luther was called to be a warrior; he had to use warriors' methods. Any general in a bloody campaign can be criticized for violence with as much reason as is shown by some critics of Luther.
5. The Popes in Luther's Time.
To judge intelligently the activity of Luther it is necessary to understand the state of the Church in his day and the character of the chief bishops of the Church. When reading modern censures of Luther's attacks upon the papacy, one wonders why nothing is said about the thing that Luther attacked. Catholic critics of Luther surely must know what papal filth lies accumulated in the Commentarii di Marino Sanuto, in Alegretto Alegretti's Diari Sanesi, in the Relazione di Polo Capello, in the Diario de Sebastiano di Branca de Tilini, in the Successo di la Morte di Papa Alessandro, in Tommaso Inghirami's Fea, Notizie Intorno Rafaele Sanzio da Urbino, and others. Ranke worked with these authorities when he wrote his History of the Popes. What about the authorities which Gieseler cites in his Ecclesiastical History— Muratori, Fabronius, Machiavelli, Sabellicus, Raynaldus, Eccardus, Burchardus, etc.? A compassionate age has relegated the exact account of the moral state of the papacy in Luther's days to learned works, and even in these they are given mostly in Latin footnotes. In the language of Augustus Birrell, they are "too coarse."
Luther's life (1483-1546) falls into the administration of nine Popes: Sixtus IV, 1471-1484; Innocent VIII, 1484-1492; Alexander VI, 1492-1503; Pius III, 26 days in 1503; Julius II, 1503-1513; Leo X, 1513-1521; Hadrian VI, 1522-1523; Clement VII, 1523-1534; Paul III, 1534-1549.
Speaking of this series of Popes, the historian Gieseler says: "The succession of Popes which now follows proves the degeneracy of the cardinals (from among whom the Pope is chosen) as to all discipline and sense of shame: they were distinguished for nothing but undisguised meanness and wickedness; they were reprobates."
Of Sixtus IV he says: "His chief motive was the small ambition to raise his family from their low estate to the highest rank." Infamous transactions which resulted in the murder of Julian de Medici while at high mass in church and the hanging of the archbishop of Pisa from a window of the town hall by the exasperated people, wars, conspiracies, alliances, annulments of alliances, in short, all the acts that fill up the turbulent life of a crafty and grasping politician, are recorded for his administration. He did not scruple to employ the authority of his exalted office for the furtherance of his political schemes. Thus he excommunicated Venice and formed a warlike alliance against the city. But the Venetians regarded his religious thunderbolts as little as his physical prowess. "Vexation at this hastened the death of the Pope, who was hated as much as he was despised."
Ranke, on the authority of Alegretti, relates of Pope Sixtus IV: "The Colonna family, opponents of the Pope's nephew Riario, was persecuted by him with the most savage ferocity. He seized on their domain of Marino, and causing the prothonotary Colonna to be attacked in his own house, took him prisoner, and put him to death. The mother of Colonna came to St. Celso, in Banchi, where the corpse lay, and lifting the severed head by its hair, she exclaimed: 'Behold the head of my son. Such is the truth of the Pope. He promised that my son should be set at liberty if Marino were delivered into his hands. He is possessed of Marino, and, behold, we have my son—but dead. Thus does the Pope keep his word.'"
His successor, Innocent VIII, "in defiance of the conditions of his election, sought with a still more profligate vileness to exalt and enrich his seven illegitimate children." He had been elected on the condition that he would make only one blood relative a cardinal, and that certain other benefices of the Church should not be given to any one related to him. The people called him Nocens (the Guilty One, or the Harmful One) instead of Innocent, and immortalized the prolific paternity of this saintly celibate in the following epigram:
Octo Nocens genuit pueros totidemque puellas, Hunc merito poterit dicere Roma patrem,
Nocens begat eight boys and an equal number of maidens; Rightly, then, Rome will be able to call this gentleman father.
"He carried on two wars with Ferdinand, king of Naples, until the year 1492, and brought forward Renatus, duke of Lorraine, as pretender to his crown. True, he proceeded, as his predecessors had done, to encourage princes and people to undertake expeditions against the Turks; but when Dschem, the brother and rival of the Turkish Sultan Bajazet, was delivered over to him at the head of an army against the Turks, he chose rather to detain him in prison on consideration of an annual tribute from the Turkish Sultan." The story how the Pope got possession of the Turkish prince and refused 200,000 ducats ransom for him because he had received an offer of 600,000 from another party, reads like a story of professional brigandage.
Alexander VI, "the most depraved of all the Popes, likewise recognized no loftier aim than to heap honors and possessions upon his five illegitimate children, and among them especially his favorite, Caesar Borgia." The nuptials celebrated for the Pope's daughter Lucretia—who, by the way, was a divorcee—were "by no means peculiarly decorous." The Latin chronicler who has related them reports in this connection that the moral state of the clergy at Rome was indescribably low. The example of the Popes had set the pace for the rest. From the highest to the lowest each priest had his concubine as a substitute for married life ("concubinas in figura matrimonii"), and that, quite openly. The good chronicler remarks: "If God does not provide a restraint, this corruption will pass on to the monks and the religious orders; however, the monasteries of the city are nearly all become brothels already, and no one raises his voice against it." Wading through the mephitic rottenness of these ancient chronicles, one is seized with nausea.
Holy things, religious privileges, had become merchandise with which the Popes trafficked. The chronicler Burchardus relates: "In those days the following couplet was sung in nearly the whole Christian world:
"Vendit Alexander claves, Altaria, Christum, Emerat ista prius, vendere juste potest."
The meaning of this satire is: Alexander sells the power of the keys of heaven, the right to officiate at the altar, yea, Christ Himself; he had first bought these things himself, therefore he has a right to sell them again. Unblushing perfidy was practised by this Pope in his dealings with kings who were his religious subjects. In a quarrel with Charles VIII of France he threatened the king with excommunication, and sought aid from the Turkish Sultan. "However, when Charles appeared in Rome, the Pope went over to his side immediately, and delivered up to him Prince Dschem; but he took care to have him poisoned immediately, that he might not lose the price set upon his head by the Sultan." Thus he conciliated the French monarch and filled his purse by one and the same act. "By traffic in benefices, sale of indulgences, exercise of the right of spoils, and taxes for the Turkish war, as well as by the murder of rich or troublesome persons, Alexander was seeking to scrape together as much money as possible to support the wanton luxury and shameful licentiousness of his court, and provide treasures for his children." In their correspondence men who had dealings with him would refer to him in such terms as these: "That monstrous head—that infamous beast!" ("Hoc monstruoso capite—hac infami belua!")
"At length the poison which the Pope had meant for a rich cardinal, in order to make himself master of his wealth, brought upon himself well-deserved death." The Pope's butler had been bribed and exchanged the poison-cup intended for the Pope's victim for the Pope's cup, and the Pope took his own medicine.
On the basis of Alegretti's notes, Ranke has drawn a fine pen-picture of the reign of terror which Caesar Borgia, the favorite son of Alexander VI, inaugurated at Rome. "With no relative or favorite would Caesar Borgia endure the participation of his power. His own brother stood in his way: Caesar caused him to be murdered and thrown into the Tiber. His brother-in-law was assailed and stabbed, by his orders, on the steps of his palace. The wounded man was nursed by his wife and sister, the latter preparing his food with her own hands, to secure him from poison; the Pope set a guard upon the house to protect his son-in-law from his son. Caesar laughed these precautions to scorn. 'What cannot be done at noonday,' said he, 'may be brought about in the evening.' When the prince was on the point of recovery, he burst into his chamber, drove out the wife and sister, called in the common executioner, and caused his unfortunate brother-in-law to be strangled. Toward his father, whose life and station he valued only as a means to his own aggrandizement, he displayed not the slightest respect or feeling. He slew Peroto, Alexander's favorite, while the unhappy man clung to his patron for protection, and was wrapped within the pontifical mantle. The blood of the favorite flowed over the face of the Pope.—For a certain time the city of the apostles and the whole state of the Church were in the hands of Caesar Borgia. . . . How did Rome tremble at his name! Caesar required gold, and possessed enemies. Every night were the corpses of murdered men found in the streets, yet none dared move; for who but might fear that his turn would be next? Those whom violence could not reach were taken off by poison. There was but one place on earth where such deeds were possible—that, namely, where unlimited temporal power was united to the highest spiritual authority, where the laws, civil and ecclesiastical, were held in one and the same hand."
Pope Julius, who came into power after the twenty-six days' reign of Pius III, was a warlike man. "He engaged in the boldest operations, risking all to obtain all. He took the field in person, and having stormed Mirandola, he pressed into the city across the frozen ditches and through the breach; the most disastrous reverses could not shake his purpose, but rather seemed to waken new resources in him." "He wrested Perugia and Bologna from their lords. As the powerful state of Venice refused to surrender her conquests, he resolved at length, albeit unwillingly, to avail himself of foreign aid; he joined the League of Cambrai, concluded between France and the Emperor, and assisted with spiritual and temporal weapons to subdue the republic. Venice, now hard pressed, yielded to the Pope, in order to divide this overwhelming alliance. Julius, already alarmed at the progress of the French in Italy, readily granted his forgiveness, and now commenced hostilities against the French and their ally, Alphonso, Duke of Ferrara. He declared that the king of France had forfeited his claim on Naples, and invested Ferdinand the Catholic with the solo dominion of his realm. He issued a sentence of condemnation against the Duke of Ferrara. Lewis XII strove in vain to alarm him by the National Council of Tours,—Germany, by severe gravamina (complaints of national grievances against the Papal See), and by the threat of the Pragmatic Sanction (an imperial order to confirm the decrees of such reform councils as that of Basel). Not even a General Council, summoned at Pisa by the two monarchs for the first of September, 1511, with the dread phantom of a reform of the Church, could bend the violent Pope." The Council of Pisa the Pope neutralized by convening a Lateran Council, which at the Pope's bidding hurled its thundering manifestos in the name of the Almighty against the Pope's enemies. He died while this conflict was raging. Luther was in Rome while the Pope was engaged as just related.
What elements of appalling greed and levity had entered the holiest transactions of the Church can be seen from the following summing up of the situation daring Luther's time: "A large amount of worldly power was at this time conferred in most instances, together with the bishoprics; they were held more or less as sinecures according to the degree of influence or court favor possessed by the recipient or his family. The Roman Curia thought only of how it might best derive advantage from the vacancies and presentations; Alexander extorted double annates or first-fruits, and levied double, nay, triple tithes; there remained few things that had not become matter of purchase. The taxes of the papal chancery rose higher from day to day, and the comptroller, whose duty it was to prevent all abuses in that department, most commonly referred the revision of the imposts to those very men who had fixed their amounts. For every indulgence obtained from the datary's office, a stipulated sum was paid; nearly all the disputes occurring at this period between the states of Europe and the Roman Court arose out of these exactions, which the Curia sought by every possible means to increase, while the people of all countries as zealously strove to restrain them.
"Principles such as these necessarily acted on all ranks affected by the system based on them, from the highest to the lowest. Many ecclesiastics were found ready to renounce their bishoprics; but they retained the greater part of the revenues, and not unfrequently the presentation of the benefices dependent on them also. Even the laws forbidding the son of a clergyman (!) to procure induction to the living of his father, and enacting that no ecclesiastic should dispose of his office by will (!), were continually evaded; for as all could obtain permission to appoint whomsoever he might choose as his coadjutor, provided he were liberal of his money, so the benefices of the Church became in a manner hereditary.
"It followed of necessity that the performance of ecclesiastical duties was grievously neglected. . . . In all places incompetent persons were intrusted with the performance of clerical duties; they were appointed without scrutiny or selection. The incumbents of benefices were principally interested in finding substitutes at the lowest possible cost; thus the mendicant friars were frequently chosen as particularly suitable in this respect. These men occupied the bishoprics under the title (previously unheard of in that sense) of suffragans; the cures they held in the capacity of vicars." (!)
In order not to extend this review too long, we shall refer only to one other Pope, Leo X. It was in the main a prosperous reign that was inaugurated by Leo X. A treaty was concluded with France, which had invaded Italy. By a diplomatic maneuver the Pragmatic Sanction was annulled, and the Lateran Council was ordered to pronounce its death-warrant. France was humbled. "All resistance was vain against the alliance of the highest spiritual with the highest temporal power. Now, at last, the papacy seemed once more to have quelled the hostile spirit which had grown up at Constance and Basel (two church councils which tried to reform the papacy, but failed), and found its stronghold in France, and at this very time it was near its most grievous fall." Two years later Luther, not fathoming as yet the depths of iniquity which he was beginning to lay bare, published his Ninety-Five Theses.
Leo X is the Pope that excommunicated Luther. Ranke describes the closing hours of his life. The Pope had been extremely successful in his political schemes. "Parma and Placentia were recovered, the French were compelled to withdraw, and the Pope might safely calculate on exercising great influence over the new sovereign of Milan. It was a crisis of infinite moment: a new state of things had arisen in politics—a great movement had commenced in the Church. The aspect of affairs permitted Leo to flatter himself that he should retain the power of directing the first, and he had succeeded in repressing the second." (This refers to Luther's protest; the Pope was, of course, mistaken in the view that he had put a stop to Luther's movement by excommunicating him.) "He was still young enough to indulge the anticipation of fully profiting by the results of this auspicious moment. Strange and delusive destiny of man! The Pope was at his villa of Malliana when he received intelligence that his party had triumphantly entered Milan; he abandoned himself to the exultation arising naturally from the successful completion of an important enterprise, and looked cheerfully on at the festivities his people were preparing on the occasion. He paced backward and forward till deep in the night, between the window and the blazing hearth—it was the month of November. Somewhat exhausted, but still in high spirits, he arrived at Rome, and the rejoicings there celebrated for his triumph were not yet concluded, when he was attacked by a mortal disease. 'Pray for me,' said he to his servants, 'that I may yet make you all happy.' We see that he loved life, but his hour was come, he had not time to receive the sacrament nor extreme unction. So suddenly, so prematurely, and surrounded by hopes so bright! he died-'as the poppy fadeth.'" In the record of Sanuto, who is witness for these events, there is a "Lettera di Hieronymo Bon a suo barba, a di 5 Dec." which contains the following: "It is not certainly known whether the Pope died of poison or not. He was opened. Master Fernando judged that he was poisoned, others thought not. Of this last opinion is Master Severino, who saw him opened, and says he was not poisoned." (Ranke, I, 34 ff.; Gieseler, III, 290 ff., at random.)
Out of such conditions grew Luther's work. But on these conditions Catholic critics of Luther maintain a discreet—shall we not say, a guilty?—silence. Few Catholic laymen to whom the horrors of Luther's life are painted with repulsive effect know the horrors which Luther faced. They are only told that Luther attacked "Holy Mother." They are not told that "Holy Mother" had become the harlot of the ages.
6. Luther's Birth and Parentage.
Catholic writers make thorough work in explaining the reasons for Luther's "defection" from Rome. They apply to Luther's stubborn resistance the law of heredity: Luther's wildness was congenital. Some have declared him the illegitimate child of a Bohemian heretic, others, the oaf of a witch, still others, a changeling of Beelzebub, etc.
Many of these writers, giving themselves the airs of painstaking investigators who have made careful research, repeat the tale of Barbour, viz., that Luther was born in the day-and-night room of an inn at Eisleben. If this is so, Luther's mother must have been a traveler on the day of her first confinement. If this were so, the fact could, of course, be easily explained without dishonor to Luther's mother: she merely miscalculated the date of the birth of her first-born,—not an unusual occurrence. Carlyle believed this story, but gave it an almost too honorable turn, by likening the inn at Eisenach to the inn at Bethlehem.
But this story of Luther's birth in a bar-room is not history; it belongs in the realm of mythology. Nobody knows to-day the house where Luther was born. Preserved Smith, his latest American biographer, says there is a house shown at Eisleben as Luther's birthplace, but it is "not well authenticated." (p. 2.) There is a bar and a restaurant in this particular building now, for the accommodation of foreign visitors. It is possible that in this mythical birthplace of Luther you can get a stein of foaming "monk's brew" or a "benedictine" from the monastery at Fecamp, or a "chartreuse" from Tarragona, distilled according to the secret formula of the holy fathers of La Grande Chartreuse. If you sip a sufficient quantity of these persuasive liquors, you will find it possible to believe most anything. And the blessing of the holy fathers who have prepared the beverages for your repast will be given you gratis in addition to their liquors.
The journey of Luther's mother to Eisleben which compelled her to put up at an inn is, likewise, imaginary. Melanchthon, Luther's associate during the greater part of the Reformer's life, investigated the matter and states that Luther was born at his parents' home in Eisenach during their temporary sojourn in that city, prior to their removal to Mansfeld.
These stories about the place and manner of Luther's birth originated in the seventeenth century. They were unknown in Luther's time. Generations after a great man has died gossip becomes busy and begins to relate remarkable incidents of his life. Lincoln did not say or do one half of the interesting things related about him. He has been drawn into that magical circle where myths are formed, because his great name will arouse interest in the wildest tale. That is what has happened to Luther. These "myths" are an unconscious tribute to his greatness. One might let them pass as such and smile at them.
But the Catholic version of Luther's birth is needed by their writers as a corollary to another "fact" which they have discovered about Luther's father Hans. Hans Luther, so their story runs, was a fugitive from justice at the time of his Martin's birth. In a fit of anger he had assaulted or slain a man in his native village of Moehra, and abandoning his small landholdings, he fled with his wife, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Color is lent to this story by the discovery that the Luthers at Moehra were generally violent folk. Research in the official court-dockets at Salzungen, the seat of the judicial district to which Moehra belonged, shows that brawls were frequent in that village, and some Luthers were involved in them. Now follows the Catholic deduction, plausible, reasonable, appealing, just like the "assumption" of Mary: "Out of the gnarly wood of this relationship, consisting mostly of powerful, pugnacious farmers, assertive of their rights, Luther's father grew."
This story was started in Luther's lifetime. George Wicel, who had fallen away from the evangelical faith, accused Luther of having a homicide for a father. In 1565, he published the story under a false name at Paris, but gave no details. In Moehra nothing was known of the matter until the first quarter of the twentieth century. This circumstance alone is damaging to the whole story. Luther was during his lifetime exposed to scrutiny of his most private affairs as no other man. If Wicel's tale could have been authenticated, we may rest assured that would have been done at the time.
In the eighteenth century a mining official in Thuringia by the name of Michaelis told the story of Hans Luther's homicide with the necessary detail to make it appear real. Observe, this was 220 years after the alleged event. It had been this way: Hans Luther had quarreled with a person who was plowing his field, and had accidentally slain the man with the bridle, or halter, of his horse. Several Protestant writers now began to express belief in the story. Travelers came to Moehra for the express purpose of investigating the matter, e.g., Mr. Mayhew of the London Punch. Behold, the story had assumed definite shape through being kept alive a hundred years: the accommodating citizens of Moehra were now able to point out to the inquiring Englishman the very meadow where the homicide had taken place. It takes an Englishman on the average two years and four months to see the point of a joke. By this time, we doubt not, it will be possible to exhibit to any confiding dunce the very horse-bridle with which Hans Luther committed manslaughter, also the actual hole which he knocked into the head of his victim, beautifully surrounded by a border of blue and green, which are the colors which the bruise assumed six hours after the infliction. The border may not be genuine, but we dare any Catholic investigator to disprove the genuineness of the hole.
Writers belonging to a church that is rich in legends of the saints and in relics ought to know how a tale like Wicel's can assume respectability and credibility in the course of time. It is not any more difficult to account for these tales about Hans Luther's homicide than for the existence in our late day of the rope with which Judas hanged himself, or the tears which Peter wept in the night of the betrayal, or the splinters from the cross of the Lord, or the feathers from the wings of the angel Gabriel, and sundry other marvels which are exhibited in Catholic churches for the veneration of the faithful.
No historian that has a reputation as a scholar to lose to-day credits the story of Hans Luther's homicide. It is improbable on its face. The small landholdings of Hans at Moehra are not real, but irreal estate. Nobody has found the title for them. There is, however, a very good reason why Hans should want to leave Moehra. He was, according to all that is known of his father's family, the oldest son. According to the old Thuringian law the home place and appurtenances of a peasant freeholder passed to the youngest son. McGiffert regards the custom as "admirably careful of those most needing care." (p. 4.) Luther's father, on coming of age, was by this law compelled to go and seek his fortune elsewhere, because opportunity for rising to independence there was none for him at Moehra.
If Hans was a fugitive from justice, he was certainly unwise in not fleeing far enough. For at Eisenach, whither he went, he was still under the same Saxon jurisdiction as at Moehra. He seems to have had no fear of abiding under the sovereignty which he is claimed to have offended. This observation has led one of the most exact and painstaking of modern biographers of Luther, Koestlin, to say that the homicide story, if it rests on any basis of fact, must either refer to a different Luther, or if to Hans, the incident cannot have been a homicide. It should be remembered that there is no authentic record which in any way incriminates Hans Luther.
Lastly, this homicide Hans Luther, eight years after coming to Mansfeld, is elected by his fellow-townsmen one of the "Vierherren," or aldermen, of the town. Only most trusted and well-reputed persons were given such an office. A homicide would not have been allowed to settle at Mansfeld, much less to govern the town. Any rogue in the town that he had to discipline in his time of office would have thrown his bloody record up to him.
A Catholic writer says: "The wild passion of anger was an unextinguished and unmodified heritage transmitted congenitally to the whole Luther family, and this to such an extent that the Lutherzorn (Luther rage) has attained the currency of a German colloquialism." Mr. Mayhew thinks that "Martin was a veritable chip of the hard old block," the "high-mettled foal cast by a fiery blood-horse." Catholic writers cite Mr. Mayhew as a distinguished Protestant. If you have not heard of him before, look him up in Who is Who? most anywhere.
All this, however, is a desperate attempt to find proof against an assumed criminal by circumstantial evidence. No direct evidence has ever been available to implicate Luther's father in a village brawl. As to the Lutherzorn, Luther has in scores of places explained the real reason of it: Luther did not inherit, but Rome roused it. This Lutherzorn may arise in any person that is not remotely related to the Luthers after reading Catholic biographies of Martin Luther.
7. Luther's Great Mistake.
Catholic writers contend that Luther made a mistake when he became monk. Protestants share this view, but put the emphasis in the sentence: Luther became a monk, at a different place. In the Protestant view the mistake is this, that Luther became a monk, in the Catholic view, it is this, that Luther became a monk. Protestants regard monasticism largely as a perversion of the laws of nature and of Christian morals. In an institution of this kind Luther could not find the relief he sought. His mistake was that he sought it there. Catholics view monkery as the highest ideal of the Christian life, and blame Luther for entering this mode of life when he was altogether unfit for it. They regard Luther as guilty of sacrilege far seeking admission into the order of Augustinian friars. When he was permitted to turn monk, that which is holy was given unto a dog, and pearls were cast before a swine.
Catholics argue that Luther's cheerless boyhood, the poverty of his parents, the hard work and close economy that was the order in the home at Mansfeld, the harsh and cruel treatment which Luther received from parents that were given to "fits of uncontrollable rage" induced in Luther a morose, sullen spirit. He became brooding and stubborn when yet a child. He was a most unruly boy at school. His character was not improved when he was sent abroad for his education and had to sing for his bread or beg in the streets. His rebellious spirit found nourishment in these humiliations. Owing to his melancholy temperament and gloomy fits, he made no friends. He felt himself misunderstood everywhere. Even the little season of sunshine that came into his young life at the Cotta home in Eisenach did not cure him of the morbid feeling that nobody appreciated him. He began to loathe the studies which he was pursuing in accordance with the wish of his father. To certain occurrences, like the slaying of a fellow-student, an accident with which he met on a vacation trip, and a sudden thunderstorm, he gave an ominous interpretation which deepened his despondency. At last he determined, "inconsiderately and precipitately," to enter a cloister. His friends "instinctively felt he was not qualified or fitted for the sublime vocation to which he aspired, and they accordingly used all their powers to dissuade him from the course he had chosen. All their efforts were fruitless, and from the gayety and frolic of the banquet" which he had given his fellow-students as a farewell party "he went to the monastery." He was so reckless that he took this step even without the consent of his parents. "He knew little about the ways of God, and was not well informed of the gravity and responsibilities of the step he was taking." "He was not called by God to conventual life; . . . he was driven by despair, rather than the love of higher perfection, into a religious career." Catholics feel so sure that they have a case against Luther that in all seriousness they ask Protestants the question: Did he act honestly when he knelt before the prior asking to be received into the order?
Luther has later in life given various reasons for entering the monastery. His case was not simple, but complex. One reason, however, which he has assigned is the severe bringing up which he had at his home. Hausrath is satisfied with this one reason, and many Catholic writers adopt his view. But this remark of Luther is evidently misapplied if it is made to mean that Luther sought ease, comfort, leniency in the cloister as a relief from the hard life which he had been leading. Luther had grasped the fundamental idea in monkery quite well: flight from the secular life as a means to become exceptionally holy. He sought quiet for meditation and devotion, but no physical ease and earthly comforts. He knew of the rigors of cloister-life. He willingly bowed to "the gentle yoke of Christ"—thus ran the monkish ritual—which the life of an eremite among eremites was to impose on him. His hard life in the days of his boyhood and youth had been an unconscious preparation for this life. He had been strictly trained to fear God and keep His commandments. The holy life of the saints had been held up to him as far back as he could remember as the marvel of Christian perfection. Home and Church had cooperated in deepening the impressions of the sanctity of the monkish life in him. When he saw the emaciated Duke of Anhalt in monk's garb with his beggar's wallet on his back tottering through the streets of Magdeburg, and everybody held his breath at this magnificent spectacle of advanced Christianity, and then broke forth in profuse eulogies of the princely pilgrim to the glories of monkish sainthood, that left an indelible impression on the fifteen-year-old boy. When he observed the Carthusians at Eisenach, weary and wan with many a vigil, somber and taciturn, toiling up the rugged steps to a heaven beyond the common heaven; when he talked with the young priests at the towns where he studied, and all praised the life of a monk to this young seeker after perfect righteousness; when in cloister-ridden Erfurt he observed that the monks were outwardly, at least, treated with peculiar reverence, can any one wonder that in a mind longing for peace with God the resolve silently ripened into the act: I will be a monk?