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    Chapter 3

    The Papacy attacked—Appeal to the Nobility—The three Walls—All Christians are Priests—The Magistrate should chastise the Clergy—Roman Corruptions—Ruin of Italy—Dangers of Germany—The Pope—The Legates—The Monks—Marriage of Priests—Celibacy—Festivals—The Bohemians—Charity—The Universities—The Empire—The Emperor should retake Rome—Unpublished Book—Luther’s Moderation—Success of the Address

    But there was another evil in the Church besides the substitution of a system of meritorious works for the grand idea of grace and amnesty. A haughty power had arisen in the midst of the shepherds of Christ’s flock. Luther prepared to attack this usurped authority. Already a vague and distant rumor announced the success of Dr. Eck’s intrigues at Rome. This rumor aroused the militant spirit of the reformer, who, in the midst of all his troubles, had studied in his retirement the rise, progress, and usurpations of the papacy. His discoveries had filled him with surprise. He no longer hesitated to make them known, and to strike the blow which, like Moses’ rod in ancient times, was to awaken a people who had long slumbered in captivity. Even before Rome had time to publish her formidable bull, it was he who hurled his declaration of war against her. “The time to be silent is past,” exclaimed he; “the time to speak is come! At last, we must unveil the mysteries of Antichrist.” On the 23rd of June 1520, he published his famous Appeal to his Imperial Majesty and to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, on the Reformation of Christianity. This work was the signal of the attack that was to decide both the rupture and the victory.HRSCV2 187.1

    “It is not through presumption,” said he at the opening of this address, “that I, a man of the people, venture to speak to your lordships. The misery and oppression that at this hour weigh down all the states of Christendom, and particularly Germany, extort from me a cry of distress. I must call for help; I must see if God will not give his Spirit to some man in our own country, and thus stretch forth his hand to save our wretched nation. God has placed over us a young and generous prince, and has thus filled our hearts with great expectations. But on our parts we must do everything that lies in our power.HRSCV2 187.2

    “Now the first requisite is, not to trust in our own strength, or in our lofty wisdom. If we begin a good work with confidence in ourselves, God overthrows and destroys it. Frederick I, Frederick II, and many other emperors besides, before whom the world trembled, have been trodden under foot by the popes, because they trusted more in their own strength than in God. Therefore they could not but fall. It is against the powers of hell that we have to contend in this struggle. Hoping nothing from the strength of arms, humbly trusting in the Lord, looking more to the distress of Christendom than to the crimes of the wicked—this is how we must set to work. Otherwise the work will have a prosperous look at the beginning; but suddenly, in the midst of the contest, confusion will enter in, evil minds will cause incalculable disasters, and the whole world will be deluged with blood. The greater our power, the greater also is our danger, if we do not walk in the fear of the Lord.”HRSCV2 187.3

    After this prelude, Luther continues thus:—HRSCV2 187.4

    “The Romans have raised around themselves three walls to protect them against every kind of reformation. Have they been attacked by the temporal power?—they have asserted that it had no authority over them, and that the spiritual power was superior to it. Have they been rebuked by Holy Scripture?—they have replied that no one is able to interpret it except the pope. Have they been threatened with a council?—no one (said they) but the sovereign pontiff has authority to convoke one.HRSCV2 187.5

    “They have thus despoiled us of the three rods destined to correct them, and have given themselves up to every wickedness. But now may God be our helper, and give as one of those trumpets that overthrew the walls of Jericho. With our breath let us throw down those barriers of paper and straw which the Romans have built around them, and upraise the rods which punish the wicked, by exposing the wiles of the devil.”HRSCV2 187.6

    Luther now begins the attack. He shakes to its foundation that papal monarchy which for ages had combined the people of the West in one body under the scepter of the Roman bishop. That there is no sacerdotal caste in Christianity, is the truth which he powerfully sets forth at the beginning,—a truth hidden from the eyes of the Church from the earliest ages.HRSCV2 187.7

    “It has been said,” writes Luther, “that the pope, the bishops, the priests, and all those who people the convents, form the spiritual or ecclesiastical state; and that the princes, the nobility, the citizens, and peasants, form the secular or lay estate. This is a fine story. Let no person, however, be startled at it. All Christians belong to the spiritual state, and there is no other difference between them than that arising from the functions which they discharge. We have all one baptism, one faith; and this is it which constitutes the spiritual man. The unction, the tonsure, ordination, consecration by the bishop or the pope, may make a hypocrite, but never a spiritual man. We are all consecrated priests by baptism, as Saint Peter says: Ye are priests and kings, although it does not belong to all to exercise such offices, for no one can take what is common to all without the consent of the community. But if we possess not this Divine consecration, the pope’s anointing can never make a priest. If ten brothers, sons of a king, having equal claims to the inheritance, select one of them to administer it for them they would all be kings, and yet only one of them would be the administrator of their common power. So it is with the Church. If a few pious laymen were banished to a desert place, and if, not having among them a priest consecrated by a bishop, they should agree to choose one of their own number, married or not, this man would be as truly a priest as if all the bishops in the world had consecrated him. Thus Augustine, Ambrose, and Cyprian were elected.HRSCV2 187.8

    “Hence it follows that laymen and priests, princes and bishops, or, as they say, the clergy and laity, have nothing but their functions to distinguish them. They have all the same estate, but have not all the same work to perform.HRSCV2 188.1

    “If this be true, why should not the magistrate chastise the clergy? The secular power was established by God to punish the wicked and to protect the good. And it must be allowed to act throughout all Christendom, whomsoever it may touch, be he pope, bishop, priest, monk, or nun. St. Paul says to all Christians: Let every one (and consequently the pope also) be subject unto the higher powers, for they bear not the sword in vain.”HRSCV2 188.2

    Luther, having in like manner overthrown the two other walls, passes in review all the corruptions of Rome. He sets forth, in an eminently popular style of eloquence, the evils that had been pointed out for centuries past. Never had a nobler protest been heard. The assembly before which Luther spoke was the Church; the power whose corruptions he attacked was that papacy which for ages had oppressed all nations with its weight; and the reformation he so loudly called for was destined to exercise its powerful influence over all Christendom,—in all the world,—so long as the human race shall endure.HRSCV2 188.3

    He begins with the pope. “It is a horrible thing,” says he, “to behold the man who styles himself Christ’s vicegerent displaying a magnificence that no emperor can equal. Is this being like the poor Jesus, or the humble Peter? He is (say they) the lord of the world! But Christ, whose vicar he boasts of being, has said, My kingdom is not of this world. Can the dominions of a vicar extend beyond those of his superior?”HRSCV2 188.4

    Luther now proceeds to describe the effects of the papal rule. “Do you know what is the use of cardinals? I will tell you. Italy and Germany have many convents, religious foundations, and richly endowed benefices. How can this wealth be drawn to Rome? Cardinals have been created; these cloisters and prelacies have been given to them; and now Italy is almost deserted, the convents are in ruins, the bishoprics devoured, the cities decayed, the inhabitants corrupted, religious worship is expiring, and preaching abolished! And why is this? Because all the wealth of the churches must go to Rome. The Turk himself would never have so ruined Italy!”HRSCV2 188.5

    Luther next turns to his fellow-countrymen:HRSCV2 188.6

    “And now that they have thus sucked all the blood of their own nation, they come into Germany; they begin tenderly; but let us be on our guard, or Germany will erelong be like Italy! We have already a few cardinals. Before the dull Germans comprehend our design (think they) they will no longer have either bishopric, convent, or benefice, penny or farthing left. Antichrist must possess the treasures of the earth. Thirty or forty cardinals will be created in one day. Bamberg will be given to one, the bishopric of Wurtzburg to another; rich cures will be attached to them, until the cities and churches are desolate. And then the pope will say: I am Christ’s vicar, and the shepherd of his flocks. Let the Germans be submissive!”HRSCV2 188.7

    Luther’s indignation is kindled: “What! shall we Germans endure such robberies and such extortions from the pope? If the kingdom of France has been able to defend itself, why should we permit ourselves to be thus ridiculed and laughed at? Oh! if they only despoiled us of our goods! But they lay waste the churches, fleece the sheep of Christ, abolish religious worship, and annihilate the Word of God.”HRSCV2 188.8

    Luther here exposes “the practices of Rome” to obtain the money and the revenues of Germany. Annats, palliums, commendams, administrations, reversions, incorporations, reserves, &c.—he passes them all in review; and then he says: “Let us endeavour to check such desolation and wretchedness. If we desire to march against the Turks, let us march against those who are the worst Turks of all. If we hang thieves, and decapitate highway robbers, let us not permit Romish avarice to escape, which is the greatest of thieves and robbers, and that too in the name of St. Peter and of Jesus Christ! Who can suffer this? Who can be silent? All that the pope possesses, has he not gained by plunder? For he has neither bought it, nor inherited it from St. Peter, nor gained it by the sweat of his brow. Whence then has he all this?”HRSCV2 188.9

    Luther proposes remedies for these evils, and calls energetically upon the nobility of Germany to put an end to these Romish depredations. He then comes to the reformation of the pope himself: “Is it not ridiculous,” says he, “that the pope pretends to be the lawful heir to the empire? Who gave it him? Was it Jesus Christ, when he said: The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, but it shall not be so among you? (Luke 22:25, 26.) How is it possible to govern an empire, and at the same time preach, pray, study, and take care of the poor? Jesus Christ forbade his ministers to carry with them either gold or two coats, because they would be unable to discharge the duties of their ministry if they were not free from all other care; and yet the pope would govern the empire and still remain pope.”HRSCV2 189.1

    Luther continues stripping the sovereign pontiff: “Let the pope renounce every claim on the kingdom of Naples and Sicily. He has no more right to it than I have. It is unjustly and in opposition to all the commandments of Christ that he possesses Bologna, Imola, Ravenna, the Romagna, the March of Ancona, &c. No man that warreth, says Saint Paul, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life. (2 Timothy 2:4.) Yet the pope, who pretends to be the leader of the Church militant, entangles himself with the affairs of this life more than any emperor or king. We must relieve him from all this toil. Let the emperor put the bible and a prayer-book into the pope’s hands, in order that he may leave the cares of government to the kings, and confine himself to preaching and praying.”HRSCV2 189.2

    Luther will no more suffer the pope’s spiritual power in Germany than his temporal power in Italy. “First of all,” says he, “we must expel from every German state those papal legates, with their pretended benefits which they sell us at their weight in gold, and which are downright impositions. They take our money, and for what? to legalize their ill-gotten gains, to absolve from all oaths, to teach us to be wanting in fidelity, to instruct us how to sin, and to lead us direct to hell. Hearest thou this, O pope! not most holy, but most sinful pope!—May God from his throne in heaven soon hurl thee from thy throne into the bottomless pit!”HRSCV2 189.3

    The christian tribune pursues his course. After having called the pope to his bar, he summons before him all the corruptions that form the papal train, and purposes sweeping from the floor of the Church the rubbish by which it was encumbered. He begins with the monks:—HRSCV2 189.4

    “And now then I come to that sluggish troop which promises much but does little. Do not be angry, my dear sirs, my intentions are good: what I have to say is a truth at once sweet and bitter; namely, no more cloisters must be built for mendicant friars. We have, indeed, too many already, and would to God that they were all pulled down. Strolling through a country like beggars never has done and never can do good.”HRSCV2 189.5

    The marriage of the clergy now has its turn, and this is the first time Luther speaks of it:—HRSCV2 189.6

    “To what a sad state have the clergy fallen, and how many priests do we not find burdened with women, and children, and remorse, and yet no one comes to their aid! It is all very well for the pope and the bishops to let things go on as before, and for that to continue lost which is lost; but I am determined to save my conscience, and to open my mouth freely: after that, let the pope, the bishops, and any one who pleases, take offense at it! I assert, then, that according to the appointment of Christ and his apostles, each city should have a pastor or bishop, and that this pastor may have a wife, as Saint Paul writes to Timothy: A bishop must be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2), and as is still practiced in the Greek Church. But the devil has persuaded the pope, as the same apostle says to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1 to 3), to forbid the clergy to marry. And hence have proceeded miseries so numerous that we cannot mention all. What is to be done? How can we save so many pastors, in whom we have no fault to find, except that they live with a woman, to whom they would with all their heart be legitimately married? Ah let them quiet their consciences! let them take this woman as their lawful wife, and let them live virtuously with her not troubling themselves whether the pope is pleased or not. The salvation of your soul is greater consequence to you than tyrannical and arbitrary laws, that do not emanate from the Lord.”HRSCV2 189.7

    It is in this way that the Reformation aimed a restoring purity of morals in the Church. The reformer continues:—HRSCV2 189.8

    “Let all festivals be abolished, and let none but Sunday be observed; or if people desire to keep the great Christian festivals, let them be celebrated only in the morning, and let the rest of the day be like any other working-day. For as on those days men do nothing but drink, gamble, indulge in every sin, or remain idle, they offend God on the festivals more than at other times.”HRSCV2 189.9

    He next attacks the commemorations, which he styles mere taverns; and after them the fasts and religious fraternities.—He not only desires to put an end to abuses, he wishes also to put away schism. “It is high time,” says he, “that we busied ourselves seriously with the cause of the Bohemians,—that we put a stop to envy and hatred,—and that we united with them.” After proposing some excellent means of reconciliation, he adds: “We must convince heretics by Scripture, as did the ancient Fathers, and not subdue them by fire. In this latter system, the executioners would be the most learned doctors in the world… Oh! would to God that on both sides we stretched forth our hands in brotherly humility, instead of being inflexible in the sentiment of our strength and of our right! Charity is more necessary than the papacy of Rome. I have now done all that is in my power. If the pope and his adherents oppose this, the responsibility will fall on them. The pope should be ready to renounce his papacy, all his possessions, and all his honors, if he could by that means save a single soul. But he would rather see all the world perish than bate even a hair’s breadth of the power he has usurped! I am clear of these things.”HRSCV2 190.1

    Luther next proceeds to the universities and schools:—HRSCV2 190.2

    “I am much afraid that the universities will prove to be the great gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them in the hearts of youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must become corrupt.” Weighty words, upon which governments, learned men, and parents in every age should seriously meditate!HRSCV2 190.3

    Towards the end of this appeal he returns to the empire and to the emperor:—HRSCV2 190.4

    “The pope, unable to manage at his will the ancient masters of the Roman empire, conceived a plan of taking away their title and their empire, and bestowing them on us Germans. Thus it happened that we became the vassals of the pope. For the pope took possession of Rome, and compelled the emperor by an oath never to reside there; whence it is that the emperor is emperor of Rome, without Rome. We possess the name: the pope has the country and the cities. We have the title and arms of the empire; the pope its treasures, power, privileges, and liberties. The pope eats the fruit, and we play with the husk. It is thus that the pride and tyranny of the Romans have always abused our simplicity.HRSCV2 190.5

    “But now may God, who has given us such an empire, be our helper! Let us act in conformity with our name, title, and arms; let us preserve our liberty; and let the Romans learn to appreciate what God has given us by their hands! They boast of having given us an empire. Well then, let us take what belongs to us! Let the pope resign to us Rome and every portion of the empire that he still holds! Let him put an end to his taxes and extortions! Let him restore our liberty, our power, our property, our honor, our souls, and our bodies! Let the empire be all that an empire ought to be, and let the sword of princes no longer be constrained to bow before the hypocritical pretensions of a pope!”HRSCV2 190.6

    In these words there are not only energy and enthusiasm, but also a lofty strain of reasoning. Did any orator ever speak thus to the nobility of the empire, and to the emperor himself? Far from being surprised that so many German states separated from Rome, ought we not rather to feel astonished that all Germany did not march to the banks of the Tiber to resume that imperial power whose attributes the popes had so imprudently placed on the brow of its sovereign?HRSCV2 190.7

    Luther concludes this courageous appeal in these words:—HRSCV2 190.8

    “I can very well imagine that I have pitched my song too high, proposed many things that will seem impossible, and attacked many errors rather too violently. But what can I do? Let the world be offended with me, rather than God! They can but take away my life. I have often proposed peace to my adversaries. But God, by their instrumentality, has compelled me continually to cry louder and louder against them. I have still another song in reserve against Rome. If their ears itch, I will sing it them, and loudly too. Dost thou clearly understand, O Rome, what I mean?”HRSCV2 190.9

    This is probably an allusion to a work on the papacy that Luther had some intention of publishing, but which was withheld. About this time the Rector Burkhardt wrote to Spengler: “There is also a little treatise De execranda Venere Romanorum; but it is kept in reserve.” The title promised something very offensive; and we should rejoice that Luther had the moderation not to publish this writing.HRSCV2 190.10

    “If my cause is just,” continues he, “it will be condemned by all the world, and justified only by Christ in heaven. Let them come on, then, pope, bishops, priests, monks, and doctors! let them put forth all their zeal! let them give the rein to all their fury! These are, in truth, the men who ought to persecute the truth, as every age has witnessed.”HRSCV2 190.11

    Whence did this monk acquire so clear an understanding of public affairs, which evenHRSCV2 190.12

    the states of the empire often found so difficult to elucidate? Whence did this German derive the courage which made him raise his head in the midst of a nation so long enslaved, and aim such violent blows at the papacy? What was the mysterious power that animated him? Might we not be led to say that he had heard these words addressed by God to a man of the olden time: Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks.HRSCV2 191.1

    This exhortation, which was addressed to the German nobility, soon reached all those for whom it had been written. It circulated through Germany with inconceivable rapidity. Luther’s friends trembled; Staupitz and those who desired to employ mild measures found the blow too severe. “In our days,” replied Luther, “everything that is handled gently falls into oblivion, and no one cares about it.” At the same time he gave striking evidence of single-mindedness and humility. He did not yet know himself. “I cannot tell what to say of myself,” wrote he. “Perhaps I am Philip’s (Melancthon’s) forerunner. I am preparing the way for him, like Elias, in spirit and in power. It is he who will one day trouble Israel and the house of Ahab.”HRSCV2 191.2

    But there was no need to wait for another than him who had already appeared. The house of Ahab was already shaken. The Appeal to the German Nobility was published on the 26th June 1520; in a short time four thousand copies were sold, a number unprecedented in those days. The astonishment was universal. This writing produced a powerful sensation among the people. The vigor, life, perspicuity, and generous boldness that breathed throughout made it a truly popular work. The people felt at last that he who spoke to them loved them also. The confused views of a great number of wise men were cleared up. The Romish usurpations became evident to every mind. No one at Wittenberg any longer doubted that the pope was Antichrist. Even the elector’s court, so circumspect and timid, did not disapprove of the reformer: it waited patiently. But the nobility and the people did not wait. The nation was reanimated. Luther’s voice had shaken it; it was won over, and rallied round the standard that he had uplifted. Nothing could have been more advantageous to the reformer than this publication. In the palaces and castles, in the homes of the citizens and the cottages of the peasants, all were now prepared, and defended as it were with a breastplate, against the sentence of condemnation that was about to fall upon this prophet of the people. All Germany was on fire. Let the bull arrive! not by such means will the conflagration be extinguished.HRSCV2 191.3

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