Luther’s Fascinating Correspondence from 1518 to 1520

Luther’s Fascinating Correspondence from 1518 to 1520 November 10, 2017




Let’s briefly review the relevant timeline and background for these events. Martin Luther tacked up his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Saxony on 31 October 1517. This is almost universally considered the beginning of the Protestant “Reformation”. The papal bull Exsurge Domine was issued by Pope Leo X on 15 June 1520, and demanded that Luther retract 41 errors: some from the 95 Theses, and others from subsequent works.

Luther completed his treatise, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation by 23 June 1520. It was published in Wittenberg on 18 August 1520. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church was published on 6 October 1520.

Exsurge Domine reached Luther on 10 October 1520. The Freedom of a Christian was published in early November 1520. Luther was given sixty days, until 10 December 1520 to recant. Of course he did not, and instead burned the bull along with the Canon Law, in Wittenberg, on this very day. Thus, he was excommunicated in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem on 3 January 1521. Luther appeared at the Diet of Worms on 16-17 April 1521 (the famous “Here I stand” speech). The Edict of Worms was issued on 25 May 1521 by Emperor Charles V. Luther was declared an outlaw and heretic, and his writings were banned.

It is understood that a distinction has often been made (by Luther and other Protestants) between the man and the office of the papacy to some extent. Catholics respect the office, and usually, the men who occupy it, though not the relatively few “bad popes” who besmirched and scandalized it. For Luther it was roughly the opposite: he disrespected the office of the papacy as the “Antichrist” but seems to have had a measure of respect for the man Leo X who occupied it from 8 March 1513 till his death on 1 December 1521. Or did he? I leave the judgment and interpretation of the anomalies in his utterances on the subject below to my readers.

Blue highlighting indicates a “Catholic-sounding” Luther; red indicates the Protestant protester.

* * * * *

To Pope Leo X: 30 May 1518

[from: The Letters of Martin Luther, Margaret A. Currie, London: Macmillan & Co., 1908, 28-31]

Martin Luther, Augustinian monk, desires everlasting salvation to the Most Holy Father, Leo X. I know, most holy father, that evil reports are being spread about me, some friends having vilified me to your Holiness, as if I were trying to belittle the power of the Keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, therefore I am being accused of being a heretic, a renegade, and a thousand other ill names are being hurled at me, enough to make my ears tingle and my eyes start in my head, but my one source of confidence is an innocent conscience. But all this is nothing new, for I am decorated with such marks of distinction in our own land, by those honourable and straightforward people who are themselves afflicted with the worst of consciences. But, most holy father, I must hasten to the point, hoping your Holiness will graciously listen to me, for I am as awkward as a child.

Some time ago the preaching of the apostolic jubilee of the Indulgences was begun, and soon made such headway that these preachers thought they could say what they wished, under the shelter of your Holiness’s name, alarming the people at such malicious, heretical lies being proclaimed to the derision of the spiritual powers. And, not satisfied with pouring out their venom, they have disseminated the little book in which their malicious lies are confirmed, binding the father confessors by oath to inculcate those lies upon their people. I shall not enlarge upon the disgraceful greed, which can never be satisfied, with which every syllable of this tiny book reeks. This is true, and no one can shut his eyes to the scandal, for it is manifest in the book. And they continue to lead the people captive with their vain consolation, plucking, as the prophet Micah says, ” their skin from off them, and their flesh from off” their bones,” while they wallow in abundance themselves. They use your Holiness’s name to allay the uproar they cause, and threaten them with fire and sword, and the ignominy of being called heretics ; nay, one can scarcely believe the wiles they use to cause confusion among the people. Complaints are universal as to the greed of the priests, while the power of the Keys and the Pope is being evil spoken of in Germany. And when I heard of such things I burned with zeal for the honour of Christ, or, if some will have it so, the young blood within me boiled ; and yet I felt it did not behove me to do anything in the matter except to draw the attention of some prelates to the abuses. Some acted upon the hint, but others derided it, and interpreted it in various ways. For the dread of your Holiness’s name, and the threat of being placed under the ban, was all-powerful. At length I thought it best not to be harsh, but oppose them by throwing doubts upon their doctrines, preparatory to a disputation upon them. So I threw down the gauntlet to the learned by issuing my theses, and asking them to discuss them, either by word of mouth, or in writing, which is a well- known fact.

From this, most holy father, has such a fire been kindled, that, to judge from the hue and cry, one would think the whole world had been set ablaze. And perhaps this is because I, through your Holiness’s apostolic authority, am a doctor of theology and they do not wish to admit that I am entitled, according to the usage of all universities in Christendom, openly to discuss, not only Indulgences, but many higher doctrines, such as Divine Power, Forgiveness, and Mercy. Now, what shall I do? I cannot retract, and I see what jealousy and hatred I have roused through the explanation of my theses. Besides, I am most unwilling to leave my corner only to hear harsh judgments against myself, but also because I am a stupid dunderhead in this learned age, and too ignorant to deal with such weighty matters. For, in these golden times, when the number of the learned is daily increasing, and arts and sciences are flourishing, not to speak of the Greek and Hebrew tongues, so that even a Cicero were he now alive would creep into a corner, although he never feared light and publicity, sheer necessity alone drives me to cackle as a goose among swans. So, to reconcile my opponents if possible, and satisfy the expectations of many, I let in the light of day upon my thoughts, which you can see in my explanation of my propositions on Indulgences. I made them public that I might have the protection of your Holiness’s name, and find refuge beneath the shadow of your wings. So all may see from this how I esteem the spiritual power, and honour the dignity of the Keys. For, if I were such as they say, and had not held a public discussion on the subject, which every doctor is entitled to do, then assuredly his Serene Highness Frederick, Elector of Saxony, who is an ardent lover of Christian and apostolic truth, would not have suffered such a dangerous person in his University of Wittenberg. And also, the beloved and learned doctors and magisters of our University, who cleave firmly to our religion, would certainly have expelled me from their midst. And is it not strange that my enemies not only try to convict me of sin and put me to shame, but also the Elector, and the whole University? Therefore, most holy father, I prostrate myself at your feet, placing myself and all I am and have at your disposal, to be dealt with as you see fit. My cause hangs on the will of your Holiness, by whose verdict I shall either save or lose my life. Come what may, I shall recognise the voice of your Holiness to be that of Christ, speaking through you. If I merit death, I do not refuse to die, for ” the earth is the Lord’s,” and all that is therein, to whom be praise to all eternity ! Amen. May He preserve your Holiness to life eternal.

To Johann von Staupitz: 30 May 1518

[In Currie, 27]

I beseech you to forward my poor “Resolutiones” to the good Pope Leo X., so that they may plead my cause with His Holiness, against the wicked intrigues of evil-disposed persons . . . I expect to receive Christ’s verdict through the Papal throne.

To Cardinal Cajetan: October 17, 1518


[From: Preserved Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2nd edition, 1914, 52-53]

I confess, as I have before confessed, that I was assuredly unwise and too bitter, and too irreverent to the name of the Pope . . .

I humbly implore your Reverence to deign to refer this case to our Most Holy Lord Leo X, that these doubts may be settled by the Church, so that he may either compel a just withdrawal of my propositions or else their just affirmation. I wish only to follow the Church . . .

To Wenceslaus Link: December 11, 1518

[From: Henry O’Connor, S. J.: Luther’s Own Statements Concerning His Teaching and Its Results, New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1884, second edition, 9; primary source: De Wette, I, 193]

I will send you my playful remarks (nugas), so that you may see, whether I am right in guessing, that the true Antichrist, according to Paul, reigns in the Roman Court: I think I am able to prove that he (the Pope) is now worse than the Turks.

12th Proposition Directed Against Johann Eck: Late 1518

[Smith, 59]

The assertion that the Roman Church is superior to all other Churches is proved only by weak and vain (frigidis) papal decrees of the last four hundred years, against which militate the accredited history of eleven hundred years, the Bible, and the decree of the Nicene Council, the holiest of all councils.

To the Elector Frederick of Saxony: January 5 or 6, 1519

[Currie, 39-41]

In addition, I shall issue a pamphlet exhorting the people to cleave to the Roman Church, and be obedient and respectful, and not consider this writing as tending to disgrace the Holy Roman Church, but rather to exalt her. . . . But I fear the Pope will not put up with a judge, and I, too, will not put up with the Pope’s verdict.

[Smith, 55]


Charles von Miltitz yesterday pointed out with care the crimes I had committed against the Roman Church, and I humbly promised to make what amends I could . . .

First, I agreed to let the matter alone henceforth, until it bleeds to death by itself, provided my opponents also keep silence . . .

Secondly, I agreed to write to his Holiness the Pope, humbly submitting and recognizing that I had been too hot and hasty, though I never meant to do aught against the Holy Roman Churchbut only as her true son to attack the scandalous preaching whereby she is made a mockery, a byword, a stumbling-block, and an offence to the people.

Thirdly, I promised to send out a paper admonishing every one to follow the Roman Church, obey and honor her, and explaining that my writings were not to be understood in a sense damaging to her . . .

But I fear the Pope will allow no other judge but himself, nor can I tolerate his judgment; if the present plan fails, we shall have to go through the farce of the Pope writing a text and my writing the commentary. That would do no good.

To the Elector Frederick of Saxony: January 6 or 7, 1519

[Smith, 56-57]

Miltitz will write to the Pope at once, informing him how things stand, and asking him to recommend the matter to some learned bishop, who will hear and point out the errors I am to recant. For when I have learned my mistakes, I will gladly withdraw them, and do nothing to impair the honor and power of the Roman Church.

To Christoph Schuerl: February 20, 1519

[Currie, 42]

But from henceforth I must proceed in earnest against the Roman Pontiff and Romish pride.


To Georg Spalatin: February 24, 1519 (Letter No. 1)

[Smith, 60-61]

I repress much for the sake of the Elector and university which otherwise I should pour out against that spoiler of the Bible and the Church, Rome, or rather Babylon. For the truth of the Scripture and of the Church cannot be spoken, dear Spalatin, without offending that beast. Do not therefore hope that I shall be quiet or safe in future unless you wish me to give up theology altogether.

To Georg Spalatin: February 24, 1519 (Letter No. 2)

[Smith, 61-62]

I deny that the Roman Church is superior to all Churches, but not that she is our superior, as she now is de facto.

An Instruction on Certain Articles: Late February 1519

[Smith states (p. 56): “In fulfillment of the third proposition in the first day’s interview [with Miltitz], he published An Instruction on Certain Articles.” The work is mentioned in Works of Martin Luther: With Introductions and Notes (Henry Eyster Jacobs and Adolph Spaeth, published in 1915 in Philadephia by A.J. Holman Co.), as dating from 1519: “. . . Instruction concerning certain Articles, which might be ascribed and imputed to him by his adversaries . . .” (p. 176). It is also alluded to (with the title as I have it in green, above) in Michael A. Mullett’s book, Martin Luther (Routledge: 2004), on p. 94. James Isaac Good, The Reformed Reformation (Heidelberg Press, 1916), on p. 70, notes it as well.]

[From: J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 1835; translated into English in 1846, Book Five, Chapter One]

Yet he still felt esteem for the ancient Church of Rome, and had no thought of separating from it. “That the Roman Church,” said he in the explanation which he had promised Miltitz to publish, “is honored by God above all others, is what we cannot doubt. Saint Peter, Saint Paul, forty-six popes, many hundreds of thousands of martyrs, have shed their blood in its bosom, and have overcome hell and the world, so that God’s eye regards it with especial favor. Although everything is now in a very wretched state there, this is not a sufficient reason for separating from it. On the contrary, the worse things are going on within it, the more should we cling to it; for it is not by separation that we shall make it better. We must not desert God on account of the devil; or abandon the children of God who are still in the Roman communion, because of the multitude of the ungodly. There is no sin, there is no evil that should destroy charity or break the bond of union. For charity can do all things, and to unity nothing is difficult.” [Opp. L. 17:224]

[Rupp, 65-66; he calls it simply “Articles”]

The Roman Church is honoured by God above all others, by the undoubted fact that SS. Peter and Paul, 46 Popes and many hundreds of thousands of martyrs have shed their blood there . . . if unfortunately there are such things in Rome as might be improved, there neither is, nor can be any reason that one should tear oneself away from the Church in schism. Rather, the worse things become, the more a man should help and cling to her, for by schism and contempt nothing can be mended. [WA 2.72]

[Henry Eyster Jacobs, Martin Luther, the Hero of the Reformation, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1902, p. 128 (after citing the above section) ]


But as to the power and sovereignty of the Roman See, and as to how far it extends, the learned must decide.

To Pope Leo X: March 3, 1519


[Smith (p. 55) writes about this letter: “Luther drew up a very humble letter to the Pope, but as it did not satisfy Miltitz he never sent it.” This letter is dated March 3, 1519 in Currie (pp. 43-44) and O’Connor (pp. 9-10) ]

[From Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan et al, Vol. 48: 100-102]

Most Holy Father: Necessity again forces me, the lowest of all men and dust of the earth, to address myself to Your Holiness and August Majesty. May Your Holiness therefore be most gracious and deign to lend your ears in a fatherly fashion for a short time, and willingly listen to the bleating of this, your little sheep, for you truly stand in the place of Christ.

The honorable Sir Charles Miltitz, chamber secretary to Your Holiness, has been with us. In the presence of the Most Illustrious Sovereign Frederick he very harshly accused me in the name of Your Holiness of lacking respect for and being rash toward the Roman church and Your Holiness, and demanded satisfaction for this. Hearing this, I was deeply grieved that my most loyal service has had such an unhappy outcome and that what I had undertaken-to guard the honor of the Roman church-had resulted in disgrace and was suspected of all wickedness, even so far as the head of the church was concerned. But what am I to do, Most Holy Father? I do not know what to do further: I cannot bear the power of your wrath, and I do not know of any means to escape it. The demand is made that I recant my theses. If such a revocation could accomplish what I was attempting to do with my theses, I would issue it without hesitation. Now, however, through the antagonism and pressure of enemies, my writings are spread farther than I ever had expected and are so deeply rooted in the hearts of so many people that I am not in the position to revoke them. In addition since our Germany prospers wonderfully today with men of talent, learning, and judgment, I realize that I cannot, under any circumstances, recant anything if I want to honor the Roman church-and this has to be my primary concern. Such a recanting would accomplish nothing but to defile the Roman church more and more and bring it into the mouths of the people as something that should be accused. See, Father, those whom I have opposed have inflicted this injury and virtual ignominy on the Roman church among us. With their most insipid sermons, preached in the name of Your Holiness, they have cultivated only the most shameful avarice and have substituted for sanctification the vile and abominable Egyptian scandal. And as if that had not been bad enough, they accuse me before Your Holiness-me, who opposed their tremendous monstrosities-of being the author of the temerity which is theirs.

Most Holy Father, before God and all his creation, I testify that I have never wanted, nor do I today want, to touch in any way the authority of the Roman church and of Your Holiness or demolish it by any craftiness. On the contrary I confess the authority of this church to be supreme over all, and that nothing, be it in heaven or on earth, is to be preferred to it, save the one Jesus Christ who is Lord of all-nor should Your Holiness believe the schemers who claim otherwise, plotting evil against this Martin.

Since in this case I can do only one thing, I shall most willingly promise Your Holiness that in the future I shall leave this matter of indulgences alone, and will be completely silent concerning it (if [my enemies] also stop their vain and bombastic speeches). In addition I shall publish something for the common people to make them understand that they should truly honor the Roman church, and influence them to do so. [I shall tell them] not to blame the church for the rashness of [those indulgence preachers], nor to imitate my sharp words against the Roman church, which I have used-or rather misused-against those clowns, and with which I have gone too far. Perhaps by the grace of God the discord which has arisen may finally be quieted by such an effort. I strive for only one thing: that the Roman church, our Mother, be not polluted by the filth of unsuitable avarice, and that the people be not led astray into error and taught to prefer indulgences to works of love. All the other things I consider of less importance, since they are matters of indifference. If I can do anything else, or if I discover that there is something else I can do, I will certainly be most ready to do it.


To Georg Spalatin: March 5, 1519

[From: Gordon Rupp, Luther’s Progress to the Diet of Worms, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964 (orig. 1951), p. 66 ]

I was never of a mind to desert the Apostolic See . . . I am quite content that he should be called, and in fact be “Lord”. What is that to me? I know that the Grand Turk should be honoured and that he wields his authority by the grace of God, because it is certain that he could have no power unless God willed it. [WA. Br. 1.356.8]


To the Elector Frederick of Saxony: March 13, 1519

[Currie, 44-45]


For although in my disputation with Eck I shall have to dispute the assertion that the Church of Rome is superior to all others, I shall do so with the reservation of full submission and obedience to the Holy See.


To Georg Spalatin: March 13, 1519

[O’Connor, 10]


I am also looking over the decrees of the Popes for my disputation, and . . . I do not know, whether the Pope is Antichrist himself or his Apostle: so miserably is Christ (that is, truth) corrupted and crucified by him in the decrees.

[Rupp, 66-67]

I don’t know whether the Pope is Antichrist himself, or only his apostle, so grievously is Christ, i.e. Truth, manhandled and crucified by him in these decretals.


Resolutions (Or, Resolutiones): May 30, 1519

[Rupp writes (p. 65): “In an almost casual aside, in the course of his Resolutions, Luther had suggested that, in the time of Gregory I, the Roman Church was not over all other churches (non erat super alias ecclesias). [WA 1.571]

[Heinrich Boehmer, Road To Reformation: Martin Luther to the Year 1521, Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946, 212-214]


“At the same time Luther was also putting finishing touches on the work which, on Staupitz’ advice, he was to present to Pope Leo X as a proof of his orthodoxy and loyalty to the Holy See—the Resolutions. On May 30 he was able to send a fair copy, accompanied by a letter to the pope, to Staupitz for forwarding. We still possess one page of the rough draft of this letter written in his own hand, which sheds an interesting light upon the state of his mind at this time. In the draft he writes that he turned to the pope only in order to show the German inquisitors (that is, Tetzel and his fellow Dominicans) that he was not afraid of them. ‘I know that man can think of nothing unless it be given to him from above. But least of all can that be said of the pope, of whom it is written: The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. Therefore, Holy Father, I lay my work at your feet in all confidence. Whatever your decision may be, it will in any case have its origin in Jesus, without whom you cannot propose or speak anything. If you condemn my book to be burned, I will say: As it has pleased the Lord, so it has happened. If you command that it be preserved, I will say: Praise be to God! I lose nothing if it is burned, and I gain nothing if it is not burned. Christ does not need me. He can raise up children from the very stones and destroy mountains in the twinkling of an eye. This, my faith in my Lord Jesus Christ, is enough for me. May He, the Lord, preserve you and lead you, not according to your pleasure or that of any other man, but according to His will, which alone is good and to be praised eternally. Amen.’

“In the fair copy the long section dealing with the insolent boasting and threatening of the German inquisitors, primarily Tetzel, with the name and the power of the pope, has been entirely omitted. However, instead of the declaration that it was immaterial to him what the pope did with his book, the fair copy now reads: ‘For my own protection I let my book go out under the protection of your name, Holy Father, so that all well-meaning readers may know with what pure intentions I have sought to fathom the nature of ecclesiastical power and what reverence I hold toward the power of the keys. If I were as they describe me, the illustrious Elector Frederick of Saxony certainly would not suffer such a pestiferous boil in his university, for he is probably the greatest zealot for Catholic truth there is at the present time. Nor would the exceedingly intelligent and very diligent men of this university have tolerated me. Therefore, Most Holy Father, I cast myself at your feet with all that I am and possess. Raise me up or slay me, summon me hither or thither, approve me or reprove me as you please. I will listen to your voice as the voice of Christ reigning and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not refuse to die. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; blessed be He forever. Amen.’

“Thus in the fair copy he completely changed the conclusion of the letter. All expressions which were peculiarly indicative of his state of mind during these days he struck out and substituted phrases expressed in the conventional, curialistic style. Thus the whole letter, instead of being an open avowal of his inner independence of all human authorities, has now become a profession of his absolute subjection to the authority of the pope. Yet he permitted to remain one sentence which is altogether at odds with the new conclusion; “I cannot recant.” Can we make him alone responsible for these changes which are so completely contradictory to the convictions which he elsewhere expressed so frankly and freely? No! The reference to the Catholic zeal of the Elector, which is altogether lacking in the first draft, betrays the hand of a courtier who was more familiar with the style of the Curia than was Luther. This courtier can have been none other than his friend Spalatin, who on later occasions was frequently obliged, generally at the command of the Elector, to cast into court language such high official letters and documents before they were forwarded. This is not to say that the Elector already had a hand in the matter in this instance. It is quite possible that Spalatin rendered him this friendly service on his own risk and responsibility.”


Leipzig Debate With Johann Eck: “Papal” Portion From July 4-5, 1519

[in Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand, New York: New American / Mentor, 1950, 88-89]

Even if there were ten popes or a thousand popes there would be no schism. The unity of Christendom could be preserved under numerous heads just as the separated nations under different sovereigns dwell in concord. . . .

I repulse the charge of Bohemianism. I have never approved of their schism. Even though they had divine right on their side, they ought not to have withdrawn from the Church, because the highest divine right is unity and charity.

[D’Aubigne, Book V, Chapter Five]

At seven in the morning the two disputants were in their pulpits, surrounded by a numerous and attentive assembly.

Luther stood up, and with a necessary precaution, he said modestly:

“In the name of the Lord, Amen! I declare that the respect I bear to the sovereign pontiff would have prevented my entering upon this discussion, if the excellent Dr. Eck had not dragged me into it.

Eck. — “In thy name, gentle Jesus! before descending into the lists, I protest before you, most noble lords, that all that I may say is in submission to the judgment of the first of all sees, and of him who is its possessor.”

After a brief silence, Eck continued:

“There is in the Church of God a primacy that cometh from Christ himself. The Church militant was formed in the image of the Church triumphant. Now, the latter is a monarchy in which the hierarchy ascends step by step up to God, its sole chief. For this reason Christ has established a similar order upon earth. What a monster the Church would be if it were without a head!”2

Luther, turning towards the assembly. — “When Dr. Eck declares that the universal Church must have a head, he says well. If there is any one among us who maintains the contrary, let him stand up! As for me, it is no concern of mine.”

Eck. — “If the Church militant has never been without a head, I should like to know who it can be, if not the Roman pontiff?”

Luther. — “The head of the Church militant is Christ himself, and not a man. I believe this on the testimony of God’s Word. He must reign, says Scripture, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. Let us not listen to those who banish Christ to the Church triumphant in heaven. His kingdom is a kingdom of faith. We cannot see our Head, and yet we have one.”

Eck, who did not consider himself beaten, had recourse to other arguments, and resumed:

“It is from Rome, according to Saint Cyprian, that sacerdotal unity has proceeded.”

Luther. — “For the Western Church, I grant it. But is not this same Roman Church the offspring of that of Jerusalem? It is the latter, properly speaking, that is the nursing-mother of all the churches.”

Eck. — “Saint Jerome declares that if an extraordinary power, superior to all others, were not given to the pope, there would be in the churches as many sects as there were pontiffs.”

Luther. — “Given: that is to say, if all the rest of believers consent to it, this power might be conceded to the chief pontiff by human right. And I will not deny, that if all the believers in the world agree in recognizing as first and supreme pontiff either the Bishop of Rome, or of Paris, or of Magdeburg, we should acknowledge him as such from the respect due to this general agreement of the Church; but that has never been seen yet, and never will be seen. Even in our own days, does not the Greek Church refuse its assent to Rome?”

Luther was at that time prepared to acknowledge the pope as chief magistrate of the Church, freely elected by it; but he denied that he was pope of Divine right. It was not till much later that he denied that submission was in any way due to him: and this step he was led to take by the Leipsic disputation. . . .

Eck replied by one of those subtle distinctions that were so familiar to him:

“The bishop of Rome, if you will have it so, is not universal bishop, but bishop of the universal Church.”

Luther. — “I shall make no reply to this: let our hearers form their own opinion of it.” — “Certainly,” added he directly, “this is an explanation very worthy of a theologian, and calculated to satisfy a disputant who thirsts for glory. It is not for nothing, is seems, that I have remained at great expense at Leipsic, since I have learnt that the pope is not, in truth, the universal bishop, but the bishop of the universal Church!” . . .

Luther. — I do not like and I never shall like a schism. Since on their own authority the Bohemians have separated from our unity, they have done wrong, even if the Divine right had pronounced in favour of their doctrines; for the supreme Divine right is charity and oneness of mind.

[Latin translation: Nunquam mihi placuit, nec in aeternum placebit quodcunque schisma. Cum supremum jus divinum sit charitas et unitas spiritus. From: L. Opp. Lat. 1:250.


Using an online Latin dictionary, I shall translate Luther’s words about schism:

Nunquam never
mihi me (or I?)
placuit (placitum = accord, agreement)
nec neither, nor
in in, or into, toward
aeternum eternal, everlasting, without end
placebit (placeo = to please, be agreeable to) 
quodcunque (?)
schisma schism

In an article, “Martin Luther and His Work: Sixth Paper, the Widening of the Breach,” by the Protestant historian Arthur C. McGiffert, published in The Century in 1911, we find another translation:

Never have I taken pleasure in any schism whatsoever, nor will I to the end of time. The Bohemians have done wrong in voluntarily separating from our communion, even if they have divine right on their side; for the highest divine right is love and unity of the Spirit.

D’Aubigne may have botched the precise documentation of the Latin source. Regular commenter on my blog Ben M. provided the following information:

It should be: L. Opp. Lat. 3:56. The quote is from the Disputatio et Excusatio F. Martini Lutheri adversus criminationes D. Johannes Eccii, which is in:

D. Martini Lutheri Opera latina varii argumenti ad Reformationis Historiam, 1866, Curavit, Dr. Henricus Schmidt, [Frankfort-on-the-Main & Erlangen], Heyder & Zimmer, Vol. 3, p. 56.

Also in the Weimar edition:

D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesammausgabe, 1884, J.K.F. (Joachim Karl Friedrich) Knaake, (1835-1904), ed., Weimar, Herman Bohlaus, vol. 2, pp. 275-276.

Disputatio lohannis Eccii et Martini Lutheri Lipsiae habita, 1519.

Arguably, we see translation bias in prominent Luther biographer Roland Bainton, since his reading would cause one to think that Luther was only referring to the Bohemians and not schism in general. The other two Protestant historians give the broader sense:

Bainton: “I have never approved of their [the Bohemians’] schism.”

D’Aubigne: “I do not like and I never shall like a schism.”

McGiffert: “Never have I taken pleasure in any schism whatsoever, nor will I to the end of time.”]


To Georg Spalatin: July 20, 1519

[Smith, 64-68]


The next week he [Eck] debated me — at first sharply about the primacy of the Pope. His strength lay in the words, “thou art Peter,” “feed my sheep,” “follow thou me,” and “strengthen thy brethren,” together with a lot of quotations from the fathers . . .

In rebuttal I pointed to the Greeks for a thousand years, and to the ancient Fathers who had not been under the sway of the Roman pontiff to whom I did not deny a precedence in honor.


To Georg Spalatin: February 24, 1520

[Smith, 73]


I am in such a passion that I scarcely doubt that the Pope is the Antichrist expected by the world, so closely do their acts, lives, sayings, and laws agree.


To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation: 23 June 1520

[From: Three Treatises, revised edition of 1970; taken from Luther’s Works]


. . . the keys were not given to Peter alone but to the whole community. Further, the keys were not ordained for doctrine or government, but only for the binding and loosing of sin. Whatever else or whatever more they arrogate to themselves on the basis of the keys is a mere fabrication. But Christ’s words to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith fail not” [Luke 23:32], cannot be applied to the pope, since the majority of the popes have been without faith, as they must themselves confess. . . .

Why, then, should we reject the word and understanding of good Christians and follow the pope, who has neither faith nor the Spirit. To follow the pope would be to deny the whole faith, as well as the Christian church. (pp. 20-21)

There is no authority in the church except to promote good. Therefore, if the pope were to use his authority to prevent the calling of a free council, thereby preventing the improvement of the church, we should have regard neither for him nor for his authority. And if he were to hurl his bans and thunderbolts, we should despise his conduct as that of a madman. On the contrary, we should excommunicate him and drive him out as best we could, relying completely on God. This presumptuous authority of his is nothing. He does not even have such authority. (p. 24)

[T]he Christian nobility should set itself against the pope as against a common enemy and destroyer of Christendom for the salvation of the poor souls who perish because of this tyranny.(p. 45)

. . . to help the German nation to be free and Christian again after the wretched, heathenish, and un-Christian rule of the pope. (p. 49)

. . . popes, bishops, canons, and monks. God has not instituted these offices. (p. 66)

If there were no other base trickery to prove that the pope is the true Antichrist, this one would be enough to prove it. Hear this, O pope, not of all men the holiest but of all men the most sinful! O that God from heaven would soon destroy your throne and sink it in the abyss of hell! Who has given you authority to exalt yourself above your God . . . ? (p. 85)

What else is papal power but simply the teaching and increasing of sin and wickedness? Papal power serves only to lead souls into damnation in your name and, to all outward appearances, with your approval! (p. 85)

The pope suppresses God’s commandment and exalts his own. If he is not the Antichrist, then somebody tell me who is! (p. 86)


To Georg Spalatin: July 10, 1520

[Rupp (p. 81) observes: “The letters between Luther and Spalatin reveal the stress within the Reformer’s mind and the attempt of the latter to act as a brake upon his leader’s impetuosity.”]

[Currie, 54-55]


For, even in Bohemia, there are people who will protect me, if I am exiled, against the enemy’s thunderbolts. And then with such protection I might attack the Papacy still more vehemently . . .

For me the die is cast, and I despise Rome’s displeasure as much as her favour. I shall never be reconciled to her, let her condemn or burn me as she will! But if I can get a fire I shall publicly burn the whole Papal code, this serpentine piece of treachery, and make an end of the humility I have hitherto displayed in vain, so that the enemies of the gospel may no longer vaunt themselves on account of it.


To John Lange: August 18, 1520

[Currie, 55-56]

We firmly believe here that the Papacy is the personification of Antichrist’s throne, and feel we are justified in resisting their deceptions and wiles for the sake of the salvation of souls. I declare that I only owe the Pope the obedience due to Antichrist.

[Smith, 86]

From my heart I hate that man of sin and son of perdition, with all his kingdom, which is nothing but sin and hypocrisy.


To Georg Spalatin: October 11, 1520

[Bainton, 124]


The bull condemns Christ himself . . . I feel much freer now that I am certain the pope is Antichrist.


On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church: October 6, 1520

[From: Albert T.W. Steinhaeuser translation, 1915 edition of Works of Martin Luther, English text edited and modernized by Robert E. Smith]


But others, more shameless still, arrogantly ascribe to the pope the power to make laws, on the basis of Matthew 16, “Whatever you shall bind,” etc., though Christ treats in this passage of binding and loosing sins, not of taking the whole Church captive and oppressing it with laws. So this tyranny treats everything with its own lying words and violently wrests and perverts the words of God. I admit indeed that Christians ought to bear this accursed tyranny just as they would bear any other violence of this world, according to Christ’s word: ” If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other cheek.” But this is my complaint — that the godless pontiffs boastfully claim the right to do this, that they pretend to be seeking the Church’s welfare with this Babylon of theirs, and that they foist this fiction upon all mankind. For if they did these things, and we suffered their violence, well knowing, both of us, that it was godlessness and tyranny, then we might number it among the things that contribute to the mortifying of this life and the fulfilling of our baptism, and might with a good conscience rejoice in the inflicted injury. But now they seek to deprive us of this consciousness of our liberty, and would have us believe that what they do is well done, and must not be censured or complained of as wrongdoing. Since they, wolves, they want to look like shepherds. Since they are antichrists, they want to be honored as Christ. (pp. 536-537)

Nevertheless, since few know this glory of baptism and the blessedness of Christian liberty, and cannot know them because of the tyranny of the pope, I for one will walk away from it all and redeem my conscience by bringing this charge against the pope and all his papists: Unless they will abolish their laws and traditions, and restore to Christ’s churches their liberty and have it taught among them, they are guilty of all the souls that perish under this miserable captivity, and the papacy is truly the kingdom of Babylon, yes, the kingdom of the real Antichrist! For who is ” the man of sin” and “the son of perdition” but he that with his doctrines and his laws increases sins and the perdition of souls in the Church, while he sits in the Church as if he were God? All this the papal tyranny has fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, these many centuries. It has extinguished faith, obscured the sacraments and oppressed the Gospel. But its own laws, which are not only impious and sacrilegious, but even barbarous and foolish, it has enjoined and multiplied world without end. (p. 537)

Not content with these things, this Babylon of ours has so completely extinguished faith that it insolently denies its necessity in this sacrament; no, with the wickedness of Antichrist: it calls it heresy if any one should assert its necessity. What more could this tyranny do that it has not done? (Isaiah 5:4) Verily, by the rivers of Babylon we sit and weep, when we remember you, O Zion. (Psalm 137:1, 2) We hang our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. The Lord curse the barren willows of those streams! Amen. (p. 544)

And if pope, bishop or official annul any marriage because it was contracted contrary to the laws of men, he is antichrist, he does violence to nature, and is guilty of lese-majesty toward God, because this word stands, —”What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) (p. 555)


To Hermann Tulich: October 6, 1520

[Currie, 56-57]


Eck and Emser opened my eyes as to the Pope’s sovereignty; for although at first I maintained his right to the human titleI now see that the Papacy is the kingdom of Babylon, and the tyranny of Nimrod, the mighty hunter.


To Pope Leo X: October 13, 1520

[From the translation by R.S. Grignon, in Harvard Classics, New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910, vol. 36, 336-344]

[This was written at the same time as The Freedom of a Christian. Luther had received the papal bull threatening him with excommunication just three days earlier. He backdated it to September 6 to indicate that it was written before he had read the bull. It was published in Wittenberg before November 4, 1520]

Among those monstrous evils of this age with which I have now for three years been waging war, I am sometimes compelled to look to you and to call you to mind, most blessed father Leo. In truth, since you alone are everywhere considered as being the cause of my engaging in war, I cannot at any time fail to remember you; and although I have been compelled by the causeless raging of your impious flatterers against me to appeal from your seat to a future council–fearless of the futile decrees of your predecessors Pius and Julius, who in their foolish tyranny prohibited such an action–yet I have never been so alienated in feeling from your Blessedness as not to have sought with all my might, in diligent prayer and crying to God, all the best gifts for you and for your seeBut those who have hitherto endeavoured to terrify me with the majesty of your name and authority, I have begun quite to despise and triumph over. One thing I see remaining which I cannot despise, and this has been the reason of my writing anew to your Blessedness: namely, that I find that blame is cast on me, and that it is imputed to me as a great offence, that in my rashness I am judged to have spared not even your person.

Now, to confess the truth openly, I am conscious that, whenever I have had to mention your person, I have said nothing of you but what was honourable and good. If I had done otherwise, I could by no means have approved my own conduct, but should have supported with all my power the judgment of those men concerning me, nor would anything have pleased me better, than to recant such rashness and impiety. I have called you Daniel in Babylon; and every reader thoroughly knows with what distinguished zeal I defended your conspicuous innocence against Silvester, who tried to stain it. Indeed, the published opinion of so many great men and the repute of your blameless life are too widely famed and too much reverenced throughout the world to be assailable by any man, of however great name, or by any arts. I am not so foolish as to attack one whom everybody praises; nay, it has been and always will be my desire not to attack even those whom public repute disgraces. I am not delighted at the faults of any man, since I am very conscious myself of the great beam in my own eye, nor can I be the first to cast a stone at the adulteress.

I have indeed inveighed sharply against impious doctrines, and I have not been slack to censure my adversaries on account, not of their bad morals, but of their impiety. And for this I am so far from being sorry that I have brought my mind to despise the judgments of men and to persevere in this vehement zeal, according to the example of Christ, who, in His zeal, calls His adversaries a generation of vipers, blind, hypocrites, and children of the devil. Paul, too, charges the sorcerer with being a child of the devil, full of all subtlety and all malice; and defames certain persons as evil workers, dogs, and deceivers. In the opinion of those delicate-eared persons, nothing could be more bitter or intemperate than Paul’s language. What can be more bitter than the words of the prophets? The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive that anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretence, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries. What would be the use of salt if it were not pungent, or of the edge of the sword if it did not slay? Accursed is the man who does the work of the Lord deceitfully.

Wherefore, most excellent Leo, I beseech you to accept my vindication, made in this letter, and to persuade yourself that I have never thought any evil concerning your person; further, that I am one who desires that eternal blessing may fall to your lot, and that I have no dispute with any man concerning morals, but only concerning the word of truth. In all other things I will yield to any one, but I neither can nor will forsake and deny the word. He who thinks otherwise of me, or has taken in my words in another sense, does not think rightly, and has not taken in the truth.

Your see, however, which is called the Court of Rome, and which neither you nor any man can deny to be more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom, and quite, as I believe, of a lost, desperate, and hopeless impiety, this I have verily abominated, and have felt indignant that the people of Christ should be cheated under your name and the pretext of the Church of Rome; and so I have resisted, and will resist, as long as the spirit of faith shall live in me. Not that I am striving after impossibilities, or hoping that by my labours alone, against the furious opposition of so many flatterers, any good can be done in that most disordered Babylon; but that I feel myself a debtor to my brethren, and am bound to take thought for them, that fewer of them may be ruined, or that their ruin may be less complete, by the plagues of Rome. For many years now, nothing else has overflowed from Rome into the world–as you are not ignorant–than the laying waste of goods, of bodies, and of souls, and the worst examples of all the worst things. These things are clearer than the light to all men; and the Church of Rome, formerly the most holy of all Churches, has become the most lawless den of thieves, the most shameless of all brothels, the very kingdom of sin, death, and hell; so that not even antichrist, if he were to come, could devise any addition to its wickedness.

Meanwhile you, Leo, are sitting like a lamb, like Daniel in the midst of lions, and, with Ezekiel, you dwell among scorpions. What opposition can you alone make to these monstrous evils? Take to yourself three or four of the most learned and best of the cardinals. What are these among so many? You would all perish by poison before you could undertake to decide on a remedy. It is all over with the Court of Rome; the wrath of God has come upon her to the uttermost. She hates councils; she dreads to be reformed; she cannot restrain the madness of her impiety; she fills up the sentence passed on her mother, of whom it is said, “We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed; let us forsake her.” It had been your duty and that of your cardinals to apply a remedy to these evils, but this gout laughs at the physician’s hand, and the chariot does not obey the reins. Under the influence of these feelings, I have always grieved that you, most excellent Leo, who were worthy of a better age, have been made pontiff in this. For the Roman Court is not worthy of you and those like you, but of Satan himself, who in truth is more the ruler in that Babylon than you are.

Oh, would that, having laid aside that glory which your most abandoned enemies declare to be yours, you were living rather in the office of a private priest or on your paternal inheritance! In that glory none are worthy to glory, except the race of Iscariot, the children of perdition. For what happens in your court, Leo, except that, the more wicked and execrable any man is, the more prosperously he can use your name and authority for the ruin of the property and souls of men, for the multiplication of crimes, for the oppression of faith and truth and of the whole Church of God? Oh, Leo! in reality most unfortunate, and sitting on a most perilous throne, I tell you the truth, because I wish you well; for if Bernard felt compassion for Eugenius III, formerly abbot of St. Anastasius his Anastasius at a time when the Roman see, though even then most corrupt, was as yet ruling with better hope than now, why should not we lament, to whom so much further corruption and ruin has been added in three hundred years?

Is it not true that there is nothing under the vast heavens more corrupt, more pestilential, more hateful, than the Court of Rome? She incomparably surpasses the impiety of the Turks, so that in very truth she, who was formerly the gate of heaven, is now a sort of open mouth of hell, and such a mouth as, under the urgent wrath of God, cannot be blocked up; one course alone being left to us wretched men: to call back and save some few, if we can, from that Roman gulf.

Behold, Leo, my father, with what purpose and on what principle it is that I have stormed against that seat of pestilenceI am so far from having felt any rage against your person that I even hoped to gain favour with you and to aid you in your welfare by striking actively and vigorously at that your prison, nay, your hell. For whatever the efforts of all minds can contrive against the confusion of that impious Court will be advantageous to you and to your welfare, and to many others with you. Those who do harm to her are doing your office; those who in every way abhor her are glorifying Christ; in short, those are Christians who are not Romans.

But, to say yet more, even this never entered my heart: to inveigh against the Court of Rome or to dispute at all about her. For, seeing all remedies for her health to be desperate, I looked on her with contempt, and, giving her a bill of divorcement, said to her, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still,” giving myself up to the peaceful and quiet study of sacred literature, that by this I might be of use to the brethren living about me.

While I was making some advance in these studies, Satan opened his eyes and goaded on his servant John Eccius, that notorious adversary of Christ, by the unchecked lust for fame, to drag me unexpectedly into the arena, trying to catch me in one little word concerning the primacy of the Church of Rome, which had fallen from me in passing. That boastful Thraso, foaming and gnashing his teeth, proclaimed that he would dare all things for the glory of God and for the honour of the holy apostolic seat; and, being puffed up respecting your power, which he was about to misuse, he looked forward with all certainty to victory; seeking to promote, not so much the primacy of Peter, as his own pre-eminence among the theologians of this age; for he thought it would contribute in no slight degree to this, if he were to lead Luther in triumph. The result having proved unfortunate for the sophist, an incredible rage torments him; for he feels that whatever discredit to Rome has arisen through me has been caused by the fault of himself alone.

Suffer me, I pray you, most excellent Leo, both to plead my own cause, and to accuse your true enemies. I believe it is known to you in what way Cardinal Cajetan, your imprudent and unfortunate, nay unfaithful, legate, acted towards me. When, on account of my reverence for your name, I had placed myself and all that was mine in his hands, he did not so act as to establish peace, which he could easily have established by one little word, since I at that time promised to be silent and to make an end of my case, if he would command my adversaries to do the same. But that man of pride, not content with this agreement, began to justify my adversaries, to give them free licence, and to order me to recant, a thing which was certainly not in his commission. Thus indeed, when the case was in the best position, it came through his vexatious tyranny into a much worse one. Therefore whatever has followed upon this is the fault not of Luther, but entirely of Cajetan, since he did not suffer me to be silent and remain quiet, which at that time I was entreating for with all my might. What more was it my duty to do?

Next came Charles Miltitz, also a nuncio from your Blessedness. He, though he went up and down with much and varied exertion, and omitted nothing which could tend to restore the position of the cause thrown into confusion by the rashness and pride of Cajetan, had difficulty, even with the help of that very illustrious prince the Elector Frederick, in at last bringing about more than one familiar conference with me. In these I again yielded to your great name, and was prepared to keep silence, and to accept as my judge either the Archbishop of Treves, or the Bishop of Naumburg; and thus it was done and concluded. While this was being done with good hope of success, lo! that other and greater enemy of yours, Eccius, rushed in with his Leipsic disputation, which he had undertaken against Carlstadt, and, having taken up a new question concerning the primacy of the Pope, turned his arms unexpectedly against me, and completely overthrew the plan for peace. Meanwhile Charles Miltitz was waiting, disputations were held, judges were being chosen, but no decision was arrived at. And no wonder! for by the falsehoods, pretences, and arts of Eccius the whole business was brought into such thorough disorder, confusion, and festering soreness, that, whichever way the sentence might lean, a greater conflagration was sure to arise; for he was seeking, not after truth, but after his own credit. In this case too I omitted nothing which it was right that I should do.

I confess that on this occasion no small part of the corruptions of Rome came to light; but, if there was any offence in this, it was the fault of Eccius, who, in taking on him a burden beyond his strength, and in furiously aiming at credit for himself, unveiled to the whole world the disgrace of Rome.

Here is that enemy of yours, Leo, or rather of your Court; by his example alone we may learn that an enemy is not more baneful than a flatterer. For what did he bring about by his flattery, except evils which no king could have brought about? At this day the name of the Court of Rome stinks in the nostrils of the world, the papal authority is growing weak, and its notorious ignorance is evil spoken of. We should hear none of these things, if Eccius had not disturbed the plans of Miltitz and myself for peace. He feels this clearly enough himself in the indignation he shows, too late and in vain, against the publication of my books. He ought to have reflected on this at the time when he was all mad for renown, and was seeking in your cause nothing but his own objects, and that with the greatest peril to you. The foolish man hoped that, from fear of your name, I should yield and keep silence; for I do not think he presumed on his talents and learning. Now, when he sees that I am very confident and speak aloud, he repents too late of his rashness, and sees–if indeed he does see it–that there is One in heaven who resists the proud, and humbles the presumptuous.

Since then we were bringing about by this disputation nothing but the greater confusion of the cause of Rome, Charles Miltitz for the third time addressed the Fathers of the Order, assembled in chapter, and sought their advice for the settlement of the case, as being now in a most troubled and perilous state. Since, by the favour of God, there was no hope of proceeding against me by force, some of the more noted of their number were sent to me, and begged me at least to show respect to your person and to vindicate in a humble letter both your innocence and my own. They said that the affair was not as yet in a position of extreme hopelessness, if Leo X., in his inborn kindliness, would put his hand to it. On this I, who have always offered and wished for peace, in order that I might devote myself to calmer and more useful pursuits, and who for this very purpose have acted with so much spirit and vehemence, in order to put down by the strength and impetuosity of my words, as well as of my feelings, men whom I saw to be very far from equal to myself–I, I say, not only gladly yielded, but even accepted it with joy and gratitude, as the greatest kindness and benefit, if you should think it right to satisfy my hopes.

Thus I come, most blessed Father, and in all abasement beseech you to put to your hand, if it is possible, and impose a curb to those flatterers who are enemies of peace, while they pretend peace. But there is no reason, most blessed Father, why any one should assume that I am to utter a recantation, unless he prefers to involve the case in still greater confusion. Moreover, I cannot bear with laws for the interpretation of the word of God, since the word of God, which teaches liberty in all other things, ought not to be bound. Saving these two things, there is nothing which I am not able, and most heartily willing, to do or to suffer. I hate contention; I will challenge no one; in return I wish not to be challenged; but, being challenged, I will not be dumb in the cause of Christ my Master. For your Blessedness will be able by one short and easy word to call these controversies before you and suppress them, and to impose silence and peace on both sides–a word which I have ever longed to hear.

Therefore, Leo, my Father, beware of listening to those sirens who make you out to be not simply a man, but partly a god, so that you can command and require whatever you will. It will not happen so, nor will you prevail. You are the servant of servants, and more than any other man, in a most pitiable and perilous position. Let not those men deceive you who pretend that you are lord of the world; who will not allow any one to be a Christian without your authority; who babble of your having power over heaven, hell, and purgatory. These men are your enemies and are seeking your soul to destroy it, as Isaiah say, “My people, they that call thee blessed are themselves deceiving thee.” They are in error who raise you above councils and the universal Church; they are in error who attribute to you alone the right of interpreting Scripture. All these men are seeking to set up their own impieties in the Church under your name, and alas! Satan has gained much through them in the time of your predecessors.

In brief, trust not in any who exalt you, but in those who humiliate you. For this is the judgment of God: “He hath cast down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.” See how unlike Christ was to His successors, though all will have it that they are His vicars. I fear that in truth very many of them have been in too serious a sense His vicars, for a vicar represents a prince who is absent. Now if a pontiff rules while Christ is absent and does not dwell in his heart, what else is he but a vicar of Christ? And then what is that Church but a multitude without Christ? What indeed is such a vicar but antichrist and an idol? How much more rightly did the Apostles speak, who call themselves servants of a present Christ, not the vicars of an absent one!

Perhaps I am shamelessly bold in seeming to teach so great a head, by whom all men ought to be taught, and from whom, as those plagues of yours boast, the thrones of judges receive their sentence; but I imitate St. Bernard in his book concerning Considerations addressed to Eugenius, a book which ought to be known by heart by every pontiff. I do this, not from any desire to teach, but as a duty, from that simple and faithful solicitude which teaches us to be anxious for all that is safe for our neighbours, and does not allow considerations of worthiness or unworthiness to be entertained, being intent only on the dangers or advantage of others. For since I know that your Blessedness is driven and tossed by the waves at Rome, so that the depths of the sea press on you with infinite perils, and that you are labouring under such a condition of misery that you need even the least help from any the least brother, I do not seem to myself to be acting unsuitably if I forget your majesty till I shall have fulfilled the office of charity. I will not flatter in so serious and perilous a matter; and if in this you do not see that I am your friend and most thoroughly your subject, there is One to see and judge.

In fine, that I may not approach you empty-handed, blessed Father, I bring with me this little treatise, published under your name, as a good omen of the establishment of peace and of good hope. By this you may perceive in what pursuits I should prefer and be able to occupy myself to more profit, if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed, by your impious flatterers. It is a small matter, if you look to its exterior, but, unless I mistake, it is a summary of the Christian life put together in small compass, if you apprehend its meaning. I, in my poverty, have no other present to make you, nor do you need anything else than to be enriched by a spiritual gift. I commend myself to your Paternity and Blessedness, whom may the Lord Jesus preserve for ever. Amen.


Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist: 1 December 1520

[From Bainton: 125-126]


I have heard that a bull against me has gone through the whole earth before it came to me, because being a daughter of darkness it feared the light of my face. For this reason and also because it condemns manifestly Christian articles I had my doubts whether it really came from Rome and was not rather the progeny of that man of lies, dissimulation, errors, and heresy, that monster John Eck. The suspicion was further increased when it was said that Eck was the apostle of the bull. Indeed the style and the spittle all point to Eck. True, it is not impossible that where Eck is the apostle there one should find the kingdom of Antichrist. Nevertheless in the meantime I will act as if I thought Leo not responsible, not that I may honor the Roman name, but because I do not consider myself worthy to suffer such high things for the truth of God. For who before God would be happier than Luther if he were condemned from so great and high a source for such manifest truth? But the cause seeks a worthier martyr. I with my sins merit other things. But whoever wrote this bull, he is Antichrist. I protest before God, our Lord Jesus, his sacred angels, and the whole world that with my whole heart I dissent from the damnation of this bull, that I curse and execrate it as sacrilege and blasphemy of Christ, God’s Son and our Lord. This be my recantation, O bull, thou daughter of bulls.

Having given my testimony I proceed to take up the bull. Peter said that you should give a reason for the faith that is in you, but this bull condemns me from its own word without any proof from Scripture, whereas I back up all my assertions from the Bible. I ask thee, ignorant Antichrist, dost thou think that with thy naked words thou canst prevail against the armor of Scripture? Hast thou learned this from Cologne and Louvain? If this is all it takes, just to say, “I dissent, I deny,” what fool, what ass, what mole, what log could not condemn? Does not thy meretricious brow blush that with thine inane smoke thou withstandest the lightning of the divine Word? Why do we not believe the Turks? Why do we not admit the Jews? Why do we not honor the heretics if damning is all that it takes? But Luther, who is used to bellum, is not afraid of bullam. I can distinguish between inane paper and the omnipotent Word of God.

They show their ignorance and bad conscience by inventing the adverb “respectively.” My articles are called “respectively some heretical, some erroneous, some scandalous,” which is as much as to say, “We don’t know which are which.” O meticulous ignorance! I wish to be instructed, not respectively, but absolutely and certainly. I demand that they show absolutely, not respectively, distinctly and not confusedly, certainly and not probably, clearly and riot obscurely, point by point and not in a lump, just what is heretical. Let them show where I am a heretic, or dry up their spittle. They say that some articles are heretical, some erroneous, some scandalous, some offensive. The implication is that those which are heretical are not erroneous, those which are erroneous are not scandalous, and those which are scandalous are not offensive. What then is this, to say that something is not heretical, not scandalous, not false, but yet is offensive? So then, you impious and insensate papists, write soberly if you want to write. Whether this bull is by Eck or by the pope, it is the sum of all impiety, blasphemy, ignorance, impudence, hypocrisy, lying- in a word, it is Satan and his Antichrist.

Where are you now, most excellent Charles the Emperor, kings, and Christian princes? You were baptized into the name of Christ, and can you suffer these Tartar voices of Antichrist? Where are you, bishops? Where, doctors? Where are you who confess Christ? Woe to all who live in these times. The wrath of God is coming upon the papists, the enemies of the cross of Christ, that all men should resist them. You then, Leo X, you cardinals and the rest of you at Rome, I tell you to your faces: “If this bull has come out in your name, then I will use the power which has been given me in baptism whereby I became a son of God and co-heir with Christ, established upon the rock against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. I call upon you to renounce your diabolical blasphemy and audacious impiety, and, if you will not, we shall all hold your seat as possessed and oppressed by Satan, the damned seat of Antichrist, in the name of Jesus Christ, whom you persecute.” But my zeal carries me away. I am not yet persuaded that the bull is by the pope but rather by that apostle of impiety, John Eck. . . .

If anyone despise my fraternal warning, I am free from his blood in the last judgment. It is better that I should die a thousand times than that I should retract one syllable of the condemned articles. And as they excommunicated me for the sacrilege of heresy, so I excommunicate them in the name of the sacred truth of God. Christ will judge whose excommunication will stand. Amen.


Photo credit: Portrait of Martin Luther as Junker Jörg (c. 1521-1522), by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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