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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 35. Luther and Cajetan. October, 1518.


The transactions at Augsburg were published by Luther in December, 1518, and are printed in Löscher, II. 435–492; 527–551; in Walch, XV. 636 sqq.; in the Weim. ed., II. 1–40. Luther’s Letters in De Wette, I. 147–167. Comp. Kahnis, I. 215–235; Köstlin, I. 204–238 (and his shorter biogr., Eng. trans., p. 108).


Luther accordingly proceeded to Augsburg in humble garb, and on foot, till illness forced him within a short distance from the city to take a carriage. He was accompanied by a young monk and pupil, Leonard Baier, and his friend Link. He arrived Oct. 7, 1518, and was kindly received by Dr. Conrad Peutinger and two counselors of the Elector, who advised him to behave with prudence, and to observe the customary rules of etiquette. Everybody was anxious to see the man who, like a second Herostratus, had kindled such a flame.

On Oct. 11, he received the letter of safe-conduct; and on the next day he appeared before the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan (Thomas de Vio of Gaëta), who represented the Pope at the German Diet, and was to obtain its consent to the imposition of a heavy tax for the war against the Turks.

Cajetan was, like Prierias, a Dominican and zealous Thomist, a man of great learning and moral integrity, but fond of pomp and ostentation. He wrote a standard commentary on the Summa of Thomas Aquinas (which is frequently appended to the Summa); but in his later years, till his death (1534),—perhaps in consequence of his interview with Luther,—he devoted himself chiefly to the study of the Scriptures, and urged it upon his friends. He labored with the aid of Hebrew and Greek scholars to correct the Vulgate by a more faithful version, and advocated Jerome’s liberal views on questions of criticism and the Canon, and a sober grammatical exegesis against allegorical fancies, without, however, surrendering the Catholic principle of tradition.

There was a great contrast between the Italian cardinal and the German monk, the shrewd diplomat and the frank scholar; the expounder and defender of mediaeval scholasticism, and the champion of modern biblical theology; the man of church authority, and the advocate of personal freedom.

They had three interviews (Oct. 12, 13, 14). Cajetan treated Luther with condescending courtesy, and assured him of his friendship.202202    Luther received at first a favorable impression, and wrote in a letter to Carlstadt, Oct. 14 (De Wette, I. 161): "The cardinal calls me constantly his dear son, and assures Staupitz that I had no better friend than himself. … I would be the most welcome person here if I but spoke this one word, revoco. But I will not turn a heretic by revoking the opinion which made me a Christian: I will rather die, be burnt, be exiled, be cursed." Afterwards he wrote in a different tone about Cajetan, e.g., in the letter to the Elector Frederick, Nov. 19 (I. 175 sqq.), and to Staupitz, Dec. 13 (De Wette, I. 194). But he demanded retraction of his errors, and absolute submission to the Pope. Luther resolutely refused, and declared that he could do nothing against his conscience ; that one must obey God rather than man ; that he had the Scripture on his side; that even Peter was once reproved by Paul for misconduct (Gal. 2:11), and that surely his successor was not infallible. Still be asked the cardinal to intercede with Leo X., that he might not harshly condemn him. Cajetan threatened him with excommunication, having already the papal mandate in his hand, and dismissed him with the words: "Revoke, or do not come again into my presence." He urged Staupitz to do his best to convert Luther, and said he was unwilling to dispute any further with that deep-eyed German beast filled with strange speculations."203203    "Ego nolo amplius cum hac bestia loqui. Habet enim profundos oculos et mirabiles speculationes in capite suo." This characteristic dictum is not reported by Luther, but by Myconius, Hist. Ref. p. 73. Comp. Löscher, II. 477. The national antipathy between the Germans and the Italians often appears in the transactions with Rome, and continues to this day. Monsignor Eugenio Cecconi, Archbishop of Florence, in his tract Martino Lutero, Firenze, 1883, says: "Lutero non amava gi’ italiani, e gl’ italiani non hanno mai avuto ne stima ne amore per quest’ uomo. Il nostro popolo, col suo naturale criterio, lo ha giudicato da un pezzo." He declared the proposal to celebrate Luther’s fourth centennial at Florence to be an act of insanity.

Under these circumstances, Luther, with the aid of friends who provided him with an escort, made his escape from Augsburg, through a small gate in the city-Wall, in the night of the 20th of October, on a hard-trotting hack, without pantaloons, boots, or spurs. He rode on the first day as far as the town of Monheim204204    In Bavaria; not Mannheim, as Kahnis (I. 228) has it. without stopping, and fell utterly exhausted upon the straw in a stable.205205    "Dr. Staupitz" (says Luther, In his Table-Talk) "hatte mir ein Pferd verschafft und gab mir den Rath, einen alten Ausreuter zu nehmen, der die Wege wüsste, und half mir Langemantel (Rathsherr) des Nachts durch ein klein Pförtlein der Stadt. Da eilte ich ohne Hosen, Stiefel, Sporn, und Schwert, und kam his gen Wittenberg. Den ersten Tag ritt ich acht (German) Meilen und wie ich des Abends in die Herberge kam, war ich so müde, stieg, im Stalle ab, konnte nicht stehen, fiel stracks in die Streu."

He reached Wittenberg, in good spirits, on the first anniversary of his Ninety-five Theses. He forthwith published a report of his conference with a justification of his conduct. He also wrote (Nov. 19) a long and very eloquent letter to the Elector, exposing the unfairness of Cajetan, who had misrepresented the proceedings, and demanded from the Elector the delivery of Luther to Rome or his expulsion from Saxony.

Before leaving Augsburg, be left an appeal from Cajetan to the Pope, and "from the Pope ill informed to the Pope to be better informed "(a papa male informato ad papam melius informandum). Soon afterwards, Nov. 28, he formally and solemnly appealed from the Pope to a general council, and thus anticipated the papal sentence of excommunication. He expected every day maledictions from Rome, and was prepared for exile or any other fate.206206    Letter to Spalatin, Nov. 25 and Dec. 2. De Wette, 1. 188 sqq. He was already tormented with the thought that the Pope might be the Anti-Christ spoken of by St. Paul in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, and asked his friend Link (Dec. 11) to give him his opinion on the subject.207207    "Mittam ad te nugas meas, ut videas, an recte divinem Antichristum illum verum juxta Paulum in Romana curia regnare: pejorem Turcis esse hodie, puto me demonstrare posse." DeWette, I. 193. Ultimately he lost faith also in a general council, and appealed solely to the Scriptures and his conscience. The Elector urged him to moderation through Spalatin, but Luther declared: "The more those Romish grandees rage, and meditate the use of force, the less do I fear them, and shall feel all the more free to fight against the serpents of Rome. I am prepared for all, and await the judgment of God."



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