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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 36. Luther and Miltitz. January, 1519.


Löscher, II. 552–569; III. 6–21, 820–847. Luther’s Werke, Walch, XV. 308 sqq.; Weimar ed., II. 66 sqq. Letters in De Wette: I. 207 sqq., 233 sqq.

Joh. K. Seidemann: Karl Von Miltitz .... Eine chronol. Untersuchung. Dresden, 1844 (pp. 37). The respective sections in Marheineke, Kahnis (I. 235 sqq.), and Köstlin (I. 238 sqq. and 281 sqq.).


Before the final decision, another attempt was made to silence Luther by inducing him to revoke his heresies. Diplomacy sometimes interrupts the natural development of principles and the irresistible logic of events, but only for a short season. It usually resorts to compromises which satisfy neither party, and are cast aside. Principles must work themselves out.

Pope Leo sent his nuncio and chamberlain, Karl von Miltitz, a noble Saxon by birth, and a plausible, convivial gentleman,208208    He was charged with intemperance, and is reported to have fallen from the boat in crossing the Rhine or the Main near Mainz in a state of intoxication, a. 1529. See the reports in Seidemann, l.c. p. 33 sqq. to the Elector Frederick with the rare present of a golden rose, and authorized him to negotiate with Luther. He provided him with a number of the highest recommendations to civil and ecclesiastical dignitaries.

Miltitz discovered on his journey a wide-spread and growing sympathy with Luther. He found three Germans on his side, especially in the North, to one against him. He heard bad reports about Tetzel, and summoned him; but Tetzel was afraid to travel, and died a few months afterwards (Aug. 7, 1519), partly, perhaps, in consequence of the severe censure from the papal delegate. Luther wrote to his opponent a letter of comfort, which is no more extant. Unmeasured as he could be in personal abuse, he harbored no malice or revenge in his heart.209209    He speaks generously of Tetzel in a letter to Spalatin, Feb. 12, 1519 (De Wette, I. 223): "Doleo Tetzelium et salutem suam in eam necessitatem venisse ... multo mallem, si posset, servari cum honore," etc.

Miltitz held a conference with Luther in the house of Spalatin at Altenburg, Jan. 6, 1519. He was exceedingly polite and friendly; he deplored the offence and scandal of the Theses-controversy, and threw a great part of the blame on poor Tetzel; he used all his powers of persuasion, and entreated him with tears not to divide the unity of the holy Catholic Church.

They agreed that the matter should be settled by a German bishop instead of going to Rome, and that in the mean time both parties were to keep silence. Luther promised to ask the pardon of the Pope, and to warn the people against the sin of separating from the holy mother-church. After this agreement they partook of a social supper, and parted with a kiss. Miltitz must have felt very proud of his masterpiece of ecclesiastical diplomacy.

Luther complied with his promises in a way which seems irreconcilable with his honest convictions and subse-quent conduct. But we must remember the deep conflicts of his mind, the awful responsibility of his undertaking, the critical character of the situation. Well might he pause for a while, and shrink back from the idea of a separation from the church of his fathers, so intimately connected with his religious life as well as with the whole history of Christianity for fifteen hundred years. He had to break a new path which became so easy for others. We must all the more admire his conscientiousness.

In his letter to the Pope, dated March 3, 1519, he expressed the deepest personal humility, and denied that he ever intended to injure the Roman Church, which was over every other power in heaven and on earth, save only Jesus Christ the Lord over all. Yet he repudiated the idea of retracting his conscientious convictions.

In his address to the people, he allowed the value of indulgences, but only as a recompense for the "satisfaction" given by, the sinner, and urged the duty of adhering, notwithstanding her faults and sins, to the holy Roman Church, where St. Peter and St. Paul, and many Popes and thousands of martyrs, had shed their blood.

At the same time, Luther continued the careful study of history, and could find no trace of popery and its extraordinary claims in the first centuries before the Council of Nicaea. He discovered that the Papal Decretals, and the Donation of Constantine, were a forgery. He wrote to Spalatin, March 13, 1519, "I know not whether tho Pope is anti-christ himself, or his apostle; so wretchedly is Christ, that is the truth, corrupted and crucified by him in the Decretals."210210    De Wette, I. 239.



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