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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 54. Luther’s Journey to Worms.


"Mönchlein, Mönchlein, Du gehest einen schweren Gang."


Luther, from the first intimation of a summons by the Emperor, regarded it as a call from God, and declared his determination to go to Worms, though he should be carried there sick, and at the risk of his life. His motive was not to gratify an unholy ambition, but to bear witness to the truth. He well knew the tragic fate which overtook Hus at Constance notwithstanding the safe-conduct, but his faith inspired him with fearless courage. "You may expect every thing from me," he wrote to Spalatin, "except fear or recantation. I shall not flee, still less recant. May the Lord Jesus strengthen me."340340    Letter of Dec. 21, 1520 (De Wette, I., 534, 536): "Ego vero, si vocatus fuero, quantum per me stabit, vel aegrotus advehar, si sanus venire non possem. Neque enim dubitari fas est, a Domino me vocari, si Caesar vocat. ... Omnia de me praesumas praeter fugam et palinodiam: fugere ipse nolo, recantare multo minus. Ita me comfortet Dominus Jesus."

He shared for a while the hope of Hutten and Sickingen, that the young Emperor would give him at least fair play, and renew the old conflict of Germany with Rome; but he was doomed to disappointment.

While the negotiations in Worms were going on, he used incessantly his voice and his pen, and alternated between devotional and controversial exercises. He often preached twice a day, wrote commentaries on Genesis, the Psalms, and the Magnificat (the last he finished in March), and published the first part of his Postil (Sermons on the Gospels and Epistles), a defense of his propositions condemned by Rome, and fierce polemical books against Hieronymus Emser, Ambrose Catharinus, and other papal opponents.

Emser, a learned Romanist, and secretary of Duke George of Saxony, had first attacked Luther after the Leipzig disputation, at which he was present. A bitter controversy followed, in which both forgot dignity and charity. Luther called Emser "the Goat of Leipzig" (in reference to the escutcheon of his family), and Emser called Luther in turn, the Capricorn of Wittenberg." Luther’s Antwort auf das überchristliche, übergeistliche, und überkünstliche Buch Bock Emser’s, appeared in March, 1521, and defends his doctrine of the general priesthood of believers.341341    On the Emser controversy see Erl. Frkf. ed., vol. XXVII. Emser afterwards severely criticised Luther’s translation of the Bible, and published his own version of the New Testament shortly before his death (1527).

Catharinus,342342    His proper name was Lancelot Politi. See Lämmer, Vortridentinische Theologie, p. 21, and Burkhardt, Luther’s Briefwechsel, p. 38. Luther calls him "insulsus et stolidus Thomista," in a letter to Spalatin, March 7, 1521 (De Wette, I. 570). an eminent Dominican at Rome, had attacked Luther toward the end of December, 1520. Luther in his Latin reply tried to prove from Dan. 8:25 sqq.; 2 Thess. 2:3 sqq.; 2 Tim. 4:3 sqq.; 2 Pet. 2:1 sqq.; and the Epistle of Jude, that popery was the Antichrist predicted in the Scriptures, and would soon be annihilated by the Lord himself at his second coming, which he thought to be near at hand.

It is astonishing that in the midst of the war of theological passions, he could prepare such devotional books as his commentaries and sermons, which are full of faith and practical comfort. He lived and moved in the heart of the Scriptures; and this was the secret of his strength and success.

On the second of April, Luther left Wittenberg, accompanied by Amsdorf, his friend and colleague, Peter Swaven, a Danish student, and Johann Pezensteiner, an Augustinian brother. Thus the faculty, the students, and his monastic order were represented. They rode in an open farmer’s wagon, provided by the magistrate of the city. The imperial herald in his coat-of-arms preceded on horseback. Melanchthon wished to accompany his friend, but he was needed at home. "If I do not return," said Luther in taking leave of him, "and my enemies murder me, I conjure thee, dear brother, to persevere in teaching the truth. Do my work during my absence: you can do it better than I. If you remain, I can well be spared. In thee the Lord has a more learned champion."

At Weimar, Justus Jonas joined the company. He was at that time professor and Canon at Erfurt. In June of the same year he moved to Wittenberg as professor of church law and provost, and became one of the most intimate friends and co-workers of Luther. He accompanied him on his last journey to Eisleben, and left us a description of his closing days. He translated several of his and Melanchthon’s works.

The journey to Worms resembled a March of triumph, but clouded with warnings of friends and threats of foes. In Leipzig, Luther was honorably received by the magistrate, notwithstanding his enemies in the University. In Thuringia, the people rushed to see the man who had dared to defy the Pope and all the world.

At Erfurt, where he had studied law and passed three years in a monastic cell, he was enthusiastically saluted, and treated as "the hero of the gospel." Before he reached the city, a large procession of professors and students of his alma mater, headed by his friends Crotus the rector, and Eoban the Latin poet, met him. Everybody rushed to see the procession. The streets, the walls, and roofs were covered with people, who almost worshiped Luther as a wonder-working saint. The magistrate gave him a banquet, and overwhelmed him with demonstrations of honor. He lodged in the Augustinian convent with his friend Lange. On Sunday, April 7, he preached on his favorite doctrine, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and against the intolerable yoke of popery. Eoban, who heard him, reports that he melted the hearts as the vernal sun melts the snow, and that neither Demosthenes nor Cicero nor Paul so stirred their audiences as Luther’s sermon stirred the people on the shores of the Gera.343343    A full description of the reception at Erfurt, with extracts from the speech of Crotus and the poems of Eoban, is given by Professor Kampschulte (a liberal Catholic historian), in his valuable monograph, Die Universität Erfurt, vol. II. 95-100."It seems," he says, "that the nation at this moment wished to make every effort to assure Luther of his vocation. The glorifications which he received from the 2d to the 16th of April no doubt contributed much to fill him with that self-confidence which he manifested in the decisive hour. Nowhere was he received more splendidly than at Erfurt."

During the sermon a crash in the balconies of the crowded church seared the hearers, who rushed to the door; but Luther allayed the panic by raising his hand, and assuring them that it was only a wicked sport of the Devil.344344    "Seid still," he said, "liebes Volk, es ist der Teufel, der richtet so eine Spiegelfechterei an; seid still, es hat keine Noth." Some of his indiscreet admirers called this victory over the imaginary Devil the first miracle of Luther. The second miracle, they thought, he performed at Gotha, where the Devil played a similar trick in the church, and met with the same defeat.

In Gotha and Eisenach he preached likewise to crowded houses. At Eisenach he fell sick, and was bled; but a cordial and good sleep restored him sufficiently to proceed on the next day. He ascribed the sickness to the Devil, the recovery to God. In the inns, he used to take up his lute, and to refresh himself with music.

He arrived at Frankfurt, completely exhausted, on Sunday, April 14. On Monday he visited the high school of William Nesse, blessed the children and exhorted them "to be diligent in reading the Scriptures and investigating the truth." He also became acquainted with a noble patrician family, von Holzhausen, who took an active part in the subsequent introduction of the Reformation in that city.345345    His brief sojourn at Frankfurt, and his contact with the Holzhausen family, is made the subject of an interesting historical novel: Haman von Holzhausen. Eine Frankfurter Patriziergeschichte nach Fainilienpapieren erzählt von M. K. [Maria Krummacher]. Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1885. See especially chap. XX., pp. 253, sqq.

As he proceeded, the danger increased, and with it his courage. Before be left Wittenberg, the Emperor had issued an edict ordering all his books to be seized, and forbidding their sale.346346    The edict is dated March 10. See Burkhardt, Luther’s Briefwechsel (1866), p. 38, who refers to Spalatin’s MS. Seidemann dates the letter from March 2. Ranke, in the sixth ed. (1881), I. 333, says that it was published March 27, on the doors of the churches at Worms. Luther speaks of it in his Eisleben report, and says that the edict was a device of the Archbishop of Mainz to keep him away from Worms, and tempt him to despise the order of the Emperor. Works, Erl. Frankf. ed., LXIV. 367. The herald informed him of it already at Weimar, and asked him, "Herr Doctor, will ye proceed?" He replied, "Yes." The edict was placarded in all the cities. Spalatin, who knew the critical situation, warned him by special messenger, in the name of the Elector his patron, not to come to Worms, lest he might suffer the fate of Hus.347347    Notwithstanding this danger, Janssen thinks (II. 158) that it required no "special courage" for Luther to go to Worms.

Luther comforted his timid friends with the words: Though Hus was burned, the truth was not burned, and Christ still lives. He wrote to Spalatin from Frankfurt, that he had been unwell ever since he left Eisenach, and had heard of the Emperor’s edict, but that he would go to Worms in spite of all the gates of hell and the evil spirits in the air.348348    April 14 (De Wette, I. 587): "Christus vivit, et intrabimus Wormatiam invitis omnibus portis inferni et potentatibus aeris" (Eph. 2:2). The day after, he sent him from Oppenheim (between Mainz and Worms) the famous words: -


"I shall go to Worms, though there were as many devils there as tiles on the roofs."349349    Spalatin reports the saying thus: "Dass er mir Spalatino aus Oppenheim gen Worms schrieb: ’Er wollte gen Worms wenn gleich so viel Teufel darinnen wären als immer Ziegel da wären’ " (Walch, XV. 2174). A year afterwards, in a letter to the Elector Frederick, March 5, 1522 (De Wette, II 139), Luther gives the phrase with this modification: "Er [the Devil] sah mein Herz wohl, da ich zu Worms einkam, dass, wenn ich hätte gewusst, dass so viel Teufel auf mich gehalten hätten, als Ziegel auf den Dächern sind, wäre ich dennoch mitten unter sie gesprungen mit Freuden." In the verbal report he gave to his friends at Eisleben in 1546 (Erl. Frankf. ed., vol. LXIV. p. 368): "Ich entbot ihm [Spalatin]wieder: ’Wenn so viel Teufel zu Worms wären als Ziegel auf den Dächern, noch [doch]wollt ich hinein.’"


A few days before his death at Eisleben, he thus described his feelings at that critical period: "I was fearless, I was afraid of nothing; God can make one so desperately bold. I know not whether I could be so cheerful now."350350    Ibid: "Denn ich war unerschrocken, fürchtete mich nichts; Gott kann einen wohl so toll machen. Ich weiss nicht, ob ich jetzt auch so freudig wäre." Mathesius says, with reference to this courage: "If the cause is good, the heart expands, giving courage and energy to evangelists and soldiers."

Sickingen invited Luther, through Martin Bucer, in person, to his castle Ebernburg, where he would be perfectly safe under the protection of friends. Glapio favored the plan, and wished to have a personal conference with Luther about a possible compromise and co-operation in a moderate scheme of reform. But Luther would not be diverted from his aim, and sent word, that, if the Emperor’s confessor wished, he could see him in Worms.

Luther arrived in Worms on Tuesday morning, April 16, 1521, at ten o’clock, shortly before early dinner, in an open carriage with his Wittenberg companions, preceded by the imperial herald, and followed by a number of gentlemen on horseback. He was dressed in his monastic gown.351351    See Luther’s picture of that year, by Cranach, in the small biography of Köstlin, p. 237 (Scribner’s ed.). It is very different from those to which we are accustomed. The watchman on the tower of the cathedral announced the arrival of the procession by blowing the horn, and thousands of people gathered to see the heretic.352352    "Nun fuhr ich," says Luther (LXIV. 368), "auf einem offenen Wäglein in meiner Kappen zu Worms ein. Da kamen alle Leute auf die Gassen und wollten den Mönch D. Martinum sehen."

As he stepped from the carriage, he said, "God will be with me."

The papal legate reports this fact to Rome, and adds that Luther looked around with the eyes of a demon.353353    Aleander to Vice-Chancellor Medici, from Worms, April 16: "Esso Luther in descensu currus versis huc et illuc demoniacis oculis disse: ’Deus erit pro me.’ " Brieger, I. 143. Cardinal Cajetan was similarly struck at Augsburg with the mysterious fire of the "profound eyes," and the "wonderful speculations," of the German monk.

Luther was lodged in the house of the Knights of St. John with two counselors of the Elector. He received visitors till late at night.354354    "Tutto il mondo," writes Aleander in the same letter, "went to see Luther after dinner."

The city was in a fever-heat of excitement and expectation.



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