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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 61. Luther at the Wartburg. 1521–1522.


I. Luther’s Letters, from April 28, 1521, to March 7, 1522, in De Wette, vol. I. 5; II. 1–141. Very full and very characteristic. Walch, XV. 2324–2402.

II. C. Köhler: Luther auf der Wartburg. Eisenach, 1798. A. Witzschell: Luthers Aufenthalt auf der Wartburg. Wien, 1876. J. G. Morris: Luther at Wartburg and Coburg. Philadelphia, 1882.

III. Marheineke, Chap. X. (I. 276 sqq.). Merle D’Aubigné, bk. IX., chs. I. and II. Hagenbach, III. 105 sqq. Fisher, p. 112. Köstlin, I. 468–535.


Luther left Worms after a stay of ten days, April 26, 1521, at ten o’clock in the morning, quietly, in the same company with which he had made his entrance under the greatest popular commotion and expectation. His friend Schurf went along. The imperial herald joined him at Oppenheim so as not to attract notice.

In a letter to his friend Cranach, dated Frankfurt, April 28, he thus summarizes the proceedings of the Diet: "Have you written these books? Yes. Will you recant? No. Then get thee hence! O we blind Germans, how childish we are to allow ourselves to be so miserably fooled by the Romanists!"405405    De Wette, I. 588. In the same letter he takes leave of his Wittenberg friends, and intimates that he would be hidden for a while, though he did not know where. He says that he would rather have suffered death from the tyrants, especially "the furious Duke George," but he could not despise the counsel of good people. "A little while, and ye behold me no more; and again a little while, and ye shall see me (John 16:16). I hope it will be so with me. But God’s will, the best of all, be done in heaven and on earth."

At Friedberg he dismissed the herald, and gave him a Latin letter to the Emperor, and a German letter of the same import to the Estates. He thanked the former for the safe-conduct, and defended his course at Worms. He could not trust in the decision of one man or many men when God’s word and eternal interests were at stake, but was still willing to recant if refuted from the Scriptures.406406    De Wette, I. 589, 600.

At Hersfeld he was hospitably entertained in the Benedictine convent by the Abbot Crato, and urged to preach. He did so in spite of the Emperor’s prohibition, obeying God rather than men. "I never consented," he says, "to tie up God’s word. This is a condition beyond my power."407407    See his letter to Spalatin, May 14, in De Wette, II. 6. He preached also at Eisenach, but under protest of the priest in charge of the parish. Several of his companions parted from him there, and proceeded in the direction of Gotha and Wittenberg.

From Eisenach he started with Amsdorf and Petzensteiner for Möhra to see his relations. He spent a night with his uncle Heinz, and preached on the next Sunday morning. He resumed his journey towards Altenstein and Waltershausen, accompanied by some of his relatives. On the 4th of May, a company of armed horsemen suddenly appeared from the woods, stopped his carriage, amidst cursing and swearing, pulled him out, put him on horseback, hurried away with him in full speed, and brought him about midnight to the Wartburg, where he was to be detained as a noble prisoner of state in charge of Captain von Berlepsch, the governor of the castle.

The scheme had been wisely arranged in Worms by the Elector Frederick, whom Aleander calls "the fox of Saxony." He wavered between attachment to the old faith and inclination to the new. He could not be sure of Luther’s safety beyond the term of three weeks when the Emperor’s safe-conduct expired; he did not wish to disobey the Emperor, nor, on the other hand, to sacrifice the reformer, his own subject, and the pride of his university. He therefore deemed it best to withdraw him for a season from the public eye. Melanchthon characterizes him truly when he says of Frederick: "He was not one of those who would stifle changes in their very birth. He was subject to the will of God. He read the writings which were put forth, and would not permit any power to crush what he believed to be true."

The secret was strictly kept. For several months even John, the Elector’s brother, did not know Luther’s abode, and thought that he was in one of Sickingen’s castles. Conflicting rumors went abroad, and found credence among the crowds who gathered in public places to hear the latest news. Some said, He is dead; others, He is imprisoned, and cruelly treated. Albrecht Dürer, the famous painter, who was at that time at Antwerp, and esteemed Luther as "a man enlightened by the Holy Spirit and a confessor of the true Christian faith," entered in his diary on Pentecost, 1521, the prayer that God may raise up another man in his place, and fill him with the Holy Spirit to heal the wounds of the Church.

The Wartburg is a stately castle on a hill above Eisenach, in the finest part of the Thuringian forest. It combines reminiscences of mediaeval poetry and piety with those of the Reformation. It was the residence of the Landgraves of Thuringia from 1073 to 1440. There the most famous Minnesängers, Walther von der Vogelweide, and Wolfram von Eschenbach, graced the court of Hermann I. (1190–1217); there St. Elizabeth (1207–1231), wife of Landgrave Ludwig, developed her extraordinary virtues of humility and charity, and began those ascetic self-mortifications which her heartless and barbarous confessor, Conrad of Marburg, imposed upon her. But the most interesting relics of the past are the Lutherstube and the adjoining Reformationszimmer. The plain furniture of the small room which the Reformer occupied, is still preserved: a table, a chair, a bedstead, a small bookcase, a drinking-tankard, and the knightly armor of Junker Georg, his assumed name. The famous ink-spot is seen no more, and the story is not authentic.408408    On my last visit, July 31, 1886, I saw only scratches and disfigurements on the wall where the ink-spot was formerly pointed out. "No old reporter," says Köstlin, I. 472 sq., "knows any thing about the spot of the inkstand on the wall; the story arose probably from a spot of a different sort." Semler saw such an ink-spot at Coburg. The legend, however, embodies a true idea. In the Wartburg the German students celebrated, in October, 1817, the third jubilee of the Reformation; in the Wartburg Dr. Merle D’Aubigné of Geneva received the inspiration for his eloquent history of the Reformation, which had a wider circulation, at least in the English translation, than any other book on church history; in the Wartburg the Eisenach Conference of the various Lutheran church-governments of Germany inaugurates its periodical sessions for the consultative discussion of matters of common interest, as the revision of the Luther-Bible. The castle was handsomely restored and decorated in mediaeval style, in 1847.

Luther’s sojourn in this romantic solitude extended through nearly eleven months, and alternated between recreation and work, health and sickness, high courage and deep despondency. Considering that he there translated the New Testament, it was the most useful year of his life. He gives a full description of it in letters to his Wittenberg friends, especially to Spalatin and Melanchthon, which were transmitted by secret messengers, and dated from "Patmos," or "the wilderness," from "the region of the air," or "the region of the birds."

He was known and treated during this episode as Knight George. He exchanged the monastic gown for the dress of a gentleman, let his hair and beard grow, wore a coat of mail, a sword, and a golden chain, and had to imitate courtly manners. He was served by two pages, who brought the meals to his room twice a day. His food was much better than be had been accustomed to as a monk, and brought on dyspepsia and insomnia. He enjoyed the singing of the birds, "sweetly lauding God day and night with all their strength." He made excursions with an attendant. Sometimes he took a book along, but was reminded that a Knight and a scholar were different beings. He engaged in conversation on the way, with priests and monks, about ecclesiastical affairs, and the uncertain whereabouts of Luther, till he was requested to go on. He took part in the chase, but indulged in theological thoughts among the huntsmen and animals. "We caught a few hares and partridges," he said, "a worthy occupation for idle people." The nets and dogs reminded him of the arts of the Devil entangling and pursuing poor human souls. He sheltered a hunted hare, but the dogs tore it to pieces; this suggested to him the rage of the Devil and the Pope to destroy those whom he wished to preserve. It would be better, he thought, to hunt bears and wolves.

He had many a personal encounter with the Devil, whose existence was as certain to him as his own. More than once he threw the inkstand at him—not literally, but spiritually. His severest blow at the archfiend was the translation of the New Testament. His own doubts, carnal temptations, evil thoughts, as well as the dangers threatening him and his work from his enemies, projected themselves into apparitions of the prince of darkness. He heard his noises at night, in a chest, in a bag of nuts, and on the staircase "as if a hundred barrels were rolled from top to bottom." Once he saw him in the shape of a big black dog lying in his bed; he threw the creature out of the window; but it did not bark, and disappeared.409409    In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles appears in the disguise of a poodle, the canis infernus, and is conjured by the sign of a cross:
   "Bist du, Geselle,

   Ein Flüchtling der Hölle?

   So sieh diess Zeichen,

   Dem sie sich beugen

   Die schwarzen Schaaren."
Sometimes he resorted to jokes. The Devil, he said, will bear any thing better than to be despised and laughed at.410410    "Verachtung kann der stolze hoffährtige Geist nicht leiden."Tischreden. (LX. 75. Erl.-Frkf. ed.)

Luther was brought up in all the mediaeval superstitious concerning demons, ghosts, witches, and sorcerers. His imagination clothed ideas in concrete, massive forms. The Devil was to him the personal embodiment of all evil and mischief in the world. Hence he figures very largely in his theology and religious experience.411411    In the alphabetical index of the Erlangen-Frankfurt edition of Luther’s German Works, the title Teufel fills no less than ten closely printed pages (vol. LXVII. 243-253). His Table-Talk on the Devil occupies about 150 pages in vols. LIX. and LX. It is instructive and interesting to read it through. Michelet devotes a whole chapter to this subject (pp. 219-234). For a systematic view, see Köstlin, Luther’s Theologie, vol. II. 313 sq.; 351 sqq. He is the direct antipode of God, and the archfiend of Christ and of men. As God is pure love, so the Devil is pure selfishness, hatred, and envy. He is endowed with high intellectual gifts, as bad men often surpass good men in prudence and understanding. He was originally an archangel, but moved by pride and envy against the Son of God, whose incarnation and saving work he foresaw, he rose in rebellion against it. He commands an organized army of fallen angels and bad men in constant conflict with God and the good angels. He is the god of this world, and knows how to rule it. He has power over nature, and can make thunder and lightning, hail and earthquake, fleas and bed-bugs. He is the ape of God. He can imitate Christ, and is most dangerous in the garb of an angel of light. He is most busy where the Word of God is preached. He is proud and haughty, although he can appear most humble. He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning. He understands a thousand arts. He hates men because they are creatures of God. He is everywhere around them, and tries to hurt and seduce them. He kindles strife and enmity. He is the author of all heresies and persecutions. He invented popery, as a counterpart of the true kingdom of God. He inflicts trials, sickness, and death upon individuals. He tempts them to break the Ten Commandments, to doubt God’s word, and to blaspheme. He leads into infidelity and despair. He hates matrimony, mirth, and music. He can not bear singing, least of all "spiritual songs."412412    "Der Teufel ist ein trauriger Geist," he says in his Table-Talk (LX. 60), "und macht traurige Leute; darum kann er Fröhlichkeit nicht leiden. Daher kommt’s auch, dass er von der Musica aufs Weiteste fleuget; er bleibt nicht, wenn man singt, sonderlich geistliche Lieder. Also linderte David mit seiner Harfen dem Saul seine Anfechtung, da ihn der Teufel plagte." He holds the human will captive, and rides it as his donkey. He can quote Scripture, but only as much of it as suits his purpose. A Christian should know that the Devil is nearer him than his coat or shirt, yea, than his own skin. Luther reports that he often disputed with the Devil in the night, about the state of his soul, so earnestly that he himself perspired profusely, and trembled. Once the Devil told him that he was a great sinner. "I knew that long ago," replied Luther, "tell me something new. Christ has taken my sins upon himself, and forgiven them long ago. Now grind your teeth." At other times he returned the charge and tauntingly asked him, "Holy Satan, pray for me," or "Physician, cure thyself." The Devil assumes visible forms, and appears as a dog or a hog or a goat, or as a flame or star, or as a man with horns. He is noisy and boisterous.413413    Ein Polter-und Rumpel-Geist. He is at the bottom of all witchcraft and ghost-trickery. He steals little children and substitutes others in their place, who are mere lumps of flesh and torment the parents, but die young.414414    "Solche Wechselbälge [or Wechselkinder, changelings] und Kielkröpfe supponit Satan in locum verorum filiorum, und plaget die Leute damit. Denn diese Gewalt hat der Satan, dass er die Kinder auswechselt und einem für sein Kind einen Teufel in die Wiegen legt." Erl. ed., LX. 41. Luther was disposed to trace many mediaeval miracles of the Roman Catholic Church to the agency of Satan. He believed in daemones incubos et succubos.

But, after all, the Devil has no real power over believers. He hates prayer, and flees from the cross and from the Word of God as from a flaming fire. If you cannot expel him by texts of Holy Scripture, the best way is to jeer and flout him. A pious nun once scared him away by simply saying: "Christiana sum." Christ has slain him, and will cast him out at last into the fire of hell. Hence Luther sings in his battle hymn, —


"And let the Prince of ill

Look grim as e’er he will,

He harms us not a whit:

For why? His doom is writ,

One little word shall slay him."


Luther was at times deeply dejected in spirit. He wrote to Melanchthon, July 13, under the influence of dyspepsia which paints every thing in the darkest colors: "You elevate me too high, and fall into the serious error of giving me too much credit, as if I were absorbed in God’s cause. This high opinion of yours confounds and racks me, when I see myself insensible, hardened, sunk in idleness, alas! seldom in prayer, and not venting one groan over God’s Church. My unsubdued flesh burns me with devouring fire. In short, I who ought to be eaten up with the spirit, am devoured by the flesh, by luxury, indolence, idleness, somnolence. Is it that God has turned away from me, because you no longer pray for me? You must take my place; you, richer in God’s gifts, and more acceptable in his sight. Here, a week has passed away since I put pen to paper, since I have prayed or studied, either vexed by fleshly cares, or by other temptations. If things do not improve, I will go to Erfurt without concealment; there you will see me, or I you, for I must consult physicians or surgeons. Perhaps the Lord troubles me so much in order to draw me from this wilderness before the public."415415    De Wette, II. 21 sq.

Notwithstanding his complaints of illness and depression, and assaults from the evil spirit, he took the liveliest interest in the events of the day, and was anxious to descend to the arena of conflict. He kept writing letters, books, and pamphlets, and sent them into the world. His literary activity during those few months is truly astounding, and contrasts strangely with his repeated lament that he had to sit idle at Patmos, and would rather be burned in the service of God than stagnate there.

He had few books in the Wartburg. He studied the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures very diligently;416416    "Bibliam Graecam et Hebraicam lego." To Spalatin, May 14 (De Wette, II. 6). he depended for news on the letters of his friends at Wittenberg; and for his writings, on the resources of his genius.

He continued his great Latin commentary on the Psalms, dwelling most carefully on Psalm 22 with reference to the crucifixion, and wrote special expositions of Psalms 68 and 37. He completed his book on the Magnificat of the Holy Virgin, in which he still expresses his full belief in her sinlessness, even her immaculate conception. He attacked auricular confession, which was now used as a potent power against the reading of Protestant books, and dedicated the tract to Sickingen (June 1). He resumed his sermons on the Gospels and Epistles of the church year (Kirchenpostille), which were afterwards finished by friends, and became one of the most popular books of devotion in Germany. He declared it once the best book he ever wrote, one which even the Papists liked.417417    See Preface to the St. Louis ed. of Walch, XI. (1882), p. 1 sqq., and Köstlin, I. 486-489. He replied in Latin to Latomus, a Louvain theologian. He attacked in Latin and German the doctrine of the mass, which is the very heart of Roman Catholic worship, and monastic vows, the foundation of the monastic system. He dedicated the book against vows to his father who had objected to his becoming a monk.

He also dealt an effectual blow at Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz, who had exposed in Halle a collection of nearly nine thousand wondrous relies (including the manna in the wilderness, the burning bush of Moses, and jars from the wedding at Cana) to the view of pilgrims, with the promise of a "surpassing" indulgence for attendance and a charitable contribution to the Collegiate Church. Luther disregarded the fact that his own pious Elector had arranged a similar exhibition in Wittenberg only a few years before, and prepared a fierce protest against the "Idol of Indulgences" (October, 1521). Spalatin and the Elector protested against the publication, but he wrote to Spalatin: "I will not put up with it. I will rather lose you and the prince himself, and every living being. If I have stood up against the Pope, why should I yield to his creature?" At the same time he addressed a sharp letter to the archbishop (Dec. 1), and reminded him that by this time he ought to know that indulgences were mere knavery and trickery; that Luther was still alive; that bishops, before punishing priests for marrying, better first expel their own mistresses. He threatened him with the issue of the book against the Idol of Halle. The archbishop submitted, and made a humble apology in a letter of Dec. 21, which shows what a power Luther had acquired over him.418418    Both letters in Walch, XIX. 656 sqq.; Luther’s letter in De Wette, II. 112-115. Comp. Köstlin, I. 485 sq. The usual opinion that Albrecht revived the traffic in indulgences at Halle seems at least doubtful, and is denied by Albrecht Wolters in his Easter Program, Hat Cardinal Albrecht von Mainz im J. 1521 den Tetzel’schen Ablasshandel erneuert? Bonn, 1877 (pp. 24). He concludes: "Somit war der ’Abgott,’ welchen Luther bekämpfte, nicht die Erneuerung des Tetzel’schen Ablasshandels, sondern die Wiederaufrichtung der in Sachsen theils erloschenen, theils erlöschenden alten Ablasslehre, welche der Cardinal durch Ausstellung seiner mit Ablass begnadigten Reliquien zur Hebung des neuen Stifts und in der Stiftskirche zu Halle im Jahr 1521 versucht hat."



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