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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 67. Luther returns to Wittenberg.


Walch, XV. 2374–2403. De Wette, II. 137 sqq.


Luther was informed of all these disturbances. He saw the necessity of some changes, but regretted the violence with which they had been made before public opinion was prepared, and he feared a re-action which radicalism is always likely to produce. The Latin mass as a sacrifice, with the adoration of the host, the monastic institution, the worship of saints, images and relics, processions and pilgrimages, and a large number of superstitious ceremonies, were incompatible with Protestant doctrines. Worship had sooner or later to be conducted in the vernacular tongue; the sacrifice of the mass must give way to a commemorative communion; the cup must be restored to the laity, and the right of marriage to the clergy. He acquiesced in these changes. But about clerical vestments, crucifixes, and external ceremonies, he was indifferent; nor did he object to the use of pictures, provided they were not made objects of worship. In such matters he asserted the right of Christian freedom, against coercion for or against them. As to the pretended revelations of the new prophets, he despised them, and maintained that an inspired prophet must either be ordinarily called by church authority, or prove his divine commission by miracles.

He first went to Wittenberg in disguise, and spent three days there in December, 1621. He stayed under the roof of Amsdorf, and dared not show himself in the convent or on the street.

When the disturbances increased, he felt it his duty to reappear openly on the arena of conflict. He saw from the Wartburg his own house burning, and hastened to extinguish the flames. The Elector feared for his safety, as the Edict of Worms was still in force, and the Diet of Nürnberg was approaching. He ordered him to remain in his concealment. Luther was all his life an advocate of strict submission to the civil magistrates in their own proper sphere; but on this occasion be set aside the considerations of prudence, and obeyed the higher law of God and his conscience. His reply to the Elector (whom be never met personally) bears noble testimony to his sublime faith in God’s all-ruling providence. It is dated Ash Wednesday (March 5, 1522), from Borne, south of Leipzig. He wrote in substance as follows:480480    In De Wette, II. 137-141. De Wette calls the letter "ein bewunderungswürdiges Denkmal des hohen Glaubensmuthes, von welchem Luther erfüllt war."


"Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, and my most humble service.

"Most illustrious, high-born Elector, most gracious Lord! I received the letter and warning of your Electoral Grace on Friday evening [Feb. 26], before my departure [March 1]. That your Electoral Grace is moved by the best intention, needs no assurance from me. I also mean well, but this is of no account .... If I were not certain that we have the pure gospel on our side, I would despair .... Your Grace knows, if not, I make known to you, that I have the gospel, not from men, but from heaven through our Lord Jesus Christ .... I write this to apprise you that I am on my way to Wittenberg under a far higher protection than that of the Elector; and I have no intention of asking your Grace’s support. Nay, I believe that I can offer your Highness better protection than your Highness can offer me. Did I think that I had to trust in the Elector, I should not come at all. The sword is powerless here. God alone must act without man’s interference. He who has most faith will be the most powerful protector. As I feel your Grace’s faith to be still weak, I can by no means recognize in you the man who is to protect and save me. Your Electoral Grace asks me, what you are to do under these circumstances? I answer, with all submission, Do nothing at all, but trust in God alone .... If your Grace had faith, you would behold the glory of God; but as you do not yet believe, you have not seen it. Let us love and glorify God forever. Amen."


Being asked by the Elector to give his reasons for a return, he assigned, in a letter of March 7, from Wittenberg,481481    De Wette, II. 141-144. three reasons: the urgent written request of the church at Wittenberg; the confusion in his flock; and his desire to prevent an imminent outbreak. "My second reason," he wrote, "is that during my absence Satan has entered my sheepfold, and committed ravages which I can not repair by writing, but only by my personal presence and living word. My conscience would not allow me to delay longer; I was bound to disregard, not only your Highness’s disfavor, but the whole world’s wrath. It is my flock, the flock intrusted to me by God; they are my children in Christ. I could not hesitate a moment. I am bound to suffer death for them, and will cheerfully with God’s grace lay down my life for them, as Christ commands (John 10:12)."

Luther rode without fear through the territory of his violent enemy, Duke George of Saxony, who was then urging the Elector to severe measures against him and the Wittenbergers. He informed the Elector that he would pass through Leipzig, as he once went to Worms, though it should rain Duke Georges for nine days in succession, each fiercer than the original in Dresden.

He safely arrived in Wittenberg on Thursday evening, the 6th of March, full of faith and hope, and ready for a fight against his false friends.

On this journey he had on the 3d or 4th of March an interesting interview with two Swiss students, Kessler and Spengler, in the tavern of the Black Bear at Jena. We have an account of it from one of them, John Kessler of St. Gallen, who afterwards became a reformer of that city.482482    Published by Bernet, Joh. Kessler genannt Athenarius, St. Gallen, 1826, and more fully by E. Götzinger in Kessler’s Sabbata, St. Gallen, 1866 and 1868, 2 parts. See a good account in Hagenbach’s Ref. Gesch., pp. 141 sqq. In the Schwarze Bär hotel at Jena, where I stopped a few days in July, 1886, the "Lutherstube" is still shown with the likeness of Luther an old Bible, and Kessler’s report. It contrasts very favorably with his subsequent dealings with the Swiss, especially with Zwingli, which were clouded by prejudice, and embittered by intolerance. The episode was purely private, and had no influence upon the course of events; but it reveals a characteristic trait in this mighty man, who even in critical moments of intense earnestness did not lose his playful humor. We find the same combination of apparently opposite qualities when at Coburg he was watching the affairs of the Diet at Augsburg, and wrote a childlike letter to his little Hans. Such harmless humor is like the light of the sun breaking through dark clouds.

The two Swiss, who had studied at Basel, were attracted by the fame of Luther and Melanchthon, and traveled on foot to Wittenberg to hear them. They arrived at Jena after a terrible thunderstorm, fatigued and soaked through, and humbly sat down on a bench near the door of the guest-chamber, when they saw a Knight seated at a table, sword in hand, and the Hebrew Psalter before him. Luther recognized the Swiss by their dialect, kindly invited them to sit down at his side, and offered them a drink. He inquired whether Erasmus was still living in Basel, what he was doing, and what the people in Switzerland thought of Martin Luther. The students replied that some lauded him to the skies as a great reformer; others, especially the priests, denounced him as an intolerable heretic. During the conversation two traders came in; one took from his pocket Luther’s sermons on the Gospels and Epistles, and remarked that the writer must be either an angel from heaven or a devil from hell. At dinner Luther gave them a rare feast of reason and flow of soul. The astonished students suspected that the mysterious Knight was Ulrich von Hutten, when Luther, turning to the host, smilingly remarked, "Behold, I have become a nobleman over the night: these Swiss think that I am Hutten; you take me for Luther. The next thing will be that I am Marcolfus." He gave his young friends good advice to study the biblical languages with Melanchthon, paid their bill, offered them first a glass of beer, but substituted for it a glass of wine, since the Swiss were not used to beer, and with a shake of the hand he begged them to remember him to Doctor Jerome Schurf, their countryman, at Wittenberg. When they wished to know the name of the sender of the salutation, he replied, "Simply tell him that he who is coming sends greeting, and he will understand it."

When the students a few days afterwards arrived at Wittenberg, and called on Dr. Schurf to deliver the message from "him who is coming," they were agreeably surprised to find Luther there with Melanchthon, Jonas, and Amsdorf. Luther greeted them heartily, and introduced them to Melanchthon, of whom he had spoken at Jena.

The same student has left us a description of Luther’s appearance at that time. He was no more the meager, emaciated monk as at the Leipzig disputation three years previously,483483    See the description of Mosellanus, p. 180. but, as Kessler says, "somewhat stout, yet upright, bending backwards rather than stooping, with a face upturned to heaven, with deep dark eyes and eyebrows, twinkling and sparkling like stars, so that one could hardly look steadily at them."484484    "Mit tiefen, schwarzen Augen und Braunen blinzend und zwitzerlnd wie ein Stern, dass die nit wohl mögen angesehen werden." These deep, dark eyes, full of strange fire, had struck Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg, and Cardinal Aleander at Worms, as the eyes of a demon. They made the same impression on John Dantiscus, afterwards bishop of Culm and Ermeland, who on his return from Spain to Poland in 1523 saw Luther in Wittenberg; he reported that his "eyes were sharp, and had a certain terrible coruscation of lightning such as was seen now and then in demoniacs," and adds that, "his features were like his books," and "his speech violent and full of scorn." But friends judged differently. Another student, Albert Burrer, who saw him after his return from the Wartburg, praises his mild, kindly countenance, his pleasant sonorous voice, his charming address, the piety of his words and acts, the power of his eloquence which moved every hearer not made of stone, and created a desire to hear him again and again.485485    Köstlin, I. 536, with references, p. 805.



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